How Not to Walk by the Spirit

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“I feel like the Lord is leading me to do it.”

Those were my friend’s parting words to me. I told him not to follow this leading, but he’d had an experience he “really felt was from the Lord.” I tried to explain what the Bible had to say about his choice. In fact, many had. But, he had an experience, and he wasn’t budging. So off he went—into his error, out of the church, and away from Jesus.

This situation it so common in churches across the spectrum that you could probably fill in details from similarly painful conversations. Add to that our culture’s commitment to an expressive individualism that exalts actualizing our desires above conforming to God’s, and we’ve set the stage for rough times when trying to convince someone that what they “feel led to do” may not be the Holy Spirit at all.

No wonder some respond to this problem by simply denying God’s Spirit speaks to us today. My point here is not to debate that point, since others have done so (e.g., here and here).

Regardless, the Scriptures admonish us to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). And there are some ways we should all be able to agree one cannot do that. Here are four.

1. Without the Bible

Attempting to follow the Spirit’s leading without the Bible is foolish at best and sinful at worst. As I’ve written before, we may learn much here from our charismatic friends. But if one argues that the Spirit has led them to a conclusion, action, or emotion the same Spirit has condemned in Scripture, that person blasphemes. Perhaps you think that’s too strong a word, but consider this: Such an insistence tacitly accuses God of double-mindedness, calls into question the authority of his Word, and makes the believer the final authority in matters of life and practice. That’s blasphemy.

The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.

It’s entirely possible that someone had a profound spiritual experience that led him or her to no longer trust the Bible. That’s deception. The Spirit himself tells us we’re to expect such deception (2 Cor. 11:14). The Spirit wrote a book, so being led by him starts there.

2. Without the Church

A sure-fire way to not walk with the Spirit is to try to walk by yourself. There is simply no evidence in Scripture that we should expect to faithfully live a Spirit-filled life if we’re not being led into and among his people. God—at the infinite cost of his life—has given us not just a spiritual relationship with himself, but also with each other.

This is why broken fellowship within the body is such a big deal. We are members of one another. Tearing away from Christ’s body while trying to be faithful to his Spirit is like severing your arm while expecting it to keep operating the remote control. When you feel led to do something, it is wise to run such promptings by your trusted fathers and mothers in the faith, particularly in the context of your local church.

3. Without Wisdom

Proverbs aren’t promises, but they are proverbs. That is, the same Spirit that now resides within God’s people inspired Solomon to write down many words of wisdom. Paul prays that we’ll be filled with the Spirit of wisdom—the Holy Spirit.

If you “feel led” to do something that seems foolish to you, your trusted advisers, and your Bible, your feeling is likely just that.

4. Without Faith

Without faith we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6), much less follow him. Keeping in step with the Spirit, then, means trusting that God can and will lead you. You trust and follow, and he guides and leads, often to do seemingly impossible things—raising godly kids, remaining faithful in a difficult marriage, trusting him for evangelistic opportunities, planting churches, and making disciples.

None of that comes naturally to any of us. It all requires Paul’s prayer—that our eyes be opened to the Spirit’s powerful working—to come true. And it will, if we believe.

Sitting Ducks for Deception

Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful at convincing my friend. He’d had an experience. He’d shut his Bible, shut his doors, shut out wisdom, and, therefore, shut out God. And tragically, he’s not alone. We must learn to hold on to the Spirit and to Scripture—to personal faith and to spiritual family. If we do so, we’ll set ourselves in a good place for the Spirit’s leading. If not, we may be sitting ducks for deception.

So before we say, “I feel like the Lord is leading me,” let it be said of us that we’ve been listening to his Word, his people, his wisdom, and his ways. 

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