February 15, 2024

How Can Someone Be Misled about Essential Christian Truths If the Spirit Is in Them?

Nathan W. Bingham & Sinclair Ferguson
How Can Someone Be Misled about Essential Christian Truths If the Spirit Is in Them?

How are Christians capable of being misled in their theology if the Holy Spirit dwells within them? Today, Sinclair Ferguson helps us answer this question by defining the Spirit’s role in our sanctification.


NATHAN W. BINGHAM: Joining us this week on the Ask Ligonier podcast is the host of Things Unseen, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson, how can someone be misled about essential Christian truths if the Holy Spirit is in them?

DR. SINCLAIR FERGUSON: Well, being misled about essential Christian truths if the Spirit is in someone, that’s a very interesting question. I think sometimes that question may be asked with a slight misunderstanding of what Jesus was saying in the Farewell Discourse in John 16:13, when He promised the Apostles that when the Spirit came, He would lead them into all the truth.

And I think it’s important, first of all, to say that that language, “leading us into all the truth,” is first and foremost a promise Jesus gave to the Apostles and not a promise that He gave to us all. It’s a very special promise, actually, about the inspiration of Scripture. And the Lord promised that He would superintend and safeguard what they wrote. So, that means that if we are going to be led into the truth, it’s going to be by the study of the Scriptures that the Apostles gave to us.

And perhaps it’s also helpful just to remember that the Spirit never misleads us. Others may mislead us, or we may mislead ourselves, but the responsibility lies on our shoulders to ask the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures to illumine them to us so that we will come to understand them.

And here I think it’s important to remember that we shouldn’t abstract understanding from the rest of our lives. I think sometimes we do that as though we understand things with our minds, and our minds are somehow separate from the rest of our persons. We are individuals, we have minds, we have affections, we have wills, and that means that this question ultimately has to be answered in terms of sanctification.

Our affections are not perfect. Our wills are not perfect. We ourselves are not perfect. And therefore, in a way, it’s not surprising that sometimes our understanding is imperfect. So, it’s very important for us to realize this, that our understanding of Scripture and our application of it is actually part and parcel of our sanctification. And what we discover in the New Testament is this great lesson that while the Spirit of the Lord Jesus dwells in us, in all of us sin still dwells, and therefore, we’re going to be in an ongoing process of our wills and our affections and our understanding being sanctified.

So, we shouldn’t start with the notion that if we are regenerate, we should all perfectly understand Scripture. We start with the notion that because we are regenerate, there is a battle to be fought in our lives, and understanding the Scriptures is part of that battle, that we trust the Holy Spirit to help us.

So, what do we do? Well, the answer is that we keep reading and reading and reading and reading the Scriptures so that our minds are saturated in them and by them. And then, since God has made His Word plain to us—and I think it would be true that very much the majority of the Bible’s teaching is plain to us—there are certain helps that God gives to us, and we should pay very close attention to them.

The first, obviously, is that we should read and study the Bible ourselves. So, it’s not surprising that we might be misled ourselves or we might be misled by others if we don’t really give attention to studying the Scriptures. Remember how Jesus said that we’re to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). And it’s a wonderful thing to say that, but if we say that, we should mean that and really give ourselves to reading, studying, meditating on, reflecting on every word that comes out of the mouth of God. So, our own Bible study is important.

In a way, even more fundamental to that, I think, is the ministry of the Word that we sit under. I find that most people understand the Bible and read the Bible themselves the way they hear it preached and expounded. And this is why sitting under a really solid biblical ministry is so important. Now, it’s possible not everyone is able to do that because of their location or perhaps because of their health. But there are ways today of putting our lives under really helpful biblical ministries. And that’s important because that’s what feeds us. And that’s usually, for most of us, the way we learn ourselves how to study the Scriptures well. So, there really is nothing more important than putting our lives under the influence of a solid, helpful, spiritual, loving, edifying, ministry of the Word of God.

And then, in addition to that, God has given us many tools that we can use. Many of these are supplied by Ligonier Ministries, and I warmly commend them. Using Tabletalk I think would be a tremendous help to new Christians and to Christians who feel that they’ve been confused by others to learn how to read Scripture and also to learn what it is that Scripture teaches.

So, I think there are many ways in which we need to understand that we are in a great battle in sanctification, and that includes the battle to read and to study and to understand Scripture. But that like other areas of our sanctification, God has given us all the help that we need in order to progress.