Why God’s People Should Not Be Led by External Phenomenon
In the weeks following last year’s Presidential election, I heard members of the Christian right referring to Donald Trump’s victory as, “divine intervention,” “an act of God,” and “a miracle.” Article headlines read, “Trump: President by the sovereign intervention of God,” and “Signs Of Divine Intervention In Trump Victory.” One article ended by quoting 1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (emphasis mine). The Christian right was on an emotional high that ranged from exalted jubilation to giddy euphoria.
An item published on the website of Christian pollster, George Barna, stated, “In the eyes of Christians, God’s fingerprints are all over his (Trump’s) victory.” The article went on to equate Trump’s win with a miracle on the basis that it, “almost defies explanation; it makes little sense from a rational, empirical point of view. And that’s what a miracle is: God intervening to change our reality to align with His sovereign will.”
While reading one of these articles, it struck me that Christian people were taking the perceived improbability of Trump’s election win as “a sign” of divine intervention, and therefore, as affirmation of Mr. Trump as “God’s man” and of their choice in voting for him.
I’m not commenting on Mr. Trump, or even whether God was involved in the outcome of the election. What I am commenting on is the propensity of Christian people to look to the natural realm for circumstances and phenomena to subjectively interpret as being “signs” of divine intervention, and thus, of divine will, rather than looking to God’s word and His indwelling Holy Spirit for clear direction without the need for external indicators.
If you pay attention and start watching for it, you will observe that this habit of subjectively reading divine involvement into natural circumstances is quite prevalent among Christians. We commonly share some recent occurrence in our life, then add the footnote, “I think God is trying to tell me something.” Other times, the story includes an addendum like, “nothing happens without a reason,” meaning that God must have been behind the event, therefore, we’re justified in trying to derive spiritual meaning or divine direction from it.
If someone is trying to initiate a business deal and it goes through, then it’s “a sign” that God wanted it to go through, but if it doesn’t go through, then it’s “a sign” that God didn’t want it to go through.
If we’ve been questioning whether to buy a new car and one day the car we want goes on sale, it becomes “a sign” that God wants us to have it and is supernaturally giving us a good deal, though, somehow, a sale at the dealership across the street isn’t a sign to buy their car instead.
I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere out there two Christians are sitting in a restaurant and one is telling the other that today he asked God if He wants him to get married. Just then, the door opens and the most gorgeous person walks into the room, causing the prospective suitor to exclaim, “it’s a sign, God wants me to get married and I’m sure that’s the one – even if I have to wait for her to get a divorce first.”
I may be exaggerating a bit, especially with that last one – at least I hope that’s an exaggeration. Nevertheless, I hear this kind of subjective interpretation of circumstances and events as a basis for determining divine direction laced throughout Christian conversations.
It’s interesting to note that these “signs” always support our preconceptions. For instance, when we see a known sinner on the side of the road with a flat tire it’s “a sign” that God is judging him for his sin. However, when we get a flat tire the next day, it’s “a sign” that the devil is attacking us because we’re so holy. Same circumstance, different sign.
God has given us His Holy Spirit to be led by, and His word to know the truth by. Our habit of looking to external circumstances that we interpret as “signs” of divine intervention, and thus, divine will, is, 1) Foolish, 2) Dangerous, 3) Perverse, 4) Adulterous.
Relying on our natural senses, subjective reasoning, and emotional feelings to interpret circumstances so as to determine divine intervention and will, is foolish because our natural senses are not equipped to discern spiritual things and are therefore an unreliable guide. Sometimes God is at work in the events and circumstances around us, but only the Holy Spirit knows for sure what to attribute to God.
This is what 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, is talking about when Paul tells us that our natural senses of sight and hearing cannot peer into the spirit realm to know what God has prepared for us (verse 9), but that God has sent the Holy Spirit to reveal those things to us (verse 10). We’re told that only the Holy Spirit knows the things of God (verse 11) and that’s why God has sent His Spirit, so that we can know the things that God has given to us (verse 12). However, the natural man (un-reborn, or un-renewed natural senses) cannot know the things of God because they are “spiritually discerned” (verse 14).
God wants us to know what’s going on in the spirit realm and in His kingdom. That’s why He said He would give His Holy Spirit to them that ask (Luke 11:13), so that the Holy Spirit could teach us all things (John 14:26), guide us into all truth, and show us things to come (John 16:13). But we know spirit things by the Spirit of God, not by our natural senses, subjective reasoning, or emotional feelings interpreting certain circumstances as “a sign” of divine intervention or will.
The George Barna website article, referenced earlier, explained a miracle as something that, “almost defies explanation; it makes little sense from a rational, empirical point of view.” It is presumably on this basis that the article states, “In the eyes of Christians, God’s fingerprints are all over his (Trump’s) victory.” But if the improbability of a thing, or its making little rational sense, is sufficient basis for us to subjectively read divine intervention into it, then one could argue that the 2008 election of Barack Obama was an even greater act of divine intervention.
Donald Trump was already famous, a house-hold name in America for decades, a popular television personality with plenty of his own money to spend on a campaign and a name that conjures up images of power; plus, he was running against someone embroiled in scandal and under criminal investigation by the FBI. It would make little rational sense for him to lose.
On the other hand, when Barack Obama ran for the Presidency in 2008, he was an unknown, a relative newcomer, a black man running for an office that no American of African ancestry had ever held, and he was running with a name – Barack Hussein Obama – that conjured up images of the terrorists who wanted to kill us and with whom we were at war; plus, he was running against a renown, long-time U.S. Senator and war hero. It made little rational sense for him to win.
One could subjectively reason that Barack Obama must have been the object of divine favor, as I’m sure many church going Democrats believed, much to the consternation of those Republican Christians who now believe Mr. Trump to be the object of such favor.
This is not about Mr. Trump, or Mr. Obama, but about the folly of depending on the subjective interpretation of external phenomenon as a means of determining divine intervention and will. Such circumstances are always interpreted according to our preconceptions as to which person, party, or faction we believe God should favor, and thus, when our side wins, it becomes “a sign,” affirming that God is on our side.
Looking to external phenomenon to determine divine intervention is foolish because our natural senses are not equipped to discern spiritual things, and therefore, are an unreliable guide.
Relying on sense knowledge, subjective reasoning, and emotional feelings to interpret circumstances and extrapolate “a sign” of divine will is dangerous because it makes us vulnerable to satanic deception.
Satan has access to the natural realm of sense knowledge to present flawed and deceptive reasoning to the minds of men. This is what the principalities and powers of Ephesians 6:12 are doing. They are ministering the earthly, sensual, devilish wisdom spoken of in James 3:15 to the inhabitants of the planet. They are trying to get us to follow their twisted reasoning, and deceptive, emotional feelings, rather than follow God’s word. They are trying to get us to take their thoughts instead of letting God’s thoughts be ministered to us by His Holy Spirit which would result in our having “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).
Notice that the wisdom spoken of in James 3:15 is not only earthly and devilish, but “sensual,” meaning it contacts us through our natural senses as opposed to our spirit. Satan does not have access to the born-again spirit of a believer because that part of us is a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) that is the workmanship of God (Eph 2:10), partaking in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), seated in heavenly places in Christ (Eph 2:6) and in fellowship with him (1 John 1:3). Therefore, Satan wants to keep us operating on the level of the natural senses (thought, reason, emotion and information derived from the physical realm) where he has access to us. If we ever determine to know only what the word of God says, and only what the Holy Spirit teaches, Satan’s door of access to us will be slammed shut.
Only the word of God and the Spirit of God are infallible. Sense knowledge, human reasoning and emotional feelings are highly fallible and are continually subject to satanic influence and deception.
Relying on the physical realm and natural senses to determine spiritual activity and discover God’s will is perverse because it inverts the God ordained order.
God has made man as spirit, soul, and body (1 Thes 5:23). In our spirit we are made a new creation, become partakers in the divine nature, and connect with God who is a spirit. With the soul, we think, reason, feel, will, and choose. With the body, we engage and interact with the physical realm. God designed everything to always flow from spirit, to soul, to body – that’s the hierarchy, the chain of command, and the order of progression that God ordained.
With the spirit we are to connect with God, be in union with Him, and be illuminated, enlightened, and led by Him. The soul is then to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2) to the ways of God as taught to us by His word and His Spirit. With the body we are to act upon, and act out, the revealed will of God until His good, acceptable, and perfect will is manifested in the midst of, and implemented into, this world.
When we look for a sign, or look to the external, physical, natural realm for indicators to determine divine intervention and direction, we invert the order and let the fallen natural creation tell us what to think about the Creator, His works, and His will, instead of letting the Creator tell us, by His word and His Spirit, what to think about His creation and what He is doing in it. Put another way, we let the natural realm become the judge of spirit things instead of letting spirit things judge the natural realm. That’s a perversion of the ordained order.
Looking to the external, natural realm, and sense knowledge to discern divine activity, and will, is adulterous in that it looks to, and connects us with, a realm that is out of fellowship with, and contrary to our Lord.
Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign” (Mat 12:39).
The natural realm that we contact through the five physical senses, and that we know through sense knowledge, is fallen and is no longer in fellowship with its Creator. It has been effectively gutted of God’s presence, left destitute, and in a depraved state. It cannot tell us God’s will. Rather, we are to tell it God’s will as He reveals it to us by His word and His Spirit.
When we call on Jesus to be our Lord and to save us (Rom 10:13), our spirit becomes a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) that is the workmanship of God (Eph 2:10), has passed from death into life (John 5:24), been made a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), and become one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17).
The born-again believer now has a body with natural senses that are in contact with a fallen creation that is contrary to the Spirit (Gal 5:17), but we also have a spirit that is alive unto God and in communion with Him. The question is, will we look to the body, natural senses and physical realm for our information and direction, thus becoming connected to the fallen creation that is at enmity against God (Rom 8:7), or, will we look to our risen Lord, His word, and His indwelling Holy Spirit to teach us, instruct us, inform us, direct us, and guide us? Will we connect with spirit or flesh; that which is natural or that which is spiritual; that which is fallen or that which is risen; that which is spiritually dead or that which is spiritually alive unto God?
The scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 12:38 had the prophetic word in scripture telling about the Messiah to come, and they had the works of the Spirit (healing the sick, casting out devils – Mat 12:28) which Jesus said was enough reason to believe that He was of the Father (John 10:37-38, John 14:11), but they still wanted “a sign” that would satisfy their natural, adulterous senses, that were out of fellowship with God. We may not be “demanding” a sign from God, yet it is adulterous in nature for the bride of Christ to let external phenomena in the natural realm of a fallen creation speak to us, influence us, or be looked to as providing “a sign,” thus letting ourselves be subtly drawn aside and courted by an old lover enticing us to connect again to the fallen creation through sense knowledge.
God is a spirit (John 4:24) and wants to have fellowship with us spirit to spirit. When we look to the natural realm for a sign that appeals to sense knowledge, we effectively turn our back on God and the things of the spirit. That is adulterous.
Only the word of God and the Spirit of God are sure guides. Nothing in the natural realm of sense knowledge, such as circumstance, natural phenomenon, subjective reasoning, or emotional feelings should ever be relied on as a means of determining divine involvement or the will of God in any area of life. If you don’t know it by the Word and the Spirit, then you don’t know anything for sure.
I know that many Christian people struggle with the idea of being led by the Holy Spirit or “hearing God.” I have good news. Every born-again believer has already heard God and been led by His Spirit – that’s the only way any of us comes to Christ (John 6:44). However, after coming to Christ, few of us go on to develop our spiritual life and become proficient at discerning spiritual things such as the leading of the Holy Spirit and the inner witness in our own spirit, but that can be fixed.
The following are links to just some of the teaching resources that have helped me in this area. I hope you will benefit from them as I have as you pursue being led by the Spirit and not by “a sign.”