How We Know His Voice

Bible Book: John  10 : 1-5
Subject: God, Voice of; Voice of God; Listening to God; Shepherd, The

"I assure you: Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the door but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. (2) The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. (3) The doorkeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. (5) They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5, HCSB)

I remember listening to people who would speak freely about what God told them to do. In my youth I wondered why He spoke audibly to them and not to me. I didn’t worry about it, it just seemed strange at the time. I would hear people explain why they did a certain thing by saying, “God told me to do it.” There are people who are always claiming that God speaks to them. And, there are others who wonder how God speaks to those people. They may be asking, “How do I know when God is speaking to me?”

In the Old Testament, the Lord spoke to different people in different ways. He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day in the Garden of Eden and talked freely with them. He spoke with Noah and told him to build the ark. He called Abram and told him to leave his home in Ur of the Chaldees and go to a distant land that He would give to him. My good friend, Dr. William R. Cooper of Middlesex, England, in his recent book, THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE BOOK OF GENESIS, writes that cuneiform tablets have been found, and translated, which tell of a man who commented on the fact that his prominent friend and neighbor, Abram, had taken all his possessions, which were many, and moved to a distant land. There is no record of anyone else to whom God spoke at the time, but the Lord had a special and unique call for Abraham.

He entered a covenant with him that was fulfilled two thousand years later when a Descendant of His was born to a virgin, lived a perfect life, performed incredible miracles, died on a Roman cross, was raised on the third day, and then ascended back to heaven where He makes intercession for us while He awaits the time when he will return for His church. The Bible tells us that Jesus, on many occasions, withdrew from the crowds and His followers to be alone with the Father.

In biblical times, the Lord spoke to various people in different ways. He spoke to some audibly, to others through visions or dreams. He spoke audibly with Abraham and Moses, but Samuel, writing hundreds of years later, said “In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.” (1 Sam 3:1, HCSB) While on earth, Jesus spoke often to His followers, and on the Isles of Patmos, John, the beloved disciple, received the most remarkable Revelation from Jesus the risen Lord. And we can read it any time we want to know what it says!

But the question for us is, “How does the Lord speak to us today?” How do we know it is the voice of God we hear? I would like for you to think with me about four ways we may know the voice of God.


A. The Holy Spirit Speaks to the Heart, John 14:26.

1. You must be saved.

“Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, in order to know what has been freely given to us by God. (13) We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people” (1 Cor 2:12-13, HCSB)

2. You must be quiet. “Just shut up and listen and you will learn something!” You ever hear anything like that? I can plead a faulty memory and prove that by my wife. However, if my mother was here I may have a problem denying that I heard that when I was growing up in the Mississippi Delta cotton fields, seven miles west of Sledge. It seems that I recall my parents say something like that - but, surely, they were talking to my brother James!I wonder how many times the Lord would have been totally justified if He had said that to me? But, He has said it: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10, NKJV)

3. You must be focused. It seems that when I was twelve years old my parents could not appreciate how focused I was on the baseball All Star Game that was coming on TV at 2:00 o’clock that afternoon. Then, I remembered! Mother had some peas that needed shelling, so I volunteered to shell them. Anyone could tell by the amount of peas I shelled that I was more focused on the all star game than on the peas. We must be much better focused on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but most pastors who have been preaching very long have seen teenaged boys and girls who were not paying as much attention to the sermon as their parents thought they were. Have you ever read your “daily Bible reading” and realized that you didn’t remember what you had just read? No, of course you haven’t. But I have. The Holy Spirit will keep us focused if we listen to Him.

“When [Christ] came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. (18) For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph 2:17-18, HCSB)

B. The Conscience Is not a Reliable Guide.

1. It must be programed. Sadly - shockingly - there are people in America who support abortion, which is the killing of unborn babies, but they will fight you over anything they consider abuse, or simply less than ideal treatment of an animal. They would deny farmers the right to farm in an area where a certain frog, believed to be extinct, has been spotted. Many of those same people will fight you for the privilege of killing an unborn human being.

2. The Holy Spirit must control your conscience. A lady who had left the church in which she had been well received, a church where she was loved, a church where she was being blessed in Sunday School and worship services because some long time friends convinced her that their church would do for her what her church should not. Since she had known these ladies all her life, she followed them to their church. They convinced her that she had not been saved, so she joined their church. Then, they began telling her that when she was saved the Lord put the Holy Ghost in her and she was supposed to speak in tongues. They pushed her so hard that she returned to her church under the conviction that they were trying to force something on her she did not believe was right.

When the lady was saved the Lord did put His Spirit in her, not to speak in strange, unknown, or foreign languages, but to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (see Rom. 8:28-30). The church this lady attended for months had announced that they would no longer use the King James Version of the Bible, they would be using the NIV. That decision had nothing to do with the KJV translation of Acts 19:2, which has confused a lot of people. Paul was trying to communicate with professing believers who only knew the preaching of John the Baptists, and since he was not sure where they were in relationship to the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, he asked them, “...‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ ‘No,’ they told him, ‘we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” It did not take Paul long to discern a problem with these disciples. How did he know there was something missing? He was blessed with the spirit of discernment, which is obvious, but anyone who is grounded in sound doctrine (truth) will be able to detect false, flawed, or inadequate theology. All Paul had to do was listen to these disciples. When he discovered that their knowledge was incomplete, he had a choice: he could criticize them, of he could probe their understand with questions.

Paul asked them a question: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” He was led by the Holy Spirit to ask these disciples if they had received the Holy Spirit at the time they believed. This is a logical question and the answer would reveal a lot.This is a critical verse in any study of Acts or any study of salvation, sanctification, or the ministry of Holy Spirit. The King James Version has, “He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Millions have read this in the KJV, and indeed millions continue reading that beautiful version of the Bible. However, you will note the difference one word can make a lot of difference. The KJV New Testament is about 85-90% the 1526 William Tyndale NT.

This is a key verse and we must understand what Paul is asking before we continue. I love the King James Version of the Bible. It is a wonderful version and I love certain passages better in the KJV than any other, especially those familiar passages like Psalm 23 and the Model Prayer. However, there are better translations of this verse. The late Dr. Leo Eddleman dealt with this verse in is commentary, An Exegetical and Practical Commentary on Acts, at the time, and I was preparing a simple study guide. I spent a lot of time talking with him in person and on the phone, and this was a key verse we discussed. J. Edgar Hoover said Dr. Eddleman had the best working knowledge of Hebrew of any non-Jew in the United States, but he had majored in Greek in seminary. His literal rendering is, “the Holy Spirit, did ye receive, having believed?” [H. Leo Eddleman, An Exegetical and Practical Commentary on Acts, Book of life Publishers, Dallas, 1974, p. 268].

C. The Bible Reveals How We May Hear God.

1. Focus on Jesus, our Shepherd (John 10:4). This is not speculation. It is not a theory. It is not one person’s opinion. It is the Word of God. Once again, before we go on: this is the Word of God. It is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of the living Lord. Please read it with me and let us see what Jesus says.

“I assure you: Anyone who doesn’t enter the sheep pen by the door but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. (2) The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. (3) The doorkeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice. (5) They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.” (John 10:1-5, HCSB)

(1) This is a communal sheep pen, where a number of shepherds keep their sheep at night.

(2) The Shepherds enter by the gate, and anyone seen trying to enter any other way is a thief.

(3) The doorkeeper opens to those he knows to be shepherds with sheep in his pen.

(4) The shepherd calls to his sheep.

(5) The sheep who belong to that shepherd follow him because they know his voice.

(6) They will not follow anyone else because they do not know his voice.

(7) When professing Christians continually follow someone who leads them astray, you can be sure they do not know the voice of Jesus Christ, because if you have received Jesus as Savior, the Lord has placed the Holy Spirit in your heart. He will never mislead them.

The Holy Spirit is placed in the hearts of believers to enable us to know the voice of the Good Shepherd - not to speak words no one can understand. The languages spoken at Pentecost were spoken in the languages of possibly 17 different people groups and 3,000 people were saved. That Is more important and has greater value to you and to others than “speaking in an unknown tongue,” or even speaking in a known tongue if no one understands you.

A Holiness preacher moved into a farm house in our community when I was a teenager. We gave him a ride to our church and enjoyed fellowship with him. I will never forget him, possibly because of my shock when I slammed the door of my father’s truck on his hand! He had to go back into his house instead of going to church with us that day.

One member, Miss Bea, decided that if he was called to preach, he needed to preach! So, she invited him to preach in her living room and invited several neighbors to come to hear him. He delivered what seemed to be a normal sermons until he reached the end and suddenly he delivered several sentences that no one understood. When we were leaving, my little sister began asking our Mother, “What was he saying? Did you know what he was saying? I didn’t know what he was saying, did you?” Mother whispered, “he was speaking in an unknown language.” My father, normally a quiet man cut in, and said, “No, he wasn’t! He was calling us what the Germans were calling the Russians at the end of the War (Second World War), and some of it wasn’t very nice.” If there is one thing I would never question, it came from Joe Sanders, a man I would never question. If he said the man was calling us what the Germans were calling the Russians after the war, that is exactly what he was calling us. My father was in Berlin during the Reconstruction and I have never known a more honest man in my entire life.

So, how do I interpret that? That man really thought he was in the Spirit and speaking a language given him by the Holy Spirit. He was not. It is that simple. But that is not the issue today. How many times to we say something about moral issues, biblical issues, or theological issues, believing we are speaking for the Lord when we are not? But how do we know? If you follow the Good Shepherd you will know His voice. You may not understand that fully, but the more you hear His voice the more you will understand the source of the voice you are hearing.

2. Hear Him with a focused heart, Psalm 37:4f. Do you really want to hear the voice of God? Then listen to what David was inspired to write:

(1) “Trust in the Lord and do what is good...” (Ps. 37:3).

(2) “Take delight in the Lord” (37:4).

(3) “Commit your way to the Lord” (37:5a).

(4) “Trust in Him, and He will act” (37:5b).

(5) “Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him” (37:7).

(6) “Refrain from anger” (37:8).

Trust, delight, commit, be silent, refrain from anger, and “He will act, making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.” (37:5-6 ) That is what He say. The question is, do you believe Him?

3. God is the Lord of open doors and paved roads, Rev. 3:8. The humble and faithful are not promised long life and great riches, nor or they promised a trouble free life. They are promised open doors and pave pathways which will enable them to serve the Lord faithfully.

4. We may learn from he experience of Samuel and Eli. Eli was the high priest and his sons were evil, taking advantage of worshipers by taking from them that which they were going to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel’s mother could have no child, so she prayed to the Lord, asking for a son and He heard her. Hannah took her son when he was young and turned him over to Eli. After the child had grown a few years the Lord called him, and thinking Eli had called him, he ran to him, but Eli had not called him. The third time, Eli assured him he had not called him, but told him if he heard his name called again he should say, “‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” (1 Sam 3:9). The Lord made Samuel a powerful judge and prophet. In fact, Samuel was the pivotal person in the move from the Period of the Judges to the Period of the Prophets. In all the Old Testament, the two singled out as the best examples of intercessory prayer are Moses and Samuel (Jer. 15:1).


A. The God of Open Doors also Closes Doors.

I had been pastor of a church in Bastrop, Louisiana for eight years. For about five years, I walked the streets knocking on doors, visited nursing homes and hospitals, and nothing was happening, except for those gracious people who kept saying, “We believe the Lord is going to bless us if you just don’t get discouraged and leave us. It is nice to know your people don’t want you to leave!

When I was a young pastor I preached revivals and taught Bible studies every year. I spent five or six years walking streets and knocking on doors without much to show for it. Then, one day a man called and asked if I would talk with him and his wife. They were both saved and family members were saved. That year, I baptized one person for every 11.6 member and we had one addition for every 6.7 members. The next year was about as fruitful (I baptized one person for every 12 members). I then moved to a larger church in Texas, a church filled with young people. Then, one day, not too long after I moved there, I had a pinched nerve in the top of my left foot and my secretary asked if I wanted her to call their foot specialist. I did, and wished I had never seen him. Two podiatrists all but totaled me out. The people in Bastrop asked me to return and I did. I sat on a bar stool to preach for twenty five years before standing one morning for the morning service. The next Sunday I stood for both services.

The revivals all but ended, but the Bible studies increased. I could not attend conventions and Bible conferences, so I made a commitment to increase my Bible studies “so the well would not run dry.” I knew I needed to study and I knew I could not remember everything I read, so I began making notes and preparing outlines of books of the Bible. Then, I expanded them until I decided to give the studies the name, The Bible Notebook. Then some were expanded and became a part of collection of commentaries now posted on the SermonCity.Com web site.

I loved preaching to a packed house. What pastor wouldn’t? One day it dawned on me that if I had continued serving in a larger church I would not have had the time to study and prepare all the volumes of commentaries, nor the sermons now posted today on SermonCity.Com (the creation of Dr. J. Mike Minnix). At first, when friends asked about what had happened to me, I tried to recall those first weeks. I prayed as fervently as I knew how, but nothing happened. I even quoted Scripture to the Lord about answering prayer! Can you believe that? I think I was recalling Scripture to boost my own faith, but when I look back I am not sure that was all of it, but I do know I was not trying to paint God into a corner. My final conclusion was that I had to live one day at a time and be faithful to Him in whatever circumstances I found myself. What does the old Gospel song say?: “One day at a time, sweet Jesus.” I had no other choice but to take one day at a time, and to trust family and friends to do what I had previously done. However, looking back, I know the Lord was with me, providing for me and for my family. He had a special ministry for me.

B. The Lord Will Brings Convictions and Circumstances Together, Is. 50:10.

I have never sensed that the Lord was using me more effectively than when I was preaching at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. Chaplain, R. B. Hicks, from my home town, told me one morning, “Any time you get here early, don’t wait for me, just go to any camp you want to and tell them I sent you.” I did. Early one Sunday morning, Chaplain Hicks said, “I wish you had some old clothes with you. I would get you to help me baptize some people.” I assured I would do it if I had anything with me to wear to help him baptize somewhere between 45 and50 people. He had made arrangements with local churches to receive those he baptized into their fellowship.

The chaplain went home and picked up some of his old overalls and brought them to me and I changed into them and helped him baptize. I also helped him with another baptism. I baptized a number of black people and white people in 1958 and 1959. Then, one day the chaplain asked me if I would be interested in working as his assistant. I talked with my father in the ministry, M. C. Waldrup, who discouraged me. He told me the chaplain’s job at a prison is political and I could lose my job. Then, Dr. J. Hardee Kennedy, renown Old Testament and Hebrew scholar came from seminary to meet with students. I enthusiastically shared my good news with him. He said, “Johnny, you need to get your education first.” Within a few days I felt the distinct impression that he was right.

C. We Must Distinguish Between the Soul and the Spirit.

This is important. I am a living soul, created in the image of God. However, I am not really a spiritual believer until I am born again and the Holy Spirit is placed in my heart. A soulish person can follow rules and make decisions based on laws, but it is only when he is filled with the Holy Spirit that he can be guided by the Spirit.

D. We Must Distinguish Between Burden and Call.

1. Paul had a burden for Asia, but a call to go to Macedonia. “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in the province of Asia.” (Acts 16:6)

2. Phillip had a burden for Samaria, but a call to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He had seen phenomenal success in Samaria, but then “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip: “Get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to desert Gaza” (Acts 8:26), where he introduced the Ethiopian eunuch to Jesus Christ.

3. I had a burden for the state prison, but a call to go to seminary. As mentioned earlier, the opportunity to work with prisoners and to preach to them and teach to them seemed like such an opportunity that it had to be of the Lord. I would learn better.


“Listen to instruction and be wise; don’t ignore it.” (Prov 8:33)

A. He Will Speak Through the Council of Family and Friends, Pro. 1:8; 9:9; 17:17.

We must beware of those who will only try to affirm whatever we want to hear. There are others who are a little like the expert witness lawyers called on for big trials. He will be an expert for either side. It just depends on who gets to him first. We have acquaintances who may act like that. We must choose carefully those to whom we go for advice or counseling. There are both friends and family members who can keep a confidence, and there are those who will not. We need others to guide us, or simply to be a sounding board, but we must choose them very carefully.

B. He Will Speak to us Through Pastors, Teachers, and Others.

For a number of years, I had the privilege of observing a number of public school teachers and I observed that some were very wise, but very careful in offering advice to others. These were sincere Christians who were genuinely concerned for the person to whom they shared information. Others might speak freely without understanding the circumstances. Some seemed to speak for their school. A few sought to speak for the Lord. I observed that there were those who spoke to people, while others spoke with people. Sadly, some were quick to speak about others.

Pastors may be tempted to do the same thing: speak to people, or speak about them. There are times when an individual needs to speak with someone who will offer advice that is sound doctrinally and spiritually, but anyone can make a mistake at some time or another. Every effort must be made to seek council from those who have demonstrated wisdom and trust.

Let me tell you about Tommy. I knew I was going to meet Tommy. I directed the Mississippi College BSU (Baptist Student Union) mission trip to the Hinds County Jail in Jackson every Thursday for two or three years. When I picked up the Jackson Clarion Ledger the first of the week and read the headlines, I was as shocked as anyone else in the area. Tommy, a 22 year old carnival worker was in town with the Mississippi State Fair. He has been living in a motel room with a young woman who was seven months pregnant. It was not his baby, but he told her he could live with it. However, in a drunken stupor, he decided that he could not live with it, so he brutally beat and strangled her to death.

When I arrived at the jail, I assigned various friends different cells to visit, reserving maximum security for myself. The heavy steel door was open and I heard loud voices coming from the little area in front of the double set of bars. He was being badgered by a reporter from the Jackson Clarion Ledger and I had to go into the outer cell and tell him the his time was up.

Tommy listened respectfully, and by the grace of God I was able to get past the horror of Tommy’s crime and see a desperate young man who knew he had committed a despicable crime. After I left, the other man in maximum security, Bill, advised Tommy, “You should stop talking to reporters. They are going to get you executed! But you need to listen to Johnny Sanders when he comes back.” A few days later I got a letter from Tommy in which he said, “Johnny, I am trying to find God.” I immediately wrote back, “Tommy, before you ever thought about finding God, He was trying to find you. You never would have known you needed God if He had not revealed that to you. He was loving you before you ever thought of Him and He has provided for your forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Tommy was saved on my next visit and I visited with him a number of times in the Hinds County Jail. He was sentenced to life for his brutal crime - and rightly so - but by the grace of God, Tommy was forgiven, his sins covered by the blood of the Lamb of God. Tommy is my brother and the two letters I have in my desk drawer are a reminder that God’s grace is sufficient for all who call on Him.
Later I preached in Tommy’s camp at the state penitentiary at Parchman.He assured me that he was reading his Bible and praying and, he added, “When I get out of here, I want to serve God.” I expressed my joy in his testimony and counseled, “Tommy, you don’t have to wait until you get out to serve the Lord. You will never find a place that needs it any more that right here.”

C. Every Voice You Hear Is not the Voice of God.

A lady talked with her pastor about something she had experienced when a group of friends came to her house and persuaded her to leave her church and join them in another church. Some time later they began to hammer away at her need to speak in tongues. They insisted that when she was saved the Lord put the Holy Ghost in her hear and she was supposed to speak in tongues. Finally, in frustration, she left and returned to her former church where she was well received. It had not been the voice of God that pulled the lady our of her church, and it had not been the voice of God that told her she must speak in other tongues. If you want to know why the Lord puts His Spirit in us when we are saved, read John, Chapters 14-16.


A. There Are Principles Stated So Strongly You Do not Have to Pray about Them.

1. If you ever think of opening a package store, read Pro. 23:29-35.

2. There is a word about financial speculation, Pro. 21:5; 28:22.

3. The Ten Commandments are clear, Exodus 20.

B. There Are Promises God Makes Through Scripture.

1. He promises salvation to all who believe in Him - John 3:16; 10:28.

2. He promises to answer prayer - John 15:7.

C. God Brings Principles and Promises together, John 21 (Peter and John).

Jesus visited with some of His disciples by the Sea of Galilee, and then singled Simon Peter out for some questions before announcing to Him:

“I assure you: When you were young, you would tie your belt and walk wherever you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will tie you and carry you where you don’t want to go.” (19) He said this to signify by what kind of death he would glorify God.” (John 21:18-19)

“Showing just how human he was, “Peter turned around and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them. [That disciple] was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and asked, “Lord, who is the one that’s going to betray You?” (21) When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord—what about him?” (John 21:20-21).

Jesus answered Peter by stating something all believers need to remember: “If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow Me.” (John 21:22) God as a plan, a place, and a purpose for every person. You need to find His purpose for you, and He will not keep it a secret for those who known Him and follow Him.


John MacArthur tell of the man who wanted to meet him to talk about the gift of tongues. After some time, the man said, “I talk with Jesus every morning while I am shaving. He stands behind me and looks over my shoulder and we talk. Do you believe that?”

John MacArthur said, “Let me ask this: "Did you keep shaving? Because if you did, it wasn’t Jesus.”

I believe he was absolutely right. Search the Scripture. What happened when people received a visit from God of an angel? They fell on their face before Him and cried out for mercy or forgiveness (see Is. 6).