I recently listened to a sermon in which the preacher stated that the believer can never claim that he/she has heard the voice of God because God has spoken and His revelation is complete. What is the Biblical balance between the truth that (1) God’s revelation is complete and the truth that (2) God speaks to His children? I am specifically thinking of situations where a believer prays for the leading of the Spirit in regard to a specific need or decision that is not directly addressed in Scripture?
Great question! Many wonder the same because down deep they know the Spirit leads but may have heard things similar to what you mention. It’s possible that such assertions stem from a reaction to those claiming the Spirit’s leading but are obviously off course.
God’s written revelation is complete, but that does not limit God from speaking according to His own ways—many of which are revealed in His Word. For example, the Spirit speaks to our spirit (Rom. 8:16) but not as an outside audible voice. God spoke before the written Word. He still speaks. As the author of Scripture, the Spirit never speaks contrary to what He wrote. But He speaks. Thankfully, the completed revelation of the written Word of God provides clear information regarding the specific leading of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus taught the specific leading of the Spirit. Referring to times of persecution, Jesus said, “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matt. 10: 19-20), and “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). The Holy Spirit does specifically lead and empower.
The narrative of Acts demonstrates the specific guidance of the Spirit. When Philip saw the eunuch from Ethiopia on the desert road, “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot” (Acts 8:29). This led to the eunuch’s conversion. Clearly, the Holy Spirit specifically led Philip to witness to the eunuch whose heart had been prepared for the message of Jesus.
After Peter saw the vision in Joppa, “While Peter thought on the vision, the Spirit said unto him, Behold, three men seek thee. Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (Acts 10:19-20). This led to the conversion of Cornelius and his household, which opened the door to the Gentile harvest. Again, the Spirit specifically led.
During a time of prayer and fasting in the church at Antioch, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them” (Acts 13:2). This led to the first missionary journey and the ingathering of multiple Gentile converts from which a number of churches were started. The Spirit specifically led again.
When Paul and his team would have spent time in Asia, they “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). This was to help get them over to the Macedonian harvest. All of these examples illustrate the Spirit’s specific leading.
The epistles explicitly articulate being “led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14) and being “led of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18). As the “Spirit of wisdom” (Ephesians 1:17), obviously, the Spirit gives wisdom. In fact, we are invited to ask for wisdom when we lack it (James 1:5).
While the Spirit speaks through the Word, and never contrary to the Word, He is not limited to the canon of Scripture. If He was, we would not need the Holy Spirit. Yet, Jesus sent His Spirit to indwell us, to lead and empower us.
Truly there is a specific leading of the Spirit based on biblical truth. To deny the plain sense of these passages involves exegetical straining. There is no reason to believe the Spirit once led individuals any differently than He leads individuals now. Just because some may follow their own whims or a satanic counterfeit does not mean there is not a real leading of the Holy Spirit. How can you “try the spirits” according to 1 John 4:1 if there is no genuine leading of the Spirit? If Satan could prompt Ananias (Acts 5:3), certainly the Holy Spirit can prompt.
The objective Word of God teaches the subjective reality of the Holy Spirit’s leadership. This is an “objective subjectivism.” There is an objective biblical basis for the subjective leading of the Holy Spirit. The key is staying within the biblical boundaries.
Much of this information is taken from my first article in a series on Spiritual Guidance. The series (Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3) also covers how to discern the Spirit’s guidance.
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Brother John, thank you for your answer but most especially for the many biblical examples. God’s truth is God’s truth and this reminds me to “always be ready to give an answer to the hope that is in me” …