How does God speak to Christians? Dr. Sinclair Ferguson explains how God does and does not speak to Christians.
Whenever someone says to me, “God said to me,” if people could see the bubble above my head it would say, “Just exactly what do you mean by that?” Because they do often mean quite different things. And I think the first thing that we want to say is that God speaks to us through His Word, and that the Scriptures themselves speak in this way. For example, in Hebrews 12, the author of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3 but quotes it in the present tense—God is addressing us in the Scriptures. So in that sense, when we rightly understand the Scriptures, we can say, “God is speaking to us through the Scriptures.”
Then sometimes I think people say, “God said to me,” when they are really talking about an application of Scripture. It’s not something that God says directly, but they really feel God is saying this to them. And either they’ve thought it out, or instinctively they sense this is an implication of something that is clearly said in Scripture.
The thing that always concerns me is when what people are talking about has really got nothing to do with the Scriptures. And they are really talking about what they really think of as God speaking quite apart from Scripture. And it becomes very difficult to discuss that thing with them. They say, “God told me to do this,” and if you ask them how they know God told them to do this, their answer has absolutely nothing to do with the plain teaching of Scripture or a clear application of Scripture. This is something that has troubled Christians throughout the ages.
It is at that point that I always try to say: “You know, if God doesn’t say it clearly in the Word or by the implication of the Word, you need to be very cautious about attributing to God a thought that has come into your mind. As some people attribute those thoughts to God just because they came unexpectedly without thinking, all kind of thoughts come unexpectedly to you. So it’s always safe to stick to Scripture and so to grow in Scripture that you do actually develop, I think, instincts.”
John Newton has a lovely way of putting this. He says, eventually, when your mind is saturated in Scripture, you develop the kind of instincts that a pianist has to be able to play the piano without stopping and thinking where they are going to put their fingers. And this is because your whole way of thinking is through spectacle lenses that are prescribed by Scripture. So I am always very cautious when someone says, “God told me to do this.” And I always ask, “Tell me how that happened.”