There is a constant stream of individuals claiming they are having dreams, seeing visions or otherwise hearing messages from God that they have been commanded to share with the rest of us. How does the Bible teach us to deal with such claims? Actually, the methods (and the reason for the methods) are very straightforward. And Spoiler Alert – you should NOT be listening to the claims of people today who claim they are speaking on behalf of God!
Everyone is susceptible to only hearing what we want to hear. Preachers, philosophers, psychologists and economists call this confirmation bias. We seek out items that confirm what we want to believe and (choose to) ignore any facts to the contrary. Christians are warned in the Bible to be rational with regard to what we are told to believe so we aren’t taken advantage of by “smooth talkers”
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. Romans 6: 18 [ESV]
Building on the Old Testament lessons (which will be discussed below) the New Testament portion of the Bible teaches us:
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. I Thessalonians 5: 20 – 21 [ESV]
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. I John 4: 1 [ESV]
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. II Corinthians 11: 14 – 15 [ESV]
On a related note we are also told in Acts 17: 10 – 11 that the Bereans, who were said to be of noble character, examined the existing scriptures to see if what the Apostles were teaching them was true. Activity such as this is required to make sure that anything new being taught is in line with what is already known from the scriptures, following requirements such as those given in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 13: 1 – 5.
So, of course, when someone claims to speak for God, when they say they have a vision or a dream from the Lord which they were to share with the rest of us, we would have to search the scriptures to make sure that what they say doesn’t contradict anything God has already revealed to us in the Bible.
But how do we “test the spirit”? How do we follow the Bible’s teaching about sorting out the true from the false prophets? The answer to this is critical. Otherwise, we are more likely than not to be deceived and emotionally carried away by those flattering, smooth talkers who say just what we want to hear in the first place. Actually, God told Moses thousands of years ago how we are to test such things.
And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18: 21 – 22 [ESV]
The prophet Jeremiah obviously followed this biblical directive.
As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet. Jeremiah 28: 9 [ESV]
If someone claiming to speak for God, provides a falsifiable prophecy and it does fail, then it was a false religious statement from a false prophet, who the Bible says we should then avoid and ignore. So what of the person who claims to speak for God but can’t give you a way to test them through a falsification process? What they are saying doesn’t even qualify as a religious statement! If we are to avoid and ignore those who make false religious statements, how much more should we write off and remove ourselves from the influence of those whose statements don’t even meet the first qualifications?
When you hear someone has given a message from God, do you buy into it because they have shown you how to test the spirit and the message has passed that test or do you buy in because they are saying what you hope is true or they are suggesting that God is running the world the way you think He should be running it? When someone tells you the message they are speaking is from God, how do you test it? The Bible is God’s final revelation to man and it is ALL we need.
Andy’s book, Clear Vision: How The Bible Teaches Us To View The World, can be purchased here.