4 Dangers of the Phrase ‘God Told Me’

4 Dangers of the Phrase ‘God Told Me’

Throughout the centuries, Christians have debated about the proper role of charismatic gifts in the church. Are gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and supernatural healing operative and available to Christians in the modern day, or did they cease with the first-century church?

People disagree, and strongly so.

For my part, I remain mostly agnostic about the question. I am what has often been described as “open but cautious.”

In other words, I have never had a personal experience with these charismatic gifts, but I believe that we serve a supernatural God who is not timid about the miraculous.

So, as long as charismatic church leaders are careful to disciple their people in the proper use of these gifts as outlined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians and in other places, I tend not to question it.

There is one practice that is more common in charismatic circles that I do question, however. And that is when a Christian, whether a church leader or not, begins a sentence with the phrase, “God told me.”

“God told me that we need to buy a new building,” a pastor might tell his congregation. Other times, Christians may express their belief that God told them something as mundane as what to wear that day.

Certainly, God cares about the major stewardship decisions our churches make, and what we wear is not so small a detail that he is too busy to pay attention to.

Nevertheless, when someone claims, without equivocation, that God directly told them to do something that isn’t clearly outlined in Scripture, my brain sends up a red flag.

I’m not saying that God doesn’t still speak. I just think some of us tend to be a little too sure about what he is saying.

Here are four dangers that are present when we use the phrase “God told me.”

1. You Might Be Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain

When we think about the third of the 10 Commandments, which forbids taking the Lord’s name in vain, we usually think about avoiding profane language—specifically swear words that feature “God” or “Jesus Christ.”

While I’m not suggesting it isn’t a good thing to avoid profanity, respectfully, that isn’t actually what the commandment is talking about.

The command isn’t so much about what we do with God’s name as it is about what we do in God’s name. It’s all about how we represent the name of God. If we represent God’s name in a manner that is outside his will and character, we are sinning.

This means that if we say or do anything in God’s name that he didn’t actually ask us to do, we are taking his name in vain. We are misusing his name to elevate our own ideas or agendas, claiming that they have the divine seal of approval and are thus infallible.

But what if God didn’t actually tell you? What if you just felt really strongly about something that you believe is both wise and scripturally sound? Whether you are correct in your assessment is irrelevant. You have taken the Lord’s name in vain.

What’s more is that if you are wrong, and the decision you made wasn’t actually the wisest or most closely aligned with biblical mandates, you have not only misappropriated divine authority—you have actually misrepresented it.

It’s okay to feel really strongly about a particular decision and even to feel convinced that God is leading you in a specific direction. It’s also healthy to vocalize those feelings. But we must also keep things in perspective. You are feeling and sensing and hopefully being faithful in the midst of it. That’s good, but it’s a far cry from receiving a declarative statement from God.

2. You Could Be Replacing Faith With Misplaced Certainty

Part of the reason why it’s so tempting to claim that “God told me” is that such a statement seems to take all the uncertainty out of a situation.

Even if you’re wrong, declaring that God told you something has the effect of increasing your resolve. And we tend to think that increased resolve is necessarily the same thing as increased faith.

In other words, we tend to think that the more certain we are, the bigger our faith must be. However, faith and certainty are not one and the same. Sometimes, the two overlap. Other times, they could not be further apart from each other.

In certain instances, the most faith-filled thing we can do is to prayerfully step forward in a situation that feels horribly uncertain, not knowing if we are doing the right thing but submitting our decisions before God—even though we have not received a definitive word from him.

When it comes to such situations, it takes a lot less faith to simply pick a direction and insist that “God told me.”

And I’m not saying that when we do that, we are behaving with nefarious intent. Quite the opposite. It’s just that we can’t seem to stand the uncertainty, so we convince ourselves that God must be speaking, somehow, some way.

Except, sometimes God is silent. Sometimes, God is working in the midst of uncertainty in ways that we will only be able to appreciate down the road—sometimes years down the road. Saying “God told me” won’t change that.

3. You Short-Circuit the Discernment of Your Community

It is my belief that the primary way in which God speaks to us is through his Word, which the Holy Spirit illuminates for us and applies to our hearts.

However, I would never want to suggest that God does not also, on occasion, supernaturally speak to our hearts and push us in a specific direction when it comes to an important decision in life or leadership.

We would do well to listen to that voice and pursue what we believe it is telling us with open-handed curiosity. Nevertheless, such a pursuit is not a solo venture.

Whenever we read in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit indwells and empowers us, we tend to understand that promise in an individualistic way: “God dwells within me.” But when we take a closer look at the plural pronouns in the original Greek, and we consider the collectivistic worldview of the first-century church, we come to understand it this way: “God dwells among us.”

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has invited us not only into a renewed relationship with himself but also renewed relationships with each other. God speaks to others just as much as he speaks to us. And he speaks to us through others far more often than we realize. We just need to listen.

When we declare, “God told me,” we short-circuit the process of wrestling and contemplating in community by shutting down the conversation. After all, who can argue with someone who is getting their orders directly from God? It’s a pretty good trump card.

That may work for you in the short term, and so long as you aren’t doing anything sinful or obviously contradictory to Scripture, who’s to say that God didn’t tell you?

But as Andy Stanley has observed, people “who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

You need the wisdom of other people who love Jesus and who are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

If you refuse to listen to them, then you are missing out on the insights God has given them, and that could benefit your life. And if you refuse to listen long enough, then they may just stop offering their advice.

4. You Make Yourself the Final Authority

In the end, no one can verify whether God actually told you to do something, or if you just convinced yourself that he did—not even you!

But the fact of the matter is that God has spoken. He has revealed himself through his written Word. And while the Bible isn’t exhaustive in what it teaches, its teaching is comprehensive. In other words, it has given us a sufficient framework to make decisions that are not only moral but wise.

Be that as it may, biblical wisdom is only as good as its proper interpretation. And when we take our own interpretation, which may be one of any number of faithful readings, and declare it to be the only possible answer, we make ourselves the ultimate authority.

The same is doubly true when it comes to how we interpret the events of our lives and what we sense God might be trying to communicate to us.

When we solemnize our personal interpretations by declaring that “God told me,” we deny the fact that any other interpretation is possible. Though we may invoke the name of God, we do not submit ourselves to the will of God. And that puts us in a very dangerous position.

A version of this article originally appeared here