How the Leading of the Holy Spirit Directs EVERY Christian – And Why You Need to Know it

UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


I never really felt that what they were telling me was right. But who am I? They quoted their verses and told me what they meant. I really did want to follow and obey Christ. I am not a rebel. So I did what they told me was God’s will.

How many times have you either said something like this yourself, or you have heard a Christian who was a victim of abuse say it? For myself, I can not only attest to thinking this at times in the past, but I can also say that I have heard scores of abuse survivors say that this is how they thought as well. At some point we begin to wake up and realize that what these “experts” were telling us was just plain contrary to the character of God as He has revealed Himself to us.

Here are quite a few Scripture passages that are important for us to read and understand. They address the very identity and nature of every Christian, and they describe to us how the Spirit of Christ operates within us. Based upon these verses (and believe me, I could have listed many more – well, don’t believe ME – look for yourself:) it is my conclusion that in many of these cases, actually in most of them, that “feeling” that the counsel you were getting was not right, was not your ignorance, but was in fact the leading of the Holy Spirit telling you “what they are saying to you is wrong! Don’t listen to it.”

Read through these verses then and give some very serious thought to what they say about how Christ leads His people. Of course we realize that the Spirit always leads us in agreement with the written Word, which the Spirit Himself inspired. Notice how these verses emphasize that every Christian has the ability to discern truth from error and to discern God’s will.  Yes, we get better and better at these abilities as we grow in sanctification and knowledge of the Lord, but every Christian possesses these abilities because every Christian has the Spirit.

Ok, here we go:

1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (3) and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (20) Do not despise prophecies, (21) but test everything; hold fast what is good.

John 10:4-5 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (5) A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

1 John 4:5-6 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. (6) We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Ephesians 4:11-14 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (12) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (14) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Ephesians 4:20-21 But that is not the way you learned Christ!– (21) assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,

1 John 2:26-27 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. (27) But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him.

1 John 2:20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.

So, every Christian can test the spirits. That is to say, every Christian can discern truth from error by the leading of the Holy Spirit in them. This ability grows stronger and stronger as we read and study God’s Word.

And every Christian has the ability to recognize Jesus’ voice vs a stranger’s voice. YOU have that ability!  Every Christian knows God and is able to recognize His Word in contrast to the lies of the world.

In the Ephesians 4 passage we see that yes, the Lord has indeed given various offices to the church — prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastor-teachers. So this doctrine that every believer can discern truth from error does not mean that all pastors are out of a job! No, the pastor’s job is to help believers come to maturity in Christ so that they aren’t thrown into a deceptive doctrinal tailspin every time some Joel Osteen blows into town. Or, to give a more common example — so we aren’t any longer sitting ducks when other Christians or even our church leaders give us erroneous counsel claiming it is God’s Word for us. No pastor is infallible. John Piper is not infallible. We here on this blog are not infallible. So we must never, never accept instruction or counsel or what claims to be biblical teaching just because so and so said it. I fear, however, that this is in fact what so many Christians do and this is one result that we get into such a mess of legalism and other falsehoods in our own lives and in our churches.

I hope this all gives you some confidence. It should. YOU have some real abilities, Christian. If you don’t think that what you are hearing is the voice of the Good Shepherd, then most probably is not. Yes, we must be careful and diligent in making this determination. We have to be sure that it really is the Holy Spirit leading us and not our own sinful flesh. The Holy Spirit is not going to lead us to do something sinful. But He is leading you. He is teaching you in conjunction with God’s Word.

Perhaps we all need to tune out a lot of the noise that is coming at us and listen more carefully for the voice of the Lord.

31 thoughts on “How the Leading of the Holy Spirit Directs EVERY Christian – And Why You Need to Know it”

  1. Sometimes, we know instinctively (by the Holy Spirit) without necessarily having the academic knowledge to explain it. That, I believe, is how 1 John 2:20 can work…

    1 John 2:20 And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all the things.

  2. Jeff, interestingly, I have great discernment when it comes to scriptural issues and what I see in the lives of others. I have been able to “nail” it correctly. But when it came to my own personal life I was unable to see…. It has taken me three years to push away the cobwebs that I had allowed. In hindsight I see the Lord’s leading. I was not always able to accept the truth regarding my life and in His mercy He shielded me until I was ready for it. The Holy Spirit is right there with each of us! Jesus promised Him to us. We must trust that!

    1. That’s why we need the Spirit, so that we can discern these things for ourselves, too! Often seeing it in someone else’s life is the catalyst for seeing it in our own – on the other hand, if we only ever see error in others and never in our own thinking, that’s a red flag. 😛 Our self-awareness should be increasing as we go along…

      1. Katy, as believers we have the Holy Spirit. As victims of abuse many of us go to guilt and listen to the teachings of our churches and preachers rather than trusting our gut. As The Lord removed the scales from my own eyes I began to see in my life what I had seen in the lives of others. It took decades. I thank The Lord for His wisdom in revealing things to me as He did. Had I seen any sooner and responded accordingly I may not have been in the right place mentally and emotionally.

        Jeff, you are telling us to trust the Spirit and to listen to our gut. The should be in agreement. Thank you.

  3. Yes and amen!

    I made a very similar comment on another blog, recently. I usually avoid allowing myself to be drawn into debate. However, in this case, I felt compelled to address erroneous teaching about marriage and divorce in a blog post, for the sake of any other readers. It turned into a lengthy comment discussion between myself and the blog authors. Several of my comments were deleted along the way, but enough are currently in place to shed some light for others who may stumble on them.

    Anyway, at one point in the discussion, I asked the question, in regard to what should be taught about divorce, “Wouldn’t it be better for the church to always encourage believers to prayerfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they relentlessly pursue righteousness in all of life’s decisions?”

    As I wrote the question, I realized that this is the fundamental difference between the new covenant and the old covenant…between living in Christ’s liberty and living in legalism.

    Legalism says, “We don’t trust you to know right from wrong in your daily decisons, so we’re going to extract rigid rules from scripture and tell you the rigid rules must be applied to every situation in your life.”

    But the new covenant tells us that every believer has the Holy Spirit living within us, guiding and directing us, revealing God’s heart to us, helping us to understand God’s word and apply to our specific life circumstances.

    Thank you, Jeff!

  4. This is an excellent article. Even good and godly pastors are elders just miss the boat on issues reguarding abuse, abandoment and adultery. It can be even rougher when godly pastors miss the mark. There seems to be high levels of guilt when not accepting counsel from someone of that nature. However, if you are listening correctly to the Holy Spirit in time the direction will be affirmed.

    In my situation I moved to a new state with the approval of my elders. None of us realized the new church was being run by an abusive pastor. When I realized it and started to take action (which for me was not place membership and seek another church), my elders rebuked me and told me I was sinning. It was the hardest thing in my life to tell them that they were mistaken and that I must take action in opposition to their counsel. It harmed our relationship for a while. In fact, it took four years. But, the fruits of the abusive pastor became manifest broadly. I confronted my elders for their sin and they repented and asked for forgiveness. We are human and we make mistakes. My elders were and they erred. But, part of what made them godly was when it became clear after the passage of time that they were wrong, they repented. It was very painful in the meantime. Another mark of godliness was when I told them they were wrong and I needed to act in opposition to their counsel, they said they would stay out of it. However, there was no longer communication with me in any way and that was difficult.

    I have had other experiences where I have seen pastors and elders make mistakes and they came down so sure of themselves, they excommunicate their congregant. This did not happen to me but I have seen it happen. It takes time for the fruits to become manifest. Time reveals the error. But, the pain of such prideful mistakes leaves scars.

    When beat down by abuse, the abusers main tool is to say we don’t have the capacity to discern or judge rightly. We are crazy etc. And, a true batterer will use God as well saying we don’t have any ability to understand God’s will, salvation or we aren’t even going to make it to heaven. Unfortunately, because some pastors simply misunderstand their office and that they are fallible, they mimic the abuser. True they are teachers. But, they are human. They make mistakes and sometimes they just don’t get it. If they lack humility when it comes to this area and force their views with no indication of mercy. BEWARE.

    1. Thanks for that H4G, you sound like you’ve had a lot of wisdom and learned more even along the way. I admire your compassion for pastors and elders who make mistakes and your differentiation between those who see their mistakes eventually and ask forgiveness from the folk they have hurt, versus those who are too prideful to ever see their errors.

  5. This is a timely message for me. The Lord knows what we need, when we need it. Pray and study always before making a move. Kind of like measure twice, cut once.

  6. Thank you for this reminder! I remember when I’d talk to my husband about my convictions he always equated it with legalism. He said we balance each other out. I always thought that was true after I believed Michael Pearl when he said basically husbands always know best. I feel so foolish saying I believed that. They sure know how to sell their theology to some people. I didn’t have a whole lot of support after I got saved. My brother who helped me get saved was the first one to introduce me to patriarchy and the Pearls. He coached me to submit whenever things got confusing which was often. I know now that it gradually was quenching the Spirit of God and discouraged me from my Bible reading which increasingly did not seem applicable since every time I’d seek to apply it I was persecuted by my husband and it gets tiring but thankfully my Abba Father shook me and scared me out of believing this way. I was always perplexed when praying so I didn’t know how I should pray and let the Holy Spirit pray for me because even praying at times seemed confusing. Also I always used online teaching because I just wasn’t surrounded by believers much. My husband shy’s away from meeting people at church when we do go and I don’t have transportation. Thankfully we found a new church not too far away within walking distance but with 5 kids it’s not easy if I don’t have a good stroller. But I have the whole Bible I listen to on CD’s and I try to do that every day. Right now I’m also reading “Boundaries” by Townsend. 🙂 Anyway, thanks so much for your post!

    Oh, one scripture you mentioned I sometimes wonder about:
    “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (3) and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God….”
    Nobody ever deny’s Jesus Christ came in the flesh that I know of…. Mormons don’t (I was raised LDS), and as far as I know JW’s don’t, the RCC doesn’t, so who does? Doesn’t the flesh mean a body like ours? Or does this scripture actually mean God in a man’s body? If so how/where do I go for the source to find out? Does the name Jesus Christ mean God, or God the son? If I remember correctly anytime I ask or look for commentaries I can never seem to identify a group where this scripture applies. Maybe it means each individual person that does not claim Jesus is God? But I need proof of exactly what that scripture means. It is a serious scripture and needs to be expounded upon. Sorry for the trouble.

    1. John was dealing with those who denied God had become man. The first chapter of John (the gospel, not the epistles) deals with this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

      The JW’s New World translation says the Word was with God and the Word was a God. Not that He was God in the sense of being one in essence and nature with the Father. If I’m not mistaken, the Mormons also separate Jesus from the Father in their essence, saying Jesus and the Father are one in purpose but are different beings as well as different persons. The orthodox view that has been accepted since the 5th century (or it might have been hashed out earlier) is that God is one being eternally existing in 3 persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person of this divine Trinity possesses all the attributes of deity and are the same God, not different Gods (JW, etc.) or different manifestations of the same God (modalism).

      What John means in his epistle is that the confession of the church, and the faith once delivered to the saints, is that God Himself became man in the person of Jesus Christ (which does mean “Yahweh saves” and the angelic pronouncement to Mary recorded in Matthew 1 bears the same witness: “And you shall call His name Jesus [Yahweh, or God saves] for He [Jesus] shall save His people from their sins.” Also Immanuel, which translated means “God with us.”). This is the hypostatic union and is absolutely essential to the content of saving faith for God alone is able to save, so if Jesus isn’t the same God as God the Father, then we have no salvation in him. He is just another created being who may be better than the rest of us but isn’t God, or isn’t the God who saves because He isn’t Yahweh. Thus we have “gospels” which profess a savior named Jesus yet you find the necessity of works from his followers because he is not able to finish the job. There is also often a tragic, though appropriately consistent, problem of uncertainty and lack of assurance of salvation and a sense of self reliance to some degree in hopes of being found worthy.

      Anyway, when John says “every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” that is what he’s getting at. God became man in the incarnation and Jesus can be our Savior (is able to save to the uttermost) because He is fully God as well as fully man. Any spirit not of God will deny this in some fashion, some more boldly than others.

    2. G.F. Mom – The Apostle John was dealing with heretics that claimed that anything physical was evil, spirit is good. So they couldn’t have Jesus’ body being real. That is the heresy he was pointing out. But in fact, any denial of the full deity and humanity of Christ as the God man is a denial that the Son has come in the flesh. So Mormons are wrong here in that they deny the deity of Christ, as do the JW’s. The name Jesus simply means the same as Joshua – something like “Yahweh saves” (you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins).

      1. Just to add to Jeff’s comment —
        JW’s in particular do NOT have a problem with the “in the flesh” part — they readily affirm that. What they disavow is the Jesus part — that is, that he is Jehovah (YAHWEH) our Saviour. They affirm that he is known by this name, but deny that he IS this name.

    3. He coached me to submit whenever things got confusing which was often. I know now that it gradually was quenching the Spirit of God and discouraged me from my Bible reading which increasingly did not seem applicable since every time I’d seek to apply it I was persecuted by my husband and it gets tiring . . .

      wow you said that so well, GFM! And I’d never thought about it like that, but you’re right: when a victim is reading the bible and is constantly being told that the insight she is getting from the Holy Spirit when she’s reading it is all wrong, then the Spirit is quenched. How obvious! But I needed you to put it in words for me to see it. Thank you 🙂

  7. Tuning out the religious spirit ‘white noise’ is the challenge of the hour. Voices of clarity in teaching and expounding are needed now more than ever. Thanks, all!

  8. bless your heart, brother and a 1000 x AMEN!!! oh, that the Church would understand how the Holy Spirit guides and directs in so many ways, (and yes it is primarily through the Word and He gives you a hunger for it), as He is the Counselor…

    in my experience, part of the struggle with “hearing” God’s voice through His Spirit, has been due to a denominational history/tradition of cessationism, the (erroneous) belief that God doesn’t “speak” anymore, that “ceased” along with the other supernatural / miraculous gifts of the Spirit since the close of canon… There is confusion over universal canon aka Scripture, and prophetic revelation which is for a specific time, place, people, purpose… which always lines up with Who God is and His Word (when understood as He intended). anyway, that is an entire discussion in itself..

    anyway, being led to “A cry for Justice” this week was prophetic and profound Divine timing, that I know the Spirit led me here at this particular time, that He has already used to bring healing in certain situations. Thank You God!!!

  9. “I really did want to follow and obey Christ. I am not a rebel. So I did what they told me was God’s will”…how true. When I didn’t want to be a rebel, I followed what they said was God’s will and acted against the bible. When I finally didn’t listen to what they said was God’s will and listened to the Holy Spirit, I rebelled against them but had peace with God. If you listen to the Holy Spirit, you may appear like a rebel, but youre not! It you listen to them, you appear godly but you end up rebelling against the bible.

  10. I went from one abusive church to another in the past year. I’m so tired of disagreeing with a pastor and being told ‘you need to read scripture more, you aren’t hearing God correctly….blah blah blah”. Just ONCE I’d like to hear a pastor say “I was wrong”.

    1. Lyn – Pretty rare words nowadays, aren’t they? “I was wrong.” When was the last time we heard that from any of the big names?

      1. Lyn, I have been told many things. You can’t get a divorce, You won’t be saved anymore, God hates divorce and would never tell you it is ok, Which I guess is just a different way of saying that I didn’t hear God correctly. It has been 7 months since I left and I still feel I heard Him rather clearly.

  11. Before I ever felt the leading from the Lord to escape my abuser and move out, the Holy Spirit was cluing me in, a little bit at a time, exactly what type of person the abuser is. It was a stunning revelation that came from God Himself. He brought to mind three different characters from Scripture over a period of a couple of weeks. Judas, Haman, and Pharoah. Talk about coming out of the fog! I knew it was the Holy Spirit and once I knew what I was dealing with, I knew I needed to get out. He was trying to destroy me! God would never reveal that to me then expect me to stay there and be destroyed. From that point on, I made my plans to leave. And God parted the “red sea” and miraculously made a way for me to escape. Praise God for the leading of His Holy Spirit!

  12. I can remember the “first” day I started out reading God’s word and Him helping me discern through the Holy Spirit. (I’d been reading the Bible for years but now I had let go of all outside influences and asked God to show me the truth through His word and in my life.) It was Proverbs 6:12-15, Proverbs 31, John 8:44-45 that God first showed to me when unveiling the truth about evil people and also about my heart (Proverbs 31). Here I was, a woman with a servant’s mind and heart who had NEVER been taught that there were some people who were 100% evil-hearted but who masqueraded as good folks.

    You are right Pastor Crippen that when we belong to Jesus we have the Holy Spirit’s voice guiding us but we are foolish to think that Satan isn’t the FIRST to notice who is truly saved and is quick to send in his evil minions to keep us from growing in Christ and from learning to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. I’ve often thought that no one who was a Christian in my life actually cared when I got saved; but the evil one was VERY aware of my conversion…..a nothing and a nobody like me from nowhere, the evil one knew my value and he made sure to keep me blind and bound with lies including that “perfect behavior” meant I was truly saved.

    I no longer consider the first half of my life a waste of time. When God was waking me up I used to think this, but it’s not true. There’s not a second of my life that isn’t now used to show me that God was ALWAYS there and that HE had a plan for my life that was not only good but FANTASTIC! Now that I can see with His eyes through the Holy Spirit, I see that each experience, each person I remember, each extremely negative thing that happened as well as the blissfully beautiful things I’ve learned, are all “the same.” They are all there to point me to God and His truth through His word as well as to firmly establish that there ARE evil people who are 100% evil and have chosen their own ways and that their souls DELIGHT in their abominations (Isaiah 66:3).

  13. I am struggling….

    The Holy Spirit leads me.

    Without the Holy Spirit, I would not have survived.

    I have learned things in odd ways, in odd places – Biblical concepts, though the Bible was not the source of the lessons learned.

    The school of hard knocks.

    Later, untwisted Scripture confirmed the lesson, but not spoken word-for-word.

    I follow the Holy Spirit.

    He has led me to God and to Christ.

    Sometimes I need to know I’m not alone in my struggle, but I don’t know where to turn….

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