Honoring the Spirit by Honoring the Scriptures

by John MacArthur / Friday, September 6, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. One of our previous blog series, Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Placesstrongly emphasizes those doctrines. The following entry from that series originally appeared on June 28, 2017. -ed.

From the very beginning, the battle between good and evil has been a battle for the truth. The serpent, in the Garden of Eden, began his temptation by questioning the truthfulness of God’s previous instruction:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” . . . The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:14–5)

Casting doubt on the straightforward revelation of God has been Satan’s tactic ever since (cf. John 8:442 Corinthians 11:44).

With eternity at stake, it is no wonder that Scripture reserves its harshest words of condemnation for those who would put lies in the mouth of God, usurping His Word with dangerous experience that is paltry in comparison. The serpent was immediately cursed in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:14), and Satan told of his inevitable demise (v. 15). In Old Testament Israel, false prophecy was a capital offense (Deuteronomy 13:510), a point vividly illustrated by Elijah’s slaughter of the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal following the showdown on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:1940)…

Continued at Source: Honoring the Spirit by Honoring the Scriptures

A More Sure Word of Prophecy

by John MacArthur / Wednesday, September 4, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. One of our previous blog series, Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Placesstrongly emphasizes those doctrines. The following entry from that series originally appeared on June 26, 2017. -ed.

Go with your gut.

That might be good advice when shopping for shoes online, but it’s not a reliable means for interpreting or understanding God’s Word. Too many people in the church today trust the inclinations of the upper abdomen to be the final arbiter that determines both when God is speaking and what He is saying.

As we saw last time, that is a dangerous approach—one that will likely lead to spiritual confusion and chaos. If we turn our faith into an entirely subjective exercise, we’re left with no reliable way to determine what is actually true.

Scripture very clearly addresses that issue. The apostle Peter settled the matter by proclaiming the authority and supremacy of Scripture when he wrote,

We did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain (2 Peter 1:16–18).

Peter was describing an event that may have been the most spectacular spiritual experience of his life. This was the transfiguration of Christ, when our Lord appeared in His full glory. Peter heard the voice of God and saw Moses and Elijah face to face. Best of all, he got a preview of Christ in His glory…

Continued at Source: A More Sure Word of Prophecy

Subjectivity and the Will of God

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. One of our previous blog series, Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Placesstrongly emphasizes those doctrines. The following entry from that series originally appeared on June 19, 2017. -ed.

Subjectivity and the Will of God

by John MacArthur / Wednesday, August 28, 2019

If you rely on internal, subjective messages and promptings from the Lord, what prevents you from imagining the input you want from Him? Moreover, what reliable, objective mechanism exists to keep you from misinterpreting your own imagination as divine instruction?

As we saw last time, many good souls and even some heroes of our faith fall into that same error, mistaking imagination for revelation. Many—perhaps most—Christians believe God uses subjective promptings to guide believers in making major decisions. A thorough search of church history would undoubtedly confirm that most believers who lean heavily on immediate “revelations” or subjective impressions ostensibly from God end up embarrassed, confused, disappointed, and frustrated.

Nothing in Scripture even suggests that we should seek either the will of God or the Word of God (personal guidance or fresh prophecy) by listening to subjective impressions. So how are we supposed to determine the divine will?

Virtually every Christian grapples with the question of how to know God’s will in any individual instance. We particularly struggle when faced with the major decisions of adolescence—what occupation or profession we will pursue, whom we will marry, whether and where we will go to college, and so on. Most of us fear that wrong decisions at these points will result in a lifetime of disaster.

Unfortunately, many of the books and pamphlets on discerning God’s will are filled with mystical mumbo-jumbo about seeking a sense of peace, listening for a divine “call,” putting out a “fleece,” and other subjective signposts pointing the way to God’s will.

That kind of “discernment” is not at all what Scripture calls for. If we examine everything the Bible has to say about knowing God’s will, what we discover is that everywhere Scripture expressly mentions the subject, it sets forth objective guidelines. If we put those guidelines together, we get a fairly comprehensive picture of the will of God for every Christian. We can summarize them like this:

  • It is God’s will that we be saved. “The Lord is . . . not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “God our Savior . . . desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3–4).
  • It is God’s will that we be Spirit-filled. “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. . . . Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:17–18).
  • It is God’s will that we be sanctified. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
  • It is God’s will that we be submissive. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13–15).
  • It is God’s will that we suffer. “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).


If all those objective aspects of God’s will are realities in your life, you needn’t fret over the other decisions you must make. As long as the options you face do not involve issues directly forbidden or commanded in Scripture, you are free to do whatever you choose.

Whatever you choose? Yes, within the limits expressly set forth in God’s Word. If those five objective principles are consistently true in your life—if you are saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering for righteousness’ sake—you are completely free to choose whatever you desire.

In fact, God providentially governs your choice by molding your desiresPsalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That doesn’t mean merely that He grants the desires of your heart; it suggests that He puts the desires there. So even when we choose freely, His sovereign providence guides the free choices we make! What confidence that should give us as we live our lives before God!

This is not to suggest that we should attempt to try to decipher God’s will through what we can observe of His providence. That would thrust us right back into the realm of determining truth subjectively. But we can be confident as we make choices that God will providentially work all things together in accord with His perfect will (Romans 8:28Ephesians 1:11). We needn’t be paralyzed with fear that a wrong decision might ruin our lives forever.

There are some caveats that need to be stressed here: Obviously if your desires are sinful, selfish, or wrongly motivated, then you are not really Spirit-filled, or else you are not pursuing sanctification the way you should. Your first responsibility is to set those areas of your life in order. In other words, if you are pursuing self-will and fleshly desire, you have stepped out of God’s will with regard to one or more of the major objective principles. You need to come into line with the objective, revealed will of God before you can make whatever decision you may be contemplating.

And again, our freedom to choose extends only to issues not specifically addressed in Scripture. Obviously, no one who is truly saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering for Christ would willfully disobey the Word of God. No Christian has the freedom, for example, to violate 2 Corinthians 6:14by marrying an unbeliever.

Above all, we must use biblical wisdom in the choices we make. We are to apply wisdom to all our decisions. Look again at the beginning of Ephesians 5:17: “Do not be foolish.” To be Spirit-filled is to be wise—to be discerning (see Exodus 35:31Deuteronomy 34:9; also see Ephesians 5:18 with Colossians 3:16). The biblical wisdom that is the hallmark of the Spirit-filled person is the platform on which all right decision making must be based. We are to consider our options in this light and pursue the choices that seem most wise—not merely what feels best (Proverbs 2:1–6).

This means that if we contemplate God’s will biblically, we will remain in the realm of objective truth. The Bible never encourages us to try to determine God’s will by subjective impressions, “promptings” from the Holy Spirit, the “still, small voice” of God, or miraculous signs like Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36–40). If we seek to be led in subjective ways like those—especially if we neglect objective truth and biblical wisdom—we will surely run into trouble. Making decisions based on subjective criteria is a subtle form of reckless faith.

One of the significant contributions of Garry Friesen’s landmark book, Decision Making and the Will of God, is a chapter that explores the pitfalls of attempting to discern the will of God through subjective impressions. “Impressions Are Impressions” is the title of the chapter. [1] “If the source of one’s knowledge is subjective,” Friesen writes, “then the knowledge will also be subjective—and hence, uncertain.” [2]

At one point Friesen raises the question, “how can I tell whether these impressions are from God or from some other source?” He writes,

This is a critical question. For impressions could be produced by any number of sources: God, Satan, an angel, a demon, human emotions (such as fear or ecstasy), hormonal imbalance, insomnia, medication, or an upset stomach. Sinful impressions (temptations) may be exposed for what they are by the Spirit-sensitized conscience and the Word of God. But beyond that, one encounters a subjective quagmire of uncertainty. For in nonmoral areas, Scripture gives no guidelines for distinguishing the voice of the Spirit from the voice of the self—or any other potential “voice.” And experience offers no reliable means of identification either (which is why the question comes up in the first place). . . . Tremendous frustration has been experienced by sincere Christians who have earnestly but fruitlessly sought to decipher the code of the inward witness. [3]

Even more significant than that is the fact that Scripture never commands us to tune into any inner voice. We’re commanded to study and meditate on Scripture (Joshua 1:8Psalm 1:1–2). We’re instructed to cultivate wisdom and discernment (Proverbs 4:5–8). We’re told to walk wisely and make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:15–16). We’re ordered to be obedient to God’s commands (Deuteronomy 28:1–2John 15:14). But we are never encouraged to listen for inner promptings.

On the contrary, we are warned that our hearts are so deceitful and desperately wicked that we cannot understand them (Jeremiah 17:9). Surely this should make us very reluctant to heed promptings and messages that arise from within ourselves.

This, by the way, is one of the critical deficiencies of Wayne Grudem’s position on prophecy. While defining revelation as “something God brings to mind,” Grudem never explores the critical issue of how to determine whether an impression in the mind really comes from God. Yet this would seem to be the most pressing question of all for someone who is about to declare a mental impression a prophecy from the Lord.

By contrast, Friesen writes, “Inner impressions are not a form of revelation. So the Bible does not invest inner impressions with authority to function as indicators of divine guidance. . . . Impressions are not authoritative. Impressions are impressions.” [4] Surely this is the true path of biblical wisdom.

Haddon Robinson goes one step further: “When we lift our inner impressions to the level of divine revelation, we are flirting with divination.” [5] In other words, those who treat subjective impressions as revelatory prophecy are actually practicing a form of fortune-telling. Those willing to heed inner voices and mental impressions may be listening to the lies of a deceitful heart, the fantasies of an overactive imagination, or even the voice of a demon. Once objective criteria are cast aside, there is no way to know the difference between truth and falsehood. Those who follow subjective impressions are by definition undiscerning. Mysticism and discernment simply do not mix.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)


Additional Reading on Psalm 37:4




When Fancy Is Mistaken for Faith

by John MacArthur / Monday, August 26, 2019

In the lead-up to the Truth Matters conference in October, we will be focusing our attention on the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of Scripture. One of our previous blog series, Looking for Truth in All the Wrong Placesstrongly emphasizes those doctrines. The following entry from that series originally appeared on June 14, 2017. -ed

When Fancy Is Mistaken for Faith

If God is still speaking to us today—even if only through mental impressions and still, small voices—shouldn’t we consider those messages to be as relevant as anything written in Scripture, if not more so?

That very issue was hotly debated during the Great Awakening. It was one area where Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield did not (in the beginning) see eye to eye. Clearly on this question Edwards would not have been the least bit sympathetic with modern charismatics. Edwards believed prophecy had ceased along with the rest of the charismatic gifts. (Edwards’s cessationist views are spelled out in his book Charity and Its Fruits [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1969 reprint], 38, 44-47; and in even greater detail in his “Distinguishing Marks” in Jonathan Edwards: On Revival [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984], 137ff.)

Whitefield was far more willing than Edwards to treat subjective impulses as if they could reliably reveal the Holy Spirit’s leading. In 1740 Edwards confronted Whitefield on the issue. He later wrote to a friend,

I indeed have told several persons that I once purposely took an opportunity to talk with Mr. Whitefield alone about [subjective] impulses: and have mentioned many particulars of our conference together on that [matter]: That I told him some reasons I had to think he gave too great heed to such things: and have told what manner of replies he made; and what reasons I offered against such things. And I also said that Mr. Whitefield did not seem to be offended with me: but yet did not seem to be inclined to have a great deal of discourse about it: And that in the time of it he did not appear to be convinced by any thing I said. [1]

At the height of the Great Awakening, this issue became, in Iain Murray’s words, “the talking-point of the whole country.” [2] Edwards clearly warned his congregation not to place much stock in subjective impressions. He saw this as a particular danger in a time of revival, when religious affections are heightened and the imagination more active than usual. Murray writes,

The “impressions” or “impulses” which [Edwards] criticized were varied in character. Sometimes they involved an element of the visionary. Sometimes they appeared to provide foreknowledge of future events. And sometimes they were accompanied and supported by random texts of Scripture. . . .

Against this belief Edwards argued that a Christian might indeed have a “holy frame and sense from the Spirit of God” but the “imaginations that attend it are but accidental” and not directly attributable to the Spirit. [3]

Edwards had carefully studied this issue. He was convinced that the tendency to follow subjective impulses was a dangerous path down which to travel: “[An] erroneous principle, than which scarce any has proved more mischievous to the present glorious work of God, is a notion that it is God’s manner in these days to guide His saints . . . by inspiration, or immediate revelation.” [4] He saw several dangers in the practice, not the least of which was its hardening effect on the person supposedly receiving the revelation. “As long as a person has a notion that he is guided by immediate direction from heaven, it makes him incorrigible and impregnable in all his misconduct.” [5]

Edwards also knew from both church history and personal experience that

Many godly persons have undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusions, by an aptness to lay too much weight on impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God, to signify something future, or to direct them where to go, and what to do. [6]

Edwards’s advice was straightforward:

I would therefore entreat the people of God to be very cautious how they give heed to such things. I have seen them fail in very many instances, and know by experience that impressions being made with great power, and upon the minds of true, yea eminent, saints . . . are no sure signs of their being revelations from heaven. I have known such impressions fail, in some instances, attended with all these circumstances. [7]

A generation before Edwards, the illustrious Boston pastor Cotton Mather had experimented with this very tendency, believing that God would grant him “particular faiths” for specific prayers to be answered. Convinced God had promised to grant certain prayer requests, Mather prophesied that his wife would recover from a serious illness, that his father would return to England to serve the Lord, and that his wayward son would return to the Lord. Only after those and several other expectations went unfulfilled did Mather begin to question his doctrine of “particular faiths.” [8] (Mather’s proneness to trust subjective phenomena—a fallacy shared by many of his colleagues—may have also kept him from acting sooner than he did to halt the Salem witch trials.)

George Whitefield also learned the hard way that subjective impulses can be tragically fallible. When Whitefield’s wife was expecting her first child, he prophesied that she would have a son who would become a preacher of the gospel. The child was indeed a boy, but he died at the age of four months. He was Whitefield’s only child. Murray writes,

Whitefield at once recognized his mistake saying: “I misapplied several texts of Scripture. Upon these grounds, I made no scruple of declaring ‘that I should have a son, and that his name was to be John.’” When back in New England, in 1745, he could say feelingly of what had happened there, “Many good souls, both among clergy and laity, for a while, mistook fancy for faith, and imagination for revelation.” [9]

As God’s people we must not set ourselves up to commit the same mistakes. We must not confuse our imaginations with divine inspiration. More on that next time.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)