Does God Directly Communicate with People Today?

Something I encounter fairly regularly in ministry is a claim that God communicates today in a direct, knowable way other than the Bible. Sometimes the claim is that God does this by a feeling or a set of circumstances; sometimes it’s that God does this through dreams or even an audible voice. For some people, God only guides in this way for the big decisions, like marrying a spouse, taking a job, or making a large purchase. For others, God is involved in every single decision, even down to selecting one meal over another. In whatever shape it takes, the claim is that God is communicating and that embracing that communication is the mature and maybe even the right thing to do.

I have to admit, I find this topic challenging. On the one hand, I truly believe in a living, active God. I get frustrated at times when I see people deny God’s communication in the ways I’ve described above by whitling away at the Bible’s teaching regarding God’s power and His place in human affairs. The God that we serve is not the deist’s god, a clockmaker god who set the earth in motion and then removed his hands from its working. The Bible makes it emphatically clear that prayer is real and that it really works (James 5:16), and further, that, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). I may not always be the best interpreter of whether or not something is good or perfect, but if it is, then it came from God.

On the other hand, I often find real deficiencies in the stories of people that claim that God has said or done something to communicate His will. Sometimes the issue is that God is presented as involving Himself in things that He never did in Scripture, or even things that the Bible says don’t concern Him. Why would God have and then communicate a will for my family’s choice of lunch when He’s already said, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking,” and, “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (Romans 14:17 ESV; 1 Timothy 4:4 ESV)?

Sometimes, the issue is even more serious; God is said to be communicating something that actually contradicts what He has revealed. I was told a story recently in which God supposedly told someone to encourage someone else to accept Christ. In the story, that person supposedly accepted Christ without ever looking at a Bible and, importantly, without being baptized. The Bible says that “faith comes by hearing” God’s message, that “faith without works is dead,” and that, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Romans 10:17; James 2:20; Mark 16:16). Of course, God’s message can be communicated without opening a physical copy of the Bible, and the first Christians were converted after hearing a message rather than reading it. But would God lead someone to communicate something that falls short of what the Bible says?

Let’s allow the Bible to answer that question and consider further what it says about God’s communication: 
  • First, God “cannot lie,” and He is not “the author of confusion” (Titus 1:2; 1 Corinthians 14:33). He cannot and will not communicate anything to anyone that contradicts something that He has already revealed in Scripture. 
  • Second, even when God was communicating His will directly to individuals, He did so to particularly gifted individuals such as prophets (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:29-33). The Bible makes it clear that not everyone in the first century had a gift involving revelation (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-30), so, even in a time when God was communicating to individuals directly, He wasn’t doing it to everyone who was a Christian. Further, what was communicated to these individuals was not for their private walk as Christians but for “the profit of all,” or, as the NASB reads, “the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
  • Third, Paul said that the gifts of revelation would “fail… cease… vanish away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). It’s reasonable to conclude that God had a scope of time in mind for these gifts.
  • Fourth, God frequently laments those who “prophesy falsely” claiming that God has commanded or spoken when He has not (Jeremiah 5:31; cf. 14:14; 23:21; 29:9). It’s a serious thing to claim that God has communicated when He hasn’t; Moses warned, “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak… that prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20).

The word “presumes” stands out to me in that last verse. There’s a lot of presumption that takes place when you say that God is communicating to you directly apart from the Bible. I’ve had more than one conversation in which a person who believed in modern revelation effectively pitied me. Those individuals presumed that they were simply more mature or more spiritual than I was in order to experience what I hadn’t. Presumption also describes what one must make in order to say that he or she knows a set of circumstances, a dream, or an experience is actually God talking. Jeremiah warned, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). God went to great lengths to make Himself known in Scripture; I’ve yet to hear anyone describe Him going to such lengths in His communication today. And I can think of nothing the devil would delight in more than a person who was so convinced he was hearing the words of God that he never bothered to truly examine the Word of God to see how it compared both with the experience in general and the specific content of the supposed communication.  

I genuinely believe that God’s plan for gifts of revelation came to an end when the New Testament did. I also genuinely believe that the Word of God has been “once for all delivered” (Jude 3). I further believe that the Word of God allows the man of God to “be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and that in the Word of God we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). When God gave spiritual gifts, He gave them to “each one” and again did so “for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7); for Him to communicate privately to some for their exclusive profit would make Him partial to them and not to others, which I genuinely believe He’s not (Acts 10:34-35; Romans 2:11).

To believe in all these things is not to believe in an inactive, disinterested God. Paul preached a God who “is not far from each one of us” and a God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:27-28). This is the God we serve! I’m certain God is at work in the world today. As I said before, I know with 100% certainty that any good or perfect thing that I experience came from my God.

Still, as relates to God communicating today, let’s understand the gifts of revelation in a way that’s consistent with Scripture. Further, let’s not presume to know what we don’t about the things we feel or the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Mordecai seems to have lived during a period of prophetic silence; the book of Esther doesn’t even mention the word “God.” Yet, Mordecai clearly believed God had a plan for the Jews. Based upon God’s Word, he knew what the right thing to do was and encouraged Esther to play her role. Had God put Esther there for this very purpose? His response: “who knows…?” (Esther 4:14). Maybe there’s a lesson there for us in terms of how we interpret the situations in which we find ourselves. Rather than presume to know that God has communicated, live in accordance with what God has already revealed and always be prepared to play an active role in what God is doing. Hindsight combined with the interpretive lens of Scripture will help you to see God’s hand at work.  
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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