It is quite common to hear someone speak of what the Spirit told them on different occasions. With some people it seems that everywhere they go and whatever they are doing the Spirit is talking to them and giving them guidance. Two things about that whole situation that bothers me is first that I never see that kind of guidance from the Holy Spirit in the Bible. There isn’t any question that God’s people were guided by the Spirit during the Old Testament as well as the New, yet there aren’t any examples of the Spirit being the constant source of information for people. The second thing that bothers me is that many of the things folks say the Spirit is telling them don’t fit what the Spirit says in His word. The Scriptures are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Peter describes the process by which one became a writer of Scripture in 2 Peter 1:20-21 when he said that what they wrote wasn’t some private interpretation of God’s will. But holy men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
In I Timothy 4:1-5 Paul makes an interesting statement with regard to the Spirit’s messages to us. “The Spirit clearly says that in latter times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
Notice the statement “The Spirit clearly says.” Does that imply that somethings the Spirit said weren’t so clear? Obviously, it demonstrates that not all things from the Holy Spirit are equally clear. But on this topic the Spirit had very clearly spoken to Paul about what was lying ahead for people who followed Christ.
Some will abandon the faith. Notice it wasn’t that they would abandon faith. It was that they would abandon THE FAITH. When inspired men spoke of “The faith” it was a reference to the message of God that produces faith in the one who hears it. Paul said he now preached the faith he had once tried to destroy. Jude said that while he had wanted to write a letter to them about the common salvation they shared, the need was for him to write a letter pleading with them to “Contend earnestly for the faith that had once for all been delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3). So when the Spirit declared that some were going to abandon the faith his point was that they would turn from teaching what God had said to them and set out on their own course. They would follow “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Suppose we stopped right there on this discussion. What kinds of things would you imagine that demons and deceiving spirits would tell these people to teach to the people? I would think of it being things that turned people completely away from God. Things such as denying God’s existence or denying that there is any moral standard for us to follow would be on his mind. Perhaps it would be to promote lifestyles that were totally foreign to the purity of life taught by the Lord. Maybe they would promote homosexual relationships or encourage sexual relationships outside of marriage. Perhaps they would promote the killing of innocent babies by means of abortion. All of these would fit my image of what demons would try to convince people to do that would lead them completely away from God and righteousness.
But that wasn’t the kind of thing that the Spirit had told Paul clearly was going to happen. These teachers following the lead of demons and deceiving spirits were going to teach things that seemed innocent, moral and even spiritual. They were going to tell them they shouldn’t marry and they should avoid eating meats.
Why would they tell them not to marry? It may be that these teachers were following some forms of gnosticism which promoted the idea that all sexual relationships were wrong or unclean. Since part of marriage is for two people to become one and share the marriage bed with God’s blessings, this would be a rejection of God’s will. Anything that promotes the notion that Christian people ought not to have children misses the mark of what God teaches. The truth is that anything that works to do away with marriage or turn it into something that is different from one man for one woman for a life time is missing this mark. It leads one from the teachings of the Lord while sounding like spiritual truth.
The second way the demons were going to lead these teachers was to tell the people that they shouldn’t eat meats. They should become vegetarians instead. Well, surely it isn’t wrong for one to be a vegetarian? No it isn’t wrong for one person to decide that is how they want to live. But if we began to teach people that eating meats or any other particular kinds of food are unclean and sinful we are going in a wrong direction. God created all things to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”
What the demons or deceiving spirits teach people isn’t some huge immoral behavior that everyone would recognize as being completely wrong. Instead their teachings all sound right. They are reasonable, logical and often extremely close to being what God teaches. It doesn’t take one going far astray for them to leave God behind. If the demons can just get us to take a slight detour from the narrow way that leads to life he will have led us completely away from the Lord.
We must be very careful when we believe the Spirit is directing everything we say and do. It is terribly easy to be following the guide of a different spirit from the Holy Spirit of God while thinking it is the Lord who is leading.
How can we know for sure? Compare what is being said with what the Bible clearly teaches and if there is a difference, it is the word of God we should follow. We should check the fruit that is being produced in the life of the one who claims the Spirit is guiding all they do. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Quite often in looking at the life of those who claim the spirit’s lead, the fruit has been very different from what Paul here described. Instead of kindness or forbearance it has been arrogance and harsh attitudes. Instead of gentleness it has been self promotion or “Look at me” kind of thinking.
If the fruit isn’t right, it isn’t the Spirit that is behind it.