The Secret of Knowing God’s Will

The single most pressing question I hear is: “How can I know God’s will?” Prospective seminary students want to know whether they should attend seminary. Couples want to know whether they should get married. Ministers want to know whether to take a call. The problem of knowing God’s will plagued my Christian life for years. Who knows how many books have been written (and that will be written) to try to answer this question? The good news is that the secret of knowing God’s will is right in front of us.

In this context, by “God’s will” I mean, “What God wants me to do in this particular situation.” There are essentially three ways by which people have tried to discern God’s will for their lives. Let’s call the first and most widely used approach the “pietist-mystical view” (PMV). The PMV appeals to 1 Kings 19:12 and the “still, small voice” (AV) or, as the ESV translates them, “a low whisper.” The PMV expects to replicate the prophetic revelation and seeks to know God’s “will” in any circumstance through everything from impressions to intuitions to claims of direct revelation. This approach to the will of God is virtually universal among evangelicals today. It was among the first things I learned as an evangelical in the mid-1970s in volumes such as Rosalind Rinker’s Conversational Prayer.

A second approach is the “mechanical view” (MV). The crassest version of this approach is simply letting the Bible fall open and taking the words before one as the indication of God’s moral will for a particular circumstance.  Another version of the MV is the post-canonical appropriation of the “fleece.” (Judges 6:37). The Christian determines that if the Lord, in his providence, does p that will mean q.

The third way is the confessional Reformation approach to understanding God’s moral will. However inconsistent particular Protestants have been in practice (and they have been), our theologies and confessions have distinguished clearly between the mind of God and the human mind and between two aspects of the divine will. We have also taught clearly how post-canonical Christians, i.e. those who do not live in the canonical history of redemption, may know God’s moral will.

The most basic distinction regarding God’s moral will is that taught in Deuteronomy 29:29, between the “revealed things” and the “secret things.” The latter are those things that belong to the divine decree (i.e. the decretive will) and to providence. We do not know whom God has elected. We do not know what God’s providence holds. We cannot presume to interpret God’s providence (Job 38). We do not know why the Tower in Siloam fell (Luke 13:4). We do not know who will come to faith. Apart from the ordinary providence of God, we do not know what will happen tomorrow (Matt 6:34). God has not promised to reveal those things. They are and shall remain secret. These things are necessarily hidden because God’s ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa 55:8–9). He is the infinite, incomprehensible, immutable (Nu 23:19; Heb 6:17), eternal Creator and we are finite, mutable (changeable) creatures.

The first part of the secret of knowing God’s will is knowing the difference between that which has been revealed and that which remains secret. According to Deuteronomy 29:29, God has revealed some things, chiefly his moral or preceptive will. These have been given to us and “belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The last clause is the clue that explains the distinction. If we want to know what God wants us to do, it is summarized, in Mosaic terms, in the phrase, “all the words of this law (Torah).” In other words, God has revealed his moral will. It is no secret.

God’s Will Hidden and Revealed

According to Deuteronomy 29:29, believers are to trust in, rely upon, listen to, and obey that which God has revealed rather than seeking that which He has not revealed. In the history of salvation, seeking what God has not revealed was considered idolatry and sin. Perhaps the classic example of this sin is that of Saul turning to the witch (the ESV has “medium”) of En-dor (1 Sam 28:7). They both knew it was wrong and criminal (under the Israelite civil law) and what is most ironic is that it was completely unnecessary. Saul’s first sin, in this instance, was that he did not obey the explicit revelation of God! (1 Sam 28:18). Like Saul, many of us have turned away from the explicit revelation of God’s moral will in favor of alternative sources of guidance.Â

One reason why we are tempted to act like Saul is Americans are conditioned to believe that there is a “secret” for everything and they seem to conclude that God’s moral will must also be a secret and that there must be a method for unlocking the secret. Many scholars have observed that American evangelicalism has similarities to gnosticism, i.e. the quest for secret knowledge. One of the fastest ways to entrepreneurial success in American evangelicalism is to peddle heretofore unknown secrets. Mormonism is founded on alleged new revelation that disclosed things hitherto secret and marginalizes Christ as God’s final Word. The Millerites offered a new revelation about the end times. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have a new revelation that replicates ancient Christological heresies. The Church of Christian Science has a new “revelation” that replicates ancient Gnostic heresies. Bob Schuller and Joel Osteen offer the secrets of a happy life. Word-Faith preachers offer the secrets of health and wealth. Radical dispensationalists offer the secret of which biblical books are really canonical for this dispensation. The list seems endless.

Another reason is that we do not know the history of salvation and the pattern of revelation there. One effect of dispensationalism on American evangelicalism has been to divide wrongly the Word of God. For most American evangelicals, anything that happened in redemption prior to the incarnation is hazy at best and usually irrelevant except for an occasional “character study.” Everything that happened prior to Jesus’ birth is relegated to the “Old Testament” (even though Paul and the writer to the Hebrews use that phrase to refer specifically to the period from Sinai to the cross).

In truth there was a consistent pattern in the history of redemption. We see it in Noah. God delivered His church through the flood and then He revealed Himself by way of explanation. We can see this pattern in the exodus (Ex 14). The Lord delivered His people and then He gave them a canonical revelation explaining that redemption (the Gospel) and laying down His moral will for those whom He had redeemed (the Law).

Indeed, this pattern was reproduced all throughout the history of redemption. With the advent of our Lord himself incarnate came “the Word” “in the flesh.” We beheld his glory. Moses (not Abraham) was the type and shadow but Christ was the reality. As Geerhardus Vos pointed out long ago, when John says “true” or “truth” he means something like, “the in-breaking of the final reality in the person of Christ.” Christ is the revelation of God to us and he brought with him redemption and revelation. Following his ascension, another great act of redemption, God the Spirit came upon the apostolic church in a unique and powerful way to explain authoritatively, definitively, and finally the saving acts of God in Christ. This is the pattern then: sovereign, gracious redemption and definitive, canonical revelation. The revelation is as canonical and inviolable as the acts of redemption are unrepeatable.

A third reason why American evangelicals have been confused about the moral will of God is because they have rarely observed the basic biblical (and Reformational) distinction between those words in Scripture that are in the indicative mood, that narrate the great story of redemption, that announce the Good News of salvation, and those words that are in the imperative mood that demand perfect righteousness, that seek to drive impenitent sinners to Christ, and that norm the Christian life.

The Apostle Paul made this very distinction in Galatians 3:10. When Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything that is written in the book of the law,” that is in the imperative mood. It is a demand for perfect, personal, and perpetual righteousness. It is not the announcement of Good News. In contrast, however, when Jesus announced, “God so loved the world that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” that is in the indicative mood. It is an announcement of the Good News that salvation has been accomplished for us by someone else and that salvation is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Because of the general modern failure to make this distinction, many evangelicals have turned the narratives of salvation into an imperative. Instead of receiving the good news that God graciously, sovereignly, without our aid, redeemed us out of Egypt, through the Red Sea (on dry ground), American evangelicals have turned the gospel narratives into law: “Be like Moses” or “Don’t be like Aaron.” One consequence of the failure to distinguish Law and Gospel is that we have tried to find ourselves in the narratives of redemption but in exactly the wrong way. Instead of being recipients we have tried to become actors in the story. We fail to observe the distinction between the canonical history of redemption and post-canonical history. Hence much of the story of modern evangelicalism is of the attempt to replicate the apostolic church, apostolic phenomena in the post-apostolic era.

Put Down the Canon Opener

Modern evangelicals often assume that the line between post-canonical and canonical life is blurry or non-existent. It is widely assumed that we are in the exact same place in history as the prophets and apostles and that we can, if we have enough faith, replicate the same phenomena that occurred in redemptive history. In other words, for many evangelicals, we live in “redemptive history.” Anyone who challenges this biblicist paradigm is said to be “spiritually dead” or “unregenerate” or “dead orthodox.”

Confessional Reformed piety has not been been able to satisfy the pietists or the Anabaptists before them. Thomas Muntzer accused the confessional Protestants of dead orthodoxy in the 16th century. The dividing line was the question whether there is a bright line between canonical history and post-canonical history.

Reformed folk have tended to respect that bright line. None of us has been taken up into the Third Heaven (2 Cor 12:2). We have not seen the risen Christ (Acts 26:13). We do not receive direct revelations from Christ (1 Cor 14:30). We generally do not have healing services (Acts 5:15-16; 8:7) or raise the dead (Acts 9:40-41; 20:11) literally nor do we put people to death (see Acts 5) nor do we teleport about (Acts 8:39).

Respect for the bright line between canonical and post-canonical history does not mean that we believe that the Spirit is no longer active. He most certainly is. Whether what he has promised to do and does interests anyone is another question (see part 4 of this series), but we certainly understand him to be active. We understand him to operate through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10) and we understand him to operate through the holy sacraments (Matt 28:20; 1 Cor 11; Luke 22; Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5).

One great difference between Reformed and modern evangelical piety is the word “mediated.” We understand God’s presence and operation in the church to be “mediated” through the Word and sacraments. Like the 16th-century Anabaptists the modern evangelicals reject or are suspicious of the idea of mediated presence or mediated revelation.

Since the early part of the 18th century Americans have been deeply suspicious of all forms of authority. It was not long ago that US Senators were elected by state representatives. Gradually what was once a representative republic is turning into a giant town meeting. That’s because we are a revolutionary, egalitarian people. Whatever social benefits there may be to this way of thinking, it is not the way of the kingdom of God. This is another very good reason to distinguish between the civil and spiritual spheres. The culture outside the church is one thing, and the culture of the church is another. The confusion of the two, particularly to baptize the prevailing anti-authority, autonomous spirit of modernity, threatens to do great damage to the church of Christ.

The prevailing American cultural resistance to mediation means that we want to know for ourselves, directly. We do not want anyone to tell us. This is one reason why Pentecostalism and charismatic and other forms of pietist mysticism have flourished in the modern period in the USA. Who needs a preacher when the Spirit is giving everyone apostolic power and revelation? It feeds our cultural prejudices and it leaves unchallenged many cultural assumptions. Those traditions (revivalism, pietism, fundamentalism, Pentecostalism) that stress the immediate encounter with the risen Christ flourish here because they are most like the prevailing culture.

The Subjective and the Objective

Prior to the modern period the predominant question in the West was, “What has God said?” There were different answers to this question. Rome pointed to the church as the source of revelation and the Protestants pointed to Scripture as read by the church. Both pointed to an extrinsic authority. In the modern period the place of authority moved to within us. We became the measure of all things. Perhaps the greatest question of the modern period (since c. 1650) has been, “Has God said?”

One reaction to the religious doubt and outright skepticism of the modern period has been to do an “end run” around the crisis via direct, unmediated access to the divine mind (rationalism) or to direct, unmediated divine revelation (mysticism) or to immediate experience of the transcendent. The pietist knows that the Christian faith is true because “He walks with me and He talks with me.” In principle, and too often in practice, the pietist simply gives up the historicity of the faith in favor of a subjective encounter with the risen Christ or with the transcendent.

The reaction to the subjective turn is to deny subjectivity in the faith altogether. This denial is a sort of intellectualism. The historic Christian faith is propositional and it is historical and anyone, as they say on public radio, “who says otherwise is itching for a fight.” Nevertheless, is that all there is? Is there any confirmation of the faith beyond what I read on the page in holy Scripture or what I hear in the sermon or eat at the table or see at the baptismal font?

“Beyond” is not the best word. This gets us back to the end-run approach. Better we should say “through.” Reformed folk believe that the Spirit operates through the Word and sacraments. Through the Gospel the Spirit works to make dead sinners alive (Eph. 2). Through faith the Spirit creates existential union with the risen Christ. By virtue of that union, the Spirit creates and fosters communion between the risen Christ and his people.

The psalms are replete with reflection upon the communion between Christ and his people. Consider just one example of Psalm 51:6, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” This is a high point in one of the most touching, personal, heartfelt, and intimate prayers in all of Scripture. This is a sinner crying out for the grace of forgiveness and a restored sense of God’s presence.

In Scripture and Christian experience we see seasons where one’s sense of the presence of God waxes and wanes (WCF 18.4). Psalm 21 is evidently the witness of a believer (David, according to the superscription) who is enjoying a rich experience of God’s presence. “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” This presence, which results in joy and peace, is in stark contrast to the presence he describes a few verses later, the presence of judgment and condemnation.

Reformed theology understands that the Spirit operates through the Word by illuminating that Word, by casting light on it, by making clearer what was obscure. Of course, Westminster Confession 1.7 reminds us “all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves….” The Spirit does help us to understand what is necessary to know for faith and life. Paul speaks of this illumination when he speaks of “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…. (Eph 1:18)”

The Reformed tradition has written about this aspect of the faith at great length. William Perkins, Richard Sibbes, William Ames, John Owen are just a few of the well-known English writers who have written about these aspects of Christian faith and life. A number of Dutch Reformed writers (e.g. Gijsbertus Voetius and Wilhelmus a Brakel) addressed these same sorts of questions.

What we do not want to do is to give in either to religious subjectivism or intellectualism. Calvin says in his commentary on Acts 16:14–15,

But we must note the expression that the heart of Lydia was opened so that she paid attention to the external voice of a teacher. For as preaching on its own is nothing else but a dead letter, so, on the other hand, we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word upon which faith depends, and on which it rests. For in order to increase the grace of the Spirit, many invent for themselves vague inspirations so that no use is left for the external Word. But the Scripture does not allow such a separation to be made, for it unites the ministry of men with the secret inspiration of the Spirit. If the mind of Lydia had not been opened, the preaching of Paul would have been mere words; yet God inspires her not only with the mere revelations but with reverence for His Word, so that the voice of a man, which otherwise would have vanished into thin air, penetrates a mind that has received the gift of heavenly light.

Therefore let us hear no more of the fanatics who make the excuse of the Spirit to reject external teaching. For we must preserve the balance which Luke established here, that we obtain nothing from the hearing of the Word alone, without the grace of the Spirit, and that the Spirit is conferred on us not that He may produce contempt of the Word, but rather to instill confidence in it in our minds and write it on our hearts.

The Struggle for Wisdom

We like the idea of special, individualized messages from God about our particular circumstance or question. We do not much like the idea of struggling in prayer and thought over what is the wisest course. But as important as the Reformed doctrine of illumination is, when it comes to making decisions, Scripture probably says more about “wisdom” than it does about illumination.

Remember, there is an entire section of holy Scripture that we describe as the “wisdom literature.” The most frequently OT term for “wisdom” (chokmah) occurs (I think) 113 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. To return to the verse we looked at last time, it is linked closely to the illuminating work of the Spirit: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom (chokmah) in the secret heart” (Ps 51:6; 51:8 MT).

Frequently wisdom denotes a particular (usually God-given) skill such as building or some other craft (Ex 31:6; 1 Kings 7:14). When it comes to making decisions we might think of wisdom as the God-given skill of applying the moral law of God to particular issues. Solomon had this sort of wisdom (1 Kings 10:23). He had a unique, God-given insight into the nature of things. He was clear minded. He had a firm grasp on reality. He paid attention. He learned. All of these things are aspects of wisdom. In Luke 2:40 we read that Jesus was endowed with wisdom (sophia). There is a worldly (unbelieving) “wisdom” which we might call either rationalism or empiricism. Those forms of “wisdom” make the human intellect or human sense experience the arbiter of all truth. Paul rejected this sort of pseudo wisdom (1 Cor 1:19-22; 3:19 etc). God’s salvation of his people in Christ seems foolish to the wise of “this age,” but Christ is God’s wisdom, i.e. the perfect and appropriate and even surprising saving act at just the right moment (1 Cor 1:24; Eph 3:10).

Paul prayed that the Colossians might have wisdom:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10).

When Paul says “spiritual,” he does not mean “ethereal” or “immaterial” but rather he means, “that which comes from the Spirit.” It is not necessarily immediate, however. There is an objective standard of wisdom: the revealed will of God. The fruit of it is not that we know what God has not revealed publicly in his Word but that we live congruently to and in obedience to the revealed moral will of God. This bears fruit (James 3:17). This brings knowledge.

We often think that we have to know secrets before we can obey. Scripture teaches the exact opposite. John Frame very wisely said once in class that genuine wisdom begins with obedience. Only when we have obeyed the Lord (or at least tried to make a beginning of obedience) do we see and realize the wisdom of God’s Word as distinct from what we think is good or proper. It is counter-intuitive but it’s true nonetheless. That’s the difference between theory and practice. There are some skills that have to be learned through practice. The skill of swinging a golf club just so takes a great deal of repetition, discipline, and training. One can study video and books, and a grasp of the theory of a golf swing is essential, but so is practice. The satisfying “ping” of club meeting ball perfectly is the result of skill which, in turn, is the result of submission to the nature of the game. That’s a sort of wisdom.

If we want to know the moral will of God, we need a public revelation, which we have. We need illumination of that will, which the Spirit gives. We need wisdom, i.e. skill in understanding that will, in knowing ourselves, and in reckoning with the circumstance to which it is to be applied.

Wisdom is essential in knowing God’s will. Getting wisdom is not easy. It takes practice. You will fail. You will struggle. If it were easy, everyone would have it and it seems obvious that not everyone has it! That’s why God gave us an entire collection of axioms, a book of Proverbs, to see what wisdom looks like in daily life. Wisdom may not be “sexy” and one might not be able to market it as the latest and greatest thing, but it’s God’s thing and it’s just the thing for those who would be godly.

Interpreting Providence

In 1381 Archbishop William Courtenay held a synod at the Blackfriars in London for the purpose of condemning the Oxford theologian John Wycliffe. After the condemnations had been adopted, as Synod was breaking up, there was an earthquake. Courtenay took the earthquake as a sign of divine approval but Wycliffe took it as a sign of divine displeasure!

Thus we see the inherent difficulty in interpreting providence. Like all forms of natural revelation the meaning of providence is often in the eye of the beholder. Defenders of the Reformation sometime like to say, “God raised up Martin Luther.” So he did. Unless, however, we are Manicheans we must also say that God raised up Ignatius of Loyola. The fact that God “raised up” both neither proves nor disproves the correctness of Loyola or Luther.

Despite the hazards of interpreting providence Christians persist in trying to interpret providence as a way of finding “God’s will for my life.” It’s true that, in the history of redemption, people put out fleeces and cast lots (for good and ill) as a way of determining God’s will. Again I go back to the bright line between canonical, redemptive history and post-canonical history. Those episodes were not given as a sort of church order manual for post-canonical church life. They illustrate the power of God in delivering and guiding his people in the outworking of his saving purposes. We are not apostles and prophets.

Could we cast lots today? Well, I suppose, if there were two equally qualified candidates for church office and the elders cast prayerfully lots or drew straws to see which one should serve, I would not object but now we are simply looking at some ordinary mechanism for making a morally good choice. That’s a matter of indifference. No one would reasonably lay claim for direct divine guidance in such a case.

The truth is, as I’ve already shown from Scripture, we do not always know why God does what he does. We might have a partial explanation after the fact, in some cases, but in some cases (perhaps many) we will likely never know. Why do good, godly people become terribly ill and suffer while evil and ungodly people seem to get off scot free? It’s a fallen world and the consequences of sin are equally terrible and distressing. Can we always discern some lesson we were to learn from some episode? Probably not.

The goodness of God’s providence and the wisdom of his actions is not contingent upon our understanding. God’s acts are good despite the fact that we cannot always understand them. Whatever Jerry Falwell or others might have said or thought, the truth is that no one knows why God permitted those evil acts on 9/11 or why he permitted the extraordinary degree of evil that occurred in the 20th century. We do know God, however. We know him in Christ. We know him in his gospel promises and in his moral law. That’s enough. We do not have to go behind the revealed things to justify God. He is just in all he does whether we accept and recognize and explain it or not.

Much of contemporary evangelical piety (and too much contemporary Reformed piety) is taken up with the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) and the Quest for illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE—see Recovering the Reformed Confession for more on these two phenomena). In their own ways each is an attempt to know God and His will apart from his ordained means. The result is a two-sided tyranny.

The first aspect of this tyranny is the fear that “I have not heard the still, small voice of God.” This leads to paralysis. It also leads to doubt. The logic is ruthless:

1. God still speaks outside of Scripture and gives direct guidance and revelation to Christians.

2. Christian X has not received such guidance and revelation.

3. Christian X is either a) not really a Christian or b) does not have sufficient faith or lacks the power of the Spirit, etc.

Whatever the cause, the outcome of the logic is unhappy, but what if the problem is not the second premise but the first? What if the first premise is flawed? Well, of course, that is what this whole series has been arguing. In fact we do not live in the canonical period, in redemptive history. The Red Sea has been parted. The tomb is empty. The canon is closed. We’ve seen how the Spirit operates through the Word and the sacraments, how he illumines the Word and how he gives wisdom to those who ask but perhaps you’re still in bondage because you’re waiting for the still, small voice? Quoth Bob Newhart: “Stop it!”

What if God’s will for your life was already revealed? Would that not be grand? Would it not be wonderful if you were not trapped in a circle waiting for God to speak but never really knowing if He has “spoken”? After all, how do you know if God has spoken directly to you? Is it an intuition? A hunch? Why does He seem to “speak” to others but not to me? Are there two classes of Christians? (those who receive special, extra-biblical revelations and those who do not?)

There are other questions the answers to which help relieve the crisis. Why is it that what God says so often sounds like what my revelation-receiving friend already thought? It’s remarkable how often God seems to agree with my revelation-receiving, still-small-voice hearing friend. As we read the whole of 1 Corinthians we see that Paul was quite opposed to the idea of two-classes of Christians. This is the problem with all forms of the “second blessing” theology. It necessarily creates two classes of Christians and yet it’s exactly contrary to Paul’s whole argument. All of us are members of the one body. Further, we are all members of the one body, part of the one loaf of bread, as it were, in the post-canonical period.

God has revealed himself in His Word. His will for your life is revealed. I can tell you what it is right now: trust Christ, love God, and love your neighbor (Matt 5).

“But wait!” you cry. “Should I take this job or that job? What’s God’s perfect will for me?”

I will tell you God’s perfect will: Trust Christ, love God, and love your neighbor. Take any job you want, within the will of God revealed in Scripture, as dictated by wisdom and circumstances. Certain jobs are out on the basis of moral considerations. Any job that requires theft, murder, idolatry, covetousness, sexual immorality, gluttony etc. In other words the will of God forbids you from becoming, among other things, a bank robber. I do not need an extra-biblical revelation to know this. It’s in God’s Word.

Then there’s wisdom. If you’re not good with your hands, perhaps you shouldn’t be a tradesman. If you’re not good with numbers you probably shouldn’t go into business or banking. You do not need a special revelation from God to know those things. You really do not.

This gets to the second aspect of the dark side of the QIRC/QIRE: the tyranny of the prophet. This aspect of things has been described in the wake/fallout of the Kansas City prophets debacle (late 1980s–early 90s) but it’s worth repeating. There’s little moral difference between someone telling us “God’s will” on the basis of the “small, still voice” or because he’s a “prophet.” In both cases, post-apostolic, ordinary Christians, who do not have the apostolic power, are claiming to know directly, apart from Scripture, by divine revelation what God thinks about this or that thing not mentioned in Scripture.

Such claims are the stuff of tyranny. Who knows if it’s true?

“What if it is true? Well, since I’m not getting any revelations, I guess I better do what the prophet says!”

Or not.

Of course these self-anointed lower or upper case prophets aren’t any such thing. The truth is that they are simply re-describing ordinary human experience in extraordinary, apostolic, canonical terms. They may do so out of the best of motives. They may really believe that God is speaking to them directly or they may have an earpiece with a helper feeding them information. Either way it really does not matter.

One glorious consequence of the biblical and Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura is that we do not have to pay attention either to the upper or lower case prophets. We are free in Christ. This argument goes back to the Reformed rejection of the Anabaptist movement. The Anabaptists replied by calling us “dead orthodox.” Fine. Whatever. Bluntly, if being “led by the Spirit” means running around Europe claiming revelations and starting revolutions (see Münster) then we can live without that, thank you very much.

Of course “keeping in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:22) has nothing to do with that sort of fanaticism. It means producing the fruit of the Spirit and we know what that is because God revealed it to everyone in Galatians 5! You do not need a special gift to read God’s Word, trust it, and obey it. We are free in Christ to obey God’s publicly revealed will and we are free to ignore the spurious claims of all sorts of prophets. We are not missing out. They do not have anything we need. What we need is the moral will of God which is plainly revealed in the Word. What we need is the work of the Spirit to illumine that Word to us and to give us wisdom, and the self-appointed prophets do not have anything to do with that. You and I are free from the tyranny of human opinion because we are bound to the Word of God.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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