There are times when our life experiences have led us to form improper conclusions that are contrary to the Word of God. The result can be relying on our human understanding instead of placing our full trust in God and His Word (Prov 3:5,6). This can lead to wrong choices, which have long-lasting consequences for us and for the people we lead.
The Bible gives a clear example of this (Gen 15:1–17:21). God told Abraham and Sarah that they would have a natural-born son (15:4-6). Sarah became impatient, and did not hold fast to what God had promised. Instead, she relied on her own human idea and offered her maid to Abraham (a common practice of that day).
Indeed, her maid bore Abraham a son, but it was a son born out of disobedience and disbelief in God’s Word (16:1-4) and it caused much heartache (16:12). This son, Ishmael, and his descendants are the forefathers of the Arabic peoples. Centuries of bloodshed and warfare between Ishmael’s descendants and the people of Israel have been the result.
As pastors and leaders, we must resolve that experience must never replace the Word of God as our foundation of truth. Our circumstances can never be the source of our decisions. The Bible is our only source for what is true! The Bible is God’s revelation and wisdom revealed to mankind. No matter what situation you face, the Bible has the answer of truth for you. (You can read more about the importance of the Word of God later in this article.)
GOD IS WITH US
Some experiences in life can be confusing. We often have difficulty discerning the source of a trial. Are we being tempted or tested (Jas 1:2-18)? Is the trial from God, Satan, or just a trial of my own flesh? We may wonder why we are going through a difficult time.
Some of the most difficult lessons are born out of the uncertainties of life. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it does not seem that justice prevails. While a just end to a circumstance may not be realized in this life, as Christians we still have the assurance that God is for us (Rom 8:31) and that justice will certainly prevail in the end (Gal 6:7).
Difficult circumstances, natural disasters or tragedies may lead us to think that God is the author of these events. But we must remember that we live in a world that is broken by sin and still under the influence of Satan (1John 5:19). Mankind’s rejection of God and His ways, coupled with man’s sinful choices, have resulted in a world of suffering and pain, a world where “the rain falls on the just and on the unjust” (Matt 5:45).
It is impossible to know or understand all that we would like to know about this life, or about God and His ways. But we can rest in the fact that everything we need to know for life and godliness has been made available to us through Jesus Christ: “As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3).
We cannot know everything that God knows. He is so much greater and wiser than we could ever be. God’s thoughts and ways are far beyond our thoughts and ways: “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa 55:8, 9).
So when things take place that we cannot understand, we have an opportunity to mature as a disciple of Christ. We can choose at these times to walk by faith and place our trust in God. “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor 5:7; see also Hebrews 11). We must remember that no trial or difficulty, no pain or challenge – absolutely nothing can separate us from God or His love (Rom 8:37-39). We can call upon Him in our hour of trial, and know that He will hear us and answer in His way and time.
THE POWER OF INFLUENCE
Experiences are often accompanied by strong emotions or feelings. But, as you know, emotions and feelings can often be very misleading. They are not predictable, and can change from day to day. Our feelings cannot be trusted to lead us to truth.
Two people can have the same experience and yet come to totally opposite conclusions based upon their feelings or responses. Each person responds in a unique way, even to the same circumstances. As a result, each person develops their own unique view of the world. That worldview may be based upon truth, or not. But it is certainly formed in part by the experiences of the individual.
Our life experiences can be influenced by many sources, including:
THE INFLUENCE OF GOD
Throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, it is clear that God has a purpose and plan for people: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). While God never violates our free will to make choices, He certainly can be involved in the circumstances of our lives: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delights in his way” (Ps 37:23).
Even if God is not the cause of a circumstance, He can still use it for our good. As we mature as sons and daughters of God, we can more readily recognize when He is at work in our circumstances. Then we can wholeheartedly respond to the Spirit’s work, and allow Him to use the circumstance to transform us more into Christ’s image (Rom 8:28,29).
THE INFLUENCE OF SATAN
The enemy of your soul, Satan, comes to steal, kill and destroy. But thank God that Jesus came to give life, and life more abundantly! (John 10:10)
The devil does not want you to experience the life and freedom that Christ gives. Satan has many ways to attempt to lead people astray. But one of the greatest tools of the devil is deception.
The devil uses deception and lies to try to create doubt in your mind about the goodness and faithfulness of God. Satan will try to use experiences or temptations in order to weaken your faith in God, or to cause you to disbelieve God’s promises and walk away from relationship with Him.
Let us review a few scriptures that reveal some of Satan’s methods to lead us astray:
- “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22).
- “Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2Cor 2:11).
- “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2Cor 11:3).
- “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2Cor 11:14).
- “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1Pet 5:8).
But you are not a helpless victim of Satan. You are a child of God, who has been well equipped to resist the works of the devil! “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:11).
We have a sure defense against Satan. We must put our trust in the Word of God and, more importantly, put our trust in the Author of that Word, Jesus Christ. Each time we obey God, we are strengthened in our spirit. This helps us to resist the devil, who then must flee from us (Jas 4:7).
THE INFLUENCE OF PEOPLE
The Scriptures teach that although we are in the world, we are not to be of the world (1Cor 2:12; 1John 2:15-17). This means that we are to maintain our unique Christian perspective in thoughts and actions. We are to live as citizens of a higher Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. The laws of God’s Kingdom are to be what rule and guide our behavior.
We are not to be led or influenced by the society around us. We must mature and grow stronger in our faith in Christ, so that we will no longer fear what people may think of us (Ps 56:3,4; 118:6-8; Prov 29:25). The day is coming when many will be led astray, even those who at one time professed faith in Christ (1Tim 4:1). It is important that we not be influenced by them and also led astray.
As believers we are supposed to be different from those in the world. We are to be a positive influence for righteousness in the world around us. This is the meaning of being “light” and “salt” (Matt 5:13-16). “Light” presses back darkness; “salt” is a preserving influence against decay.
We are called to be a walking, living witness and testimony of the transforming power of God to change a human life. One of the most powerful ways this is accomplished, and what sets Christians apart, is our unconditional love for others that comes through us from God. We are also to be a holy people (1Pet 1:13-19), those set apart to serve the living God (1Pet 2:9-12).
We recognize that there are evil people in the world, people who are influenced by demonic powers and principalities. But we must also recognize that most people are just “lost sheep”, scattered and hopeless without Christ the Shepherd. They are deceived and blind. Their worldview does not embrace the truths presented in the Word of God.
OUR INFLUENCE ON OTHERS
The challenge for the believer is to be in the world – living as a witness for Christ and reaching to and loving the lost – and yet not be negatively influenced by the world’s philosophies and practices (Jas 1:27).
One mistaken approach among some Christians is to only associate with other Christians. While this may seem like a good practice, it is contrary to God’s plan of salvation for all of mankind. If all Christians withdrew from the world, how would the lost ever find Christ through our acts of love (Jas 2:14-16) or ever hear of the power of the Gospel (Rom 1:16; 10:14,15).
It is clear from the Great Commission that we are to GO, and make disciples for Christ. This is not the responsibility of pastors and leaders only, but of every believer in the Body of Christ (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-18; Luke 24:36-49; Acts 1:6-8).
THE INFLUENCE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
The strategy of Satan in the world is very simple; it is to create experiences in life that would try to separate us from the love of God which is found in Jesus Christ.
But the Scriptures are given to us to help us know how to respond wisely and correctly in challenging circumstances. In particular, we have the Old Testament books of Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and parts of Job. They are called the books of wisdom. They describe in very practical terms how to approach the circumstances of life. You can learn how to deal with all kinds of practical situations, including:
- How to deal with a wide variety of people, from the noble and wise to the lazy and foolish.
- How to deal with great health and strength, as well as weakness and sickness.
- How to deal with wealth, as well as poverty and everything in between.
As Christians, we are called to be more than conquerors. We are to be fully persuaded, totally convinced through the Word of God and by faith, that no circumstance, absolutely nothing can – or ever should – separate us from God’s love! Romans 8:37-39 states it clearly: “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
From the moment we are born, we are exposed to all kinds of experiences. We need to grow in discernment and realize what is of God and what is not.
When you are having a particularly challenging experience, that is the time to release your faith, put your trust in God and, having done all you can – stand! (Eph 6:13).
THE INFLUENCE OF FALSE DOCTRINES ON WORLDVIEW
When error in our personal understanding of God creeps into our life, it will lead to frustration, disappointment and failure to fulfill our full potential in Jesus Christ.
But when error creeps into the Church, the effect is widespread and far more catastrophic. It can continue for generations.
Pastors and leaders are given a sacred trust from God to study and know the truth, and to teach people that truth. How else will the Church be kept from error? God will hold pastors and leaders responsible for what they teach, what they preach and how they live as an example to others (Jer 23:1,2; Ezek 34:1-10; 2Pet 2:1-22; 1John 2:18,19; 4:4-6).
Throughout the ages, many cults have been founded upon personal experience and not the doctrines (truths or teachings) of the Bible. For example, the Bible refers to the doctrines of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6,15), the doctrine of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Rev 2:14) and the doctrine of Jezebel (Rev 2:20). While not much is written in the Bible about these doctrines, it is obvious from the context that many were led astray by these false doctrines.
What we do know about false doctrines in general is that they are:
- Contrary to the truth and doctrines of the Bible (Isa 8:20).
- Usually based upon a person’s experiences, dreams or interpretations (Jer 23:25-27).
- Appealing and attractive to the human understanding (2Tim 4:3,4).
- Developed by human understanding and not by the revelation of God (2Tim 3:7).
God may use dreams or visions to communicate with us on occasion (Matt 2:13,19; Acts 2:17,18). But if those dreams, visions or other experiences are contrary to the Word of God, we must choose to be faithful to the Bible. Being faithful to the Bible means to agree with what the Bible says, and to make life decisions and choices based upon what the Bible teaches.
Remember, the devil is able to disguise himself as an “angel of light” (2Cor 11:14) and many have gone to their own destruction by following that which appealed to their minds or their flesh. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matt 7:13).
THE SUPREMACY OF SCRIPTURE
As sincere followers of Christ, what can we do to keep from being led astray by our natural worldview? God has given to us all that we need to live godly lives in Christ Jesus (2Pet 1:3,4). He has given us His Holy Spirit to live within us, to guide and transform us (John 14:16,17).
God has also given us His Holy Word, the Bible, so that we might be rightly instructed: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Tim 3:16). Let us look more closely at this enlightening Bible verse.
“Is profitable for doctrine…”
“Profitable for doctrine” means that the Scriptures are essential to knowing, living and teaching the will of God. They reveal to us Who God is. They also reveal the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ as mankind’s only Savior and Lord. The doctrines of Scripture must be our foundation for living and ministry!
The truths of the Bible must replace any ethics, cultural values or practices for living that contradict a biblical worldview. Those false “truths” that we have gained through our life’s experiences must be rejected, and replaced by the truth of the Bible.
PASTOR TO PASTOR:
As pastors and leaders, we are called to understand and then to teach the precepts from the Bible. A precept is“a rule or principle prescribing a particular course of action or conduct”.
For example, Jesus gives us two precepts in Matthew 22:37-40: “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”
In this verse, the first precept is to love God with everything that is in you; the second precept is to love our neighbor.
From precepts we then develop concepts. A concept is a general idea derived or inferred from the precepts of the Bible. The concept of Matthew 22:37-40 would be to love God with every thought, word and action, and to love all others whom God created with His unconditional love.
The Bible reveals to us all that we need to know for life and godliness. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, has the task of illuminating the Word of God to us (John 14:26). Illumination is to take that which is hidden and make it known. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’” (Matt 16:17). When one receives this illumination, it is sometimes referred to as personal revelation (Eph 1:17).
Illumination will always agree with the whole of the Bible. There is no new revelation from God (or any other source) other than what is already in the Word of God.
So, pastors, as you prepare your teachings, remember that from the Word of God come precepts, concepts and illumination.
The Scriptures are also given to convince or bring conviction to man of the truth of God’s love, forgiveness and acceptance; and to confound those who would deny the truth of the Gospel message.
We are not to rely solely on arguments or intellectual debates to communicate the truth of God’s Word (2Cor 10:5, 1Tim 6:4). The Word of God is living and powerful (Heb 4:12), and on its own can change even the human heart.
We can trust the power of the Word of God! We are to speak with confidence that which we have studied and know: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1Pet 3:15).
The apostle Paul acknowledged the power of the Holy Spirit to also confirm the truth of the Gospel and of God’s Word: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor 2:1-5).
The Scriptures are to be our guide for restoring things to their proper use and place; for correcting false ideas and mistaken views: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1Cor 14:33).
The Bible is our final authority for what is right and true. If those you lead want to know what is right to do, take them to the Word of God for counsel and wisdom. Any other book, teaching, prophetic word or ministry gift must fully agree with the whole of the Bible before we should receive it.
Any teaching or prophecy that disagrees with what God has already revealed in His Word should immediately be rejected. There are false prophets, false religions, doctrines of demons – all are active in the world today (Matt 7:15-20; 24:4-12; 1Tim 4:1,2; 2Tim 4:3,4). We have the Word of God to show us what is true. We must use it to instruct, lead and protect the people of God that we are to shepherd.
As leaders, any correction that we bring to others should always be done with an attitude of humility and a spirit of gentleness (Gal 6:1; Eph 4:2,3).
“For instruction in righteousness…”
Because God is Holy, we are called to be holy in order to have fellowship with Him. This means that we must be made aware of what is right and just in God’s eyes, and live by those standards alone.
The Bible clearly tells us what to embrace and what to shun: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8; see also Galatians 5:19-23).