“Of course,” says the believer with rightful bluster, “The Holy Spirit is the third divine person of the Godhead and therefore not some mindless force.”
But then, even though we seem to agree, their actions (and speech) hint at something else.
I keep hearing Christians say they’re being led by the spirit to: move to a new city; change jobs; seek a spouse; preach something other than they prepared; justify whatever sermon they do preach; or introduce some future course of action. I hear Christians even justify their actions or decisions based on the favorable results. So if Joe is “moved by the Spirit” to move to Arkansas where he is blessed with a great job and a preaching ministry, his moving by the Spirit is confirmed—God wanted him in Arkansas.
When asked “how do you know it’s the Holy Spirit?” the response I’ve gotten (in the past) is essentially “I just know” Or “It sounds…different” or “but look what wound up happening!” Sometimes I’ve even heard that the closer we come to God the more we’ll know it’s Him speaking because we’re just that close; like friends know what each other are thinking.
What does this mean? That they’re that close to God; I’m not? That they are being moved by God to act and others aren’t? That for God to act he has to do so in such a special way that confirms me (or your) belief system?
The problem is that conceptually the person draws a circle where God will do things. The believer stands outside of this circle. If the believer properly focuses, offers the right prayers, cleans up his life in just the right way he’ll find that the Spirit of God starts working on him or her to enter into the circle where God acts. This small still voice suggests that the person speaks on Ruth instead of Romans—maybe even on the last second after two weeks of preparation on Romans. Maybe even with fantastic results after preaching the message! Either way, the person is now acting with the motivation of God—going left instead of right, preaching this instead of that, helping here and not there—and they are properly Spiritual Persons who are “led by the Spirit of God”.
But is this true?
I made sure to highlight the activity of the Holy Spirit which evidences the fact that He is God and He is acting, right now, exactly as He wants to act. Not only is he doing what he wants, he is working where he wants—the world, the church and the believer. 1 Corinthians 12 shows that he’s actively involved in the life of the church despite this or that person’s internal leanings or convictions; 1 Corinthians 6 shows that owns the body of the believer; Ephesians 4 has the Spirit of God working in the entire universal Church; and John 14 shows the Spirit of God personally at work in the world. God is doing what he wants whether people like it or not. If The Spirit gets personally involved in the prayers of a believer because they (we) don’t know how we ought to pray, what makes people think he isn’t already involved in the most intimate areas without people realizing it at all?
Let me re-phrase that as a statement: God, in all three persons, is already involved in everything that is going on; to assume that there are special fuzzy nudging to move people to where God wants to do something is wrongheaded.
Indeed, Paul says that he doesn’t know the quality of his own work (even if he’s doing what he’s been called to do) but he’s not concerned about that; it is God who gives the results on any work. Paul’s exhortation is whether you plant or water you do your work unto the Lord; it’s his farm anyway.
Here I’ll get a response like “who are you? God can do what he wants.” To which I’ll agree but with a caveat: if God wants people to do something he will act in such a way that it is clear He wants this done; he will authenticate the message.
Christ speaks announcing the Kingdom of God, Christ, Christ dies—and comes back from the dead; message authenticated. God speaks through Moses (through Aaron), Pharaoh disbelieves, God authenticates the message. God speaks through Noah, the people disbelieve, and God authenticates the message. God speaks to Abram, Abram believes, God authenticates the message—several times. No subjective nudging. No emotional quirks.
The one time that we see some sort of nudging by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16) we find that the situation is (1) not repeated save in one passage where the Spirit is speaking through prophets and Paul ignores them (Acts 21—but we’ll deal with that later); (2) not as subjective as many people think; and (3) not normative. Indeed, the Holy Spirit’s leading seems to be much more obvious than even most of Christendom seems to think.