GOD SPEAKS TO MEN TODAY
It is almost impossible to listen to Trinity Broadcasting Network for any length of time without hearing one of the television evangelists say: "God spoke to me today and told me to give you this message." I hesitate to accuse men and women of being dishonest, but those who claim God speaks directly to them today are either deliberately deceiving their audiences or they are deceived or they are mentally disturbed. God speaks to men today, but he speaks only through his word - the Holy Bible. Did not our Lord inspire the Apostle John to write: "For I testify unto every man who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book" (Rev. 22: 18-19)? I am fully aware that Christ was speaking specifically of the book of Revelation, but the principle applies to every book of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.
A few months ago, I received an e-mail from a woman who objected to a message I had preached on the International Gospel Hour. I argued that God does not speak directly to man today. She asked: "Have you sought the Lord as to whether or not he speaks to men today?" I believe with all my heart God speaks to men today, but that is not really the question. Does he speak directly to men today? If he speaks directly to men today, does that not imply that his word is incomplete? According to the Apostle Paul, God has given us all we need to know how to serve him. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3: 16-17). If the scriptures thoroughly or completely furnish us unto every good work, what need do we have for further revelation? We have in the Bible all we need and we need all we have.
My correspondent said: "The scripture instructs us to lean not on our own understanding, but rather to acknowledge God in all our ways, and He will direct our paths." The book of Proverbs urges men: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6). The crucial question is: How does the Lord direct our paths? Fortunately, we are not left to wonder. The divinely inspired Psalmist gives us the answer we need. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Psa. 19:7-9). The Psalmist asked: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments! Thy word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against thee.... Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Psa. 119:9-11, 105). Every human being on earth needs understanding and direction for his life. The Psalmist teaches that such understanding and direction can be found in the word of God.
Does the New Testament teach the same truth? When Satan tempted Christ, our Lord always responded: "It is written." The tense of the verb means "it stands written." Even though what Jesus quoted from Moses was written hundreds and hundreds of years before, he was telling Satan that it still applied. Has my correspondent taken careful note of what Paul told the Ephesian elders? "And now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). What else does anyone need? Do you want to know the mind of God? Read his word (1 Cor. 2:7-13). James admonished his readers: "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted (or implanted) word, which is able to save your souls" (Jas. 1:21).
My correspondent observes: "The fact that each of us 'knows what he knows that he knows' is the reason we have different beliefs." Her views are somewhat different from Paul's teaching. The church at Corinth was foolishly divided. What was Paul's inspired advice to the Christians at Corinth? "Now I beseech you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1: 10). There cannot be unity until every one speaks the same thing. How is that possible? The Apostle Paul provides God's view of unity. "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Eph. 4:3-6).
Those who claim that God speaks to them directly are responsible to a great degree for the confusion that exists in the religious world. When a man says, "God spoke to me," how do we test what he says? Thousands of religious teachers claim direct revelation from God, but they teach different ideas and doctrines. There is one way and one way only to test what any man or woman teaches: Consulting the word of almighty God. John urged the early Christians not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits (1 John 4:1). The church at Ephesus tried those who claimed to be apostles and were not and found them to be liars (Rev. 2:2). A man can claim whatever he wants to, but proving his claims is another matter.
The woman who wrote the e-mail said she had not expected to have God to speak directly to her. She was not being taught to expect to hear directly from God. She affirms that "those who seek God's wisdom and will for their lives on a moment by moment basis will be led by God inside and in their moment of need, which is not sometimes while they have their Bibles opened before them." Every person should seek God's wisdom and will, but there is no way we can find them except by having our Bibles open and receiving what they teach. How does a person know the voice he seems to be hearing is from God? Could the voice be coming from his or her own consciousness? The dear lady can find God's wisdom and will in the scriptures, and only in the scriptures.
She quotes these words from Christ's Parable of the Good Shepherd: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). When Jesus was on earth, he spoke directly to the apostles and to others. He knew they were his sheep. They heard his voice and followed him. We know we are God's sheep when we hear his voice and obey it. But how do we hear his voice? If you want to know what you must do to be saved, you turn to the great book of Acts and imitate the examples in that book. For example, Philip the evangelist preached Christ to the Samaritans. "When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Christ, they were baptized, both men and women" (Acts 8:5, 12). When Philip preached Christ to the Samaritans, were they hearing the voice of Christ? In other words, were they hearing the message Christ wanted them to hear?
Jesus often spoke in parables. The Parable of the Vine and the Branches urges his disciples to abide in him and to bring forth fruit. Please listen to what he told his disciples. "Now you are clean through the word I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, and you are the branches; he who abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:3-6). Do you hear the voice of Jesus in these challenging words?
The author of the letter quotes Jesus: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of my self' (John 7:17). What is God's will? How can we know it? Must God speak to us directly so we can know his will? The word "will" appears sixty-four times in the New Testament. There is not one of these appearances that requires direct communication from God. Please listen to some of the verses that use the word "will." "Be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). According to the book of Hebrews, the will of God is the gospel of Christ. "Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He takes away the first that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:7-10).
Who is the one who said, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God?" Could be anyone other than Jesus Christ? He is the one who came to give us a new covenant. Did you notice that Hebrews affirms: "He takes away the first that he may establish the second?" The first covenant was the Law of Moses, which Hebrews 10:8 makes plain. The second covenant is the gospel of Christ. It is by this will, that is, the gospel of Christ, that we are justified. Is my correspondent arguing that God has not given unto us "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3)? The Apostle John told his readers: "The world passes away, and the lust thereof; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:17). Jesus makes that truth very plain. "Not every one who says to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 7:21).
My correspondent claims that God spoke to her directly. These are her words: "When I asked God if I should continue to serve in Vacation Bible School in the same class I had the previous year in kindergarten, God said: 'Yes, to VBS. No, to kindergarten.' While most of what God says to me is a direct quote from scripture, reminding me of what has been written, this of course would not have been found there." Later she asked God where he wanted her to serve. He told her to go see the "assistant pastor." She further says: "Those of us who have the experience of hearing directly from God will always endeavor to enlighten those who have not experienced it because only God's works are godly works."
If God speaks directly to the author of this e-mail, is he not a respecter of persons? He has never spoken directly to me. Why did he speak to my correspondent and not to millions and millions of others? I want to show my audience just how troubling this woman's reasoning is. Philip Gulley and James Mulholland, two Quaker preachers, published a book with the title, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (San Francisco: Harper, 2003). Gulley and Mulholland believe in the doctrine of universalism, that is, that God will save every person in the universe regardless of anyone's beliefs or practices. They claim they visited prisons and became acquainted with the most vicious criminals-murderers, rapists and child molesters. As they made room for these people in their lives, they "had to consider making room for them in heaven" (p. 34).
Gulley and Mulholland twist the scriptures to try to justify their belief in universalism. For example, they quote these words from Paul's letter to Titus: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared unto all men" (Tit. 2: 11). They conveniently overlook verse 12: "Teaching us (that is, the grace of God teaches us) that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." But they make no pretense of having found their belief in universalism primarily by theological reasoning. If they did not find universalism in the Bible, how did the come to the conclusion that God will save every person? God whispered it in their ears (p. 18). Has God forgotten what he revealed through Jesus and the apostles? The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that those who do not love God and do not obey the gospel "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Maybe somebody else whispered in the ears of Gulley and Mulholland. You can know for sure it was not God.
My correspondent needs to know, if she does not already know, that thousands and thousands of people claim that God speaks directly to them. Many of them do not claim to be Christians. Some of them belong to various cultic groups or to eastern religions. Neale Donald Walsch has published a number of books of his conversations with God. I shall take time to mention only two of his books, Tomorrow's God: Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge (New York: Atria Books, 2004) and The New Revelations: A Conversation with God (New York: Atria Books, 2002). In the first book, Tomorrow's God, Walsch says he believes in pantheism, that is, "There is nothing that is not a part of God, for God is separate from nothing, but is the All in All" (p. 32). So when Walsch is having a conversation with God, guess who his God is? Himself! He affirms: "The God in me sees and honors the God in you" (p. 384).
In the second book, The New Revelations, Walsch rejects the Bible's ideas about God. For example, Walsch foolishly says: "You cannot die, and you will never be condemned to eternal damnation" (p. 326). Walsch quotes these words from James: "Cleanse you hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded." He then observes: "This is the religion of low self-esteem" (p. 332). I have a question for my correspondent. How do we distinguish between the beliefs of Gulley, Mulholland and Neale Donald Walsch and my correspondent's belief that God speaks directly to her and the claims of thousands of others who make the same claims? Is God delivering such contradictory messages? If he is, how could Paul say that "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Cor. 14:33)?
I certainly am not denying that God has spoken directly to the prophets in Old Testament times and to the apostles and other chosen men in New Testament times. At this time, I am teaching the book of Ezekiel on Wednesday nights at the West Fayetteville Church of Christ. Ezekiel prophesied during the Babylonian exile. Over and over, God almighty gave direct instructions to Ezekiel. I shall give you a few examples. "And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, and the elders of Judah sat with me, that the hand of the Lord fell there upon me.... And he said unto me, Go in an behold the wicked abominations that they do here.... Then he said unto me, Son of man, have you seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chamber of his imagery? .... He said also unto me, Turn yet again, and you shall see greater abominations that they do" (Ezek. 8:1,9,12-13).
Is there any doubt in your mind that God spoke directly to the apostles and to other chosen vessels in the New Testament? The book of Revelation came to John from the very mind of Jesus Christ. In the final chapter of Revelation, Jesus said to John: "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last ... .I Jesus have sent my angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star" (Rev. 22:12-13,16).
All we need to know about God, about his Son Jesus Christ, about the plan of salvation, about Christian living and about the end of age has been given to us in God's inspired word. Our duty is to study the word, obey its precepts and teach others the way of salvation.
The International Gospel Hour
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Fayetteville, TN 37334