Tag Archives: spiritual gifts

How Does The Holy Spirit Work Today? (Part 2)

When one discusses how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of Christians, many in the religious world assume that this is only done so in a miraculous, charismatic way.  For example, many believe that one does not have a relationship with the Holy Spirit unless one is involved in some sort of supposedly miraculous deed, such as “speaking in tongues” (which in most cases is babbling nonsense rather than the biblical definition found in Acts 2:4-11 of speaking in other languages without having previously learned them), “fainting,” handling poisonous snakes or drinking poisonous liquids without harm, or “being healed” of various maladies.

This is understandable, because the Bible does speak of miraculous spiritual gifts that some of the early Christians possessed.  Paul mentions “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:1), and then talks of how there were “varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4).  He then lists the different types of spiritual gifts, of which a study of each of them would reveal that they were miraculous in nature (12:8-10), and then specifically notes, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (12:11).  He then spends the rest of chapter 12 and all of chapters 13 and 14 talking about these miraculous spiritual gifts.

One item worthy of note concerning these miraculous spiritual gifts is that Paul cited that not all of the early Christians had them (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23).  This is interesting, considering that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was promised to all who would become Christians through obedience to the gospel commands of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 5:32).  Is this a contradiction, or is there a difference between the “spiritual gifts” mentioned by Paul which were miraculous in nature and “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised by Peter to “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39) through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14)?

A careful study of the totality of scriptural data concerning this question (Ps. 119:160) reveals that there is a difference between the two.  The New Testament teaches that while “the gift of the Holy Spirit” was given to all who obeyed the gospel, miraculous spiritual gifts were given to selected Christians by the apostles through the laying on of hands.  The apostle Paul was known to give people spiritual gifts in this way (Acts 19:5-6; cf. Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6).  We see a more detailed example in Acts 6:1-6, where the apostles directed the Jerusalem church to select from among them seven men to serve in a benevolent work.  Stephen and Philip were among the seven chosen.  We read then that these men were brought before the apostles, who then “laid their hands on them” (6:6).  Only afterwards do we read in the book of Acts of anyone other than the 12 apostles performing miracles, in that Stephen (6:8) and Philip (8:6-7) were able to perform them also.

What is interesting is that Stephen, Philip, and the rest of these seven men had to meet certain qualifications in order to be chosen, among which was that they already be “full of the Spirit” (6:3).  Does that phrase mean that they already had the ability to perform miracles through the power of the Holy Spirit?  Not necessarily, because as stated earlier we read of no one other than the apostles performing miracles until after they laid their hands on these seven men in Acts 6:6.  However, when we remember that all who obeyed the gospel through penitent baptism for forgiveness of sins were promised “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38-39), we see that the qualification “full of the Spirit” refers to the promise given to all Christians when they are converted rather than the ability to perform miracles through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

To summarize before moving on, we see that Scripture brings out a difference between “the gift of the Holy Spirit” and “spiritual gifts.”  The former was promised by Peter to all who answer God’s call through the gospel by  choosing to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 2 Thess. 2:14).  The latter were miraculous in nature (1 Cor. 12:1-11), were not given to all Christians (1 Cor. 12:29-30; 14:16, 23), and were only imparted to certain Christians through the laying on of an apostle’s hands, as exemplified by Paul (Acts 19:5-6; Rom. 1:11; 2 Tim. 1:6) and when the apostles laid their hands on Stephen and Philip (Acts 6:1-6).  In order to be chosen, Stephen and Philip had to have already been “filled with the Spirit” (Acts 6:3).  Yet, they did not perform miracles until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7).  Therefore, they had received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” at their conversion (Acts 2:38-39), but received miraculous spiritual gifts when the apostles laid their hands on them.

Scripture then records an episode in the life of Philip (Acts 8:5-18) which shows not only how miraculous spiritual gifts were given to Christians, but also how they were temporary in nature.  Philip traveled to Samaria, where he preached Christ and performed miracles (8:5-7).  Many in Samaria believed his preaching and were baptized, including a magician named Simon (8:9-13).  It is noteworthy that Simon, “after being baptized…continued on with Philip…and OBSERVED signs and great miracles taking place…” (8:13).  Simon, after his baptism, didn’t perform any miracles himself, nor did he request that Philip give him the ability to do miracles.  With this in mind, notice that Luke then records that the apostles Peter and John traveled to Samaria for the specific purpose that the Samaritans “might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For he had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (8:14-16).  Once Peter and John arrived, “they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit” (8:17).  Scripture then records how “Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (8:18), and offered them money for the ability to do the same.

Let’s notice several things from this passage.  First, the Samaritans would have received “the gift of the Holy Spirit” automatically upon their penitent baptism (Acts 2:38-39), thus making them “filled with the Spirit” just as Stephen and Philip had been before the apostles laid their hands on them (Acts 6:3).  However, just as Stephen and Philip did not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts until after the apostles had laid their hands on them (Acts 6:6, 8; 8:6-7), the Samaritans would not receive any miraculous spiritual gifts after their baptism until an apostle laid their hands on them.  This is why Peter and John made the trip.  Philip, after having been given miraculous spiritual gifts by the apostles laying their hands on him, couldn’t impart the miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit himself.  Otherwise, the Scriptures would have said so, he could have saved Peter and John the trip, and Simon would have come to him with money rather than the apostles.

The fact that only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts upon certain Christians is very significant when determining how the Holy Spirit works today. Many are not aware that the New Testament teaches that miracles would cease.  In the middle of his discourse to Corinth about miraculous spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12-14), Paul prophesied, “Love never fails; but 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 prophecy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will be done away” (13:8-10).

“Prophecy,” “tongues,” and “knowledge” all refer to miraculous spiritual gifts mentioned earlier in the epistle (12:4-11).  Notice that Paul foretold that these miracles (which he calls “the partial”) will be done away with when “the perfect” comes.  Some, understandably, believe “the perfect” to be Jesus Christ…but the original Greek word – teleios – refers to something which is fully complete or mature.  It is used elsewhere in Scripture to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), something which was not yet complete at the time Paul wrote his letter to Corinth and yet would become complete within a few years afterwards.  Therefore, Paul was prophesying to the Corinthians that when God’s Word become “complete/perfect” (teleios), miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.  This makes even more sense when one remembers that the purpose of miraculous spiritual gifts in the first place was to confirm the Word of God that was being initially preached during that time (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:3-4).

History tells us that by the time the Word of God was complete at the close of the first century AD, all of the apostles either had died or were about to pass away.  This is relevant to the question of when miracles ceased, because we’ve seen in this study how a Christian could only receive miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of an apostle’s hands.  Philip, one of those whom the apostles gave miraculous spiritual gifts in this manner (Acts 6:1-6; 8:5-7), could not impart the same to those whom he converted, which is why two apostles came to Samaria (Acts 8:14-19).  Only the apostles could bestow miraculous spiritual gifts to others.  Therefore, when all of the apostles passed away, and all those on whom they laid their hands and bestowed miraculous spiritual gifts passed away, miracles ceased…all around the time Paul said that they would:  “when that which is perfect has come,” when God’s Word became complete.

So what is “the gift of the Holy Spirit” promised to all who repent and are baptized (Acts 2:38-39)?  The next article in this series will study the answer to that question.

Whatever You Ask In Prayer, Believe That You Have Received It, And It Will Be Yours…

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

Mark 11:24 – Scripture of the Day (January 22, 2014)

Whenever I read this passage of scripture, I’m reminded of a scene from Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it.  She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it.  But it warn’t so.  I tried it.  Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks.  It warn’t any good to me without hooks.  I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work.  By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool.  She never told me why, and I couldn’t make it out no way.

I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it.  I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork?  Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole?  Why can’t Miss Watson fat up?  No, says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it.  I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body to get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts.”  This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant – I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself.  This was including Miss Watson, as I took it.  I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn’t see no advantage about it – except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it anymore, but just let it go.

While humorous, the above excerpt does reveal a tidbit of truth about how many interpret today’s verse.  Many pray as if God were a genie in a bottle, ready and willing to grant them any and all wishes…and then they get discouraged and upset when it doesn’t turn out that way.  Let’s remember that as with all passages of the Bible, context is key when applying proper hermeneutics (interpretation) to any passage of scripture, including this one.  The entirety of God’s Word is truth (Ps. 119:160), and so not only immediate but the overall context must be considered.

In the immediate context of this passage, we read that during the previous day Jesus had said to a fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again,” upon seeing that there was nothing to eat on it (Mark 11:12-14).  The next morning, they saw the fig tree withered away and Peter pointed out to Jesus that the fig tree which he had cursed had withered.  Jesus replied, “Have faith in God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:20-24).

What Jesus had done to the fig tree was a miracle…a violation of the laws of science and nature which God had put into place at creation.  Scientifically, fig trees don’t wither away overnight based on the word of a man, just as the Red Sea doesn’t naturally part due to a man holding a stick over it and a man doesn’t scientifically come back from the dead three days after he had died on a cross.  What Christ had talked about his apostles doing (telling a mountain to be taken up and thrown into the sea without doubt in his heart and it coming to pass) was also miraculous in nature.  Thus, the statement in today’s verse about receiving whatever you ask in prayer if you believe that you have received it must also be taken to refer to the apostles being able to perform miracles.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, we read of spiritual gifts which were miraculous in nature being given to some of the early Christians (1 Cor. 12-14).  Paul lists these miraculous spiritual gifts, and includes “faith” in the list alongside of miraculous spiritual gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge (1 Cor. 12:4-11).  He later clarifies that faith as the same type of miraculous faith Jesus is talking about in the context of today’s passage:  the type of faith one would need to have in order to perform a miracle like removing a mountain (1 Cor. 13:2).

However, a few verses later he tells us that these miraculous spiritual gifts would “pass away” and “cease.”  This would happen “when that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).  “Perfect” in the Greek is referring to that which is mature or complete, and is used elsewhere to refer to the complete Word of God (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25), which of course wasn’t complete at the time Paul wrote to the Corinthians.  In fact, one of the reasons miracles occurred back then was to confirm the Word of God which was being preached by the apostles and prophets of the early church (Mark 16:17-18, 20; Heb. 2:1-4).  Once the Word of God was complete with the writing of Revelation, miracles would no longer need to happen in order to confirm it, and thus they would cease as Paul foretold.

Therefore, the miraculous faith one would need to receive anything one asked for in prayer does not occur today.  God does answer prayer today, but providentially rather than through miracles done by men as read about in the Bible.  He wants us to bring our cares to him through prayer (Phil. 4:6-7), and pray that he provides our spiritual and physical needs (Matt. 6:9ff) as well as for the needs of others (1 Tim. 2:1-2).

And as it was true then, it is also true today that we must pray with faith (James 1:5-7)…and we must also pray according to his will (1 John 5:14-15).  This latter caveat is something I believe old Huck Finn…and many of us today…don’t think about like we should.  What does God care about most?  Huck getting hooks for his fishing lines and us getting that brand new car…or the spiritual well-being of us all?  What are we asking God for the most in our prayers?  Are our requests truly in line with his will?  Daily study of his Word will show us what God really cares the most about.  As we grow spiritually, we will see our prayer life changing to fit more in line with his will also.

The Biblical Definition of Miracles

020Last month, how many of you heard a commercial on the radio or saw a Christmas movie on the television in which the Christmas season or Christmas itself was referred to as “a time of miracles”?  Usually, what is meant by statements like that is that Christmas is a very special time.  In like manner, many of us have visited new parents who are holding their precious gift from God that was just born and have heard the baby referred to as “a miracle.”  Again, what is usually meant is that babies are very special, and they are.

Unfortunately, using the term “miracle” in such a way, while seemingly harmless, is one of several ways in which misconceptions about miracles are founded in the denominational world of Christendom.  Many who profess to be Christians believe, as shown above, that a miracle happens to them whenever anything special takes place in their lives.  However, the miracles one reads about in the Bible are not defined in such ways.

Start at Genesis and continue on through the pages of Scripture to the New Testament, and you will read about miracles being done from time to time by some of God’s people.  You will also read of God himself performing miracles directly.  Yet, each and every one of the miracles described in the Bible are acts which violate the known laws of nature and science which God put into place when he created this world and universe.  Not one time is a biblical miracle defined or described as nothing more than an event which is special in a sentimental way, as is often the case today.

Moses parting the Red SeaConsider the miracles we read about in the Old Testament.   God giving Joseph the ability to accurate interpret people’s dreams and predict the future (Gen. 40-41).  God causing a bush to burn and yet not be consumed in front of Moses, and then giving Moses the ability to turn his staff into a serpent and instantaneously make his hand leprous by simply putting it inside his cloak (Ex. 3-4).  God giving Moses the ability to part the Red Sea simply by raising his staff out over the water (Ex. 14).  Bitter water made sweet by Moses simply by throwing a log in it (Ex. 15:22-25).  God raining bread from heaven and causing water to come from a rock simply by Moses striking it, and Israel defeating Amalek in battle only when Moses would have his hands raised (Ex. 16-17).  God causing the walls of Jericho to collapse simply by having Israel march around the city for a week and then shout and blow trumpets (Josh. 6).  God answering Joshua’s prayer to have the sun and moon stand still so that Israel could win the battle against the Amorites (Josh. 10).  Many more could be cited, but notice that they all have one thing in common.  They all violate the laws of science and nature.  That’s what makes these events miraculous in nature.

Jesus walking on waterWe see the same thing with the miracles we read of in the New Testament.  God causing a virgin to be pregnant with Jesus, itself a fulfillment of a prophecy made hundreds of years earlier (Matt. 1:18-21; cf. Is. 7:14).  Jesus instantaneously healing every disease and affliction among the people, including paralysis, epilepsy, those oppressed by demons, lepers, discharges of blood, blindness, the mute, those with withered hands, and even raising the dead (Matt. 4:23-24; 8:1-4, 28-34; 9:1-8, 18-34; 12:9-14).  Jesus giving his twelve apostles the ability to do the same (Matt. 10:1-4).  Jesus calming a terrible storm simply by speaking and walking on water after feeding thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matt. 8:23-27; 14:13-33).  God raising Christ from the dead on the third day after his death on the cross (Matt. 28:1-10; Rom. 1:4).  The Holy Spirit descending on the apostles on the day of Pentecost and giving them the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:1-21), as well as healing the lame (Acts 3:1-10), causing the instantaneous death of those who had lied to them and God (Acts 5:1-11), healing the sick by simply having their shadows fall on them (Acts 5:12-16), and healing paralytics and raising the dead (Acts 9:32-43).  Again, many more examples could be cited, but notice once more than all of these events violate the laws of science and nature.

As people who will have to give an account for every careless word we speak (Matt. 12:36-37), we are commanded to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) as oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).  Therefore, when we speak of miracles we need to speak of them the same way that God speaks of them in his Word…not as special, sentimental events which come about naturally like the birth of a child, but rather as signs and wonders done by God through men which violate the laws of nature.

Snake handling in churchesFurthermore, if we are to speak the truth about miracles done by God through men, we must also proclaim that they no longer takes place today.  There are several denominations whose adherents claim to perform miracles, but careful examination of what they do combined with comparisons made of biblical miracles shows their claims to be counterfeit.  The different types of miracles are listed by Paul in his letter to Corinth, in which he calls them “spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:1-11).  Two of those gifts were miraculous wisdom and miraculous knowledge (v. 8).  Knowledge (what one knows) and wisdom (the ability to use correctly that which one knows) are obtained naturally through education and experience; thus, miraculous knowledge and miraculous wisdom would come instantaneously, without having taken the time to grow in them via education and experience.  Paul also mentions faith as a spiritual gift (v. 9).  This is not the faith which comes naturally through the hearing of God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), but rather is the type of faith needed to do something miraculous like move a mountain (1 Cor. 13:2; Matt. 17:20).  Today, the only way anyone obtains wisdom and knowledge is through natural means, and many people who have strong faith in their ability to perform miracles have attempted to move mountains, only to no avail.

Falling unconsciousPaul then lists gifts of healing and the working of miracles as spiritual gifts (vs. 9-10).  Those who claim to miraculously heal the sick and perform other types of miracles today do so quite differently from how Jesus and the apostles miraculously healed people and worked miracles back in biblical times.  Today, those who claim to do miraculous things to other people usually ask them to “wait a while” before they “begin to feel the effects” of the miracle.  Usually the only “miracle” done instantaneously is causing someone to “lose consciousness” by touching them on the forehead.  (This writer once visited a charismatic church and saw someone fall to the ground in the aisle, apparently having miraculously lost consciousness; it was interesting to observe the “unconscious” person shifting on the hard floor trying to find a more comfortable position!)

Paul also listed prophecy and distinguishing between spirits as spiritual gifts (v. 10).  Prophecy is not only the miraculous foretelling of the future, but also literally means “to speak on behalf of someone else.”  Today, prophecy takes place naturally whenever we preach and teach nothing more than God’s Word (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 4:11); by doing so we are “speaking on behalf of” God.  Those who attempt to miraculously prophecy by predicting the future have always been proven to be false prophets when their prophecies fail to come to pass (Deut. 18:20-22).  The distinguishing between spirits refers to the miraculous power to automatically know what is in a person’s heart, a power Jesus had (John 2:24-25) and which was exercised by Peter in the incident with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).  Obviously, such a power doesn’t exist today.  How many times have we been sure about what a person has been thinking or planning, only to be proven wrong?

Speaking in babblings rather than tonguesPaul then listed tongues and the interpretation of tongues as spiritual gifts (v. 10).  These are perhaps the most misunderstood and erroneously defined miraculous spiritual gifts in the list.  Those who claim to miraculously speak in tongues today say they are doing so when they speak nothing more than gibberish.  They are not speaking Spanish, German, Mandarin, etc., but rather nonsense babblings and gobbledegook.  However, the miraculous speaking and interpreting of tongues in biblical times was nothing more than the ability to suddenly speak in an actual, societal language or interpret it, without having first studied and learned it naturally (Acts 2:6-8; 1 Cor. 14:10-13).  Having tasked the early Christians with the awesome task of preaching the gospel to all nations, the miraculous ability to speak these nations’ languages would be very expeditious to the fulfillment of that task.

In the middle of his discourse on these miraculous spiritual gifts, Paul acknowledged that not all in the church had these gifts and then mentioned how having these powers was meaningless without love (1 Cor. 12:27-13:7).  He then specifically stated that these miraculous spiritual gifts (citing prophecy, tongues, and knowledge) would “cease” and “pass away” when “that which is perfect has come” (1 Cor. 13:8-10).

God's Word:  "the perfect"Many modern proponents of miracles believe that “the perfect” of verse 10 is a reference to Jesus, which is understandable.  However, the Greek word (teleos) which is translated “perfect” literally means “complete” or “mature.”  This same word is used in the New Testament to refer to God’s Word (Rom. 12:2; James 1:25).  When Paul was writing 1 Corinthians, the New Testament was obviously not yet “complete” or “mature.”  That would change with the completion of Revelation not many years after Paul wrote to Corinth.  Therefore, Paul was stating in 1 Cor. 13:10 that when God’s Word was complete, the miraculous spiritual gifts would cease.  This makes sense when one remembers that miracles were performed by Christ and his apostles and prophets through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to confirm the Word of God which was being proclaimed by them (Mark 16:17-20; Heb. 2:1-4; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; cf. Matt. 12:28).  Once that Word became complete and mature, confirming it through the miraculous would no longer be needed.

Again, we are commanded to “speak the truth” (Eph. 4:15), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).  If we are to speak the truth about miracles, we must not only define them the same way the Bible defines them, but we must also acknowledge that they have already served their purpose in the plan of God and no longer take place today.