Summary: How to distinguish between the voice of the Holy Spirit and the voices of self and Satan
One day, about 25 years ago, I was sitting in a church service listening to the sermon, when I sensed that God was saying to me that He wanted me to be a pastor one day. At the time, I had a very good job with a land development company in which I made a lot of money. I had a family with young kids. I had absolutely no seminary or theological training. So being a pastor was the furthest thing from my mind. And over the next few weeks and months when I really couldn’t see any other evidence that was what God had in store for me, I really began to question whether in fact that was really God speaking to me that morning or whether I was hearing some other voice.
Have you ever had and experience like that? You really sensed that God was speaking to you, but you weren’t really sure if that feeling you had was from God or it was just indigestion from the burrito you had for dinner. So you begin to doubt whether that was really God speaking or if you were merely hearing what you wanted to hear, or if it was Satan trying to distract you or get you off track.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, then I’m sure you would agree that one of the functions of the Holy Spirit in your life is to guide and lead you. But exactly how He does that is often not real clear. I don’t know about you, but I sure wish that discerning the leadership of the Holy Spirit in our lives was much easier. Sometimes I just wish that the Bible provided us with a checklist or a series of steps we could take that would somehow guarantee that His guidance in our lives would be readily evident.
I even wish it was possible for me to preach a sermon this morning that would provide you with that kind of concrete direction in discerning the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life. But if that is what you are looking for this morning, you’re going to be sorely disappointed in the message today, because I am just not capable of doing that.
However, what we can accomplish together this morning is to get a better feel for how the Holy Spirit guides and leads us by looking at some Scriptural examples of how he does that. And we can also develop some guidelines, based on God’s character and His Word, that will help us to recognize God’s voice and to distinguish it from the other voices that are vying for our attention.
HOW THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDE US
There are two broad aspects to the way that the Holy Spirit guides us – an external element and an internal element.
1. Externally – through God’s Word
Although we have a tendency to ignore this aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, it is actually His main way of guiding and leading us.
Jesus referred to this work of the Holy Spirit in John 16:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
(John 16:13-14 ESV)
Since the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story of Jesus, it is the Bible that is the primary means that the Holy Spirit uses to declare to us the things of Jesus and to lead us into truth.
As Jesus reminded His disciples when He prayed for them just prior to being arrested in the Garden the night before His crucifixion, God’s Word is the primary way He reveals truth:
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
(John 17:17 ESV)
We get some further insight into the Holy Spirit’s work in the development of God’s Word from both Paul and Peter.
Paul, writing to Timothy to remind him of the importance of God’s Word, described how the Holy Spirit breathed out the Scriptures:
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 3:16-17 ESV)
The phrase “breathed out by God” is just one word in Greek, probably a word that Paul created to explain the process by which God’s Word comes to us. It is a compound word that consists of the Greek word for “God” and the verb that means “to breathe out”. As we’ve discussed before, in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “spirit” is the same word which can also be translated “breath” or “wind”. There is little doubt that Paul coined this word to make it clear that the Holy Spirit is the one who both guided the men who wrote the Bible and the one who breathed life into those words.