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PART

Does God Whisper?

PART

By Greg Koukl

The keynote speakers list of spiritual qualifications was not lengthy. There were
no references to his academic letters, theological acumen, skill at biblical living, or
personal holiness. Instead, he was simply introduced as a man who hears from
God. It was the ultimate sign of spiritual competency. The implication for the
audience was clear. He listens to God; they should listen to him.
Its hard to think of anything that has
captured the imagination of Christians recently
as aggressively as the idea of hearing the voice of
God. The notion is, to many, so obviously Christian,
so undoubtedly biblical, that its truth is beyond
question. To challenge it is akin to spiritual treason.1
For many, such an intimacy is central to a
personal relationship with God, the core of vibrant
Christianity. Without it, genuine closeness to our
Lord is not even possible.
Anyway, listening to Christians talk about it, the
experience appears to be ubiquitous. Virtually
everyone seems to be hearing from God in some
fashionpastors, writers, even the regular folks at
your weekly Bible studyso the basic idea must be
right. After all, Jesus said,My sheep hear My voice.
Real believers ought to experience this (if this is
what Jesus meant), and if any one of us happens to
be the odd person left out, there are plenty of books
promising to impart this skill.

A Christian Birthright
A host of writings over the last decade suggest
that two-way communication is central to having
an intimate relationship with God. We talk to Him
in prayer, then He talks to us, often with guidance
tailor-made for our situation.
Its what one author calls a
conversational relationship
with God.2
This ability to hear directly
from God is not reserved for a
select few. Rather, the experience
of prophets and godly men of
old is also the birthright of every
Christian. Jesus took his directions
directly from the Father. This was
the standard experience of the early
church in the book of Acts. It should be ours, too.
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S o l i d G r o u n d

PART

If we dont yet know how to recognize Gods


voice, be confident that God is trying to get
through. With the right instruction, the skill can be
learned from those who are proficient, just as little
Samuel learned from Eli.
On this view, the ability to personally connect
with God is especially important when it comes to
making decisions. One notable author writes:
Have you ever needed to make a decision, but
had no idea what God wanted you to do? You
wanted to do what was best, but you were
not sure what that was.God
always has a plan in mind. The
challenge for most of us is how
to discover it.He is willing
to speak to each one of us,
but we must be in a position
where we can hear His
voice.3 [emphasis added]
God knows best, and hasnt
He promised to give guidance?4 Our task is
to wait until the Master gives instructions.5
These may come by subtle impressions
or promptings one writer calls Gods
whispers.6 Others talk of listening
prayer, or hearing the still small voice of
God,7 or being led by the Spirit, or getting
an assignment from God.

Danger in the Silence


As normal as these concepts seem to some
and as spiritually appealing as they soundthere
is a dark side. What if Gods whispers are not
forthcoming? One pastor wrote me plagued by
indecision. Ive felt stuck in the mud, so to speak,
waiting for the voice of God to impress me with
His leading in so many areas. For this pastor, Gods
silence was agonizing.

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And silence from God is a cause for concern. The
author of one bestseller on this topic warns that
a failure to hear from God is a failure in ones love
relationship with God.If the Christian does not
know when God is speaking, he is in trouble at the
heart of his Christian life!8
Consequently, there are legions of Christians
who are disheartened and defeatedsometimes
even questioning their own salvationbecause the
heavens have been quiet. After all, Jesus said,My
sheep hear My voice.And what of those who dont
hear? You are not My sheep, was Jesus answer
(Jn. 10:26).This
There are legions of Christians who
is a chilling
prospect for
are disheartened and defeated
those left alone
sometimes even questioning their
in the spiritual
own salvation.
silence.

One Big Question, Many Smaller Ones


This months Solid Ground is the first of a threepart series in which I want to ask a simple question:
Are these claims sound? Which is to ask,Are these
claims biblical?What is the scriptural answer to the
following smaller questions?
Does the Bible teach God is trying to
speak to each one of us? Can His efforts be
thwarted by inattention, excessive activity, or
sin, as some suggest?
Is having a conversational relationship with
God taught in the text?
According to Scripture, does prayer involve
two-way communication? Do we talk to God,
then listen as God talks to us?
When Paul uses the phrase led by the Spirit,
does he mean sensing subtle hints from God
that He uses to prompt and push us in the
direction of His will?

Lest I Be Misunderstood
Part of the difficulty of addressing these issues is
a massive ambiguity in the phrase hearing Gods
voice. For some, any intervention by God in their
livesconviction of sin, insight into Scripture,
godly wisdom from a Christian brother or sister, an
idea that seems to come from nowhere that bears
wonderful fruitcan be called hearing the voice of
God because all entail Gods personal, intimate
and what I take to be completely biblical
involvement with them personally.
Ambiguities like this lead easily to
misunderstanding, so let me tell you what I am not
challenging.

Please Read Carefully


I am not questioning the normal experience of a deep, profound
intimacy with God that is sometimes so emotionally overwhelming
it leaves us weeping in awe before Him.
I am not questioning whether God can work sovereignly to give
us thoughts, insights, ideas, or plans. In fact, Im sure He does
(though I will offer some qualifications about how I think we
should assess such things). I am not denying the work of God
in our lives through all kinds of secondary causescounsel,
circumstances, personal gifts or capabilitiesto accomplish His
sovereign purposes.
I am not denying answered prayer, though I am not convinced
all prayers are biblically appropriate (we can ask for things we
shouldnt be asking for).
I am not questioning whether God can speak powerfully to us in
our unique situations from Scripture when the text is understood
according to its objective meaning gleaned from the context.

Does Gods promised guidance mean He


reveals to each of us individually what He
wants us to do?

I am not a cessationist, that is, I do not think the so-called sign


gifts (tongues, prophecy, etc.) ceased in the first century. There
may be bona fide prophetic words for the church in the fashion
of prophets of old.10 Alleged prophets, however, should be
tested (1 Thess. 5:20-21), and the test is the same now as its
always been (Deut. 18:22).

Does the Bible give us reason to expect the


same interaction with God as Moses, Samuel,
and Paul had with Him,9 or were their
experiences unique?

I do not deny that the Spirit comes alongside us as a helper


in powerful and palpable ways to teach, convict, comfort,
or empower us to deal with sin, difficulties, trials, and
discouragements.

For Jesus, did hearing His voice mean that


all His true sheep receive regular personal
messages from Him?

Finally, I do not deny that God is capable of giving special


revelation to anyone or to any church at any time. God can do
whatever He likes, and I am fully convinced there are unique
situations where He does this today, just as in biblical times.

Is it true this was modeled by the Savior, the


apostles, and the early church? And if we
dont currently possess this skill, does the
divine record suggest it can be taught as Eli
taught young Samuel?
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These are the issues Im concerned with, but


there are built-in hazards to raising these questions.

Stand to Reason

None of these things is in question, as far as Im

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concerned.
What is at issue for me is whether the Bible
teaches
everyone can
What is at issue is whether
be a prophet of
sorts, whether
the Bible teaches everyone
each Christian
can be a prophet.
can expect
to hear from
God in the ways described above with private,
personalized revelations, and whether this is a
standard, ordinary part of the Christian life that can
be taught and developed.
This I do not think is taught in the Bible, and I
would like to tell you why.
There is only one way to answer these questions,
and the proper method is not by appealing to
personal experiences or citing godly authorities
who disagree. You may have noticed Ive been
citing authors by name only in the endnotes. There
is a reason for this.
My focus here is not on personalities, but ideas.
I am not interested in discrediting those who I
have every reason to believe are good and decent
Christian leaders. In fact, some of them are friends.
Rather, I am asking if the ideas they have advanced
are biblically sound. That question cannot be
answered by looking at the charactereither good
or badof those on either side of the issue, but
only by looking at the ideas themselves in light of
Gods Word.
My question is a scriptural one, and to answer it
we must turn to the text.

My

Sheep Hear My Voice


John 10 is almost universally
cited in support of the view
that hearing the voice of God is
a standard feature of the normal
Christian life. The wording itself
seems straight-forward and unambiguous:
My sheep hear My voice, Jesus says.

Whenever this verse is quoted to me in


discussions on this issue, I always ask a simple
question: What is happening in John 10? Its
a fair question, it seems to me. How can we be
confident of Jesus meaning if we dont know who
He is speaking to or what His line of thinking is?
No one in this context has ever given me
an answer to this question. Nor have I seen it
addressed in any book invoking this passage. I
suspect its because they have never looked. Im
fairly confident of this because I cant image that

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anyone looking carefully at the context of John 10


could ever appeal to this proof-text to support this
view. A closer examination shows why, though I
invite you to read the chapter carefully for yourself
first before you continue here.
John records four mentions
by Jesus of His sheep hearing or
knowing His voice (10:3, 4, 16, 27). Verse six is
key to understanding these references. Here John
explicitly states that Jesus remarks about hearing
His voice are a figure of speech.

Here John explicitly states that Jesus remarks


about hearing His voice are a figure of speech.
Jesus begins by talking about shepherds and
sheep (10:1-6). Unlike the thief and robber, the
legitimate shepherd enters by the door and calls His
own by name. They follow Him as He leads them
out. Jesus point is lost on those listening, though, so
He explains the details of His illustration.
He is the door of the sheep (7). Those who pass
through Him find
listen now
or subscribe for later
salvation and
abundant life (9-10).
Greg talks about this
He is also the Good
Shepherd who,
edition of Solid Ground.
unlike the hireling,
lays down His life
freely for His sheep (11-13, 15, 17-18). The shepherd
and the sheep know each other (14). When His
other sheep hear His voice, they also become part
of His flock (16).
Once again, the Jews fail to completely
understand (19-21). What is the problem? Jesus
answer is crystal clear: You do not believe because
you are not My sheep (26).11
At this point, two key questions need to be
answered from the text of John 10. First, what does
it mean to hear Jesus voice? Second, what causes
His sheep to hear His voice?
One author suggests that hearing means gaining
insight or finding an application for a command
from Scripture.12 The sheep also hear when they
receive a personal assignment from God through a
leading or a calling.13
This is not the way Jesus answers, though. It is
critical at this point to remember Johns clarification
in verse six. Jesus is using a figure of speech. The
reference to voice cannot mean an actual voice. A
thing is never a metaphor of itself. A metaphor is a
picture of something else. Jesus must be referring,
in a figure, to something else that the phrase hear

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My voice represents. What is it?
Jesus says,My sheep hear My voice, and I know
them, and they follow Me and I give eternal life to
them (v. 27-28). Note the sequence: They hear
His voice. They respond by following. Then He
gives them eternal life. Hearing Jesus voice results
in salvation; it is not the result of salvation. It
is something that happens to nonbelievers that
leads to their belief. It is not a skill possessed by
believers as a result of having belief and subsequent
relationship with God.

a misreading of this text. According to Jesus


comments, hearing His voice is essential to salvation.
Those who do not hear are not His. Rather they are
outsiders, bereft of eternal life, lost.

There is an unavoidable consequence of blending


the wording of John 10 with this authors definition
of hearing Jesus voice. He writes,Those who do
not have the relationship (do not belong to God)
do not hear what God is saying (John 8:47).15 In
the verse quoted, Jesus is castigating the Jews for
unbelief, calling them the sons of Satan (8:44). This
places a tremendous burden on the believer who
What voice is it that draws us to Jesus and results
questions his spiritualityand even his salvationif
in our salvation? It is the ineffable drawing by the
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Father through His Spirit of those who are His.
This is a concept John has already introduced and
If you have come to Christ, youve already
developed in earlier chapters of his Gospel, using
heard the voice Jesus is talking about.
the same metaphor in the very same way (5:25,
5:31-34, 5:37-38, 6:35-40, 6:44-45, 6:65, 8:18, 8:47). It
If this is your worry, fret not. The notion of
is a figure of speech for the inner working of God
hearing
the voice of God is completely foreign to
calling us to salvation.
the text of John 10. To Jesus, hearing His voice
Remember, the Jews have no trouble actually
is not a skill to be developed. It is not a spiritual
hearing Jesus. They know what He is saying. They
discipline opening up lines of personalized
hear His teaching with perfect clarity. The problem
communication with God. Rather, it is a figure
is they are not responding with faith. The voice
of speech depicting the Father drawing the nonJesus speaks of is not the whispers of God in a
believer into Jesus arms. If you have come to Christ,
conversational relationship with a Christian, but
youve already heard the voice Jesus is talking about.
the effective call of the Holy Spirit that brings us to
If not, you would not have come to Him in the first
Christ in the first place.
place.

This hearing is not for believers after salvation, but for non-believers before salvation.
Why dont the Jews hear in the sense that Jesus
means? Why dont they respond and believe? Jesus
tells us plainly. They do not hear because God is
not speaking to them. They are not among the
sheep the Father has given to the Son (26). If they
were, theyd hear. That is Jesus unambiguous
teaching.
Now the second question: What enables us to
hear? One writer claims,Knowing Gods voice
comes from an intimate love relationship with
God, and again,As you walk in an intimate love
relationship with God, you will come to recognize
His voice. You will know when God is speaking to
you.14
But Jesus never suggests such a thing. Jesus says
the Father is the cause, sovereignly enabling those
sheep He has given to Jesus to hear and respond.
This hearing is not for believers after salvation,
but for non-believers before salvation. It is not
dependent on the quality of our love relationship
with God, but on the Fathers choice.
There is another damaging consequence of
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Stand to Reason

Led by the Spirit?


What does Scripture mean when it says Christians
are led by the Spirit? Once again, the simplest way
to answer that question is to look up the verses that
use the phrase. Since it appears in only two places
in the epistles (Romans 8 and Galatians 5), our task
is easy. Paul is the author of both and he uses the
phrase in exactly the same way in each case.
Paul begins Romans 8 by explaining
how the law of the Spirit of life in
Christ sets us free from the law of
in and of death (8:2). What the Law couldnt
do (bring life) God did by sending His Son to die for
us and then giving His Spirit so we can walk in life
and peace (3-8). Every true Christian has the Spirit
of Christ dwelling in him, Paul argues, giving life to
his mortal body (9-11).Then in verses 12-14, Paul
writes this:
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not
to the flesh, to live according to the fleshfor if
you are living according to the flesh, you must
die. But if by the Spirit you are putting to death
the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who
are being led by the Spirit of God, these are
sons of God.

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Notice the obvious parallel between putting to
death the deeds of the body and being led by the
Spirit. Paul is saying, in other words,All of you who
being led by the Spiritthat is, you who are putting
to death the deeds of the bodyyou are sons of God.

here that being led by the Spirit means getting


promptings and nudges from God to hint at His
will for us. Its simply not there. Rather, this notion
is a contemporary Christian idea that believers
unwittingly read into the text. Pauls point is
completely different.

Clearly, this passage is not referring to individual


promptings of God we sense to get guidance.
That meaning is completely foreign to Pauls flow of
thought.
Rather, the Spirit every true Christian possesses
leads us away from the bondage of the flesh into
the freedom and peace of a life of godlinesswhat
Paul calls putting to death the deeds of the body.

The New Testament record speaks with one


voice here. There is no hearing the voice of God
in passages referring to the leading of the Spirit.16
Well have to look elsewhere for evidence of this
teaching.

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Flip over to Galatians 5:16-26 and
youll quickly see Paul applies the
same reasoning to the phrase led by
the Spirit in this passage. Christ sets us free from
the yoke of slavery of the Law. The promise of the
Spirit (note 3:14) gives real hope of righteousness.
Were to use our new freedom not as an
opportunity for the flesh, but to live righteously by
serving one another in love (5:1-15).
A battle rages, however, between the
flesh and the Spirit (17). How do we win
this battle? Pauls answer: Walk by the
Spirit, and you will not carry out the
desire of the flesh (16) and,If you
are led by the Spirit, you are not
under the Law (18).
Once again, the two statements in parallel mean
the same thing. Walking by the Spirit, being led by
the Spirit (and living by the Spirit, later in verse
24) mean overcoming the gruesome deeds of the
flesh (19-21) and manifesting the fruits of the Spirit
(22-23), leading to Pauls summary: Those who
belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with
its passions and desires (24).This is why someone
who is led by the Spirit in Pauls sense is not under
the Law (18). They are already fulfilling the law by
their righteous conduct.
This is the same basic
message of Romans
8. Read the whole
passage yourself, then
ask if Paul is teaching

1. Ive actually been called a heretic for questioning it. A heretic is


usually defined as someone who denies a cardinal doctrine of
the faith.
2. Dallas Willard, Hearing GodDeveloping a Conversational
Relationship with God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press,
1994).
3. Charles Stanley, How to Let God Solve Your Problems12
Keys to Finding Clear Guidance in Lifes Trials (Thomas Nelson:
Nashville, 2008), 103-104.
4. Ps. 32:8 and Prov. 3:5-6 are verses frequently cited, but those
passages dont specify the means of guidance. Many presume
this means personal revelation. But Gods Word could easily
qualify, especially considering that 28 chapters of wise
guidance immediately follow the promise in Proverbs.
5. Henry Blackaby and Claude King, Experiencing God (Nashville:
Broadman & Holman, 1994), 141.
6. Bill Hybels,The Power of a WhisperHearing God. Having the
Guts to Respond (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
7. A reference to 1 Kings 19:12.
8. Blackaby, 132, 137.
9. Stanley, 108.
10. I do make a distinction between the gift of prophecy and
the office of prophet or apostle. I do not think these offices
function today, but that is a different issue.
11. I know Jesus explanation in the latter part of the chapter is
taken from a different encounter with the Jews than in the first
half where the issue of hearing Jesus voice is originally raised.
However, Im convinced Jesus is still responding to the same
topic, which is why John grouped the separate encounters
together.The language of the text also seems to make this
obvious.
12. Blackaby, 164-168.
13. Ibid., 168-170.
14. Ibid., 138, 163.
15. Ibid., 138.
16. Jesus was led (or impelled) by the Spirit into the wilderness
(Matt. 4:1, Mark 1:12, Luke 4:1). But this does not seem to be
an internal prompting of the sort Christians describe. Rather,
the text indicates the Spirit actually took or drove Jesus into
the wilderness. The words used (ago, anago) are the same
words describing Satan taking Jesus to different locations
during the temptation.

n e x t

i s s u e

In the next Solid Ground, Ill explore this


issue further, looking at the example
of Jesus, the testimony of the book of
Acts, the mentoring of Samuel by Eli,
and a very important biblical principle I
call the lesson of the bugle.

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Stand to Reason

C h r i s t i a n i t y Wo r t h T h i n k i n g A b o u t

J ULY 2007

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PART

Does God Whisper?

PART

By Greg Koukl

In the last issue of Solid Ground, I raised a question that may have startled some readers.
I asked if the current emphasis on hearing the voice of God is biblically sound.
I say startled because for some people this is
like asking,Does Jesus love me? or Is God good?
What could be more obvious, biblically?
What may seem self-evident at first glance,
though,doesnt always turn out to be sound on
closer analysis, and I have come to believe
contrary to my initial impulse that hearing the
voice of God is in that category. In these three
issues of Solid Ground1I am offering you my
reasons why.
Of course, my question is not about whether there
can be profound intimacy with God, or supernatural
interventions by Him, or dramatic movements of
the Spirit, or deep emotional experiences, or Spiritdirected insight into Scripture, or even whether God
can or does speak in the modern era. Im convinced
each of these is true.
Rather, does
the Bible teach
that, as a matter
of course, every
believer can
expect his or
her own private
revelations, twoway personalized
communications, and custom-tailored guidance
from God? Is this a skill that can be learned? Was
this modeled by the Savior, the apostles, and the
early church? Does Scripture teach we can expect
the same interaction with God as Moses, Samuel,
and even Jesus, or were their experiences unique?
Since hearing from God is for many Christians
central to relationship with God, they assume it
as part of the package when reading the Bible. A
casual reading of certain phrases, then (like led
by the Spirit and My sheep hear My voice2), is
enough to justify their convictions. My goal is to
take a closer look,examining the Scripturesto see
whether these things are so (Acts 17:11).

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I want to be very transparent about my approach.


I am going to a handful of passages that are
commonly understood to support this teaching, and
one by one attempting to show they provide no
such support. If Ive made a reasonable case and
it turns out the standard texts dont teach or imply
this view, then the view itself should be in question.
This is not simply an idle exercise in exegesis,
though.

Dual Dangers
I have two chief concerns. First, many Christians
actually feel spiritually sub-standard and defeated
because for them the heavens have been silent. This
can be debilitating, and its profoundly unfair to
them if their only shortcoming is entertaining a false
expectation of what a relationship with God entails.
The second danger is more troubling to me. To
claim to have received direct revelation of some
sort from God is a weighty matter. Its a claim
Old Testament prophets staked their lives on,
literally (But the prophet who speaks a word
presumptuously in My name which I have not
commanded him to speakthat prophet shall die.
Deut. 18:20).3
Yet conversations between Christians are often
littered with casual references to ones latest
revelations without any sense of the gravity of the
assertion, or any sense of responsibility to justify the
claim.

No true word of God can have any less


say-so than another.
Even Jesus Himself didnt presume to speak for
God without compelling evidence. Instead, He
regularly appealed to corroborating witnesses: John
the Baptist, prophecy, miracles, and Scripture (see
John 5:30-39, 10:25, 37-38; 14:10-11). If this was the

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standard for Jesus (and Paul, 2 Cor. 12:12), doesnt
the ordinary believer owe some accounting?
Further, when God communicates to us, whatever
He says has complete authority. A private revelation
may have a different scope of application than the
Bible (Scripture is meant for the whole church,
where individual revelations are for the individual).
It has no less authority, though, since the private
message presumably comes from the same God
who inspired the text. 4 No true word of God can
have any less say-so than another.
Can you see the inherent dangers here? It
certainly doesnt occur to most people, but at bare
minimum is there any concern that many might be
taking Gods name in vain?
Much worse, if this idea is not sound and
Christians have been encouraged to interpret
certain impressions or circumstantial events as hints
from God, then a host of well-meaning believers
have actually been speaking presumptuously for
God. They then act on the deciphered message as if
it were divine decree.
Of course, neither of these dangers prove that the
notion of hearing Gods voice is biblically wrongheaded. Scripture alone must answer that question.
It does underscore the liabilities the church faces,
though, if the conventional wisdom is flawed.

The method itself must be tested by Scripture.


I know that proponents of this view emphasize
that any alleged revelation must be tested by
Scripture. Agreed, but the qualification misses
my point. The method itself must be tested by
Scripture. That is my task here.
Part of the rationale for the idea that each
Christian can develop a conversational relationship
with God is it seems to be the actual experience of
so many in ScriptureJesus, the early church, even
a boy named Samuel. Is that the case?

The Imitation of Christ?


What of Jesus? Jesus said He did the things the
Father told Him to do. If Jesus regularly received
direct revelation and guidance from the Father,
shouldnt we expect the same?
This is a fair challenge. After all, Jesus is our model.
Paul said,Be imitators of me, just as I also am of
Christ (1 Cor. 11:1, cf. 1 Thess. 1:6). One popular
writer put it this way: When I want to learn how to
know and do the will of God, I always look to Jesus.

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Stand to Reason

I can find no better model than Him.5 He then


cites Jesus statement in John 5:17, 19-20:
My Father has been working until now, and I
have been working....Most assuredly, I say to
you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but
what He sees the Father do, for whatever
He does, the Son also does in like manner.
For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him
all things that He Himself does.
The Father showed Jesus. Jesus is our model.
Therefore, we should expect the Father to show us
in like manner. Thats the rationale.
There is no question that Jesus is a model to
us. But is Jesus our model in everything? Is there
reason to believe some characteristics of Jesus
relationship with the Father might be unique? I
think the answer is yes.
Jesus not only was the perfect man and humble
servant, but also the Messiah and incarnate Son
of God. Clearly, we should imitate Jesus human
perfections. But arent prerogatives of divinity or
messianic office in a different category?
Lets look at the passage more closely. Something
important is missing from the citation (note the
ellipses). The omission of verses 18, a portion of
19, and verses 21, 22, and 23 is unfortunate. Each is
vital to our understanding and seriously qualifies the
application of this passage, as this more complete
citation of John 5:17-23 shows:
(17) But He answered them,My Father

John 5:17-23 is working until now, and I Myself am

working.
(18) For this cause therefore the Jews
were seeking all the more to kill Him, because
He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but
also was calling God His own Father, making
Himself equal with God.
(19) Jesus therefore answered and was saying
to them,Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can
do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He
sees the Father doing, for whatever the Father
does, these things the Son also does in like
manner.
(20) For the Father loves the Son, and shows
Him all things that He Himself is doing, and
greater works than these will He show Him, that
you may marvel.
(21) For just as the Father raises the dead and
gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to
whom He wishes.
(22) For not even the Father judges anyone, but
He has given all judgment to the Son, (23) in
order that all may honor the Son, even as they

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honor the Father. He who does not honor the
Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.
Note, first of all, verse 18, the overlooked verse.
The Jews, understanding Jesus comments to be
a clear claim to deity, seek to kill Him. The word
therefore in verse 19 indicates that what follows
is a response to the Jews meant to buttress Jesus
singular claim in verse 17.
Note also the three phrases in parallel
construction: For the Father loves the Son and
shows Him all things...,For just as the Father raises
the dead..., and For not even the Father judges
anyone....
These verses form a complete literary unit. If the
Father showing Jesus all things that He Himself is
doing is an example for us to model, then what of
the phrases joined with it that immediately follow?
Are we also to imitate Christ by giving life to whom
we wish, judging the world on the Fathers behalf,
and demanding that all people honor us as they
honor the Father?

The life of Jesus does not support the


notion that every Christian can expect
to receive revelation.
Clearly not. In context, these verses identify a trio
of singular prerogatives of the Son of God. He is
unique and therefore has unique obligations, unique
abilities, and a unique relationship with the Father.
Verses 26-27 should clear up any question on this
score: For just as the Father has life in Himself,
even so He gave to the Son also to have life in
Himself, and He gave Him authority to execute
judgment, because He is the Son of Man.6 The
phrase Son of Man is a Messianic title from Daniel
7:13 that Jesus used often. It is because Jesus is the
Divine, Messianic King of Daniels vision that He
operates in this unique way in relationship with the
Father. Jesus has a singular role.
In Deuteronomy 18:18, God told Moses to look
for a prophet in the future who God would speak
through in an unparalleled way: I will raise up a
prophet from among their countrymen like you,
and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall
speak to them all that I command him. Jesus is
that prophet. His experience of revelation from
the Father, then, is special, not something for us to
emulate.
This explains why Jesus never directs His
disciples to follow His example in John 5:17-23.

PAGE

S o l i d G r o u n d

No subsequent writersPeter, John, Paul, Luke


even hint at it. We are not to imitate those things
pertaining to Jesus divinity or His Messianic office.
This same principle applies to Jesus
comments in John 8:26, 28: I have many
things to speak and to judge concerning
you, but He who sent Me is true, and the
things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the
world.When you lift up the Son of Man, then you
will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My
own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father
taught Me.

John 8:26, 28

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Remember, John
8 is one of the great
chapters on the
Greg talks about this
deity of Christ. The
edition of Solid Ground.
Jews ask,Who are
you? (v. 25). Jesus
eventually answers: Truly, truly, I say to you, before
Abraham was born, I Am (v. 56). Jesus is arguing
that He is utterly exceptional. He is from above, not
from below, and not of this world (v. 23). He is the
only Savior (v. 24). He lives in perfect obedience to
the Father (v. 29). He is a free mana sonnot a
slave (v. 35). He has proceeded from the Father (v.
42). He is the great I Am (v. 58).

Some people in the Bible have a unique role.


These include Moses (Num. 12:2-9), Samuel (1 Sam.
3:19-20), Paul (2 Cor. 10:8), and (as we have seen)
Jesus. Because special revelations were granted
them does not mean they are available to us.

JESUS CHARACTER TRAITS


Unique Traits

Traits to Imitate

Messiah

Servanthood

From Above

Faith

Only Savior

Godline ss

Perfect Obedience

Joy

Not Slave to Sin

Selflessness

Proceeded from the


Father

Patience

Great I Am

Imitate them in servanthood (John 13:13-15), in


faith (Heb. 13:7), in godliness and joy in tribulation
(1 Thess. 1:6), in selflessness (1 Cor 10:33-11:1), and
in faith and patience (Heb. 6:12). But do not imitate
them in the privileges of their singular offices.
The life of Jesus does not support the notion that
every Christian can expect to receive revelation as a
standard feature of his relationship with God.

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But what about the experience of the early
church?

God Speaks in Acts


In Acts we have a focused look at a relatively
short period of history (30 years) recording radical
manifestations of supernatural activity. Acts is
frequently appealed to as evidence for the view that
private, individual revelation is an ordinary means
of guidance and a standard feature of the fruitful
Christian life. But what do we actually find?

revelations that are predictive in nature, but do not


dictate any directionthey give no assignments. In
fact, in one case (Agabus prophecy of imminent
famine) the Christians determine on their own to
send a contribution for the relief of the brethren in
Judea. These examples can be found in Acts 11:2730, 20:23, 21:11, 23:11, and 27:22-26.

At first glance the list of interventions seems


formidable, but the initial impression is misleading.
This actually is a very small amount of activity
considering the three-decade time span of Acts.
Gods special revelations to the leaders of the
I went through Acts verse by verse looking for
early church are limited to only 14 from the time
concrete examples of God giving special directives
of any sort. I have listed every one of them below top 8 of Pentecost to the end of the account,7 and even
these are grouped in fewer units.8
in chronological order. Heres what I found.
ACTS

REVELATION

5:19-20

An angel rescues the apostles from


prison and tells them to preach the
Gospel

8:26

An angel sends Philip to the Gaza road

8:29

The Spirit directs Philip to the Ethiopian


eunuch

9:4-6

While traveling on the Damascus road,


Saul hears the audible voice of Jesus
sending him to Damascus

9:10-16

In a vision, the Lord instructs Ananias to


visit Saul

10:3-6

In another vision, an angel tells


Cornelius to send for Peter

10:19-20

The Spirit, in connection with a vision,


tells Peter to visit Cornelius

12:7-8

An angel orders Peter to follow him out


of prison

13:2

The Holy Spirit sends Saul and Barnabas


on their first missionary journey

16:6-7

The Spirit forbids Paul to speak the


word in Asia

16:9-10

Paul is directed through a vision to


Macedonia

18:9-10

Jesus appears to Paul in a vision and


tells him to preach the Gospel in Corinth

21:4

Paul is told through prophecy not to


enter Jerusalem

22:18, 21

Jesus tells Paul in a vision to leave


Jerusalem
On-line Summary

Note the means of these revelations. The majority


(six) entail visions. Three times an angel is the
messenger. Four times the Spirit speaks. One is a
prophecy. One other is the voice of Jesus.
There are five other examples of supernatural
PAGE

Stand to Reason

Two are jailbreaks. Two pertain to Sauls dramatic


conversion, two to Cornelius conversion, and two
to the Ethiopian eunuchs conversion. Two are
about Pauls stay in Jerusalem (Dont enter and
Get out). The remaining four are about Pauls
missionary journeys (the initial commission,
direction away from Asia, direction to Macedonia,
told to preach boldly in Corinth).
Notice a couple more significant facts. First,
there is no indication in the entire record that
God communicated through some inner sensing.
Completely absent from the text are phrases like,I
feel led...,I think God is telling me...,I feel God is
calling me..., I believe its Gods will that...,Ive
received lots of confirmation...,Im sensing the
Lords direction..., or I have a peace about it....
The kind of language often used to describe
hearing Gods voice is completely absent from this
biblical account. There is no record of knowledge
of Gods direction based on internal promptings
not a single one. In Acts, the rare times God
gives special directives He communicates in clear,
supernatural ways. More than half the time He
used a vision or an angel.
Second, there is no evidence that any of these
directives were sought. There is no indication of
any Christians, including Apostles,waiting for God
to guide them. In the New Testament we find no
pleading with God or laboring in prayer for God to
reveal His will or give guidance.The revelations in
Acts are surprise intrusions in every case.9
But there is another consideration.

No Divine Directions
For balance we must also note other important
decisions in Acts clearly not directed by God. There
are many times when the disciples make decisions

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marking significant events in the life of the early
church that are the kind many think require a word
from the Lord. They entail decisions about the how,
when, where, why, and who of ministry. Yet there
is no evidence of intervention from God, and no
indication the disciples even sought it. They simply
weighed their options in light of circumstances,
then chose a judicious course of action consistent
with prior, general commands of the Lord.
Notable examples include Philips ministry in
Samaria (8:5), resolving the complaint about the
Hellenistic widows (6:1-6), and Barnabas and Saul
establishing a teaching ministry for a year in Antioch
(11:26). Elders are appointed in the new churches top 8
(14:23). The Jerusalem council resolves the
problem of the Judaizers (15:7-29).10 Paul embarks
on his second and third missionary journeys (15:36,
18:23). Paul sets up shop as a tentmaker and starts
a ministry in Corinth (18:3). Paul establishes a
discipleship training program for two years at the
school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Paul has a healing
ministry on the island of Malta for three months
(Acts 28:9-11).
These decisions seem odd in light of conventional
wisdom on hearing from God since none of these
important endeavors was directed specifically by
Him. Rather, each appears to be the result of a
unilateral decision by the disciples using wisdom to
respond to the circumstances at hand.
And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Altogether I found 70 such instances in the book
of Acts alone, contrasted with the 14 occasions of
specialized direction during that same time.11
Even more can be found in the epistles. Paul
chastises the Corinthians for not working out their
own legal differences (1 Cor. 6:3-6). He does not
counsel them to seek Gods decision. Instead he
asks,Is there not among you one wise man who
will be able to decide between his brethren?

He details pros and cons of single life over married


life. He solemnly notes the moral obligations of
both. He then leaves the decision in the hands of
the believer. There is no hint in this passage that
any Christian must hear from the Lord even on the
weighty matter of marriage.

Rather, each appears to be the result of a unilateral decision by the disciples using wisdom to
respond to the circumstances at hand.
Peter gives explicit instruction about the use of
spiritual gifts in ministry (1 Peter 4:10-11). He does
not say to wait for ones callingnor does any other
passage of Scripture, for that matter. Instead, given
that each believer has a spiritual gift, Peter enjoins
him to employ it in works of service as a good
steward, doing all to Gods glory.
So what should we conclude from the record
of the early church in Acts and other passages in
the New Testament? There is no support here for
the idea of hearing from God to live optimally as a
Christian.The concept is not taught there, and the
pattern is not modeled.

n e x t

i s s u e

In the next Solid Ground, Ill explore this


issue further, looking at the example
of Jesus, the testimony of the book of
Acts, the mentoring of Samuel by Eli,
and a very important biblical principle I
call the lesson of the bugle.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives the most thorough


instruction in the Bible on the issue of marriage.

PAGE

S o l i d G r o u n d

A Foundation for Building Ambassadors

J ULY 2007

top 9
Endnotes
1 This is the second installment.The first is available in
enhanced digital form at str.org.
2 Both of these phrases were covered in detail in the last
issue (May-June 2011) of Solid Ground.
3 All Scripture references are from the New American
Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
4 I have not heard any proponent of this view put it this
directly, but this is the unmistakable implication of their
claim.
5 Henry Blackaby and Claude King, Experiencing God
(Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 65.
6 Jesus use of the phrase son of man may not always be
a reference to Daniels prophecy. In this case, however, the
conclusion is unavoidable. In this statement in John, Jesus
is grounding His authority to render judgment not in His
humanity, but in His role as Divine Messiah-king.
7 I did not include the casting of lots in Acts 1:15-26 because
to me this is not a clear example of God guiding. The
initiative was on the disciples side and they cast lots. Some
think this was a misguided effort and that Paul was Judas
replacement.The text doesnt indicate. Before the final
straws were drawn, though, objective criteria had to be met
(Acts 1:21-22). Anyhow, casting lots doesnt seem to be in
anyones guidance game-plan these days.

PAGE

Stand to Reason

8 Of course, one could argue there were many times God


intervened during this period, but Luke failed to record them
in Acts. This is possible, but its speculative. I think its safer
to base our conclusions on what the Holy Spirit actually
revealed, rather than on conjecture about what might have
happened.
9 One possible exception is Acts 13:2 where the leaders
were ministering to the Lord and fasting when the Spirit
commissioned Saul and Barnabas for their first missionary
journey. One might infer they were seeking guidance, but the
text does not say this. Since no other passages indicate this
pattern, theres no reason to read this into the text.
10 Here the conclusion of the leaders was characterized as
something that seemed good to the apostles and the elders,
with the whole church (22) and later as something that
seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (28). Apparently,
the leadership took the collective decision-making process
of the council to be divinely ordained, not divinely revealed.
11 The full list of 70 examples can be found at str.org under
the title Divine Direction in Acts.

C h r i s t i a n i t y Wo r t h T h i n k i n g A b o u t

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PART

Does God Whisper?


By Greg Koukl
Pauls point was simple. Communication requires
clarity.Though his specific concern was tongues
without interpretation, Pauls general principle
applies to any type of divine revelation. The lesson
of the bugle is just as applicable to claims of
revelation today as it was in Pauls day: Unless the
speech is clear, the message will not get through.
This insight seems to have been overlooked
of late, though. Many well-meaning Christians
apparently believe God is in the habit of
communicating important details regarding His
purpose for our lives with speech that is not clear.

Civil war battles were tumultuous affairs.

The thundering of guns and muskets was not just


deafening, it was dangerous, drowning out the one
means of group communication: the bugles.
Before the invention of modern military coms,
battle instructions were delivered using musical
signals. Buglers directed skirmish maneuvers like
forward,in retreat,change direction to the left,
cease firing, and the like. Lack of clarity could be
deadly. Confusing the bugle call for advance with
the call for retreat might cost the battle.
Even in the first century buglers were vital to
combat maneuvering, which is why Paul traded
on that image when chastising the Corinthians
for speaking in tongues without an interpreter.
The practice yielded no profit because the
communication lacked clarity:
Yet even lifeless things, either flute or harp,
in producing a sound, if they do not produce
a distinction in the tones, how will it be
known what is played on the flute or on the
harp? For if the bugle produces an indistinct
sound, who will prepare himself for battle?
So also you, unless you utter by the tongue
speech that is clear, how will it be known
what is spoken? For you will be speaking
into the air. 1 Cor. 14:7-9

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The fault is not with God, they say, but with us.
God is trying to communicate, but something is
lacking. We havent learned to listen properly. To
lay hold of his spiritual birthrighta conversational
relationship with Godeach Christian needs to
learn to hear the voice of God.
In two previous issues of Solid Ground1 I raised
questions about the biblical legitimacy of this idea.
I looked closely at passages on being led by the
Spirit and Jesus sheep hearing His voice. I asked
if the pattern in Jesus life or the practice of the
Apostles in Acts supported this notion.
In this final installment, I want to address
some other ways this idea has been defended.
According to Scripture, does prayer involve two-way
communication where we talk to God, then listen
as God talks to us? Does the Bible teach God is
trying to speak to each one of us? Can His efforts
be thwarted by inattention, excessive activity, lack
of spiritual skill, or sin, as some suggest? And if we
dont currently possess this
skill, does the divine record
suggest it can be taught
as Eli taught young
Samuel?
My questions are
not about what God
can do, or even what
He does do in unique

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circumstances, but about what the Bible teaches


Christians in general are to expect from being in
relationship with God. What does the text actually
teach?
Pray and Listen
Two-way communication is essential to
all relationships. Classically for Christians in
relationship with God this has meant Bible study
and prayer. We let the word of Christ richly dwell
within Col. 3:16, then by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving we make our requests before
God Phil. 4:6. Recently, though, an alternate
approach has become popular, dubbed by some as
listening prayer. Prayer is conversation with God,
the argument goes, and all conversation is twoway. We speak, then God speaks. Therefore, prayer
should include listening to God as well as talking to
Him.

Please notice that whatever was happening in


v. 12 (either a voice, a whisper, or a gentle
blowing) it was something Elijah heard audibly.
The Psalmist tells us to be still Ps. 46:10. God
spoke to Elijah through a still, small voice 1
Kings 19:12, KJV. If we quiet ourselves properly
during prayer, we can expect the same.The
basic sequence is this: pray, be still, get
impressions (the small voice), then
interpret.
Its always a good idea when supporting
texts are offered for an idea to go back
and read the larger passage itself.2
Sometimes surprises await. Here is what
we find in 1 Kings 19:11-13 NASB:
So He said, Go forth and
stand on the mountain
before the Lord. And
behold, the Lord was
passing by. And a great
and strong wind was
rending the mountains
and breaking in pieces
the rocks before the Lord,
but the Lord was not in
the wind. And after the
wind an earthquake, but the
Lord was not in the earthquake.

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After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was


not in the fire. And after the fire a sound of
a gentle blowing [a still small voice KJV, a
gentle whisper NIV].When Elijah heard it, he
wrapped his face in his mantle and went out
and stood in the entrance of the cave. And
behold, a voice came to him and said, What
are you doing here, Elijah?
Please notice that whatever was happening in v.
12 (either a voice, a whisper, or a gentle blowing) it
was something Elijah heard. It was not a feeling, an
impression, or an inner nudge needing interpreting.
Throughout the account God speaks directly, but
gently, to a deeply depressed prophet,3 assuring
him he was not alone as he feared. Nothing in this
passage suggests our need to listen for Gods inner
whispers.
In like manner, Psalm 46 teaches a different lesson
than the be still and listen advocates suggest. The
psalm opens this way:
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth
should change
And though the mountains slip into the
heart of the sea.
The psalmist continues to magnify God as
a mighty stronghold giving protection and
gladness to all who seek safe harbor in Him,
then concludes with this application: Cease
striving [be still ESV, KJV, NIV] and know
that I am God. I will be exalted among the
nations. I will be exalted in the earth.
As the New American Standard Bible
(NASB) translation suggests,be still
doesnt mean be quiet and listen, but
rather stop striving and rest. It means
trust in Gods power, not listen for
His voice. The listening prayer
application is completely foreign to
the point of this psalm.
There is a more serious problem
with this practice, though. In a
discipleship group I led years ago,
we isolated every single verse in the
New Testament having anything to do
with prayer. We outlined our findings

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under headings like What to Pray,How to Pray,


Attitude in Prayer,Where to Pray,Gods Role in
Prayer, and more, all with detailed subheadings. We
didnt miss a thing.4
Remarkably, 25 pages of citations yield not a single
reference to listening prayer, not one. Jesus leaves it
out of His instruction on prayer to His disciples Lk.
11:1-4. Paul tells us to devote ourselves to prayer
Col. 4:2, to pray without ceasing 1 Thess. 5:17, to
pray at all times Eph. 6:18the list goes on and
onbut neglects to ever mention listening. Hmmm.
The same for Peter, James, and Jude. Why the
silence?
The complete lack of
scriptural support for
this notion raises an
important question. If
the Bible never hints at
this practice, why is it so
frequently advanced in
popular texts as a vital
part of discipleship and
spiritual formation?
Prayer may be
conversational in tone,
but nothing in Scripture
suggests its anything like a two-way conversation.
The Bible is replete with references to listening to
God through the Word.5 It is completely silent on
the role of listening through prayer.
Even so, some insist that hearing God is a
legitimate skill that can be taught, evidenced, they
say, by the relationship between Eli and little Samuel.
Eli and Samuel
The relationship between Eli, the priest, and his
servant, the young boy Samuel, has been offered as
an example of a godly man mentoring a younger
believer in the art of recognizing the voice of God.
In like manner, there are mentors today who can
impart the same skill to willing disciples.
The model looks something like this. The godly
man, Eli, adept at recognizing the voice of God,
teaches the skill to the younger believer. Samuel
then applies the guidelines and succeeds in
connecting with God, an experience available today
to any Christian.

Stand to Reason

At this point I invite you to read 1 Samuel 1-3 to


discover for yourself what the text actually says. It
reveals an entirely different picture from the model
outlined above. Indeed, not a single detail just
described can be found in the account.
To start with, Eli was not a godly man adept at
recognizing the voice of God. First, there wasnt
much for him to hear since Word from the Lord
was rare in those days (3:1). Second, Eli was not
a godly man.The only record we have of God
ever communicating with Eli is when a prophet
pronounces a curse on him and his family for their
immorality (2:27-36). Further, the text explicitly
states that little Samuel did not yet know the Lord
(3:7). So neither was in relationship with God to
begin with.
When God does speak to Samuel, the little boy
hears Him perfectly, even though he had not
developed any special perceptive abilities (3:4, 6, 8).
What Samuel hears seems to be an actual voice, not
a nudge or an impression or an inner sense. Indeed,
the voice is so clear Samuel takes it to be Eli calling
from another room (3:4-8).
Eli does not teach Samuel anything about the
distinguishing characteristics of Gods voice, but
ratherafter the third time being awakened by the
boydiscerns that the voice Samuel has been
hearing is Gods (3:8) and instructs him to answer.6
God then speaks to the boy by appearing to him
in a vision (3:10a, 15). Afterwards, Eli drills Samuel
on the details (3:16-18), hardly the actions of a man
accustomed to hearing from God.
The account ends with these words: Thus Samuel
grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his
words fail (the test of a true prophet),and all Israel
from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel
was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord (3:19-20).
Clearly this was not an experience available to every
child of GodJew then, or Christian nowbut the
unique call of one of the greatest prophets of the
Hebrew Scriptures.
In short, nothing in this passage supports the idea
that older believers can mentor younger believers
in the ability to hear or recognize Gods voice. I
dont mean to be uncharitable, but the passage itself
is so at odds with the interpretation given by those

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another question first: What is implied by the notion


of trying?
A try is an attempt with an uncertain outcome.
Trying suggests the possibility of failure. Human
beings try, but God does not. Only two things could
cause Him to falter: want of knowledge or want of
power. God lacks neither. Therefore, God cannot
fail in what He intends to do. Therefore, God never
tries. He simply acts.
How is it, then, that some suggest God is trying
to speak to us, but cant get through? Of course, I
know the answer: There is no lack in God, only in
us, they say. God is speaking, but we are fallible
inept, distracted, unskilled in the spiritual disciplines.

in this tradition, I have wondered to myself if they


ever actually studied the account in light of their
instruction.
But there is a deeper problem with the entire
approach of learning to hear Gods voice that goes
to the issue of Gods character.
Does God Try?
The idea that skill in hearing God needs to be
developed seems odd, since no mention of this
is made in Scripture and no biblical examples of
developing this skill with increasing success exist.
Instead, the prophet had one chance to get it right
Deut. 18:20-22.
But theres another problem. Let me introduce it
with a question: Does God try? Its a trick question,
so dont answer too quickly. It might help to answer

Consider this problem, though. A standard


challenge to inerrancy is that the Bible was written
by men. God may have been involved, but men
make mistakes. Any amalgam of divine and human
action falls short of perfect truth. End of issue.
How do we answer? We point out that God
is bigger than man. What God attempts, He
accomplishes. Since the final product is determined
by Gods ability, not mans liability, it doesnt matter
whether men or monkeys wrote the Bible, there will
be no errors.The perfection of the text is rooted in
the character of God guaranteeing it accomplishes
His intended purpose Isaiah 55:11. God doesnt try.
The same is true for hearing Gods voice. If human
limitation interferes with Gods communication,
we surrender our argument for the inerrancy of
Scripture. If, however, God is big enough to secure
word-for-word accuracy of the text, the same
rationale applies to hearing the voice of God. It is
impossible for man to short-circuit Gods design.
Think about it. If you genuinely intend to

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accomplish something and expend effort to do so


and someone else stops you, who is stronger, you or
he? Even Saul of Tarsusunregenerate, in rebellion,
on a bloody rampage against the saintsheard
when Jesus spoke to him.

If God wants to communicate, He succeeds.


You cannot fail to hear Him even if you are deaf.
Yes, people may not listen, that is, obey.7 But I
dont know a single instance in Scripture where
God intended to speak to somebody who failed
to hear Him. Gods intention coupled with an
act of His will and joined by His power always
accomplishes its goal. Suggesting otherwise is a libel
on Gods character.
If God wants to communicate, He succeeds.
You cannot fail to hear Him even if you are deaf
remember, even the dead will hear His voice Jn. 5:25
because God always accomplishes what He intends.
No skill needs to be learned to hear Him. Nowhere
does Scripture suggest such a thing.
What the Bible does teach about Gods intimate
involvement with our lives takes a different shape.
A Very Present Help
Im convinced God is a very present help in time
of trouble, confusion, and distress (Ps. 46:1). Hes
not merely a source of comfort, but also a source
of understanding, creativity, or sudden awareness
of answers to hard questions or insight on difficult
problems.
Ive often prayed when stymied by a computer
malfunction, stonewalled on a writing assignment,
or vexed by lost keys (and found them soon after
praying). Countless times Ive trusted the Spirit for
skill in clarifying difficult concepts for an audience
or maneuvering in a tricky conversation. A friend
tells how prayer even brought a flash of insight on
a plumbing problem. God sometimes responds to
such prayers subtly, sometimes dramatically. Clearly,
God is at work.
One way God works is to give wisdom, which He
promises to those who ask, especially in the midst
of trying situations James 1:5. Some think, however,
this means God simply tells them what to do. God
speaks; they listen. This is not wisdom, though,
because even a fool can follow directions.
Wisdom is skill at living. Its insight into the way
the world works. Merely following orders requires
no discernment, no deliberation, no knowledge, no
reflection, no understandingin short, no wisdom.

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Theres a difference between receiving revelation


of some sort (God told me) and growing in
wisdom, or gaining insight to unravel a problem, or
getting creative inspiration, or experiencing the
outworking of a spiritual gift. Special revelation is
extremely rare and carries
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with it a unique authority.
By contrast, creative
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the Christian actively
depending on God and
leaning on Him for help
Prov. 3:5-6.
Since God is directly involved in both, but through
different means, I think its best to use different
language for each. Theres a distinction between
God gave me this song or God told me how to
fix my sink, and My ability or inspiration or insight
come from the Lord. If God really gave the song,
were not free to rewrite, partly because theyre
Gods words, not ours, partly because improving
Gods song seems like a contradiction in terms.
However, if we see God as the spiritual force
behind our gifts and accomplishments, we can pray
for wisdom, help, inspiration, and creative solutions
to vexing problems expecting Him to respond
without being committed to saying God gave me
this song, or told me where to find my keys, or God
spoke to me about how to fix my plumbing.
Does the Holy Spirit speak to us? That depends
entirely on what one means by speak.

Does the Holy Spirit speak to us? That depends


entirely on what one means by speak.
Scripture identifies different ways the Holy Spirit
subjectively works in us. The Spirit teaches, convicts,
comforts, and leads us out of sin. The Spirit renews
us, giving us godly desires. I believe God even gives
us ideas we have the freedom to act on.There is also
the ineffable way God communicates giving solace,
wisdom, insight, and understanding.
None of these involve personal revelation, though,
which is what we normally mean by the word
speaking. I wouldnt say my wife speaks to me
when she hugs me, though I may infer from this
she loves me. When she talks, there is propositional
content. When she hugs, there is comfort. The two
are different, so we should keep these concepts
distinct, as Scripture does.
Its clear to me that many Christians use the
phrase the Spirit speaks to us in ways the Bible

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just doesnt support. Scripture simply doesnt teach


anything like a conversational relationship with God
or that we must each individually hear from Him
to live the optimal Christian life. Nor is there any
advantage to active listening. If God wants to say
something, He will. Theres no need to be quiet and
tuned in lest you miss His message.
Not only is it unnecessary, its dangerous. Even in
stillness theres something to hear, if only the hum
of our own thoughts and impulses. The danger
lies in assigning divine authority to them. There is
no biblical justification for this and perils abound.
Christians choose jobs, schools, investments, careers,
and even spouses this way.
God in a Box?
Does this put God in a box? Not at all. I am
not dictating what God can or cannot do. He can
intervene in any way He chooses. However, we
must base our teaching and conduct on what the
Scriptures actually teach, not on what might be
possible with a sovereign, all powerful God. J.I.
Packer notes:
God may reveal Himself and give guidance
to His servants any way He pleases. It
is not for us to set limits on Him. But it
remains a question as
to whether or not we
are entitled to expect
hotline disclosures
In one sense, all
on a regular
theology boxes
basis. The correct
answer is no. All the
God in.
biblical narratives
of Gods direct
communications with
men are exceptional
on their face, and
the biblical model of
personal guidance is
quite different.8
In one sense, all theology boxes God in by
describing the borders of His person and character.
Its based on Gods own self-revelation, though, not
on our private ideas. When God describes Himself
and His ways, these are not limits; they're truths.

His Word.
Spiritual maturity is not the ability to hear Gods
voice. It is the ability to know, understand, and
apply Scripture in every circumstance.
Arguably, the greatest movement of Gods Spirit
in the last 1000 years was the Reformation. It was
not started by a whisper from God. It was started
by a verse of Scripture: The just shall live by faith.
Martin Luther was simply listening to the only Word
of God we are ever enjoined to hear, know, and
obeythe Bible.
Endnotes:
1. See the May-June and July-August 2011 issues, available in
enhanced digital form at str.org.
2. The operating principle at STR is never read a Bible verse.
3. One of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, by the way,
suggesting that Elijahs experiencelike his entire ministry
was unique and not a model for us to copy.
4.You can find the complete outline.
5. A small sampling includes 1 Pet. 2:2; Eph. 6:17b; 2 Tim. 2:15,
3:16-17, 4:1a; 1 Jn. 2:14;Titus 1:9.
6. Considering the details of the account, I take this discernment
to be a simple process of elimination. Someone is speaking to
Samuel. Its not Eli. No one else is around. It must be God.
7. When the text says something like,Listen to the voice of the
Lord, it usually is using the word listen synonymous with the
word obey, much like a mother who says,Listen to me when I
tell you to do something.
8. J.I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1987), 117.

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Which view is more limiting of God: the view


God is free to speak whenever He wants and is
capable of making Himself heard even when we are
not listening, or the view God can only get through
when were quiet, focused, and listening intently?
Does the Bible teach we should get our private,
personalized marching orders directly from God? It
does not. Rather, it urges us, enjoins us, commands
us, time and again, to listen for God in the pages of

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Wisdom Model Summary Taken from Decision Making & the Will of God
By Greg Koukl
The basic premise of the Wisdom Model is that we have freedom to choose anything we want within
the dual parameters of Gods moral will (revealed in the Bible) and wisdom, with Gods full blessing.
The scriptures make no other restrictions than those unless there is an individualized command by
supernatural special revelation (e.g. Acts 9:6, 9:11-15, 13:2, 10:1-6 etc.)
I. God doesnt decide for us. Instead, like a good Father, He teaches us how to decide...
A. In submission to Gods moral will
1. We are not allowed to choose any alternative that will violate Scripture.
2. Gods moral will governs not just the ends we pursue, but also the means to the ends, our attitudes and our
motives in the process.
3. We learn Gods moral will from the Scripture through reading (1 Tim 4:13), search & inquiry (1 Peter 1:10-11),
diligent study (2 Tim 2:15), careful consideration (2 Tim 2:7), meditation (Ps 1:2), memorization (Ps 119:11),
and gifted teachers (Eph 4:11).
4. Problem: sometimes we fancy weve received special guidance from the Lord and then violate some clear
directive of Scripture in order to pursue it.

B. With wisdom, that which is sensible, morally sound, and expedient


1. God commands us to pray for wisdom (James 1:5).
2. Proverbs teaches that wisdom helps us make good choices (Prov 1:1-6, 2:9, 8:35-36).
3. Wisdom come from many sources: the Bible, counsel, research, instruction, and experience.

C. Being sensitive to the personal element


Issues of personal desire and personal conscience are important, valid considerations.

D. In humble submission to Gods sovereign intervention


1. God has the privilege, though not the obligation, of intervening in any of our plans.
2. God uses obstacles, roadblocks, problems and circumstances to redirect our paths.
3. We respond by making wise choices as new factors become evident, with an attitude of dependence and
trust in God (James 4:13-18, Prov 3:4-6, Ps 138:8).
4. In the process of our free will decision making God fulfills His sovereign purposes.

II. Conclusion: the Wisdom Model in action


1st. Determine which options, if any, are excluded in a biblical examination of goals, means and motives.
2nd. Apply wisdom and personal desires to the remaining choices. Examine circumstances, research facts, weigh
alternatives, gather information, seek counsel.
3rd. Make your decision with an attitude of humble trust in the Lord: If God wills..
4th. Adjust to new circumstances as they arise using the same method.
Role Models in Scripture: Pauls decision to go to Rome (Rom 1:8-15), Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Pauls advice
on marriage (1 Cor 7), Pauls second & third missionary journeys (Acts 15:36, 18:23), etc.

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