There is a common perception that comprehending the thoughts of God goes beyond the limits of the human mind. Invariably citing the following verses from Isaiah 55, theologians and Bible teachers have created a “but we can’t really know” or “we can’t really be sure” mindset:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (vv. 8–9).
Such an interpretation from these two verses is a misunderstanding of Isaiah’s message. Read them again, this time within the context of the preceding and following verses:
Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it (vv. 6–11).
Nowhere in these verses is Isaiah saying that a person’s inability to comprehend the thoughts and ways of God is a permanent condition. Rather, Isaiah’s admonition in the passage is to the unrighteous man whose spiritual condition prohibits the understanding of the ways of God.
We are either Unregenerate or Regenerate
There are only two terms used to describe a person’s inner spiritual condition from God’s perspective: “unregenerate” and “regenerate.” “Unregenerate” or “natural” is the post-fall-of-Adam condition of spiritual bondage to the indwelling presence of sin. As the Scripture says: “through one transgression there resulted [God-determined] condemnation to all men” (Rom. 5:18a). From a spiritual perspective, it is referred to as an inherited death (see Rom. 5:12–14) and it is precisely the death that God warned of should they eat of the forbidden fruit (see Gen. 2:16-17). Such is the spiritual condition into which all human beings are born. There is no escape from this condition except by a confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In contrast, “regenerate” refers to the born again (see John 3:3) spiritual condition of anyone who has made such a confession of faith in Christ and has thereby received the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
The inherited limitations of understanding that fell to the unregenerate no longer apply to the regenerate. The apostle Paul himself wrote of these limitations: “But a natural [unregenerate] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). But the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has made clear that what was unknowable for a natural man has become entirely knowable for the born again (regenerate) man. To continue to teach that the thoughts of God are not knowable to those who truly love Him denies the truth of what the knowledge contained in the gospel declares.
The Word of God, again through Paul, explains it best:
And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Yet, we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age [age of unregenerate men], nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written:
“THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”
For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words…For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE SHOULD INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:4–13, 16).
Thoughts from the Depths of God
In and through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit the regenerate man can not only know thoughts from the very depths of God, he can also understand them. My own faith-life journey has taught me that such an understanding is not gained by osmosis or by mere possession of the Holy Spirit. In fact, “…all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2b–3) is not made clear to a person at the moment of conversion. It is only to be gained during a lifetime of presenting oneself to the Lord and His word, as “…a living and holy sacrifice…[to] be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1–2).
Knowing and Understanding Is Possible
According to the Bible, knowing and understanding the mind of Christ is possible. In James, chapter 1, verses 5 through 8 we read:
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Even Jesus reflected a similar word of instruction: “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching…” (John 7:16b–18).
Our misguided teaching, regarding the unknowability of the thoughts of God, has contributed to why the Bible has been and is still so little read and even less studied. The key to knowing and experiencing the true teachings of the Lord must include regular and consistent meetings with Him in the Bible (see John 8:31b–32). It should be done directly and it should be done with a full conviction of the heart (see Jer. 29:13). And it should be recognized as something that is mandatory, not optional.
Perhaps what is most difficult, is that the approach should be as that of a trusting child (see Luke 18:17). When you meet with the Lord in His word, you should come to Him not as a self-confident intellect, but rather as an innocent child thirsting for learning. To approach Him in any other way is to be double minded and will prove to be unproductive (see James 1:6–8).
If we are faithful and persevere with patience, then the result will be just as the apostle John predicted:
And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. And now little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at his coming (1 John 2:27–28).
I was sixteen years into my faith-life journey before I realized that my relationship with the Bible was, at best, casual. It wasn’t because I didn’t know what it meant to be totally committed to something. As a lifelong athlete, I had spent a good deal of my time totally immersed in playbooks and game plans while enduring endless hours of practice. I did this because I knew there was no shortcut to being the best athlete I could be in any given game situation. We all have things in this life for which we go the extra mile. The Bible should be paramount among those things. Ultimately, the truth of biblical teaching lies not in the human presenter of the teaching but rather in the words that were written. We must endeavor to hide those words in our hearts if we hope to be living as God intends (see Ps. 119:11). For as long as we breathe, we must seek to live continuously as the student, not the Teacher; as the reader, not the Author; as the player, not the Coach.