Only through the Word of God can we properly identify God’s voice – only by submitting to Bible teachers and personally reading the Bible can we grow in such a way that we develop the discernment God wants us to develop, the discernment that will allow us to identify His guidance.
This is because for us to properly use the Bible as our measuring stick for everything, we have to know it inside and out – to know its correct interpretation, not just its words. And how you get that is by reading it consistently and learning from a gifted and prepared Bible teacher who can explain it in a systematic and detailed way. Doing these things will help us grow spiritually, until eventually we will find that discerning God’s voice becomes ever easier, because our minds have been transformed by His truth (compare Romans 12:2).
How do you recognize God’s voice, as opposed to the voice of Satan and/or others under Satan’s sway? Through the Word of God
As we went over this week, the primary answer to the question of “How do we know if a voice is from God?” is that God speaks to us through His Word. That Word is all about Jesus Christ, and He is Himself a message from the Father (that is, His life and what He did for us upon the cross); Hebrews 1:1-2a says that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by his Son.”
It is no surprise that the written Word of God is all about Jesus Christ, the living Word (compare John 1:1-14). The two are inextricably linked. For this reason, if we want to come to know Jesus Christ (and that is, in essence, what we are all about as Christians), then how we come to know about Him is through the Bible. There is no other way – none whatsoever. For the Bible is the very “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). It is – quite literally – the message that the Omnipotent Creator and Redeemer of the universe has seen fit to put into the hands of humanity. That is no small thing, aye?
Bringing us back to the point at hand, it is only through the Word of God that we will be able to properly “discern the Spirits” (1 John 4:1-3), and so correctly make out the voice of God from among the veritable chorus of false voices.
We must both submit to Bible teachers and personally read the Bible to grow in such a way that we develop the discernment God wants us to develop
False things can sometimes be rather obvious (so, for example, the Bible does most assuredly not tell us that we as Christians are guaranteed to have lives of overflowing abundance completely free from suffering – ever read John 15:18-21 and 1 Peter 4:12-19?), but they can also be subtle and much harder to spot.
Part of this is because Satan’s lies often have at least a grain of truth in them. When Satan speaks to Eve in Genesis 3, he is not wrong that God forbade Adam and Eve from eating… but he does purposely misrepresent God’s words. It is actually not all that subtle here (God forbade eating the fruit from a single tree, not all the trees), but how about in Matthew 4:1-11 during the temptation of Christ? Satan quotes scripture at Jesus. How can scripture be wrong? But Jesus quotes scripture right back at Him, showing that Satan’s interpretation of what that scripture meant was faulty. Satan had twisted things, even though all he did was quote the Bible!
This introduces a major wrinkle: using the Bible as our measuring stick only works when we know what the correct interpretation of the Bible is. How then do we get this correct interpretation of the Bible? The basic answer to that question is that we must grow spiritually. And how do we grow spiritually? By listening to Bible teachers, and by reading the Bible ourselves.
The Bible says that God has put some in the body of Christ as pastor-teachers, and these men are specially empowered by the Holy Spirit to learn and then explain the Bible, “in order to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (see Ephesians 4:11-13). This means we can come to know what the Bible actually teaches by listening to these gifted and prepared individuals God has placed in the body of Christ to explain the Bible to us. Teaching the Bible is their primary job, so we ought to take full advantage of their gifts, for that is how things are supposed to work in the system God has designed: the Church, the united body of Christ here in the world, composed of various parts each fulfilling their respective role (see 1 Corinthians 12). In fact, to grow to spiritual maturity, we must submit ourselves to these Bible teachers; that is what the Ephesians quote from above demands, albeit indirectly.
Secondly, we all need to build up our own personal knowledge of the Bible by reading it consistently. For one thing, the matter of choosing which Bible teachers to listen to is impossible to do properly without us verifying that the words coming out of their mouths line up with the Bible (compare Acts 17:11). Even though this is the case, we are not authorized to think we can go it alone, and forgo the step of submitting to teachers. Instead, we do need to submit to teachers… but only the ones whose words we can verify with the Bible. To do this, we certainly need to be conversant with what the Bible says!
It’s not just about getting us past that first hurdle of figuring out which Bible teachers to listen to, though. Let me try to use an analogy: let’s say that the truth contained in the Bible is like a puzzle – individual verses and passages are like puzzle pieces. The end goal is for each of us to have collected pieces of the puzzle (pieces of scripture), and have them “properly assembled” in our hearts, fitting together piece-by-piece to form a solid edifice of truth. If that is the goal, then what is the most effective way for this goal to be achieved? Is it to put the sole responsibility for our growth in the hands of our teachers? Do we think that will maximize our spiritual growth?
Is it not instead the case that we should do absolutely as much as we can on our own to make the process more effective? If we read our Bibles every day, we will be accumulating in our hearts more and more puzzle pieces, so to speak. Some of them we can probably fit together all on our own, but others we probably won’t be able to (those are the ones we need Bible teachers for). Us taking the initiative to consistently read our Bibles greatly enhances the process, because then teachers don’t always have to be re-explaining “what the Bible says” alongside “what the Bible means,” but can instead mostly just focus on explaining how some of the trickier pieces fit together. It should be very obvious that the more familiarity people have with the Bible – even if they are fuzzy on some things – the more effectively they can understand Bible teaching, as a general rule. So, for example, if a teacher is teaching about the theological concept of Justification, he might work on explaining how James’ description of faith being proved genuine by the fruit it bears in people’s lives (compare James 2) does not at all contradict Paul’s teaching that we are justified by faith, not by works (compare the end of Romans 3, particularly verse 28). This particular teaching will be more easily understandable and more useful for those who are already familiar with what these passages talk about, how they are situated in their respective narratives, and so on.
In short, reading our Bibles is our “homework” as Christians, so that when we show up to “lecture,” we will be able to better follow the words of our teachers. If we neglect our homework, we will not learn nearly as well from our teachers, and if we do not learn nearly as well from our teachers, our understanding of what the Bible really means will be limited, and if our understanding of what the Bible really means will be limited, then we will be unable to effectively use the Bible as a measuring stick for everything (like how we are supposed to). Our discernment will be crippled, and we will not be nearly as successful in picking out the voice of God, instead being more likely to follow other voices we ought not.
To wrap up this section, trying to learn from homework alone is no good – if we are wrong, who will correct us? Who will answer our questions if we get stuck? That’s why we need Bible teachers. But the point we have just been making is that trying to learn from lecture alone is no good either, because Bible teaching won’t make much sense to us unless we are already familiar with the Bible – the thing that all good Bible teaching should be singularly focused upon – and no one but us can make us familiar with the Bible (through a personal choice on our part to read it consistently). So it is that we must both submit to Bible teachers and personally read the Bible for the process to work as God intends – for us to grow spiritually, and therefore know the correct interpretation of the Bible, that we might be able to accurately discern the voice of God.
Conclusion and recap
It is always through the Bible itself that we make our way through life, through its light that we know where to go (compare Psalm 119:105). And so it is that if we consistently read our Bibles, consistently immerse ourselves in the Bible’s teachings, and consistently learn about the Bible from the Bible teachers whom God has placed in our lives, eventually we will build up an edifice of truth in our hearts – truth fully learned, believed, and applied = epignosis (ἐπίγνωσις) rather than just “head knowledge” = gnosis (γνῶσις) – such that we grow up in our faith, even to the point of spiritual maturity.
After this transformation of our thinking through the Word of God, this “renewing of our minds,” we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2), and will therefore “no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). This is the spiritually-empowered discernment God wants for each and every one of us, if we would but trust Him and make use of the tools He has given us in the Bible and gifted Bible teachers to help explain it.
Would that we would always let Him work in us as we ought! For if we would, never again would we struggle so to make out God’s voice, but would instead come to joyfully listen for it, using the Bible to banish uncertainty and doubt from our minds.