It happened again recently. I was listening to a sermon online and the preacher said, “God told me.” Apparently everyone in the congregation enjoyed it from the response I heard, but I immediately turned it off. This type of communication is becoming more prevalent in Christian circles. It’s showing up in conversations because people are hearing it from the pulpit and reading it in books they purchased from the local Christian bookstore. Perhaps it sounds spiritual or is emotionally stirring to the congregation.
Although the “God told me” method of communicating makes for interesting, suspenseful, and entertaining stories, what people need most is to hear from God. I would like to make a simple request. Please stop saying “God told me” unless the phrase is immediately followed up with a text of Scripture. Have you considered the connection between the “God told me” language and the sufficiency of Scripture? What connection does the “God told me” phrase have with the third of the Ten Commandments?
The “God Told Me” Language Violates the Sufficiency of Scripture
If God spoke to Moses from a burning bush (Ex. 3:4-6), to Samuel in the dark of night (1 Sam. 3:1-9), to Elijah in a cave (1 Kings 19:9), to John the Baptist and others at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11), and to Saul (subsequently Paul) and his traveling companions on the road leading to Damascus (Acts 9:4-7)—why would God not speak to us today? That’s a fair question, but it might surprise you to know that God does still speak to us today. He does so through His sufficient and authoritative Word.
In chapter 1 and paragraph 6 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), we find these words:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
During the days of the Old Testament, God was communicating to prophets in order to write Holy Scripture and to prepare the way for Jesus’ birth. All of the audible communication of God has direct connection to the redemptive plan of God to save sinners. God’s direct communication with His people was not centered on what to eat for breakfast, the need to give money to a random person at a bus stop, or to go join a group of college students at a morning workout.
During the days of the New Testament, and the early church period, God’s audible voice, although rare, was connected to the redemptive plan of God in Jesus Christ. Once the Bible was completed, there was no longer any need for God to speak to people audibly or to provide direct (divine) communication. God has communicated everything necessary for faith and life, worship and service, in His sufficient Word. To use the “God told me” language violates the sufficiency of Scripture. Simply put, it needs to stop.
It’s strange that many churches that once stood courageously for the inerrancy of Scripture in the past frequently employ the “God told me” language in their pulpit today. We don’t allow Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses to play the “God told me” divine revelation card, and we shouldn’t allow Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists or mainstream evangelicals to have a free pass on this crucial issue.
The “God told me” language majors on our stories rather than God’s story. We need more of God and less of us in our singing and preaching today. If people are genuinely hungry to hear from God, we must direct them to God’s Word. To raise children on “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” and to emphasize the authority of God’s Word is a good thing. But, when those same children arrive in the worship service on the Lord’s Day and hear a preacher waxing eloquent about how God talked directly to him in the early hours of the morning — that’s severely inconsistent. John MacArthur writes:
Preoccupied with mystical encounters and emotional ecstasies, [many] seek ongoing revelation from heaven – meaning that, for them, the Bible alone is simply not enough. [With them], biblical revelation must be supplemented with personal “words from God,” supposed impressions from the Holy Spirit, and other subjective religious experiences. That kind of thinking is an outright rejection of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It is a recipe for far-reaching theological disaster. 
The “God Told Me” Language Uses God’s Name in Vain
Although some people unintentionally use the “God told me” vocabulary without understanding the implications, in other cases, certain people and preachers use the phrase as a means of claiming that they actually heard directly from God. This intentional use of God’s name is a clear violation of the third commandment (Deut. 5:11).
For whatever the reason, some people feel compelled to us God’s name as a stamp of approval on their stories, their decision to move churches, their decision to go into the ministry, or their decision to take a job transfer. Either way, it’s not true. It’s intellectually dishonest. We as evangelicals must not allow people to continually get away with using this language. We certainly shouldn’t celebrate it. Hear the word of Charles Spurgeon from a sermon he preached titled, “The Paraclete,” October 6, 1872:
Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to Him [the Holy Spirit]. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonored by persons – I hope they were insane – who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not for some years passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me, and it may spare them some trouble if I tell them once for all that I will have none of their stupid messages… Never dream that events are revealed to you by heaven, or you may come to be like those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Ghost. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God. Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the Word of God already – He adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses. I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Ghost by laying their nonsense at His door. 
It is through the Word of God that we hear God proclaim to us the reality of sin (Rom. 3). From the Scriptures, we hear God declare good news that makes us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:14-15). God speaks from His Word to correct us and warn us of error (2 Tim. 3:16-17). As we continue to hear God speak through His Word, we grow into spiritual maturity and experience the ongoing renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). God speaks today, but we must not cling to extrabiblical revelations. Such words are empty and impotent sayings that are more closely associated with mysticism than Christianity.
Important questions to ask when someone uses the “God told me” language:
- If the “God told me” language is used in the context of a sermon preached by one of your pastors (or a guest preacher), rather than attacking him online, setup a private meeting to discuss the matter in person. Show respect and ask for specifics to be sure you are not misunderstanding.
- Is this direct communication from God necessary if we already have the completed canon of Scripture (all 66 books)?
- Is the person using the “God told me” language in order to manipulate you in some way?
- Is the person seeking to validate their poor life decision by attaching God’s name to it?
- Is the “God told me” language being employed in the context of asking for money?
- Is the person using the name of God to aspire to an office in the local church?
- Is the “God told me” language in direct contradiction to any doctrine or truth revealed in Scripture?
An appeal to those who preach and teach the Bible:
- Remember Paul’s words to Timothy—Preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5). We should preach the Word and not our stories.
- According to Ecclesiastes 12:14, one day we will give an account of every secret thing and every careless word that proceeds from our mouths (Matt. 12:36).
- It is our duty to maximize God and minimize ourselves in the pulpit. If people leave church services remembering your riveting story about God talking to you instead of remembering God’s Word, you’ve done the people a great disservice.
- Your “God told me” language makes others who obviously don’t hear Him speak in an audible voice (everyone in the congregation) feel sub-par in their Christian life. It also serves as a means of puffing up your spiritual level to an elite status above the normal Christian. This shouldn’t be the goal in preaching.
- If God didn’t actually speak to you in audible voice, please stop using the phrase, “God told me” when you’re telling stories in your sermons.
- Brother pastor, if you have someone speak in your pulpit who uses that type of language, it’s your responsibility to correct it with your people. Their spiritual maturity and development depends upon you being faithful in this area.
Don’t immediately classify a friend as a lunatic or a heretic if they use the “God told me” language in their communication. However, when you hear people talking in this manner, it should serve as a big red flag. Exercise wisdom and gentleness when confronting this error among friends or church members, but in the case of calling out false teachers, mark them so that others will not be led astray.
- John MacArthur, Strange Fire, (Nashville, Nelson Books, 2013), 218.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Paraclete,” October 6, 1872 [Sermon].
Christianity is far more than feeling a certain way. It involves knowing God. To be a Christian is far more than being saved from the eternal flames of hell. It involves a lifetime pursuit of God. Paul explains the Christian pursuit in Ephesians 1:18-19, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you , what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the work of his great might.”
Today, much of evangelical Christianity is based on feelings. We choose churches based on how the services make us feel. We listen to certain preachers based on how they make us feel. We read certain books in order to stir-up certain feelings. And the list goes on and on. Have you considered the fact that God wants us to know some things about Him?
When Paul uses the phrase, “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” he is referencing the inner core of our human person. The center of our spiritual and physical person is often referred to as our heart in the Scriptures. This is where the seat of our emotions, volition, and thinking occurs. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus (and surrounding cities) was that they would know God intimately and grow in their knowledge of Him. Alistair Begg writes the following:
[We] must understand that Christianity is not served by mindlessness, but by the knowledge of God through the Word of God. Such knowledge engages our minds, stirs our hearts, and transforms our lives. This knowledge is personal. How is it fostered? By listening to what He says (the priority of preaching), by engaging Him in conversation (the emphasis on prayer), by spending time in His company (the need for a devotional life), and by being with others who know Him too (the need for gathered worship). This knowledge is progressive and dynamic, not static. At the end of our journey, we should still be exclaiming with Paul: “I want to know Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:2). 
As we read through the Scriptures, we see that this pursuit is not merely a human effort. It requires diligence from us, but it likewise involves the work of the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to understand. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, we read, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We likewise read that without the power of God, we cannot understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). Although we were once darkened and our understanding of God and His marvelous grace (Eph. 4:18) was a hidden mystery, after causing us to be born again, we are given the ability to understand the Word of God. Therefore, we must give ourselves to the study of God.
Knowing God involves quite a bit more than showing up for a church service on Sunday morning. It’s impossible for your pastor to give you all of your spiritual nutrients in one sermon. It is the will of God for us to know God. This involves:
- Knowledge of what God has done for us in the past.
- Knowledge of what God is doing for us in the present.
- Knowledge of what God is planning for us in the future.
According to Paul, in Ephesians 1:15-19, his prayer was for the Ephesian believers to have the knowledge of God which involved the hope they possessed in God, the glorious riches of their inheritance in God, and the immeasurable power toward those who believe. This type of understanding involves a lifelong pursuit and should not be relegated to the back burner of life. Knowing God is more important than your business ventures, your retirement plans, your children’s athletic pursuits, and anything else you could give yourself to in this life. While participating in a Q&A one day, James Montgomery Boice was once asked, “What do you think is the greatest lack among evangelical Christians in America today?” He replied, “I think that the greatest need of the evangelical church today is for professing Christians really to know God.” 
- Alistair Begg, Made For His Pleasure, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), 22.
- James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988), 34.
As a pastor, I’m constantly asked to give my opinion on very personal matters. Sometimes, through this blog, I receive e-mails from complete strangers about complicated challenges that people face in their family or personal relationships. Although I like to consider myself a relatively young pastor, as I look back on my ministry, it seems that a large percentage of problems that people face in life are connected to the issue of authority. When no king was in Israel, people were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. In our present culture, that same trap of personal autonomy and independence looms over our culture. To put it bluntly, the depraved sinful heart seeks autonomy and resists authority.
The American evangelical church has suffered greatly by resisting authority. The people who live by the motto, “land of the free and the home of the brave” don’t easily surrender to anyone’s authority. When we teach our children to be “free and brave” – that attitude rising from the soil of a depraved soul can result in teenage rebellion, disrespect for civil authority, a rogue attitude toward laws, and a hatred for boundaries. Americans have been singing the words, “I did it my way” for years, and with a sense of pride we rebel. It’s no surprise that we have teenagers walking around in the local shopping mall with t-shirts that read, “There is no authority but yourself.”
Most of the time, when a parent comes to me with problems with their child, within a few minutes I can make a connection to the issue of authority. However, this authority issue is not an independent “authority” issue, it’s really a God issue. Children rebel against their parents because they have rebelled against God. They don’t obey their parents because they have no desire to obey God.
R.C. Sproul has accurately stated, “The very word authority has within it the word author. An author is someone who creates and possesses a particular work. Insofar as God is the foundation of all authority, He exercises that foundation because He is the author and the owner of His creation. He is the foundation upon which all other authority stands or falls” (“The Divine Foundation of Authority,” Tabletalk, March, 2009, p. 6).
In Matthew 18, we see Jesus’ words concerning church discipline. This process is to be practiced in order to preserve the holiness of the church. Occasionally, a church might reach the point of excommunication, whereby the church has to revoke the membership of a member because of persistent rebellion and a refusal to repent of ongoing sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin might be, at the root of the whole situation is a refusal to submit to authority. First, the authority of God and His commands of holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Second, and related to the authority of God, is the refusal to submit to the church’s authority (see Matthew 18:15-20; Hebrews 13:17).
Lawbreakers roam the streets of our society. In fact, they live under our roofs. To be clear, we are all lawbreakers and rebels at heart (Ephesians 2:1-10). However, those who are rebels to God often have little restraint of conscience, disrespect for God, and a lack of submission to the laws of society (Romans 13:1-7). This lawbreaking attitude manifests itself through drugs, theft, adultery, murder, rape, a refusal to pay taxes, and various other sins.
At times, rebels to civil laws likewise have a rebellious attitude toward police officers, the very people who enforce the laws of society. Although many case studies exist and much ink has been used to explain the root cause of such behavior, the reality is – it’s all connected to a problem with authority. The rogue attitude toward civil laws is rooted in a rebellion against God’s law. This attitude is related to a deep rooted rebellion against God.
In recent days, the landmark decision of the Supreme Court has provided new perspective regarding authority. What happens when a certain percentage of the population decides that they want to break the law and get away with it? If they pressure the law makers, or in the case of same-sex marriage if the pressure the Supreme Court justices, they can merely change the law to reflect their sinful desires. It’s one thing for a teenager to have a problem with the authority of his parents. It’s quite a different thing for a nation to have a problem with the authority of God and His divine law that’s deeply rooted in creation.
It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about problems with teenage rebellion, a wife’s disrespect for the headship of her husband in marriage, a refusal to pay taxes, materialism, disconnect and disinterest in the church, drug dealers, murderers, homosexuals, thieves, and various other sins – all of these actions are rooted in a problem with authority. Rebellion against God and an unwillingness to submit to His authority leads to various other sins (see Romans 1:26-32). When people refuse to recognize God’s intended purpose of authority and seek what’s right in their own eyes, an entire multiplicity of problems will plague that individual, family, church, or nation. It’s an unfortunate reality that people want God to be everywhere except on His throne.
We can learn much from the lessons of failed leaders, judged nations, and the sinful trap of rebellion. Charles Spurgeon once said, “A sacred regard to the authority of God ought to lead us to reject an error, however old, sanctioned by whatever authority, or however generally practiced.” At the heart of the first sin was a disregard for authority – Satan disregarded the authority of God and lusted after His throne. The first sin in human history was rooted in a disregard for authority and boundaries instituted by God – Adam and Eve rebelled against God. It would be an extremely wise decision to live life in complete submission to God.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 – You are not your own,  for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Each year, my family and I make the trek northward to Wrightsville Beach N.C. for our annual family vacation. We know the best places to eat, the places to hang-out during the day, the best beach spots, and we also enjoy the large running community that seems to be constantly moving all hours of the day and night! However, this year as we were hanging out on the beach, we decided to setup our tent and chairs on the north end of the beach where the ocean and the channel all come together creating a mixture of surf, sand, pools of water, and a calm flowing stream. This is a great place for the kids to play and one that provides several options for family recreation.
As we were setting up the tent on the first day with our friends who had joined us for vacation, we noticed a strange collage of shells, wooden platform, and a mailbox just behind us next to the sand dunes. After getting things setup, we walked over and looked at this strange assortment of shells, and it turned out to be a mailbox that read, “Leave A Note To God.” So, as you can imagine, I opened the box and inside the mailbox were hundreds of letters to God. As I scanned the piles of shells surrounding the box I saw that many people had left letters to God on the shells. So, like any curious person would do, I took out a few letters and read them. Some seemed more serious than others, but for the most part, they were sincere prayers that people had walked down the beach and left to God in a box.
On the second day, we setup the tents closer to the mailbox shrine, and as we were putting our things down, it dawned on me that it would be a great place to talk to people about God. The day prior a steady stream of people had been walking up to the mailbox throughout the day, so as I was preparing the tent the first man of the day walked up and spoke to us as he approached the mailbox. He said, “I guess you like the shrine?” I said, “Well, I guess so, but if I want to talk to God, I could just speak to Him and He would hear me without putting my letter in the box.” He responded, “Well, as I see it – God is a poor listener.” From that point – I knew that I was going to have a clear opportunity to speak with this man about the gospel. So, I stopped my construction of the tent and approached the mailbox.
He let me know very quickly that he was an Atheist. Sometimes you find an Atheist on the college campus or lurking on an internet website, but this time I had come into contact with an Atheist on the beach! I really enjoy talking to Atheists because most of them are “white belt” Atheists who have merely bought into a particular position based on some website or book that claims the Bible is not trustworthy and that we are the result of a “big bang” and billions of years of chance. It’s actually refreshing to talk to an Atheist on the beach under a bright sun, listening to the rolling waves, and standing on warm sand rather than through this blog or between the shelves at the local bookstore which often happens in my life.
One way that I approach conversations with Atheists is by asking questions. I never walk up and introduce myself as a Baptist preacher. That usually kills the conversation rather quickly. So, I usually begin with simple easy non-intrusive questions that lead to more complex questions. As I started with this man on the beach, I asked him how he could deny the existence of God as the designer of our marvelous creation that surrounds us? His response, “Well, I explain all of the creation with the ‘Big Bang.'” I responded, “How do you explain what the Bible says in Genesis 1 about God creating the world?” I was fairly sure he would take the bait and run to discredit the Bible, and I was right. However, he didn’t go as far as I would have liked. He responded, “Well, the Bible is one of many religious documents that exists presenting a particular view of ‘God.'” I pushed him a bit further by asking, “Sir, wasn’t the Bible written over a long period of time – like 1,500 years by about 40 different authors who all come together in their presentation of God without contradictions?” His response was immediate, “Without contradictions? The Bible has many contradictions.” I tried not to show any emotion, but I was excited that he had finally arrived at this point. So I then asked one simple question, “Can you name one of the many contradictions?” His response, “Well, how about the birth place of Jesus?” I responded, “Bethlehem?” He said, “Yea, but everyone knows that Jesus was called, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.'” After I explained that I was born in Atlanta but grew up in Douglasville – I could be known as Josh of Douglasville while having a true history of being born in Atlanta – I asked him another question. I asked, “Can you point out any other contradiction in the Bible?” He responded by saying, “Well, I was reading a book by Christopher Hitchens and he provided some contradictions but I can’t remember them right on the spot.” Just as I expected, this man was a self proclaiming Atheist who has been persuaded by the ideologies of some man’s book.
That is the normal pattern of conversation that I typically have with Atheists and it seems to always prove Psalm 14:1. They want to discredit the Bible, and they must defeat it in order to be a true Atheist. However, in the end, the Bible cannot be defeated by any self professing Atheist. While they may laugh at the record of Jonah and claim that nobody can be swallowed by a fish or scoff at the record of Genesis and claim that the world cannot be flooded in only 40 days, the Bible has a greater mountain that the Atheist must climb! The greatest infallible proof that the Bible is true is not based on Jonah or Genesis or even the life of the Apostle Paul. The greatest proof is found in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That is the large pink elephant that stands in every science laboratory and positions itself in the center of every college university on planet earth. The resurrection of Christ is the centerpiece of Christianity and proves that the Bible is true! Therefore, the Atheist on the beach and the “Four Horseman” of the modern Atheist movement must do more than talk of a “Big Bang” and evolution. They must disprove the resurrection of Christ in order to rightly discredit the Bible. For, if God the Father raised up God the Son from the dead – He can also cause a man to be swallowed by a fish, the world to be flooded in 40 days, and time to stand still in Joshua. The God who has revealed Himself in the pages of the Bible has miraculously invaded time, space, and our personal lives throughout history. He has done it through the birth of His Son, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. The Atheist can stick his head in the sand and pretend that God isn’t out there – but when he opens his eyes it becomes profoundly evident that God exists.
I pray that God will open the eyes of the man on the beach with the truth of the gospel. Why do I pray that God will open his eyes with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Because Thomas Watson once said, “He that doth not believe that there is a God, is more vile than a devil. To deny there is a God, is a sort of atheism that is not to be found in hell.”1 A man may claim to be an Atheist on the beach, but he will not be an Atheist in hell. As he walked away, I said, “Sir, the God who has revealed Himself in the pages of the Bible sent His Son to die for me. I am a sinner, I make mistakes, and I stand in need of salvation. The only way that I can be forgiven is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Consider the facts that I have presented to you today and consider the reality of God as you view His creation.” May God be pleased to open the eyes of the blind as they see God through the hearing of the gospel of King Jesus!
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
John MacArthur writes, “As Christians we accept one foundational truth – God – and everything else makes sense. An atheist denies God and has to accept incredible explanations for everything else. It takes more faith to deny God than to believe in Him.”2
Pastor Josh Buice
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1. A Puritan Golden Treasury, compiled by I.D.E. Thomas, by permission of Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA. 2000, p. 28.
2. The Ultimate Priority, Moody Press, 1983, p. 38.
The history of mankind has been full of false gods that have absolutely no power. The nation of Israel was a people who constantly found themselves battling with the temptations of worshiping false gods made by the hands of man. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 135:15-21:
The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. 16 They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; 17 They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths. 18 They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them. 19 Bless the LORD, O house of Israel: bless the LORD, O house of Aaron: 20 Bless the LORD, O house of Levi: ye that fear the LORD, bless the LORD. 21 Blessed be the LORD out of Zion, which dwelleth at Jerusalem. Praise ye the LORD.
Although we are not living in the Old Testament days whereby false gods of wood, hay, and stubble were a common thing, we are living in a day where false gods are more common than we may think. False gods do not need to be in the form of a golden calf or a large statue like that of Diana. False gods come in many forms and sizes. Today people have false gods that fit into the front pocket, hold .mp3 songs, and have text messaging capabilities. Other false gods have chrome wheels and sparkling paint. The gods of this world are powerless and have no ability to right the wrongs of man. Just like the god of Baal – the gods of this modern world are no different. They have no ability to comfort the widow, the child dying of leukemia, or the mother that just buried her only child. The gods of this world do not speak, they do not hear, and they do not rule and reign. That is why the Psalmist called for the LORD (YHWH) – the existing One – the God of Holy Scripture – to be blessed.
Let us consider how marvelous our great God really is in light of what He did on Calvary’s cross. The great speaking God deserves to be praised for how great and awesome He is, but He deserves infinite more praise, honor, and glory for what He did to His Son for our sin. If the God of Holy Scripture never sent His Son to die for our sin, He would still be worthy of praise. But, that He did give up His Son in our place on the cruel cross of Calvary is something that calls for praise and glory. Even if the false gods of the world did have breath in their mouths, eyes that could see, ears that could hear, and mouths that could speak – they would never send their only son to die for wicked rebellious sinners. But, God is higher and greater than any other “god” of this world – and He did that out of His heart of mercy and love! To God be the glory – great things He has done.
Pastor Josh Buice