Being Led by the Spirit

by William Hendriksen

For as many as are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. -Romans 8:14

The connection between verse 13b and verse 14 is clear; note the word “For.” In other words, the people who are putting to death the disgraceful deeds of the body are able to do so because they, being sons of God, are being constantly led by the Spirit of God.

1. Its Beneficiaries

An illustration may be helpful. Whether the incident about to be related actually happened is not the point. One may have his own opinion about that. Suffice it to say that those who told the story were convinced of its historicity:

It was the year 1834 or shortly afterward. Religious persecution raged in The Netherlands. On one of these days, in the late afternoon, the faithful minister of village X was informed that a certain member of his congregation, a devout widow, was seriously ill and would welcome a pastoral call.

The minister decided not to wait until the next morning but to start out at once on foot. The path from the parsonage to the widow's home, a distance of about two miles, led through heavily wooded territory, where men intending to commit murder could easily conceal themselves. But the minister arrived safely at the widow's home. His call was deeply appreciated and greatly strengthened the sick lady.

On the way back to the parsonage … nothing happened. Apparently there had been no ambush.

A few years passed by. Then one day two men, who through the faithful efforts of this very minister, had recently been brought from darkness to light, spoke to him as follows:

"Do you recall that a few years ago—it was on a Friday afternoon—you went to visit the widow living in the house on the other side of these woods?" When the minister answered affirmatively, they continued, "Who were those two men, in shining armor, walking on either side of you, guarding you?" The astonished minister replied, "I was alone, my friends; I was all by myself; either going or returning no one accompanied me." The two continued, "This is very strange, for we distinctly saw them. It made us afraid. So we hurried away. And now, having been brought to the knowledge of Christ through your ministry, how happy we are that we were prevented from carrying out our sinister plot."

Those who told the story were sure that this minister must have been one of the few very special "saints" of God who, being led by the Spirit, were the objects of exceptional divine protection.

However, this view, which in certain religious circles used to be rather popular—whether this is still the case I do not know—is certainly not what Paul had in mind when he wrote Rom. 8:14. The spiritual leading of which he speaks is definitely not the Spirit's gift to the select few. It concerns every Christian. Every child of God is being led by the Spirit. Everyone who is being led by the Spirit is a child of God.

Those who are being led by the Spirit are the people who are described as being in Christ Jesus (8:1), walking according to the Spirit (verse 4), being Spirit-indwelt (verses 9, 11), and putting to death the disgraceful deeds of the body (verse 13).

2. Its Nature

What, then, does the leading of the Spirit—to change from the passive to the active voice—actually mean? It means sanctification. It is the constant, effective, and beneficent influence which the Holy Spirit exercises within the hearts and lives of God's children, enabling them more and more to crush the power of indwelling sin and to walk in the way of God's commandments freely and cheerfully.

The influence which the Holy Spirit exercises is:

a. Not sporadic but constant.

It is not being injected into the lives of God's children now and then, in moments of great need or danger. On the contrary, it is steady, constant, as even the tense here in Rom. 8:14 implies. Believers are being led by the Spirit.

b. It is not (at least not primarily) protective but corrective.

In the entire context nothing is said about guarding God's children from receiving physical harm, nothing about keeping them out of danger when traveling. On the other hand, the immediately preceding context refers to putting to death the disgraceful deeds of the body, doing this "by the Spirit."

c. It not merely directs but controls.

To be led by the Spirit means more than to be guided by him, though, to be sure, the Spirit is also our Guide (John 16:13). Cf. Matt. 15:14; Luke 6:39; Acts 8:31. But the leadership provided by the Spirit amounts to more than merely pointing out the right way. It reminds us not so much of the Indian guide who pointed out to the white explorers the pass through the Rockies, as of the people who led the blind man (of Jericho) to Jesus (Luke 18:40). Merely pointing out the way to him would not have helped him. When the Holy Spirit leads believers he becomes the controlling influence in their lives, bringing them at last to glory.

d. On the other hand, it does not stifle or repress but helps and encourages.

When the Holy Spirit leads God's child, the latter's responsibility and activity are not canceled or repressed. The blind man of Jericho was not carried to Jesus. He did his own walking. It is exactly as Warfield has pointed out: "Though it is indeed the Holy Spirit who keeps us in the path and brings us at last to the goal, it is we who tread every step of the way; our limbs that grow weary with the labor; our hearts that faint … our faith that revives our sinking strength, our hope that instills new courage into our souls, as we toil over the steep ascent."

3. Its Fruits

These are so numerous that it would be impossible to mention them all. Accordingly, no attempt will be made to list them all, for this would be just as impossible as to

Count your many blessings

Name them one by one.

It is for this very reason that in Gal. 5:22, 23 Paul, after stating, "Now the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control," continues, "against such there is no law." He means, "The list I have given is incomplete; therefore I say, 'against such,' meaning: against these and other fruits." Another summarizing description of these fruits is certainly this one, "He who sows to … the Spirit will from the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:8), for who has ever been able to give a definition of life everlasting from which nothing is lacking? An orchard may contain a rich variety of fruit trees: orange, mango, tangelo, lemon, grapefruit, etc. However, each tree bears only one kind of fruit. The tree of grace, watered by the Spirit of life, bears every variety of spiritual fruit, and apart from that Spirit no spiritual fruit has ever been produced.

The fruit on which Paul's epistle to the Romans now rivets our attention is that of assurance of salvation, more precisely, that of assurance of adoption as children of God:

15, 16. For you have not received a spirit of slavery, to fill you once more with dread, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, who moves us to cry, "Abba!" that is "Father!" This Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

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