When someone tells me ‘I have the gift of tongues’ I ask them ‘how do you know’? And when I hear carefully when someone prophesied, I ask him ‘how do you know?’. To which the response is usually something like this: it feels right and therefore it must be right.
This troubles me. Because it tells me one thing: that people who identify truth this way are using an invalid method to identify the truth. If you are going to examine if what is said by a so called prophet if what he or she is saying is true or not (Acts 17:11), you need more than just experience. You need to trust in the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16).
When I was a charismatic, I tried to identify what I called ‘truth’ based on someone else’s experience. Or even my own. If it felt right, then it’s the Holy Ghost trying to tell me that it is. This happened when I had impulses, visions, dreams or ‘prophetic’ words. I did not regard the Bible as useful to give me answers. Simply because the movement that has influenced me taught me nothing about the Bible’s sufficiency. So how do we discern the truth?
Here are some of the things that I used to believe and then what the Bible exposed to me.
Truth for me was subjective and not objective.
Subjective truth means that one can find and identify what is truth based on his or her personal experience. Or if I may clarify it another way. It means that one discovers their truth based on feelings alone. This leads to a stream of practical mysticism. Dr. Macarthur describes it ““Mysticism is a system of belief that attempts to perceive spiritual reality apart from objective, verifiable facts. It seeks truth through feelings, intuition, and other internal sense.” He adds “mysticism is at the heart of modern existentialism, humanism, and even many forms of paganism most notably Hinduism and its close ally, New Age philosophy.” This does not elevate the Scripture, but rather makes us ignorant of its sufficiency and inerrancy. Because it brings irrational mysticism and elevates emotions above the Bible. In practical terms, one’s personal experience is more important than what the Bible says.
On the other hand, objective truth is when one considers the fact that the truth is to be found outside of us. The Bible gives us objective truth. God’s Word is objective truth because it does not come from the will and mind of man (2 Peter 1:2o, 21). And by knowing this, we can validate if what we experience and what we have heard on the basis of what Scripture says. It elevates Scripture and leads us to historical orthodox Christianity which elevates the Sufficiency of Scripture. With objective truth we can verify truth based on facts and examining carefully the meaning of God’s word.
Furthermore, I would to clarify at this point so I won’t be misunderstood that I am not saying that a Christian does not have any emotions. We are not robotic. In fact, the more I read the Bible the more I see many saints throughout history speak about their emotions. Especially regarding sin and death and having joy in their salvation. And I am for that.
But my emotions are influenced with the conviction that I have discovered and understood from the Word of God alone. I have strong emotions about the things of God in response to the truth of God’s Word, (if I can use the word of John Macarthur) “amplified by the Holy Spirit and applied by Him to us personally”. How do I know? It is written “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12) Our Lord said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).
What can we conclude then?
That the biblical way to discern truth is to diligently seek to understand and study carefully the Word of God and not building our theology on experience. Truth is what God has revealed and not based on what happens to you. We don’t treat the Word of God as a proof text book to match with our experience. We respect it as the very Word of the living God and as the only source of sufficient truth about God.