1. Does God Speak Today?
Does God speak today? Or is He silent? And if God speaks, how do we know it’s Him? How does He even speak to us? Does He send us dreams? Visions? Should we cast lots? Does He speak through a still, small voice? Perhaps through our favorite worship songs? Maybe by way of an encouraging word? Possibly through a personal prophecy given to you by a local ministry team on a Tuesday around 7:30 P.M.? What about through the burning in your stomach you felt that one time? Was that God speaking to you?
These questions can be challenging to consider, partly because they deal with some of the more intimate details of a Christian’s “walk with God,” and partly because there is so much confusion and ignorance about what the Bible teaches. But this shouldn’t be the case. While there is widespread perplexity about this issue of God speaking today, the Bible is really quite clear on the matter. God does indeed speak today. But He speaks in a way that many of us tend to overlook and marginalize. God speaks through His Son, Jesus Christ, and this speech is recorded for us in God’s written Word, the Bible.
2. How Does God Speak?
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Well of course God speaks through the Bible! Everyone knows that. But,” you might argue, “we also need a more personal word from Him, perhaps a word directly to us, a word to meet us right where we are.” And so, apparently, because we need this more personal word, we look for God’s speech in all kinds of areas and through all kinds of means outside of and apart from Scripture.
And to make matters even more complicated, we go to the Bible to confirm that God actually speaks in extrabiblical ways. God gave visions and dreams of His covenant promises to Abraham. Conclusion: God can also give visions and dreams to us. God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. Conclusion: God can speak to us in all kinds of weird, supernatural ways. God revealed His will to Gideon by not watering some grass one day and then watering some grass the next. Conclusion: God can reveal His will to us through all manner of signs and symbols if we just ask.
But do these conclusions follow from the biblical examples? Not necessarily. One of the most important rules for reading and understanding the Bible is the necessity of distinguishing between descriptive passages and prescriptive passages. Descriptive passages simply describe what happened. They do not necessarily tell us what is normative for the Christian life or what we should (or should not) do. Descriptive passages tell us that something happened. Thus, “throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, Judas departed, and he went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5) is an example of a descriptive passage. It tells us that Judas hanged himself, but it does not say anything about whether Christians should follow his example or not. (Don’t worry though, the truth found elsewhere in the Bible tells us that we should not, in fact, follow his example.)
Prescriptive passages, on the other hand, give us direct commands for what we should be doing in the Christian life. They do not really describe what happens/happened but rather what should happen. So, “you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) is an example of a prescriptive passage. It tells us what we should be doing, what should happen. Because of the work of Christ, we should count ourselves as “dead to sin and alive to God.”
3. God Speaks by His Son, through His Spirit, in His Word
Maybe you’ve guessed by now the point I am trying to make here. The biblical references of God revealing Himself in a unique way to a particular person at a particular time are descriptive rather than prescriptive. They report on what happened, but they do not necessarily mean that God reveals Himself in those ways today. He might, but in order to find out we need to consider the clear teaching of Scripture which concerns how God speaks to us today. Instead of scouring the stories littered throughout Scripture and making improper applications based on them, we should consider the didactic literature, the teaching sections, to learn how God reveals Himself. And we find the clearest example of this in Hebrews 1:1-2:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”
What this text teaches is that God did indeed reveal Himself “at many times and in many ways” to “the fathers,” which is a reference to the Old Testament Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so on). God spoke to them through dreams, visions, prophecy, etc. “But,” and this is crucial for our discussion, “in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” There are several contrasts going on here, but one of them is that while long ago God spoke in various ways, He has now (“in these last days”) spoken by His Son. The immediate application that we should take from this text is that God no longer speaks “in many ways” since He has now spoken by His Son, Jesus Christ. Now God only speaks in one way, and that is through His Son.
Furthermore, this speech comes to us by the working of the Holy Spirit who “carried men along” so that they spoke for God (2 Peter 1:21). It is the Spirit who “breathed out” or “inspired” Scripture so that we might be trained for righteousness and completely equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And Jesus himself, when he was arguing with the Jews, said, “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). So the Scriptures, inspired by the Holy Spirit, contain the very words of the God the Father and they testify about the identify and work of the Son. (Look: the Trinity!)
At first, this all sounds a little bit strange. What do I mean that God now only speaks in one way? Doesn’t that seem to limit God? And besides, isn’t it kind of boring that God only speaks in one way? You know the old saying: “If it’s boring, it can’t be true.” (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly.)
Let me try to clear up some confusion by reframing the issue. Here’s a question: “Why does God speak to us?” There are two biblical answers that I want to explore for a few moments: 1) God speaks to us in order to save us. Or you could say, God reveals Himself to us in order to redeem us; 2) God speaks to us so that we might see and know and love our Lord Jesus Christ, who is supreme over all things. Let’s take them one at a time.
4. Why Does God Speak? (Part One)
God speaks to us in order to save us. He reveals Himself in order to redeem His people. Paul says as much to Timothy: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15, emphasis added). The purpose of these “sacred writings,” which are called “Scripture breathed out by God” in v. 16, are to make people wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. The reason that God speaks to His people is because He desires to save them, to have them come to a knowledge of His Son.
This line of biblical argument goes against the popular thinking in most churches today. For many people, God needs to speak a personal word to them in order to tell them what their vocation in life should be, where they should go to college, who they should date, etc. But according to Scripture, the reason that God speaks is not to reveal to us all of the details of His plan for our lives, but to reveal to us His Son, Jesus Christ, in order that we might be saved through faith in him. The older theologians would say it this way: revelation serves redemption. The purpose of God revealing Himself to His people is so that He could redeem them from their sins, count them righteous on the basis of the work of Jesus, and bring them into fellowship with Himself.
5. Why Does God Speak? (Part Two)
And there is another, more fundamental answer to the question: God speaks so that we might see and know and love Jesus Christ, the one who is supreme over all things. We were made to glorify and enjoy God forever, which means that the most fundamental reason God speaks to us is so that we can glorify and enjoy Him. This includes beholding the supremacy of the person and the sufficiency of the work of Christ. All things were made for him (cf. Colossians 1:16), and he is able to save “to the uttermost” those who draw near to him through faith (Hebrews 7:25). He is supreme and his work sufficient. We could say that Jesus is the final word from God because he is the Word of God (cf. John 1:1). Everything that God has ever said is meant to direct our gaze to the supremacy and sufficiency of His Son.
Jesus himself even points out this fact when he is walking on the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, emphasis added). Jesus argues that Moses and all the Prophets, a reference to the entire Old Testament (since Moses wrote the first five books and the Prophets constitute the last seventeen) testify of him. This means that at the end of the day, the Old Testament is not just full of stories meant to give us examples for how we should live (though they are that as well), but they are ultimately stories which are meant to point us to the full revelation of God, the Son, Jesus himself.
One of the most important applications we should take from this is the fact that everything we need to know in order to live a life which is pleasing to God is found in or implied by Scripture. We don’t need any more words from God because the Word of God Himself has come to reveal God to us. To say that we do, in fact, need more words from God is to say, even if implicitly, that the Word of God is not sufficient to reveal God to us. I don’t know of any Christians who would want to make that claim.
(As an aside, that local church which offers “personal prophecy time” on Tuesdays at 7:30 P.M. is making the implicit argument that God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ and in Scripture is not sufficient for the Christian life, but that we do in fact need more words from God. What’s worse, Peter clearly says that “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man” [2 Peter 1:21], so how they think they can schedule a specific weekly time to give people prophetic words is beyond me. But I digress.)
The last thing I want to say about this (for now) is that if you want to know the will of God for your life, read your Bible. Dear Christian, our God is not the kind of God who wants to keep you in the dark about His will for your life. But hear me very clearly. This does not mean that God is going to reveal to you every single detail about your future. Besides, the point of God’s speech is not so that we would know more about the future of our lives, but so that we would know God. And since God has spoken once-and-for-all by His Son, and since this speech is carried to us by the Spirit via the inspired text of Scripture, let us be the kind of people who think deeply about God’s Word, that we may know, love, and live for Him.
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