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Please explain: How do I know whom to believe now that Jesus is gone?

Have you ever found yourself on your own: leaving home to launch your adult life, traveling in a foreign country, or losing a spouse or parent? What did it feel like to be alone, making your own decisions with no one to turn to but yourself?

When we step back and think about it for a minute, we rely on and put our trust in a lot of people. We trust parents, police, pilots, financial advisors, teachers, news outlets, politicians, salesmen, scientists, and doctors. We trust them to help us make decisions. We also know that the world is full of people we should not trust, people who want to manipulate us, take advantage of us, and use us.

Whom and what are we to believe? Nowhere is this more important than with the spiritual people in our lives. Then it’s not our money or temporal health at stake. It’s eternity. Just for this reason, wouldn’t it have been awesome to have been one of Jesus’ disciples and have God’s own Son, the Messiah, right there to give you all your spiritual answers? You’d have no reason to wonder if he is twisting God’s Word. No reason to wonder if he knows enough to understand. No reason to wonder if he’s got another agenda. It’s Jesus!

Listen to Jesus. He’s not really gone.

But even for his disciples, a time would come when they would be on their own. Jesus often reminded them of this. He spent a lot of time getting them ready to be on their own. In fact, one of the most beautiful sections of Scripture is Jesus’ last words to his disciples (John chapters 14–17), before he was arrested on Maundy Thursday. He told his disciples that he was going away (John 14:2,28; 16:5).

If you were a disciple on that night, what would you be worried about? “Jesus, when you’re gone, how will I know whom to believe? How will I know I’m continuing the right way in the faith?” Could you imagine being one of these disciples wondering how to go on after Jesus was gone?

The best way to find the path through all the different opinions is to listen to Jesus— to read his Word.

Jesus also told them, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). He explained things in more detail. After he would leave, “the Spirit of truth” would come and “guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own . . . He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you” (John 16:13,14). In other words, Jesus was not going to leave them. Not really. Jesus would continue to be with his disciples and to speak to his disciples, building them up, instructing them, and guiding them. He would do it through the Spirit of truth who would “speak only what he hears” (v. 13).

And that was exactly what happened. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on the disciples, and they spoke as they were moved along by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit continued to move them, and they continued to speak, write, and teach.

And the result of all that work of the Holy Spirit? The Bible. When you open the Scriptures, your Jesus reminds you that he’s not gone. He’s right there. We need to remind ourselves of this truth every day. And the best way to find the path through all the different opinions is to listen to Jesus—to read his Word.

Listen and compare

“But,” you say, “so many people read the Bible and come up with so many different interpretations! How can I know which is the right one?” Jesus himself warned the disciples, “Watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). Jesus prepared his disciples for a world where many people would be claiming to speak for God, convinced that they knew how best to understand the words of God. That’s what the world is like today as well. People who call themselves Christians teach so many ideas as if they are true. In fact, there are at least two hundred groups who call themselves Christian in North America alone! How can we possibly navigate all of this?

After Jesus told his disciples to watch out for false prophets, he then said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16). A prophet is someone who claims to be speaking for God. The word prophesy simply means to speak something otherwise hidden, like a message from God. What’s the most obvious fruit that prophets produce? What they say. And so somehow, we ought to be able to recognize them by what they say. How? We simply compare what they say to what Jesus says, to what the Holy Spirit has given us.

That’s obviously easier said than done. But as hard as it may be to do that, the principle is really that simple. Jesus once said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” How do the sheep know they’re following the right shepherd? Jesus says, “Listen to my voice” (John 10:14-16).

You can get to know your Shepherd’s voice too. Think about it: How well would you know the personality of someone you talked to just a couple hours every month? Now, how well would you know that same person if you talked to him daily? Wouldn’t you know him better if he daily was telling you stories about himself and if he was always pouring out what was on his heart to you? Eventually, wouldn’t you become exceptional at spotting anyone trying to impersonate him? It’s no different with Jesus.

Listen to your Savior’s voice

Here’s an example: Some people teach that you have to make a decision to become a Christian. “After all,” they might point out, “when someone asked Paul, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Paul said, ‘Believe.’ See? You have to decide to believe to be a Christian.” That sounds right. After all, they’re simply quoting Scripture! But are they right?

Let’s listen to the voice of our Savior: “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Your Shepherd says you don’t decide or do anything. It’s all by grace, undeserved love, that chooses us. The more you read the Bible, the more you’ll understand that Jesus chose you, not the other way around. Your faith is 100 percent a gift, given to you by the Holy Spirit himself. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself what Jesus says.

This teaching takes a lot of pressure off this work of sorting through all the noise to find the voice of Jesus. Because it’s really not a question of whether you need to find him. He’s found you. And he won’t leave you. He wants to talk to you.

And for those times when you don’t know whom to turn to, just remember: He never really left you.

He’s right there, in his Word, waiting to talk.

Author: Luke G. Thompson
Volume 107, Number 06
Issue: June 2020

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This entry is part 37 of 53 in the series please explain

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