So last month, we began a new series on discerning between the voice of the Shepherd and the voice of the stranger. And church, this is such an important message for us to learn because I’ve seen far too many Christians led by the wrong voice when if they would have simply followed a simple criteria given to us in the Word, they would have known that the enemy was attempting to lead them astray.
Yes, we have learned in Jesus’ parable in John chapter 10 that the Lord’s sheep are promised that they can both hear & know the voice of the Good Shepherd and also recognize the voice of the stranger. Therefore, Jesus spoke very definitively that we can and should know the difference between God’s voice and the voice of the enemy.
So, we started out talking about the primary ways both the Lord and the devil speak to us. And we learned that the most common way they both speak to us is internally and not externally. No, the main & regular way we will hear their voices is on the inside of us, in very subtle ways.
As for the Lord, we saw how He mainly speaks to us in our spirit and by His Spirit. Therefore, learning to hear the voice of the Shepherd is not going to come from looking out here somewhere, but by looking in our heart where the Holy Spirit resides—for the Lord primarily communicates to us spirit to spirit.
On the other hand, while the stranger is also mainly speaking to us on the inside, he is not communicating with us in our spirit. No, he speaks to us in our minds—constantly bombarding us with thoughts that seek to steal, kill, and destroy us.
However, like I made the point of last week, it’s not always so easy to be able to discern between what we hear in our spirit and what we hear in our minds. I believe we can all grow to where can tell the difference, but what I have found is that one of the easiest ways to be able to tell what comes from God and what comes from the enemy is by the nature of the things we hear.
You see, the Lord was good enough to clearly show us in His Word what both His voice and the voice of the enemy tend towards. Yes, He gave us example after example in the Scriptures that show us what their nature is and, therefore, how they both speak to us and what the effects of their words will be.
So, we began in the Beginning – in the Book of Genesis where the enemy showed up on the scene – and looked at the initial way that he attempted to deceive Adam & Eve. I believe this one example gives us great insight into how the stranger attempts to lead us out of the fold and on to the path that leads to destruction.
But the first thing we did was we looked at what the Lord said to Adam before the serpent ever opened his mouth:
So, what did God say in Genesis 2:15-17? What were the words of the Good Shepherd? If you were to ask most people what the Lord told Adam in this passage, most would only recognize how the Lord was commanding Adam to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And while that was certainly part of what He commanded, that was not the only thing. In fact, it wasn’t even the first thing He commanded. No, the Lord actually “commanded” him first to freely eat from every tree of the garden.
Church, this is much more significant than most realize because it teaches us how the Lord was not just being a “Law-giver” but had actually first given Adam an invitation to “freely” eat from any other tree of the Garden.
So, the Lord essentially gave Adam “freedom” before He gave him a “law.” And did you know that is how God always is? Most see Him as the Law and as this Being who basically just wants us to follow His rules, but that’s not His heart. Sure, He has rules, but they are given out of love—because He wants His best for us and following His ways is the way of blessing.
But in a perfect world, the Lord freely gives us all trees to eat. That, my friends, is abundant prosperity. It is the Land of Blessing! God’s will is always to give us heaven! Amen! And the fact is, just as the Lord offered “freedom” first, we need to be listening for His voice that tells us what we can have & can do.
So, if we are hearing from the Shepherd correctly, what are we going to hear? A bunch of don’t do this or don’t do that? No, you will first hear do this and do that? In other words, the Lord primarily likes to speak to us all the things we can have and can do before giving us the things that are off limits.
We looked at how easy it is for us to misinterpret the things God is saying to us by looking at His Parable of the Prodigal Son.
You see, when you consider the context of this parable, you’ll learn that Jesus was not just trying to teach about this younger, wasteful son, but He was actually trying to correct the ones that the elder son in this parable represented. Yes, it was the religious that Jesus was admonishing and so this parable was aimed more at teaching the error of the elder son than the error of the younger son.
You see, this parable begins by Jesus saying that “a certain man had two sons” (Luke 15:11). Then in verse 12 we are told – “And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.” Notice that! The father divided not just to him but to “them” his livelihood. Have you ever seen that?
So that means that at this point the father went ahead and divided to both of his sons their inheritance. Now we will go on to see later in this parable how the elder son got upset because of all the things his father did for his good for nothing younger brother. And how did the father respond to him? He reminded his son that he was always with him and all that He had was his. In fact, there are no indications in the story that the elder son knew this. Perhaps he was unaware that the father had divided to both of them his livelihood. And I believe that’s exactly what happened because that is what religion tends to do—miss all that the Lord has freely given and base its relationship with Him on all that it does for Him.
Church, these truths of this parable illustrate to us how easy it is for us to miss what the Lord is saying to us. Yes, as the Lord Jesus said, God’s Word can be made of non-effect through our traditions. Likewise, what God is saying to us can fall on deaf ears through a wrong belief system and the traditions we might have erroneously adopted.
And I believe the same thing happened to Adam & Eve: I believe they lost sight of every tree that the Lord had freely given to him in the Garden and got “tunnel vision” on the one tree that God forbade. Which is exactly what the enemy will attempt to do to us.
But then we saw how the Lord also made sure to tell Adam that there was one tree that was forbidden. So, one thing we have to make sure we have ears to hear are those words of the Shepherd that do indeed tell us what is not for us.
But like we saw, even in those things where the Lord tells us don’t do this or don’t do that, He speaks these things in such a gentle & gracious way. In other words, God’s heart is not to speak to us in that old Cecil B. DeMille “Ten Commandments” tone that booms from heaven saying, “Thou Shalt Not …!” No, His words are always with grace, seasoned with salt like we are commanded to speak to others in Colossians 4:6.
I asked the question – Do you think the Lord is going to tell us to talk to one another like that if He Himself isn’t willing to do so? No, even God’s commandments are spoken “with grace” and are “seasoned with salt.”
Do you know why this is so important to understand? It’s because the stranger loves to masquerade as an angel of light. So, he will try and deceive us into thinking God is speaking to us by speaking words to us that don’t add to us and come across in a fashion that doesn’t taste right. So just know that if the words we are hearing are not “with grace” and haven’t been “seasoned with salt,” then they likely are not from our Good Shepherd.
But we saw that after God had given them these commands, the first words we see out of satan’s mouth in the Scriptures was “Has God indeed said.” Another way of translating that is— Did God really say …?”
So, if I start having thoughts that contradict something that I know God has said like “I wonder if that’s really true” or “Is this really what this verse means?”
So, the first thing we saw come out of the devil’s mouth in the Bible is him questioning what God says. And that is what we can expect in our lives as well – steady doses of him trying to get us to question what God has said.
So be on the lookout for the reasoning that comes after God has already spoken to us. God’s truth is usually pretty simple. But the devil likes to complicate it.
And notice how he complicated it here with Eve: After saying, “Has God indeed said” he adds— “… You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?”
So, what we saw that he was doing was getting her to look more at the fact God didn’t allow them to eat of all the trees of the Garden, but had made the one off limits. In other words, he got her focused on how the Lord was supposedly withholding something from them rather than how He had allowed them to freely eat of every other tree.
That’s a scheme of the enemy – to get us questioning God’s intentions instead of believing that He has our best interest in mind. This is why He winds up telling her that God knows that they would become like Him, knowing good & evil. So, he wanted her to believe that God was withholding something from them – trying to keep them from something.
So, we spent last week essentially looking at the first things God & the devil spoke to mankind, understanding that whatever we see first mentioned in the Scriptures is something we will see regularly repeated in the world today.
But again, the issue seems to be a confidence of whether what we are hearing in our hearts is the Lord, the enemy, or just our own selves. And the reason for this lack of confidence is because our hearts can so easily deceive us into thinking what we are hearing is the Lord when it was just us or it was us when it was really the enemy.
Did you know that even the great apostle Paul didn’t totally trust the things he “thought”?
Notice in Romans 9:1 where he said, “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit …”
So how was Paul so certain that what he was saying was the truth in Christ and he was not lying? Most would think a person would just automatically know that because, wouldn’t one know if what they were saying was true or not? Not necessarily. The Bible teaches us in other places that a person can “deceive themselves” in thinking they are spiritual when they are not. So evidently, we can think something is true and be completely deceived.
So how did Paul prove to himself that what he was saying was the truth? Because his conscience also was bearing him witness in the Holy Spirit. In other words, his conscience was confirming that this was not a lie by the Holy Spirit bearing witness that it was true.
Here, the same Greek word is being used to translate the three words “also bearing…witness” as in Romans 8:16 and it is obvious that Paul is saying that his conscience was bearing witness along with the Holy Spirit. So evidently, we have a co-witness on the inside of us that will testify concerning what the Lord is saying to us—our own spirit & the Holy Spirit. This is how we can know what is true and what is a lie.
Now we made the point of a couple of weeks ago, First John 2:20, says, “we know all things.” So, what part of us is it that knows all things? Our spirit! You see, our spirit is eternal and, therefore, has characteristics that supersede things here in the natural. Therefore, our spirit man knows everything. So, when it bears witness to something, it knows what is true and what is a lie.
But then we have the Holy Spirit living in us as well to also bear witness to things, and we know he knows everything as the omniscience of God Himself.
So, with these two things bearing witness with us, how could we ever be led astray? Saints, this is a fail proof method for hearing from God because if you have two witnesses that know all things speaking up on the inside of you, you have a certain conviction. Doesn’t the Bible say that in the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established? And doesn’t it also say to not receive an accusation against an elder without two or three witnesses? The Bible is obviously big on having multiple witnesses. So why would hearing from God be any different? Yes, both our born again recreated spirit that is full of the life of God and the mighty Holy Spirit Himself living in our hearts know everything and will keep us from following a lie.
But here is my point: If your spirit is also bearing witness along with the Holy Spirit, then how do you identify the witness of your own spirit? In other words, how can you tell when it is your spirit or when it is your soul and your flesh?
Well, I believe there are some very clear and distinct ways of being able to tell where what we are hearing is coming from. Yes, the Lord showed me the most practical way to identify the witness of both our spirit and the Holy Spirit. And, saints, this will keep you out of a bunch of error, so listen well …
I have found that the best way for us to identify the witness of our own spirit is by the fruit of the Spirit. Why? Because the fruit of the Spirit is the “produce” of your recreated spirit because it is the spiritual makeup of this hidden man of the heart. As the Lord said to me before, the fruit of the Spirit are the muscles of your spirit.
So, what I want us to look at this week are these fruit that are listed in Galatians 5:22-23 and how they help us in identifying the witness of the Holy Spirit and our own spirit. So, let’s turn over there and look at this list …
Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
So, these are the fruit of both the Holy Spirit and our newly recreated spirit. Therefore, when any of these nine fruits are coming up in our hearts, we can trust that this is direction from the Lord because God is not going to lead you contrary to any of these. Likewise, if anything contrary to these nine fruits of the Spirit are dominating our heart, then we can be certain that this is not direction from the Lord.
So, at what point in any of our lives is the Holy Spirit going to speak to us, or is our own spirit going to lead us in anything outside of these nine fruit of the Spirit? The answer is simple – NEVER! Yes, the Lord will always speak to us things that will provoke and lead us into love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Now the first fruit that we see listed here is a big one, in that it is God Himself. LOVE! Yes, everything I hear from God will be laced with love, right? Yes, if this is His core nature, then everything He communicates to me will tend towards love and will certainly not be contrary to that.
You see, in First John 4:19 we are told that “God is love.” This little powerful phrase holds such a wonderful revelation! God does not just have love; God is love! He is the embodiment of agape—unconditional and unfailing love! If you’ve seen pure love, you’ve seen God clearly! If you’ve experienced unconditional love, you’ve experienced a piece of God! Now here is my point: If you’ve felt love, you’ve felt God!
You see, the problem that many Christians face is that when a thought or idea comes into their heart, they do not feel like they know if it is God. In other words, they have a thought to go pray for someone, but they do not know if it is God leading them to do that or if it was just them thinking this up on their own.
Well, let me give you one major indicator if it’s God or not: If its love; It’s God! If it is not pure, genuine love then you better think twice about it. You see, since God is love, then it stands that when we have compassion just well up in our hearts for someone or for something that it is God “moving us with compassion.” And you can bet that if we follow that compassion that there is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the other side of obedience!
We see that Jesus was compelled by love, only saying what He heard His Father saying and only doing what He saw His Father doing. Yes, Jesus was moved with compassion. He followed after love (First Corinthians 14:1).
To me, this love of God is one of the most common fruits that the Lord uses to help us identify the inward witness within us, and the reason I believe this is because this is the predominant way that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was led to do things.
Actually, we have at least five specific miracles that Jesus performed as a direct result of being moved with compassion (the feeding of the four thousand, the feeding of the five thousand, the two blind men, the leper, and the widow’s son being raised from the dead) …
So, these three words— “moved with compassion”- are one of the most important lessons we can learn from the life of Jesus! Why? Because whenever He was moved with this compassion (i.e., deep love) the gifts of the Spirit followed, and He did great things. So, another way of saying this is that Jesus was “led by love.”
On the contrary, the devil will not compel us towards love. In fact, the stranger will do everything he can to lead us away from the love of God. Yes, he will lead us away from the fold and away from our Shepherd. He will do this by filling our minds with unlovely thoughts towards others and if he is not successful in getting us to become hateful, angry, and bitter towards the brethren, he will simply distract us from actually loving others.
Did you know that one name given to satan in the Scriptures is the accuser of the brethren? Yes, in Revelation 12:10 tells us, “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, ‘Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.’ ”
So, this reveals to us that the devil’s core nature is to accuse the brethren before God day and night. In other words, this is not an occasional thing, but what the devil is constantly doing, accusing God’s people day and night.
So, if this is what he is constantly doing before God, don’t you think this will be something we will also get a steady dose of in our minds? You can bet on it!
No, God is not in the accusing business; He’s in the excusing business! So, if I am hearing from God, I will be led into love and certainly will not be led to accuse the brethren. Someone will say— But don’t we all do stupid, wrong things? Sure we do! But love covers a multitude of sins! It doesn’t seek to expose them! No, Love will always lead us to look at the best in others and not nitpick all their flaws and faults. Amen?
Now let’s look at the next fruit of the Spirit and see another fruit of God speaking to/leading us—joy!
Yes, when joy manifests in your heart at the prospect of doing something, that’s the Lord! When you just sense the joy of the Lord on the inside of you when you hear something, that’s the Lord! Have you ever had that happen to you?
Do you remember the instance where when Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice and the baby she was carrying (i.e., John the Baptist) began leaping in her? It says in Luke 1:44 (This is Elizabeth talking)-- “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”
Now I understand that the baby (i.e., John the Baptist) was who leaped within her womb, but this is a good illustration of how the Lord confirms things with us…
You see, what happened here was Mary went to visit Elizabeth and right when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit. But in verse 44, Elizabeth said that as soon as she heard this greeting, something happened on the inside of her. Her baby leaped within her for joy. And this is exactly what happens with us sometimes when the inward witness is manifested within us. Our new man will start doing back-flips on the inside of us. Our spirit will start jumping, leaping, and praising God. Amen!
You see, this event with Elizabeth was the Holy Spirit witnessing with her that Mary was carrying the Messiah. There were no indications that Mary had told her anything. She just had a witness within her when she heard Mary’s voice. Amen! And that is what He will do for us who are already filled with the Holy Spirit! There will be an excitement that wells over within us when the Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit. Glory to God! And we can trust that joy within us to be the fruit of the inward witness!
Saints, this is certainly a good way to distinguish between truth and error… Is there an inner excitement within us regarding what we are hearing? Friends, if you leave a church meeting, Bible study or any other thing, not feeling excited and joyful in your heart, then there is a good chance that the Holy Spirit and your spirit are not bearing witness to the message you heard. Therefore, God wasn’t in it.
And we can easily see how the third fruit of the Spirit is a wonderful way of identifying the leading of the Lord …
You see, the fruit of peace is considered to be one of the primary ways that believers can know when the Lord is directing us into something. We use terminology like “I had a peace to do it” or “I didn’t have any peace about that.” That’s because we learn that this fruit of peace is usually a good barometer of if the Lord is in it.
We see this in Colossians 3:15 where the apostle Paul exhorted us to let the peace of God rule in our hearts: This verse begins by saying, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts…”
Listen to what it says in the Amplified Bible— “And let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as an umpire continually) in your hearts [deciding and settling with finality all questions that arise in your minds, in that peaceful state]…”
Notice, first of all, how the Amplified Bible translates peace as “soul harmony”… This answers the question of how do we detect the peace of God in our hearts. It’s like a harmony in our soul. There might be a lot of noise on the inside of us. There might be a lot of clanging cymbals and off-key notes in our souls, but look for the harmony.
The word “harmony” is defined as “the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.” So, this goes back to what I said earlier – The peace of God within us is the fruit of our spirit harmonizing together with His Spirit, creating a co-witness that is manifested in peace. Let me say it again this way… When the Holy Spirit is bearing witness along with our spirit- the fruit of both of those witnesses within us is peace.
Therefore, you can trust the peace of God within you to, what? “Rule in your hearts”
As evidenced by the Amplified Bible’s translation, the word “rule” that Paul used here literally describes a referee or umpire that is officiating something. Paul was saying that we are to let the fruit of peace be the umpire of our hearts, which means that it should call the shots in all of the decisions of our life. In other words, if there is not any peace in a decision we are going to make, then the Holy Spirit is not in it nor is our spirit in it.
Someone might ask, “What does peace feel like?” Again, it is like a harmony in your heart. I would say it makes you feel “clear” and “at ease” on the inside. When you are in peace about something, you will know it! You will just feel at ease about the decision. There will be an absence of confusion and frustration and you will just be at peace about it.
Yes, saints, peace is the umpire of our heart, telling us if we are "safe" to follow what we are hearing in our heart or if we are "out" of the will of God.
So, if you are experiencing a war or conflict inside of yourself, then it is not the time to make a decision. Confusion and frustration are the exact opposite of God’s peace. And the enemy reigns in confusion & frustration. That’s why when that is the fruit we are feeling, we don’t need to make any major decisions.
The Rest of the Fruit
We really only have time to spend talking in depth about these big three—love, joy, and peace—but the Holy Spirit will certainly speak to and lead us through these others as well.
For example, if you and I are feeling impatient and are getting antsy, that’s usually not the Lord. Why? Because the next fruit of the Spirit is longsuffering (or patience depending on what translation you use). So, the Holy Spirit is certainly not going to lead you and I through impatience. Do you see that?
So I would counsel you that if you are ever making a decision and if it is in all honesty based on you being impatient with a particular situation or not long-suffering with a particular person, you should really reconsider if that’s the Lord. Why? Because God is not impatient, and the fruit of the Spirit is long-suffering. So, He will not lead you through impatience.
The next two fruits of the Spirit are goodness & kindness, so when thoughts of kindness or goodness come up in your heart to bless someone or do something for them, those can generally be trusted to be the Lord. The only exception would be how our heart could have a tendency to go this way because of the filter that we’ve developed. Therefore, it is sympathy and empathy operating, but not pure compassion from the Lord. This is when we need to pray like Paul did for the Philippians when he prayed that their love would abound still more and more in all knowledge and discernment. For what purpose? That they would be able to recognize what is best. You see, you can find plenty of things to love, but there are only so many things that you individually can pour into. This is when you need to be led by the Holy Spirit.
But, yes, the majority of the time when a thought or idea comes up in your heart to show someone kindness and do good to someone, that’s the Lord! You don’t have to over-spiritualize it and overthink it. As Nike says, “Just do it!” Even if it’s just you, what’s the worst that could happen? Just pray for the Lord to help you have His knowledge and discernment in your love towards others. He will take care of you!
You know what else He is not going to lead you through? Faithlessness. Why? Because one of the fruits of the Spirit is faithfulness.
How many people join something, begin something, etc. saying, “The Lord told me to do such and such” and then a month, two months, three months later say, “Well, the Lord is telling me to stop, leave, etc.”??? People do this all the time and I want to say, “Did God change His mind?”
You know, a lot of people claim to be led by the Lord when they quit something. People quit on their marriage, claiming that the Lord gave them the okay to leave their spouse. People quit their jobs feeling like their season there is done due to circumstances, etc.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times where change must come. Certainly, seasons change. But what I am saying is that this is not as frequent as many Christians feel they have experienced. No, a good rule of thumb is, that if God put you somewhere or hooked you up to someone or something, you need to honestly evaluate why you are disconnecting. Why? Because feelings and emotions are very deceptive. The Bible tells us that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things; who can know it?
You see, we can very easily misinterpret what is going on in our heart as to why we are wanting to leave the place, person, or thing that God has joined us to. And we are even more susceptible to being deceived because don’t you know the devil is going to try and separate you from the people and things God has joined you to? He sure is! He is all the time trying to stir up divorce, split churches, etc., etc., etc. because he knows how important unity is in the Body of Christ.
So, therefore, when we are feeling like quitting anything that there is a remote possibility God has joined us to, we should be slow to make a presumptuous decision. Amen?
Now the next to last fruit of the Spirit is translated “gentleness” but is most commonly known as “meekness.” This is humility, one of the most valuable yet underrated fruits of the Spirit.
So, guess what the Lord is not going to speak to me? Things that foster my pride. For example, the Lord is usually not going to speak to me things that feed the pride that’s in my flesh. No, He is not going to always jump on my side when there is contention between myself and another. He will lead me into meekness & humility, showing me how I can lower myself and serve others.
But if what I am hearing is “How this person never speaks to me?” or “How that person never does anything for me? Well, if that is not our own pride talking, it is the voice of the stranger trying to pull the strings of that pride.
But no, the voice of our Good Shepherd will not feed our pride but will always lead us into meekness & humility. This will be Him inspiring us to esteem others better than ourselves and to look out for other’s interests and not just our own.
Finally, regarding the fruit of self-control, we see how this “inward ruling power” is how the Lord operates as well. No, anytime we blow up and lose control of our emotions—venting all our feelings in outbursts of wrath, etc., that is the flesh, not the spirit. Verses 19-21 reveal that these things are works of the flesh, as opposed to fruit of the Spirit.
No, even when it comes to spiritual things like the Holy Spirit moving upon us, He is not going to take control of us and make us do things we don’t want to do. Now, He will put you on your back sometimes (falling out in the Spirit, not sickness) in an attempt to minister to you, but He will not make you obnoxious. No, the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets. Therefore, the Lord is not going to lead us into behaviors, as godly as they might seem, where we are not in control.
So, these nine fruit of the Spirit are the fruits that let us know we have heard God’s voice. We can trust them. They are reliable. And the Lord is never going to lead us in a way contrary to them. In fact, the stranger is the one who will lead us away from love, joy, peace, etc. You can bank on that!
So, when you believe you have heard from God, just ask yourself the question, was that along the lines of love, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, etc. or am I violating any of these fruit by what I am feeling “led” to do.
The Lord is consistent, saints! He will lead us in the way of these fruits of our righteousness and we can know when it is Him by how those words line up with His fruit. Amen.