I feel God is leading me...
Have you ever heard someone assign inner impressions to the Holy Spirit? “I feel led by the Spirit…,” your friend tells you. “I feel the Spirit is leading me to…..”
How do you respond when someone attributes something to the Holy Spirit — especially when it seems contrary to God’s will?
- Is it even right for believers to look to inner promptings for God’s leading?
- Does God give inner impressions to prompt us toward His will?
- How does conscience relate?
- How can we tell if impressions are from God or another source?
Consider some seasoned counsel:
“Impressions could be produced by any number of sources: God, Satan, an angel, a demon, human emotions (such as fear or ecstasy), hormonal imbalance, insomnia, medication, or an upset stomach. Sinful impressions (temptations) may be exposed for what they are by the Spirit-sensitized conscience and the Word of God. But beyond that, one encounters a subjective quagmire of uncertainty. For in nonmoral areas, Scripture gives no guidelines for distinguishing the voice of the Spirit from the voice of the self or any other potential `voice’. And experience offers no reliable means of identification either (which is why the question comes up in the first place). Tremendous frustration has been experienced by sincere Christians who have earnestly but fruitlessly sought to decipher the code of the inward witness. Impressions are real; believers experience them. But impressions are not authoritative. Impressions are impressions. Call them `spiritual’ or attribute them to the Holy Spirit, and they are still the same just impressions. Impressions by any other name confuse the issue and confound the believer in the process of decision making” (Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God, pp.130-131).
Arthur L. Johnson
“The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit will lead us, but we are never told He will do this by some inner urge. It is interesting in this connection that when Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit would lead them into all truth, He said, `He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you’ (John 14:26). Here the leading is bringing to mind Jesus’ statements. The mind of each disciple is the instrument the Spirit will use, not some non-rational, mystical factor” (Arthur L. Johnson, Faith Misguided: Exposing the Dangers of Mysticism).
J. I. Packer
“The idea of a life in which the inward voice of the Spirit decides and directs everything sounds most attractive, for it seems to exalt the Spirit’s ministry and to promise the closest intimacy with God; but in practice this quest for super-spirituality leads only to frantic bewilderment or lunacy. Yet the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our guide is to honor the Holy Scriptures through which He guides us. The guidance which God gives to shape our lives, the instilling, that is, of the basic convictions, attitudes, ideals and value judgments, in terms of which we are to live is not a matter of inward promptings apart from the Word but of the pressure on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in the Word which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves” (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 235.)
D. A. Carson
“Most of the biblical passages that deal with the will of God focus on holiness, living in harmony with one’s family, obeying God and the like. The kind of determining of God’s will that utterly depends on voices, internal promptings, `burdens’, and the like can indeed prove far too subjective, especially when such experiences are invested with an authority that challenges the criteria of Scripture or the consensus wisdom of mature, spiritually-minded Christians” (D.A. Carson, Letters Along the Way, pp. 132).
“Scripture never commands us to tune into any inner voice. We’re commanded to study and meditate on Scripture (Joshua 1:8; Ps. 1:1-2). We’re instructed to cultivate wisdom and discernment (Prov. 4:5-8). We’re told to walk wisely and make the most of our time (Eph. 5:15-16). We’re ordered to be obedient to God’s commands (Deut. 28:1-2; Jn. 15:14). But we are never encouraged to listen for inner promptings. On the contrary, we are warned that our hearts are so deceitful and desperately wicked that we cannot understand them (Jer. 17:9). Surely this should make us very reluctant to heed promptings and messages that arise from within ourselves. Those willing to heed inner voices and mental impressions may be listening to the lies of a deceitful heart, the fantasies of an overactive imagination, or even the voice of a demon. Once objective criteria are cast aside, there is no way to know the difference between truth and falsehood. Those who follow subjective impressions are by definition undiscerning” (John F. MacArthur, Jr., Reckless Faith, pp. 189-193).
Paul Little, in his helpful pamphlet entitled, “Affirming The Will Of God,” offered a relevant illustration. “Several years ago I knew a girl who had signed a contract to teach. In August, she received another offer from a school closerto where she wanted to live. So she broke the original contract. Had she acted on the biblical principle in Psalm 15:4, where God says that He is pleased with a person who swears to his own hurt and does not change, she would not have done that. The department chairman who told me about the Christian girl’s action said her justification was `I have a peace about it,’ and he commented rather sardonically, `Isn’t that lovely? She’s got the peace and I’ve got the pieces.’
I believe that girl missed the will of God. She violated a principle which, if she had been alert and had applied it to her situation, would have given her clear guidance in this specific detail of her life. God guides, then, through His Word and its principles.“This is one of the most neglected dimensions of guidance today. It sounds terribly spiritual to say `God led me,’ but I am always suspicious of a person who implies that he has a personal pipeline to God. When no one else senses that what the person suggests is the will of God, then we had better be careful. God has been blamed for the most outlandish things by people who have confused their own inverted pride with God’s will. Occasionally I hear of a guy who, in the name of spiritual guidance, rushes up to a girl and says, `Susie, God has told me you’re to marry me.’ I have news for him. If that is the will of God, then Susie is going to get the message too. If she does not, somebody’s radar is jammed, and it’s not hard to tell whose.”
Caution is warranted
The collective wisdom of these teachers should caution us against allowing inner impressions to act as a final voice from God. The potential for subjective, self-serving, misguided or even Satanic influences is deceptively strong.
What about Romans 8:14?
Yes, in Scripture, we learn that, “Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God” (Romans 8:14). But this verse does not suggest that we look to inner promptings from the Spirit for guidance. In the larger context, being “led by the Spirit” does not refer to inner voices or any inner experience, but to dealing with known sin and not living according to the flesh. Just read the full context surrounding Romans 8:14.
In summary, God works in the whole person: intellect, emotion and will. God clearly uses conscience to restrain and protect us. But conscience must be yielded to the objective truth of Scripture. We cannot debate another person’s feelings or inner impressions, but we can evaluate those impressions based on objective considerations. Be a good (and obedient) student of Scripture rather than your feelings and you will flourish in God’s will (Deuteronomy 8:3-5; Psalm1; 19:7-11; 119; II Timothy 3:16-17).