Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How does God speak to us?

“God told me” or “God spoke to me”, we sometimes hear people say. How does one know if that’s true? How do I hear from God? If He exists, does He speak to people today? Maybe He speaks through supernatural signs, by writing something on the wall or appearing to people bearing a striking resemblance to Morgan Freeman in a stylish white suit. Does God speak in an audible voice? Most of us would be skeptical if someone said he heard God speak audibly, and rightfully so. God speaks to people today through a number of mechanisms:  His written word in the Bible, the Holy Spirit, our conscience, other people, dreams and visions. The Bible is the primary method God speaks to us and His Spirit is probably the second most direct manner.

An audible voice?
The Bible records instances in which God clearly spoke to people in an audible voice and other passages in which it appears He spoke audibly, however that is not explicitly stated. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:4:
“God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am’" (Exodus 3:4).
God spoke to Samuel:
“the Lord called Samuel; and he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he ran to Eli and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called yet again, ‘Samuel!’" (1 Samuel 3:4-6).
And, God spoke to Paul (formerly Saul):
“he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9:3-4).
Though God did speak to people audibly and some credible reports exist today, they do not seem to be the norm. We should also keep in mind that auditory hallucinations may have a number of causes, such as:  schizophrenia, senile dementia, hallucinogenic substances, alcohol withdrawal, and even extreme sleep deprivation. Ruling out any natural causes, any message from the Almighty would need to be consistent with His prior messages written in the Bible.

God speaks through His word, the Bible.
The primary method God uses to speak to people today is through His written word, the Bible. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Psalm 119:105 states, “Your word is a lamp that gives light wherever I walk.” Regarding the word of God, Paul stated, “the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). When the message of Jesus Christ was preached to those living in Berea, they were commended because they “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily” (Acts 17:11). Even Jesus Christ relied upon the scriptures when He was tempted by Satan. Jesus replied each time, “It is written” (Matthew 4:1-10). We should certainly do no less.

God speaks to us by His Spirit. 
Jesus told His disciples, “the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you” (John 14:26). He also said, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Of course, those of us who are disciples today have the same Spirit. The Spirit dispenses revelation to believers, as Paul stated, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.  But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit… And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:9-12). Believers have God’s Spirit within guiding us.

God also guides us through our own conscience. 
The word of God says that even people who do not know the Bible “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness” (Romans 2:14). Even people who claim to not believe in God know the difference between right and wrong, an innate ability we received when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God has already placed within all persons a conscience. Believers are also guided by our conscience, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, as we see when Paul stated, “my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 9:1).

God uses other people to speak to us. 
The most common example of this is preaching, the means through which most people come to salvation. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) spoken by other people. The Bible, in referring to the earliest Christians, states, “every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” (Acts 5:42). God also uses other believers to speak truth to us, as the Apostle Paul did with Peter: “when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face” regarding the issue of separating from the Gentile converts (Galatians 2:11). Solomon informed that “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). God uses others to speak truth into our lives; however, it is crucial that this advice is always consistent with Biblical doctrine. Furthermore, each of us needs to know God for ourselves to avoid being led astray, as so many are.

What about dreams or visions?
The Bible records visions given by God to Jacob (Genesis 46:2), Ezekiel (1:1), Daniel (7:1), and of course John as written in the book of Revelation. God promises in the future, “I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions” (Joel 2:28). So, visions or dreams certainly may be from God. But, how do we know if a vision is God’s way of speaking to us? Some may be false, as indicated by Jeremiah: “Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions” (Lamentations 2:14). We must compare any dream, vision, or prophesy with God’s word already established in the Bible. Also, if someone says they have a word from God about your life, be very skeptical unless God has already revealed it to you independently. These days, the Lord does not normally speak to His people in this manner, because we have the written word. The Bible states, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB unless otherwise indicated.]

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