Dr. John B. MacDonald
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He got up in front of the group and began by saying, “This is what God is saying to you …”  

Immediately, I went into skeptic-mode and wondered: “Who is this guy?”

How do I know it’s God speaking, not just this guy ‘blowing smoke’ – or worse?  

 

Before we move toward ‘listening to God’, let’s consider this question: “How can you know it is God speaking?”    

Does God Speak?  

As a person who concluded long ago that the Bible is “word of God,” my answer is a definite “yes!” God has spoken, and he continues to speak.

I came to this conclusion about the Bible despite my upbringing, and after long and careful consideration – but that’s another story.  

The Bible reveals the God who speaks.   

In Genesis 1, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (1:3). No fewer than ten times in that chapter, the phrase “God said” is used as God speaks the universe into existence.   

More specifically, God spoke to Adam, and Adam understood what God said (Genesis 2-3).  Incident after incident could be recited from the holy and ancient text of the Bible in which God speaks to humans, and those humans comprehend what he says (e.g., Moses in Exodus 3; Isaiah in Isaiah 6; Paul and Ananias in Acts 9; Peter in Acts 10).   

How does God speak?  

In addition to direct verbal communication, God also speaks in other ways.

1.         Prophets and human messengers.   God used prophets to speak for him. For instance, Jeremiah was enabled to say, “this is what the LORD says …” (e.g., Jeremiah 2:5).

For sure, there were, and are, false prophets. God has provided tests to determine the authenticity of prophets.  

2.         The Bible itself is ‘word of God’ and Paul writes (2 Timothy 3:16-17):  

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman][1] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  

Klaus Bockmuehl, a Bible scholar, states, “The entire Bible is a record of God’s speaking in human history.” [2]  

3.         Jesus Christ is the Word of God (John 1:1-14).  

In the opening sentence of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:1-2), we read:  

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son …  

The words translated “by his Son” may be rendered literally as “in Son”: “God … has spoken to us in Son,” meaning in, or as, Jesus Christ.  

4.         Other means by which God ‘speaks’ include:

Three tests for authenticity  

There are a few things God cannot do. For instance, “it is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18).  

God does not contradict himself. What he says and does is always consistent with who he is.  

Here are three questions to test whether what you are hearing is God speaking. 

First, is it consistent with the Bible?

God does not speak or act inconsistently with the record of his past “speaking in human history” – the Bible.  

If someone claims “this is what God is saying to you …” and what is being said contradicts the Bible, it is not God speaking to you.       

Second, is it consistent with the person and work of Jesus Christ?

Here’s an example from 1 John 4:1-3a:  

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.

If a source claiming to be speaking for God contradicts who Jesus is, or what he has done and said, it is not God talking to you.   

Third, is it consistent with God’s character of love?  

John writes that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  

Paul lists 16 characteristics of love – nine things it does not do, and seven it does (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a):  

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy,it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,

it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. 

Rants advocating violence are just one example that violates this test. Paraphrasing Paul (1 Corinthians 13:1), no matter what a person says, if there is no love (at best), it’s just noise

Much more can be said about discerning the voice of God, but these three questions are helpful tests for authenticity.

Apply them to what you’re ‘hearing.’ Let me know what you conclude.

 

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[1] The Greek word translated as “man” in this text is anthrōpos, which is the generic word for human, not anēr, which is the word for male. [2] Klaus Bockmuehl, Listening to the God Who Speaks (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1990), 13. 

Photo Credit: Sam Godfrey George via Compfight cc

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