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He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness
What Does the Bible Teach About Divine Guidance?
by David A. DePra
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. (Psalm 23:3)
The Hebrews word translated "righteousness" in Psalm 23 is the same one often translated "straight." So the picture given to us in Psalm 23 becomes clear. The Good Shepherd leads us in "paths of righteousness" or "straight paths." These are paths which are MORALLY straight Ė right behind the Shepherd. They are the same paths which He takes. They are paths which are in HIS will. RIGHTEOUSNESS is the characteristic of the path in which Jesus leads His people; His sheep.
God does lead people, according to Psalm 23. There is no doubt about that. David writes, "He leads me beside still watersÖ..He leads me in paths of righteousness." So WHETHER God leads is not at issue here. HOW God leads is another matter. If you are a Christian, you are one of Godís spiritual SHEEP. HOW does God want to lead you?
We already know: In paths of RIGHTEOUSNESS. Sure, the details and outworking of Godís leadings will apply to your specific situation. But all of these details will be within those paths of righteousness. Paths of righteousness are the ONLY paths upon which Jesus leads us.
God does speak to people today. That is not something which was over and done with a long time ago Ė something which ended when the New Testament was completed. But there is much bad teaching about Divine guidance out there. Yet the Truth about this subject affects
us every minute of every day. The Truth about it governs every circumstance, and in every issue of life. What is the Truth about DIVINE GUIDANCE?
Getting on the Right Path
Jesus leads us in paths of righteousness. As mentioned, that is the ONLY path upon which Jesus is walking. It is the ONLY path upon which we can follow Him. But it is impossible to follow Him on that path if we arenít even ON that path to start with. In other words, we must first be saved. We canít follow Jesus if He isnít our Shepherd. Or, if we think we are saved, we canít follow Him if we continue to walk on our own path.
Actually, the fact that we need to be saved fits nicely into Psalm 23. We are told we must "be converted" to Jesus Christ. The Greek for "converted" means "to turn around." So if we want to begin the journey following Jesus on the paths of righteousness, we must "turn around" from the path we are taking Ė that of unbelief -- and start putting our faith in Christ.
That gets us ON the paths of righteousness. That gets us into the "fold of sheep" which The Good Shepherd is leading on those paths. Until we do that much Ė surrender ourselves to Christ -- we need not talk about whether Jesus is leading us. He isnít. By definition, we donít want to FOLLOW Him. We havenít even acknowledged our wrong path. How can we be on the right path?
Imagine yourself walking in a huge forest. There are many paths throughout this wooded area. As you walk, you become lost. But you are deluded into thinking you know where you are. Unknown to you, you are miles away from where you think you are. Now ask: Is there any chance you will correct course if you donít even realize you are lost? No. You will continue ahead completely lost, but completely deceived.
It is like this with God. Until we recognize our lost condition we will never see any need to correct our course. We will think we are fine. We will either see no need for the paths of righteousness, or worse, we will be deceived into thinking we are walking in them.
Christianity is unlike any of the manmade religions of this world. While all manmade religions give man ways to work his way up to God, Christianity alone puts the initiative upon God to save us. But that is not the only thing which makes Christianity unique. Christianity alone states that the way to God is through repentance. It is only if I confess I am a sinner and embrace the Savior that I can be saved.
There are many today who profess to be Christians, but have REDEFINED Christianity to fit their moral agenda. Some define Christianity as, "Following the teachings of Jesus Christ." After all, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, isnít He? Yes. But Christianity is not merely "following the teachings of Jesus Christ." If you doubt that, try following this one: Be ye perfect, even as your Heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) You wonít get far.
People define Christianity as "Following the teachings of Jesus" for one reason: To side-step having to deal with the identity of Jesus Himself. Sure. Just follow His teachings. It doesnít matter if He lied about Himself when He said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me." Do you believe Him? If not, are you content to follow the teachings of a liar?
The fact is, we cannot even get started following anything Jesus said until we first come to Jesus Himself. In other words, Christianity is not merely a matter of following Jesusí teachings. It is a matter of surrendering to Jesus Himself as Lord and Savior. To do that, I have to repent of sin, be converted, and turn around. I have to forsake my paths of unrighteousness, and embrace HIM. And then I can spend the rest of my life following Him in the paths of righteousness, which would include following His teachings.
Notice the issue here: I have to come to the foot of the CROSS as a sinner. I can come no other way. Thus, to say that I can by-pass the Cross and simply "follow the teachings of Jesus" is heresy. Such statements are really what todayís liberal religion is all about.
At some point in our lives, Jesus Christ will appear at a fork in our road and tell us to follow Him. If we donít realize we are lost, we probably wonít follow Him. Why should we? But if we have seen our need, we will follow. We will begin walking behind Him, in the paths of righteousness.
It is amazing how many people keep passing up Jesus Christ at these forks in their road. They donít even pause and consider. They just ignore Him and continue to insist that they know exactly where they are. But they do not know. They are deceived.
Unto Good Works
Unless we get on the right path we have not even started following Christ. We must confess our wrong path and turn to Christ. I get on the right path by repenting of unbelief Ė of being on my own path Ė and by being converted to Christ as Savior. This, in turn, will result in a WALK in the paths of righteousness. In other words, WORKS.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither labored in vain. (Phil. 2:12-16)
Paul tells us that once we have received Ė by faith Ė the righteousness of God, that we need to "work it out" Ė that is Ė walk in it. We need to live it. If we do, Paul says, we will no longer be walking in a crooked way, as those who do no know Christ. But we will be walking, or running, in a straight way Ė the paths of righteousness in Jesus Christ.
What we see in this is that following Jesus in the paths of righteousness is not how we get saved. No. It is the outcome of being saved. In short, obedience is the result of being rightly related to God.
Repentance Ė if it is real Ė is a one time thing. Did you realize that? The reason most of us donít realize that is that we think that repentance is for EACH sin, one at a time. We spend our lives "repenting" of each sin as God exposes it. But this is more the RESULT of the "once for all" repentance of the Bible than it is that repentance itself. True "repentance unto salvation" is not progressive. It is a one time thing. Do you know why? Because I am repenting of my wrong path. I am repenting of unbelief Ė of refusing to turn to Jesus. Thus, when I do repent, I come over to Jesus on the paths of righteousness. It is once that I am there that I begin to see all the sins which Jesus wants me to forsake.
For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death. (II Cor. 7:10)
Real repentance is once for all and permanent. And according to scripture, if it is real, then I have indeed, "changed my mind," and "turned around." I wonít "repent" of having "repented." And one of the biggest ways the reality of repentance is manifested is in the fact that someone who has repented WANTS TO OBEY GOD.
If there is one prayer God will always answer, it is this one: "God bring me to the place of repentance. Do whatever it takes." Do you dare pray that prayer? Well, donít pray it unless you mean it. But if you are unwilling to pray it, you might want to ask yourself why.
You cannot truly repent of sin, but still WANT to sin. Why? Because "wanting to sin" is what you are turning away from! Sure, our execution of obedience will always be flawed. And we will continue to be ignorant about many things. But one who has repented will WANT to obey God, and WILL obey Him more and more as He follows Jesus. And with regard to those areas that are unclear? One who has repented will SEEK the will of God.
So we get on the righteous path "by grace through faith." God grants us repentance and we turn to Christ. But once we get there, following Jesus will always result in good works. Always. A walk in the paths of righteousness is obviously a righteous walk. We are saved "by grace, through faith, but unto good works."
The First Steps
It should not be difficult to begin following Jesus on the paths of righteousness. Everyone knows at least what the first steps of this journey ought to be. It is one thing to say we donít know Godís will in areas which are not moral matters Ė in areas which are not clearly spelled out in the Bible. But it is another to say we donít know the will of God in clear moral matters, or in matters on which there is clear Biblical teaching. On those matters we either DO know the will or God, or COULD know it quite easily. These are the FIRST steps on the paths of righteousness.
Now what I am saying is this: We do not need to ask Jesus to lead us according to Godís moral law. He is ALREADY doing that. God has given His law. We KNOW the Truth on these matters. Therefore, there is no need to say to Jesus, "Do you want me to be honest?" No. He is already saying to us, "Be honest. That is your first step on the paths of righteousness.
Thus, to be practical about it, if you are living in adultery or fornication, you are OUT of Godís will. Not maybe. You ARE. Your first step is to STOP. Your second is to repent and turn to Christ. Your third is to start obeying God. Likewise, if you are being dishonest at work, God is not leading you. If you are not living in Godís pattern for marriage, or for family, or for church, God is not leading you. You are trying to lead Him. And make no question, it is NOT OK that you are out of Godís will. You will reap what you sow. THAT is a promise of God. (see Galatians 6:6-8) You must turn and start following Jesus.
We saw earlier that obedience is the outcome of being rightly related to God. Thus, disobedience is the outcome of not being rightly related to Him. Or, to put it another way, faith in Christ always results in good works. But unbelief will eventually show itself through disobedience.
Many Christian people have become so callous and dulled to the seriousness of moral sin, and have become so conformed to the worldís thinking, that they are living in abject sin, and have not even a tinge of conscience. They think that if they donít think it is wrong, then it isnít. But we need to wake up. If you are not turning to God in your sin, you are not following Jesus Christ.
It is one thing to say that we cannot get free of sin. In some cases, there may be truth to that plea. Freedom may take much time, even if we turn to Christ. But it is another to say we canít turn to Christ. THAT we can always do. And this is precisely why if we wonít turn to Christ we bring judgment upon ourselves. The question is never whether we have sinned, or who is to blame for our weakness. The question is always what we are going to do about it --RIGHT NOW. We must turn to Christ.
We have to get it settled: Jesus Christ leads us in the paths of righteousness. That is the ONLY place He leads. And it is up to us to follow. Jesus is NOT going to follow us. This means that if we are not in Godís will, Jesus is not with us in our disobedience. He is not. He canít be. Jesus will never help us destroy ourselves.
Do I mean that Jesus will desert us if we disobey Him, or get out of the path of righteousness? No. What He will do is continually seek us out, and try to get us back on the righteous path. But He isnít going to help us down the wrong path. And He isnít going to come over to OUR path. He will try to turn us back to Himself by either allowing us to suffer the consequences of our own choices, or He will put up road blocks Ė probably both. But He will not "be with us" in our disobedience. He wants us to be WITH HIM in the paths of righteousness.
Steps in the paths of righteousness would obviously include Godís law Ė as expressed in the ten commandments. The ten commandments are a written expression of Godís righteousness. Thus, despite the fact that we are not saved by our obedience to Godís law, that obedience is nevertheless a part of walking with God in His will. If you think you can live in a willful and continual violation of Godís law and be in His will, you are deceived. You are NOT in His will, or following Jesus Christ.
But there are other things which belong to "the paths of righteousness." For instance, our prayer life. Also, seeking Godís will. We may not always know Godís will, but we can seek His will. This is acknowledging God AS God. These things are expressions of our communion with God, and are captured in the first four of the ten commandments.
The Bible is Godís inspired Word. In it are many commands and instructions for living which are not ambiguous or unclear. They are there for anyone who wants to obey God to read. The Word of God, along with the law of God, is an instruction book for following Jesus Christ.
There is no one who does not know somewhere they can start with God Ė even if it is only to SEEK God, right where they are, just as they are. And the Truth is, the moment we know to seek God, we are accountable. We have SOME light.
Presenting Ourselves to God
The first steps in any walk behind Jesus in the paths of righteousness are the clear moral laws of God. Most of these are already obvious to anyone who has a conscience. But there are other times when Godís will does not necessarily fall into the category of a moral law. Sometimes we just want to know what choice we ought to make on an issue of life. How can we know what to do in those cases?
The overall principle governing Divine guidance, or of knowing Godís leadings, is that we surrender ourselves to God. Notice the words of the apostle Paul on this matter:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
Now ask: How does Paul tell us we might "prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God"? He actually gives a number of necessary steps. First, he says to "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God." This means to put yourself on the altar in an unconditional surrender, and say to God, "Whatever it takes God. I belong to you with no strings attached." Unconditional surrender to God is the ONLY KIND there is.
Now, too often we think that we are supposed to surrender to God the THING we are after. In a sense that is true. But we are really supposed to surrender OURSELVES. Surrendering ourselves is how we come to PROVE what is the will of God. That is because it is through the surrender of ourselves that God will change our heart, purify our motives, open our eyes, and cause us to become adjusted to His will. Simply surrendering an object to Him cannot do that. God wants US Ė always Ė before He wants to do things in our lives.
The second thing Paul says to do is to NOT be conformed to this world, but to be "transformed by the renewing of your mind." In other words, do not adopt the thinking of the world. But as you turn and surrender to God by prayer, faith, and obedience, you will begin think about things the way God thinks about them.
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 2:5) Notice how Paul says, "Let this mindÖ.." This shows that there needs to be a surrender to God, that we might have HIS MIND on a matter. And frankly, this should become the norm for us. We should not just be seeking the mind of God on some issues, but not on others. We should, in fact, be of ONE MIND with Him.
Paul tells us that if we do unconditionally surrender ourselves to God, and allow Him to work into us HIS MIND, that we will know the will of God. Jesus said the same. He said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17) Be willing to do GODíS WILL Ė no matter the cost Ė and there will be in you a receptivity able to hear and understand the Truth.
How God Leads
As we saw from Romans 12, surrender to God is the key to knowing God. And once we know God, we will know what is OF HIM. Thus, the primary way in which God leads us is what I would call "through a knowledge of Himself." The leadings of God should merely be an extension of our greater relationship with Him.
If you read the New Testament, you will not find tons of instruction about "how to know the will of God." You will not find much direct teaching on "how the Holy Spirit leads." There are some indications. But the New Testament writers treat Divine guidance as the OUTCOME of the Christian life as a whole. If we have surrendered to Christ, and belong to Christ, and want to do His will, and DO walk in the light we have, Divine guidance is treated as almost anti-climactic.
The thrust of the New Testament is that we live a life of faith and holiness. It is that we center on Jesus Christ the Person. Once we do that, we discover, experience, and realize everything that comes with that wonderful package. Divine guidance is included.
Herein we see a great principle: We know the next step in the path of righteousness by already being ON that path, and as the outcome of already walking in it. We will know the way AS we take the way.
The revelation of the Bible is that an OBEDIENT heart is a discerning heart. In other words, yield your heart to God, obey Him in what you know to obey, and your heart will be in the condition necessary to discern the next step.
God never tells us that the key to knowing His will is brains. It is devotion to HIM. If I am sold out to doing Godís will, I will know Godís will. All the clutter and mixture which comes with wanting MY will cannot survive in an atmosphere of surrender to God.
If I have spent my life neglecting the Word of God, and living in unbelief, and then it comes time to make an important decision, perhaps God will grant me the mercy of knowing His will in some dramatic way. But usually this isnít the way things work. And if God grants me that, out of His sheer mercy, the chances are, Iím not going to obey Him anyways. Why? Because if Iím living in disobedience, out of His way, why would I obey His way once He speaks to me? The chances are, I wonít. Indeed, I probably wonít even hear Him.
We saw earlier how an obedient heart Ė one that WANTS to obey God Ė is a discerning heart. But it is likewise true that a disobedient heart Ė one that is not surrendered to God Ė is a heart ripe for deception. Such a person wonít see or hear God. That person will end up deceived, and not even realize what has happened.
It is amazing how many of us choose to walk OUT of Godís will, and then turn right around and ask God to give us His will. What we are really saying is this: I want your will, God, as long as it agrees with my will. Or, we might paraphrase, "MY will be done, not THINE."
Never think you cannot miss the will of God. You CAN miss it. Completely. All you have to do is allow your relationship with Him to drift so far off the path of righteousness that you wonít even recognize it when Jesus turns to the right or left. You wonít even be on the path He is on.
Israel in the time of Jesus was looking for the Messiah. They knew what the scriptures said about the Messiah. But when He came to them Ė God Incarnate Ė their hearts had so drifted from Him that they failed to recognize Him. Indeed, they called Him the Devil.
I cannot follow Jesus into the will of God if I am not on the path He is on. I must get back on through repentance Ė and then through faith and obedience. There is NO short cut.
The fact is, you and I are able to get back into the will of God anytime we are out. All we need to do is turn and SEEK Him. He will show us the first step Ė although perhaps not more. But AS we take it, another will open up. And then another. We will find ourselves right back on the paths of righteousness
How about some of the other ways in which people say they know the will of God Ė such as having the peace of God register in their heart? Or by having a sense of life inside them? Or how about the times when people say, "The Lord spoke to me, and told me to do such and such?" Does God lead in any of those ways?
Sure He does. But there is a problem inherent in everyone of those ways. That problem is this: Everyone of them can be quite subjective. In other words, if I want something to be Godís will, and I think God is telling me it is His will, then it is possible that I may "have peace about it" Ė but a false peace. Conversely, it is quite possible to be so worked up about something that I have NO peace about it, yet for it to actually BE Godís will for me. The same thing goes for a "sense of life" inside. People can have a "sense of life" over something which is SIN Ė and use it as a validation from God. And finally, regarding the Lord speaking to us: There is an old saying. Listen for a voice long enough and you will hear it. There are many "voices" in this world. Only ONE voice belongs to God.
The point is this: Even though God can speak to us in any number of ways, including all of the above ones, every one of them are of no value to us unless we are surrendered to God. And unless we subject them to the final authority of the Word of God. Again Ė surrender to God enables me to discern God. If Iím not surrendered, I wonít understand what God says to me in the way He means it Ė if God is even speaking to me at all.
For His Nameís Sake
The Good Shepherd IS leading us. He "leads us in paths of righteousness." Not maybe. But for sure. Yet notice how the verse ends: For His nameís sake. THAT is why God is leading us in these paths of righteousness.
From that one phrase we could develop a number of teachings, such as the fact that God means to glorify Himself through each one of our lives. But the one which makes the most sense is the fact that God leads us in paths of righteousness because that is the ONLY path befitting His name. God can no more divert from that path than He can change His name or character.
What this means is that Godís leadings in the "paths of righteousness" do not depend on us. They depend on HIM. Just as surely as Godís name is His name, God will be faithful, for His own nameís sake, to lead us in "paths of righteousness" as THE Good Shepherd.
The Christian life is not one where God expects us to find our own way. A shepherd would never require that of his sheep. Neither is it a life where God turns us loose to do as we please. No. The Good Shepherd leads us in paths of righteousness. And it is within that path that we find the purposes of God for our lives. *
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