One of the phrases that is common in Christian talk is ‘the leading of the Spirit’ and it is used to describe a wide range of spiritual experiences. Paul mentions the phrase in verse 14 and we may be surprised at what he links the leading with. We can see that he uses it in connection with what has preceded it, and in those previous verses he describes the Christian activity of slaying one’s sins. He also uses it in connection with what follows verse 14, and those following verses he speaks about prayer and the witness of the Spirit in the hearts of believers. So we can see that a person who is led by the Spirit will be concerned with prayer, mortification of sin and assurance of salvation.
Paul says that the Spirit leads every Christian. We may be surprised by this emphasis because often it is assumed that only devout believers are led by the Spirit. I can think of two ways in which the Holy Spirit leads Christians who have sinned: first, he leads them to the cross of Jesus in order to be forgiven and, second, he leads them to the heavenly Father for family correction.
The phrase ‘led by the Spirit’ use imagery drawn from everyday life. It illustrates that he goes ahead of us and that he is going somewhere. Matthew Henry depicts this divine leading as follows: ‘They are led by the Spirit of God, as a scholar in his learning is led by his tutor, as a traveller in his journey is led by his guide, as a soldier in his engagements is led by his captain; not driven as beasts, but led as rational creatures, drawn with the cords of a man and the bands of love. It is the undoubted character of all true believers that they are led by the Spirit of God.’
Although the leading of the Spirit is a large topic, there are some basic principles we need to remember, and here are four of them. First, Jesus stated in John 16:13 that the Holy Spirit would lead believers into the truth, which is a reminder that the Spirit does not lead us contrary to the Word of God. Second, sometimes the Spirit can lead us into situations in which we will be tested concerning our loyalty to God. This is what happened to the Saviour after his baptism (Luke 4:1). This can happen to us shortly after a spiritually uplifting time. Third, the Spirit leads us along with other Christians. He is leading every Christian in the world to heaven. Fourth, the Spirit leads us to deal with our sins, and that is the aspect that Paul deals with here in Romans 8:12-14. We will think more about this fourth aspect tomorrow.