Discerning God

How can I be certain I am listening to God?

Unless we understand His character and personality we can not be certain that we hear Him and not someone else. 1 John 4:1.

How do we know Him?

There is only one way: to watch God, and to listen to Him. The Bible is useful for exactly this. In it we can watch and listen to Him as He was in the past. This will explain to us what He is like presently and what He will be like in the future. 1 John 1:1-3.

Why do we accept the Bible?

We donít accept the Bible because of our ability to trace back who preserved it, and how well they cared for it. Nor do we accept the Bible because of who recommends it. We accept the Bible because its claim upon our attention is reasonable, it works, and nothing else does.

How accurate is God's advice?

There are two kinds of laws in the world: good laws and absolute laws. Good laws can be helpful, but sometimes arbitrary. The speed limit may in general save lives, but there are no immediate or even guaranteed consequences if we break it. The law of gravity, on the other side, is absolute. It cannot be played with; it effects all transgressors the same. There are some laws we can never change, we can only accept.

God has spoken to us. Words He speaks must be carefully considered and taken as absolute advice. We find His absolute advice in the Bible. Ecclesiastes 3:14.

Is the Bible God's words?

We understand the Bible to be Godís thoughts recorded by men. We take its words as one man expressing himself in the best way he can with the direct help of God to a particular audience. We take the thoughts and the lessons of the Bible as the infallible voice of our personal Creator, Guide, and Protector to our personal souls. Our purpose is to receive the ideas of God, from His great mind, into our little one. We are certain that God shares His thoughts with us. But we are cautious in how certain we are that we receive His thoughts clearly. Only in some circumstances we may be very certain.

Who can explain the Bible?

The Bible explains itself. Psalm. 19: 7-11; 119: 97-I05; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14; Malachi 2:7, 8. A teacher may guess at its meaning. He may want it to be so because his church believes that way. Or, maybe because he wants people to think of him as wise. If I depend on such a teacher to explain the Bible to me then his guessing, desire, creed, or wisdom, is my rule, and not the Bible.

How much of the Bible can I understand?

God uses the words of the Bible to transfer His thoughts to our minds. We need His Holy Spirit to give those thoughts to us when we are reading the Bible. With the help of God, nothing in the Scriptures will be hid from those who ask in faith, without wavering. Deut. 29:29; Matt.10:26, 27; Phil. 3:15; Matt.21:22; James 1:5,6; 1 John 5:13-15; Is. 35: 8. The attitude we bring to the Bible does much to determine what we get out of it.

How can I be certain I understand God's idea in any part of the Bible?

All of the Bible is necessary, and can be understood by diligent effort and study. 2 Tim. 3:16,17, Matt. 4:4.

    1. Every word must have its proper importance in the subject presented in the Bible. Matt. 5:18; Prov. 30:5,6; Rev. 22:18,19.
    2. To understand what the Bible teaches, bring all the Bible statements together on the subject you want to know; then let every word have its proper influence, and if you can form your idea without a contradiction, you are not in error. Isa. 28: 9,10; 2 Pet. 1: 19-21. Jesus practiced this. Luke 24: 27, 44, 45.
    3. God uses visions, symbols, and parables, as well as stories and plain statements. Hos. 12: 10. (Ps. 78: 2. Matt. 13: 13, 34). Many times the same things are revealed again and again, using different visions, or different symbols, or different parables. If you want to understand what God means, you must combine them all into one. Example: Dan. 2, 7, and 8.

Is all of the Bible literal?

While the ideas of the Bible are literal, some of its words are symbolic or figurative. These symbols always have a figurative meaning.

    1. Symbols are often used to represent future things, times, and events.
      1. Mountains represent governments Dan. 2: 35, 44.
      2. Beasts represent kingdoms. Daniel 8: 8, 17, 21.
      3. Waters represent people Rev. 17: 1, 15.
      4. Lamp represent the Word of God Ps. 119: 105.
      5. Day represent a year. Ezek. 4: 6.

    2. Symbols sometimes have two or more different meanings; for example, a day is used in a figurative sense to represent three different periods of time.
      1. Indefinite. Eccles. 7: 14.
      2. Definite, a day for a year. Ezek. 4: 6.
      3. Day for a thousand years. 2 Pet. 3: 8.

      The right meaning will harmonize with the Bible, and make good sense; other meanings will not.

    3. If a word makes good sense as it is, and does no violence to the simple laws of nature, then it must be understood literally. Otherwise it's meaning is figurative.
    4. To learn the proper meaning of a symbol or figure, trace the symbolic word through the Bible, and, where you find it explained, put the explanation in place of the figurative word. If it makes good sense, you do not need to look any further; if it does not make good sense, look again.
    5. If you find every word of the prophecy (after the figures are understood) is literally fulfilled, then you may know that the historical event is the fulfillment of a prophecy. But if one word lacks a fulfillment, then you must look for another event, or wait for it to be fulfilled in the future. God takes care that history and prophecy agree, so that the true, believing children of God will never be ashamed. Rev. 17:17; Acts 3:18; Acts 15:18.
    6. Parables are used as comparisons to illustrate subjects, and must be explained in the same way as symbols, by the subject and Bible. An illustration is given in Matthew ch. 13 and Mark ch. 4. Notice esp. Mark 4: 13.

How much does God want us to understand the Bible?

The most important rule of all is, that you must have faith. Faith that sacrifices. Faith that will, if necessary, give up the dearest object on earth. Faith that gives up the world and all its desires. Faith that will sacrifice, if necessary, character, living, occupation, friends, home, comforts, and worldly honors. If any of these hinder our believing any part of God's word, it would show our faith to be false. Nor can we ever believe, so long as one of these motives lies lurking in our heart. We must believe that God will never forfeit His word. And we can have confidence that He that takes notice of the sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our head, will guard the translation of His own word, and throw a barrier around it. He will prevent those who sincerely trust in God, and put implicit confidence in His word, from erring far from the truth, though they may not be experts in Hebrew or Greek. James 1:5-7. Adapted from William Miller.