When we speak of the importance of following the Holy Spirit’s leading, a question often asked is, “How do you know the Spirit’s leading?” Two principles provide light:
First, there is the wisdom of the Spirit, in which the ultimate faculty addressed is our mind. This involves a spiritual illumination of the Word to our mind and at the same time a spiritual invigoration of our mind with the Word. When the Holy Spirit reveals to us the grand realities of truth that connect to the inscribed words of Scripture, we “see” truth. He, as the Spirit of truth, guides us into all truth (see John 16:13). He, as the Spirit of wisdom, reveals the knowledge of Christ and enlightens the eyes of our understanding so that we know the riches of God’s provision for us (see Eph. 1:17 and following verses). He, as the “eye-opener,” opens our eyes so that we may see wonderful things in God’s Word (see Ps. 119:18). This illumination of the Word to our mind causes the invigoration of our mind with the Word, and thus, a renewing in the spirit of our mind (see Eph. 4:23).
The foundational principle of guidance is found in this combination of the Word and the Spirit. The food of faith is the Word, for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). As the Spirit guides us into truth and opens the eyes of our understanding, He is authoring faith as we look unto Jesus (see Heb. 12:2), who is at oneness with the Word. So if we desire the Holy Spirit to speak to us, we need to delve into the written Word of God, trusting the Spirit to speak the truth to our heart.
This wisdom of the Spirit is real for any child of God who seeks God in His Word. When the Spirit bestows wisdom by making the Word of God come alive to us and thus revealing to our hearts the living Word, He is secondarily demonstrating how He speaks and leads. Learning the Spirit’s voice in connection with the Word as the Spirit makes the Word come alive to us provides us an association for discerning the Spirit’s voice in any guidance.
Second, there is the witness of the Spirit, in which the primary faculty addressed is our spirit. This involves communication given to our spirit in conjunction with our mind and at the same time knowledge given to our mind in conjunction with our spirit. But it is primarily Spirit-to-spirit communication, which then works out through our mind. For example, the Spirit bears “witness with our spirit,” which is His primary level of communication to us in the realm of our spirit, “that we are the children of God,” which is His secondary level of communication with us in the realm of our mind (Rom. 8:16). This is more a matter of knowing than of feeling. It is not that we feel like children of God but rather that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. This is a deep knowledge on the spirit level, not merely a feeling that may come and go on the soul level. As the convincer (see John 16:8), the Holy Spirit convinces so that we know—from the spirit to our mind—that we know.
The Spirit speaking so that we know is pictured in several ways. First, when the Spirit leads, there is a sense of light with no darkness, because “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The Spirit’s leading is clear. It is accompanied by light. It is not hazy and confusing. Second, when the Spirit guides, there is a sense of life with no deadness, because “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6). The Spirit’s leading is full of life and vitality. It is not “dry bones.” Third, when the Spirit leads, there is a sense of liberty with no duress, because “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). The Spirit’s leading is liberating. There is freedom. It is not a feeling of bondage or being forced into something.
For example, consider a preacher preparing a sermon. If he has a notion that he is to prepare a certain message, but as he studies, he finds that everything is dry and tedious and there is no sense of freshness—that would be darkness, deadness, and duress. If it is dry and tedious for him in the preparation, it will be worse for the audience! But if as he studies, truth comes alive, and there is meat on the bones and a sense that the message is the need of the hour—that would be light, life, and liberty. If the preacher is enriched in his study, then the audience will be blessed by the overflow—because it is the work of the Spirit.
Whether we are considering the wisdom of the Spirit or the witness of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit is the convincer who so convinces us that we begin to know something. This wonderful reality is, of course, based more on the Spirit’s ability to speak than on our ability to hear. Still, we must have ears to hear, or we may miss the Spirit’s communication.
Sometimes both the wisdom of the Spirit and the witness of the Spirit are involved in a given matter of guidance. However, sometimes there is no witness of the Spirit in a given situation. If we always have to have the witness of the Spirit, then what need is there of the mind? In such cases God has already given light to the mind, which is all that is needed. When the Spirit has been clear through the written Word, there is no need for us to ask for any further guidance that could differ from the Word. If we do ask at that point, it indicates a lack of submission on our part to the Word of God and gives ground for the enemy to provide false guidance that would contradict the written Word.
Through the wisdom of the Spirit and the witness of the Spirit, we can recognize and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Content for this article is taken from the chapter, “A Spiritual Guide,” in Friendship with the Holy Spirit—available in paperback from the Revival Focus webstore and in various formats through Amazon.com.
John Van Gelderen