I never really felt that what they were telling me was right. But who am I? They quoted their verses and told me what they meant. I really did want to follow and obey Christ. I am not a rebel. So I did what they told me was God’s will.
How many times have you either said something like this yourself, or you have heard a Christian who was a victim of abuse say it? For myself, I can not only attest to thinking this at times in the past, but I can also say that I have heard scores of abuse survivors say that this is how they thought as well. At some point we begin to wake up and realize that what these “experts” were telling us was just plain contrary to the character of God as He has revealed Himself to us.
Here are quite a few Scripture passages that are important for us to read and understand. They address the very identity and nature of every Christian, and they describe to us how the Spirit of Christ operates within us. Based upon these verses (and believe me, I could have listed many more – well, don’t believe ME – look for yourself:) it is my conclusion that in many of these cases, actually in most of them, that “feeling” that the counsel you were getting was not right, was not your ignorance, but was in fact the leading of the Holy Spirit telling you “what they are saying to you is wrong! Don’t listen to it.”
Read through these verses then and give some very serious thought to what they say about how Christ leads His people. Of course we realize that the Spirit always leads us in agreement with the written Word, which the Spirit Himself inspired. Notice how these verses emphasize that every Christian has the ability to discern truth from error and to discern God’s will. Yes, we get better and better at these abilities as we grow in sanctification and knowledge of the Lord, but every Christian possesses these abilities because every Christian has the Spirit.
Ok, here we go:
1 John 4:1-3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, (3) and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 (20) Do not despise prophecies, (21) but test everything; hold fast what is good.
John 10:4-5 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. (5) A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
1 John 4:5-6 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. (6) We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Ephesians 4:11-14 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (12) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (13) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (14) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:20-21 But that is not the way you learned Christ!– (21) assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
1 John 2:26-27 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. (27) But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him.
1 John 2:20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
So, every Christian can test the spirits. That is to say, every Christian can discern truth from error by the leading of the Holy Spirit in them. This ability grows stronger and stronger as we read and study God’s Word.
And every Christian has the ability to recognize Jesus’ voice versus a stranger’s voice. YOU have that ability! Every Christian knows God and is able to recognize His Word in contrast to the lies of the world.
In the Ephesians 4 passage we see that yes, the Lord has indeed given various offices to the church — prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastor-teachers. So this doctrine that every believer can discern truth from error does not mean that all pastors are out of a job! No, the pastor’s job is to help believers come to maturity in Christ so that they aren’t thrown into a deceptive doctrinal tailspin every time some Joel Osteen blows into town. Or, to give a more common example — so we aren’t any longer sitting ducks when other Christians or even our church leaders give us erroneous counsel claiming it is God’s Word for us. No pastor is infallible. John Piper is not infallible. We here on this blog are not infallible. So we must never, never accept instruction or counsel or what claims to be biblical teaching just because so and so said it. I fear, however, that this is in fact what so many Christians do and this is one result that we get into such a mess of legalism and other falsehoods in our own lives and in our churches.
I hope this all gives you some confidence. It should. YOU have some real abilities, Christian. If you don’t think that what you are hearing is the voice of the Good Shepherd, then most probably is not. Yes, we must be careful and diligent in making this determination. We have to be sure that it really is the Holy Spirit leading us and not our own sinful flesh. The Holy Spirit is not going to lead us to do something sinful. But He is leading you. He is teaching you in conjunction with God’s Word.
Perhaps we all need to tune out a lot of the noise that is coming at us and listen more carefully for the voice of the Lord.