One misunderstood aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit is His leading in the life of the Christian. At best it is misunderstood as a feeling, at worst as a mystical experience. In Romans 8:14 Paul simply states it as a fact: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Paul’s words helpfully teach us what this leading is.
First, the Spirit leads us to Christ. Paul speaks here in the present tense of “all who are led.” In Old Testament terms, the Spirit has led us up out of the Egypt of our sins, has freed us from the pharaoh of the law of sin and death (v. 2), and has led us to the Promised Land of Jesus Christ. As “the Spirit of Christ” (v. 9), the Spirit is closely associated with the work of Christ. Our Lord once said that because He had many more things to say to His disciples that they could not bear at that time, He would send His Spirit, who would “glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14, emphasis mine). Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit’s role is to lead us to Jesus so we can hear His truth. Any theology that speaks of the Spirit apart from Christ is not biblical theology. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:2–3).
Second, the Spirit leads us in holiness. He has led us to Jesus not only to forgive us, but that we would become holy and pleasing to God. When Paul says “for” at the beginning of Romans 8:14, he is giving the reason for what he has said previously about our being debtors to the Spirit by whom we are to mortify our sins (vv. 12–13). Because we are being led by the Spirit, we will show our indebtedness to Him by mortifying our sinful deeds through relying on Him and His means. He emancipated us from our enslavement to sin and death (v. 2) to be enlightened in our minds from our former darkness (v. 5), to be enlivened to walk according to the Spirit (vv. 4, 5), to be enabled to submit to and obey the law of God (vv. 7–8), and to be empowered to rely on the Spirit to mortify sin (v. 13).
Third, the Spirit leads us with assurance. Note the connection between this leading and our knowing our sonship: “all who are led by the Spirit of God” to Christ and in holiness “are sons of God.” “Are.” Not may be; not can become; not possibly; not only some. “All who are led . . . are sons of God.” Jesus is the firstborn son who received all the inheritance of the Father and we are sons along with Him. We have it all in Christ by the Spirit. We who were by nature children of wrath, we who were orphans have been led to Christ to become sons; as sons to please our heavenly Father; and in pleasing Him to experience His assuring love. “Because [we] are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6).