I received a letter in the mail this week from Grace to You and the topic was whether God communicates to Christians outside of His Word. Interestingly enough my Bible study lesson this week in Attitudes of a Transformed Heart by Martha Peace touched on this same topic in chapter 7 on Guidance. I had a bit of a new thought on this subject so I thought I'd share it.
I've never been one to trust my feelings. Maybe it's that I all too often don't have the right feelings. The letter from John MacArthur explained that extra-Biblical communication from God including thoughts and impressions can't be trusted- maybe they're from the Lord or maybe their demonic or maybe it was just something you ate. I agree. He cited Revelation 22:18 that warns against adding to the revelation of Scripture, as well as giving some examples from the Bible like Peter who knew Christ intimately, witnessed the transfiguration, and still considered Scripture "the more excellent way" of knowing God.
My Bible study lesson said we should always start with what we KNOW God's will for our lives is, ie. His Law. We know He wants us to be honest, for instance, and to honor our parents. Then she pointed out that although our conscience can be a valuable tool in helping us to avoid sin, it can only be trusted in so far as it is saturated with Scripture. In other words, we can't always trust our conscience. If our conscience tells us not to do something, it may be right. If it tells us it's ok to do something, it may be wrong. That makes sense to me, too. All too often I realize after the fact that I sinned (often with my tongue) and my conscience didn't stop me when I was right in the middle of it!
The thought that I had today that was new in a sense is about abiding in Christ and being saturated with His Word. For the first time today it dawned on me that they're one in the same.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." (John 1:1-2&14)
So while I've long understood the importance of being in the Word of God in order to know God's will for my life...
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Tim 3:16-17
I've often heard it said that that's only one component of a healthy spiritual life- we need to be "in Christ" or "Spirit-filled". And I've wondered off and on through the years what in the world that means. I think I'm one step closer to understanding it.
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." John 15:5
If I interpret this verse in light of John 1 quoted above then I understand abiding in Christ to mean living or dwelling in His Word, The Word, the Bible.
What about being filled with the Spirit?
The kids and I started chipping away at Ephesians 4 and 5 last summer and this is just about where we got to in our memorization. We went over it again this morning, since it's a little rusty for all of us. (Note to self- Get more organized about our Scripture review.)
The context here is about being wise rather than foolish, or acting like the enlightened folks we've become since being saved.
"Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit..." Ephesians 5:17-18
Obviously there's a contrast here between being filled with alcohol and thus controlled by it verses being filled by (and therefore controlled by) something else, namely the Spirit.
What do we know about the Spirit? Back in 2 Tim 3:16 we saw how the Bible is "inspired" by God, or God-breathed. It makes sense to me that the Spirit was the instrument by which God "breathed" His Word. (The Greek word for Spirit is pneuma from which we get the word pneumonia- a disease that afflicts our breathing. In 2 Tim 3:16 the Greek phrase used is theopneustos, God-breathed.) 2 Peter 1:21 affirms this, "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
What else does the Holy Spirit do? It comforts us. How? Through the Word of God. For blind comfort is no comfort at all, but God's Word, the reminder of His promises, of our hope, that we have an Advocate in heaven interceding for us, that He will work these circumstances to our ultimate good and His glory, these are what comfort and sustain us through the hard times.
The Holy Spirit convicts us, too. How? When it brings to light sin in our lives. How do we know what sin is? We have to read the Bible and look into God's perfect standard in order to see what falls short of His law.
The Spirit also illuminates Scripture for us. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? The Spirit seems always connected in some way to the Word of God.
The Holy Spirit is also our Helper that Jesus promised to those of us who follow Him. The Helper is to guide us and help us "keep His commandments" (from John 14:15).
"And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever- the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you." John 14:16-17
Again we see the Spirit of truth in connection with the Word of God, for it is the Spirit that guides us and helps us keep His commandments. How do we know His commandments? We have to know His Word. "He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." John 14:21 How does Christ say He will show Himself to us? Through thoughts, impressions, dreams? No. Through our possessing and keeping His Word.
Cool, huh? I thought so, anyway.
I believe that being "filled with the Spirit", "abiding in Christ", "walking in the light" (remember Jesus called Himself the Light of the World) all have to do with knowing and doing God's Word. We cannot know His Word unless we read our Bibles.
Reading the Bible is not subjective. I will never err in making a decision if I seek wisdom from the Word of God. Just as Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, His Word endures to all generations.
What about all those gray areas? I like to keep in mind 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being." In other words, if I'm not prohibited from something in Scripture, like drinking alcohol in moderation, or wearing pants, or reading a clean novel, I should ask myself honestly if it's in the best interest of my spiritual growth (helpful) and if it is going to build-up those around me (edify). If I can honestly answer yes, then by all means, go for it. If the answer is no, then I shouldn't do it.
I think we reduce God's will to a magic eight ball when we try to discern His will in our lives concerning that which He has been silent. If it were important to Him, He would have told us. And He has revealed much to us, unfortunately we're usually more interested in a "fresh" word or perspective than in searching the Scriptures.
The bottom line is relying on our feelings can mislead us. The Word of God never will. Being spirit-filled is not some mystic experiential state, but simply filling my mind with His Word, rather than all the other competing interests that vie for my attention. Abiding in Christ is not possible apart from picking up and reading the Bible. When we do that, we're on the right path to discerning His will in our lives.