What is the defining mark of men and women of God? For example, what do Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and Mother Teresa have in common? (Now is not the time to argue whether a particular name should or shouldn’t be on the list. I could have chosen different names.)
The question we are focusing on is what defines individuals whose lives have had a huge spiritual impact? By spiritual impact I don’t mean any spiritual impact, but a theistic spiritual impact—more specifically a God of Israel and God of Jesus impact.
Yes, God defined them. But what about God? What got them wrapped up in God?
Here’s my humble answer—they all heard from God. (OK, if you’re skeptical we can put it this way—they all claimed to hear from God.) Apart from that one fact their lives make little sense. The messages they received from God became the most important thing in their lives. While those messages came in different forms—a burning bush, visions and dreams, hearing a Bible passage—each one firmly believed that he or she heard from God. We can state the matter concisely: Men and women of God hear from God.
If we have put our faith in God’s word, if we believe that God has spoken and in particular that God has spoken to us then we too can be added to the list. In fact, that’s the essence of what it means to be a part of God’s family. The common name given to God’s children in the New Testament is believers and they are called believers because they believe God’s word.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thess. 1:13, ESV).
Of course, not everyone who has claimed to hear from God really has. We shouldn’t be that gullible. The Bible is filled with warnings against listening to false prophets. Through Jeremiah the LORD said, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jer. 23:16, ESV). (See also Deuteronomy 13:1-5). And John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1, ESV).
But if we are believers in God and his love for human beings, if we are believers in the God of Israel who spoke repeatedly throughout Israel’s history, then we must accept the idea that human beings can and have heard from God. And the word that God speaks to all humanity is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
We began with the names of particular individuals because throughout history some people latched on to God’s word with wild abandonment even to the detriment of their own earthly welfare. The decisions they made—to give up their status like Paul, to give up their fortune like Francis of Assisi, to work with lepers like Mother Teresa—made no earthly sense apart from this one fact: They believed they heard from God. And they allowed the message they received to define their lives. In that sense, they were truly people of God. In the words of Jesus, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God” (Jn. 8:47).