Here we go…part three! The previous post emphasized the sufficiency of Scripture. Yet, as stated, the Bible can not tell us exactly what we should do…but rather equips us to live the Christian life. Remember that we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). To make decisions in life we should search the Scriptures, pray, use our brains, and seek Godly counsel – and then we step out in faith. But it seems that some people want us to walk by sight, not by faith. They seek to hear God’s audible voice, or the word of a prophet, or some other form of direct divine communication in order to know or confirm what to do. This approach provides a way to walk by sight, not by faith…doesn’t it? They are seeking signs and certainty, instead of trusting.
Another grave concern I have is the subjectivity of it all! If you claim to hear God’s voice, how do you know the voice you hear is really God?? A look at history will reveal numerous examples of people who attributed all kinds of wacky or inappropriate things to the voice of God! This alone should give us pause. That “voice” could actually be…a fraudulent prophet, wishful thinking, sinful motives, fear, hormonal imbalance, Satan deceiving you, side effects of medication, or actually God.
We are all very prone to self-deception, and I think we hear “what we want to hear” more often than we care to admit it. Consciously or subconsciously we have made up our mind, and find ways to rationalize it.
The idea of receiving personal messages from God seems to leave the door open for all types of misunderstanding and abuse. There seems to be no source of authority, except for yourself. If you say “God told me”, how can anyone else really disagree with you? To disagree would be like disagreeing with God.
[On a side note, I think we need to be more cautious in how we speak. Some Christians frequently say things like “God spoke to me” or “the Lord told me.” Most of the time, I think the person simply means that they were reading their Bible or listening to a sermon and God used the passage or sermon to convict them of personal sin or of a change they needed to make in their life. They don’t literally mean God directly communicated with them. I’m not necessarily condemning speaking this way, but it makes me nervous. To say “God told me” seems a serious comment to make…we are claiming to speak for God. If we are wrong, then haven’t we made God a liar or misrepresented him?]
Some say that we can validate the direct divine message we’ve received by making sure it does not contradict the Bible. While this might work with some situations, it won’t necessarily work with others. In addition, the source of authority concerns me again. We receive a message from God, and then we go to the Scriptures to confirm it. The “truth flow” seems from ourselves to the Bible. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? Consider all that was said in part two about the sufficiency and authority of the Bible.
It is through the Scriptures that God will reveal truth to us. We should not be seeking to get new revelation outside of the Scriptures. Biblical revelation is complete. New Scripture is not being penned, and “inspiration” is no longer taking place. The “canon” of Scripture is closed (meaning new books can not be added to the Bible). As the book of Hebrews emphasizes, we received God’s final and superior revelation in Jesus Christ.
But while biblical revelation is complete, our understanding is indeed progressive. We can certainly grow in our understanding of God’s Word. This is ultimately a critical role of the Holy Spirit…to illuminate the Scriptures for us. God can use a human instrument to do this…For example, a gifted Bible teacher can open our eyes to things we have overlooked or failed to see in the Bible. However, the exposition of Scripture, fresh insight, and new understanding…is not the same as new revelation from God. We are simply better understanding the words that God has already spoken to us and learning to apply it to our lives.
The Word and the Spirit are intimately connected with each other. The Bible is a spiritual work, and we need spiritual sight to properly understand it. First Corinthians 2 and John 14-16 are two sections of Scripture that can help us understand the role of the Holy Spirit. Human reason alone is not enough, and some things must be spiritually discerned. I appreciate how Millard Erickson in his Christian Doctrine book sums up the principles found in John 14-16…He states that the Spirit guides us into truth and bears witness to Christ. This is not the addition of new truth, but rather an action of the Holy Spirit in relationship to truth already revealed. “Thus the Holy Spirit’s ministry involves elucidating the truth, bringing belief and persuasion and conviction, but not new revelation.”
In closing, Jack Deere has some valid warnings against “Bible deism” (his terminology). Those with views in opposition to ours can often see our weak points clearly. We can become guilty of substituting the Bible for God! Studying the Bible should not be an end to itself, but rather the means to the end of knowing God and allowing God to change us. We can become so focused on the Bible that we actually miss the point!
But I truly believe that with a proper primary focus on Jesus and the Scriptures, that we set God’s Spirit free to be at work in our lives. The Word and the Spirit are intimately connected. When our focus is more on the subjectivity of hearing a voice, we’ve reversed things. I’ll end with this statement by theologian JI Packer:
While it is not for us to forbid God to reveal things apart from Scripture, or do anything else (he is God, after all!), we may properly insist that the New Testament discourages Christians from expecting to receive God’s words to them by any other channel than…Holy Scripture.