Do You Believe?
Do you truly believe that the Lord is still able to work miracles? I want you to be honest with yourself and ask yourself this one question. Do you truly, deeply, believe in your heart that a man who has been blind for thirty years could come into your church service, the congregation could pray for him, and he could recover his sight? Truly and deeply, can you bring yourself to believe that this could happen?
See, there was a group in the 4th century Church called the Eunomians, and this group was characterized by many false teachings. The foremost heresy of which they were guilty, however, was that they denied that Jesus was of the same or like nature as the Father, and they denied the Holy Spirit. See, this group, they were blinded by their own pride, so much so that they felt as though anything that couldn’t be explained in human logic was obviously false, and thus they sought to distill all of the mysteries of Scripture out of Scripture and reduce it to only that which could be logically understood. If it didn’t make sense in their human minds, then it was taught that it was false. They would perform these theological contortion acts with the Scriptures to make them fit what they could understand, not only denying the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, but denying literally anything that couldn’t be empirically proven through concrete physical evidence. They denied any of the miracles of Scripture and any supernatural aspect of the faith, by reducing it into formulaic theological systems which could fit into the theological equivalent of the scientific theory.
I pose this question because it’s kind of an extreme version of conservative evangelicalism. See, in our evangelical world, we look at the things that “don’t make sense” and try to explain them away as much as possible. We’ve gone out of our way to destroy the mystery of our religion, removing the Supernatural elements of it, and, in turn, reduced it to a human philosophy rooted in Christian theology. We’ve reduced our very faith to a sort of moralistic humanism, with a list of “do’s and don’t’s.” Christians don’t watch “R” rated movies, Christians don’t get drunk, Christians don’t argue, Christians don’t commit adultery, etc. And, while those moral truths are relevant, is that really all that our faith represents? And unfortunately, that’s all that we seem to believe in. See, I’ve heard teachers, one very prestigious teacher in particular, in our generation say things like “if you want to really see the true power of the Holy Spirit, watch a lost sinner come to repentance.” And, while that is truly a powerful sight to behold, is that really all that the Holy Spirit can do? Is it beyond His power to do anything more than save us and lead us to clean up our own lives?
See, what bothers me is this; there’s a group now called the “cessationists” who have taught that all of the miracles in Scripture have ended. They teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy, ended with the apostolic age. They most often cite the words of the apostle Paul, where he writes, “whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away with.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). But, is that really saying that those things will end while we are on earth? At what point in our sordid history has that which is perfect come, bearing in mind that Paul wrote this after the ascent of Jesus back into the Kingdom? No, rather, I challenge that “when all things are perfect have come” alludes to the Christ’s return, when all believers are restored to the Kingdom with the Father. At that point, there is no further need for prophecy, or for tongues, or for knowledge, because all of those things serve to point us to the Father. And once the Father has returned, there would be no need for those things to continue, since “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is King.” At that point, there would no longer be the need for people to prophecy about the coming, or to speak in tongues concerning the Father, or even for people to increase in their knowledge of the Father, because on that day we will be standing in His presence, communing with Him personally. But, until that day, each of those things are not only important, but vital.
See, Paul wrote that in his first letter to the Corinthians, and yet in the second letter to the Corinthians, he writes about this spiritual warfare in which we are entangled. In his letter to the Thessalonians, he warns us, “do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20). In the Book of Romans, he exhorts that, “having gifts differing according to the grace given us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophecy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching…” (Romans 12:6-7). James tells us that “if any among you is sick, bring them before the elders that they may pray over them, and the prayer of faith will heal them.” (James 5:14-15). All through the Scripture, we see the apostles, after the crucifixion and ascension of Jesus, performing miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, including Paul, who was not one of the 12 who had originally been given the power to do those things in the Gospel (Matthew 10:1, Luke 9:1). See, those claiming that these gifts, these signs and wonders, ceased with the apostolic age, then hit the obstacle of determining when exactly that age ended. Some claim the apostles were the original twelve, others feel the need to add Matthias and Paul, some would claim that the apostles chose their own successors. I think of Polycarp, who was to John as Timothy was to Paul, who would therefore be a successor to the title which John and Paul trained them up to be. Further, if those signs and wonders ended with the original twelve, then there would be no further miracles worked beyond their demise, and yet, again, the martyrdom of Polycarp seems contradictory to that statement. He was placed on a stake and the fires lit to burn him, and yet, the Lord would not allow the flames to touch him, thus he was stabbed at the stake with the flames burning around him like a loaf of bread within an oven, in much the same manner as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego.
See, when I read the Scripture, I believe everything that it says. It is the very foundation through which we can know the will of God. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours” (James 5:17), and yet, he was able to summon fire from the heavens. Was it his own power that allowed him to do that? No, it was the power of the Holy Spirit working through Him. The Holy Spirit is one third of the Trinity, making Him God the Spirit, and Scripture tells us that God doesn’t change. So, to claim that the Holy Spirit has changed would be to deny the divinity of the Spirit. But, if we accept that He is divine, that He is part of the Trinity, then everything written about the Lord is applied to that third of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Thus, if it was the power of the Holy Spirit working through him that allowed that to happen, and that same Spirit, who never changes, dwells within each of us, then why would we think that He no longer performs those miracles? Why would we ever conceive that His power is now limited to helping an alcoholic quit drinking or a fornicator to stop committing adultery? It’s easy, because those are concrete results. Those are actions that we can easily attribute, and prove, and give the Holy Spirit the credit for. But, when it comes to something like healing the sick, or raining down fire, or anything supernatural, then it becomes a different story.
See, someone can quit drinking without faith, A.A. has proven that. Someone can quit watching pornography without faith. Someone can even be charitable and give away a portion of their income to feed the hungry and help the poor without faith, we see it all the time from big Hollywood actors and musicians. But, to get up and leave where you are comfortable requires faith. To truly believe that God can perform a miracle, that requires faith. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to turn to the Lord when everything falls apart, but how easy it is to forget Him when everything is going well? When you lose your job and the bills are piling up, you’ll go out and seek employment, but it’s easy to fall on your face in prayer, out of desperation, and beg God to help you. And He usually comes through, because you’ve placed your full hope and faith in Him and humbled yourself by recognizing that you can’t do it. But, when you’ve got the full time job and you’re making enough money to pay the bills, it’s so easy to forget that He is the source of that, because you start thinking that you did it on your own. It’s so easy to say, “dear Jesus, we paid for all of this ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” It’s only when you have nothing that you can easily turn to Him for everything. And that’s a very dangerous place to be in, because that means that we may be humbled very soon. Ultimately, what we do is distill the power of the Holy Spirit down to the ability to perform things that the world can accomplish in absentia of faith.
When I think about the power and the control that God has in our lives, it’s amazing to me that He would allow us any of the gifts that He has given us, knowing that our very nature is to turn away from Him and worship what He has instead given us. I have come to believe in and expect those miraculous things that the Scriptures constantly talk about. I believe that God listens to us when we pray, assuming we pray in the manner that He has commanded us to. And it sickens me when I hear someone say, “well, the gifts were only for the apostles. God quit performing miracles after the close of the canon.” It grieves me because that would imply that God, who for thousands and thousands of years worked all of these miracles, had for some reason decided to change, something Scripture vows He will never do.
I totally understand, these very miracles are so often and so easily imitated, that it is often easier to want to believe that they have ceased. When I think of the “faith healers,” so prominent in the early 80’s; when I think about the Charismatics babbling nonsense and proclaiming that they are speaking in tongues; when I think about the “end-times” prophets, claiming that they know the last days; I understand completely. It is so easy for someone to fraudulently perform these “miracles” and so embarrassing when it happens that it’s easier to say that they have fully ceased. When a prominent name in evangelical Christianity claims that November 19th is the end of the world, it’s pretty embarrassing to explain on November 20th that he was wrong. When a faith healer is revealed to be recruiting people and paying them to pretend that they couldn’t walk, it’s embarrassing. But, John warns us to “test the spirits to see that they are of God” (1 John 4:1), Luke emphasizes to us that we should “search the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things are so” (Acts 17:11), and Paul admonishes us to “test all things, hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and to “let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge.” (1 Corinthians 14:29). See, I understand that it is more work for us to test the spirits than to just outright deny them, but the Lord in His word tells us that we must, in fact, test the spirits rather than just deny them. Paul tells us, “do not quench the spirit. Do not despise prophecies.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20). I think of it this way, there are many false teachers in the world, and those people teach a different gospel, they teach health, wealth and prosperity. When it comes to those teachers, we don’t deny the gospel, we acknowledge their teaching to be false. Why would we not offer the same esteem to the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Scripture promises that we will have?
The Lord is a very mysterious God, One that we will never understand. And yet, we so often twist and contort the things of God to make it comprehendable to our frail human minds. We must be doubly cautious of this habit, because, when we create a God that we can understand, we have created an idol who is no longer God. Solomon warns us, “Then I saw the works of God, that a man cannot discover how He does His work under the sun, No matter how much a man labors to discover it, yet he will never find out. And no matter how much a wise man may speak of knowing it, he will not be able to find it out.” (Ecclesiates 8:17 LXX). When we create a God that we can fully understand, then we create a god that is on our own level. Regardless of what name we give it. Thus, when we worship a god who is unable to perform miracles, the god that we worship is not the True God of the Scriptures, but a god made in our image, one to whom we can relate. And, that god will not be able to perform these miracles, because that god isn’t a true god. It’s the god that the Lord spoke of to the prophet Jeremiah, “they will be taken up and carried, for they cannot walk by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, because they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” (Jeremiah 10:5 LXX). See, when we create a god in our minds that is unable to perform miracles, signs and wonders through his people, then we create this god that we can understand in our own minds, this god who has the power to fulfill anything that doesn’t require faith to fulfill. We create a god that can do all of the things that we are able to do and explain, a god who can help us quit drinking or smoking or looking at pornography or cheating on our spouse, but not the True God who has the power to heal the blind and deaf, to raise the dead. If we truly believe that the lost are dead then how are we to raise the dead with the power of a god who can no longer perform these mighty deeds? No, the Lord, the True Lord of Scripture, still has all of those powers and is still willing to work those deeds through His servants, we just must approach Him in faith, not with doubting, and believe that, for the sake of His holy name, these miracles can and will still happen. Do we believe that a blind man could be prayed over and regain his sight? If we don’t, I fear that we are more blind than the very person that we are speaking of, because we are blind to the supernatural powers of our God, and if we are blind to that, if we feel that He can’t, or won’t do that, then we must ask what god we are worshipping.
Further, when it comes to the word of God, we must be careful not to distill the Scripture down to a textbook, where we can logically detect certain algorithms and determine what something means. I believe fully what Scripture itself tells us about Scripture, that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. I believe that there is nothing in the Holy Scriptures that the Lord would ever have us forsake. However, with that knowledge, I also recognize that there are many things in Scripture that we will never fully understand until the day comes that we are with Him. Some of the things that are written about require that we accept them on faith. God created the heavens and the earth in six days. Was it six literal 24 hour spans of time, or was it six undisclosed periods of time? We will never know that, it is a mystery, all that matters is that we know that He created it. There is no systematic approach which will unlock all of the hidden mysteries of the Lord for us, that is our own pride leading us astray. Oftentimes, in our systematic theology, we miss the forest for the trees. We spend so much time in depth studying the Scriptures that we miss what they are actually saying, and sometimes we spend so much time looking at the Bible that we forget that it is not a textbook. I’ve actually heard a well-renowned pastor give a sermon where he had dug so deeply into the story of the good samaritan that he said it had nothing to do with helping someone less fortunate, that same pastor turn around and explain that the Lord was never actually pleased with the widow’s offering of “everything that she had.” And, while there may be deeper messages in each of those parables, it doesn’t negate the basic principle put forth in Scripture. It is the sacred Holy Scripture, and we must revere it as such, never thinking in our own pride that we can understand with finite minds the entirety of the actual living Word of God. When we open the Bible, it’s not just another book that we are opening, it is the revealed word of God given to us throughout generations of tradition and the preserved by the blood of many martyrs and saints. Always remember that each time you open your Bible. It’s not words written by someone in speculating, it’s the word of God given to human authors to record for our sake. When Jesus tells us that we won’t know something, it’s never a challenge, it’s always a truth. When Jesus tells us to do something, that is a command from God to go and do it. When we read a passage like “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you,” that passage should strike fear in our hearts and make us examine our obedience, not question which theologian we should turn to for our favorite interpretation, or argue what that passage means to us. What does Jesus say? See, when we pick and choose which parts we are listening to, we are effectively telling God that we know better than He does, and that is nothing more than pride. It’s the same temptation that the serpent used on Eve in the garden. “He knows that if you eat of this then you will be like Him.”
I will close this with this; I’m not saying that we shouldn’t study Scripture by any means. It’s imperative that we know the Scripture, so that we can better understand the character of God. Paul even warns Timothy about the importance of knowing the truths of Scripture. But, it’s even more imperative that we spend time getting to know our God, and we can only do that through spending time alone with Him, in prayer. Again, looking to the apostle Paul, after he turned to the faith, he spent time alone in the desert, years, alone with God. In human terms, I think of it this way; I can read a person’s diary all day long, but only through spending time with that person, speaking to them, can I truly know them. So it is with the Lord. We must know about Him, through reading His word, and we must know Him, through experiencing His presence in our lives. And we must always remember that.
May the grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.