Beloved, Do Not Believe Every Spirit: On Signs, Wonders + Spiritual Gifts

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
— 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

To be sure, no doctrinal debate has most wrecked my brain than the debate on the cessation versus continuation of miraculous spiritual gifts (ie; prophecy, tongues, healing). I mean, I guess IF the Lord has willed for the cessation of miraculous gifts, so be it. After all, Scripture says that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to each Believer as He wills (1 Corinthians 12:11). Thus, it is possible that He no longer wills to distribute to any Believer the gift of healing, for example. Nevertheless, after I've researched this topic for my own edification, I haven't found anything in Scripture which specifically speaks to the cessation of any of the spiritual gifts at any time before Christ returns (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). And despite the case for cessationism put forth by men I highly regard in the Body of Christ, I’m not personally comfortable with making that proclamation or emphatically holding to it as a matter of doctrine. (May all reformed proponents of cessationism forgive me. Thankfully, this isn't a salvific issue, thus I trust they will continue to receive me as a sister in the Lord.)  

But here's what I am comfortable with proclaiming on the matter of spiritual gifts: 1)  We must test EVERY spirit. 2) An evil and perverse generation seeks after a sign and 3) Jesus Christ is our ultimate gift, thus we must instead seek after and cling tightly to Him.

Beloved, Do Not Believe Every Spirit

(Image:  2 Photo Pot s)

(Image: 2 Photo Pots)

Again, as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, the Holy Spirit gifts Believers and works through us in diverse ways as He wills. Yet, we also know that He does so in a manner consistent with the truth of God. For “[t]here are diversities of gifts, but the SAME SPIRIT. There are differences of ministries, but the SAME LORD.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the SAME GOD who works all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-5, my emphasis). The Holy Spirit only speaks what He hears (John 16:13), the Holy Spirit authored the infallible Word of God (1 Timothy 3:16-17), and the Word of God is truth (John 17:17), so there is absolutely NO chance of deviation there. Therefore, it is clear that anyone claiming to speak or work in the name and power of the Lord also will NOT contradict what the Lord has already said. 

Yet, there are certain men (and women) who have crept in to seduce the gullible, the lost, and the undiscerning with not only false doctrine, but false signs. From the Word of Faith Movement to the New Apostolic Reformation, we are seeing in our day the evil and perverse generation which seeks after a sign - rather seek after the Lord, Himself (more on this later). And it is my sincere belief that such individuals are right on cue to be ensnared by the Antichrist, who is coming in the power of Satan to work lying signs and wonders that will deceive the whole world, even the elect, IF it were possible (2 Thessalonians 2:9; Matthew 24:24). After all, if we can recall from Moses’ stand off with Pharaoh, the Egyptian magicians were able to mimic every sign and miracle God empowered Moses to work (Exodus 7-8). So, if we don’t know God, it would indeed be challenging to know which  power is truly at work and thus we’d be easily deceived.

With that said, however, those of us in Christ know that the Spirit works for the glory of God and for the sanctification and edification of His people, in accordance with the Scriptures (John 16:13-15). Therefore, we are warned not to quench the Spirit. We are exhorted not to despise prophecies. The Holy Spirit is our HELPER. This means we aren't to automatically and categorically dismiss all claimed expressions of His work. Instead, we are simply admonished to ensure that it is indeed Him at work. For this reason, we are asked to “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22). 

A Wicked and Adulterous Generation Seeks after a Sign

(Image:  Austin Chan )

(Image: Austin Chan)

Initially, one might assume the “evil” of which Paul is speaking is merely immoral behavior. But upon further review, it becomes evident that “evil” is anything and every way which counters and takes us away from the knowledge of our Lord - the One, True God. 

Moreover, when Jesus speaks of the evil and adulterous generation which seeks after a sign, He's speaking of a generation that's not only deficit of scruples but they are hard-hearted toward grasping Him and His truth. They seek after a sign not to believe, but to justify their unbelief. An example of this at work is when the Pharisees dared demand a sign from Jesus only to attribute His miracles to demonic activity (Luke 11:14-23).  

Then the LORD said to Moses: “How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?
— Numbers 14:11

As we know, God abhors idolatry and repeatedly warns His children to avoid it. Yet, in our fallen state, we always tend to fall into it in some way even after God has shown us who He is. Though God worked miraculous signs and wonders to free Israel from Egyptian bondage, they still played the harlot with idols in the wilderness (Exodus 32)!  Even after God showed Himself strong to Gideon and used him mightily, Gideon and the people were still ensnared by idolatry with the ephod in Ophrah (Judges 8:22-35). Even as Solomon received from God supernatural wisdom and great wealth, he fell into idolatry to please his multiple wives/concubines who didn't know the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-13). 

The point is, despite signs and miracles the Lord worked in the lives of these individuals and for the whole of Israel, they were still capable of falling into mixed worship (sin), so how much more will the unbeliever remain faithless even in the presence of miracles? As was told to the rich man who asked that the poor man Lazarus be raised and sent to his relatives that that they might have faith in God and escape hell, “‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” (Luke‬ ‭16:31‬ ).

Beloved...Contend for the Faith

(Image:  Sean Mungur )

(Image: Sean Mungur)

This is why every Believer is charged to contend for the faith by rooting up and tearing down everything which rises up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). This directive makes perfect sense once one considers how much the Lord ABHORS idolatry. No man, nor man-made god of wood or metal shall have His glory, no matter how convincing their “powers”.  “For all gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens (Psalm 96:5).

Again, the Egyptian magicians, empowered by Satan, copied every sign and miracle that Moses performed by the power of God. So, how might one discern the spirit actually at work? 

By the truth of God. By your knowledge of who He is, according to the Scriptures!

As Moses told the Children of Israel:  

 “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4, emphasis mine). 

The trial to come upon the whole world isn't merely about Christian persecution and the increasing of lawlessness. This trial is also a test of faith - who shall be found to be true? The overcomers won't overcome because we had the gift to heal the sick. We will overcome by the blood of the lamb (the grace) and the Word of His testimony (knowledge of Christ). We won't be deceived by any false doctrines or false works because the Holy Spirit will bring to our remembrance the truth, which is the nuance that separates the mere professing Christian from the true disciple of Jesus Christ. 

For it has been the Lord's will throughout the generations that all seek Him and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). And, as evidenced by the following quotes from our Lord, to seek Him was never about seeking after signs and wonders, but simply following the guidance of His abiding in His Word:

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:36)

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)

“And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5)

“If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

I said all of this to say...

(Image:  Jason Betz )

(Image: Jason Betz)

Indeed, Jesus’ earthly ministry commenced with a miraculous sign and He performed many more miracles for the next 3.5 years (John 2:11; 20:31). He also said that those who believe in Him would do greater works than He (John 14:12). Yet He also made it a point to condemn seeking after signs and wonders. Why? Well, it wasn’t because signs and wonders in themselves are evil or even because they would necessarily cease in our generation. It was because wicked men fail to place signs and spiritual gifts in their proper place and, being wicked, would also fail to see the spiritual gifts as a means to an end - which is to know Christ and to build His Chris - rather than an end in themselves. 

because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice,
— Numbers 14:22

The purpose of signs and wonders have always been for authenticating the Gospel, that one might believe He is the Son of God (John 20:31). And the purpose of our spiritual gifts is to edify the Church (1 Corinthians 14:12). 

With that said, I can fully understand the cynicism cessationists hold in response to claims of miraculous signs and gifts. Yet, also, I personally find the cessationist view a hyper response to the gross misrepresentations and abuses of the gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing. As such, my support of cynicism and even any opposition a cessationist has against claims of miraculous signs and wonders wouldn’t be because I emphatically and automatically believe those gifts have ceased. It would be because such gifts are often misrepresented and abused, and any opposition I’d have would be because those claiming to bear them do so while also preaching a different Jesus, by a different spirit, via a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4).

As I said in the introduction, I have many brothers and sisters in the Lord, whom I fully respect and believe to be sincere Believers, who hold to the cessationist view.   Yet, I have never found a solid case via the Scriptures to support this claim. So while I also don’t consider myself a continuationist to the extent that I believe God “still speaks” in a way that adds to the Scriptures, I do believe it quenches the Spirit and is quite presumptuous to boldly claim that God can’t, doesn’t, or won’t still use miraculous gifts to authenticate the Gospel and edify His Church in Christ. So, I sit at peace in the middle of both positions, open to the move of the Holy Spirit but willing to test all things to determine if it is, indeed, the Spirit at work. Put another way, I have just enough cynicism to heed John’s admonishment to not believe every spirit, but just enough faith to test all things that I can discern which are from God. (I guess you could call me a “Testastionist”.)

But no matter what view one holds, I’d pray each is at least willing to test all things as well, just as the Scriptures command. For “[little] children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). And the Antichrist comes “according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
— 1 John 4:1-3