These are stormy waters, beloved child of God, and do not make for the most pleasant of reading experiences. But plow these tempestuous waves we must, I fear, lest we find ourselves less than prepared to encounter some of the greater storms certain to assail us.
Beyond the popular false doctrines we’ve already considered, God’s covenant children certainly need to be aware of another prevalent deceiving spirit in today’s world. I have found this false spirit to be most often propagated by those who don’t seem to understand the purpose for the empowering of the Holy Spirit, or how that empowering was transferred to others during the 1st century. This lack of understanding sometimes pushes them in the direction of a body of doctrine that we often refer to as, “Pentecostalism”—the belief that supernatural empowerment, in the form of miraculous signs, wonders, and gifts, is still in existence today.
People have not only been misled, but also terribly hurt by this false spirit. I remember a time, not so long ago, when we invited some people to come to our house to pray together with our family while my 14 year old nephew, who was battling cancer, was visiting in our home. No sooner had these people sat down, than one of them got right up in my little nephew’s face and began telling him that the reason he had not been cured of the cancer was because he had so little faith; and that he was certainly going to die if he didn’t get some soon. My nephew, a sweet and gentle child who loved the Lord with all his heart—and who had more faith in his little finger than in their whole party combined—just sat there, eyes as wide as silver dollars, looking dazed and confused. No one had ever talked to him like that before.
I remember thinking to myself, “How dare these people make it their aim to strike fear in this beautiful little boy’s heart, taking away his peace, and making him feel as though something is wrong in His relationship with God; even while he is facing something as monstrous as cancer, fighting for his life, and in need of all the spiritual strength and encouragement he can get!” Needless to say, that fellow’s sermon got cut pretty short and we soon escorted him and his entourage out of our house and off our property as gently and efficiently as possible.
But I wonder how many other thousands of people, young and old alike, have been in my nephew’s position—having their faith questioned, and perhaps even shattered—by this false spirit. I am aware of a growing movement among many churches, Christian schools, and other religious institutions today wherein people go looking for, and are expected to encounter, seemingly miraculous spiritual experiences in their lives. They then share these alleged miraculous events with one another as a testimony of their faith and as a confirmation of God’s presence and work in their lives. Those who confess that they have had no such experiences are made to feel like second-class citizens at best; and some are even looked down upon and scorned for not being faithful or spiritual enough.
I can think of few things more sinister—bordering on the occult—than this kind of theology. To deliberately go about conjuring up spiritual experiences is little more than witchcraft. That whole mentality reminds me of Jesus’ words: “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign…” (Matthew 12:39, NASB). Any doctrine that takes our eyes off of Jesus and the sacrifice He made for us on the cross, and redirects our attention upon the flesh, upon ourselves—as though our salvation depends upon our giftedness or some existential experience, or even the volume of our faith—is of demonic origins.
Now, the fact is that, sometimes, in the historical record contained in scripture, people were miraculously healed because of their faith. And, sometimes, they were miraculously healed, despite their unbelief, in order to create faith. But, in either case, the power to heal did not depend on the person being healed, but on the authentic working of the Holy Spirit through the healer.
Both the nature of such miraculous empowering and the reason for it are clearly spelled out in scripture. Jesus said:
These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
(Mark 16:17-18, NASB)
Mark then, in the next two verses, states the purpose for these miraculous gifts that Jesus had listed, saying:
So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.”
(Mark 16:19-20, NASB)
The purpose for the miraculous gifts of the 1st century was to “confirm the word.” A little later in history, the Hebrews writer asserts this same truth, saying:
…how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
(Hebrews 2:3-4, NASB)
Note that, the purpose for the miraculous gifts was not to convince people to believe. There have always been unbelievers. People often choose not to believe despite miracles and regardless of any amount of confirmation. The purpose for the miraculous gifts was not to make people believe, but rather, to provide sufficient grounds for belief by confirming the word of God as it was first proclaimed among the people of the 1st century. This is why the Apostle John would later tell us, “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (I John 5:6, NASB).
A Brief Review from Chapter Three
While this little section may seem a bit redundant—skip over it if you wish—I think it is important, in light of the false teaching we often encounter concerning miraculous wonders, signs, and gifts, that we do a quick and simple review in order to get it firmly in our minds just how the empowering by the Holy Spirit really worked back in Bible days:
- The apostles were the original ambassadors of Christianity, men chosen by the Lord and recognized by the ekklesia in the 1st century A.D. as having the direct empowering of the Holy Spirit; which they had received on the day of Pentecost—(see: Acts 2:1-12). Only the original apostles had the authority to pass along the empowering—the miraculous gifts—to others—(See: Acts 8:14-20).
- Every new covenant child of God is promised the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—wherein the Spirit is given to us as a gift and takes up residence within our mortal body when we are baptized into Christ—(see: Acts 2:38, 5:32). When the Holy Spirit indwells us, our bodies become “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (I Corinthians 6:19, NASB).
- However, although every “born again” child of God is indwelled by the Holy Spirit, that does not mean that he or she is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember, only an original apostle of Christ could pass the empowering along to others because only the original twelve apostles, and the Apostle Paul, had the authority to do that—(see: Acts 8:18-19). Those upon whom the original apostles laid their hands received the indirect empowering of the Holy Spirit. They were granted miraculous gifts by the Spirit, however they could not pass that empowering on to others.
- The Apostle Paul reminded the ekklesia living in the city of Corinth that:
… if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect [teleion] comes, the partial [merous] will be done away. (I Corinthians 13:8-10, NASB)
* The word “perfect” in the above passage is the Greek word, “teleion” – from “teleios”: a gender neuter noun meaning, “complete, mature, finished, brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary to completeness” (Teleios, 2014). In context, the “perfect” is the completion, or the fulfillment, or the totality of the “partial.”
* The word “partial” in this passage is the Greek word “merous” – meaning, “a part, a part due or assigned to one, one of the constituent parts of a whole” (Merous, 2014). The “partial”, then, is all the bits and pieces of the “perfect.”
* Both the “perfect” and the “partial” relate to the same thing—those things related to knowing and communicating the truth of God’s word. Paul said the “partial”—miraculously inspired bits and pieces of truth—would cease when the “perfect”—finished and complete revelation of truth—had come.
- John, the last remaining apostle capable of laying his hands on others and passing along the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, completed the final book of the Bible—Revelation—then laid aside his pen and scrolls, and soon passed away. Thus, the “partial” ceased at the same time in history that the “perfect” had come—all according to prophecy.
- The apostles and prophets of the 1st century, who were empowered by the Holy Spirit—either directly or indirectly through the laying on of the apostles hands—have provided for us “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3, NASB). This “knowledge” can be found in the holy, inspired, and confirmed word of God—the pages of your New Testament.
A good understanding of what the Bible teaches concerning the cessation of miraculous gifts is essential to God’s covenant children; lest we be led astray by what appears to be miraculous works from heaven. Our Lord Jesus has warned us, saying:
For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance.
(Matthew 24:24-25, NASB)
Without a good understanding of these things, people can be deceived into thinking that the holy, inspired, written word of God—the Bible and, in particular, the New Testament—is not enough for us; but that our faith should rest on modern prophetic utterances and existential, spiritual experiences. There is also the danger than a simple, obedient faith in Christ and what He has accomplished for us at the cross will not be enough for some people; but that they will feel like their faith must be accompanied by miraculous wonders in order to be valid. There is also the danger that good and honest people, especially young people, will be caused to doubt and have their faith shaken, if not altogether destroyed, when they have no authentic, miraculous experiences to report. In essence, the theology and practice of what I call, “existential spiritism”—or Pentecostalism—is fraught with all the dangers and pitfalls inherent in any other facet of the occult.
But, the dangers don’t end there. Beyond these immediate pitfalls, there exists the potential for the perpetration of an even darker and more sinister deception. In writing to the ekklesia in the city of Thessalonica, the Apostle Paul gave a dire warning concerning the coming of the antichrist, saying:
Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
(2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, NASB)
If we have a good understanding of the Bible and comprehend, from what the scriptures teach, that the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit fulfilled their purpose during the 1st century and have now ceased, then we will not be drawn in by what Jesus called, “false prophets.” Furthermore, those of us who are alive and present on the earth when the ultimate antichrist finally reveals himself will not be deluded by his apparent power, signs, false wonders, and deceptions of wickedness.
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