The Spiritual Speaking of Jesus

Dr. Brian Allison

I am a Christian mystic (in the tradition of Augustine, William Law, Andrew Murray, and A. W. Tozer). I am a Christian mystic in that I believe that we, as Christians, should have a vital, dynamic fellowship with the ever-present Christ. I believe that we are to experience and enjoy Christ as the Lover of our souls, and, in return, to love Him earnestly. I believe that we are to enter more deeply and more fully into the very heart of God. A Christian mystic is one who passionately pursues communion and intimacy with the living Christ, particularly through meditation, contemplation, prayer, holiness, and obedience. He or she diligently endeavours to be alive and awakened to the personal encounter and the direct communication of the resurrected Lord of glory.

Now, if Jesus is indeed the Lover of a believer's soul, then we ought to expect that He would be pleased to spiritually speak to the believer and make known His own heart. The essence of real Christian experience is not simply defined in terms of morality – endeavouring to keep God's commandments and thus perform His will (though this is good and necessary). Nor is the essence of real Christian experience defined in terms of religious activity – rendering service to God by being involved in some ministry in the Church or some mission in some distant place (though this is also good and necessary). But the essence of real Christianity is defined in terms of a relationship – a relationship with the living, ever-present Christ, a relationship that should be vital, dynamic, and alive.

I do believe that we must hold to the objective dimension of faith (i.e., the visible and verifiable, such as expository preaching, doing good works, etc.). I equally believe that we must hold to the subjective dimension of faith (i.e., the invisible and internal, such as spiritual illumination, spiritual conviction, etc.). We are not simply to receive, understand, and live out the truth, but we are also to sit and listen at the feet of the Truth and hear Him. It is this latter dimension of faith that we will consider in this message, concentrating particularly on the spiritual speaking of God.

What is the spiritual speaking of God or Christ? The spiritual speaking of God is God communicating personally, directly, and internally so that we hear His 'voice'. Perhaps the most relevant Biblical passage on this subject is found in John 10 which concerns Jesus' teaching about the good Shepherd and the sheep. John 10 is an extended metaphor or, in some respects, an allegory, though not strictly so. We have here a beautiful picture of the true nature of the believer being in relationship with Jesus Christ. According to this passage, this spiritual relationship is one of deep personalness and spiritual intimacy. Christ here is portrayed as the good Shepherd; believers are portrayed as sheep. A shepherd is one who guides and leads the sheep. He feeds and waters the sheep. He protects and tends to the needs of the sheep. Very simply then, a shepherd is one who, general speaking, caringly loves the sheep; and so it is with Christ's towards believers.

Jesus intimately knows believers

In John 14:10, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd; and I know [i.e., am intimately acquainted with] My own [i.e., those who belong to Me], and My own know Me;" verse 15, "I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father." What an amazing statement! Jesus teaches that the relationship that exists between Him and His people is similar to the relationship that exists between the Father and Him. This mutual knowing between Christ and His people is paralleled to the mutual knowing that exists between the Father and the Son. Do you believe this astounding fact? Do you heartily acknowledge it? Are you experiencing it? It is an incredible thought! You will know the reality of this truth in so far as you believe it. If you embrace this truth now by faith, it is yours; you have it, and you will never be the same.

Now, such a relationship, characterized by personalness and intimacy, requires sharing. When I first met my wife, we spent hours on the phone talking. On one occasion, we spent about four or five hours on the phone talking, after which I went to see her! Now, we probably did not talk about very much. What can you talk about for four or five hours straight? – 'sweet nothings'. But you see, true intimacy involves that. If there is intimacy, then there will be sharing. There will be the speaking of one's heart to another.

Believers spiritually hear the voice of Jesus

Of course, with speaking there should be hearing. John 10:2 reads, "But he who enters by the door [he has a legitimate claim to the sheep] is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out." Do you see the picture? The shepherd comes and he speaks to the sheep. He utters his voice by calling his sheep by their personal name. That is intimacy! And the sheep follow the voice of the shepherd. So John 10:4 reads, "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice." The sheep go after the shepherd, as the shepherd leads, because they can identify with the voice. They understand the voice; it is a familiar sound. Further, Jesus teaches, "And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also [from every tribe, and tongue and nation], and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd" (10:16); and verse 27, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them; and they follow me." It is clear that we have in view here the spiritual, rather than the audible or historical, speaking of Christ because when Jesus refers to the 'other sheep' which He must bring to Himself, that, of course, is a reference to a time after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

Are you spiritually hearing the voice of Jesus? If you are a sheep, then you are hearing it because the sheep hear, and they follow. Now, some may respond, "Well, I am not sure if I am hearing the voice of Jesus. What does the voice of Jesus sound like? How do I know when He is speaking?" Well, first of all, we are not to confuse the voice of Jesus with our own inner voice; there is always that danger. There are many who use the following kind of language, and I understand it to a certain extent, but we need to be very careful. Some say, "Well, God told me this about you...;" or, Jesus revealed to me that you should...;" etc. Often what one is hearing is his or her own thoughts; it is not the voice of Jesus. For instance, I think of a young lady who is in a very bad marriage now. When she saw the 'man of her dreams' a number of years ago, she said something like this, "God told me that this is the man. I know he is the one whom I am to marry." She does not believe that today; she and her husband are constantly fighting. Did she hear the voice of Jesus? I do not think so. The voice of Jesus does not lie, nor does not it deceive. Again, often what someone 'hears' is not the voice of Jesus, but his or her own inner thoughts. Jesus does not spiritually speak to us and tell us to invest in IBM stocks. He does not spiritually speak to us and tell us to move to Alaska by June. Jesus does not spiritually speak to us and tell us to pursue a Ph.D. degree in economics. The spiritual speaking of Jesus does not concern life's mundane, practical, and earthly matters per se. Now, perhaps we could talk about the providential speaking of God when it comes to these matters, but not the spiritual speaking of Him.

What I am contending for is this: the spiritual speaking of Jesus always concerns one's relationship with Him or His Church – fellow believers – with whom He is in spiritual union. The spiritual speaking of Jesus relates to our life and walk in the Spirit. It relates to growth and maturity in grace and Biblical knowledge. It concerns devotion and commitment to the living God. It concerns our place and role in the kingdom of God. Again, John 10:3 says that the sheep hear Jesus' voice, and He calls His own sheep by name, and He leads them out. The speaking of the voice of Jesus has a specific design. Jesus calls us into something. He speaks to us to go in a certain direction. This speaking is His leading; and He goes before us. John 10:4 reads, "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him [as he leads] because they know his voice."

Jesus leads by His speaking

So, where does the voice of Jesus lead us? He leads us into the fullness of divine life and spiritual experience. In this connection, the apostle John writes, "They [the redeemed] shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the centre of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:16,17). Jesus guides us to the spiritual springs of living water of the Spirit, which is simply the fullness of fellowship with Almighty God; and we are to drink continually and deeply.

The sheep follow the Shepherd's spiritual leading, and partake of the very life of God; however astounding that may sound. Believers are thus to pursue holiness, and godliness, and righteousness, and love. Revelation 14:4,5 similarly states, "These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste [they pursued righteousness, holiness, etc.]. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And no lie was found in their mouth; they are blameless."

Practically speaking then, to follow Jesus' leading means that you may have a fallout with a brother or sister, and while in prayer these verses are impressed on your heart, "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering [stop worshipping] there before the altar [God does not want it], and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering" (Mt. 5:23,24). Those verses that arise in your consciousness may be the spiritual speaking of Jesus. Or, maybe you are meditating of the Scriptures during your daily devotions, and your eyes fall upon 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." Consequently, you are convicted about your prayerlessness, you are humbled, and you cry out to God for mercy, confessing and repenting of your sin, and committing yourself to pursue a life of prayer. That spiritual impact from the Word may be the speaking of Jesus. Or, maybe you are listening to a sermon and the preacher makes reference to James 4:8, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded." And it is like a sledgehammer coming down over your head and you are exposed and devastated, and you know that God is addressing your conscience and demanding a change in lifestyle. That spiritual confrontation may be the speaking of Jesus.

Jesus speaks within the confines of the Bible

Now, do you see what I am implying by making reference to the above practical examples. The spiritual speaking of Christ is never apart from, or independent of, His Word or objective truth. Only by this principle can we avoid the excesses of emotions and the pitfalls of subjectivism where our minds become the standard and guide. Many Christians have claimed fanciful revelations, "I feel that God is telling me to leave my wife;" or "I believe that Jesus is telling me that you should not pay your taxes;" or "Jesus came in a dream and spoke this commission to me;" etc. No, the spiritual speaking of Christ is never apart from, or independent of, His Word or objective truth. It should never be understood in terms of sheer subjectivism and feelings.

God spoke at a time in history to the apostles and prophets; and the apostles and prophets, in turn, proclaimed what they had received from God. Further, they recorded the direct revelation which they had received from Him. The Bible is the scriptural speaking of God, that is, the Bible is comprised of the very words of God, the objective speaking of God (the logos). Now, the spiritual speaking of God, the subjective speaking of God (the rhema), is based on, rooted in, and even inspired by, the objective Word of God. It may be, for instance, that while you are meditating on the Word of God, receiving insight and edification, that you are inspired to write a poem, or you begin to develop a vision for ministry. It may legitimately be said that you wrote that poem or acquired that vision because Christ spiritually spoke to you. The point that I am making is that the Word of God must have a place, a connection, with respect to the speaking of Christ. Christ never speaks in a vacuum. It is always guided and informed by the objective Word of truth. For instance, you may be witnessing to someone, and you offer a mental prayer to the Lord for wisdom and help, and suddenly various Bible verses come streaming into your mind in logical, rapid succession; that is the spiritual speaking of Christ.

Often, this 'hearing' of the Shepherd's voice, in accordance with His Word, is a 'hearing' that takes place at a deeper level. It is not that we are simply reading the words on a page, and it is not that we are simply listening to a person's words, but we are seeing and listening with the heart, not simply with the physical senses. The spiritual speaking of Christ takes place in the heart; and so, you can turn to God's Word and read it, and God speaks to you scripturally, but you may not hear the voice of Christ speak to you spiritually, confronting and gripping your heart, and demanding a response. The 'heart hearing' is analogous to the calling of the disciples. We read, for instance, "And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!'" (Mt. 9:9). Matthew heard the audible words of Jesus with the physical ears, but he also heard the words of Jesus with the heart; and that is why he arose and followed Him. If someone, about whom you were hearing some strange things, approached you and said, "Follow me," without any explanation, what would be your natural reaction? The only way you would follow is if you heard those words at a deeper level. That is what it is to hear the voice of Christ. You hear truth with the heart. It is like the young person, who in his or her devotions, reads Psalm 63:1, "O GOD, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly [or early]; my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." And that verse grips the heart and he or she thinks, "The psalmist was earnest in seeking God; he rose early to worship God. O God, I must rise early and seek you." That Word, though recorded hundreds of years ago, impacts the heart with relevancy and power. That young person is changed because he or she heard with the heart.

Now, do you see what is implied? Jesus speaks to people in different ways. He impacts us differently; He convicts us differently. In April of 1977, I sat in the sanctuary of Jarvis Street Baptist Church, at the end of my first year of seminary, waiting for the graduation speaker to bring the graduation address. The speaker seemed uneasy and a little nervous. When he stood to his feet and opened his mouth, I was confronted with boldness and authority. From the first word uttered, he spoke God's word to my heart. I was never the same. If there is one message that I have heard on cassette tape more often than any other, it is the word that this man preached that evening. It was that word that brought me into the ministry. Through that word I received the call of God for Christian service. Jesus spoke directly to me from, and through, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5.

Jesus speaks through illumination and conviction

The spiritual speaking of Christ is often that which brings a new or fresh understanding, illumination, and may I say, revelation of His Word (Eph. 1:17), and it is often accompanied by a conviction to carry it out or to apply it. What I am saying is this: when Jesus spiritually speaks to you, you have the experience of being confronted with the living God. You have this sense of inner obligation or constraint – the "Woe is me if I do not do it" experience, even as Paul experienced with respect to his call to ministry (1 Cor. 9:16). You experience an inner pressure. Now, admittedly, there are degrees of pressure or intensity experienced in hearing the voice of Jesus. Keep in mind that it is possible that you may hear Jesus' voice only faintly because of backsliding, or because you have fallen into sin; but that does not necessarily mean that you are not saved. It is sin in our lives that makes us spiritually deaf to the voice of Jesus. How is your life, my Christian brothers and sisters? Are you living in sin? If you are, do not expect to hear the voice of Christ very clearly.

Further, and this fact is disturbing. It is possible for believers to neglect at times, and not respond immediately, to Jesus' voice when they do hear it. Yet, it will only be for a time because the Word of God tells us that the true sheep, the true children of God, will respond to the voice of Jesus; they must. Again, John 10:4 states, "When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice;" verse 27 again, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." If you are a sheep, you will follow the voice of Jesus. If you are not following, may I kindly say, my friend, you are self-deceived; you know nothing of what it is to be in a saving, living relationship with the resurrected Lord of glory. May I urge you to spare no pains in attending to your spiritual condition; and to attend to it quickly.

Spiritual hearing and following is faith

Hearing and following Jesus is an act of faith. Responding to His voice is simply an act of faith. It is in faith that you are assured of hearing His voice; and you must follow (which entails obedience). Faith will not let you do otherwise. Hearing and following Jesus is proof that you are a true Christian because His sheep must follow Him. And the more you respond, the more sensitive and attuned to that voice you become. That is the abundant life! In hearing, you increase in hearing. Isn't that the way of the kingdom? To whomever has, more shall be given; and whoever hears, the better will become his hearing.

To change the language, to spiritually hear Christ is to live in the felt-presence of Christ. Do you know what it is to live in the felt-presence of Christ? In hearing Jesus, you will experience continual communion with Him, and with the Father. This experience is God's desire for His people – to know intimate, personal communion with the living God, and to know Him in His fullness. This fact is a key emphasis in the Scriptures, though different language may be used. For instance, 2 Timothy 2:7 reads, "Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." That is just another way of saying that you will hear the voice of Christ; the Lord gives that personal, direct insight. Ephesians 4:20-21 reads, "But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus." You must hear Jesus, and only when you hear Him and are being spiritually taught by Him will you really learn. Philippians 3:15 says, "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you." 1 John 2:27 states, "And as for you, the anointing [a reference to the Holy Spirit] which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him."

In spiritual union with Jesus Christ, there is spiritual communion with Him. You sit at the feet of Jesus and you listen to Him. The sheep are true believers, and they hear the voice of Jesus, and they know His spiritual speaking. Let me ask you, my brothers and sisters, are you following the voice of Jesus? This is the heart of Christianity; this is what it is all about. He calls us into holiness; He calls us into righteousness; He calls us into faith; He calls us into godliness; He calls us into love; into these things, He is leading us. Where are you going? Where is your life headed?

Finally, I will address my non-Christian friend. In confronting the Jews who wondered about His true identity, Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep" (Jn. 10:25,26). You may wonder why there are some people who are not believing in, and responding to, the truth of the Gospel. Jesus made it perfectly clear. My non-Christian friend, I do not know what God is going to do in your life, but I say this with a solemn heart, if you are trying to understand why you have not believed in, and responded to, the Gospel, the reason may be that you are not one of His sheep. If you are not one of His sheep, you will never believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord. You may hear sermon after sermon; you may attend Church service week after week, and leave unmoved and unchanged, because you are not one of His sheep. You are first a sheep (or an elect), and then you are a believer in Christ. Hence, we read, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).

And if you have not been hearing and following, my non-Christian friend, let me plead with you to cry out to God for mercy. You do not know what God is going to do with your life, and in your life, but do not be concerned with what God will do, but rather be concerned about you should do. Let me plead with you to cry out to Him for mercy and grace to hear Jesus' voice.