How do I know if it's revelation from God, the devil, or my own thoughts?
I often hear personal revelation used as an excuse to disobey the council of prophets, apostles, and other Church leaders. I hear excuses like:
- “Well, it was just the Church’s spokesman, not the prophet himself.”
- “This one time my stake president was wrong or a bad person, so I get to do what I want.”
- “Okay, fine, it was the prophet, but it was just the prophet, not all of the apostles and prophets together.”
- “Why didn’t it have the letterhead of the Church at the top of the page?”
- “Doesn’t the Church understand agency? Agency means I get to do what I want.”
This is a dangerous road to be on, as anything is on the table if you can claim, “I prayed about it, and I feel strongly the Lord wants me to do ____ in violation of prophetic council.”
Using this method, people have claimed:
- “I no longer need to pay tithing.”
- “If the prophet says one thing, and I pray and feel another thing, then my disobedience is actually obedience.”
- “I was commanded to participate in polygamy.”
- “The Church is no longer led by true prophets, I am the prophet.”
It is no wonder, “God gave some apostles, and some prophets… till we all come in the unity of the faith…. that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”
– Ephesians 4:11-14
One of the first lessons I had in my third year of Seminary was on ways we can determine whether revelation is from God, the devil, or just my own thoughts and biase. He used the story of Nephi executing Laban.
Test 1: What do the living prophets say about it?
Nephi was commanded by his priesthood patriarch, Lehi, to get the plates, and knew the Lord was going to make it happen. He didn’t know how, but he had faith in the Lord, and faith in his priesthood leader, faith that a way would be provided to him. This was that way.
For us, the Last Days will be a trial of faith, and the prophets have warned that the Lord will give us many opportunities to demonstrate our faith in Him, rather than putting our faith in our own understanding (the arm of the flesh). Often, the Lord will ask us to do things that do not make scientific, logical sense, such as putting lambs blood on our doorway.
Yet our willingness to put faith in God will help us grow in knowledge, wisdom, and power.
During these times of trial and confusion, there will be times we stand still, not knowing what to do. We may even pray, receive an answer, and then realize that that isn’t the way the Lord wants us to go. The test, then, is to see if we will submit to the wisdom of the Lord, even when we already received an answer.
Can we accept course corrections?
These decisions have so much more impact than on the here, and now. The issues of today will “come to pass.” Yet how we choose to use our agency on this side of the veil demonstrates how we will use our agency in the eternities.
Test 2: What do the scriptures (past prophets) say about it?
In some circumstances, the living prophets have not spoken on a specific issue. We can fall back upon previous instruction, and apply those principles to our lives.
When the living prophets do speak to a specific issue, then we can make a course correction, if needed, to be sure we are most in line with the will and wisdom of God for our day.
In Nephi’s case, the scriptures said, “Thou shalt not kill (murder).” Yet one chapter after the 10 commandments, the Lord expounds upon that charge, saying,
“He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death. And if a man lie not in wait, but God deliver him into his hand; then I will appoint thee a place whither he shall flee.”
Did Nephi lie in wait?
“And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”
Did the Lord deliver Laban into Nephi’s hands?
“And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands.”
We can tell Nephi knew the scriptures well, and he would have been aware of this scripture.
Test 3: Is it Legal?
The Lord will rarely prompt you to break the Laws of the Land. It does happen when there are immoral laws, so this is not always the best test; however in Nephi’s case the Law of Moses was a moral law, so I am including it in the list.
If the prompting is telling you to violate a moral law, then that is a good indicator that you need to be wary of that prompting’s source. Further testing is definitely required, and the Lord will give you a clear answer.
This video sums up the legality argument well, referencing how Nephi was following the Law of Moses, and referencing Exodus 21:12-13.
In short, Laban had committed capital offenses, such as theft, and bearing false witness by claiming they were robbers guilty of death. The punishment for bearing false witness was whatever punishment the false accuser was trying to impose on the victim.
Nephi writes, “Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.”
Test 4: Do I Want to Do It?
What one the best tests of whether a revelation is from God or your own personal bias is whether you want to do it already. This can be an easy test, because if a prompting passes the above tests, and makes you do something uncomfortable, that is potentially the Lord teaching you. We learn very little when we are comfortable, and these moments are opportunities for us to grow.
Nephi said, “And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.”
Nephi was not a violent man, he did not thirst for blood. He had a knowledge of the laws of God, so knew killing Laban was not immoral, even though he personally didn’t want to do it. This was likely an important test to help Nephi know that he was not wanting to kill Laban out of personal desire for vengeance.
The times ahead will be difficult, we will be asked to do things we do not understand, or do not want to do.
Yet the Last Days will be more difficult if we do not know and understand the prophecies of the last days, and hearken unto the words of the Lord’s servants when they act as prophets, apostles, and other leaders of Christ’s Church.