The Conscience is not the Holy Spirit (or vice versa)

Many believers were taught that their conscience was actually the voice of the Holy Spirit.  When they feel caution about an activity, they believe they are hearing the Spirit’s concern about that activity.  The Holy Spirit does speak to those who will listen.  And, I believe, He speaks to us in our hearts with nudges and cautions.  But there are some concerns with thinking that the Holy Spirit is the new conscience of the believer. 

First, the flesh did not die on the cross.  The old man died.  I have taught about the difference between the old man and the flesh in another place.  The flesh continues to be active in our lives and we must learn to trust the Spirit rather than the flesh.  Because the conscience is part of the flesh system we learned through our lives and through the input of others, it did not go away when we were saved.  It continues to try to guide us and show us the difference between right and wrong.

Second, the flesh system is set against the Spirit.  The flesh was formed and nurtured in sin and the perspective of the conscience is based on both attraction to evil and personal condemnation.  Paul constantly calls us to walk according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.  The flesh deceives us because it is based on the lies presented through sin.  The conscience deceives us in the same way.

You know what I mean.  Some people seem to have no conscience.  Anything they choose to do is acceptable in their hearts.  I have heard people justify many terrible things, including murder, as though they had no sense of conscience.  I have had the opportunity to visit with two murderers as they sat in jail awaiting trial.  Neither of them expressed regret for what they did.  There was no shame, no self-condemnation, nothing but frustration at getting caught.

Because the conscience is part of the flesh, it serves the fleshly desires of the sinner.  It finds ways to excuse or redefine sin.  It can be trained to ignore some things while focusing on others.  When a person becomes a believer, that part of the conscience doesn’t go away.  Instead, it is forced to operate within a new system.  And, in that new system, it takes a new approach.

Think about this: what does the flesh want in you?  It wants to go back to the way things were.  So how will it do this when you have come to Christ?  By keeping you from your freedom and forgiveness in Christ and pulling you back to shame, condemnation, and performance. 

For the believer, the conscience will become the inner voice of condemnation.  It will tell you that certain things are evil for you, while others are good.  But it is still deceived and deceiving.  It is still broken.  It does not know what is evil, it only knows what fits its system and what does not.  The new life in Christ, the freedom and victory in which we live, does not fit with the flesh system and it is rejected by the conscience.  The old life of performance and striving does fit with the flesh system, so the conscience will try to draw us back.

The believer cannot trust his or her conscience.  We are to look to the Spirit for guidance.  The source of information we need is not of us.  The Lord will tell us what is right and what is wrong—and sometimes what He says is unexpected.

Thoughts?  Are you totally confused?  Questions?


Filed under heart, Legalism, Relationship

27 responses to “The Conscience is not the Holy Spirit (or vice versa)

  1. J

    How does one distinguish between the voice of the conscience & the voice of the Spirit? For instance, if a decision needs to be made about moving to another city, how can one be sure the Lord is leading? I have heard people say, “Father told me to do this.. Father said…”

    • This is a tough question, not because the answer is difficult, but because the answer is personal. I have heard people say so many things that the Lord supposedly told them to do. In my sarcasm, I have said that either God hasn’t said all those things or He is schizophrenic. One young lady said that God told her she should live with and be intimate with her boyfriend. God said it! Yeah, right!

      I have a couple more posts on the conscience that might help a little, but the bottom line on this is that I believe the Lord will speak to anyone who truly wants to listen. If you want His input and are willing to do what He says, then tell Him that and listen. You could even ask Him to quiet the voice of your conscience and the voice of the evil one. Ask Him to make you do what He wants . . . then trust Him. In practice, I ask the Lord to lead me to the right thing: I submit my will to Him as best I can; and I trust that whatever decision I make will be the one He has led me to.

      You might be interested in a couple of posts I wrote on this a while back. Parts one and two…

      Thanks for asking. I hope this helps. If not, ask some more…

      • I just realized that I didn’t address the “personal” part. If I design the “Seven Easy Steps to Hearing the Spirit’s Voice” I will do a great disservice to the people of the Lord. Our relationship with Him is personal. He knows each of us in a special way and speaks to each of us in ways that connect to us. That means that the best I could ever give is a general sense of how to ask and how to listen. He may speak to you audibly. He may speak through circumstances you will understand. He may speak to you through others. There may be many combinations of many methods. But He will speak directly to you. Part of the goal (work, if you will) of the Christian life is to learn to listen.

    • jdee

      sometimes we ask God to give us a sign one thing we may notice when the choice is right a deep peace in our heart.

  2. Jaco Rossouw

    Hey Dave! Man I loved this article, it really gave me some awesome insight and things to think about. I have one remark and question though. You end the article off with “The believer cannot trust his or her conscience…” while Paul’s epistles are full of references to a good and clear conscience (1Tim 3:9, 2Tim 1:3, Heb 13:18, Rom 9:1… there are about 18 more verses in Paul but I’m to lazy to type them out :P) Wont you agree, that it should read “The believer cannot trust his or her conscience… INITIALLY” ? The two most powerful verses on good conscience in my opinion are 1Tim 1:5 that says “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” and Heb 10:22 that reads “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” – As you also said in you article “What is the flesh 1” – “The flesh is not our nature. It is the memory or pattern of the life we built for ourselves before Christ.” So what I’m getting at is that wont you agree that as our minds are renewed by Holy Spirit (Rom 12:2) our consciences could also be brought form a place of the corruption it functioned in as you said to a place of alignment with the Spirit and truth of God’s word to a point that we can have a clear and good conscience before God and actually trust it as Paul clearly said he had and did?

    I’m a relatively young believer of 2 years so I am by no means trying to prove a doctrine or something, just sharing my thoughts as this whole clear / evil conscience and Holy Spirit vs conscience thing because it is something that has definitely cost me freedom in the last year and I’m so amped to get to the truth of it! Again great article! Hope you get time to reply 🙂

    • Hi Jaco! So good to hear from you. You ask a very good and important question. It may lead to a long answer. 
      The concern of my heart as I wrote the post was that many people have been taught to trust the “inner voice” that convicts them of sin. That inner voice brings shame and condemnation, even for things that are not sin in the Lord’s mind. Teachers manipulate the thinking of their people so they feel guilty for whatever the teacher thinks is wrong behavior. The people, when they remember the teaching, think this is coming from the Lord and listen to the inner condemning voice. (I probably don’t need to give you an example of this.)

      We know that the evil one still whispers in the hearts of believers, but we are taught that he tells us to desire evil things, like eating too much or smoking or sex or whatever. But I think the evil one does much more than that. He whispers lies about us. He tells us that we are failures and that we are stupid and that we are sinners almost without hope. When we hear the lies, we believe them because they seem to come from that inner voice we have been taught is our conscience. That’s why so many believers live in defeat and discouragement.
      Yes, Scripture uses the word in a positive way and I think you are right to point that out. I would not suggest, however, that the conscience becomes trustworthy as we grow in Christ. In fact, I would have two problems with that.

      First, since most people would think that being in church a long time is the same as growing in Christ, or that memorizing Scripture or praying a lot or doing good things for others are the same as growth in Christ, I would suggest that the conscience of a long-time believer can be just as compromised as that of a new believer.

      Now, I must quickly say that erroneous thinking does not negate truth. Just because some have the wrong idea does not mean the argument is false. There is a sense in which all parts of a believer are coming into conformity with Christ. The flesh, in my view, gives way to the proper growth of the soul; and wrong thinking conforms to the mind of Christ. But no one would suggest that this process is complete in this life. Frankly, I don’t think there is enough time.

      Also, when Scripture refers to the conscience, almost always using the Greek word syneidesis, it speaks of a type of reason or thinking that evaluates our moral position. The word actually is a combination of the primary “consider” and the prefix “with.” It suggests the idea of “right thinking.” Interestingly, the Scripture says that the conscience can be damaged (1 Tim 4:2) and confused (take the whole discussion in 1 Cor 8 & 10). So “right thinking” can be “wrong thinking.” The conscience cannot be trusted . . . completely.

      Of course, and to the point of our agreement, that doesn’t mean we should abandon the conscience. In fact, I doubt that’s even possible. It is one of the means by which we operate in moral decisions. Paul, as you point out, often refers to having a “good conscience.” He even speaks of a “pure conscience.” It is one of the places we should check as we walk through life. But the conscience is under authority and not sufficient of itself. That’s what I mean by not trusting it completely. If the conscience condemns a believer, that believer must reject it and trust the acceptance of the Lord.

      Paul is wise. There is a great text in 1 Cor 4:3-4:

      But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.

      In his conscience, Paul says, he knows nothing against him. His conscience is clear/good/pure. But that is not the proper judgment. He knows very well that he could deceive himself. So he must always be in submission to the Lord, and I would add, by listening to the voice of the Spirit.

      In Acts 15:28 we read that the disciples acted on the basis of two witnesses: the Holy Spirit and their own reason/conscience.

      For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things:

      So, to summarize: believers must be aware that their moral reason (conscience) has been developed in the flesh and will often continue the perspective of the flesh, especially if that perspective is enhanced by wrong teaching in a Christian context. Our goal is not so much to fix the conscience, but to submit ourselves to Christ and seek the guidance of the Spirit so that our thinking in every way conforms more and more to the mind of Christ. Over time, our initial response will be led more by the Spirit than by our fleshly reason and we will see that conformity happening in us.

      Please feel free to respond to this. Thanks for making me think. If I had more time, I would have written something shorter. 😉

  3. E

    Thanks Pastor Dave for another great post! You have articulated something I had trouble explaining. I grew up in a church that, with the best of intentions, instilled us with the fear of straying from God’s path. It was as if to say we could follow God, make one wrong move, and destroy our lives. We could go to the wrong college and totally mess up what God wanted. We could marry the wrong person, take the wrong job offer. But if we are seeking to hear the Holy Spirit instead of the 50 voices comprising the “conscience” (Including whatever lifetime movie we just saw), we can’t make a wrong choice. Yes, pray about decisions! But my old church had a way of making people feel that even a decision made while following God could be wrong because, well, God really only wanted you to do things that one way. I might also add that my old church was very keen on suggesting God was leading its members to donate more money…for the Kingdom (…new carpet!!) of course. Nothing like a little guilt to accomplish man’s agenda in God’s name.

    • E

      I realize I said that we can’t make a wrong choice when we’re following God. What I meant was, we can’t make a willfully disobedient choice if we are seeking God’s guidance in all things? This is why I’m so glad to have found this blog. It puts words to my journey away from legalism and Sunday School Answers. My own “first church” experience was full of the fear of losing salvation, the fear of becoming “lukewarm,” the fear of being lost when you thought you were saved, the fear of not listening to your guilty conscience (which sounded a lot like my neurotic mother and not the Holy Spirit), and the fear of not doing what God has called you to do (but wait, we don’t need anything from you because we have a committee for that already…thanks anyway!) The message of Grace does sound new to me because I rarely heard it before.

      • Fellow Survivor

        E, the one word that amplifies itself in your post is “fear” I can’t remember exactly if this is what Jesus said but wasn’t it ” have no fear, I have overcome the world” Don’t quote me but I am pretty sure that’s what he said. You are not alone, I fear failure in business, my marriage was a failure. I fear not being able to make enough money for retirement, to put my kid through college. All types of fears. So, you are not alone, and yes, acceptance of Grace is the answer. It is a struggle, at least for me.

      • E

        Fellow Survivor,
        Thanks for your comment and the verse! I am still struggling too. It was worse before I knew what I was struggling against! Now we know. In so many ways my N tried to be God and conscience to me. Our family church pastor preached that if you “feel” guilty, you probably are guilty of something. There was nothing more sacred in that church than the institution of the matriarch/patriarch family system. Even marriage came in second. It was “please the mother” above all else. Guess who thrived in this system?

        I am crawling out of that rubble, trying to separate what voices are God, what is me, what is society, and what is the Narcissist. I think people who lived with one can understand that sometimes that voice that says “you’re not good enough” is NOT your internal landscape and you just heard it across the dinner table. I didn’t have to develop these thoughts, they were presented to me.

        I am also trying to be careful in my healing that I do not harden. I will still fail, I am still vulnerable, I still need God. I am angry at my old church for upholding a system that attracts and harbors self-righteous hypocrites. It’s not their fault–they are just doing what is denominationally fashionable. In moving on, I can understand that and simply find peace where I am without expecting anyone to understand or validate my feelings. Failing under grace is better than failing under the law any day.

  4. Michael Robinson

    I hope you may be able to help me with a dilemma. A little while ago I did something that irritated my sister. Later on in the night a voice in my head told me to tell my sister “sorry and thank you”. I became really obsessed with this and I felt if I didn’t do it I would be sinning. So I did what the voice told me. A few days later I was talking to my dad about what happen when I said the word “bad”. I thought at one point that I meant the situation was bad. But recently I started thinking that I meant the words the voice said were bad. Now I’m really concerned that I blasphemy the Holy Spirit. I am really afraid that I won’t be forgiven for this if the voice was the Holy Spirit telling what to do. Is there anyway that this was just my conscience or my OCD and not the Holy Spirit. I would greatly appreciate any help.

    • Dan T

      You most likely did NOT blasphemy the Holy Spirit. God is more graceful and merciful than you will wver truly know. He reveals just how merciful He really is to believers. I am still im awe of How wonderful and merciful our God reply. When aomeone blasphemes the Holy Spirit it is from their hearts. If you care that you may have you most assuredly did not.
      1, Was it the Holy Ghost you heard or?
      2, The fact you care whether you did ir didn’t shows your true heart with regards to Him.

      The pharisees did not care that they were speaking against the Holy Spirit because their hearts were against Him. Since the Holy Spirit is to help guide and cinvict us so that we run to Jesu if he departs how then can we be saved since our hearts are decietfully wicked? We cannot save ourself. We need the Holy Spirit to draw us.

      I once took a conversion of faith to Islam so that I could marry a pretty woman I thought that I loved. In this “conversion” i had to speak in the arabic the words “go away unclean spirit ” or something close to that.

      Years later when turning to Jesus fully and believing I had my conscience come and play the guilt trip with me. Still does actually. The truth though is that if we care at all that we have sinned and from our hearts anguish cry out to Jesus, we have not blaaphemed the Holy Spirit. I think true blasphemy comes from the heart. Someone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit wont come back from that stance of rejection and therefor ca
      nnot be saved.

  5. baby_Christian

    Hello Dave – I saw this article and it is great. I know this was posted years ago but i’ll give it a try in case you reply back 🙂

    So my question is, if conscience condemns us, we must reject it and listen close to God’s voice, but what if my conscience condemns me for an old sin, it tells me I will never be forgiven and I will never have a life with Christ until I ask forgiveness to the person I owe an apology to. Does it sound like the voice of the Holy Spirit for my case? A good conscience?

    Thank you.

    • If your conscience condemns you for something you did before you became a believer, or even for something you have done as a believer, that is a lie. You cannot be condemned. You are forgiven in Jesus. Those are facts. Your status in Christ will not change if you don’t go to that person or if you do.

      So a couple of things might be happening. The evil one, the accuser, may be whispering in your ear (in your own voice) trying to convince you that you are not really saved. He wants to rob you of the daily joy and victory of living in Jesus’ love.

      Or the Holy Spirit could be motivating you to do something and your flesh (the way you learned life and spirituality before Jesus) turns that message into threat and condemnation. Your flesh remembers what used to be before Jesus and believes that’s the way things are.

      I think many of us have been in this kind of circumstance. We feel like we did wrong, but to apologize opens all kinds of doors we don’t want open. It isn’t shame or fear as much as it is being practical. Some people take advantage of our apologies. Others will want to restore the relationship so they can hurt us again. And, for some, our apology would reopen old wounds that have been mostly healed.

      Here’s what I do: I pray. If the Holy Spirit wants me to connect with someone for the sake of apology, He is very capable of making that connection. I give my fear or concern to Him and tell Him that I will do what He wants me to do. Then, I ask Him to bring me together with that person in a way where I can make the apology. If He does that, I do what He wants. If, however, the urging I feel is not from the Holy Spirit, then He will not make that situation happen. In other words, I wait to see what God will do.

      This is not avoiding the issue. In fact, this opens me more than I was open before. I have committed to do what the Lord asks. But I won’t push the situation because I am not sure about my motivation.

      Now, if this is someone you see and interact with every day, or very often, then you can ask Jesus to bring up the topic. It may be that the other person doesn’t want to talk about it either. It may be that the need for apology isn’t really there. So let Jesus bring it up. That may mean the other person brings it up, or it comes up in a strange way. We don’t have to tell Jesus how to do this, we just want to be ready to do what He asks when He moves.

      Most of the time we do not need to answer these questions. Much of the struggle in the Christian life is trying to understand our own motivations, why we feel certain things. Then we try to act on the basis of what we discern. I always want to affirm feelings, but I also want to be careful not to be led by feelings. Just because I feel convicted, for example, does not mean I should do something. Or it may not mean I should do what my flesh says. What if every time your person comes to mind you pray for him/her? Maybe that’s what the Lord is telling you to do, but your flesh interprets almost everything as an attack or a condemnation.

      Let me know if this is helpful or if you have any other questions.

  6. Victor

    Hi I have found this post very interesting and pertinent to my situation. But even after all these explanations, my conscience is not just letting me go. I have heard about the teaching of restitution, and have been through doing some. But in this case I’m not convinced God is leading me to do it. A man of God told a group of people in gathering which I was among that if any of us had not testified that year should rise up to testify that evening service. Now I had not testified in the evening service that year but has testified in the campus fellowship of the same denomination and even in another different gathering in another place. The second case is with the same person asking a question if anyone present in a particular meeting had not read his Sunday school lesson that week. I stood up and said I had not read it well, but what I only did was to try memorizing the memory verse alone because I know I might be asked to recite it, But my conscience keeps condemning me that I must restitute to the man and it’s seizing my peace of mind. I have tried to figure it out but not just satisfied. Please prayerfully encourage me because I really want to do what the Holy Spirit says and not what I think.

  7. Derick

    Thanks for this Post – It help me avoid embracing the ideal that my conscious is The Holy Spirit. Perhaps the Spirit led me to your post. My conscious is the flesh (partly as you discribe) – Las Vegad,NV

  8. Philip Dapaah

    Amazing read Pastor,

    Very clear. Very important for us to distignuish between the Spirit and our conscience

  9. Hello. I’ve been reading this for a little bit. I came across this looking for some answers that I’ve been having some difficulty understanding. I decided to leave my husband about a year ago, although I’d been contemplating it for several. I believe he has some narcissistic tendencies I guess. Things have been very difficult and very toxic. Then the confusing switch to Mr. Nice. I think every article I’ve read here so far described him pretty accurately. He refused to go to any counseling whether a pastor or a professional. We attended a church and he has a ministry of his own. The assistant pastor of the church and I sent a letter to all 3 of his ministry overseers. They never responded. First he says they only oversee his ministry. Now they apparently hold him personally accountable. For what? I don’t know. I don’t think he’s honest. I went to counseling on my own for several years. I’ve tried every response my pastor or counselor suggested to no avail. I know I wasn’t perfect, in fact my responses were very poor when I first started feeling trapped. So after another 3 years of me going to counseling, I left. I was dying inside and our children were suffering. My pastor supported my decision, although he never told me to divorce, my husband blames him and says I belong to a cult, accuses us of having an affair etc. When I first left him he finally agreed to go to counseling. We went to 10 sessions. The first session the counselor said it was unusual to go to counseling since I already filed. That was the first strike against me. My husband throws that in my face. I was trying everything I could think of to get his attention. This is was my last step. We never talked about the issues of what caused me to leave. Every session he’d say ‘she needs to drop the divorce and leave my church’. After no usefulness of the 10 sessions, he says I need to sit with one of his overseers. I’ve pretty much refused. 1) because he says that they will ‘put me in my place’ and 2) where were they before? I feel he has no real accountability with them. That they’ve just fallen for his façade. So because I won’t do any of this he says I’m refusing to work on our marriage, that I blasphemy, that I’m mocking God. He asks me all the time ‘if the Holy Spirit led me to do this’, That it’s not possible for me to be lead by the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit would never tell someone to do something in contrary to God’s word. No he’s right, but I really felt it was time to go. I can’t say anything. He’s always looking for a response and every time I gave him one he’d mock me or say I’m just making excuses because I want to live in sin. He corners me still. Any advice on how to respond? I’m sorry this was so long.

    • Kelly, you are welcome here. We have heard many stories like yours and we believe them. If he stands to lose ministry opportunities because of a divorce, he will have to paint you as wicked or crazy or something so that he will still look good. Those who give him oversight may support him if they are concerned about losing him to their work. It seems sadly consistent that the church is less a help and more an adversary to the victim in these situations. If I were in your position, the last thing I would want to do is sit down with his overseers. That’s his responsibility. Yes, they will only hear his side of the story, but you can almost be sure that they will make you feel responsible and wicked. Why go through that?

      Instead, stay on the track you are on. Make sure that you and your kids are safe, then keep moving forward. If he wants to change, he can. There is a long future ahead, lots of opportunity for him to turn back to you. But his tactics are to shame and intimidate you. That doesn’t sound like change to me.

      I would encourage you to read Barbara Roberts’ book, “Not Under Bondage.” It will give you a different perspective on divorce for believers. Her goal was to be true to Scripture and to herself. I was impressed. I wrote a review of her book that you can find using the search feature on the blog.

      Please keep in touch. I know that many here will be praying for you.

  10. Andrew Wood

    wow. I’ve been wondering this so long. This is a perfect way of explaining it. THANK YOU. but still not sure if we’re right 😉 haha

  11. I’m in disbelief to some point here. I truly believe our conscience is right most of the time having to do with automatic thoughts of right and wrong. I’m also believing how our conscience does conform to our environment and society we were raised in, but I truly believe my conscience always ultimately puts my in a positive direction in life. With that being expressed, I believe your conscience is definitely a presence of righteousness in your mind which also leads me to believe and have faith that god is always here .

  12. espirit

    how would i differentiate between the voice of the holy spirit and conscience while praying

    • The difference, in my opinion, is submission. Are you willing to do whatever the Spirit leads you to do? Once you are in that position, then it shouldn’t make any difference. Just do what you are led to do. The apostles prayed and then did “what seemed right to them.” I think we can do the same. But just doing what seems right will be faulty without a heart truly submitted to the Lord.

  13. JD


    How does one differentiate between the Holy Spirit and Satan? These voices either come from within or they do not. How do you discern the difference? Many heinous acts are committed by individuals who claim God told them to do so. Is it not a person’s responsibility to discern the difference between good acts and evil ones using their conscience? What is the difference between a schizophrenic and a true servant of God who does what the Holy Spirit guides them to do? Is it not our responsibility to judge what is right and wrong, and then act accordingly to our conscience judgement which tells us what “seems” to be right and good? How can one be sure?

    If I surrender my will and conscience fully over to the Holy Spirit, and commit myself to do whatever God, Christ, and Holy Spirit commands, am I not also giving Satan an open invitation and reason to decieve me? Where does my judgement come in? How do I discern? A feeling? An intuition? Complete trust?

    Evil is not always obvious. Abiding to the letter every commandment is a conscious choice. We aren’t lead there. It doesn’t just happen on its own accord. And following it doesn’t protect us from the forces of evil or deception.

    Yes, I would love to turn over all the decisions I have to make over to God and let him deal with it. I don’t want to be the boss. I don’t even want to be responsible for my actions and just tell myself and everyone else I am just following orders. But it doesn’t work that way, Oliver North.

    I have made hundreds, maybe thousands of mistakes, misjudgments, and wrong decisions, thinking, with all my heart, after vigilant prayer, trusting I was guided and was I acting in accordance to Christ’s will. I was wrong.

    Staying in an abusive marriage for 20 plus years was wrong. But I thought I was doing what God and scripture demanded.

    That’s just one example.

    I simply cannot trust that I can make decisions in accordance to that whispering spirit voice that guides me to do because I don’t know whose voice it is.

    I want to. Dang. What a glorious gift to hear the voice of God and know if I just do as he says I am doing the right thing.

    Case in point: God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Yes, put him on an alter and kill him. Are you kidding me? That is insanity. That is pure evil. Am I wrong? Was Abraham really hearing the voice of God? Was Abraham really demonstating complete obedience to God? Or was he a nut? YOU DON’T MURDER CHILDREN. And you don’t tie your kid to an alter and tell him you are going to kill him but it’s ok because God told him to do it. I KNOW HOW THE STORY ENDS. Yeah, I know, it was old testament stuff, and I’ve completely missed the point. Or have I?

    The voice of the Holy Spirit is not clear to me. Depending on the right spirit to guide all my decisions is noble, but I have to discern the difference between God’s will, my will, and Satan’s will. That’s a lot of voices. And if one of them tells me to sacrifice a kid I will rebuke it. I don’t care what its name is, or who I think it is, or who it “seems” to be. I don’t even care who it actually is. I wouldn’t listen.

    In the mean time I need to discern and decide which people to allign myself with. Some are good, some are evil, and some are mentally ill. But they all think they are right.

    Pastor Dave, where is my error? What am I not doing or doing that prevents me from hearing and discerning the true voice of God so that I can make right decisions?

    • Well, this answer might get long. I wish it could be simple. First, I have to say that I understand the frustration and have felt it myself. If God wants me to do something or avoid something, why doesn’t He make Himself more clear? The conclusion I have reached is that He has, but my flesh prevents my hearing and understanding. So let me walk through this systematically.

      First, it seems obvious that Christians should not be confused about the leading in their lives. Something is very wrong if we cannot tell the difference between the voice of God and the voice of Satan. Especially when Jesus says that His sheep know His voice and will not follow another. Opening and submitting ourselves to the Lord should not make us more vulnerable to Satan.

      Second, I don’t think it is my responsibility to make the distinction between good acts and evil acts. Over the years, that kind of thinking has led people to judge others in hurtful ways. You know those who love to set up rules for everyone to follow. “Don’t watch television. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t play cards, or go to movies, or buy red cars, or borrow money, or chew gum, or use cuss words, or anything else the current leader/teacher doesn’t like. Ladies shouldn’t cut their hair or wear pants or use make-up…on and on. That comes from people who think it is their job to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.

      Third, not all of the right decisions in our lives will lead to happiness or comfort. Sometimes there are things for us to learn, things that can only be learned through troubles. So I might be tempted to call something a wrong decision, even the leading of Satan, when it was actually good for me. Can I say that God led me to it? I don’t know, but neither can I say that Satan led me to it. Nor can I really say it was a wrong decision. Yes, some decisions are wrong, and we made them without asking the Lord or without listening to His answer. But sometimes He is silent, I think, so that we will learn things about ourselves. When I get excited about some new gadget and convince myself that I need it, I may not check with Him, or my excitement may not allow me to hear Him. Then, later, when I realize I spent my money foolishly, I learn something about myself. I learn that I should wait for a while to see if the excitement wears off, or do more research to be sure I am not being deceived, or stop to consider better uses for the money. How will I learn if I don’t begin to reason according to the Spirit’s influence?

      Fourth, I don’t think this has a mathematical or scientific answer. In other words, it will not be the same for everyone or even for all times in our own lives. This idea of following is part of a relationship with a real Person. Hearing His voice comes out of personal relationship with Him. Just as all relationships take time and focus, so does our living relationship with the Lord.

      So the most important thing I have done is begin to understand His love for me. I trust that He will accomplish in and through my life all that He wants to accomplish. I want that and He wants that, so I believe it will happen because we agree. What that means to me is that He will use my mistakes and weaknesses (since that’s about all I give Him to work with) for His glory and purpose in my life. He will not fail because He is strong and good.

      I look back on some of the more challenging trials in my life, and I blame myself for not making better decisions. But then I remember that those decisions brought me to where I am today. They have become part of my story, the story God has used to accomplish His purpose in me. I trust that the things I think I could have had would not have been the best for me or would not have accomplished His purpose in me. I don’t know that I can say I was supposed to make the decisions I did or that the Lord led me to them, but I can know that He has used them in good ways for me. I can live my days fussing about what I should have done, or I can live in the knowledge that God’s loving purpose was worked in me through those things.

      When I am faced with the difficulty of whose voice I am hearing, I have to remember that I don’t have the means to make even that decision. Because of the continuing effect of my flesh on my thinking, I am often left wondering if I am hearing what I want to hear or if I am actually listening to the Lord. But I don’t think I have the responsibility of sorting that out. I depend on the Lord’s care for me. He says that I know His voice, so I have to trust that I will follow Him. That sounds a little odd, but it is all about grace. Grace is trusting Him and allowing Him to do His work in and through me.

      So, in practice, I express my heartfelt desire to do what He wants, to follow Him. I acknowledge the conflict in my heart that makes it hard for me to hear and understand. I ask for protection from the enemy’s lies. Then I submit myself to His will and do what seems right. As I do what seems right, I have to trust that He is leading and moving in me. And I have to be willing to embrace whatever comes. If I make a mistake, I can acknowledge that and trust that He is even able to used that in my life. If I sin, I am grateful for His love and forgiveness. I walk through my days with more peace and confidence than ever before.

      One more thing…

      As far as the story of Abraham goes, I am convinced that God actually told Abraham to offer his son, but then stopped him in time to show that such a sacrifice would not be right or necessary. God did not want Abraham making such a sacrifice. Instead, He would make the sacrifice for us. We look at that story as one point in time, a terrible situation. But the Jews saw that story as part of their story. That very vivid and personal experience foretold the time when God would sacrifice His only Son for us. The depths of that story are filled with wonder, in spite of the horror of the point in time. Abraham’s challenge was the challenge God willingly accomplished for us.

      • CC

        Wow. Great answer. God Bless JD.

        I would also like to point out that in the Abraham story, pagan religions would sacrifice children to their false gods. It was common during those times. This request was really God making a very clear distinction between himself​ and those other gods. Again, a very different understanding for Abraham than how we look at it today.

  14. JD

    Awww, beautiful conclusion. I have issues with Abraham but it mirrors the gospel, preparing the way. Thank you for your response Pastor Dave. I will read it again and again, until I absorb it and unstop my ears.

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