Last time, I talked about the nature of revelation. I will continue here on how to know if our revelation is from God.
But before I begin, understand that the idea of people being led and managed by the Holy Spirit is frightening to most pastors and leaders.
Some may seriously doubt it’s possible. Many avoid it altogether or minimize the opportunity whether in a personal or local church context.
Of course, we all know examples of people who claim to hear from God but are obviously not hearing from Him. And there are spiritually immature, unstable, even rebellious people who will use the occasion to promote their own agendas or take control. All of which can create quite a mess and give an otherwise willing leadership reason to be reluctant in this regard.
So why should we bother? Because this is how the New Testament Church operated (1 Cor.14:26). In the West, we’ve turned our meetings into something else. So we’re missing something profound by dismissing it. And saying it was different then because the Bible wasn’t complete is a bogus reason to stop hearing from God. For revelation was not just about writing the Bible. It was and is meant for everyday life.
The question is, how do we use revelation that’s allegedly from God without it turning into “everyone did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25), using “God told me…” as a reason to be a renegade for Jesus?
The good news, the New Testament Church did have a protocol, and we can follow it. In short, revelation was confirmed. And that’s what we’ll look at briefly here.
The confirmed word of prophecy–Scripture
The first obvious place to look is in Scripture. For a revelation from God will never contradict His Word. But be aware, it may violate your current understanding of Scripture. It may violate the opinions of some of your favorite commentary or Bible teachers. Nevertheless, we do have the tangible, written Word of God as our reliable standard. Peter tells us something about this (bold-text added).
“So we have the prophetic word made more sure,
to which you do well to pay attention
as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns
and the morning star arises in your hearts.
But know this first of all,
that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,
for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will,
but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Pet.1:19-21 NASB)
For example, I cannot say it’s alright for me to commit adultery and cheat on my wife because God led me into the arms of another woman. The Word of God already clearly contradicts my alleged “revelation.” If I honestly looked into the “mirror” of God’s more sure Word, I would see that I was deceived, even though my heart may think it’s very true. James had some things to say about the nature of these things (James 1:13-15).
Also notice in 2 Peter that revelation is not of private interpretation. This was true for Scripture and is true for personal revelation. And that brings us to my second point of protocol…
Revelation from God is confirmed by others
Prophecy, dreams, visions, revelations must be confirmed to be validated. However, this is not the Old Testament. For example, New Testament prophecy is NOT to bring judgment or write Scripture but to strengthen, encourage and bring comfort (1 Cor.14:3). This subject is so profoundly misunderstood in much of the body of Christ today it will need to be covered another time.
Suffice to say here, unlike the Old Testament, we ALL have the Holy Spirit. We don’t need a prophet to hear from God. But how do we confirm what we’re hearing is from God? It’s actually pretty straightforward. I will use Paul’s example.
First, a question. How did Paul get credentialed as an apostle to the Gentiles? Did he go to seminary? Take a polity course? Join an apostolic network? Of course not. It was revealed to him directly by God. Here’s what he says in Galatians (bold-text added)…
“For I neither received it from man,
nor was I taught it,
but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal.1:12)
So, was this enough? Paul got a revelation and away he goes? Get the website up and running, proclaim yourself an apostle of God? No! His personal revelation was confirmed by Peter and the Jerusalem leadership.
“and when James, Cephas, and John,
who seemed to be pillars,
perceived the grace that had been given to me,
they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship,
that we should go to the Gentiles
and they to the circumcised.” (Gal.2:9)
So, how did they know that Paul heard from God?
First, they perceived that it was true. It was confirmed in their spirit by the Holy Spirit. This is how all personal prophecy is confirmed in the body of Christ. You get a word from God to do something; it’s confirmed by others who see that grace working in you.
Secondly, they knew because God had shown Peter the same thing about the Gentiles (Acts 10:34-35). Understand, Paul never read Acts chapter 10 (it wasn’t written!). He didn’t read Peter’s blog or listen to the Jerusalem church podcast. The only way he could’ve known this is by revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Third, they heard the same things from Jesus Himself that Paul was telling them by way of revelation. Paul had obviously been with Jesus.
This is how Paul was confirmed. Just like Peter was confirmed by Jesus when he proclaimed He was the Christ (Matt.16:17-18). They knew that flesh and blood could not have taught Paul these things.
I will close this post with two considerations…
First, you CAN and SHOULD hear from God. This should be the normal Christian life–being led by the Spirit. It’s spiritually dysfunctional for believers not to hear from God. But, as I said before, we need to have our spiritual senses trained, and this brings me to the second consideration…
You’re not hearing from God in a vacuum. God never meant for us to walk in revelation outside of the context of the shared life in Christian community. This is not the “you’re not the boss of me” Church! It’s Jesus’ Church. And He gives gifts to us called apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors to equip us to develop our spiritual senses in a safe environment. And what makes it all work is abiding in the overflow of God’s love (Eph.4:7-16).
Next time I will talk about the nature and use of New Testament prophecy in the local church.