This is an anxiety-laden topic. Many verses inform us that we are led or guided by the Spirit, like “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Likewise, Psalm 23 promises that “He guides me in paths of righteousness.” Although these promises are comforting, they also raise the uncomfortable question, “How can I be sure that I am being led by the Spirit?”
Most of us understand that He guides us through the Word:
· Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2; Proverbs 3:5-6)
Others would add that in order to understand the Word, we must practice it:
· But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
However, there are many decisions that Scripture does not fully address:
· What career or job should I pursue?
· What ministry should I get involved in?
· Who should I marry?
The list is endless and also stress-producing. It should not be surprising that views vary. Here are three:
1. POPULAR: This view emphasizes that God has a plan for our lives, and we need to discover it through Bible study, circumstances, Spirit promptings, and sage advice. However, this view still leaves us with the uncertainty that perhaps we haven’t heart the Spirit correctly and are taking ourselves out of His will.
2. CHARISMATIC/PENTECOSTAL: This view is very similar to the first. However, it also includes seeking God’s leading through supernatural leadings, gifts of the Spirit, words of knowledge, and even dream analysis.
3. PROVIDENTIAL: This view is substantially different from the first two, even though it affirms many of the same truths. First, it emphasizes the fact that God has a detailed plan for our lives:
· Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:28-30)
Jesus not only claimed that God knows the number of hairs on our head; He has even ordained them, along with the number of days we will live (Psalm 139:16). Consequently, even the deeds that we are to perform have been decided:
· For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:10)
This Providential View also stresses the fact that we don’t have to discover God’s plan for our lives or His leading, since He seldom reveals it to us. Instead, we can have confidence that God is still able to guide us infallibly by His Spirit.
Admittedly, this doesn’t make complete sense. After all, how could God possibly be guiding us as we are making our freewill decisions! It seems impossible that the two could possibly go together. However, they do! God guides our footsteps all the time, even when we are unaware of it:
· In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
· A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way? (Proverbs 20:24)
Here is something even more amazing about our God. He is able to infallibly direct those who don’t even want His guidance:
· The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. (Proverbs 21:1)
There are just so many examples of our Lord bringing heathen nations to just the right place and at just the right time to accomplish His will. If He can do this with those who don’t want Him, how much more can He guide those who are His friends and are seeking His guidance!
This is not only biblical, but this understanding also enables us to trust God and to get our attention off ourselves and our doubts about discerning the Spirit’s leading. Instead, knowing that God is fully able to lead us, even without our being aware of this, gives us peace.
Before, I understood this, I had been thoroughly obsessed with whether or not I was truly hearing God and following His leading. Now, through the truths of Scripture, I have found rest:
· Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
Meanwhile, there are others who are unbiblically confident about the leading or “anointing of the Spirit.” They claim that we if are led by the Spirit, we do not need Scripture, teachers, pastors, or any other assistance. Gnostic/New Age/Emergent “Christians” fall into this error, claiming that they have the truth within them and, therefore, do not need the Scriptures. They often appeal to this verse:
· I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:26-27)
Some mistakenly conclude that if we are anointed by the Spirit, we will not “need anyone to teach” us anything. Therefore, we do not need teachers, pastors, or even the Bible. However, if this were so, there would be absolutely no reason for John to write to those having this anointing. Instead, he wrote:
· That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)
· My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)
· I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)
If their anointing teaches them “about all things,” why then would John even bother to write to them? Instead, he claimed that listening to the Apostles was a necessary indication that they are of the truth:
· Whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:6)
If the anointing of the Spirit alone was adequate, why then would there be any need to “listen to us!” Instead, some could retort, “I have the Spirit. I don’t need to listen to you!”
Instead, the entire New Testament has affirmed the need for teaching, even among the anointed. Therefore, new believers sat under the teachings of the Apostles:
- And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. (Acts 2:42-43)
Evidently, Christ believed that teachers were necessary:
· So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13)
If the anointing had been enough, there would have been no need for teachers. However, the Spirit has gifted us variably for the up-building of His Church.
Instead, the anointing worked in conjunction with Scripture and Apostolic teaching. Without this anointing by the Spirit, Scripture was useless. The natural man would remain hardened against it:
· But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14)
· “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Without the work of the Spirit and His anointing, Israel continually resisted the Word of God. The Jews had Scripture. However, without the Spirit’s work, the things of God would remain foolishness to them:
· But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains un-lifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:14-18)
Israel not only needed the Gospel; they also needed to have minds unveiled by the Spirit. Consequently, Paul wrote about the ministry of the Word as a twofold phenomenon. It is both the product of Apostolic writing/teaching and the Spirit:
· You are our letter…clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)
As a result, the anointed became the epistle of two agents – the ministry of the Apostles and of the Spirit. Both agents were necessary. No one could therefore say, “Well, I have the anointing and, therefore, don’t need Paul and his writings.”
The reality of this joint ministry is reflected in many ways. Paul wrote:
· Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:7)
What Paul had written was not enough. Instead, the Lord also played a necessary role to provide illumination or understanding (and even the inspiration of his writings). The Spirit’s anointing was necessary, but it didn’t work apart from Scripture.
Without the anointing of the Spirit, we remain blind to Scripture:
· The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
It is the anointing of the Spirit that illuminates Scripture for us, implanting it upon our hearts. In John’s church, all had the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apostolic teachings. However, all did not have the anointing:
· They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (1 John 2:19-20)
Without the anointing, we remain in darkness. With the anointing, we “have knowledge” through the Word of God. This is why we must continue to meditate on His Word both day and night (Psalm 1; Joshua 1:8).