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His Master's Voice
|Copyright © 2010 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Monday, June 07, 2010
Do Not Provoke Your Child to Anger
A “Fond” Childhood Memory
In the back seat of our parents’ cars we all either received or inflicted this torture by or on our siblings, one finger held a quarter inch from their noses, “I am not touching you, I am not touching you, I am not touching you…” Eventually they flew into a fury and screamed, “Mom, Johnny is not touching me…make him stop!” We knew just how to provoke our less mature brothers and sisters to a livid and crying rage. It is both an art and a science, and one in which we often took devious delight to perfect.
As we age we forget common sense and the lessons of our own past. No longer are things obvious anymore for everything seems to become a complicated and sophisticated puzzle which requires an equally erudite response. We get to Bible passages such as Ephesians 6:4 and think it requires a doctrinal degree in psychology to unravel the mysteries of the nuances of its meaning.
Acting Like Adults
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
We forget that Paul did not have an advanced degree in aberrant human behavior. He was not writing to clinical scholars on theoretical topics for a peer-reviewed journal. Paul was writing to common parents who lacked university educations and who had ordinary children.
What was Paul saying to these ordinary parents? “Stop intentionally trying to push your child into a rage.” As children it was fun to push the right buttons and watch other family members lose self-control; it made us feel like the big man on campus. As parents it is a ready means of asserting power and control to purposely provoke rage in a child. Similarly, when a child (usually a teenager) deliberately provokes an angry fight with a parent, it too is a means of attempting to usurp control of the moment.
During a conflict it is a truism that the first person to "lose control of their temper" and become enraged also loses the battle between the wills; the one who remains calm the longest wins on a certain base level, having urged the other into ceding control of themselves and the power struggle. It is a false victory of course, because the other person is harmed and not edified and reconciliation is pushed even farther away. One can win the fight and lose the relationship.
Pride Wages Warfare, Love Nurtures
Why would Paul need to remind us of something so insipidly obvious such as to not intentionally pick an angry fight with our own children? We initiate such emotional battles on purpose because it is easier than facing the real problem in quiet honesty. It requires much less thought; we all know what the hot buttons are that cause instant anger within our own family as opposed to giving life-changing counsel and advice which requires hard work, careful thought, humility, and courage.
During a fight the battle lines are readily apparent, us versus them. The goal is to win at any cost and who cares about the long term consequences. But nurturing someone with biblical discipline puts both of you on the same side, and that requires a civil courtesy (a skill not always practiced or learned). More than that, nurturing in the instruction of the Lord requires that the goal be love; to achieve the best outcome for the other person no matter what it might cost me personally. The only “win” in a parent providing nurturing discipline is the change of the child toward godliness and maturity, even though the risk to the parent is rejection and humiliation.
It is human nature to purposely begin angry fights so as to get one’s own way and to avoid being hurt on a personal level. It is only the reborn nature that seeks to nurture children in the Scriptures to grow them in the Lord for their own good even though it involves pain, anguish, and embarrassment for the parent. That is agape love.
“Don’t intentionally pick angry fights with your children, instead, instruct them in godly living by teaching them what the Scriptures say about good behavior” (paraphrase Ephesians 6:4).
Wednesday, June 09, 2010
Do Not Be Overly Holy -- Did God Say That?
Total Holiness Is Taught Everywhere in Scripture
Holiness is the word that means that a person or thing has been reserved for use by God alone and that one is not to be tainted by committing any sins. Holiness was Adam’s goal, Moses’ goal, Jesus’ goal, and Paul’s goal. Only Jesus fully realized this objective of being utterly holy. To this day God calls every one of His people to also be totally holy.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (1 Peter 1:14-16)
Balance Seems to be Better than Total Holiness
How then can it be possible that the Bible would tell people to not be “overly” holy? And why does it also say that some wickedness is needed to balance holiness, and that this balance is a good thing?
Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18)
“It is good to grasp both holiness and wickedness without letting go of either one” (paraphrase). In fact, it seems that being excessively righteous can cause “ruin” to oneself. I also wonder what being “excessively righteous” even means? How can one be too sinless when no one has ever been sinless except Christ? Was Jesus too sinless or excessively holy?
Reading Ecclesiastes the Way It Was Written
Most everyone already knows that Ecclesiastes is Hebrew poetry. Solomon, the apparent author, also wrote many proverbs, sayings, and songs. As a poet practicing his craft, he wrote not as a textbook author, narrator, reporter, scientist, or lawyer establishing lists of facts. Rather he wrote about philosophy and human emotions by heavily utilizing abstract and symbolic language (similes, illustrations, metaphors), exaggeration, irony, and sarcasm.
It is not necessary to “explain away” statements in Ecclesiastes that seem to contradict New Testament instructions on life, behavior, and holiness. Solomon never intended to contradict other Scriptures. He had other purposes in mind entirely.
Ecclesiastes is a poem that mocks manmade philosophies of life and homespun attitudes. As both a poet and a prophet it was Solomon’s intent to expose the meaninglessness of human systems of thought and the bankrupt nature of godless value systems. He did this by heavily employing sarcasm and mockery in his poem of Ecclesiastes.
Under the Sun
Most of the poem is written from the perspective of the ordinary man-on-the-street. That viewpoint is human-centric. It usually acknowledges God but does not advocate total submission to Him. Human philosophy, as mocked by Ecclesiastes, also gives lip service to Scripture but generally contradicts it since man views Scripture as irrelevant to real life or is in opposition to his desire to seek happiness and pleasure for himself.
This man-centered way of thinking that virtually saturates the poem is called viewing life from “under the sun.” Depraved man can generally see no higher or farther than the sun. He does not often see God at work above and through his circumstances. Rarely does man seek the eternal meaning in anything while he lives “under the sun.” Life consists of nothing more than what man can see and experience.
In a very few instances Solomon gives us a look at human life as God sees it. This is God’s view from His throne as He watches mankind’s activities “under heaven.” God imbues meaning into everything. God brings life and goodness to the earth. God reconciles humanity with Himself, holiness, and the Scriptures.
Men are not utter morons. There is some element of truth in most everything man can think up and every philosophy he can invent on his own. At times people are mindful that there is a God watching so some of what is said “under the sun” from humanity’s perspective is partially valid, though often the bottom line conclusion is corrupt.
At times what God sees as eternally worthwhile will look much like what man sees “under the sun.” This is where most confusion occurs in reading Ecclesiastes. It is tempting for the casual reader to say, “That sounds right so it must be biblical truth” even though what is written is really exposing man’s improper value system.
It is best to read all passages of Ecclesiastes as if they were “under the sun” expositions that mock manmade philosophies. Only when a passage is married to the phrase “under heaven” should it be assumed that this is genuinely biblical truth as God would embrace it. Many human proverbs sound wise but are really corrupt morally, ignore the sovereignty of God over humanity and the world, or are blind to man’s responsibility in the matter.
Finally, it must be remembered that Solomon’s goal is to show the outcome of the human philosophies that he had personally experienced and implemented. His conclusion demonstrates that he found them all to be meaningless, and so he wrote the poem to expose them to the light and to mock them to derision. In so doing he does add his own thoughts and opinions as aside comments within the poem as well as to the poem’s conclusion. These aside comments are generally easy to see if one looks for them.
Exposition of the Target Passage -- Chapter 7:13-18
Day of Adversity
Chapter 7 of Ecclesiastes is prefaced by the last verse in chapter 6, “For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 6:12). In other words, Solomon is reminding the readers of his poem that his present speech is to be viewed as if an ordinary sinner were talking from the futility that ignores an eternal perspective.
Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider-- God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him. (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)
At first glance this statement of philosophy sounds good, proper, and correct. It seems to acknowledge the sovereignty of God and appears to counsel contentment. Yet, as a comment from a man “under the sun” it betrays itself as a shortsighted philosophy.
Stated another way the manmade philosophy argues, “Don’t worry, be happy because there is nothing you can do anyway.” It is fatalism, “God did it so I cannot change it.” Yet, in Scripture God warns that He only sends distress to call us to repentance, to call us to humble prayer, and to conform us to the image of His Son. Trials, as depicted elsewhere in Scripture, are not to be seen fatalistically but as God’s active intervention in our lives to call us to holiness! God’s view of adversity is not fatalism at all.
Some four times in the poem Solomon writes a phrase similar to, “so that man will not discover anything that will be after.” That is a phrase that means, “so that man cannot guess what is about to come next” or, “so that man cannot see his own future.” Because of its repeated use by Solomon and the fact that it does not easily “fit” into any “under the sun” philosophy, I believe this phrase to be an “aside” comment by Solomon which he means to be understood as a God-given truth. Whether it is meant as an aside comment or not, it is true since it was the very lesson that God taught Job from the whirlwind.
Do Not be Excessively Holy
Solomon reminds us he is still talking from “under the sun” in manmade philosophical terms by calling his own life a “lifetime of futility.” He is not endorsing such thoughts as he is about to give, but is exposing them as false.
I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:13-18)
There is nothing true in this particular homespun manmade philosophy of life. Yet, it is the philosophy that almost every postmodern human today espouses, including Christians. Balance. Balance in everything. Everything and anything done in moderation is good. Therefore, the one who lives a balanced life of moderation is the happiest and can attain his pleasures and accomplish his responsibilities as well. A little vice balanced by a little holiness will keep a man happy, steady, and respectable to his community and to God.
Foolishness. What does God’s Word say of balancing holiness with a little sin in one’s life?
This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. (Galatians 5:8-10)
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7)
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. (James 2:10)
Solomon is here exposing this corrupt philosophy of balance to public scrutiny and holding it up to mockery. In another “aside” comment, Solomon accuses this philosophy of being flawed and evil.
"Behold, I have discovered this," says the Preacher, ,,, “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many [harmful inventive thoughts]." (Ecclesiastes 7:27a, 29)
“Harmful inventive thoughts” is the very device known as a human philosophy. God created Adam and Eve as sinless perfect people, but they sought out to invent harmful philosophies (to know good and evil) on their own.
The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)
There is no need to accommodate a corrupt philosophy of balance which derides the pursuit of perfect holiness. Solomon was not teaching such a manmade value system in his poem called Ecclesiastes. Rather, Solomon exposed that philosophy for what it was and dismissed it as harmful and sinful.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." (1 Peter 1:14-16)
My wife reminded me that she had heard someone say that the answer to this passage is to assume that Solomon meant everything he said just as he said it except that you must swap out the prhase "excessivley righteous and overly wise" for the phrase "self-righteous." Presumably self-righteous means that one has invented one's own laws of righteousness that are more strict than God's.
Swapping the two phrases does not really solve the riddle of the passage. The other phrases Solomon used clearly and plainly advocate avoiding being "excessively wicked" and "overly foolish" leaving no doubt that the individual should grasp and hold onto a moderation of wickedness. Presumably a moderation of wickedness (a little wickedenss) will not result in early death. So then we would have Solomon advocating the following, "Do not be self-righteous so as to not ruin yourself, and be wicked only in moderation so that you do not die early--it is good to hold onto both practices."
Is it really good to hold onto the practice of being moderately wicked? How can that be called good? As we saw earlier it is not possible to advocate being a little wicked or a little unholy or a little unrighteous.
So the riddle remains, even if we substitute the phrase "self-righteous" for "excessivley righteous," because you still have Solomon appearing to advise us to be moderately wicked but not self-righteous. The valid answer is to read Solomon as he intended, that all philosophies of man that man invents "under the sun" are flawed and meaningless and futile in their speculations. A philosophy of balance that practices wickedness in moderation is a futile philosophy and unworthy of being believed or followed.
Finally, remember that Solomon concludes "chapter 7" with this thought, "'Behold, I have discovered this,' says the Preacher, ,,, 'Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many [harmful inventive thoughts].'" (Ecclesiastes 7:27a, 29). That conclusion becomes incomprehensible if the philosophy of balance was supposed to be seen as good instead of being exposed by Solomon as a harmful manmade philosophical device. Somonon's own conclusion and condemnation of this section tell us that he intended us to see "balance" as a mistaken concept.
A friend asked what motivated me to study and write on this subject out of Ecclesiastes 7. A comment was once made about the passage in which "excessively righteous" was possibly explained away but nothing was said of how to interpret "excessively wicked" (a similar problem exists with Zuck and Walvoord's analysis of the passage). It left me confused as to how to fully interpret the actual passage as a whole. Though I am uncertain how it becomes proper to replace the words "excessively righteous" with "self-righteous" from a linguistic perspective, I did notice that doing so did not satisfy the remainder of the interpretation of the passage.
Simply stating that God does want us to sin does not actually exegete or explain Solomon's words to not be excessively wicked. I needed to understand how one gets from "do not be excessively wicked" to "do not be wicked at all." In truth it is not possible to do so with this passage. The passage is either an endorsement of "balance" (some holiness v. some wickedness) or it is a mocking renouncement of the entire philosophy of balance.
Solomon concludes the running thought of Chapter 7 by stating that all such "devices" (a Hebrew word that means "inventive thoughts" or "philosophies") are not upright is what invalidates the entire notions of both balance and fatalism (fatalism being the philosophy Solomon mocks just before he mocks balance). I simply did not find blindly replacing "excessively righteous" with "self-righteous" helpful in explaining how Solomon could write, "do not be excessively wicked" but actually mean "do not be wicked at all." Now I recognize that this is not what he was doing. He was derisively discrediting the Nicolaitan-ish philosophy of mixing holiness with some fleshly wickedness and calling it a "balance." It is not a balance; it is a doctrine that God hates for it does not result in pure and upright behavior.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Hating Nicolaitan Doctrine and Deeds
In Revelation 2:6 and 15 our Lord states that He hates the deeds and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. What deeds? What doctrines? What’s a Nicolaitan?
Searching dozens of theological journals and commentaries turned up a consensus view. Nicolaitans believed that the pursuit of any and all earthly pleasures was morally acceptable because their spirits had been redeemed and sanctified. They saw the flesh, and the deeds of the flesh, as irrelevant so long as their spirits were converted to God.
This led the Nicolaitans to bring a form of “sanctified hedonism” into the early church. That doctrine embraced many forms of licentious behaviors (participating in the feasts of idolatry, paying for the service of temple prostitutes, avarice) which were antithetical to both genuine Christianity and Judaism.
Jesus literally told the churches at both Ephesus and Pergamum that the doctrine and behaviors of the Nicolaitans are abhorrent and must be actively fought against by the church. He told the doctrinally strong Ephesians that they did well in their rejection of the Nicolaitan philosophy. Sadly, He told stumbling Pergamum that they had fallen for that philosophy hook-line-and-sinker and He demanded they repent immediately. Yes, He demanded this.
Would Jesus say the same to the contemporary church? Has our spiritual community decided that a mix of illicit pleasure in life is acceptable since our spirits have been redeemed? On balance, a little sin will not hurt, will it? Indeed! What the spirit desires and what the flesh does are both important to God and central to holiness.
I remember the story of Joseph who had to choose between rotting in prison or engaging in sinful sex with his master’s wife. There are few Christians I know about personally who have literally had to risk their own skin or their own livelihoods in their effort to resist sin. Rejecting the sanctified hedonism of the Nicolaitans will cost the Christian dearly; he will certainly lose out on corporeal pleasures and will risk losing prestige and friends in the church as he takes a stand against sin. May the church discover more Josephs in the pews.
You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin (Hebrews 12:4)
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Part 9: Misinterpreted “Prophetic” Words and Inerrancy
Non-prophets are Not Prophets
Feelings and gut intuition simply do not turn every non-prophet into a gifted prophet. Every Christian receives at least one spiritual gift upon salvation / regeneration, but rarely is that the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 12:29). Also uncommon is that the new convert receives the gift of teaching the Word because the weight of God’s judgment against spreading unsound doctrine is substantial (James 3:1). Any Christian who opens their mouth to tell others “what God has said” or to explain “what God meant when He said” must be accurate, not merely confident (1 Timothy 1:6-7). Jesus trained the Twelve for three years before they began teaching doctrine. Similarly, Jesus trained Paul via revelations for three years in Damascus before he began traveling, teaching, and writing.
Factual Errors are Never God’s Words
Anything that is factually or doctrinally in error is not “the Word of God” or “a word from God.” Any alleged prophecy that is factually or doctrinally in error is not a revelation from God (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). That truth is given verbal assent by the vast majority of Christians but is less often believed. Nevertheless it is a crucial biblical truth for it is what differentiates God from creature and truth from lie.
Since God is truth every word that actually comes from Him must also be truth. How can it ever be known whether any word that is said to have come from God is factually or doctrinally in error or not? God has said that every word of prophecy is to be tested. Tested how?
The first test is one of factual accuracy.
Every word spoken by a prophet “in the name of the Lord” must be correct. If it is a retelling of history then the facts of the past must be accurately retold. If the prophecy is one telling of future events (near or far), then those foretold events must happen just as predicted.
"When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:22)
The second test is one of miracles.
Prophets may sometimes perform signs and wonders (miracles) to validate that they speak for God. However, this is not the best test since Satan can produce all signs and wonders as well.
that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, (2 Thessalonians 2:9)
The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles. (2 Corinthians 12:12)
Third and safest of the tests is that of checking for doctrinal purity.
Every prophecy must be consistent with the rest of Scripture, never teaching against the gospel of Christ, and must be sound orthodox doctrine. Any unsound doctrine spoken “in the name of the Lord” is a false prophecy and the “prophet” who spoke those words must be forever discarded as a false prophet. These false prophets may even perform genuine miracles (signs and wonders) as church leaders but will be betrayed by their faulty doctrine.
Miraculous experiences never validate unsound doctrine; never. Unsound doctrine always invalidates miraculous events. Unsound doctrine, like the signs and wonders that accompany them, are meant to mislead the children of God.
Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. "Behold, I have told you in advance. (Matthew 24:23-25)
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5)
Test the Spirits
Regarding the third test, the test of sound doctrine, it is often misunderstood that this is what John meant when he said to “test the spirits.” John literally stated that to “test the spirits” was to test the words of the prophet to see if they were “truth” or “error” (1 John 4:6). In other words, to test the spirit of the prophet is to test the doctrines that the prophet is teaching to see if the doctrine is biblically true or biblically false.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:1-6)
Every word of prophecy is to be tested, so too, then, must every feeling, intuitive thought, or dream be tested that is assumed to be a “word from God.” Anything that one is tempted to say is “an instruction from Jesus” must be scrutinized for any hint of unsound theology or slightest conflict with the Bible. Those sensed directives that have any fault are not from God as they originated from Satan or from the person’s own imaginative mind.
Improper interpretations of genuine prophecies have misled people for centuries. Patently false prophecies, ambiguous sensed intuition, and faked “words from God” even more so.
Genuine Words of Christ Misunderstood
When Jesus prophesied that He would die and then resurrect three days later, the Jews misunderstood this prophecy (John 2:18-22). In fact, they so badly misinterpreted what Jesus foretold that they used their incorrect understanding as evidence against Him during His trial (Mark 14:58). That is a terrible misuse of genuine prophetic utterance.
Worse, during His public ministry Jesus claimed to have been the manna that fed the multitudes. That illustration was combined with His assertion that to be saved one must eat His flesh and drink His blood, compounding the consternation of the listeners (John 6:39-66). Misunderstanding all these verbal assertions from the mouth of Jesus many of His disciples withdrew from Him and followed Him no more.
It is with sober concentration that we observe that even authentic words from Jesus spoken out loud and witnessed by many people have been misapprehended and have led to terrible consequences. One consequence is that people have left the faith (for a tragic contemporary example of this from my own immediate family read the Anecdotes section of Part 11 when it is posted).
Counterfeit Words of Christ Mislead
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 counterfeit prophets delivered fake words of the Lord in which they falsely claimed that the apostle Paul had declared that the second coming of Christ had already occurred. This false prophecy has even been repeated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in our own age. Such forged prophecies mislead people into unbelief or into following the selfish leadership of deceitful imposter-prophets.
Interpretation of Real Words is Hard Enough
It is hard enough to take the written or spoken word that is presumably from God and try to accurately and correctly understand it. The goal of interpretation is to attempt to understand what God intended the original audience grasp. It becomes even more critical to properly and fully interpret false prophecies so as to demonstrate they are false.
How much more difficult is it to try to interpret unspoken feelings and intuitions? Making the problem all but impossible is that the one sensing these messages of emotions is the only one who converts the feelings into actual language. Is the emotion accurately felt? Are the goose-bumps a message or a natural reaction to environmental circumstances? Is the message from God or from one’s own unending thoughts? Is the sensation related to the present problem or to the one being experienced five minutes ago? Is the person who is having these feelings sufficiently trained in language skills that they can generate God’s error-free words from out of mere sensations and emotional impressions?
It is all but impossible to accept that God would deliberately choose to convey His all-important instructions and directives via error-prone ambiguous emotional sensations instead of verbal revelation. God knows His words must be sent error-free, received without defect, and passed along with absolute perfection of meaning down to the last word or, by God’s own definitions and tests, it is a false prophecy.
Nowhere in Scripture am I aware of any word from God that was delivered via sensed emotion, felt impression, or feelings alone. God delivers His words, His instructions, His Scriptures, and His plans through revelations in which He both speaks to the prophet verbally and / or shows the prophet the future in vivid visions (“seeings”). It is this unmistakable mode of communication that allows God’s words to be given to man absolutely without error.
Sensations and Feelings are Not Messages from God
With spoken language, such as when Jesus said to drink His blood, what we “hear” is often not what is “said” (meant). Since private “words from God,” that are comprised not of revelations or words but of feelings alone, have little or no biblical or external context and virtually no mechanism for replaying the content of the original message there is no ability for anyone else to carefully study what was actually “heard.” The recipient is free to conflate imagination, wishful thinking, dark desires, fears, and imperfect Bible knowledge. The “hearer of unspoken voices” may then utter statements that sound prophetic even though they are merely lending their own voice to a hodgepodge of personal assumptions and random thoughts. Such “words from God” are untestable by third parties and are entirely dependent on the character, knowledge, and motives of the individual for their meaning since the individual has become “sensor,” “interpreter of sensations,” “linguist transformer,” and “sayer.”
In fact, most frequently there are not actual words to test. Most often the “sensed thought” or “gut feeling” is received not as a fully formed text but as an emotion. It requires the recipient to invent the text that explains the sensation. In so doing, the recipient of the emotion becomes the co-author and co-creator of the message. Therefore, unlike a revelation where God delivers the meaning of His commands in such a way that not even one word is erroneously passed along (Deuteronomy 18:20) or invented by the prophet (Deuteronomy 13:1-11), an intuitive inner feeling is the product of the mind of the sensing individual and is thus subject to extraordinary quantities of mistakes and errors.
God guarantees only the accuracy of prophecies, not the accuracy of sensations and feelings. Worse, God does not assure that the reasons for such sensations and feelings will be correctly interpreted or understood by the recipient. And every human, saved or not, is the owner and generator of sensations and emotions. Therefore, how much less certainty is there about the inerrancy of the subsequent uninspired verbal explanations offered by anyone who experiences such a feeling or sensation?
‘[they have] spoken words in My name falsely, which I did not command them; and I am He who knows and am a witness," declares the LORD.' (Jeremiah 29:23b)
For the [interpreters of divine words] speak iniquity, and the diviners see lying visions and tell false dreams; they comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep, They are afflicted, because there is no shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2)
Part 9: Summary Statement
God's words are never in error. They contain no factual mistakes. Every “word from God” is testable with the strongest and surest test being doctrinal purity. His words are only delivered through special revelation to a prophet. Anything that is often or commonly mistaken, such as the conscience, emotions, and feelings are not God’s voice and are not His words because His words are inerrant, always. God cannot lie or make a mistake and neither can His genuine expression of will via the spoken and written language.
The next part in the series will be dedicated to exploring whether or not the conscience is God’s actual voice.
The next article in this series is Part 10: The Conscience--Is it God’s Voice?, found here: Part 10: The Conscience--Is it God’s Voice?
Below is Booth’s response to an unquoted comment which was made on the blog which originally hosted this article:
Scriptures state that not all are given the gift of prophecy. That passage does not demand that God always gives out prophecy to every local body in every age of the church on earth. That passage only states that not everyone will hear the voice of God as a prophet. It is a restrictive passage, not an inclusive one.
For example, not all are apostles, are they? Paul claimed he was the last person to become a genuine apostle, so we know that he was using the question (not all are apostles, are they?) as a way of pointing out how few have ever been apostles and that it is not some defect that prevents everyone from becoming one. God simply set a very short time limit on dispensing that particular gift. Therefore, if so few have ever been apostles, and never will be again, is it not practical to assume that prophecy is nearly as rare?
To date, I have never met a Christian I would classify as a genuine prophet where all their prophecies have come true and all their doctrine has been accurate. I have met very many false apostles and false prophets who each got so many things wrong. I do know that some day in the future at least 2 prophets will return to earth to proclaim the end of the Great Tribulation. :)
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Part 10: The Conscience--Is it God’s Voice?
The Conscience Defined
God words are never in error. They contain no factual mistakes. Every “word from God” is testable with the strongest and surest test being doctrinal purity. His words are only delivered through special revelation to a prophet. Anything that is often or commonly mistaken, such as a conscience, emotions, and feelings are not God’s voice and are not His words because His words are inerrant, always. God cannot lie or make a mistake and neither can His genuine expression of will via the spoken and written language.Many Christians have asserted that the conscience is literally the inaudible voice of God speaking to the believer. This too is a misuse of the Bible and an improper teaching. First, it is true that God created mankind with a conscience, an ability to generally comprehend right from wrong. But that ability is like an un-initialized computer hard drive filled with random junk data; it requires intentional education and instruction before it is useful and can contain any valid information. Young children, though born with a conscience, do not have the knowledge trained into them by which to use this ability to make decisions for good and against evil (Deuteronomy 1:39, Isaiah 7:16, Romans 9:11). A conscience is something that must be purposely trained to become good or moral (Proverbs 22:6).
The Error-Prone Conscience
Since consciences are innate human abilities that are trained and programmed by education and via child-rearing, they are open to mistakes and errors. Paul told the Jewish trial council that he had lived his entire life with a “perfectly good conscience” (Acts 23:1). I believe Paul told the truth. Paul lived his life not violating his conscience. Even when he persecuted the church, killed the saints, and threw men and women believers in jail merely because they followed Christ, Paul was true to his conscience.
His conscience had been mis-trained at that time. His mind and heart thought Christians were anti-God and so he tried to exterminate them. Paul’s conscience was not defective, rather it was improperly informed. Both Paul and his conscience had made an error, because Christians were God’s people.
In Romans 2:15 Paul warns that having a conscience is insufficient for salvation and that it is only an imperfect substitute for knowing the gospel because a conscience only makes a man “a law unto himself.” Such a conscience allows a man to judge his own deeds, but these judgments, while somewhat useful, are inadequate for they are lacking the knowledge and training of the full gospel.
Perhaps the greatest understanding of the error-prone nature of the conscience comes from 1 Corinthians 8. Paul states rather plainly that a conscience is trained during a person’s lifetime. It can be trained to make a person accustomed to wrong and false ideas and so as a result become over sensitized and unduly reactionary when a person becomes saved (verse 7). In short, consciences can be both weak and defiled. Paul was attempting to re-educate the weak and improperly trained consciences of the Corinthians in chapters 8 through 10.
Since a conscience is an ability that is trained into a person and not a revelatory voice from God it is often mistaken and erroneous. Had it been an actual unspoken voice from God it would always be perfect in apprehension. However, like Paul’s own conscience, everyman’s conscience must constantly be re-educated and improved because throughout life it has learned bad information, faulty logic, and has succumbed to human failings. A conscience is a useful ability, and God does use it to help mature the Christian, but just like memory, perception, and human logic, the conscience can, does, and often is flawed requiring correction and repair. The conscience, because it is flawed and imperfect, proves that it is not the voice of God.
Sensed Feelings: Tools of God Not Words from God
Like the conscience our emotions are useful tools that God built into every person. They can be used for good or evil, and they can be utterly misunderstood by the one who experiences them.
Emotions raise our awareness to impending harm and give us the energy to face trials. Feelings cause us to search ourselves and to rekindle old lessons and recover valuable memories. They cause us to question assumptions and to contemplate how to help others. All good things, like emotions and feelings, are God-given gifts.
Simply because emotions and feelings are God-given gifts does not morph them into words from God. Though I may feel sadness for the extreme poverty of the children in India while simultaneously experiencing terror and sympathy for the persecuted ex-Muslim Christian convert in Afghanistan and anger over the racial strife in South Africa, does not mean I have received three inaudible commands from the Lord to become a missionary to India, Afghanistan, and South Africa. Feelings and emotions are not commands from God, though they are useful tools to help prompt action at the proper times.
Revelations of commandments from God are special visions and audible conversations with the living God. They are not ambiguous. They are words and language with can be repeated without mistake, omission, or error. Prophecies are orders from God that can be directed toward others and the others must obey. They are God’s perfect communication of His will that explicitly tell humans what to do, where to go, and what to believe. They are not emotions and feelings, though they may incite such physiological responses.
God’s actual words are words. God’s genuine voice is an audible voice.
Part 10: Summary Statement
Any “message” that is prone to mistakes due to immaturity or lack of training is not God’s inerrant voice. God only speaks truth and always speaks without fault of any variety. Therefore, since the conscience, even when trained, can mislead and since emotions are by nature ambiguous these cannot of themselves be the voice of God. They are tools that remind us to turn back to the Word of God, but that does not make them the voice of God.
The next article in the series is Part 11: God Asks, “What ‘Word from the Lord’ Did You Get?” found here: God Asks, “What ‘Word from the Lord’ Did You Get?”
A friend and student of mine told me that she totally disagrees that a New Testament prophet is the same gift and definition as an Old Testament prophet. I asked what the difference might be, in her mind. She responded that in her way of thinking she sees every person as being a prophet, constantly receiving God’s messages, however, New Testament prophetic messages are not like Old Testament prophecies because they are no longer error-free, are often ambiguous, and are hard to interpret out of the jumble of emotions and indistinct mental images.
Being a Bible teacher herself, I asked her which New Testament prophets received erroneous messages from God. She replied she was unaware that the New Testament mentioned any actual prophets. I reminded her of Anna, Simeon, Agabus, Paul, Mary (Jesus’ mother), Elizabeth, and the Twelve Apostles. If her redefinition of a prophet from inerrant mouthpiece of God (as in the Old Testament) to error-prone recipient of murky messages (as she thinks is found in the New Testament) is correct then all these New Testament prophets must be brimming over with examples of blatant errors and problematic messages. She said she would go study the matter to find these error-prone prophecies.
Of course, the fact is that the New Testament is itself the story and chronicles of the words and deeds of these early church prophets. If the New Testament prophets spoke imprecisely then not only will those blunders be recorded in the New Testament but the doctrines based on those messages will themselves be unsound. Not surprisingly, New Testament Scripture has no errors and advocates no unsound doctrine. Therefore, my student will search in vain for evidence that all these New Testament prophets delivered faulty prophecies, corrupt messages, and mistaken commandments from Jesus.
If one is to use the Bible to define the biblical gift of prophecy, then one will find that a prophet always speaks as God’s mouthpiece, and God never lies or errs. If one dislikes the Bible and its definitions, then I suggest one of two courses of actions: repent and acquiesce to God and His Word, or, withdraw from the Christian faith and begin your own religion where everyone gets to be a prophet of the inner god called emotions.
If you have interest, a more thorough investigation into prophets and whether they can ever be mistaken is presented here: http://thefaithfulword.org/apostlepagefour.html
This next question also came up, “But since the conscience convicts us of our sin how can that NOT be God’s voice?”
The conscience can call us to repent for things that are not sins at all (Paul calls that a weak conscience). Weak consciences are “wrong” and so prove not to be the voice of God because God never misleads.
The conscience can be seared by an overload of sin and become worthless (Paul calls that a “seared conscience" in 1 Timothy 4:2--big surprise!). Like a burned out light bulb, such a conscience ceases to function. Seared consciences can be identified when things that are obviously immoral to most Christians are scoffed at and even flaunted by the one who has become burned out on sin. In our society this often takes the form of seductive images, sultry videos, and foul language. Those whose consciences are indeed seared will not only laugh at those who dislike such images and language and endorse such things, but they will delight in watching others become ensnared by the very images and language they now find so amusing.
A properly trained and functioning conscience does alert us to sins and immoral behaviors. But that is the mechanism that God built into every human brain. It is not a supernatural prophecy coming mystically from God to man at that moment, it is the natural mental response that comes with the combination of biblical training and a spirit that has been made to be born again by the Holy Spirit.
Of course, even unsaved persons (those not yet born again) have functioning consciences, but often their consciences and their minds reject the biblical training required to make the conscience work at high efficiency.
Since one does not have to be born again to have one, the presence of a conscience does not equate to being the presence of God’s own voice, as though the conscience were a form of mystical prophecy. It is always necessary to train every conscience by quoting to it the written Word of God, that is, the Bible.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Part 11: God Asks, “What ‘Word from the Lord’ Did You Get?”
God Wrote About the People Who “Hear Answers from God”
God is not silent on this presumption that every man can claim to hear an utterance from Him. In the Scriptures there is a surprisingly explicit rejection of this notion that just any believer can receive an utterance from God.
For the sake of clarity it is necessary to point out that the word utterance, when obviously used of God’s utterances, is often translated as oracle in English Bibles. The translators meant to make it easy to differentiate between an ordinary human utterance and an utterance from God (a.k.a. an oracle). The word “oracle” is really just the word utterance in English, nonetheless when oracle appears in a Bible it probably just connotes an “utterance from God.” I would have preferred if the translators had simply remained consistent by using the word utterance regardless of whether God or man was speaking.
Read all of the following passage carefully. Watch for when people say, “The Lord declares” or “Here is an utterance from God.” There is also a segment where every person asks his neighbor, “What utterance from God did you get today?” or “What oracle did you receive?” Observe God’s reaction to all this.
[This passage begins with God speaking on His own behalf.]
“I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, 'I had a dream, I had a dream!' How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal?”
“The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the LORD.
"Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock? Therefore behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who steal My words from each other. Behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'The Lord declares.' Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams," declares the LORD, "and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit," declares the LORD.
"Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, 'What is the utterance of the LORD?' then you shall say to them, 'What utterance?' The LORD declares, 'I will abandon you.' Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, 'The utterance of the LORD,' I will bring punishment upon that man and his household.”
“Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or, 'What has the LORD spoken?' For you will no longer remember the [genuine] utterance of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the utterance of the Lord, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God. Thus you will say to that prophet, 'What has the LORD answered you?' and, 'What has the LORD spoken?' For if you say, 'The utterance of the LORD!' surely thus says the LORD, 'Because you said this word, ‘The utterance of the LORD!’ I have also sent to you, saying, ‘You shall not say, 'The utterance of the LORD?’’ “
“Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city [Jerusalem] which I gave you and your fathers. I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten." (Jeremiah 23:25-40)
Explaining the Text
Could there ever be any more virulent renunciation by God of “sensed feelings,” dreams, and “gut intuition” as being false “words from God” than is found in Jeremiah 23? God plainly says that “every man’s own word” will be improperly elevated as if it were a prophecy, an oracle, or an “utterance from God” and thus by such claims all the people will “pervert the words of the living God.”
Even more poignantly, the people go around asking each other, “What has God answered to you?” and “What has God spoken to you?” (Jeremiah 23:35). And everyone, yes everyone, has some “word from God” in response! But none of these are genuine. God sarcastically exclaims, “What utterance (oracle) from God? [I am God and I did not give an utterance!]” God did not give utterances (oracles) to the non-prophet, and as a result of this widespread practice of each man thinking he is getting the utterance (oracle) of the Lord, God states, “I will abandon you…I will bring punishment upon that man and his household.”
Did These People Truthfully Feel They Received a Word from God?
Some modern day mystics will doubtless argue that the people of Jeremiah 23 were knowingly relating falsehoods, for they knew they had not received a “word from God” yet pretended that they had. Therefore, the contemporary mystic will argue that this passage is not about people who truthfully “feel” in their hearts that they have received a word from God via their emotions. Yet, God does not allow that excuse. He states that these are people who subjected themselves to the “deception of their own heart” (Jeremiah 23:26). In other words, they believed their own lies! They genuinely imagined that their own emotions were inaudible oracles or utterances from God.
Every One of You, His Neighbor, and His Brother Are Guilty of This
Finally, to write off this passage as being inapplicable because it is only talking about a few “false prophets” and not the entire brotherhood of ordinary believers is to grossly overlook what the text actually and literally states.
Who is God talking about, a handful of false prophets or every common person in the nation? “Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, 'What is the utterance of the LORD?’…” The phrase “this people” includes everyone in the nation. This is also true of the reference to “you,” the reader of the book of Jeremiah.
“Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or, 'What has the LORD spoken?'”(Jeremiah 23:35).
“Each of you, his neighbor, and his brother” have begun to engage in “hearing a word from God.” Such a practice is condemned by God as “perverting the words of the living God.”
We See, Read, Hear, and Imagine What We Most Want to Experience
You might wonder how it is that any person could have read this passage and initially missed seeing that it addressed the problem of “each of you” wrongly seeking to find out “what God has spoken to you.” The answer is that people readily allow their hearts to deceive them. All of us want to feel special. We crave a relationship with that living God. So just as we deceive ourselves into thinking our feelings are an unspoken voice from God, so we deceive ourselves in what we read, actually blinding ourselves to what the printed Scriptures state in preference for our cherished desires and preconceptions.
"The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Our “heart” is the biblical metaphor for all our thoughts, memories, desires, and emotions. Today the more common expression is “heart and mind,” instead of just heart, but both expressions refer to the same thing: all that comprises the inner being.
Our inner man, our minds and hearts, are desperately sick, wicked, and deceitful. Though we have been regenerated that old man remains still, ever challenging us.
When our inner emotions and feelings claim to be “a word from God,” it is our old man’s heart deceiving us. Who can understand such a heart? It must be tested against the written and revealed Word of God. Perhaps our inner man is giving us a good impulse, and the Word of God will confirm this, but it is not a word from God. It must be treated as a good idea, not a divine and perfect commandment. Our good ideas and the emotions of our inner man are not divinely inspired error-free revelations and should not be elevated to that high status.
Our Relationship with God
Nonetheless, even without hearing a personal “word from God” via sensed feelings or gut intuition, God has given us a relationship with Him. His Holy Spirit has made our sprit alive and gives us the ability to read the Bible with understanding. It is His Bible that contains His words for us. The word of the cross is actually God’s power for salvation (1 Corinthians 1:18, Romans 1:16). And the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us allows us to understand what is written in the Word for all adopted sons and daughters.
That is not to discount the need for intensive and purposeful study. For it is true beyond credible reproach that the Holy Spirit provides additional insight as we diligently prove ourselves workmen who study well the written Word of God. Therefore, to gain more personal access to the thoughts and mind of God it is necessary to study the Bible all the harder.
Part 11: Summary Statement
It is forbidden by written revelation within the divine Word of God (Jeremiah 23) to tell others we have received an utterance from God via our sensed feelings and emotions. God only speaks in words and visions to the prophets. He does not speak directly to the rest of us. Our sensed experiences that claim they are the unspoken utterances of God are the deceptions of our old inner man. Knowing the will of God requires diligent study of the Bible, that which is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is error-free.
The next article in this series, Part 12: Common Arguments in Favor of Hearing an Unspoken Voice of God, is found here: Common Arguments in Favor of Hearing an Unspoken Voice of God
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Part 12: Common Arguments in Favor of Hearing an Unspoken Voice of God
My Personal Experience
Such are the comments I have received and taken to heart all my Christian life. Truthfully, many such mystic believers have not been so kind as those quoted above but have been far more caustic and abusive in their criticisms.
In my teen years, shortly after my conversion to Christ, I was voracious in my appetite to read about tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophets, apostles, and the word of knowledge because I had not experienced such phenomena personally. On the day of my salvation my friend had also been reborn at the same meeting, and he came to me excitedly asking, “Did you see Him too?” Confused by the question, for I had not “seen” anything during my prayer of repentance and petition to be saved, I lied and said, “Yes, I saw Him!” Guilt at having lied on the very same night as my regeneration left me shaken, and curiosity left me questioning what I had missed out on.
Though I continually had a love and zeal for Christ and for God’s Word from that moment on, I wondered if God had actually taken me in as an adopted son because He had withheld from me such experiences as “sensing His presence.” Was I actually saved at all? With no literal voice or inaudible sensed voice telling me I was saved, I called upon God for wisdom and dove into the Word of God for assurance. It was there I found the definitive test of faith. Paul states that the test of faith is to believe that Christ has come into you (2 Corinthians 13:5). In other words, the test of faith is to examine yourself for any faith at all. This is consistent with Matthew 17:20 in which Jesus states that any amount of faith at all, no matter how small, is all that is necessary for anything, including salvation. By faith in Christ alone I recognize my regeneration and my secure standing in Christ; not faith and feelings, not faith and tongues, not faith and prophetic utterances, but faith alone.
For many years I have told my students that it is acceptable to our mutual relationship with each other if they should disagree with my conclusions regarding interpretations of the written Word of God. It is not to me that other Christians must give an account for their beliefs and behaviors. Moreover, I am not always correct in what I have studied and am constantly learning. Disagreements about the meaning of passages of Scripture should only rarely necessitate the fracturing of our fellowship and unity.
Anecdotes Illustrating the Failures of Sensed Feelings
From Harmless to Eternally Damning
Over the years incidences of individuals claiming that their feelings, emotions, and gut intuitions were “words from the Lord” have ranged in impact from harmless fantasies, through permanent earthly harm, to eternal jeopardy. Anecdotes do not prove anything, but they do illustrate the type of damage that can result from playing prophet when one is not.
Strong in my memory are the young men and ill-equipped pastors who have played divine match-maker by telling couples that “God has shown me that you are to be married to this person.” How did God show you this? “I sensed it in my spirit.” Such sensations and gut feelings could have been heartburn, but they become interpreted as divine instructions to two virtual strangers who have been made to think it would be sin not to marry each other, and all because someone ate chili for dinner.
Horrible lifelong match-ups of marriage have occurred this way, many ending in life-shattering divorces. Like any major life decision, marriage ought to be made on the basis of personal desire, ministry goals, implications of spiritual giftedness, economic realities, availability of training, character assessments regarding godliness, affections, and wise counsel, but NOT on sensed feelings that masquerade as oracles (prophetic utterances from God).
Worst among the abuses of emotional sensations camouflaged as God’s own revelations is that which is illustrated in what has happened with an immediate family member. Though I have never been a mystic and have actively taught against it, this family member since childhood has been inundated with mysticism since beginning to attend various youth groups at sundry churches. At one conference the family member attended he reported that the featured speaker taught from the book Crazy Love and, perhaps unintentionally, the speaker convinced some youngsters that all Christians who are loved by God will experience tangible infusions of God’s loving Spirit and can feel God’s inseparable presence.
Sadly, my family member felt no such genuine sensations and pleaded with God to reveal Himself in some spiritual, physical, or emotional manifestation. Of course this did not happen, as God does not honor demands for supernatural signs (Matthew 12:39, 16:4, Mark 8:12, Luke 11:29) since such signs would supplant faith. My family member, clinging to his integrity, came to the logical conclusion that a God who does not answer prayers of this essential and foundational nature does not exist. By age sixteen that child announced atheism as his faith. There are eternal consequences to claiming and demanding that everyone can sense and feel God's literal presence or words. It is not harmless emotional pumping up; it is a deadly serious claim of prophetic revelation.
This anecdote illustrates the harmless but futile side of this phenomenon. Both of us being avid fisherman an acquaintance and I were exchanging fish stores at church. He lowered his voice and excitedly told me the story of how God saved his life while he was wading in a local stream. He heard an inaudible voice in his thoughts warn him, “Watch out for that water snake.” He looked into the water, saw the snake, and withdrew his hand from the water letting the snake swim by. He praised God for saving his life through this miracle. What he did not know, and I did not tell him, is that in this part of the country there are no poisonous / venomous water snake species at all. None. The puncture marks by the bites of the snakes that do exist here will be painful for five minutes but they will not cause harm of any kind, if they even bother to bite as they only rarely do.
No Measurable Improvement in the Church for All Its Sensed Messages
Again, anecdotes do not prove anything but they do illustrate a range of abuses. If God really did communicate to all believers the “right” marriage partner via sensed feelings then one would expect that the church would have far better divorce statistics than does the world; the church does not, for the church’s divorce rate is identical to that of the world.
If God tangibly and through our senses revealed Himself to all potential and new converts of Christianity there would never be a reason to hold a discussion about whether God exists, for we would simply point to the passages in the Bible that state that all Christian recruits will hear God’s voice, see God’s image, feel His unmistakable touch, or tangibly sense His ever-present Holy Spirit communicating directly to our minds without words. Instead, for lack of such texts we develop logic proofs for the existence of God by which to encourage the saints in the church and evangelize the unsaved.
Very common is the young adult who returns to Christ after having abandoned the faith during his teen years. If mysticism were valid and real and every Christian youth could hear God’s unspoken voice, sense His presence, and feel the Holy Spirit constantly sending messages into their spirit, it would be impossible to have doubts amidst all that tangible proof and no reason to walk away from the faith.
Even so, the outflow of youth from the ranks of church membership is at an historic and critical high as they view the Christian faith as irrelevant and unreal. How can any faith in a supernatural personal God be viewed as irrelevant or unreal if one has actually seen, heard, or experienced this Divinity communicate to you a real message via tangible sensations? What are these children experiencing during camps and conferences? Is it possible it is ordinary emotional reactions to exciting and dynamic speakers and not a supernatural prophetic encounter with the Almighty God? Are the “proofs” of sensed messages and emotional encounters with God more a product of excitement-induced imagination than they are demonstrable miraculous events? Surely the statistics of great numbers of youth fleeing the church suggest an answer.
[Note: There is nothing wrong with youth camps, conferences, and emotionally scintillating speakers. Youth enjoy rallying together, and no one likes to hear boring sermons. However, it should be explained to the youth that the emotions are their own reactions to the truth of the Word and not a supernatural manifestation of divine presence wafting down from out of heaven announcing the corporeal reality of the spiritual God.
It is necessary to recognize that the point of youth gatherings is the same as for the rest of the church. The purpose is not to inflate emotions beyond the reasoning work of the mind (i.e. imagination), but to train these youngsters in the Word so that they become mature believers who cannot be deceived or shaken in their doctrine or in their faith (Ephesians 4:11-20).
No youth speaker hired to speak at a rally should ever permit himself to encourage confusing a genuine emotional reaction of an exciting worship moment with some mystical feeling of God’s literal presence. Nor should the youth ever be told they have just experienced sensing a word from the Lord merely because they became emotional.
Have they “encountered God”? In a manner of speaking they have. Every exposure to the Bible, the Word of God, is an “encounter with God.” After all, God wrote the Bible, so the Bible represents His thoughts just as if He were doing the talking. Emotions may run high during such a time, but exaggerated emotions are not “sensing God” or “seeing God” or “hearing God’s voice.”]
Common Passages Used to Argue for Mysticism
There is no practical end to the possible legitimate Scripture passages that can be perverted and twisted into prooftexts in support of mysticism. Mysticism is here defined as sensing the inaudible voice of God which is imagined to be giving messages and commandments to all Christians. Therefore, I have chosen just a few of the possible misused verses to review below.
We Know the Voice of Our Shepherd
Times more numerous than I can count I have heard people state that their sensed feelings were the inaudible voice of Jesus because the Bible promises that His sheep will know His voice. By making reference to this passage fragment mystics are arguing that God has given them the ability to differentiate between their own emotions, thoughts, and feelings from those that God prophetically infuses into them via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, this is a terrible misinterpretation of the passage and an abuse of God’s written Word. Jesus was at that time NOT giving a lesson on how to become a prophet. Rather, He was using a metaphor to illustrate to the Pharisees why some in Israel recognized that Jesus was the promised Messiah and were receiving salvation from Him and why the Pharisees, for the most part, were not. He was also predicting that the Gentiles would also come to see Him as Messiah (i.e. the “sheep” from another flock) even as the Jews rejected Him as Messiah.
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16)
The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:24-28)
“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep…I know them…I give eternal life to them.” This is a lesson on salvation and is about how the Old Testament revealed Jesus to be the Messiah. It is not a lesson on Christians receiving new inaudible revelation. The phrase “they hear My voice” is a euphemism for “they have faith in Me as the Messiah.” The Pharisees should have seen Jesus as Messiah based on their vast knowledge of the Hebrew Bible. By saying, “My sheep hear my voice” Jesus was saying, “I am God the Shepherd, Israel is My flock, and My sheep have witnessed My nature in the Word for 1500 years, which is why they recognize Me as the Shepherd right now.”
[Note: It is a travesty of hermeneutics and good Bible interpretation to change the intention of this passage from explaining Jesus as Messiah into some kind of a lesson on receiving unspoken prophecy. It is shameful to try to develop a doctrine of sensed feelings based on a passage fragment about salvation which is comprised largely of a metaphor about sheep. If you are not capable of seeing the shame in doing this, or you see nothing wrong in interpreting this passage as a lesson in receiving prophecy, then your immediate need is to purchase and read a good hermeneutics book like Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard or The Hermeneutical Spiral by Osborne.]
Spiritually Sensitive People Can Sense the Presence of "the Love of God Poured out in Our Hearts"
It appears that the almost universal claim that during an emotional worship service the “spiritually sensitive” can actually sense or detect the presence of God as a tangible wave of love washing over them is presumably rooted in Romans 5:5. Like most other such claims, only a fragment of the passage can be twisted to mean this, and only then if it is removed from its context.
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
If the careful student of the Word evaluates this passage in context he or she will discover that the love being “poured out” is not an ongoing experiential flow of God’s presence but rather is the love which God extended to us at our salvation by His prior His actions on the cross; the love which caused us to receive salvation and place our hope in Him. In other words, if we have been justified it results in glory to God, exulting in tribulations, grows perseverance, growing character, and growing hope of eternal life because we were chosen to receive salvation as a result of God’s love when the Holy Spirit saved us and caused us to be born again.
There is no “worship service” mentioned, no wave of love washing over us, and no discussion of the tangible sensing of the presence of God for the spiritually “sensitive.” All those things must be imagined and read into the passage because they are not there. We develop hope, character, perseverance, exultation, and glory because He first loved us and saved us.
This wonderful passage is awesome to consider. It breaks my heart to contemplate what has been invented by mystics and inserted into its straightforward meaning.
Mystics cite this passage and state that because the Holy Spirit “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” it must mean our spirit is constantly receiving tangible emotional and prophetic evidences and messages of and from God. That is reading far too much into a glorious passage that teaches one primary truth.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:14-17)
God’s Holy Spirit regenerated us, making our dead spirits alive (Ephesians 2:5). And not merely alive, but alive as adopted children of God. He indwells us (James 4:4-5, 2 Timothy 1:13-34, Ephesians 2:22, 3:17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Romans 8:9-11).
Why? For what purpose does the Holy Spirit dwell inside us? Is it to communicate almost imperceptible and altogether inaudible messages, secret missions, and commandments to engage in tasks that have been revealed only to one person? Or, does the Holy Spirit dwell in us to lead us out of sinful conduct by reminding us of what the Scriptures say about holy conduct?
In all the passages just cited above (James 4:4-5, 2 Timothy 1:13-34, Ephesians 2:22, 3:17, 2 Corinthians 6:16, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Romans 8:9-11) the primary purpose stated or indicated by the text is that the Holy Spirit reminds our hearts (our minds) of what the Scriptures say about living holy lives as children of God. There is nothing whatsoever about receiving God’s secret and inaudible mission instructions, rather only that the Spirit leads us out of sinful conduct into holy conduct by reminding us of the Bible.
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: "He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us"? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. (James 4:1-7)
Common Arguments Used in Support of Mysticism
Often the reasons marshaled by mystics to defend the idea that all Christians can, should, or must sense the inaudible voice of God do not come from Scripture but from philosophical argument. These rationales, being based on pure imagination and the creative talent of the mystic, can be virtually limitless in number. Therefore I will address only the two most common ones in my experience.
If We Do Not Sense Answers to Prayer There is No Reason to Pray
Mystics argue that if the Christian cannot sense answers to their prayers directly from God via felt emotions then praying is a worthless and futile activity. One mystic chastised me saying that if I could not sense answers to my prayers through my emotions then my prayers were only going as high as my roof rafters. Hmmmm…prior to that revelation I had no idea that God had taken up residence in my own attic (a subsequent search of my attic revealed only a windshield of a '58 Chevy left behind by the home's previous owner).
Scriptures offer no such rationales for prayer. There are abundant promises that God hears the prayers of the saints who are not hiding un-confessed sins. There are even promises that Jesus will personally act on every prayer from His children. But there are also abundant promises that God will not listen to or act on the prayers of those who are attempting to conceal their sins from Him. Nor does God promise that He will give us anything that will ultimately harm us spiritually (perhaps the cause of most prayers receiving a “No” response).
Of course, there are no passages that dictate in what manner God will give us the answers to our prayers, especially if we are not prophets. Paul, being a prophet received his answers in audible and verbal form after praying three times that some difficulty might be taken away from him (the answer was “No, because a ‘Yes’ would hurt you spiritually” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
Simply because non-prophets will not get a verbal answer to prayer like Paul did does not mean God does not demand our prayers, desire our prayers, or answer our prayers. He does and will, just not with words (or with imagined sensed feelings). As James tells us, often we do not receive what we seek from God because we just simply never asked (James 4:2). It is only the utmost in arrogance to withhold prayer because God will not respond in the format you have decided He must use. We are God’s slaves, slaves of righteousness, not the other way around.
If We Do Not Feel God’s Love We Cannot Love God Back -- or -- I Felt God’s Presence So I Know He Loves Me
Do you remember your first crush? When you entered the room the girl you always desperately hoped you would find was standing on the far side. Your palms got a bit moist as your face flushed. You felt warm, happy, excited, and anxious all at the same time. During the evening every time she turned your direction and flashed a smile you felt waves of happiness sweep over you. Eventually you asked her out and she said, “Sure, call me.” You turned away and each time you thought about calling her later on that night you got that butterfly feeling and another wave of warmth. Your entire body just seemed to ooze a feeling of love from out of it. Then you saw her walk over to another guy and kiss him on the mouth, and the rest of the evening is not worth remembering anymore.
Where did the feeling of love come from? Did the girl send you mystical good vibrations like a microwave generator that resonated in your water molecules and manifest itself as warm feelings of love? Not hardly. Feelings of love do not come from others but from how you think about others. Feelings of love are manufactured from within your mind and heart as you think about someone else.
Just as girls do not send literal waves of love vibrations across a room, neither does God. We feel love toward God because we think about what He has done and Who He is. Those thoughts and emotions of love well up inside us as the Holy Spirit causes us to remember all that the Bible tells us of God. Our love for God oozes out of our mind and heart. It is a combination of familiarity (we know Him via the Word), appreciation (we are adopted sons and daughters), thanksgiving, and affection toward our Father.
It is a mistaken notion that we can tangibly sense the literal presence of God through the love vibrations He is giving off during an emotional worship service. The joy we feel is the outcome of spiritual growth from within; it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit having caused our enlivened spirits to grow toward maturity.
It is of no consequence that we cannot feel emotional-mystical vibrations given off from God. We do not feel such emotional-mystical vibrations from other people yet we love them anyway. We love Him because He first loved us by creating us, electing us, convicting us of sin, regenerating us, and giving us an unbreakable guarantee of redemption. We love Him also just because He is our Father. And I know He loves me because the Bible tells me so, not because of my five senses.
Part 12: Summary Statement
Taking a stand for mysticism on the basis of personal experience is futile at best and dangerous at worst. Many people have been eternally harmed by the claims and demands of Christian mysticism. The notion that God sends out literal vibrations of affection that can be sensed and converted into messages and instructions is based on faulty philosophy and even more corrupted Bible interpretation. We do not love God because He sends out tangible waves of happy vibrations but because we have learned from the gospel that He died to save us. The love we generate and feel toward God is the very same love we experience during emotional worship. We need not “feel” God’s presence to know He is there because He has told us He is always with us, invisible, omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.
The next article in this series, Part 13: God Changes Humankind, is found here: Part 13: God Changes Humankind
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Part 13: God Changes Humankind
God’s Business is Changing the Human Heart
God originally created the first man and woman with a living spirit, and when they rebelled into sin their spirits died. God expended all the effort, pain, and cost to redeem mankind. Redemption is a process of radical change. God’s Holy Spirit calls men and women to God, He convicts them of their sin, He bestows the gift of faith, He regenerates their dead spirits, He renews their minds and hearts, He adopts them as children of God, and He indwells them to lead them into holy living.
How does God’s Spirit do all this? It is all completed on a spiritual plane. It is invisible and undetectable at the corporeal level. No CT-scan can ever show the changes to the enlivened heart and mind. Faith cannot be seen or felt under the skin. The Holy Spirit cannot be located via ultrasound.
This spiritual activity by the Holy Spirit, as imperceptible as it is, causes the mind of the redeemed person to be able to agree with the words of Scripture (some call this “understanding” “or illumination” but those words are too narrow). He causes our attitudes toward God to change in accord with the attitudes that God commends in the Bible. He enables us to love in deed, not merely in affection. At the right moment He brings to the memory of the redeemed person the Scriptures that we have read during our lifetime.
Changed Into a Servant--Getting a Spiritual Gift
God’s Spirit also enables us to serve other people in the church via a special gift. This is not a gift to the individual who has been so enabled, it is a gift to the church because the enabled person will use it to edify and build up others in the church.
It is at this point that the Christian mystic often stumbles. He or she assumes that the Holy Spirit gifts every Christian with a form of prophecy. The assumption is that this prophetic infusion profits the gift holder’s devotion to God by lessening the need for “blind faith” because he or she is shown a glimpse of God, God’s voice, or is enabled to literally feel God’s presence. Sadly, the mystic does not realize that true prophets in the Bible never profited themselves (1 Peter 1:10-12) as every prophetic gift was always accompanied by a command from God to give a message to the broader community. Why would God want to lessen the need for any person to have faith? Faith comes by the Word of God, and faith is diminished when one can see, touch, or feel what one is supposed to have faith in.
God Changes Desires
God does place within us desires. These are desires to serve others and to serve Him. The desire to do work is one of the qualifications by which it is recognized that one has been given the gift of shepherding (1 Timothy 3:1). God changes our desires to accomplish His plans (Proverbs 21:1). He even changes the desires of the unsaved heart (Exodus 4:21). This change of heart and movement of desires is imperceptible and the person does not know that God has changed him (the Pharaoh did not hear God’s voice or sense God’s presence, the Pharaoh only knew what he thought he wanted to do, and so he acted on his own behalf, or at least he thought he did).
God’s will is that all people be regenerated and conformed to live a life that imitates that of His Son. In other words, holiness. God’s will is that all people become holy, live holy, and make holy decisions.
It is also God’s will that we pray for and about everything and all decisions. But He also demands that we always pray “If the Lord wills” (James 4:15), which acknowledges that we make our own decisions but that God can and does without prior notice reserve for Himself the right to change and to dictate the actual outcomes and implementations of all human plans.
God does not reveal to us His secret plans or what the future holds. So we can pray for wisdom on how to decide what to do, but we have no right or purpose in asking God to reveal how our decisions might impact the future. That knowledge is for Him to know alone. Failure of our personal plans and decisions might actually be what He has planned for us all along.
God’s Sovereignty and Decision Making
All good things and thoughts ultimately come from God. He is to be praised for every good happening and every good idea, whether that good idea is from a pagan or a saint. While no thought or idea is a revelation (revelations are audible), and no thought or idea is a “commandment” in the divine sense, everything good comes from God. God places it upon every person to pick and choose which good ideas among billions can or should be implemented. He gives great freedom to choose, to try, and even to fail.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:17-21)
“God Led Me To…”
It is the appearance of extreme piety to say, “God led me to do this…” Yet, use of that very statement often betrays the truth that God did not so lead that person. For example, when a medium sized church has an opening for a pastor, literally hundreds of pastoral candidates send in their resumes with cover letters stating that “God has led me to this church as your next pastor.” Since only one candidate will get the job, the other few hundred were wrong, misled, or did not “sense God’s leading” and therefore are false prophets, deceptive, or incapable of actually “sensing God’s unspoken voice.” Ironically, the better candidates to consider for the position are probably those who have not claimed to have been led by God to pastor that church.
One of the more difficult political tasks for the volunteer in the church is participating in the pulpit search committee. Numerous evangelical congregations and pulpit search committee have relied on the statement, “God led us to choose this particular man; God has called him to be our pastor.” Yet the news media is rife with stories about these “God-called-pastors” who were never biblically qualified to lead since they were hiding past lives as child abusers, had never attended the seminary from which they claimed to get their degree, were secretly divorced and remarried, had “love children,” were secretly or openly participating in gay lifestyles, and some were never even born again. Does God really “call” unsaved gay pastors to shepherd evangelical churches? No, the pulpit search committees who made those poor choices presumed they had God’s specific prophetic guidance to select that one individual, however since God does not make unwise choices or desire to have unsaved wicked men shepherd His church it demonstrates that such committees are not receiving unspoken advice from God.
Use of the phrase “God led me to decide this…” wraps an aura of divine blessing around a person’s own decision. It makes the person’s decision unquestionable, for who would question God? It is a mechanism for intimidating people into fearful submission. It discourages thoughtful discussion and investigation. It elevates the status of the decision maker to that of God’s unapproachable mouthpiece and causes all others, who might find the decision to be unwise, to be considered unspiritual or apostate. Worse, the real rationale behind the decision is forever concealed behind a cloak of mystery and the impenetrable wall of “God led me to this decision and there is no better reason for it.”
It places on God the guilt, fault, and accountability for decisions actually made by humans who have relied not on careful principles of decision making but upon their felt emotions and imagined sensed messages. When people make such rash and ill-considered decisions which turn out to be terribly unwise and disastrous, uttering the phrase “God led me” does not absolve the person of the responsibility for having made such a choice. God did not “tell you,” rather you imagined that you sensed some emotion which you construed into being some kind of superstitious coincidence or sensed leading of the Lord.
Merely saying “God led me” does not mean He did. Though no one will be desirous to question such a pious and sanctimonious assertion, they should examine it thoroughly, and they would be righteous to do so. Every word and decision of prophecy is to be tested, questioned, and analyzed in depth, every single one.
Personal Prayer and Decision Making
When I pray, I pray that God would have the Holy Spirit remind me of things I have studied in the Word as I have need of them. I ask Him to give me courage and boldness. I ask Him to give me endurance. I ask Him to change my circumstances. I ask him to change others, to bring them to salvation or to edify them. All these things He does if such things are in the best interest of His kingdom, other people, and in my best spiritual interests.
It is pointless to ask for signs, as He has said numerous times in the Word that He will not give them. We live by faith, not by sight or physiological evidences of an invisible spiritual God. Faith in Him comes by exposure to the Word of God, not by mystical experiences.
Unless one has been given the genuine gift of prophecy in which visions and verbal instructions come via revelations so that they can be passed along to the church, there is no need to seek to be a prophet. All anyone needs for decision making and God-pleasing holy living is found in the Scriptures. The Scriptures have been and remain the very Word of God. The Scriptures contain all we need to know about “the will of God.”
No Biblical Guidance on Receiving Sensed Messages about God’s Secret Will
Remarkably absent from the Bible is any mention of “inaudible voices” or “sensed unspoken messages” from God. Nothing in the Word teaches us how to receive or interpret unheard messages. Perhaps even more poignantly the New Testament does not talk of God sending people on individualized missions in which the commission was given without words and without prophetic revelation.
Whatever the Bible does not say, does not teach, or does not command should never become the de facto doctrine of the church. Yet, without biblical merit or warrant to do so, sensed mystical messages have risen above Scriptures and become both the doctrinal norm and universal practice of the contemporary postmodern church. This is to its shame.
Series Summary Statement
[Note: When I first wrote this series, this article was intended to be the last, and technically it is. However, not a day passed before I came to add supplementary materials, like an exposition of Jeremiah 23.]
God’s will is that we live holy lives unto Him. Knowing that His perfect will is that we live holy lives, and actually living that holy life, does not require receiving special sensed inaudible messages from God. That entire concept is alien to anything recorded in the Bible.
In the Old and New Testaments God’s voice was always audible; it could be heard by the prophets. We have the completed Word of God (2 Peter 1:3) and no longer have need of prophets by which to learn the will of God. We know what God expects of us, that is, we know what His will for us is: to be holy and sanctified.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. (1 Peter 2:15-16)
Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV)
To explore what God said about "utterances from God" being the "imaginations of the heart" you are invited to review a verse-by-verse paraphrase of Jeremiah 23: Jeremiah 23 - Prophecies of Imagination
Monday, June 21, 2010
Jeremiah 23 - Prophecies of Imagination
A Verse-by-Verse Paraphrase of Jeremiah 23
While studying whether all believers can sense the inaudible voice of God, I analyzed Jeremiah 23. Below is a partial paraphrase I compiled of the chapter. The paraphrase is presented side-by-side with the text as it appears in the NASB.
It was shocking to me that God says that anyone who is not a prophet but claims to get words and visions from Him is getting those words and visions from their own imagination (v. 16). Later He says they get these pseudo-utterances by having been deceived by their own hearts (v. 26).
Jeremiah 23 - NASB
Jeremiah 23 - Paraphrased
by Craig W. Booth
Thus says the LORD of hosts, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD.
God Himself in His own words warns the following: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who claim to be prophesying. They are misleading you. Their visions are just their own imagination and not the words of My mouth!
"They keep saying to those who despise Me, 'The LORD has said, "You will have peace"'; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, They say, 'Calamity will not come upon you.'
They actually say to those who hate God this lie, 'You will have peace and prosper.'
"But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened?
But who on earth has ever stood before God, seen Him, and heard Him speak? And who on earth listens to and obeys the Word He already gave to men in the Scriptures?
"Behold, the storm of the LORD has gone forth in wrath, Even a whirling tempest; It will swirl down on the head of the wicked.
Watch out! God's wrath, My wrath, is coming like a tornado or a hurricane.
"The anger of the LORD will not turn back Until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart; In the last days you will clearly understand it.
My anger, God's anger, will not stop punishing mankind because of the false prophets until the last days of humanity.
"I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied.
God shouts to you, 'I did not send these prophets, but they came to you anyway! I did not speak anything to them, but they prophesy anyway!'
"But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds.
If these prophets had really heard Me they would have given you My words and they would have repented of speaking their false words.
"Am I a God who is near," declares the LORD, "And not a God far off?
'Am I not the God who is everywhere instead of being too far away to do anything about this?' asks God.
"Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?" declares the LORD. "Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?" declares the LORD.
'Why do these people think they can sin and hide from Me?' asks God.
"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, 'I had a dream, I had a dream!'
Don't think for a moment that I have not heard what these false prophets say in My name. They say, 'I had a prophetic dream, God spoke to me in a dream!'
"How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart,
How long will you keep listening to these false prophets? They have been deceived by their own sick hearts; that is where the words come from that they speak.
who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another, just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal?
They will make you forget about the true God when they keep telling each other about their meaningless dreams. That is how Israel fell to Baal in the first place!
"The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the LORD.
God warns, 'A true prophet who has a dream may speak it, but only if he has received my actual commands to do so. My true words are like grain, good to eat, but false dreams are like straw and are worthless for nourishment.'
"Is not My word like fire?" declares the LORD, "and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
God asks you, 'Is not My word like a fire that consumes evil and like a hammer that shatters the rock of obstinate hearts?'
"Therefore behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who steal My words from each other.
God declares, 'I stand against the prophets who make things up and plagiarize from each other because they have no genuine Word of the Lord to speak.'
"Behold, I am against the prophets," declares the LORD, "who use their tongues and declare, 'The Lord declares.'
God says, "Oh yes, I am against those prophets who say out loud, 'The Lord said to me' when I never said anything at all to them."
'Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,' declares the LORD, 'and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,' declares the LORD.
God warns, I am against everyone who says their dreams are My utterances, especially when they mislead others with their falsehoods and reckless boasting in imaginary prophecies which I never spoke or commanded them to speak. Their words have no benefit to anyone except to puff up their own pride.
"Now when this people or the prophet or a priest asks you saying, 'What is the oracle of the LORD?' then you shall say to them, 'What oracle?' The LORD declares, 'I will abandon you.'
God states, "When any person, or any prophet, or any priest says, 'Here is an utterance of God,' and you say back, 'What is that utterance?' as if you think it is genuine, then I will turn My favor away from you."
"Then as for the prophet or the priest or the people who say, 'The oracle of the LORD,' I will bring punishment upon that man and his household.
When any prophet or priest says, 'I have an utterance from God,' I will bring punishment on that person and his whole family.
"Thus will each of you say to his neighbor and to his brother, 'What has the LORD answered?' or, 'What has the LORD spoken?'
Each of you, every single one of you, now asks his neighbor or his brother, 'What has the Lord said to you?' or 'What utterance did you get?'
"For you will no longer remember the oracle of the LORD, because every man's own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God.
Every single person's own thoughts and own words have somehow magically become the utterances of God and so you have all perverted the real Word of the living God and you have forgotten all about the sacred Scriptures.
"Thus you will say to that prophet, 'What has the LORD answered you?' and, 'What has the LORD spoken?'
Here is how you should be challenging these false prophets, 'Are you kidding me, you think God gave an utterance to you?'
"For if you say, 'The oracle of the LORD!' surely thus says the LORD, 'Because you said this word, "The oracle of the LORD!" I have also sent to you, saying, "You shall not say, 'The oracle of the LORD!'"'
Because if anyone says, 'I have an utterance from the Lord' then surely God will deny that utterance by saying, 'I sent you no utterance,' so stop right now, stop saying that you received an utterance from Me!
"Therefore behold, I will surely forget you and cast you away from My presence, along with the city which I gave you and your fathers.
Because you continually say you have received a word from the Lord, I your God, will send you away from My presence,
"I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten."
I will put a long lasting reproach and humiliation on you that will not soon be forgotten.
Booth Provides Responses below to Comments from the Public (public comments are not shown) :
Just yesterday I came across a well written essay on the net which attempts to teach people "how" to hear the "inaudible voice of God." Again, I puzzled over the complete lack of such teachings in the Bible. Why did God not "teach" us how to "hear His inaudible voice" when He did bother to teach us in the Bible such obvious things as prayer, sharing, and talking kindly? Virtually every "principle" of "hearing God's unspoken voice" was this guy's own precepts made up from his "experiences" and from his imagination, but never from a passage of Scripture.
My challenge to all mystics is this: Which passage of Scripture teaches every believer HOW to hear God's unspoken voice?
Regarding Jeremiah 23 and the mystic, it helps the judgment against you from God not even one little bit to say, "I am not a prophet but the Lord did tell me..." Everyone who says, "this is what the Lord told me" is pronouncing a decree from God, a prophecy. Rather, a false prophecy. A prophecy by any other name still means, "This is what the Lord said..."
While I evaluate the prophecy as false, I do not pass judgment on the eternal value or salvation of the individual. Nor do I impose a punishment. Jeremiah 23 says God will do all that. My only obligation is to do as commanded by 1 Corinthians 14 and other passages in Deuteronomy: test the words, judge them as true prophecies or false, and reject everything a false prophet says.
Friday, June 25, 2010
“If You Had Been Here"--Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Mysticism in Jesus’ Day
Did mysticism in the church give rise to the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, vice versa, or, did one have nothing to do with the other? Who can know? But the health, wealth, and prosperity movement was active in Jesus’ own day just as in our own. And it was just as wrong then as it is today.
When He intentionally allowed Lazarus to die before coming to demonstrate Himself to be the Messiah by raising Lazarus from death, Jesus endured three times the same rebuke, “If You had been here You could have healed Lazarus’ illness and kept him from dying.” Mary, Martha, and the Jews from Jerusalem all said this to Jesus (John 11:21, 32, 37).
How stupid is that rebuke? Jesus does not need to “be here” to heal anyone! He could heal from great distances on earth and He can heal all the way from His throne in Heaven. Saying “If You had been here” to Jesus is always a statement of unbelief.
If you have not heard this yet, I am going to shock you: Jesus wants you to get sick and die. He wanted Lazarus to get sick and die, and He wants you to do so as well. Jesus placed His entire creation under the curse of sickness and death (Genesis 3). He did that. It was His will. It is not a matter of “if” you get sick and die, but only a matter of “when.”
Mystics who cling to the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel often cite anecdotes to illustrate how much God loves them and how He demonstrates “His presence” through goose-bump-inducing coincidences and heart-string-tugging tales. When they repeat such stories they make several tacit accusations against God and against their fellow Christians.
God is only loving when He saves people from certain harm or from death. But is God not loving to send us hardship to grow our endurance, or to give us painful discipline to make us humble, or austerity to make us dependent on Him, or short lives of 70 years to keep us from sinning overly much? Where ever did this idea come from that God is tangibly showing us His love only when we get health, wealth, and prosperity?
Tacit Accusation Two:
Those who do not experience goose-bump-inducing coincidences are not as blessed as those who do. Yet, does not Jesus state that it is the poor in spirit who will inherit the earth, and it is those believers who never have “seen Him” who are most blessed? Where ever did this elitist idea evolve that the more blessed are those who have so little faith that they need to get goose-bumps?
Tacit Accusation Three:
Jesus is tangibly present during happy emotional experiences and is tangibly absent when events are miserable. When and where did we get the perverted doctrine that happy emotions are equivalent to sensing God’s tangible presence? Do we not remember that God’s tangible presence ALWAYS induced fear and trembling in humans? Do we not remember that literally just hearing God’s voice caused people to fear they were about to die? Do we not recall that God’s impending appearance drove even the holiest prophet to his knees crying aloud that he was unworthy because he had sinned with his lips?
When we find ourselves bereft of human help, alone, and weeping bitterly over our unconfessed sins, it is THEN we know God has tangibly visited us. For it is the presence of the Holy Spirit who convicts and calls us back to holiness. Only the presence of God’s Spirit can and does do this.
Health, wealth, and prosperity “if You had been here”? Not hardly. Tears, repentance, and holiness “if You had been here”? That is the truth.
Booth Provided the Following Observations in Response to Comments Posted by the Public on His Blog:
I believe you (and others?) have conflated "rewards" and "love" so that they improperly become one and the same. To give a reward for good behavior may be a loving thing to do, but it is not love. For example, I may give a disciplinary punishment to my child for bad behavior and it too is a loving thing to do.
Both disciplinary punishment and rewards are loving things to do. Neither punishment nor rewards equate to "love." Love is doing good to another for their benefit, even it that means it must cause them pain or sorrow. THAT is the understanding of love that the church has lost in its quest for health, wealth, and prosperity mysticism.
The church can no longer see God's disciplines as being good or loving. So they pursue happy emotions and can only "find" God in pleasing circumstances. But God is most recognizable in the sorrow that causes repentance because that is the visible work of the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves, our human natures never pursue holiness, only self-gratifying pleasure.
Booth’s comment in Response to a Second Public Post
Denise wrote, "'Where ever did this idea come from that God is tangibly showing us His love only when we get health, wealth, and prosperity?' 'some' may have gotten it from the O.T. where we see God blessing people with wealth such as Abraham & Solomon."
As with most comments and feedback I get, I have been rolling this around in my thoughts for some time.
The observation may be true that many church members today get from the Old Testament their misconception that God is with them if they prosper materially. That is part of what I see is wrong with the contemporary church in general.
Jesus spoke parable after parable and saying after saying indicating that material blessings were actually barriers to righteousness. Is it not harder for a rich man to attain heaven than for a camel to shrink to the size of sewing needle? Is it not the poor who will inherit the earth? Is it not the rich man who says, "I am indepently wealthy so now I can sit back and enjoy life" only to find himself dead and in judgment?
In short, our contemporary church, in general, seems to selectively extract what it likes from the Bible and pretty well neglects the rest. This leads to skewed thinking that God is wrathful but Jesus is loving, material wealth is a blessing instead of an obligation and a potential stumbling stone, and the notion that God is literally present only during emotionally upbeat moments (even though God is literally always present).
To very directly answer the objection: Promises of wealth in the Old Testament were to those who kept the Law so as to be able to physically live in and on the Promised Land of Israel. The Promised Land was their reward for keeping the Law and being governed by the Law. When God promised them land, wealth, peace, and prosperity "in the land" it was only to them as those who lived under the Law. Need I even hint how foolish it would be for someone to assert they want those promises for themself (for they would of necessity also then need to take on the burden of the Law of Moses and move to Israel)?
Booth’s Comment in Response to Another Comment
Another person commented that we focus only on the "positive" sections of the Bible because that pleases us most. I fear this person is correct.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Did Jesus Curse the Earth?
On Sunday, having initiated a short discussion about the Genesis 3 curse on humanity, I was quite surprised to learn that the majority of the class seemed to think Jesus was not involved in planning or implementing that curse. Most present stated their opinion that it was not Jesus’ will that anyone should die a physical death, or that illness be a part of that dying process.
I have had to think on that. Certainly it is not a matter that anyone thinks that Jesus is not God; all present in the class were and are surely Trinitarians. It seems to be more an issue of what the church has taught about Jesus’ character all these years. They now see the Father as a “God of wrath” and Jesus as their “God of loving salvation.” The church has created a caricature of the characters of Jesus and the Father, virtual parodies that divide the Father and the Son into a kind of yin and yang, an uneasy balance of tensions.
Yet, God’s nature is Jesus’ nature. They are one (one God, one essence, one purpose, one nature), not a divine balance, and never in tension between themselves.
God, as He reveled Himself in the Old Testament, is (was, and will be) a God of love, lovingkindness, and salvation, as well as one of holiness and justice. We forget that Jesus was the one in the Old Testament who created humanity (see John 1) and cursed humanity (see Genesis 3), and in the future will judge every person who ever lived on this planet (see 2 Timothy 4:1, John 5:20-27). Jesus is God. Jesus is the God of love, salvation, holiness, justice, judgment, and wrath as much as is the Father.
Did Jesus create the Earth? Yes. Did Jesus curse the Earth? Yes. Did Jesus lovingly sacrifice Himself for humanity? Yes. Will Jesus judge unbelievers as worthy of Hell for eternity and condemn them to the unending lake of fire? Yes.
Jesus ordained that humans die after having lived a short life. Usually this death is sadly accompanied by a terminal illness. There is no division or divine tension in God. The Father loves you, Jesus loves you, and the Holy Spirit Who called you to conviction, faith, and salvation, clearly loves you. This curse, comprised of illness and mortality, is not a contradiction of God’s character but a part of His good will and perfect plan.
Booth’s Comment in Response to a Post Placed onto His Blog by Someone from the Public:
Yes, I agree. My own daughter once told me she would prefer it if I would omit the "negative" parts of the Bible as I teach through it because people feel better hearing only the "positive" sections.
That type of selective approach to the Scriptures (instead of teaching the whole counsel of God) is what has led to all types of aberrant and heretical doctrines in our age. I guess I will have to remain unpopular with the masses rather than shortchange the Lord.
Since I have a relationship with the living God, I would rather know Him as He is rather than invent a version of Him in my mind which does not match reality.
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