12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17 ESV)​

What did Paul mean by "for all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God"?

What does it mean to be "led by the Spirit of God"?

Those who are led by the Spirit of God how?

Did Paul have something like Acts 16:6-10 in mind?

6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10 ESV)


  • The context of 'being led by the Spirit' in Romans 8:14 is the context remaining from Romans 7 about the effects of sin within (not outwardly). Paul focuses on coveting (an inward state of heart). Then he exhorts not to live after the flesh. The vision you refer to is a matter of apostolic testimony to Christ. But the context of Romans 7 and 8 is normal Christian living and freedom from internal sin.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 2, 2022 at 8:27

1 Answer 1


As best I can work out, the phrase "led by the Spirit" occurs only four times in the Greek involving two verbs, closely related:

  • Matt 4:1 - Then Jesus was led [ἀνάγω] by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
  • Luke 4:1 - Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led [ἄγω] by the Spirit into the wilderness,
  • Rom 8:14 - For all who are led [ἄγω] by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
  • Gal 5:18 - But if you are led [ἄγω] by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

There are some other versions that have the phrase, "led by the Spirit" but these do not accurately reflect the underlying Greek.

We should add another important element to this survey: Rom 8:14 is part of Paul's answer to the question that he asks at the end of his tortuous discussion about his struggle with sin. In Rom 7:24 -

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

V25 and chapter 8 immediately follows as Paul's answer to this question - he (and all sinners) need the divine miraculous transforming work of the Spirit in the life to make the "new creation", 2 Cor 5:17, which I quote with some context:

13 If we are out of our mind, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all, therefore all died. 15 And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Although we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!

Paul makes a similar statement in Gal 5:18.

Further, we also see Jesus being "led by the Spirit" into the desert to be tempted. This is a similar phenomenon as Paul being led (or more precisely, being prevented) from going to some places in his journeys (Acts 16:6-10).


Thus, it appears that "led by the Spirit" is used in two ways in the NT:

  • being sensitive to the leading/prompting of the Spirit to do some things including where to go or not to go
  • transforming the life and character to live as Jesus would live.

However, both these can be seen as two sides of the same idea:

  • John 13:16 - But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
  • Walk as Jesus walked. 1 John 2:6.
  • Jesus was led by the Spirit Matt 4:1. The Christian must be born of the Spirit (John 3:5) by receiving the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:25, John 6:63, Phil 3:3, John 4:24). In fact, the whole life of Christian is to put aside the “psychical” mind and live by the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14, 1 Cor 15:44-46, Gal 5:17, Jude 19, John 6:63, 1 Peter 3:18).
  • Love as Jesus loved. John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
  • Jesus’ suffering leaves us an example. John 16:33, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21.
  • Conformed to the likeness of the Son. Rom 8:29.
  • Transforming our will and bodies to conform to God’s will. Rom 12:1, 2.
  • Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
  • Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.

This is humanly impossible!! It can, and does, occur only by the miracle of the Spirit in the life of the converted sinner.

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