The Apostle Paul writes in Rom. viii. 14, R. V., "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God." In this passage we see the Holy Spirit taking the conduct of the believer's life. A true Christian life is a personally conducted life, conducted at every turn by a Divine Person. It is the believer's privilege to be absolutely set free from all care and worry and anxiety as to the decisions which we must make at any turn of life. The Holy Spirit undertakes all that responsibility for us. A true Christian life is not one governed by a long set of rules without us, but led by a living and ever-present Person within us. It is in this connection that Paul says, "For ye received not the spirit of bondage again to fear." A life governed by rules without one is a life of bondage. There is always fear that we haven't made quite rules enough, and always the dread that in an unguarded moment we may have broken some of the rules which we have made. The life that many professed Christians lead is one of awful bondage; for they have put upon themselves a yoke more grievous to bear than that of the ancient Mosaic law concerning which Peter said to the Jews of his time, that neither they nor their fathers had been able to bear it (Acts xv. 10). Many Christians have a long list of self-made rules, "Thou shalt do this," and "Thou shalt do this," and "Thou shalt do this," and "Thou shalt not do that," and "Thou shalt not do that," and "Thou shalt not do that"; and if by any chance they break one of these self-made rules, or forget to keep one of them, they are at once filled with an awful dread that they have brought upon themselves the displeasure of God (and they even sometimes fancy that they have committed the unpardonable sin). This is not Christianity, this is legalism. "We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear," we have received the Spirit who gives us the place of sons (Rom. viii. 15). Our lives should not be governed by a set of rules without us but by the loving Spirit of Adoption within us. We should believe the teaching of God's Word that the Spirit of God's Son dwells within us and we should surrender the absolute control of our life to Him and look to Him to guide us at every turn of life. He will do it if we only surrender to Him to do it and trust Him to do it. If in a moment of thoughtlessness, we go our own way instead of His, we will not be filled with an overwhelming sense of condemnation and of fear of an offended God, but we will go to God as our Father, confess our going astray, believe that He forgives us fully because He says so (1 John i. 9) and go on light and happy of heart to obey Him and be led by His Spirit.
Being led by the Spirit of God does not mean for a moment that we will do things that the written Word of God tells us not to do. The Holy Spirit never leads men contrary to the Book of which He Himself is the Author. And if there is some spirit which is leading us to do something that is contrary to the explicit teachings of Jesus, or the Apostles, we may be perfectly sure that this spirit who is leading us is not the Holy Spirit. This point needs to be emphasized in our day, for there are not a few who give themselves over to the leading of some spirit, whom they say is the Holy Spirit, but who is leading them to do things explicitly forbidden in the Word. We must always remember that many false spirits and false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John iv. 1). There are many who are so anxious to be led by some unseen power that they are ready to surrender the conduct of their lives to any spiritual influence or unseen person. In this way, they open their lives to the conduct and malevolent influence of evil spirits to the utter wreck and ruin of their lives.
A man who made great professions of piety once came to me and said that the Holy Spirit was leading him and "a sweet Christian woman," whom he had met, to contemplate marriage. "Why," I said, in astonishment, "you already have one wife." "Yes," he said, "but you know we are not congenial, and we have not lived together for years." "Yes," I replied, "I know you have not lived together for years, and I have looked into the matter, and I believe that the blame for that lies largely at your door. In any event, she is your wife. You have no reason to suppose she has been untrue to you, and Jesus Christ explicitly teaches that if you marry another while she lives you commit adultery" (Luke xvi. 18). "Oh, but," the man said, "the Spirit of God is leading us to love one another and to see that we ought to marry one another." "You lie, and you blaspheme," I replied. "Any spirit that is leading you to disobey the plain teaching of Jesus Christ is not the Spirit of God but some spirit of the devil." This perhaps was an extreme case, but cases of essentially the same character are not rare. Many professed Christians seek to justify themselves in doing things which are explicitly forbidden in the Word by saying that they are led by the Spirit of God. Not long ago, I protested to the leaders in a Christian assembly where at each meeting many professed to speak with tongues in distinct violation of the teaching of the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. xiv. 27, 28 (that not more than two or at the most, three, shall speak in a tongue in one gathering and that not even one shall speak unless there was an interpreter, and that no two shall speak at the same time). The defense that they made was that the Holy Spirit led them to speak several at a time and many in a single meeting and that they must obey the Holy Spirit, and in such a case as this were not subject to the Word. The Holy Spirit never contradicts Himself. He never leads the individual to do that which in the written Word He has commanded us all not to do. Any leading of the Spirit must be tested by that which we know to be the leading of the Spirit in the Word. But while we need to be on our guard against the leading of false spirits, it is our privilege to be led by the Holy Spirit, and to lead a life free from the bondage of rules and free from the anxiety that we shall not go wrong, a life as children whose Father has sent an unerring Guide to lead them all the way.
Those who are thus led by the Spirit of God are "sons of God," that is, they are not merely children of God, born it is true of the Father, but immature, but they are the grown children, the mature children of God; they are no longer babes but sons. The Apostle Paul draws a contrast in Gal. iv. 1-7 between the babe under the tutelage of the law and differing nothing from a servant, and the full grown son who is no more a servant but a son walking in joyous liberty. It sometimes seems as if comparatively few Christians to-day had really thrown off the bondage of law, rules outside themselves, and entered into the joyous liberty of sons.