Studies have shown that most people believe in God, yet even believers sometimes wonder how he speaks to people. If God is real, and if he speaks to people, then what he says must be really important. Knowing how God speaks to people will help them direct their attention and focus their concentration so they can hear what he has to say.
The primary way God speaks to people is through the Bible. Often referred to as “God’s Word,” the Old and New Testaments contain his inspired message to all people. God has also communicated, though not necessarily audibly, through nature, people’s conscience, in dreams and visions, and using angels.
What is the difference between God’s general communication to people and how he speaks to people in special or particular ways? What do the sun, moon, and stars reveal about God? Who is God’s supreme revelation to the world? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see How To Meditate On God to learn more.
God speaks to people in general and specific ways
Sometimes God speaks to people in general ways, which are like announcements that are broadcast to all people. Other times he speaks to people in specific ways, which are akin to one-on-one conversations, though they are often not audible in nature.
|General Revelation||Special Revelation|
|Broad teaching to all people||Particular teaching to specific people|
|Example: observing nature, the conscience||Example: Jesus Christ, reading Scripture|
|Reveals people’s need for God||Satisfies people’s need for God|
|Insufficient to save from sin||Sufficient to save from sin|
Note that the terms general “revelation” and specific “revelation” aren’t directly related to the book of Revelation. While the word “revelation” in the New Testament means “to unveil” information that was previously unknown or hidden, they are different topics even though they both relate to biblical studies.
God communicates through general revelation
God speaks through general revelation at all times. People may not always heed his message, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t communicated with them. God’s general revelation communicates the reality of his existence and certain attributes that he has, but it’s limited in the sense that it doesn’t reveal how a person can be saved from sin.
Do the sun, moon, and stars reveal God? Yes, the “heavens” communicate that there is a God. Psalm 6:1-3 reads, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” (ESV)
Do the heavens reveal truth about God’s nature? Yes, the heavens reveal certain attributes of God. The Apostle Paul wrote that God made truth about himself “plain” to people. “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).
What does Paul mean when he says people “are without excuse”? Paul means that the revelation God has given to people through the created order is enough to hold them accountable regarding his existence and certain aspects of his nature. Because of the created order, people can neither say that God hasn’t communicated nor that they don’t know anything about him.
Does the created order only reveal condemnation? The created order alone isn’t sufficient to save people from sin (more below). However, it doesn’t only reveal God’s wrath. The created order also reveals God’s caring provision for people. Acts 14:17 reads, “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
Does God provide general revelation outside nature? Yes. A person’s conscience may be an even clearer and more persuasive form of general revelation for some people. Prior to Jesus Christ and the writing of the New Testament, the Jews had the Law, but Gentiles (non-Jews) didn’t. Yet Gentiles had their conscience.
Does the conscience provide the same information as the Law? No. The Law is an example of special revelation (more below), but the Gentiles aren’t without information because they have a conscience. Paul says Gentiles had the Law in their hearts: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” (Romans 2:14)
What does the conscience reveal to people? While the conscience doesn’t provide people with specific information, it guides people morally by revealing right and wrong to them. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.
“You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the Word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.” ~ Theologian Martin Luther
Also see How To Hear From God to learn more.
God communicates through special revelation
God speaks through special revelation at certain times to certain people. Like with general revelation, people may not always listen to or obey what he says, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to communicate with them. For example, a person can read God’s special revelation in the Bible, yet disbelieve or disobey its teachings.
What is the greatest way God has ever spoken to people? Jesus of Nazareth is God’s supreme revelation to people. John 1:14 reads, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
- Jesus’ acts reveal God: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11)
- Jesus’ teachings reveal God: “And Jesus answered 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)
“Every time we open the Scriptures, we should expect a personal encounter with the God-breathed Spirit of the living Word. This is reading at its very best.” ~ Author David McKenna
What is the primary way that God speaks to people today? The Bible is God’s Spirit-inspired communication to people in written form. It includes his special revelation to people. Because of this, the Bible teaches that people should read it daily (Ps. 1:2, Acts 17:11), diligently (Deut. 29:9, 1 Tim. 2:15), and in the context of a community of believers (2 Pet. 1:20).
- The Bible is inspired: 2 Timothy 3:16 reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Inspiration extends to the words of Scripture themselves (1 Cor. 2:13) as well as to every word (Rom. 15:4, 2 Tim. 3:1), letter (Matt. 5:17-18), and tense (Matt. 22:23-33).
- The Bible is inerrant: The term “inerrant” means “without error.” Some Christians firmly believe and defend the concept of inerrancy. Others don’t believe in inerrancy at all. Some others don’t like the term “inerrancy” but agree with some of its implications. Inerrancy isn’t just a statement about what isn’t true of Scripture (that it has errors), but it’s an affirmation that what it teaches about theology, science, history, and geography (Matt. 4:4, John 10:34-35) are truthful.
- The Bible is infallibility: Infallibility means that Scripture doesn’t lead readers astray in matters of faith and Godly living unable to lead readers astray in matters of faith and Godly living (Isa. 55:11, Matt. 24:35) and completely truthful in all it affirms (Ps. 12:6; 19:7, 119:89, Prov. 30:5). Like the term inerrancy, not all Christians believe in infallibility or use the term.
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21)
Also see Why Does God Allow Suffering? to learn more.
Other examples of special revelation in the Bible
|Direct speech||Gen. 12:1-3|
|Historical events||Exod. 14:21-31|
|The Holy Spirit||John 15:26|
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