How do believers sometimes place their personal experience as more important than Scripture and maybe not even realizing it?
I can recall many people who gave their experience in coming to saving faith in Christ. There have been some pretty amazing stories of grace going through prison walls, nursing home rooms, and into places where you would expect little chance of someone being saved. Accounts such as gang members in Pueblo, Colorado laying down their gang “family” for God’s family; death row inmates in Angola State Prison (Louisiana) sitting on death row yet now possessing eternal life; and people coming out of all sorts of powerful addictions to actually begin or participate in a ministry in which they themselves battled that stronghold. God uses our personal experiences in powerful ways to impact lives, both of those saved and those not yet saved. There are fewer things more convincing than personal testimony because it’s something no one can argue with. Only that person knows what is in their heart (along with God), what they’ve gone through, and how they arrived at saving faith in Christ. The experience of a changed life is worthy testimony, but when we begin to place our own personal experiences above that of Scripture, then we can get into all kinds of trouble, and it’s easier than you might think. Someone can be doing it without even realizing it, so how can we discern whether a person’s experience (like “God told me” or “God spoke to me”) is really from God or not? Place it against Scripture, and if it doesn’t square with the Word of God, it’s the experience that’s the problem, not the Scriptures.
I’ve heard from a lot of different people around the world, and they’ve told me some very incredible things. I can recall reading about many of their own personal experiences with God, or in most cases, a dream or vision of Jesus Christ. And they tell me that changed their life…forever! “Aasif” (not real name) kept having dreams about Jesus, so he started to look around for a Bible so he could know more about Who Jesus Christ is, and after he found a Bible and read the Gospel of John, he was saved, however when someone’s own personal experience is God telling them to do something that is contrary to Scripture, then the credibility of the encounter ends there. A great example of this was when a man was chosen by a very prominent church to go on a missionary trip. The man gladly went through all the necessary training, and after his 8 month training session, the church had raised enough support for him to go, but something was wrong. About 5 weeks before he was to leave, he said that God spoke to him and told him to divorce his wife before he went. He said that it was based upon the previous missionaries work. She was a single woman who devoted her life for missions, and he thought that he was called to do the same thing. He thought being a single missionary would be better because he wouldn’t have to be bogged down with all of the cares of taking care of his family. I hope you can see the obvious problem. God’s will is that the man does not divorce his wife, except for sexual immorality. God would never tell this man (or anyone) to do something that contradicts His Word. Why would God teach that divorce is wrong and then tell this man, “Go and divorce your wife?” He might have been sincere and thought he heard God’s voice, but my question is, “Which god” (2nd Cor 4:4)? His intent might have been good; he may have been sincere, but he was sincerely wrong because it went against what the Bible teaches. You cannot be a missionary for Christ and yet willfully disobey Christ. That’s ludicrous. God will not call someone to something and then tell them to do what His Word forbids. This man’s personal experience (or “encounter with God”) cannot hope to reach level of the veracity and authority of the Word of God. The church immediately canceled the trip, and eventually, revoked his church membership because he thought the church was wrong, however it was the Bible that his argument was against, not the church.
The Word is Exalted
David wrote about God’s Word. In fact, the largest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, is all about God’s Word, and God’s law, and all of God’s Word is to be exalted, certainly above that of human experience. David wrote, “you have exalted above all things your name and your word” (Psalm 138:2b). When Jesus prayed for the disciples, and those who would later believer, He prayed, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6). The Bible says “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Pet 1:21), so “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Tim 3:16-17). We cannot say that about experience. Not all personal experience or “God speaking” to someone is profitable for correction or training in righteousness. Using personal “encounters” with God can never equal the Holy Scriptures and whose authors were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” and which were obviously “breathed out by God.” You would think it would be obvious, but nearly every day I hear from someone who has tried to give me a “sure word from God,” but I’m not so sure, especially if it’s contrary the Word of God. God told one young man that he could live with his wife and yet “play the field” because he was saved, but his own personal experience and beliefs about God’s standard doesn’t change the truth that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom (1st Cor 6:9-10). It’s not what he or we think; it’s what God says. That’s the standard that has all authority.
The Apostle Peter was an eye witness and living proof to Jesus’ transfiguration and hearing God’s voice from heaven (on the Mount of Transfiguration), called the Holy Mountain by Peter. Peter wrote that “we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2nd Pet 1:18-20), and certainly, “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Pet 1:21). Of course many have seen visions or had dreams, particularly about Jesus. It appears that God is reaching those who others cannot reach and bringing the Light of Christ to people around the world. God is not limited by space or time like we are, so God can do what God wants to do, but as for people’s personal encounters, visions, dreams, and God “speaking to them,” they may or may not be real. I do know they’re not real if they go against the Word of God. Yes, the person may have had an encounter, but not from God at all (Eph 6:11-12). This I know: I cannot trust personal encounters or experiences like I can the Word of God, because it’s the very breath of God.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.