part of the what is truth? series

Someone hearing the gospel is certainly one way for an individual to come to know about God’s word and His will. When somebody hears the “good news” they learn about Jesus, His mission on earth and God’s plan for mankind’s salvation.

While hearing the gospel is one way, is it the only way to know God’s will? The question is important because there are many today that claim to have seen a vision or even seen Jesus, Himself. Whether or not they did or didn’t isn’t as important as what the appearance resulted in — usually either a conversation where Jesus has given some new or special knowledge to the individual, or where the individual now considers themselves saved as a result, or simply approving their current actions/state in life (some examples).

Effectively, these “visions” or encounters are substitutes for the individual hearing the gospel. So, is hearing the gospel the only way to know God’s will?

how Scripture answers "Is hearing the gospel the only way to know God’s will?"

an answer short on commentary and long on Scripture as footnoted1 | please contribute with your comment at the bottom

An individual must hear the gospel in order to know God’s will1,6. Not only does Paul tell us this plainly in his letters, but we see it played out in conversion stories in Scripture2,3,4,5. Interestingly, we see visions playing a role in all of these examples2,3,4 – even visions of Jesus, Himself5 – yet, in every case the fundamental pattern1 is followed (e.g. preacher sent, hearers hear, believers “call on him“), thus fulfilling what Isaiah writes, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”1

It should also be noted the role that prayer plays in each of these examples:

  • In Philippi2, Scripture says that Paul and Silas met an eventual convert at a “supposed place of prayer” (vs 13); presumably, Lydia was there praying when Paul and Silas met her,
  • The Ethiopian eunuch is coming from Jerusalem where he had journeyed specifically to worship God3 – no doubt praying during that time,
  • Cornelius is told by the angel of God in his vision that his prayers have been answered4 – Cornelius was praying,
  • Ananias5 is told by Jesus to “look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying” (vs 11)

If there were such a thing as a “Sinner’s Prayer” to recite for one’s salvation, why was it necessary for all of these ‘praying people’ to hear the gospel (and be baptized)?

the answer above is based on and footnoted with the following passages and their BSF application

1

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!

Someone doesn’t “call on” someone they don’t believe, and they don’t believe unless they’ve heard, and they don’t hear unless someone preaches, and preachers are sent.  Those that preach the good news are beautiful.

Paul’s letter is the case for Gentiles being “grafted in” to God’s plan of salvation and here is summarizing the process for one responding to His call.  Fundamentally, the gospel (“good news”) is preached and those that “call on him” hear and believe and are saved.

How does it inform?

Written before Bible’s as we know it were available, Paul asks what would seem to be intuitively obvious questions.  Those that have been saved (believed) had at some point prior heard the gospel preached by someone sent.

Does it apply? Yes

2

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us. And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia urgently asking him to come and them them.  They concluded that it was from God who was wanting them to go there and preach the gospel to them.

Paul is on his second missionary journey (with Silas).  The preceding verses record attempts by them to go to certain cities/regions but they are stopped by the Spirit.  They ended up in “Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.” (vs 11)  Their work here leads to a local church to which Paul later writes the epistle, Philippians.

How does it inform?

Paul and Silas are sent by the Spirit to a place with those ready to receive the Word of God (e.g. jailer, Lydia, etc.).

Does it apply? Yes

3

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, Go over and join this chariot. So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, Do you understand what you are reading?

An angel of God came to Philip instructing him to go south from Jerusalem to Gaza.  He went and found an Ethiopian eunuch who was returning from worshiping in Jerusalem. He was reading Isaiah and the Spirit instructed Philip to join him in his chariot.  Philip did so and hearing him reading Isaiah asked him if he understood it.

A persecution of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 2-6) has begun following the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7).  “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (vs 4)

How does it inform?

Philip’s vision is to direct him toward an individual that is returning to his home in Ethiopia — reading from Isaiah as he travels. Philip, “beginning with this Scripture told him the good news about Jesus.” (vs 35)

Does it apply? Yes

4

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, Cornelius. And he stared at him in terror and said, What is it, Lord? And he said to him, Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter.

Cornelius lived in Caesarea.  He was a centurion (Roman) of the Italian Cohort who was also a devout man that feared God along with his household.  He gave alms to the people and prayed continually.  At about 3pm one day he saw a vision.  The angel of God told him his prayers were answered and to send for Simon Peter.

The church has grown among the Jewish community according to the pattern Jesus foretold (“you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8).  This pivotal chapter accounts the conversion of the first Gentiles to the Way.

How does it inform?

Here is a non-Jewish (Roman), God-fearing man/household that is seeking God. God intervenes with an angelic vision…instructing him to send for a preacher (Peter) so that he might hear the gospel preached.

Does it apply? Yes

5

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, Who are you, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.

Saul (e.g. Paul) is on his way to Damascus when he encounters Jesus in a vision.  Jesus asks him why he is persecuting him and tells him to enter the city where he will be told what to do.

Saul is a zealous, Jewish Pharisee and a leader of the persecution of this relatively new faith in Jesus the Christ.  Saul is blinded by the vision and is sought out in Damascus by a disciple, Ananias (who also had a vision from Jesus with instructions – vss 10-16).

How does it inform?

Visions from Jesus occur, but specifically to join together a seeker (Saul) with a preacher (Ananias).

Does it apply? Yes

6

And when you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation)—when you believed in Christ—you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.

For those saved (after hearing the gospel and believing), they are marked and sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. He is the believer’s down payment to the eventual inheritance and full redemption.

Opening Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus and ending a long list of spiritual blessings that they have in Christ.

How does it inform?

Paul connects their belief directly to hearing the “word of truth.” It is the means by which they understood what God required, resulting in being “marked with the seal” of the promised Holy Spirit.

Does it apply? Yes

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