Whenever I read or hear words like “resist the Spirit’s leading,” my first instinct is to cringe.1
This special appeal to the Spirit’s leading is most often used when espousing views contrary to those found in the words he inspired to be written on a host of issues like views of marriage and sexuality, the work of Christ, or the nature of God himself. And the question I find myself asking whenever I see the appeal made is a simple one: “How do you know?”
After all, if we can’t use the words the Spirit inspired to be our norming-norm, what do we use to determine whether or not we’re resisting him? Shifts in culture? Personal feelings and preference? (And as an aside, if you’re reading this and don’t believe Scripture is inspired and perfectly accurate in all it teaches, this really is a legitimate question. I want to know how you would determine this.)
I’m not sure we can do that. I’m not sure it’s possible to truly make the case. After all, the Spirit doesn’t work apart from the word he inspired. He always works through it. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it well when he wrote,
The Holy Spirit always works through the word of God. Now there are many people who claim that He works directly. That was what caused the Quakers to wander off from the main party of the Puritans. They said that the word was not necessary, that the Holy Spirit spoke directly to each person, in some secret mystical manner, by some ‘inner light’. Not at all! The Holy Spirit always uses the word: ‘This is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you,’ says Peter (1 Pet. 1:25). ‘Being born again,’ says Peter, ‘not by corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever’ (1 Pet. 1:23).2
It’s important that we wrestle with what’s going on in our culture, the shifts in beliefs and behaviors especially. But if anyone is going to make a convincing argument on why Christians need to change their views on a number of key controversial issues, it’s not going to be pitting the Spirit against Scripture. Our understanding of the word might genuinely be wrong, and he if so, he will inevitably correct that. But the Spirit always works through the word, and he is never going to run contrary to it.