We all want to hear from God. Now you can share the secret closely guarded by our forebears in the faith. This simple yet ancient formula will enable you to experience the voice of God speaking directly into your life:
- Get hold of a reliable translation of the Bible, such as the NKJV or the ESV. (Sorry, no, The Message doesn’t work for this spiritual discipline.)
- Open it.
52 thoughts on “How to hear the voice of God”
It cant be that simple can it? 😉
Funny, yet true! 🙂
I believe that that reading the Bible is the only way to hear God, but what about when someone says, “I feel led to do such and such?” Is this the same thing? For some reason that is confusing to me.
Sarah, “I feel led to do” is a subjective, internal, fallible impression. Scripture is objective, external, infallible truth. They are not the same thing at all, though there are many people who give them similar importance as God’s voice.
I think this can be confusing for a few reasons. First, “interpreting” our personal compulsions is much easier than studying God’s Word, so it is raised high in our preference. Second, our culture is very focussed on the individual, his rights, and his self-determination. This manifests as “God is my co-pilot” and reinforces the “importance” of our internal urges as God’s directives. Third, believing that God is directing us through our own impressions is appealing to our pride. Fourth, the whole phrasing of “I feel led to…” is Christian lingo with a slippery definition and oft-sloppy usage.
I want to expand that last point a bit. It’s true that we have a God-given conscience (Rom 2:14-15); He’s written his Law on our hearts. It’s true that conscience is an internal guide toward the good. But it can be trained in error, or burned away, at least in part. It is not infallible.
In similar fashion, when we study the Scriptures, we internalize God’s truth, and as we grow in maturity, we grow in our ability to quickly apply His Word to situations in our lives; call it Scriptural reflexes. But in that situation, it is Scripture which comes to mind, and God’s Word which leads us (Ps 119:105), rather than “I feel a pull toward a particular choice, and I choose interpret that as God speaking to me in a way as authoritative as any Bible passage rightly interpreted.”
I don’t mean to address cessationism here, though I admit I hold that position. From my understanding, those who make a biblical case for God’s continued revelation through spiritual gifts have a structure to verify such things as from Him. There is still a clear delineation between that teaching and the idea of subjective, internal leading by God.
Of course, I’m answering your question for myself, not Daniel.
Thank you, Jason – your comments are really helpful.
One problem, as you suggest, with ‘I feel led to…’ is simply this: how do I know that this feeling is from God and has not just arisen from my own imagination or desires? The only place where we can be certain that we are hearing God’s word and not our own imaginations (or worse) is the Scripture. There we have the clear, objective word of God laid out for us in black and white (and red, depending on your Bible).
Another problem – one to which you allude – is that as soon as we say something like ‘I feel led to…’, we are stamping our feelings with a divine mandate. We are saying, in effect, ‘God has told me to…’. That’s a dangerous thing to do. Not only are we taking God’s name in vain (if, in fact, God is not leading us as we are claiming), but it makes it very hard for us to change our minds or receive wise counsel from others, even when it starts to become clear that we were quite mistaken. We can become enslaved to a feeling or impression that we mistakenly thought was from God, whereas it might be that the Scriptures have left us with total freedom in a particular matter.
(What’s even worse, of course, is ‘I feel that God is leading you to…’, as then we are misusing God’s name in an effort to try and coerce another person into doing what we want.)
Finally, God nowhere in His word leads us to expect that He will guide us through subjective impressions. It is not safe to seek God’s voice in places where He has not promised to speak. We are told that even Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), so we should take care not to place ourselves into situations where we might be deceived.
For anyone interested, the recent Fighting for the Faith interview on Lectio Divina & Hearing ‘God’s Voice’ is very helpful.
Although I do not agree with him on everything, Kevin DeYoung’s little book, Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. is a treasure trove packed with liberating Biblical wisdom. Highly recommended.
Thanks for both of your comments. They have been extremely helpful in understanding when people say that God speaks to them or they feel “led.” As a southern baptist, I’ve heard people say this my whole life. I was talking to my sister last night about this issue and she said that she felt God tell her to pick up a lady on the side of the road one time, but I thought to myself that He probably didn’t, but I did not debate the point. I ordered the book by Kevin DeYoung and look forward to reading it. Thanks again!
You’re welcome, Sarah.
By the way, I hope our comments didn’t come across to you as being harsh – it can be difficult to tackle questions like this without sounding a bit clinical or even judgmental. The reality, of course, is that I’ve said things like ‘I feel led to…’ (or even worse) in times past, when I didn’t know better. My intention here is not to condemn anyone for what they believe or do, but to try to encourage all of us to engage with Scripture and see what it really teaches.
Peace and grace.
So if one hears God speak to them outside reading it in the Bible, then it’s not God actually speaking? Looking for clarity of thought.
The problem is really how we could know whether or not it is God speaking. If God speaks, then we must obey. If we hear words claiming to have divine authority but are not truly from God, then we are listening (at best) to someone who is misguided, and, at worst, a deceiving spirit, and we must reject what we hear.
As I suggested above, the recent Fighting for the Faith interview on Lectio Divina & Hearing ‘God’s Voice’ is very helpful on this topic.
This is where the (Spiritual) Gift of Discernment comes in (Philippians 1:3-11). I have heard God speak to me apart from having my Bible open in my hands. For example: a couple of months ago I had a serious tragedy within my family where I felt that I could have saved my brother. The initial voice I was hearing was the devil telling me that I failed as a brother, Christian, Church Worker, etc. and that was overwhelming beyond comprehension. At the point where I started to begin believing these lies in my head, something unspeakable happened. God’s peace came over me and He told me that it isn’t up to me to save people, but that it’s His responsibility. Keep in mind that I’m am driving home from my brother’s funeral while all of this is taking place. All that being said, the Peace that I received wasn’t because I pulled the car over and read a particular verse in my Bible (although that might have been a wise thing to do). The words said to me about God saving people, was also not taken directly from His tangible Word. All of this was done, I believe in prayer (or Communion) with Him. He created me with His Word on my heart and I am in it daily, but my point is that “hearing God’s voice” isn’t limited to a physical Bible and the ability to read or hear it being read. All of that being said, apart from Scripture, we are easily fooled and very capable of falling into satan’s trap. By God’s grace, love and mercy, we hopefully won’t have to be so naive.
Dan, I have no desire to challenge your experience, and you have my sympathy for your loss.
Your more general mention of discernment piques my interest. I will say that I agree with Daniel that the question is whether the voice we are hearing is truly God’s, and while I’d probably also say that discernment is the answer, and even quote the same passage you did, I’m not sure we mean the same thing by it.
It seems to me that your definition of the gift of discernment is the ability to know with certainty that something is from God, without any reference to Scripture. (Please correct me if I’ve misstated your position; I don’t want to do that.) However, in looking at the passage, Paul prays that the Philippians’ love would “abound more and more,” and then qualifies that growth with the phrase “with knowledge and all discernment.” Discernment is mentioned within the context of knowledge, and the word used for knowledge is not for an intuitive knowing, but rather an experiential knowledge; it’s speaking about the knowledge a mature believer has gained through personal study and application of God’s Word in his life. This definition matches what I said in another comment above regarding spiritual maturity; we don’t “have to be so naïve” because God, in His “grace, love, and mercy,” has given us His true, perfect, and perspicuous (very important, that last) Word, through which He speaks to us!
Wuest’s commentary has much more of value to say on these verses if you have access to it, but in short, the passage doesn’t seem to support any sort of instant supernatural judgement regarding God’s voice.
Having said that, I do believe that the Holy Spirit brings to the mind passages and scriptural truths that have been previously read and studied; that’s happened to me, and if I were to describe the specific situation, it would probably sound much like what happened to you in the car after your brother’s funeral. Perhaps we’re describing the same thing and only debating semantics. That doesn’t make the conversation worthless; the terms we use shape the way with think about things, as Daniel’s post on sanctification illustrates. Or perhaps we have a deeper disagreement on how God speaks and how we can know for certain what He’s said; in that case, I hope every believer would consider the topic vital.
I will be brief in my response as many of the other responses are borderline dissertations (: . That being said, you are spot-on with what I experienced. I am in the Word daily and meditate on it often as well. At the time of my “revelation” I wasn’t searching for God’s peace, He just gave it to me. The words I heard weren’t audible like another person talking to me, they were resonating from my heart (not to sound corny or fake, but that is the best way I can describe it). The darkness that I was surrounded by was immediately taken away when God said that it’s not my responsibility to save people, but that it is His. I won’t keep belaboring the point, but I want to be as clear as possible. Just like in 1 Samuel 3, God called Samuel. God called me, not to give me a “new revelation” as we have already mentioned, but to reinforce the message of His love and grace…to me…at the right moment. In Numbers 22, God spoke to Balaam through the mouth of a donkey; in Hebrews 1, God use to speak through the prophets and now He speaks through the Holy Spirit. In Hebrews 2, “God also testified to it [salvation] by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.” I see this passage as one of the gifts of the Spirit (discernment), thus my original comment on understanding what was happening to me at that particular moment. He was giving me His salvation message at just the right time and for that I am thankful. I appreciate the discussion and I think it’s been fairly cordial so I am going to leave it with this final post. Thank you all for your additional resources on this topic – I will take a deeper look into what they are communicating. God’s blessings in your ministries and I look forward to meeting you in heaven someday!!!
Thank you, Dan, I appreciate your contribution here. I look forward to meeting you in heaven, too 🙂
I echo Jason’s expression of sympathy for your loss.
With regard to discernment, you might be interested in my article on this, where I argue that discernment is the activity of paying close attention to what we have heard about a Great Salvation. The context is different from our discussion here, but I believe still relevant. I think perhaps that it might help to sharpen somewhat your closing thought:
‘All of that being said, apart from Scripture, we are easily fooled and very capable of falling into satan’s trap. By God’s grace, love and mercy, we hopefully won’t have to be so naive.’
Now, I do not dispute your experience. I will, however, make the following observations:
1. You were not seeking the voice of God in a place that He has not promised to speak. The point of my post here was to show (somewhat satirically) the folly of us inventing our own ways to hear God, and the arrogance of our then expecting Him to acquiesce. Rather, we should look to the only place wherein He has promised to speak, and where we know we have His sure word.
2. You received no new revelation, but what came into your mind was (if I interpret what you say correctly) in accord with what the Scripture teaches. It isn’t our responsibility to effect the salvation of anyone – God has entrusted His church with the proclamation of the Gospel, but not with effecting a final salvation. (Yes, the Church is to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, but this clearly isn’t the sense that you were meaning when you said ‘isn’t up to me to save people’.)
3. Your experience thus differs from those who are claiming to receive new revelation, whether that is Pat Robertson claiming that God has told him who will be the next U.S. president (why would God tell him this?), Beth Moore receiving visions of the Church as Jesus sees it and then apparently going on to include the Roman Catholic Church as just another denomination (even though it has never renounced its Tridentine anathema upon the Gospel), or any number of false prophets with outlandish claims.
My concern, then, is to preserve the doctrine sola scriptura:
‘The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men.’ (WCF ch. I, article 6).
There can be no final and decisive authority in matters of life and faith other than the Scriptures. As Paul says to Timothy (2 Tim. 3:15-17):
…and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This passage clearly teaches us that not only is Scripture necessary – both for our salvation through faith, and for our living righteously and doing good works – but that it is also sufficient. Simply, then, we do not need any additional revelation, because the Scriptures are able to make us wise for salvation and thoroughly equip us for every good work. It is foolishness, then, for anyone to seek God’s voice other than in the Scriptures – God’s written word supplies our every need.
Now, does this preclude the Holy Spirit bringing Biblical truths to mind at certain times, or illuminating our understanding? Not at all. As the Westminster Confession of Faith also says in that same article from which I quoted above:
Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.
Peace and grace.
If its about us hearing rather than Him speaking, you missed out prayer. 😉
Hi Arron, peace and grace.
Does God lead us in Scripture to expect that we should hear from Him in some subjective way (i.e. other than through the Scripture) when we pray?
Wow! It works!!!
>>So if one hears God speak to them outside reading it in the Bible, then it’s not God actually speaking? Looking for clarity of thought.<<
I think Dan raises a really good question. Like – how do you know if you should marry a certain person or take a job? I think the question is basically, "how do I know in issues that scripture doesn't specifically address – what God's will is – AND – does God ever "nudge" or "push" people in certain directions? If so, how do we know? and is it fair to say "I was led by God?"
I mean, how can a pastor say he was called to the pastorate without communicating that he has some sense that he was called "by God?"
I think the key is always starting with scripture. I think that if we are living in God's will, that he can and will put godly thoughts in our minds and if we take every thought captive to Christ, we can confidently say (sometimes) that we know we are in God's will.
There is more to that, but to be somewhat concise, I am cutting off my wordy comment.
I agree 100%
Hello Michael, thank you for engaging in this discussion.
As I mentioned above, Kevin DeYoung’s little book, Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. directly addresses the kinds of questions that you raise.
Now, with regard to the example of how a pastor could know that he has been called by God, I agree completely with your statement that the key is to start with Scripture.
Thus, the prospective pastor would need to be qualified according to the Scriptural requirements – he must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behaviour, hospitable, skilful in teaching, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission, not a novice, having a good testimony among those who are outside.
If he doesn’t meet any of those qualifications, then he can be sure that God has not (yet, at least) called him to the office of elder.
No doubt, the prospective pastor would also pray that God would give him wisdom to make a correct decision, and it be sensible for him also to discuss the matter with those who know both him and the Scriptures well, and who will give him their honest assessment of his suitability.
Now, should such a one find himself suitably qualified, and if a congregation agrees and calls him to serve, there is nothing to impede him from accepting the office, if he so desires. If he accepts it, then he is acting in accord with God’s will revealed in Scripture.
But nowhere here does he require some direct subjective impression of ‘being led by God’, though he may well rightly attest that he sees God’s guiding hand in his life, working to equip, qualify and prepare him for the office, affirming his suitability through those whose counsel he seeks, and then causing a congregation to call him as their elder.
Thus, I do not think it wrong for someone to say that they believe they have been led by God, as long as their claim is objective. (I generally think it wise, though, to hedge such prefix such claims with something like ‘I believe that…’, rather than simply assert ‘God told me…’) The danger is when people entirely unsuited and Biblically disqualified for the office feel a subjective impression of calling, and then pursue that to the detriment and harm of the sheep.
Lay people who know this get publically flogged for telling their pastors.
Oh Daniel- you forgot a couple of steps:
4. Close your Bible.
5. Say, “Jesus, speak to me.”
6. Look piously toward heaven as you wait for personal divine revelation.
7. Receive said revelation.
8. Look condescendingly down your nose at the poor shlubs around you who aren’t good enough to really hear from God.
LOL, Cathy, you’ve just made my day. (Well, my evening, anyway.) Thanks for stopping by!
Daniel- have you ever read the book by Garry Friesen? I think it’s called Decision Making and the Will of God.
It is at least twice as long as Just Do Something- but very similar in what it teaches about God’s guidance.
No, Cathy, I’ve not read that. I’ll see whether I can get hold of a copy, thank you!
@Cathy, isn’t there a part about clicking your heals together to make it all gel? And, does “said revelation” come in the form of a postcard, IM, text, or forward in your email inbox? I like your #8 BTW 🙂
Indeed- the revelation can be in any form once you start looking for it outside of God’s Word. I used to be really big into looking for signs of God’s confirmation of my decisions- songs on the radio, dreams, bird formations. Ughhh. It took me a while to realize I was still acting like a pagan (I used to be hard-core New Age.) Boy, was it freeing when I really understood that God is a God who communicates clearly and objectively through His Word!
Proverbs 3:5 & 6? He directs us. We can trust Him. Not mystical but calmly going about our day trusting Him. ?
Hello Joy, welcome!
I agree that we should trust in the Lord, leaning not on our own understanding. And we should acknowledging Him in everything, allowing Him to guide us. And how does He do this, but by through His word?
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Ps. 119:105.)
Peace and grace.
The great thing about extra-Biblical revelation, as explained by “Beautiful Outlaw” author John Eldredge is that you may even get to see Jesus sitting in your dorm room wearing a pirate’s hat. Or, if you are especially lucky, He may even speak to you through a giant, heart-shaped pile of cow dung.
My concern is that our doctrine of The Word is too focused on the written word, which is only one aspect (don’t forget spoken word and incarnate word), and that the beliefs expressed in this blog essentially domesticate the Holy Spirit and limit God’s activity. Certainly, God may choose to speak through burning bushes and visions. I’ll bet you won’t argue with me there. Why should we limit God’s voice to the scriptures? And don’t just say that it might lead to this or that wrong interpretation or vision. We will have those regardless. Don’t you trust the Holy Spirit to guide the church and God’s people? Or do you really believe that God has chosen to limit himself to the number of books and letters we happen to have unearthed and entitled “The Bible.”
The “don’t put God in a box” argument.
Joe- if God is giving you divine revelation, please get it out there- because God’s Word is God’s Word- and I need to know what He says. It is authoritative (because it is from God) and it is binding on my conscience (I must obey it- again, because it is from God.)
Also- you better make sure you are meeting God’s requirements for a true prophet (including being 100% accurate/correct).
I don’t think God likes being misrepresented.
Joe- I am not trying to be snarky- just wanting you to think through your position.
With all due respect. If you are not trying to be snarky than you could easily have made your first point without sarcasm and could have refrained from putting words in my mouth. Did I claim to be a prophet? I’m merely asking a question. i too do not believe that God likes to be misrepresented, that’s why I am concerned about how the Christian church handles it’s doctrines with regard to the Word–incarnate, spoken, and written. It might be more complex than it seems.
@ the author. I will check out that interview. Thanks.
I’m not sure where you thought I was bring sarcastic. What I am saying is that if you claim to receive divine extra Biblicfl revelation, you are claiming prophet status. And it would be of equal weight as the scripture is.
Did you think “God in the box was sarcastic”?
People use that phrase all the time when they make the same argument as you.
“Joe- if God is giving you divine revelation, please get it out there- because God’s Word is God’s Word- and I need to know what He says.”
That is sarcasm, Cathy. Unless you intended for me to read that sincerely. In which case, I wonder why you didn’t sincerely inquire after any revelations a second time when I offered you none in reply. Now I’m countering with sarcasm (thought I better point that out–oops doing it again…)
It was completely sincere- in that prophets (those who claim to speak the authoritative word of God) I think would be compelled to get that new revelation out there for others to know.
If you speak for God, I think that carries some pretty significant responsibilities. Again- I am not being sarcastic.
However- I disagree with you that God is giving you extra Biblical divine revelation- therefore it is not binding on my conscience. What I am 100% positive is the Word of God is what I am bound to trust and obey.
I went back and read through our comments. You did not claim extra Biblical revelation, but that is what we’d are talking about. Isn’t it?
How does God speak to His people – and how can you know it is God 100% of the time? No hunches, no strong feelings, no looking for signs, or trying up interpret dreams or numbers. We can know for fire without a doubt that God speaks clearly, boldly, clearly to us through the scripture.
The ‘you’re putting God in a box’ objection was covered very well in the recent Fighting for the Faith interview on Lectio Divina & Hearing ‘God’s Voice’. It’s well worth a listen.
Thank you for dropping by and sharing your concerns.
Peace and grace.
Our postmodern world is driving an emphasis on feelings, emotions, sensations in all their variety ie :smell, taste, touch. This preoccupation with “feelings” instead of “logical truth” has opened up the doorway for people to desire having an encounter with God in the material world. Hence, the lyrics to a popular Christian song “I want to hear Your voice, I want to know You more, I want to touch you, I want to see Your face”. [Moses is the exception that prayed to God requesting “I pray You, show me Your glory!” Exodus 33:18 But this must be understood in context. Moses was scared to death at the prospect of having been chosen by God to lead His people Israel and Moses in his humanity was needing a little reassurance. Well, that was the Old Testament and Moses did not have the luxury of a completed canon of Scripture. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
I certainly understand the sentiment (and we should desire a personal, intimate relationship with our precious Redeemer that should not be void of feeling), but this emotion based push to have physical contact with the Lord (prior to His return) is not based in the Bible. “Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” John 20:29 The Bible then goes on to say “but these things have been WRITTEN so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20:31
We know that the Bible is sufficient. The problem is once you open the door to personal experience you have gone outside of the Bible and it can be counterfeited by a roaring lion seeking to mislead and devour us.
Another thought, the “experiences” in the Bible ie: Peter’s vision of the food or the Mt. of Transfiguration these visions were for the glory of God and instumental fulfilling prophecy concerning Christ (proving His deity) and the fact that Salvation was no longer confined to the Jews but would be expanded to include Gentiles. They were all about Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel.
What is our desire to see the Lord in the flesh and to experience feelings, emotions etc. in the flesh? Is this for God’s glory or our own fleshly desires? Are we demanding something of Jesus like doubting Thomas or are we trusting and believing even if “nothing” in our experience is making us feel like God loves us ie:Job?
Thank you for your most excellent posts. To God be the Glory!
Grace and peace in Christ alone, charisse
Thank you, Charisse.
I’ve found that, as my understanding of the objective truths of our Christian doctrine grows (and I am conscious that I am as yet barely scratching the surface), the more I find my emotional response growing deeper, to the point now where the Gospel seems so much more marvellous to me – the riches that we have in Christ so much greater – than they ever did before.
Thus, doctrine and emotion are not opposed. Rather, a proper, lasting and fulsome emotional response arises inevitably as we grow to understand the objective truths of the Faith. Conversely, when we turn our eyes away from the objective truth of Scripture (and, thus, away from the One Who Is Truth who speaks to us there of Himself), and seek after emotion and experience, we find only a manufactured emotional high that quickly fades, leaving us hungry, drained and desolate.
To the Scriptures, then, where we find Christ! There he feeds us through His sure word, delivering to us His gifts of repentance and the forgiveness of sins – yes, and even His own perfect righteousness put to our account.
Listened to the interview you suggested, Daniel. It didn’t go deep enough. Here’s my question: where do we get the doctrine that God only reveals himself through the canonical scriptures? From the Bible? Isn’t that problematic? Not only because it is circular argumentation but also because it assumes that verses like 2 Timothy 3:16, which tell us that all scripture is God breathed, somehow refer to the New Testament, which didn’t exist as such at the time that 2 Timothy was written. That verse most likely refers to the old testament only and the author may very well have included a bunch of other Hebraic texts in his definition of “scriptures” that we would not consider authoritative today. Someone up the chain also referenced John 20:31 where we read that “these words were written that we may believe…” Again, not referring to the whole Bible because it didn’t exist at that time, merely referring to that book. (Not that it isn’t a great way to end an account of the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection. We should all have that goal in mind–bringing people to faith–when sharing the good news).
Where else do we get the doctrine that God reveals himself only through the Bible? We get it from the church. Which is not to say that it is a bad doctrine, but it is to say that it is one developed by man’s theological work within the past 1500 years or so. Luther started it off in response to the Roman church and we’ve been running with it ever since, to the point where we have millions of Christians treating the Bible like it fell from the sky as God’s divine gift from above. That’s not how it works. Sorry, but it’s messier than that. Luther spoke of the scripture as the manger that held the Christ child. But he warned us against falling into biblicism, that we would not make the error of “kneeling down to worship mere wood and straw,” which is what far too many people do. Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is what is most holy. The proclaimed gospel is the Word that gives life (spoken or written). The gospels of the Bible tell of the good news about Jesus, but they don’t encompass the totality of it. The New Testament that we, the church canonized, doesn’t encompass the totality of all there is to say about Jesus, either. Doctrines that attempt to explain God’s Word to us are just that, theological doctrines. They are our best attempt to explain some of the enormity of God to ourselves. God may reveal himself through The Bible. But he never revealed that he would only reveal himself there. I mean, I get why Lutherans stress the doctrine of The Word so much. It is really cool to hear the good news of forgiveness spoken authoritatively to us from outside of ourselves. But I think we can celebrate the Bible and announce the good news it teaches without limiting God in the process, it would probably help us to have a healthier doctrine of The Word if we did so.
Joe- I’m sorry to belabor the point, but I want to share a personal experience with these mystical practices and man devised systems to get a personal word from God. I hope you don’t mind. A few short years after becoming a Christian, I became severely depressed with panic attacks. My church elders sent me to a Christian Counselor. This counselor said the root of my problems was unresolved trauma I had experienced when younger. He had me go into a light trance- go back to a painful memory and then he asked Jesus to meet me there in the memory I was visualizing. Guess what? A jesus came. Now here is the interesting part. This memory involved a relationship that was grievous sin by any standard. This jesus kept telling me “it’s okay, it’s okay.” So- I told the counselor what this jesus was saying. I will never forget the panicked look in my counselor’s eyes. He asked me,” What does he mean? Does he mean you’re okay?”
Do you see the problem with this kind of thing? This is called Theophostics, but it’s just one of dozens of man made attempts to get God to give information or give some kind of spiritual experience.
After that incident- I knew this stuff was dangerous. That counselor never cracked the Bible as he “counseled” me. A Christian mind you. But he wanted me to go through these man made steps to get answers from Jesus.
Don’t put a wedge between God and His Word Joe.
You say this limits God- no it fully fully trusts God as He has revealed Himself. From the Garden, man has always demanded more than God’s Word.
Daniel- if this post bothers you or is too off topic, please feel free to delete it.
Cathy–thank you for the post. I appreciate you sharing such a personal story, for it is through such stories that we can actually come to understand one another. And please know that I do not mean to undermine the assurance that you receive in scripture with my questions. That is to say, I do not mean to undermine your faith in the gospel and Jesus. But my questions still remain and my concern is that we put too much of our faith in a doctrine about scripture rather than in what the scriptures are actually trying to tell us about (this sounds fantastically nuanced, doesn’t it?). Here’s a question: Do you believe in Jesus because the Bible is true? Or do you believe the Bible is true because you believe in Jesus?
Unfortunately, I don’t have time to write more at this moment. But I will quickly add that I’m not a big believer in conjuring up God’s presence, either, and I am sorry that your supposedly Christian counselor didn’t do a better job of speaking the gospel to your heavy heart instead of leaving you twisting in the wind as he did.
Joe- I appreciate your kind response. I shared that story because sometimes when you start digging into these issues, we forget that our theology has real life consequences. I often get accused of just arguing against things I know nothing about- or due to some kind of dead religiosity or from a desire to be right or to just tear down other Christians. The issue of how God communicates with His people/with me became a profound desperate question for me. Partly due to this counseling and partly because there were a lot of Christians saying God told them to do this or that. A lot of my Christian friends we’re absolutely paralyzed when it came to making decisions – they were really not very different from how I was in the New Age: Looking for clues and signs and special words from God, interpreting dreams, etc.I think I became depressed because Christianity – atleast living as a Christian seemed very similar to living as a pagan. When I saw all the same types of meditation and altered states of consciousness being introduced as a valid way to receive guidance from God- it kind of felt like someone pulled a rug out from underneath me. I was running away from those things, and a lot of my Christian friends and mentors we’re running toward them. I kept thinking- is there some magic light switch that God flips when you become a Christian – and now all those pagan practices that kept me deceived and in bondage, are now okay because they are done in the name of Jesus. I still have to grope around in the sripitual realm working up the rungs of the ladder (like in lecto divinia
(cont’d) – or I have to go into a visualization and wait for a word from Jesus.
No- Joe. That is not Christianity. God has graciously given His Word. And it is sufficient to equip me for every good work. I can know His revealed will. But His secret will or sovereign will I can only know in hindsight. I do not have to try to figure out what God has not revealed.
As far as your question- the only way I know how to answer is
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The Bob DeWaay articles are awesome. He helped me so much.
Thank you for your further comments, Joe, and for your diligence in listening to that whole episode of Fighting for the Faith. You raise some good questions.
1. No one is arguing that God only ‘reveals himself’ (to use your phrase) or speaks (to use a wider category of things pertinent to the conversation here) through the Bible. This isn’t the claim that Reformation theologians make, and it isn’t the doctrine of sola scriptura.
For example, through general revelation (that which we can learn through normal means such as observation, deduction, etc.), we even have certain limited knowledge about God – that He exists, is eternal, and ought to be given glory and thanks:
Rather, sola scripture teaches us that ‘the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, having been given by inspiration of God, are the all-sufficient and only rule of faith and practice, and judge of controversies’ (A. A. Hodge).
Put another way, only the Scriptures have the final authority to bind us when it comes to our beliefs or practice. Of course, Scripture itself teaches that we should be subject to lawful authorities, and so we obey these too, in so far as they do not direct us contrary to the Scriptures.
2. God is free to use any means that He desires to communicate with us and otherwise bring about His providential will, though He does not, of course, speak or act in any way contrary to His revealed word. Thus, a comment from one’s spouse, or anyone else, might well be God’s providential way of guiding us in a particular situation. Likewise, He might give us an idea, a thought, or an inclination to do something.
The question, though, is this: can we be certain that any of these extra-Biblical sources are God speaking? And do any of these extra-Biblical means of receiving potential revelation bind us to obey, such that it would be a sin not to do so? In other words, are these extra-Biblical sources authoritative in our lives, whether for our beliefs or for our practice? The Reformers say ‘No.’
3. The Biblical test for a true prophet is two-fold: 100% accuracy, and 100% conformance with God’s prior authoritative revelation (cf. Deut. 13 & 18). Paul tells the Thessalonians not to despise prophecies, but to ‘Test all things; hold fast what is good.’ Clearly, there must be an objective standard for what is ‘good’, otherwise we could not hold fast the good and reject everything else. Scripture gives us no objective standard for such testing other than the one He gave Israel.
Perhaps we can subject our personal revelation to a pragmatic test? Here’s what Bob DeWaay says:
Thus, unless our own inner promptings have a 100% track record, and unless our own doctrine is in 100% conformance with Scripture, we can’t know for sure that the prompting was from God. We are therefore not bound by it. This is truly liberating for those who have come under condemnation from what they thought might have been their own personal revelation from God.
4. Now, someone might say that we are in the Church age, and that, although God is no longer giving authoritative revelation for the whole Church, we ought to obey the personal words that He gives to us, either directly or through another person.
Thus, let’s say that someone claiming to be a prophet from God approaches you with a revelation claiming to be from God for you. You would reject this person out of hand unless they had a track record of 100% accuracy and doctrinal conformance to Scripture. But, upon investigation, you are amazed to discover that they do measure up in accuracy and doctrine. Question: are you bound to obey what this person says?
As an example, take the Apostle Paul. He knew that chains and tribulations awaited him at Jerusalem:
He was specifically told ‘through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem’ (Acts 21:4). Agabus then comes from Judea, takes Paul’s belt, binds his own hands and feet, and says:
Finally, Paul’s companions begged him not to go to Jerusalem:
What does Paul do? He goes anyway. And there is not even the slightest hint in Scripture that this was sinful. Rather, to the contrary, we see that God’s providential purposes had been worked out:
Had God desired, He could most certainly have prevented Paul from going to Jerusalem. But He didn’t. Instead, Paul’s visit there, his subsequent arrest, and his eventual imprisonment in Rome, were God’s providential will to further the Gospel.
So, that prompting you felt to move to Florida (to borrow an example from Bob DeWaay), perhaps it is from God, and perhaps it isn’t. You’d have no way to tell, because the Bible says nothing about your moving to Florida and pragmatic tests can prove nothing. You are thus free to consider the pros and cons, discuss the matter with your spouse, seek advice and make a decision. As long as you break no Biblical mandate, whether you stay or go, you do not sin.
5. We see then that personal revelation (wether we receive it ourselves or from another) is not binding upon the believer. Let us treasure this liberty. Paul’s words to the Galatians are directly apposite – let us not become enslaved by that with which Scripture does not bind us:
6. The Scriptures nowhere tell us to seek direct revelation from Him for guidance in our lives, nor do they give us cause to conclude that it is normative for God to give such revelation to his saints. Instead, we see time and again God’s providence in bringing about His will through normal events. Consider the providential preservation of the infant Moses’ – though God gave no direct instruction to Moses’ mother, nor to Miriam, nor to the daughter of Pharaoh. And yet, God’s purpose of using Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt was achieved. Or consider the book of Esther. Again, there was no personal revelation from God either to Mordecai or to Esther, but God neverthless used Esther to deliver His people. As Mordecai said to Esther:
Yes, God did speak directly and authoritatively to some. But we are not Abraham, Moses or Paul. Rather, we have confidence that everything we need to know from God is given authoritatively in the Scriptures. God is able and faithful. He will certainly work out His providential will in our lives.
7. Rather than urging us to seek personal words from God, we instead have the injunction to seek wisdom – the ability to apply God’s revealed will to our lives. Here’s James:
Wisdom begins with a reverant fear of God, and a knowledge of both Him and His commandments:
If we want to know the will of the Lord for our lives, we turn to the Scriptures.
8. With regard to 2 Timothy 3:15–17, clearly this is speaking first and foremost of the Old Testament. But, of course, much of the New Testament was likely extant when 2 Timothy was written, since it is generally thought to be one of the later epistles. Most commentators also see these verses as having application to the entire New Testament. Here’s Lenski, for example:
9. In any case, we rely not only upon 2 Timothy 3. Hebrews 1 & 2 is also relevant:
In the past, God spoke to the fathers by the prophets (and thus we have the Old Testament). In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whose words we have recorded in the New Testament. Finally, that which the Lord spoke was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, with ‘God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit’. It is those who heard Christ – or those approved by them or very close to them – who gave us the New Testament (see again the Lenski quote in the previous point).
Thus, we have confidence in the divine imprimatur given to the Apostles, as Jesus also promised:
10. Others have written and spoken on these topics in far greater depth than I am minded here to do, and with far greater insight. The following resources from Bob DeWaay might prove helpful:
The Problems with Personal Words From God: How People Become False Prophets to Themselves
God’s Revealed Will: Understanding God’s Boundaries
Personal Words from God Part 1 (audio presented by Bob DeWaay and Dick Kuffel)
Personal Words from God Part 2 (audio presented by Bob DeWaay and Dick Kuffel)
As I have done in other comments, I also commend Kevin DeYoung’s book, Just Do Something: How to Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc.
Finally, a listener emailed Chris Rosebrough raising objections to his Lectio Divina interview not altogether different from your own. You can hear his response starting at 8:40 in the Code Orange Revives Mythology episode of Fighting for the Faith.
I welcome any other suggestions that readers might have for worthwhile resources.
I hope this is at least somewhat helpful and gives you further food for thought. Once again, my intent here is not to condemn or judge anyone, but to encourage us to go back to the Scriptures as the only source of absolute and final authority in matters of faith and practice.
Very helpful. Thank you for taking the time to lay it out in such a detailed way. Much to think about and learn here.
After reading some of these posts. The KJ Bible states the gift of discernment from God is the key to testing all spirits and peoples and words. As for knowing scriptures it is right to study to show thyself approved and necessary for the renewing of the mind. And to hear Gods written word on a daily basis through the Holy Bible. But only through His gift of His discernment to us will you know if anything is of or from God apart from the Bible or from the Bible direct to you. As in it, God says to test all things and approve only what is right and good.
Amen…!! a great reason why it’s so important that people have reliable Scripture in the language that God created them to understand best…and that they are actually literate enough to read it….yep maybe I am shamelessly plugging the cause that I’m involved in but also to say..Thanks Daniel (and Cara) for all that you’ve done to support me and Bible translation these past 5 years!
Hi Becky, and welcome 🙂
I’m always very happy for you to plug away here for the cause of Bible translation – we’re really pleased that there are people like you willing to be involved in this work. Hope things are going well for you.
Peace and grace.
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