All Christians want to hear the voice of God and all of us need the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Most of us have a host of complicated issues in our life where we need God’s direction: How do I handle this difficult relationship? How do I navigate parenting? How should I react to my unfair boss? Should I accept that job offer in another state? How do I overcome my anger? How can I share the gospel with my neighbor?
Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” If you are a Christian, then you live by the Spirit. Our call is to listen to him and keep in step with him. That Greek word “keep in step” means to be in line, following the person in front of you, keeping in step with their every move. When the Spirit has filled your life, this is how he guides you. And while the Spirit is leading us, we must be active in following him. As we look at the Scriptures, we can see the Spirit functionally guiding our lives in the following six ways:
1- The Spirit guides us by calling us into relationship with Jesus.
Jesus is the good Shepherd and we are the sheep. Jesus said about the shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4).
In ancient Palestine, sheep would be kept in an outdoor pen. Often more than one shepherd would keep their sheep in the same pen. When it came time to move the sheep, the shepherd would call out to them. Every shepherd had a unique call the sheep learned – sometimes the sheep would even be named and called out specifically. Only that shepherd’s sheep would come. The shepherd isn’t behind the sheep driving them. He doesn’t have ropes around their neck. He leads them with his voice.
Jesus says in verse 14, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”
When we were lost sheep, Jesus called out to us. His voice led us from death to life, from darkness to light. Our Shepherd laid down his life for us, and we now belong to him. The voice calling out to us comes by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent. He calls us into relationship with him from the start and, if we listen to this same voice, he’ll continue to lead us every day.
2- The Spirit guides us by purging our sinful desires and growing his fruits.
The famous passage on the fruit of the Spirit begins by saying “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The call to “walk by the Spirit” means that the Spirit directs us in our daily lives and empowers us. Verse 18 says we are to be “led by the Spirit.” The Spirit actively, personally, and intimately guides us through life in an ongoing way.
We see in Galatians that if you are walking by the Spirit, you won’t carry out your fleshly urges. Why? Because in Christ, you have crucified those sinful passions. Your sinful nature has been put to death, and the Spirit purges those passions from your life. And instead, new urges, new passions grow out naturally from your new heart – like fruit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24).
Keeping in step with the Spirit means walking with him in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. He is walking in this fruit, and we are following him. The Spirit is in us, guiding us away from sin and toward righteousness in him.
3- The Spirit guides us by the truth of his written Word.
God speaks to us in his written Word. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of Scripture, who inspired the human authors – “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). Jesus taught that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide his apostles into truth, and from them we have the New Testament (John 14:16, 16:13).
And now as we read the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit is our Advocate guiding us to understand and live out his Word. When we read, study, and memorize God’s Word, the Spirit opens our eyes to find strength and guidance for the Christian life. He challenges us, teaches us, encourages us, and comforts us through the truth of his Word.
Rather than opening the Bible hoping to find random bits of guidance, we need to regularly and consistently spend time in God’s Word. As we do, we become familiar with its truths and we give God an opportunity to speak into our current situation. The Bible is a treasure chest of riches for the Christian life. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). And as you become familiar with the Spirit’s voice in Scripture, you become more attentive to his voice as he leads you in other ways.
4- The Spirit guides us by the process of godly discernment.
Psalm 119:125 says, “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.” To be discerning means to have sound judgment, to be wise, to think about the world as God does. This means thinking, reasoning, testing, trying, asking, learning, and growing by the Spirit’s guidance. Johannes Kepler, 17th century German scientist, believed that every discovery in biology, mathematics, chemistry, psychology, sociology just means learning something God already knew. Kepler believed that true knowledge and discernment was “thinking God’s thoughts after him.”
Not all issues in life are right or wrong – some are wise or foolish. And so, we need to pray that the Spirit will give us good discernment, sound judgment, and solid reasoning. The proverbs say living with discernment according to God’s wisdom means not being foolish. Faced with any particular life choice, we can pray and ask God, “How can I live in a way that honors you? What choice makes sense? What response would be wise?”
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The Holy Spirit renews our mind and enables us to discern the will of God. Examine the issues, test the possible outcome, and use Spirit-inspired judgment to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).
5- The Spirit guides us by bringing consensus with other believers.
True Spirit-led wisdom and discernment should always be pursued amongst wise, godly people. In Acts 15, a disagreement arose about whether Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and follow the Old Testament Laws. Paul and Barnabas debated with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this (vv. 6-7). Then James speaks from Amos 9 and says that in his judgment the Gentile Christians should have a few basic restrictions, but should not be burdened with the entire law (vv. 19-20). Everyone agreed and that first church counsel found consensus, for “it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church” (v. 22).
Through the process of hearing testimony, discussion, debate, and consulting the Word of God, the Holy Spirit was leading the early church. The letter they wrote to the Gentiles says, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements” (v. 28).
As we seek the Spirit’s guidance, we need to do so with other believers. Consult godly friends, family, your spouse, and church leaders. Ask for their wisdom and input. Don’t make important decisions or seek God’s guidance in isolation.
6- The Spirit guides us by revealing God’s thoughts.
This is one of the more intimate and personal ways to hear the Spirit’s voice. The Spirit moves in us so our thoughts are in line with the heart of God. 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 says this:
“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God… ‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ.”
The Holy Spirit is the only one who knows and understands God’s thoughts, and since we have the Spirit of God, we can understand all the wonderful things God gives us. The Holy Spirit reveals what no human mind could even imagine! Of course no one fully knows the full depth and complexity of God – no one can instruct God – but we share in the mind of Christ!
The inner voice of the Holy Spirit can direct, steer, and point our thoughts to align with the mind of Christ. In the most fundamental sense, this means that a transformed mind can think about life as God would. If we want God to guide us, we need to know how he thinks about the world: what he values, what he loves, what he hates, what he desires, what he thinks is good. The Spirit of God directs our thoughts so we know what is righteous in a broken world, how to comfort someone in grief, how to pray in the midst of a dilemma, how to love someone in need, how to speak truth to an unbelieving friend, etc. To do so, we must humbly seek him and quietly listen.
And since the Spirit of God is in us, we can understand God’s thoughts, not just in a general sense, but at times in very specific ways. The Scriptures speak about how the Gift of Prophecy is rightly used in the church today to bring a revelation from God to the mind or heart of a Christian. God can speak to us in this way through a dream, vision, or an inner sense of the Spirit speaking. But as with any way the Spirit guides us, his voice is only and always in line with the infallible, written Word of God – “the prophetic word more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19).
Christian, through these six profound ways the Holy Spirit can guide our lives so we can know him, seek him, and follow him. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”