Ask a Seminarian: Does God Still Speak Today?

I’ve been asked to write a column for the Prov Pamphleteer, the college magazine, on the topic “Does God Still Speak Today?”  Let’s talk it through.

We should start by asking “How does God speak?”  God speaks to humanity through general revelation (what we can learn about God by observing him at work, i.e. in creation) and special revelation (His self-revelation, i.e. Scripture, which is embodied perfectly by Jesus Christ).  When He speaks, God reveals Himself and His divine nature, as well as His divine will – who He is, and what He wants.  So how does he do this today?

General revelation not only still happens today, but happens at a greater rate and higher level than it ever has before.  More than ever, scientists are unlocking secrets of the natural world, discovering the massiveness of the cosmos and the microscopic building blocks of life, all of which give us insight into the wonder of God’s creation and His ability to work in ways we would not suspect.  At the same time, the social sciences have had a major impact on our view of the inherent value of humanity and the way we interact with one another, our environment and institutions, and even God.  Our knowledge of what God has done in the world is accumulating at an astounding rate: after all, “all truth is God’s truth” – that is, everything that is actually true reveals the reality that God has created, a reality that special revelation tells us is founded by and founded on Jesus Christ.

God’s special self-revelation reached its culmination in Jesus Christ, who is “the image of the invisible God…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (Colossians 1:15, 19).  “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:1-3).  The Old Testament builds up to the coming of Christ, and the New Testament describes this incredible Person in human words.  Because Jesus is the exact representation of God, we don’t need any further special revelation of God’s nature: “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).  But what about God’s will?

God’s will for all creation – including us humans – can be discerned by reading Scripture and analyzing the way He works; in this way we can figure out his general plan for the world.  More specifically, God’s will for human beings is laid out rather simply: He gave Israel the Law (among other commands, e.g. Genesis 1:28, etc.), which would govern the way that they related to Him, to each other, and to the rest of the world.  Jesus affirmed the Law by underlining the values behind it and the extent of its ethical demands, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matthew 5-7).  The Apostles then applied those values to particular situations faced by early Christians, giving advice about how to live as Christians in their world.  But who applies those values for us?

When Christ ascended into heaven in physical form, he sent the Holy Spirit to be the presence of God on earth (Acts 1:4-9).  The Holy Spirit works in us to illumine the Scriptures, helping us to understand and accept God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, but that’s not the only way He speaks.  In John 16:5-15, Jesus explains the importance of the Holy Spirit for his disciples:

Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer, and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

From this passage we can see that the Holy Spirit, who indwells us, continues Christ’s ministry of revealing God and His will to us.  He acts to convict us of our sin, to reveal the righteousness of Christ in us, and to condemn Satan’s powers and principalities that rule the earth unjustly.  In his letters to the churches, Paul talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: supernatural power to do miracles and build up the Church in continuation of Christ’s ministry, including speaking in tongues and prophesying – that is, receiving words directly from God.  The Spirit still gives these gifts to Christians today, speaking directly to us through prophetic messages, sometimes even through unknown languages and then providing interpretation through the mouth of another gifted believer.  The important thing to remember with these gifts is that the Spirit only speaks what Christ speaks, as we see above, and just as Christ only spoke what God spoke.

God speaks to us all the time.  He inspires us to discover Him in creation; His Holy Spirit illuminates the Scriptures for us anew each day; He convicts us of sin, reveals the righteousness of Christ in us as He sanctifies us, and judges evil in the world through our witness; and speaks to us directly through the operation of spiritual gifts.  In all of these ways, God speaks to us for our edification; not to say anything new, but to affirm and encourage us in our discovery and proclamation of Jesus Christ, outside of whom there is nothing to say.

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