Hearing God’s Voice

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/12/2013

Should you be trying to find out how God may be speaking to you so you can make sure you do the right thing? Maybe not.

I get a lot of unusual and interesting things in the mail. I received a fax with eight sheets. The cover sheet says, “This fax is for Greg K.—eight pages—who does not believe that God communicates with people today outside the pages of the Bible. Please read this paper, Greg. Thanks.” It’s signed Clem, and Clem, thank you for this communique.

As I have skimmed through this and read some of the examples there are eight pages typed of illustrations that apparently come from Clem’s life about God communicating with him. He’s got two cases. He’s got a case here: “audible in the outer ear, audible in the inner ear; dreams; strong impressions or thought; testimonies of others; the Bible; answered prayer and other ways.” Some of these are very interesting. It would be kind of fun to read some of them, but I’m not going to because we don’t have time.

I’ve actually heard some really remarkable stories where it’s absolutely obvious to me that God is speaking to somebody, He’s doing something supernatural in directing. I had a friend once that told me about how she really felt God wanted her to go and talk to a friend of hers who was a non-Christian that she worked with and tell him that God loved him. After much consternation and fighting she said, “Okay, God, I give in.” She got up out of bed in middle of the night, drove to his house, knocked on his door. He answered the door and she said, “Well, I just have to tell you that God loves you”—she felt pretty silly. The guy broke down and cried—he had been contemplating suicide. In kind of a last ditch effort at contacting God he said, “God, if you don’t stop me I’m going to kill myself tonight.” Then he gets a knock on the door; this woman says, “God sent me over here to tell you He loves you.” Pretty remarkable! Gee, what do I say about that?

Frankly, that’s the way that this conversation usually goes when I make my point about guidance and God speaking to you, which is different than what Clem says my point is and I’ll get to that in just a moment. Usually someone says, “What about this?” and then someone tells me their story. I was talking to some friends after service last night at Hope Chapel and it was the same thing—“Well, what about this? How do you explain this other thing?”—and someone gives me their personal account.

I have two responses to this. First of all, Clem, what you said that I believe is not what I believe. I do not believe that God only communicates with people today through the pages of the Bible and that any other communication is illegitimate. I do not believe that. I have never, ever said that. I’m not surprised that you think I said that because people consistently misunderstand me on this point. I’m a bit mystified by it, to be honest with you, because I have spoken about this so many times and I have taken such great pains to be clear about it. I have gone through such great efforts to be precise about my language. I suspect that maybe people just aren’t listening to the words, the specifics. I’ll give you some of those specifics in just a moment.

I don’t believe that God won’t or can’t or does not speak to us outside of the scriptures—certainly He does. In fact, the Scriptures make that point very clear. Someone asked me the question, “Do you believe God speaks to us?” I said, “Well, it kind of depends on what you mean by that.” If you mean that God convicts us of sin through the Holy Spirit, which is an experiential thing, then yes, in a way. I mean when we are convicted by sin we feel that kind of “zap” that gets us. We’re walking into the liquor store, guys, and there’s this rack of magazines (you know what I’m talking about) staring you in the face as you’re trying to buy your soda or whatever it is and you feel this little something inside of you—call it a voice, call it whatever you want—saying, “No, don’t do that.” That’s conviction of the Holy Spirit and we might say that “God spoke to us,” although it wasn’t a voice, but that’s the way God communicates to us. I believe in that because that’s in the Bible, it’s very clear.

What about when we read the Bible, or anything for that matter, and we have this kind of quickening in our minds or in our souls of an awareness of a truth. We are zapped. We’re punched. We’re popped. It cuts to the quick of our hearts and we’re aware of it. Clearly it’s not something that we’ve conjured up, it’s something that we are aware that God is doing in our heart. We sometimes say, “That’s God speaking to me about this issue.” I say, “Okay you can use that terminology.” I agree with that kind of thing, whatever you want to call it, because the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit counseling us and the Holy Spirit teaching us. It also talks about the Holy Spirit comforting us, and there’s a sense that’s existential and experiential where we really sense God’s particular comfort in our heart and we sense His nearness. We sometimes say that God showed me or told me how much He loved me and it’s an experiential thing. Sure, I have no problem with any of that. All of that is taught clearly in the Scripture. But that’s not usually the kind of thing that’s in question when I have these kinds of discussions with people about God speaking and directing and leading and all of that.

That leads me to the next point. The first thing is that that isn’t what I believe. Secondly, what’s interesting to me is look at the way people try to prove this idea that God is talking to us. They tell me their experience. Now their experience may be wonderful, but do you see how such a thing is circular reasoning? For me to say the Bible doesn’t teach this and then someone to say, “Well, here’s what happened to me.” All they are telling me is what happened to them. They are not proving to me that God was involved with it just because it happened to them. That’s precisely what’s in question. I’m not questioning the experience, I’m questioning the source and the validity of the experience. Experience is not authoritative to me. Do you see that, ladies and gentlemen? I don’t know why this doesn’t sink in deeper with folks and they think that I’m denying the obvious.

I’m just simply saying if the question is “does God speak to us today,” then for you to say “God spoke to me” is not a compelling argument because you are assuming what you are trying to prove—that God is speaking.

What is compelling to me is to go to the Scriptures and to show in the Scriptures where such a thing is a discipline.

Keep in mind now that I have agreed that there is a way in which we can say that God speaks to us and those ways are clearly outlined in the Scripture. He convicts us of sin. He comforts us. He teaches us through the Holy Spirit. He also answers prayer, which is one of the things that was mentioned in Clem’s fax. He mentions a time when God used a verse to teach him something. I don’t take exception with this. It doesn’t count as evidence against my view because my view doesn’t conflict with that particular point.

Here is my view. Does the Bible teach that we must learn to discern the voice of the Lord individually for ourselves to live optimal Christian lives? Does the Bible teach we must learn to discern the voice of the Lord individually for ourselves in order to live optimally as Christians? The answer is no it does not teach that. So when someone teaches that you hear the voice of the Lord individually for yourself for optimal Christian living as a Christian discipline, this is not a Biblical discipline, ladies and gentlemen. It is not in there. Are there incidents of God speaking? Yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the discipline of learning to discern the voice of the Lord for myself to live optimally as a Christian. It’s not there.

Does the Bible teach that we are to seek this kind of guidance? The answer is no. It does not teach that we are seek this kind of guidance. Does the Bible teach that we are to expect this kind of guidance? Again the answer is no. And since the Bible doesn’t teach that we have to learn this skill, since it doesn’t teach that we are to seek this kind of guidance, since it doesn’t teach that we are to expect this kind of guidance, then I don’t know what all the folderol is about. Well, yes I do.

This teaching that God will whisper in your ear all kind of particulars that pertain to you and His will for your life is very appealing to Christians. Even though when you look at the Scriptures, the specialized directions are rare. They are unusual. They are usually unsought. And they are always crystal clear. None of this “I think the Lord is telling me” business. People are still gravitating to the suggestion that we can develop a sixth sense that can tie us into a hotline to God so that we can have certitude about the things of life and the decisions we ought to make. Why is this appealing? Because it’s easy. It’s easy. You know Americans are given to quick fixes and this is the American Christian quick fix. We are also given to individualism and this is the American individualistic view of Christianity—guidance decision making. It fits the American mentality, not the Biblical mentality, not the Christian mentality, the American mentality. And that’s why this point of view is distinctly American. It’s a quick fix. It’s an easy way out. It’s kind of like Cliff Notes, only worse.

What happens here is that people don’t do the hard work of learning. Part of my conversation last evening with a friend who is a very gracious person dealt with the issue of anointing and filling and I made the comment that I’d never been anointed by the Holy Spirit in my life, nor was any Christian ever anointed by the Holy Spirit. When I said that, jaws dropped. When I said that it was like I had said Jesus is a demon or something. “How could you possibly say this, Koukl? Haven’t you ever felt the Holy Spirit well up inside of you?” I said, “Yes, I have.” And they said, “Well, there you go. That’s an anointing.” I said, “That’s not an anointing. That’s a filling of the Holy Spirit.” There has not been any anointing since Pentecost because the Holy Spirit is not on the outside, He’s on the inside. There is a distinct difference between the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament and that of the Old. The New being the fulfillment of the promise of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 37 and following in Joel and a number of other places of the giving of the New Covenant.

Now, here is what is interesting to me. I was having a conversation with a friend who was espousing this other point of view, at least in some measure, asking questions about it, and challenging me on it. She believes that this is an appropriate thing for Christians, yet at the same time this person didn’t have a clear understanding of the difference between the old covenant and the new with regards to the working of the Holy Spirit, which is fundamental in understanding how to look at Christian life.

This is my fear, ladies and gentlemen, and I’ll end with this point. This skill is being offered, and what it ultimately involves, what it ultimately ends up being is a short cut to the real McCoy of knowledge and spiritual growth. Instead of investing our time learning the truth and working at making it a part of us so that we have a good understanding of the truth from the front to the back, from the beginning to the end, from Genesis to Revelation, we opt out for an easy way out, which is to let God just tell us and therefore we are not equipped.

Not only that, but a lot of times when God tells us, what He tells us is false because it’s not God telling us. So we’ve got a lot of screwy things going on with people who believe this kind of thing, and instead of being devoted to developing spiritual maturity and attaining Scriptural knowledge we want the quick fix, and then we call the quick fix spiritual maturity and knowledge. That’s what is ironic about it. Instead of devoting ourselves to developing real maturity and attaining genuine Scriptural knowledge we go for the quick fix, and instead of developing mastery we want the Master to be sitting next to us during the tests of life whispering His answers in our ears. Do you know what that’s called, ladies and gentlemen? That’s called cheating. And there is no guarantee and no teaching and no instruction in the New Testament or Old that this is the way that we are to live our lives on a day to day basis. The only Word of God that we are ever enjoined to listen to is not the word that comes into our spiritual ears, as it were, from the spiritual ozone, but the Word that comes from the Scriptures. That’s the one that we are told to learn, listen, heed, abide and hide in our heart.