“What is God saying? It is not difficult to hear God; it’s ‘supernaturally natural’ to hear Him, like the apostles did. Hearing God gives us special anointing or enablement that empowers us to break the yoke of bondage, releasing blessings.” These were some of the first words spoken in the Knowing and Hearing God Course taught by Emmanuel Sudhir Isaiah at Bethany International University, Singapore.
Hearing God is a spiritual discipline that the believer needs to develop. From the very first day that the apostle Paul heard of the Colossian church, he did not cease to pray for them and to ask God that they would have a clear knowledge of His will which comes though spiritual wisdom and understanding. He wanted them to have this so that they would lead lives worthy of the Lord and so please Him in every way by bearing fruit and growing continually in a fuller knowledge of God (Col.1:9-10). That it is possible to know God’s will is further shown when he wrote the Ephesians and told them to not grow thoughtless or unwise but rather learn to know and have discernment of what the will of the Lord is (Eph.5:17).
A question arises as to what is involved in knowing the will of God. Besides the need to know the God who reveals His will, this paper will also deal with other important factors that enable a Christian to know God’s will in daily matters. The vital factors which come into play in order to know the will of the Lord are the believer’s relationship with the Lord, with the world, with his conscience, with the Word and with his mind. The writer will also briefly deal with how God’s will can be verified or confirmed.
I. Knowing the One Who Speaks in Order to Hear
Jesus said that His sheep recognize and listen to His voice and He knows them and they follow Him (Jn.10:27). As pointed out in class, a shepherd builds a relationship with his sheep. They also follow him because they recognize something about the shepherd. Even though Jesus was the Son of God, He did nothing on His own initiative (Jn.5:19), which shows an ongoing relationship with the Father and so, a relationship that Christians must increasingly develop.
A. Saul, the Unbeliever
The apostle Paul was a powerful man of God. Yet he was not always like that. Still uttering murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, this man went to the high priest and asked him for letters addressed to the Jewish congregations at Damascus. He wanted to put these people in chains and take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. While on his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed all around him and he became blind. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me” (Acts 9:4)? Saul wanted to know who it was, and the voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Arise, go into the city and it will be told you what to do” (Acts 9:5-6). His traveling companions stood there speechless, hearing the sound of a voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground and they led him into Damascus. Later Ananias came to him and Saul received back his sight. This is the first time that Saul had apparently heard the Lord audibly.
B. Paul, the Believer
Saul, later called Paul, was soon proclaiming Christ publicly and eventually suffered and endured many things for Christ’s sake. As he grew more vigorous and powerful, people became astonished.
1. The Goal of Paul
This same man wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament. What is remarkable is that for all the personal experiences and revelations that the apostle Paul had, he never had any greater goal than to know Christ. This was still his aim in life thirty years after his conversion and after having written I & II Corinthians, Galatians, I & II Thessalonians and the book of Romans. In fact in Phil.3:8 he says that he counts all things in which he might place his confidence, i.e., Roman citizenship, material possessions and position, as pure loss for the sake of the surpassing value of knowing Christ. It was for Christ’s sake that the apostle lost everything, counting it worth less than nothing, in order to gain Christ. Paul eagerly pressed on to know Jesus and continued to grow in grace and become better acquainted with his Lord. He wanted to progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Christ, perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more strongly and more clearly. And in order to understand and experience Him, Paul says that it involved experiencing the power that flowed from Christ’s resurrection as well as all that it means to share in His sufferings, being continuously transformed by His death(Phil.3:10).
2. The Goal of Scripture
That to know the Lord is God’s will for His people can be seen in Jer.9:23-24, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not the rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the Lord” (Jer.9:23-24). Therefore, instead of one basking in his wisdom, strength or wealth, he or she should boast in this alone: That they truly know Him, and understand that He is truly the Lord, who shows unfailing love, justice and integrity on the earth. God’s delight, therefore, is that His people understand and know Him.
In the book of Hosea, God speaks of Israel as having broken their agreement with Him and having betrayed Him. He described their goodness and love like a morning cloud that vanishes (6:4). In other words, their covenant loyalty was only temporary. And God dealt severely with them. Then, whether out of sincerity and true repentance or just out of the desire to get back into God’s good graces, Israel expressed their hope that He would soon raise them up and set them on their feet again to live under His care (6:2). They were then encouraged to “press on to know the Lord” (6:3). God truly desires that His people eagerly strive to know Him. It is in this way that His sons and daughters truly understand, know and experience Him, His voice and leading.
Wayne Grudem writes, All that Scripture says about God…is in a broad sense spoken of in human terms or in terms of the creation we know. This… is the way that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us, and to reveal Himself truly and accurately…. Each description of one of God’s attributes must be understood in the light of everything else that Scripture tells us about God. If we fail to remember this, we will inevitably understand God’s character wrongly.
For example, we have an idea of love from human experience…but our understanding of the meaning of ‘love’ when applied to God is not identical with our experience of love in human relationships. So we must learn from observing how God acts in all of Scripture and from the other attributes of God that are given in Scripture, as well as from our own real-life experiences of God’s love, if we are to refine our idea of God’s love in an appropriate way and avoid misunderstanding. (Grudem 1994:158-159)
C. Striving for the Goal
The writer of this research paper offers a few suggestions, ideas and prayers in striving to follow on to know the Lord:
*Since you are the Lord, please give me a heart to know You and understand You better and more deeply (Cf. Jer.24:7).
*You showed Israel Your acts and what You could do but You revealed Your ways and intentions to Moses (Ps.103:7). Teach me to know Your ways, O God, and not just Your acts, great as they are.
*Make me fully able to comprehend and to know for myself the dimensions of Your love for me. I know that You can do this because You are able to do far more than anything that I can ask or ever dream of through Your power that works in me (Cf. Eph.3:19-20).
*Ask the Lord to show how to seek Him more actively and how to press on to know Him more intimately.
*Give the Lord time to express His heart as one reads His Word and actively meditates on it.
*Express your admiration, love and delight in the Lord and thank Him for Himself as well as for His care, nearness, support, comfort, fellowship and sustenance.
*Show me, O Lord, more of the beauty of Your person and Your uniqueness.
*You’re my best Friend. Show me how to be one of Your best and closest friends.
As a Christian knows and understands the Lord more fully, he or she will be able to know what pleases Him and will also be able to discern His voice and ways.
II. The One Who Listens in Order to Hear
In order for one to hear the Lord, he or she must be able to listen. There are many things that clamor for hearing, e.g., the world and its philosophies, the flesh and the enemy.
The world is dark, perverse, and has its own wisdom, pleasures, ways and worries. It gives false security. It has its own god and the majority of people live under its control. The world referred to here is not human society in general, but rather human society as a system warped by its many cares, possessions and philosophy that are hostile toward God. The world has its rudimentary notions and principles and material ways of looking at things, and they can influence a Christian’s way of thinking (Col.2:20).
To hear God and yet be friends with the world is not acceptable to God since one who chooses to be friends with the world makes himself His enemy (Ja.4:4). Unbelievers learn the elements of the world’s knowledge (cf. Gal.4:3). They follow the ways of the world that offer vain grandeur and glamour and provide the things their physical nature and eyes crave (I Jn.2:16). Those who experience the new birth have escaped the corruption, moral decay and polluting influences which are in the world due to lust and greed (II Pe.1:4). Yet, they need to be on their guard since they can be carried away by the world’s philosophy, intellectualism, or high-sounding nonsense, as scripture warns. These are the hollow shams that people follow instead of being guided by what Christ has said (Col.2:8).
A. Crucified to the World and the World to the Believer
Because of such influences in the world, the apostle gives a principle to his Galatian readers: “But may it never be that I would boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal.6:14). In other words, the world is a dead thing to the Christian and the Christian is a dead person to the world.
1. The World Considers the Christian “Dead”
As far as the world is concerned the believer is dead. The world pays attention to those who are of the world (cf. I Jn.4:5). But it separates itself from the Christian who is not part of its evil system any longer. He or she doesn’t fit in. As Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world the world would love what it owned. But you don’t belong to the world and I’ve selected you from it, the world hates you” (Jn.15:19). Old unbelieving friends lose interest and stay away from those who serve Christ in purity.
2. The Christian Considers the World “Dead”
But Paul tells the Galatian church that the world is not only crucified to the believer, but the believer is also separated from the world. God does not take Christians out of the world, He sends them into it and will protect them from the evil one (Jn.17:15). They have died to the world’s controlling system. Therefore the scriptures teach that Christians must choose to separate themselves from the world’s joys, cares, appeals, pleasures, possessions, attractions and voices. The power and victory that overcomes and defeats the world is their faith in Jesus Christ, as the apostle John affirms (I Jn.5:4-5).
B. The Renewed Mind
1. The World and the Christian
The world makes it difficult to hear God’s voice and to understand what He desires and requires. In fact, as was pointed out by the class lecturer, so-called “true reality” is the physical world; it’s where reality is perceived through the mind, which causes the Christian to simply obtain direction from the Lord through “analysis of stored knowledge.” It is easy to stay in this state and simply be occupied with the concerns and voices of this world. This present age has it own cares, wisdom, and other futile things that seem so often to offer the best of everything, including satisfaction and fulfillment. For this reason the apostle Paul tells his Roman readers: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goals of true maturity” (Rom.12:2, Phillips). Lot was terribly distressed day after day by the immoral conduct of the wicked society in lawless Sodom. He swam against the current, living a righteous life there, though he saw lewd and wicked conduct (II Pe.2:7-8).
For these reasons Paul says that God’s people are not to fashion themselves and imitate the humanistic ways of this present, transitory era with its superficial and external lifestyle. Instead of modeling themselves after this age, Paul exhorts them to be transformed by the renewing of their mind, which will bring about this inward change. Then they can discern what God’s will is in various areas of their life (Rom.12:2).
2. The Worldly Mind and the Renewed Mind Contrasted
The scriptures show that there is a great difference between a mind that is distorted, polluted, unspiritual, destitute of the truth, and blinded by the god of the times, and a mind that is renewed. A renewed mind is one that is pure and honest (II Pe.3:1), understands God’s Word (Lk.24:45), is spiritually sound (I Pe.4:7), is under Christ’s authority (II Tim.1:7), and is occupied with what is above and not with the passing things of the world (Col.3:2). This helps to lead one, as emphasized in class, to see that true reality is actually the spiritual world, that it needs to be perceived through the spirit and lived out by what one’s spirit.
3. The Christian’s Role in the Renewed Mind
Even though God illuminates the believer’s mind, prints His laws on it and is able to give him or her a wise and wholesome one(Lk.24:45; Heb.8:10; Eph.1:8), the Christian still has a role to play in the renewing process. Paul instructs the Philippians what they should be thinking about: Whatever things are true, honest and dignified, just, pure, lovely and endearing; they also needed to think about the fine, good things in others; their thoughts should dwell on whatever has virtue as well as anything that is praiseworthy (Phil.4:8). Therefore, they needed to stay alert since there were many situations in the course of the day that could lead them down the wrong path of thinking. For example, at times it may have been almost too easy to fall into speaking harmful words or gossip or use foolish words that didn’t edify. As Paul told the church at Rome, a Christian must choose to set his or her mind on the things that interest the Holy Spirit and on God’s viewpoint (Rom.8:6). This coincides with what was stressed in class regarding the need to give full place in the mind to the Holy Spirit. When a Christian wants the Lord to speak to him or her one should humbly surrender to Him all thoughts, imaginations, needs and problems, and not take them back in unbelief. Then relax and with a grateful heart, anticipate what He will say.
C. Biblical Meditation
E.S. Isaiah pointed out to the class how David asked that he might dwell or linger in the house of the Lord all the days of his life in order to gaze on and enjoy the graciousness and goodness of the Lord, that is, to have personal fellowship with Him. In order to do that David needed to meditate in His Temple.
1. Benefits and Results of Meditating on God’s Word
Choosing what to think about is very important in having new ideals and attitudes, and being able to hear and listen to the Lord. However, the Bible demonstrates that the most effective way to continue to renew the mind is to meditate on the Word of God. According to the writer’s study of scripture, there are at least six benefits and results of meditating on God’s Word:
- A successful and prosperous life (Josh.1:8)
- Greater wisdom and understanding than any teacher that doesn’t meditate (Ps.119:99 100; Pv.4:4 6)
- Victory over sin (Ps.119:9,11)
- Progress in one’s Christian life that will even be evident to others (I Tm.4:5)
- The ability to understand God’s thoughts (Pv.2:1 5)
- A fruitful life (Ps.1:1 3; II Chron.31:2; Gen.39:3)
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates [emphasis added] day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Ps.1:1-3).
Such a life belongs to those who meditate on the Word of God and obey it.
2. Correct Meditation
Biblical meditation involves fixing one’s mind on God’s Word, actively reflecting upon it and pondering it as one trusts the Holy Spirit to help understand and how to apply the Word. The writer sees a figurative comparison between meditation and a cow chewing its cud. The cow goes out early in the morning and begins to concentrate on what it is eating. After a few hours, the cow lies down and regurgitates the food from his first stomach and chews the food completely. The food then goes to the second, then third, and then fourth stomachs. The food is eventually digested and is absorbed by the blood and literally becomes part of the life of the animal. God’s words were a joy to Jeremiah and he ate and devoured them since they were food to his hungry soul (Jer.15:16).
3. Avoiding Pitfalls in Meditation
Unfortunately, meditation has become more identified with non Christian systems, such as yoga, transcendental meditation and New Age, than with biblical Christianity. This is just one of many reasons to avoid certain pitfalls when a person is meditating. The writer offers the following ideas and suggestions:
- Biblical meditation does not consist of being alone and just thinking about God; nor is it reflecting on one’s own thoughts about God or setting up some formulae to hear God. Meditation involves taking God’s words and thoughts in the Scriptures and actively reflecting and “chewing” on them as illuminated truth through the power of the Spirit that works within the believer to communicate the rhema of God.
- When reading the Scriptures the natural tendency is to take a passage, summarize and reduce God’s thoughts down to one’s own thinking. This leads to simply adjusting God’s thoughts to one’s own worldview and thinking patterns, instead of letting His word mold and renew the mind and thoughts.
- Biblical meditation is not the attempt to understand God or use His word through rationale and rationalism that just works on a conscious level, seeking Him intellectually. The mind must not be what is controlling but rather the spirit, as taught in class. One needs the guidance and gentle, loving control of the Holy Spirit to give spiritual understanding of the things of God.
- Instead of emptying one’s mind, or focusing on one word or image, or using the mind passively, the believer is to fill it with the truth of God through active mental activity, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Meditation that belongs to the world’s system, however, employs techniques of visualization which seek to create a certain “reality” in order to change one’s self or one’s surroundings. This is the kind of mental visualization where a scene or figure is created so vividly in the mind that it is then used to effect or cause a transformation or spiritual growth in oneself or in others. For example, creating a mental image of Jesus in one’s mind and then believing that He is now ready to act or speak and guide is both deceptive and dangerous. The world’s techniques use the mind in this way in order to try to activate a spiritual force for the purpose of accomplishing something in the real world by simply visualizing it in one’s imagination. But the real Jesus would never lower Himself to become an image and servant of a person’s imagination.
At the same time, there is nothing wrong in envisioning and imagining how Israel, for example, won its victories in the OT with God’s help, or in thinking about how God could be working in this world. But when it is believed that the visualization of some image will influence or create a reality, the Christian is opening himself up to possible demonic influence. The imagination is a servant to help one meditate on the things that are true (cf. Phil.4:8). Spiritual transformation and guidance isn’t accomplished through the power of such visualization. The apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Christians to conduct their lives on the basis of faith in the invisible God and not on what can be visualized (cf. II Cor.5:4). In fact, as pointed out in class, there is no such thing as blind faith since it is connected with the One who is trustworthy. Peter said to his readers: “though you do not even now see Him you believe in Him and exult and thrill with inexpressible and glorious joy” (I Pe.1:8).
4. Steps in Meditation
But biblical meditation involves profound thinking of the spiritual truths and realities which are revealed in the Scriptures with the purpose of understanding them, applying them, and praying about them. The writer offers the following suggestions regarding steps for meditation:
- First, even before opening the Bible, create a quiet place, let praise and worship take you to the throne room of God, and then sincerely ask the Lord for wisdom and the knowledge of Himself. Purposely ask the Holy Spirit to take charge and to teach you in His Word (cf. Prov.2:3-6; Jn.15:26) and to enlighten your mind to understand it (cf. Lk.24:45).
- Opening the Scriptures to a particular text, seek to discover what the author meant when the passage was written. The question to ask, therefore, is not “What do I think the text means to me?” or “How do I feel about it?” but rather, “What did God want the original hearers/audience to understand?” Consider memorizing the verse and analyzing it word for word, idea for idea in order to understand what is being memorize. Another idea is to rewrite the verse in one’s own words, thinking of synonyms and other ways to declare differently the inspired meaning of a text in God’s Word. In all of this, however, it is still only the Holy Spirit who can really help and enable one to understand the Word of God ( I Cor.2:10 12); only He can bring life to it (cf. Jn.11:25) and make that Word have a meaningful and spiritual affect in one’s life. Therefore, one must give place to the Holy Spirit in all of this so it is not an academic exercise but one inspired and controlled by the Him.
- Having actively reflected on the Word, take to heart what the Lord has said, and write it down. There needs to be a personal acceptance as well as application of the written word (cf. Prov.2:1-2): “How should I respond in obedience to this text? What would God like me to do as a result of my meeting Him through this part of His Word?”
- Develop a relationship between meditation and prayer. After attentively reading a Bible passage, and thinking, meditating and digesting it, what is meditated on can be used in prayer and intercession.
D. Abiding in Christ
The class was reminded of Jesus’ words in His prayer that the Father would keep and protect the disciples that He had given to Jesus in order that “they may be one, as we are” (Jn.17:11). Jesus wanted them as well as believers today to be one, just as the Father is in union with the Son and He is with them so that the world might be convinced that the Father had sent Him (Jn.17:21). The emphasis is on the perfect unity of being completely one, and Christ being in union with the Christian and the Father with Him (v.22). There are many blessing and benefits of being “in Christ.”
1. The Benefits or Blessings
“In Christ” a believer has eternal life (Rom.6:23). There is also deliverance, sanctification, freedom, justification, the blessing of Abraham, God’s grace–in a word: salvation (Rom.3:24; I Cor.1:2; Gal.2:4,17; 3:14; Eph. 3:6; II Tim.2:1,10). A person is a new creation–a new individual altogether–in Christ (II Cor.5:17).
Everything that pertains to salvation and the Christian walk is related to being “in Christ.” God’s grace is given in Christ (I Cor.1:4). There is no condemnation for those who are in Him (Rom.8:1). When the apostle urged the Romans to consider themselves as having ended their relation to sin but living in unbroken relation to God, he told them to “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus [emphasis added]” (Rom.6:11, NIV). Through the believer’s union with Him, the Holy Spirit who gives life, has set him or her free from sin and death (Rom.8:2).
Not only is the believer in Christ, but He is also in the believer. One can say with the apostle Paul, “Christ lives in me” (Gal.2:20). These two principles, Christ in the Christian and the believer in Him, are keys to hearing the Lord’s voice and discerning His will.
2. Jesus’ and Paul’s Teaching
In John 15 Jesus pictured Himself as the true Vine and His Father as the Gardener or Vinedresser. Any barren branch in Him–any that doesn’t bear fruit–the Father cuts off; and any branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will bear more fruit (vss.1-2).
He then tells His disciples to abide in Him–that is, to remain united to Him–and He will abide in them. Here is an important teaching that Jesus wanted his disciples to understand: As a branch cannot bear fruit unless it continues to share the life of the vine, so neither can believers bear fruit unless they abide in Christ. Jesus is the Vine and they are the branches. Whoever remains in union with Him–abides in Him–and He in union with them will bear abundant fruit because without Him a Christian can do nothing of eternal value (Jn.15:4-5). Christians are like the tree that is purposely planted by running water which will produce fruit in its expected season; their leaves will never wither. So success will attend all that they do (Ps.1:3) because of that abiding relationship in Christ which will enable them to hear and understand the Lord’s will.
Faith that rests on one’s own cleverness and philosophies that are dependent upon the wisdom of this age instead of on one’s abiding relationship with Christ is sure to fail. True competency comes through an abiding relationship with Christ. It is not about talents, intelligence and human discernment, nor in the ability to study and organize, it is about Christ and what Christ’s life can produce through the “branch.” As the apostle Paul wrote to his readers: “like a man of sincerity, like a man that is sent from God and living in His presence, in union with Christ I speak His message” (II Cor.2:17b, Williams).
3. John’s Teaching
The Apostle John in his first epistle gives indications to show if a person is abiding in Christ (I Jn.3:6,23-24; 2:6,28):
- He keeps Christ’s commandments, especially putting his trust in Him and loving others.
- The Spirit whom He has given to the Christian testifies and gives evidence of his abiding relationship with Christ.
- He does not live in sin.
- She is living as Jesus Himself lived here on earth.
- She knows that she will not shrink back in shame from Christ at His coming.
4. Jesus’ Difficult Words
How the abiding relationship is key to hearing the Lord’s voice and knowing His will is brought out more clearly when Jesus said to His disciples, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (Jn.15:7). They could ask whatever they pleased and they would have it. It was dependent upon their remaining vitally united with Christ, and His words continuing to live in their hearts. This intimate relationship is also shown at another time when Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him…. he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me” (Jn.6:53-57b). Believing on Christ means to feed on Him in one’s heart by faith and to partake of His life (Bullinger, E.W. 1968:826-827). This speaks of a very intimate and real abiding in Christ. Jesus said, “If you continue–or abide–in My word, you are truly My disciples” (Jn.5:31).
E. The Conscience
1. Its Importance
The conscience is what distinguishes right from wrong. Since one day both the righteous and the unrighteous will be judged, Paul writes that he does his best to always maintain “a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16). The apostle lived his life in the presence of God with a clear conscience (cf. Acts 23:1). Paul in his letter to Timothy urged his own “son in the faith” to remain in Ephesus; Paul was going on to Macedonia. He wanted Timothy to caution certain persons to not invent new doctrines, and not busy themselves with legends and never-ending genealogies. These things, he said, only stirred up questions and arguments rather than further God’s divine plan (I Tim.1:3-4).
But the goal of Paul’s instruction was love, which comes “from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith” (1:5). Paul instructed Timothy to cling tightly to his faith in Christ and to always keep his conscience clear. It was through spurning their consciences that certain persons had wrecked their lives regarding the faith (1:19). Peter also exhorts his readers to give honor to Christ in their hearts as Lord, to always be ready to give (in a gentle and respectful way) an answer to anyone who asks a reason for the hope that they cherish, and to keep their conscience clear with good Christian conduct (I Pe.3:15-16).
From the above Scriptures it is clear that a good conscience is vital to Christian living.
2. Its Influence
At the same time the scriptures also show the importance of understanding that knowledge influences one’s conscience. For example, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols was a troubling matter for some Corinthians even though an idol-god has no real existence in this world. An idol isn’t really a god, Paul told them, since there is only one God. However, the people had apparently assumed that there are so-called “gods” in the sky and down here on earth. Be that as it may, there is only one God and one Lord. Yet apparently some of the Corinthian Christians did not have such knowledge. There were those who had been accustomed to idols and still regarded certain meat as food sacrificed to a god. With their conscience being weak on this issue, they incurred guilt and their conscience would have been polluted if they had eaten it (I Cor.8:4-7). Knowledge influences one’s conscience.
3. Church Problems and the Conscience
Others of the Corinthian church appeared to know that God’s approval or acceptance of them was not a matter of meat and it wasn’t based on the food they ate. They were also aware that they had no advantage with God by eating meat nor would they fall short by abstaining. So they had no problem partaking of food that had been offered in sacrifice.
However, the problem arose when they would encourage their Christian friends who had a weak conscience [not weak character] to eat the food that had been offered to an idol. Getting those people to eat such food would cause them to violate the misgivings of a doubtful conscience, thereby causing their brothers and sisters to sin. Paul instructed them that a person’s freedom to eat meat in such cases can become a stumbling block to others. He draws the conclusion that if eating meat makes your brother sin, never eat such meat again rather than letting it be the occasion of your brother or sister’s sin. This is what love is all about, he says (I Cor.8:8-13).
There are Christians who are over scrupulous in their faith regarding drinking and/or not eating meat, as was the case in the Roman church. Other people’s faith allowed them to drink and they had no problem eating meat. The apostle told the church that God accepts both of these groups. However, the one group looked down on the other, and the other group began to judge the first group. This caused problems among those Christians (Rom.14:1-4).
Paul gave them instructions. He said that there isn’t anything intrinsically unholy in food or drink. Yet, whatever a person thinks is unclean it is unclean to him or her. And any action that does not stem from faith and rest on conviction is sin. Furthermore, God wants each one to be fully convinced in his own mind what he or she should do in regards to non-essential matters such as what and when to eat and drink (14:14,23).
Those with a stronger conscience were providing an occasion for those with a weaker one to fall. They were seriously upset because the stronger ones were eating and drinking and trying to get them to do the same. Those with a weaker conscience were becoming tripped up and entangled; they could stumble and fall. Paul wanted to know where the Christian love was. How were the stronger ones being governed by love when their eating and persuading could induce the other group to sin? “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (Rom.13:10a, NIV). The group with a stronger conscience should have been a support, bearing with the others’ weaknesses. They should have been trying to please their neighbor so as not to hinder their growth (Rom.15:1-2).
The apostle told both groups that it was important for them to remember the ways of the Kingdom: that God’s kingdom doesn’t consist of eating and drinking, but of rightness of heart, peace, and joy though the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is what is acceptable to God and wins the approval of people. According to Paul both groups needed to begin pursuing the things that would contribute to peace and to building up one another (Rom.14:13,15,17-19). Everything is permissible for Christians but not everything is beneficial. All things are lawful but not everything builds up character (I Cor.10:23).
Since one’s conscience is influenced and affected by the knowledge that it has, Christians need to understand what the Lord’s will is for them and how they are to interact with others with different beliefs and knowledge. There are many non-essential issues in the Christian life that can cause rifts and deep problems not only for the individual but for the church at large. Some of these non-essentials are: movies or DVDs, the kind of car to drive, styles of worship, style of clothing, disciplining of children, where a child should go to school, gender roles, entertainment and types of music to listen to. Paul wrote, “I thank God whom I worship, as did my forefathers, with a pure conscience” (II Tim.1:3a, Knox).
F. Testing the Will of God
The reason for and the result of letting God remold one’s mind from within is so that a Christian is able to discern what God’s will is. The apostle further tells his readers that God’s will is good, well-pleasing and perfect (Rom.12:2).
1. Many Voices Speaking in Various Ways
Hearing God’s voice is not infallible. How do you know if God, yourself, others or Satan is speaking and directing your life at a particular moment? Besides that, God can speak to His people in different ways, i.e., through His Word; the inner voice of the Holy Spirit; through dreams, visions and pictures; and through leaders, pastors and counselors, to name a few of the ways as cited in class. All of this can be confusing at times when one is trying to discern when and what God is speaking.
2. Three General Guidelines
As was stressed in class, a Christian must test the voices by finding the background and context of the message (I Jn.1:4), what the revelation is focusing on (Col.3:2), its content (I Jn.4:5) and then test its fruit (Mt.7:15). The scriptures give at least three guidelines that must be in harmony in order to know if something is the Lord’s will. Briefly, they are:
- The Word of God is the heart, foundation and final judge in divine guidance. God’s thoughts, mind, will and heart are revealed in His word. And it confirms guidance when the direction is fully consistent and in agreement with the principles and teachings of Scripture. Some matters are clearly His will; for example, God longs that all be saved (I Tm.2:4) and Christians are not to commit sin. Sometimes there are principles to go by; for example, the principle of conscience. Also things, such as what house or car to buy, that do not conflict or contradict the scriptures and the whole counsel of God can help verify and confirm the will of God. In all cases, God’s Word must be the foundation for all guidance.
- The Holy Spirit gives clarity, conviction and peace in one’s heart. “Yes, this is the way I should go.” He guides one into all truth. A Christian’s mind and heart are kept in perfect inner peace and quiet gentleness that is deeper than her knowledge and it surpasses her understanding when something is God’s will. There is an agreement (inner witness) that takes place in the spirit as the Holy Spirit communicates with one’s spirit, which results in peace and joy (cf. Prov.2:27) instead of an uneasiness and a lack of peace.
- God will reveal or confirm His will through unique circumstances. These situations may very well occur in answer to prayer. Lack of funds could be God’s way of saying, “No,” or “Wait.” The counsel and approval of mature and wise believers, such as leaders, pastors and counselors, is another circumstance that God will use. Even if a leader gives a word to a believer, he or she needs to get a confirmation, as was stressed in class.
These three important aspects of guidance–God’s Word, the Holy Spirit, and circumstances–must function together in complete harmony with each other in order to assure God’s direction. Only then should a believer move forward in a particular direction. If any one of these tests is out of harmony, then one should wait for God to clarify His will. The Lord’s will is good and beneficial, pleasing and without error.
Knowing the will of God is more than looking for and discerning a voice. This paper has dealt with the necessity of knowing who God is in order to know and understand His will and pleasure. The believer’s relationship with the world and the need for a renewed mind were deemed paramount in knowing the God’s will. Biblical meditation was shown to be vital in understanding and knowing the Word. It is through abiding in Christ that a Christian can know and obey His will. The difficulties which the conscience can have were considered and Paul’s answers given to the dilemma. Testing the will of God was found to be of utmost importance in order to assure that the direction is truly of the Lord.
Though the fundamental principles regarding knowing God’s will have been elaborated in this paper and practical suggestions were given, the writer admits that there is much to learn yet regarding knowing and walking in the will of the Lord.
Thanks are due to Dr. Sudhir Isaiah, Professor and President, Bethany International University, Singapore for his discussions and comments on this paper.
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