Part 2 – The Guidance of the Holy Spirit
There was once a woman who, when she woke up each morning, consecrated the day to the Lord as soon as she woke. She “would then ask Him whether she was to get up or not,” and would not stir till “the voice” told her to dress. After getting out of bed, as she went dress, she would ask the Lord whether or not she should wear each article of clothing, and very often the Lord would tell her to put on the right shoe and leave off the other; sometimes she was to put on both socks and no shoes; and sometimes both shoes and no socks. It was the same with each article of clothing, until she was dressed and ready to face the day – Ray Strachey, Religious Fanaticism
Last time, we explored the truth that, as our baseline and groundwork in our walk with God, we need to believe and have faith in the fact that He promises guidance and wisdom in our decision-making processes. We defined decision-making as the ability to arrive at a decision after due consideration of all the factors involved. And, we discovered that wisdom is from God. In general, Scripture teaches that wisdom is the quality of knowledge, discernment and understanding characteristic of God Himself, a gift of the Holy Spirit, and that which enables the planning and successful achievement of a desire goal. Remember, James says:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” James 1:5-6, NIV
Since God promises that He will provide wisdom and guidance, and since we have faith in that promise, it remains for us to discover how He goes about giving that guidance and wisdom. This time, we are going to talk about the Holy Spirit and what He does in the process of guiding us.
Look at the story at the beginning of this article. How does the Holy Spirit guide us in our decision-making process? Should we follow the example of this woman and completely unplug our own brains and will from the process?
The answer is, of course, no. God does give us the Holy Spirit to guide us, but this doesn’t mean that we should not use our own critical thinking skills to reach decisions and try to determine what God’s will is in a specific situation.
Let’s look at an example from the Bible. We are going to examine Acts Chapter 15. However, before doing so, it would be good to have some background information on what is going on prior to this.
Acts 10 – Peter receives a vision from God that shows him that the Good News of Jesus should and must be preached to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. As a result, he goes to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile centurion, and his household receives salvation and the Holy Spirit comes upon them in a way that is visible to everyone there
Acts 11- The church in Jerusalem, consisting of Jewish believers, criticizes Peter for associating with Gentiles, something that Jewish people were not supposed to do. Peter explains his vision and what happened when he did preach to the Gentiles, and the church recognizes that God’s plan of salvation includes Gentiles as well as Jews.
Acts 15 – Some Jewish converts to Christianity go to Antioch, the epicenter of Gentile Christianity, and tell them that they had to be circumcised according to the Law of Moses in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas argue against this and eventually end up going to Jerusalem in order to get the question of circumcision answered. While there, some Pharisee believers assert that all Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep all of the OT law. When the apostles and church leaders meet about it, Peter argues that his vision shows that God does not require Gentiles to follow OT law, calling it a “burden” and a “yoke” around their necks, and even points out that the Jewish people were unable to follow the requirements of the law.
As a result of Peter’s testimony, and Paul and Barnabas’ accounts of what had happened with their ministry, the church leaders decide not to impose circumcision and other OT laws on the Gentiles, instead telling them to avoid certain practices that would hinder their fellowship with Jewish Christians and, in the case of sexual immorality, outright sin:
22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul—26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Farewell. – Acts 15:22–29. NIV
In determining the role of the Holy Spirit in the decision-making process, we need to focus in on verse 28. It says, that it seemed good both to the Holy Spirit and to them that they should do the following. It never specifically says that they heard an audible voice from the Holy Spirit telling them to write down the words of the letter, though it is possible that He worked that way. Instead, they say that their opinion of what requirements were necessary was in some way confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Essentially, they reasoned out the proper response based on prior experience based their knowledge of God’s will revealed in Scripture and through the testimony of others and that this process was aided and, in some way, confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
Remember, according to what we concluded in our last study, God promises that He will guide us and give us the wisdom and insight necessary to follow His will and make wise decisions. Well, the way that He makes good on this promise is through the Holy Spirit. A quick study on the works of the Holy Spirit includes literally dozens of different tasks He undertakes and things that He does in the world and in the life of Christians. Some examples of these include:
He gives assurance of salvation for those who are followers of Christ (Rom. 8:14-16)
He directs and empowers believers in their working in God’s will (1 Cor. 12:3-7)
He gives a sense of peace and contentment to His children regardless of their life circumstances (Rom. 15:13)
He inspires our praise and worship of God (Eph. 5:18-20)
He prompts prayer and intercedes on our behalf to God (Rom 8:26-27)
He enables us to live holy lives (sanctification, Gal 5:22-23)
He enables us to understand and apply the truths of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:12-16)
He convicts us of our sins and the reality of forgiveness available in Christ (John 16:8-11, Eph. 1:17-18)
He guides groups and individuals facing challenges, decisions, and difficulties (Rom 8:14, Gal 5:18)
He forms and guides the church (1 Cor. 12:13, Eph. 4:3-4)
Basically, it is only through the Holy Spirit that we have knowledge of God’s will and His purposes in the world and in our lives. So, we can see that it is through the gift of the Holy Spirit, through His actions in the world and in our lives, that God fulfills His promise to guide and enable us to make wise decisions. The rest of this study will focus on specific ways that the Holy Spirit reveals God’s direction and will and brings wisdom into the lives of His people. The specific avenues we will discuss are going to be how the Holy Spirit works through Scripture, prayer, advice from other believers, and life circumstances, as well as understanding how easy it is to misinterpret our desires for God’s will. We need to ask ourselves some questions about the Holy Spirit and our understanding of Him in order to have success in this study:
1. Have you ever recognized or felt the Holy Spirit influencing your decision-making process? What did that look/feel like?
2. Based on the biblical concepts we explored, is it reasonable to expect the guidance of the Holy Spirit to take the form of the woman in the story? Why or why not?
3. In studying Acts 15:1-21, what are some of the methods that the Holy Spirit uses to reveal the will of God in a Christian’s life?
God promises to give us wisdom and guide us in the decision-making process towards His will and purposes. He does so, for those who have a relationship with Him through Jesus, by giving us the Holy Spirit to live within us and to guide us to an understanding of Him. It is vital, however, that we learn how the Holy Spirit communicates and works in our lives and that we learn to recognize when that communication and guidance is occurring. The remainder of this series will explore these needs in more detail.