Have you heard someone say, “God told me…,” or “God really spoke to me about…”? Or maybe you have read: “God spoke to me the application of His Word,” or “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more…”. In each of these, the idea is that God spoke to them and they heard what He said.
How Does God Speak?
So, did God actually tell them something? In words? How did they hear it? Was it an audible voice? An inner prompting? In this article, we want to answer the question “How does God speak to us?” We will do that by reviewing the video transcript of a popular “hearing God’s voice” teacher.
We completed the transcript while surveying the teaching, to make sure we were very accurate. We will not mention the teacher’s name because the video has been removed from the internet. However, the teaching from it is still very widely used. So, we start with the transcript and our commentary follows.
“In Romans 1:20, the Bible says that God speaks to all human beings through nature. It’s called general revelation. That means that even if you’re not a Christian, you can learn general things about God just by looking at the creation around you. I mean, it’s glorious isn’t it? He could’ve done this whole thing in black and white, but He gave us the colors of spring and fall and summer, and painted us such glorious pictures in the earth because He wanted us to have general revelation about his glory and his splendor and his majesty. That general revelation is available to all human beings.
Now, if you want to have specific revelation in your life – which is what I want – I want to know the details that God has for me. I want to know that I’m walking in His will for my life. If you want that, then you’ve got to be a believer in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says that you can’t get the specifics that you want from God unless you have the spirit. It says only the spiritual person can appraise spiritual things. And so, if you want to have meaningful conversation and communion with God that lasts a lifetime, then you have to have the Holy Spirit living within you. And the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is given as a gift to those who are believers in Jesus Christ. So, any meaningful conversation with the Lord begins with a relationship with him through His son Jesus Christ. Now, if you want to have continuous, ongoing, full conversation with God, as a believer, you’ve gotten that straight – you’re a believer. But if you want to make sure that you’re hearing God on a continual basis, then that means that you have to nurture your friendship and your relationship with God. It’s like any relationship that you have in your life. You know how there’s a girlfriend or another friend of yours that can call you up and, man, in the first 2 seconds of that phone call you know exactly who you’re talking to. Just by the way they’re breathing on the phone you know who it is that you’re talking to. They don’t have to go into some big explanation as to who they are and what they had on the last time you saw them so that they can describe themselves. You don’t need all that with a really good friend because you know their voice. It’s the same thing with God. He’s talking to us all the time. The more we get to know him, then the more clear we’ll be when we hear the voice of our God. We’ll know it’s Him because we’ve built a friendship with Him.
So, if you’re serious about hearing the voice of God on a continual basis, then my friend I encourage you to develop time building a rapport and a relationship and a friendship with God, so that when He speaks you can clearly hear what He has to say to you.”
Kinds of Revelation
This teacher has accurately stated that “you can learn general things about God just by looking at the creation around you.” But that statement has been perverted with the idea that there is “creation speech” from God, by claiming that Romans 1:20 says God speaks to all human beings through nature. But we should ask ourselves “Is that what Romans 1:20 says?” The answer is no. Why? Read what Paul says in Romans 1:20:
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
“To speak” means to utter words; to communicate vocally; to converse. Paul says that God’s attributes are clearly seen because of creation. God does not actually speak to humans through the creation. Rather, God reveals His power and eternality through the creation, and this is understood by the creature. When the Scriptures say things like “the heavens declare the glory of the Lord,” it is personifying the creation and not referring to literal speech.
Consequently, this teacher’s definition of general revelation is inaccurate and incomplete. The verse says general revelation leaves men without excuse. You see, mankind – apart from God – likes to think general revelation is somehow reassuring, that God is close and personally known through the creation. He is not. The beauty and glory of creation does not put us into a right relationship with the One it reveals! It only reveals to us that God exists.
Our fallen hearts, without Christ, do not properly honor God as He has revealed Himself. We are still blind in our actual fallenness. We are lost and dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), in rebellion to God, and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We are guilty before our Creator as creatures. And general revelation does not provide a way to God.The wonderful news is there is a kind of revelation that addresses man’s dilemma. It is known as special revelation, and it is where God does speak – as in uttering words and communicating!
Special revelation is the very written Word of God – the Scripture. It is just that – special. It is special in that it is the only thing that tells what is of eternal use. It tells how one can be redeemed and reconciled to God through knowledge of the Savior. It tells of the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).It is also special in that it is the only thing one needs to hear from God. Scripture is, in fact, God’s “speech” to His children. Through it, God tells believers all that is needed for life and godliness:
“Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, for His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. Through these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world on account of lust.” 2 Peter 1:1-4 NASB
Our only knowledge of Jesus Christ, until we enter His presence at death or He returns in glory, is found in the truths of Scripture alone. He has granted us all His precious and magnificent promises in the very truths He has given us in His Word – no additions needed.Notice that this teacher never mentions (at least not in this case) that Scripture is the only thing one needs to hear from God, know Him, and understand His truths. The necessity of special revelation has been omitted. If you leave that fact out it results in two things. It leaves general revelation as a “good” thing (which it is not). And, it leaves the door open to the idea that there is more to God’s speech than only His special revelation.
Accordingly, this teacher introduces something called “specific revelation” – God’s specific will for a Christian’s life. (1 Corinthians 2:14 is used to make the case, which we will dissect in the next section.) Evidently you have to be a believer in Christ to get this specific revelation, and it comes by possessing the Holy Spirit who then speaks directly to you like spirit to spirit conversation. Is this how the Holy Spirit operates?
The Word and the Spirit
God has graciously given Christians His written Word and His Spirit! We need both the Word and the Holy Spirit as the center-piece for our daily walk. The Biblical concept of this – Word and Spirit together – is essential. We need the objective truth of Scripture and the Holy Spirit to illumine the given truth of Scripture to our hearts. The saint of God does not expect one without the other because both are God’s promises for us.
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you…But the Helper, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.” John 14:16-17,26 NASB
Notice that the promise of the Holy Spirit is given only to His own. And the Father and the Son have not relinquished on this promise. The Holy Spirit is a continually abiding presence with all of God’s people. That is great comfort!
So, is this teacher correct in saying “you can’t get the specifics that you want from God unless you have the spirit?” Let’s read what 1 Corinthians 2:14 says:
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”
This text is saying that without the Holy Spirit, one cannot understand the things of God. It does not mean that once a person has God’s Spirit, they can have direct, meaningful, and ongoing conversation with God. Let’s read just a few verses prior:
“For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” 1 Corinthians 2:11-13 NASB
Now, this teacher rightly says that only the spiritual person can appraise spiritual things. But those spiritual things are not some conversation. Rather, they are the spiritual truths found in God’s Word. God speaks to us – in His Word – and He graciously listens to us – in our prayers. The wonderful truths of Scripture are not some springboard into hearing a mystical voice.
So, how does the Holy Spirit operate? Does the Spirit speak as God’s voice? Does He speak directly to us apart from the Bible?
The Holy Spirit guides His children into all truth.
“’But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.’” John 16:13-15 NASB
The Holy Spirit testifies to Jesus by guiding His own children into all the truth – Scripture. Imagine that! God “speaks” to us each time we go to the place where He has already spoken – His written Word. And we can hear and understand because of a special promise by God Himself to give us the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, do we learn and recognize God’s voice through building a rapport and friendship with Him? Only if we mean that we go to where we can know Him – that is, to the words He has already spoken. This is where God makes His mind known. We can be spiritual and know the specifics of God’s will because we receive those words (Bible), not “specific and extra” words. It is not through some mystical (mysterious) or direct communication. The real Holy Spirit is not our own personal spirit.
To be led by the Spirit means to believe God’s written Word and walk in the Spirit’s strength according to that Word. It is personal because it is the Spirit bearing witness to you or I as we do this. But it is not something more than the revelation of the Word already given to and for us. We must be careful if we believe we are hearing the voice of God, i.e. hearing from the Spirit, while not having the Word of God right before us externally or internally as memorized.
Thomas Watson said, “The Word written is above an angelic embassy, or a voice from heaven.”
When the Apostle Peter actually heard a voice from heaven, he used it to remind his readers that Scripture is God’s Word. He makes no mention of seeking or listening for more voices, whether they are external or internal.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such a declaration as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory: “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased”— and we ourselves heard this declaration made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.
And so we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture becomes a matter of someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:16-21 NASB (emphasis added)
We should be quick to discern anyone who is promoting a mystical layer of theology, deceptively placed on top of the Scripture or in addition to Scripture, as in this case. It is an attempt to have direct and deeper communion with God – spirit to spirit speaking and hearing – apart from Scripture.
If Scripture is no longer the solid foundation, we should also be careful to pay attention to other teachings from those with this mindset. And, maybe more importantly, we should notice who these teachers are willing to associate with in ministry.
For more on the subject of hearing from God:
How Does God Speak to Christians? by Sinclair Ferguson