Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, I John 4:1, 2
The minute we open ourselves up in prayer to specific, personal leading from God, we must also have an objective standard by which we can test the impressions we receive.
We may truly believe that God speaks specifically to individual hearts, but discerning whether the direction is coming from God or another source is sometimes difficult. Sometimes the direction may simply be a reflection of our personalities or even a personality disorder making us desire very peculiar things. It could be other supernatural forces as well. Sometimes, people are in touch with spiritual forces that are not from God, and they may not even realize it.
Again, if we’re going to be open to God’s voice, we must have an objective standard for verifying that we are hearing God’s voice.
Scripture is our standard! God will never contradict Himself. God will never lie.
So, if you get impressions that are contrary to Scripture, you need to recognize that these impressions are not from the Holy Spirit.
When I was in college, there was a young couple with an embarrassing situation. They weren’t married, yet the young woman got pregnant. They had an explanation. They told their fellow students at this Christian college that they had prayed about their desire for sexual intimacy and felt the Lord had told them it was all right for them to engage in premarital sex.
I believe that someone may have told them it was okay, but it wasn’t the Holy Spirit. God’s word teaches that sex is only for marriage. And, God doesn’t contradict Himself.
Some things we don’t need to pray about. I don’t need to pray about whether or not it’s okay for me to go ahead and kill my neighbor. “Lord, you’ve got to understand, my neighbor is a pain. Somebody needs to get rid of him, and I’m willing to be your servant, Lord.”
God has already said not to murder, so I don’t need to pray about it. If I start feeling led to kill my neighbor, I need to realize where that’s coming from, and I need to crucify the desires of the flesh and stand against the tempter, my spiritual enemy.
The thought may occur to you, “I’m feeling led to have an affair.” You need to understand that you are being led by your loins and by the evil one, not by the Holy Spirit.
“I saw this thing at work, and I thought, ‘The boss will never know if I take it.’” God has already said, “You shall not steal.” You don’t need to pray about whether or not taking something that doesn’t belong to you is all right. It’s not all right. God has already said “No.”
If we want to know the voice of God, we need to study the Bible. Our minds need to be conditioned by the word of God. We need to have our thinking saturated by what God says, so that we recognize His voice, so that when God tells us to do something, we know whether what we’re hearing is consistent with God’s word and with His character. If it is God, it will be scriptural.
When we get a thought, feeling, or impulse in prayer, we must first decide how this lines up with Scripture. If we feel that God is telling us to do something immoral, we know this is definitely not God speaking. It may be a deeply moving spiritual inclination, but it is definitely not the Holy Spirit speaking. Anything telling us to do something that the Bible says we’re not supposed to do is not God. So, the first safeguard in learning to discern the voice of God is in studying and learning the Scriptures.
That settles it.
Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker some Christians placed on their cars. It read: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” This was a sweet sentiment for those who wanted to display their confidence that God’s word can be trusted. But, I couldn’t help wanting to edit the bumper sticker to read: “God said it. That settles it.” God’s word is true whether we believe it or not.
Jeremiah was a man who learned to listen to God. The Spirit of God was able to lead him. In Jeremiah 32, there is a wonderful story about Jeremiah’s prison confinement. He is imprisoned because of his courageous faithfulness to God’s revealed word. Here is a prophet who risked his life and sacrificed his freedom because he knew what God said and was not afraid to declare the word of God.
“And Jeremiah said, ‘The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Behold, Hanamel the son of Shallum your uncle is coming to you, saying, ‘Buy for yourself my field which is at Anathoth, for you have the right of redemption to buy it.’
“Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, that is at Anathoth, which is in the land of Benjamin; for you have the right of possession and the redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.” Jer. 32:6-8 (NASB)
This incident gives a vital insight into Jeremiah’s faith. The word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah. But, he understands and accepts this as truly being the word of the Lord on the basis of the context he emphasizes when he states it the second time: “Then Hanamel my uncle’s son came to me in the court of the guard according to the word of the Lord and said to me, ‘Buy my field, please, … buy it for yourself.’ Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.”
Because the event foretold occurs, Jeremiah says, “Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.” Jeremiah knew it was God’s word when it actually happens. God’s word will always come to pass. Are you studying the Scriptures? Do you believe and obey His word?