Welcome to our Wednesday “Ask Beau” post. The purpose of this weekly feature is to provide you, our readers, with biblical responses to questions you have about practical issues that you face.
As always, you may submit questions for future “Ask Beau” posts by contacting us at email@example.com, or by leaving a comment on this post.
Last week I received a question via email about how God speaks to His followers today. The person sending the email was asking the question in part because of some criticism that Beth Moore and John Piper have received regarding their belief that God can and does speak directly to believers.
The way in which God speaks to believers has been a topic of debate for a long time. The rise of the charismatic movement and the explosive growth of Pentecostalism worldwide have probably intensified the debate in our present day. Those who believe God still speaks directly to believers would cite as precedent such passages as Acts 8:29, in which the Holy Spirit told Philip directly to go over to the chariot of a nearby Ethiopian eunuch. Those who do not believe God speaks directly to believers would suggest that direct communication from God to a Christian (after the Scriptures were complete) would constitute extrabiblical revelation. In other words, they are concerned that an appeal to direct personal experience with the Holy Spirit contradicts the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”) and, at least potentially, subjugates the Scripture to what you or I might feel at a given moment.
This is a tough question to address in a brief blog post, but my answer boils down to this: I believe God can and does speak directly to believers today, but I firmly believe in the authority of Scripture over personal experience.
Here is how I would relate the present working of the Holy Spirit to the Bible. The Holy Spirit, when speaking to the Christian today, shows the Christian how the Scripture applies to his or her personal situation. This is not God giving new revelation or reopening the canon of Scripture. It is God saying something like, “Bob, you know how my Word says not to exasperate your children? You’re exasperating them right now” (see Ephesians 6:4).
What then of the more abstract messages that someone senses from the Lord? Would God say to a believer, “Go, talk to that person”? I believe that He can and sometimes does do this. Though the application of Scripture here is not as linear as in the example of the exasperating father, the Holy Spirit is applying the “law of Christ” that Paul speaks of in Galatians 6:2, namely, the law of love (see also John 13:34–35). The Holy Spirit is showing the believer how he is to act in love in that particular moment.
Without an understanding that God speaks in some way to believers on a moment-by-moment basis, it is quite difficult to apply verses like Galatians 5:25, which states: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (NIV). Obviously, the believer must be attuned to the Spirit’s leading so that he can keep in step with the Spirit. It won’t do to understand “Spirit” here as synonymous with the Word of God, in part because the Word does not directly address all the situations in which the believer is to find guidance from the Holy Spirit (see also Galatians 5:18).
I really do appreciate the concern that many have about contemplative spirituality and mysticism because in our pride we sometimes use the “God told me” line as a sort of trump card. This is particularly dangerous when people take actions that are clearly unbiblical and then justify these unbiblical actions by saying, “I know God is telling me to do this.” To use an extreme example, if you think God is telling you to cheat on your wife, you are wrong. When we remember that God’s Spirit applies God’s Word, then we will recognize that God’s Spirit will not tell us to do something that contradicts the Scripture.
This is certainly a hot topic. Have you thought about these issues? What is your take?