Is It Convicting Rather Than Condemning?
Do I Sense God’s Peace About It?
We have been considering the important question, how can we know whether it is God’s voice that is heard?
As we have discussed, sometimes we hear things in our minds or our spirits. Sometimes others tell us that what they say is from God. The question is, whenever either of those things happen, how can we know that what we hear within ourselves or from others is really and truly from God? That is so very important so we can be confident we are doing God’s will and not our own will or someone else’s will, or, even worse, the devil’s will.
In this series of messages, we have so far considered four questions to ask to determine if what is heard or felt is from God. Does what is heard or felt agree with the Bible? Does it make me and you and us more like Christ? Does this, our church family, confirm it? And is it consistent with how God has shaped me - shaped me with spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience?
In this message - the third in this three-part series - two more questions. And remember the challenge. All six questions - the four just mentioned and the two to be discussed in this message - have to be answered in the affirmative to determine for sure whether what is heard or felt is from God.
The two questions for today. Is it convicting, as in something that prods us to positive action, rather than condemning, as in attacking our value? And do I sense God’s peace about it?
There is one more test that will close this message, but first, is what is heard or felt or said convicting or condemning?
Again, convicting is something that prods us to positive action. It might not be easy to be convicted. It might cause us discomfort to have to follow through with the action called for. But the purpose is positive.
An example is found Revelation 3.
In chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation, Jesus directed the apostle John to write certain things to seven important early churches.
In most cases, the things included both positive and negative things.
The positives included to Ephesus, their patient endurance. To Smyrna, their facing of tribulation, which does not sound positive, but sometimes suffering is a sign of the Lord’s confidence in a person’s or a congregation’s spiritual strength. To Pergamum, even in times of trial, their faithfulness to Jesus. To Thyatira, their patient endurance and their love, faith, and service. To Philadelphia, all that was said was positive, including their keeping of the Lord’s name.
The negatives included to Ephesus. their love for God had been abandoned. They were not as excited about Jesus as they once were. To Smyrna, Jesus challenged the Christians there to prepare for greater hardships so they would be able to survive in the future. To Pergamum, some of the Christians there had gone to false teachings. To Thyatira, they were allowing a false prophetess - a false teacher - to remain in the congregation. To Sardis, there was nothing but bad words for that congregation. They were dead spiritually. Their only hope was to awake.
Jesus, through John, had messages for Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia. And Laodicea. To the members of that church, there were also only negative words spoken. The reason is they were lukewarm spiritually. That was because they were successful enough they did not consider themselves to be in need of Jesus. However, being neither hot nor cold, the Lord said He would spew them out of His mouth.
That was a harsh message for the Laodiceans. It is a harsh message that we, even today, want to avoid being said to or about us. Also harsh were the negative messages said to most of the other early churches on the list.
But listen to verse 19 of Revelation 3. “Those whom I love, I reprove.” I reprimand or scold. Those whom I love, I reprove “and chasten.” Chasten means to discipline. Why? Not to condemn those who are scolded and disciplined. Not to beat them down to discouragement. But to inspire them to repent of what is being done wrong so they can grow into the state of receiving more and more positive comments from the Lord.
Repentance is what the Lord wants. Verse 20 is a familiar one. “Behold,” Jesus said, “I stand at the door and knock.” He does that even with scolding. His scolding is an attempt to get the attention of the one being reprimanded. “If anyone hears My voice and opens the door [everyone who will listen to and respond to the corrections of Jesus] I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.”
The point is that Jesus will scold and discipline. But not for the purpose of condemning us or destroying us. Here is an explanation of condemning. It is to declare a person doomed. Unfit for further use. The result is like a huge stone falling on a house. The house is crushed and devastated, once and for all.
That is not what God is about. Instead, His purpose is to convict us. To convince us that we are able to have a deeper, pure relationship with Him. Convinced to the point we will, with His help, strive for such a relationship.
Which means that if what we hear or feel threatens to discourage us - to depress us away from serving the Lord - it is not from God.
I think I am comfortable sharing this. About three-and-a-half years ago, I experienced a season when just about every Saturday night a thought came to me and settled in my mind. The thought was in the form of questions. Who do you think you are speaking about Jesus every Sunday? What makes you think you have the right or the authority or worthy to do what you do? Who do you think you are?
Those questions were very disturbing. Guess what I finally realized. They were not from God. That, by the way, is not to pretend I am worthy of the privilege of speaking about Jesus. I dare say no one is worthy because compared to the Lord, at least I fall way short of what is ideal, but the thought I dealt with was not from God because it was a discouragement. It was a condemning thought rather than something that could inspire me to greater spiritual growth.
That thought - those questions - fortunately happened for only a season. I am over that now, which fits something the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:1. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That verse does not mean any of us is perfect. However, as long as we live, there are ways we can grow. Relating that to the earlier review of comments made to the early Christian churches, we need to constantly work on staying excited about Jesus and being prepared for hardships and avoiding false teachings.
We need to keep growing because, compared to Jesus, none of us is or, this side of Heaven, will be, perfect. But again the word “convicting.” The Lord does not want to condemn us. He does not want us to be so discouraged we will not try anymore. He wants to convict us of the need and the ability, through Him, to grow and be better and closer to Him.
If what you hear or feel condemns, it is not from God. Therefore, do not believe it. Do not follow it. Have nothing to do with it.
If, however, what you hear or feel encourages you to be excited about growing in your faith, it is from God. Do believe that and follow it and obey it.
How can we know whether it is God’s voice that is heard? It is if what is heard or felt agrees with the Bible and make us more like Christ. If this, our church family, confirms it and it is consistent with how God has shaped us with spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience. If is it convicting, as in something that prods us to positive action, rather than condemning, as in attacking our value. And do I sense God’s peace about it?
Two passages for this sixth test.
I Corinthians 14:33. This, too, was written by the apostle Paul. He wrote, “For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”
To put this into its proper context, Paul is addressing how worship services are to be conducted. As he added in verse 40, his point is that worship is to be done “decently and in order.”
That is the context, but I think it applies as well when determining whether what is heard or felt is from God. Taken negatively, does it interfere with the teachings of the Bible? If so, there is confusion, which is not from God. Does it interfere with proper Christian living? If so, it is not decent, which is not from God. Does it interfere with how God made you? If so, it is not orderly, which is not from God. Does it interfere with peace within a congregation? This does not apply to when discipline must be instilled. This refers to intentional conflict within a congregation. If what is heard or felt interferes with peace, there is confusion, which is not from God.
So, what should a congregation be like? Philippians 4:8 provides a list. It is a list of what we are to think about. This applies to the entire congregation, made up of each member of a congregation thinking about these things.
“Brethren [fellow people of God] whatever is true [whatever will not let us down, such as the word of God], whatever is honorable [whatever is dignified, such as being serious about the Christian faith], whatever is just [whatever promotes doing for others and for God what others and God deserve], whatever is pure [whatever is morally clean, mentally and physically], whatever is lovely [whatever helps develop kindness], whatever is gracious [whatever is fit for God to hear and see], if there is any excellence [anything that fits the purpose of serving God], if there is anything worthy of praise [anything spiritual that is worthy of enthusiastic approval], think about these things.”
There is Christian writer who shares something that happened when he was a boy. He and his friends, along with his dad, went to a video store to rent a movie. They picked one they thought was cool.
They got home and started watching the movie. Five minutes into it, his dad got up, ejected the movie, and put it back in the case. He said, “Kids, I am sorry, but we are not going to watch this movie. It has too many curse words in it. As you know, I do not use those words, and I do not want you to use those words. If we had a guest in our house talking like that, I would ask him to change his tone or leave. I thought by the rating on the video it would not be this bad, but I was wrong. We will take it back tomorrow and find another movie.”
The Christian writer reports that at the time, he was totally furious with his dad. They had watched five minutes of the movie. The boy was being entertained.
Now, though, as he looks back, he realizes his dad was trying to guard the thoughts of his son and his son’s friends - and even his own thoughts.
Think of things that are good and wholesome and positive and helpful, the point being that if what is heard or felt encourages each of the things on the list in Philippians, it is from God because those things are approved by God.
The rewards of each of those things? Verses 6 and 7. No anxiety, which brings peace - the peace of God - a spiritual peace - to our hearts and minds.
Again, how can we know whether it is God’s voice that is heard or felt? The questions to ask. Does it agree with the Bible? Does it make us more like Christ? Does this, our church family, confirm it? Is it consistent with how God has shaped me? Is it convicting, as in something that prods me to positive action, rather than condemning, as in attacking my value ? And do I sense God’s peace about it?
All of which can be summarized in one more passage.
Mark 12:30-31. Jesus was asked which of God’s many commandments was the greatest. Here is His response. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” In other words, you shall love God with everything you are and do and think - with every fiber of your being. “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Those teachings agree with the Bible. Loving God and others makes us more like Christ. All of us at least should agree with those two statements, so we can all confirm that anything that promotes love for God and for others is from God. God has shaped each of us to love Him and others. Both statements should convict us to live well. Love for God and for others will hopefully give us at least spiritual peace.
Whenever any of us hears or feels something, we can know if it is from God. It can be tested using those questions. When someone else tells us something they claim is from God, it can be tested. Let’s test everything that is heard and felt so we can be confident that what we follow is God’s will.
Let’s say them together.
Does it agree with the Bible?
Does it make us more like Christ?
Does our church family confirm it?
Is it consistent with how God has shaped me?
Is it convicting rather than condemning?
Do I sense God’s peace about it?
If not, it is not from God. Do not believe it. Do not follow it. Have nothing to do with it.
If, however, what you hear or feel leads to affirmative answers to those questions, do believe it and follow it and obey it.
Today’s closing song alludes to the peace that comes from knowing the voice of God. The joy of being able to obey God’s voice when we know it is Him we are hearing or feeling. It is Come, Holy Spirit, Still My Heart.
Come, Holy Spirit! Still my heart
With gentleness divine.
Indwelling peace You can impart;
O make that blessing mine!
Give me a heart of calm repose
Amid the world’s loud roar,
A life that like a river flows
Along a peaceful shore!
Above these scenes of storm and strife
There spreads a region fair;
Help me to live that higher life,
And breathe the Heavenly air.
Come, Holy Spirit! Breathe that peace,
That victory make me win;
Then shall my soul its conflict cease,
And find a heaven within.
Lord, thank You for talking to us in our minds and/or feelings and/or through others - and thank You for giving us questions to ask to make sure who we are hearing and/or feeling is You. Help us to test everything to make sure we are listening to You. When we are, help us to obey. Amen.