“Those who are led by the Spirit…”




When I first arrived in Bible college, I remember being tremendously impressed by a young lady who told me that she had been “led by the Spirit” to throw up a great job, switch country and leave home and friends to serve the Lord through this particular college.

I felt a little intimidated by such assurance, such clarity of purpose. It made my own cobbled-together notions of thinking theological training “a good idea” a wee bit thin.

However, a week or two later, she left, overcome with homesickness. To make things even more confusing for me, as a young believer, she told me that God had told her to leave.

As someone said to me at the time, a little nastily, she was really suffering from “led” poisoning.

Well, to be honest, I  did become sceptical -even a bit cynical about the whole notion of God “speaking” and “leading” us in various directions until, some time later, I heard Nicky Gumbel doing the Alpha talk on guidance. This really grabbed my attention in the most helpful way,and I’ve used it for several years to teach others about how God leads.

In Romans 8, Paul states that being “led by the Spirit” is a distinguishing feature -a hallmark- of being a child of God. He’s explicit about it: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God..”

In the context, Paul gives a rather chilling contrast that makes this clearer. That is to say, the alternative to being “led by the Spirit” is to be “led by the flesh.” And the “flesh” was Paul’s code-word for living without God.

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.”

This passage takes the whole business of “leading” into what sounds like a war-zone, a massive conflict waging within me.

Perhaps it’s like taking two large dogs to the park and being yanked and tugged in different directions by both.Which is going to win?

Answer: the one that you feed.

You choose either to feed the “flesh” or the “spirit.”


So then what is it to be led by the Spirit in verse 14 in view of its relation to verse 13? It is to be moved by the Spirit to fight against the pull of  sin by trusting in the power of your Father’s love.

John Piper said: “When you fight sin by trusting in Christ as superior to what sin offers, you are being led by the Spirit”

.There is a sense in which the children of God will lean on the Spirit for guidance in all those areas. But that is not the focus of this text. This text says, Come against the pull of sin by the power of the Spirit, because “all who are [THUS] led by the Spirit are the sons of God.”

In other words, the evidence that we are the children of God is that the Holy Spirit confirms his presence by leading us into war with our sin. The children of God hate sin. The children of God have the values and priorities and preferences and tastes of their Father.

You’re just like your dad, at heart.


Romans 8: 15 comes in now to explain more fully how the Spirit of God relates to that sonship. He says, (v. 14) “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (15) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” He is answering the question: Why does the leading of the Spirit prove that you are a son of God? And he is answering the question: How does the Spirit lead?

The reason the leading of the Spirit proves we are children of God is that it is “the Spirit of adoption.” It is the Spirit given to us to confirm a legal transaction carried out by the Father, namely, adoption. Listen to what F. F. Bruce says about this term “adoption as sons” in the Roman world of Paul’s day:

“In the Roman world of the first century AD an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.” 

When the Holy Spirit is called in verse 15 the “Spirit of adoption” the meaning is the Spirit confirms and makes real to you this great legal transaction of adoption. If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior and Treasure, then you are adopted.

John 1:12 says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” If you receive Christ, you are adopted.

Now to seal this and confirm it and make it experientially real to you, God sends the Spirit into our hearts.Here is the way Paul says it in Galatians 4: “[Christ] redeemed those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’

The Spirit is poured out into our hearts to confirm and make real our adoption.

How does he do that according to verse 15? He does it by replacing the fear of a slave toward a master with the love of a son toward a father. “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

He is contrasting the fear of a slave with the affection of a son. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to change our slavish fears toward God into confident, happy, peaceful affection for God as our father.


There are some wonderful things here

that are wrapped up in that concept of sonship:

Assurance of who we are;

Freedom from the fear of what we were;

A legacy of what we will be.

And it is into these three areas of discovery that the Holy Spirit leads us.





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