[by reed depace; from our church’s new website blog.]
So this has probably crossed your mind before:
• Does God still speak to people?
• If so, how?
• When that little voice speaks in my head, is that the Spirit?
As always, we can only answer these kinds of questions by asking God Himself. You best friend’s grandmom’s neighbor’s cat’s opinion might be better than mine, but it is still just opinion. If we want truth, especially about God Himself, we need to ask God to speak for Himself.
Assume for a minute you believe the Bible is God speaking for Himself. (If you don’t believe this, I’ll be happy to show you how the Bible says this is true.) Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that while God may have spoken through a little old lady’s cat in times past (and in a host of other unusual ways), He does not do that anymore.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb 1:1-2 ESV)
Can God speak through dreams, visions, wet fleeces, sticks turning into snakes, yada, yada, yada? Of course! Who can deny God doing what He wants? But as this passage expressly states, He does NOT do that anymore, not since He has spoken through His Son Jesus.
Now the theology wrapped up in Hebrews 1:2 is deep and wide and goes a long way toward giving us confidence to not make a pilgrimage to look at a piece of burnt toast with the (supposed) image of Jesus on it. It is sufficient here for us to observe that Jesus Himself says that He speaks today only through the Bible.
So, using this as our starting point, let’s ask the particular question: does God still speak to us, personally, through the Bible?
Hebrews 4:12 gives a compelling answer: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)
It doesn’t get any more personal than the division of soul and spirit, speaking to us at the deepest and most intimate of levels in our being. Yes, God still speaks to us, even personally, but again, only through His word, the Bible.
Now there are lots of other passages in Scripture that also teach this. (One of my favorites is Jesus’ promise that His sheep actually do hear His voice, John 10:27.) And the doctrine of illumination does tell us that this speech is by the Spirit and at the deepest, most intimate of levels in our beings (1 Corinthians 2:7-14).
Yet in spite of this promise, this guarantee, we still have that niggling little question in the back of our minds, “how does the Spirit do this?”
The Bible is amazingly silent on that question. (I think this is related to our idolatry of our own abilities and what we’d do with the details of the how-answer, but that is a subject for another post.) We simply cannot go into too much detail, lest we end up in error, and get even more confused. Or worse, we end up identifying the Spirit speaking through a means He does not, and actually begin listening to the Enemy.
From Scriptures, what we can say is this:
• God does speak personally to His children.
• They can recognize that He is speaking to them.
• It is the Spirit who does the speaking.
• He always and only speaks to us consistent with the written record found in Scripture.
• He always speaks in a manner that increases our repentance and strengthens our faith.
• He always speaks those things which convict us of sin, convince us of Jesus sufficiency, and conform us to growing in Christlikeness.
And yet again, this still leaves us a bit murky about exactly how the Spirit does this. That can be a bit frustrating. While I can’t give you any “thus saith the Lord!” I can offer two biblically informed illustrations that may help you put a bit more faith into God’s personal speaking to you through the Bible.
First, consider the four faculties of the soul: mental (thinking), emotional (feeling), conscience (judging), and will (choosing). These are not separate functions but integrated capacities that are always working in conjunction with one another. Given that the Bible is itself in a form that interacts with our soul’s faculties, and given that the Bible says the Spirit speaks the Bible intimately into our souls, we are safe to observe that in some manner the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us is received by us in our souls. This eliminates the “audible voice” expectation, as well as a host of other unusual “coincidences” that many of us still rely on. (I still get a kick out of Christians who, when something bad happens, say, “Uh oh, bad things always come in threes.” Talk about a messed up way of hearing from God. :P )
Second, consider the idea that we can tell the Spirit’s speaking by the results, the evidence left behind. To understand this better let me draw your attention briefly to the Large Hardon Collider in Cern, Switzerland (you may have heard about this related to something called the “God particle”). This thing is an atomic accelerator. Scientists use it to discover and describe sub-atomic particles. The interesting thing is that they do not have instruments that are able to see these sub-atomic particles. Instead of examining the particles directly, using this accelerator they crash atoms into each other at very high speeds.
The resulting collisions, like a car accident, send these unsee-able particles careening off in all directions. As the particle fly off they hit other atoms in the air around them, causing them damage. Like an accident investigator, the scientists then can measure the nature and shape of the unseen sub-atomic particles by the effects they had on the seen atoms they damaged.
This is in part how we can identify that the Spirit has indeed spoken to us, by the results, the effects of His speaking the Bible into us. Jesus says we will know the credibility of someone else’s relationship with Him by the fruits of that relationship (Matthew 7:16-20). This applies to looking at ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Proverbs 26:2; Galatians 6:4;1 John 3:20-21, and other passages). The fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are expressly the good results, the dramatic changes that take place in our life, as a result of His speaking the Bible into us. These are the seen evidences of the unseen speaking of the Spirit.
But still, what about that voice we hear in the back of our heads? What is that?! Pulling these two illustrations together, here is what I think happens.
Consider that it is a common experience for people to have an inner voice. This is a normal function of our soul, usually assigned to our consciences (think about the picture of the little angel and devil, sitting on either shoulder, whispering into your ears). This is universal, common to all mankind, so much so that people with defects in their inner voice are identified as mentally ill: schizophrenia, people with more than one inner voice; bi-polar, two opposing inner voices; sociopaths, people with no inner voice. Such folks have defects in their soul’s faculties.
So, considering that the inner voice is a common experience to all mankind, and that Christians find this inner voice increasingly sounding like the Bible, what I think is going on is this:
• The Spirit “speaks” to us in a spiritual manner that the Bible does not describe.
• He does so through the Bible itself.
• He uses secondary means (e.g., preaching, reading, listening), but these secondary means are not themselves His speaking.
• We do not “hear” His voice directly, either through our physical bodies or our immaterial souls.
• Rather, we see the results of His speaking.
• And the first result, is changes wrought in our souls.
• That is, the Spirit speaks the Bible to our souls, and we experience the results of that speech.
• The inner voice we hear and wonder, “Is that God speaking?” is our own inner voice, evidencing the changes produced by
the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us.
In other words we can tell the Spirit speaks to us to the degree our inner voice echoes the Bible. As the Spirit speaks the Bible to us, into our souls, we find ourselves increasingly:
• Thinking the way the Bible says we should think,
• Feeling the way the Bible says we should feel,
• Judging the way the Bible says we should judge, and
• Choosing the way the Bible says we should choose.
These are first-order, or immediate fruits of the Spirit’s speech into us, evidences that He has indeed spoken.
So we must be careful when talking about our inner voice and the Spirit’s speaking to us. The Bible tells us that the inner voice IS NOT the voice of the Spirit. Instead, the inner voice, as it grows more and more to echo, to repeat what the Bible says, is evidence to us that the Spirit truly has spoken to us.
This is a great encouragement. I know the Spirit will speak to me, personally. I know He will use secondary means. I know whatever He says will always and only agree with what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears written in the Bible. And finally, I know that my soul, my spirit, will experience the results of His speech.
Now this does not call for us to adopt some form of Christian navel gazing, some form of mantra-induced emptying of our thoughts so we can concentrate and not miss something the Spirit says to our inner voice. Instead it is a cause for great relief. I can relax, rest, and just take advantage of the ordinary means that I use in faith to participate with the promise of the Spirit’s speech.
• I can read my Bible;
• Use reading glasses when the words are too small;
• Take a break when I have a headache;
• Do a quick doodle on the edge of the bulletin when I’m starting to lose focus on what that long-winded preacher is saying;
• Prepare the notes for my next small group meeting, etc.,
And be assured, that though I’m like those scientists crashing atoms and can’t tell exactly how the Spirit is speaking, He will be speaking, and will leave behind the evidences, growth into the beauty and glory of the image of Jesus Christ.
• Here is another article emphasizing some of these points:
• Here is an excellent and short book particularly applying these points to how God reveals His personal will to us:
If I can help with any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. In the meantime:
Stop listening to the neighbor’s cat,
Stop staring at your toaster waiting for the bread to be burnt just right.
Go read your Bible!
by reed depace