My wife and I recently attended a presentation by a missionary couple working in the Middle East whom we support financially. We were impressed with their obvious zeal for the Lord and their desire to work in a dangerous place where the Spirit of God is clearly moving. But as they shared their vision, it became increasingly evident that they were focused more on reports of local Muslims having visions of Jesus than calling people to repentance and faith through the preaching of the gospel. So we began a dialogue with them after the meeting to find out whether we we were on the same page theologically. It soon became apparent that we were not.
Our first question was, “Do the people who come to Christ acknowledge their need of a Savior and repent of their sins?” The answer was that some of the new believers have a better understanding of the gospel than others. However, they encouraged them all to seek a vision of Christ.
Our second question was, “How do they come to Christ?” The answer came in the form of an example of a person who heard a message from Jesus that said, “I love you.” This message came at the prompting of the missionary’s daughter who just happened to hear the very same message.
So we pressed the point that genuine conversion takes place as the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and applies it to a person’s heart by convicting them of sin and turning them to Jesus Christ. Our friend agreed and apologized that he had given us the impression that he was relying on dreams and visions rather than God’s Word.
We then shared our belief that dreams and visions and other signs and wonders were given by God as a means of authenticating His Word, and that the signs Jesus and the apostles performed were more than sufficient to establish the authenticity of the Bible. To continue to seek dreams and visions today shows a lack of faith in the Word of God as revealed in the Bible. That is why Jesus told the Pharisees that no sign will be given an evil and adulterous generation, “But he answered them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it (Mt 12:39). They are evil and adulterous because they refused to acknowledge the multitude of signs Jesus had been showing them on a daily basis, even attributing them to the power of Satan (Mt 9:34). Today we have the testimony of scripture to the many signs and wonders performed by Jesus. We don’t need a sign any more than the Pharisees did.
I then shared my experience with a group of charismatic friends who have been praying for a revival in the city of Rockford, IL, because God told a ‘prophet’ from Uganda who had come to spread revival in American that the revival would begin there. Our friend said he knows a pastor who has worked with this ‘prophet’ and that indeed crime rates in the city have begun to go down. I found that interesting since another member of the same group had just told me that crime figures there had recently gone up.
So I checked the statistics for myself and discovered that, in fact, Rockford is one of the most unsafe cities in America. Only five percent of cities are less safe. Ninety five percent are more safe.
Genuine Prophecies Have Passed Away
Since the first century there has not been a prophecy that has revealed any additional information about the redemptive plans of God than has already been revealed in the Bible. Paul said, “As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Cor 13:8-10). Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us that the perfect has already come, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Jesus told Philip that since he has seen Jesus, he has indeed seen the Father (John 14:9). There is no fuller revelation of the Father than the person, Jesus Christ. The Perfect has come.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin tells us that, “When God speaks at the last times He intimates that there is no longer any reason to expect any new revelation. For it was not a Word in part that Christ brought but the final conclusion.” What He is saying is that, “If you expect new revelation from God, you are saying that what Jesus brought was only a partial message, that there is something lacking in the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the message Jesus commanded His Apostles to teach all nations had holes that now need to be filled up” (http://bit.ly/2a6kXYr).
The Lifestyle of a Prophet
Those who call themselves prophets today are mostly well-to-do. They live in nice homes and drive expensive cars thanks to the gifts of their devoted followers. But that is not the lifestyle of a true prophet. According to the Bible, prophets, “… suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:33-38). Stephen asked the Jews, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:52).
The life of a prophet was not like the life of one of the rich and famous like Jimmy Swaggart or Benny Hinn, or Jim and Tammy Baker. They were outcasts and social misfits. The same goes for the Apostles. Some charismatic churches like to call their leaders “Apostles” but there were only twelve of them and they are long gone. According to the Apostle Paul, one had to be a Jew to be an Apostle (2 Cor 11:1-12:10) and to have personally seen Jesus Christ (1 Cor 9:1-2). That would disqualify all of the modern apostles. Then he had to suffer great hardships in order to keep him from becoming proud for the great privilege that had been bestowed upon him, and none of the modern day “Apostles” have suffered anything that compares with the ‘qualifications’ that Paul describes in 2 Cor 11:21-29.
A true prophet’s word never fails. His predictions always come true. There is not a single example in scripture of a prophet who ever got it wrong. In fact, if a man prophesied and his words proved false, the people were commanded to kill him (Deut 18:20). Today if a prophet makes a mistake, he just modifies his interpretation of what he supposedly saw or heard to fit the outcome.
Finally, there is absolutely no doubt when a prophet hears the very words of God through the Holy Spirit. The word he receives is not an impression or a dream or a feeling. Paul describes it this way, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (2 Cor 11:2-4). Some of those things included teachings that were unique to Paul like the rapture. Samuel and Moses heard a still, small voice. God also spoke to Moses out of a whirlwind, burning bush, flaming mountain, and face-to-face. We are told God spoke audibly to others. But none received an impression or a feeling that could not be substantiated either by onlookers or those who witnessed the actual fulfillment of the prophecy.
Why Seek a Sign?
Why do people seek signs? Because the Word of God is just not enough for them. They don’t want to do the hard work of mining the scripture in order to discern the whole counsel of God and to know Christ in all His fullness. They only want to hear what they need to know now. John Calvin says that those who pursue signs inevitably end up devaluing the Word of God and becoming “foolish, ridiculous, vain, false, and …silly.” (http://bit.ly/2a6kXYr).
If you have ever been to a charismatic meeting or seen one on TV you know this is true. People get, ‘slain in the Spirit’ and fall to the ground (with a little push from the evangelist). They get ‘healed,’ but end up walking on deformed legs. They take Jewish horns called ‘shofars’ and blow them loudly to wake up angels and drive the demons away.
I have been in charismatic meetings where people just lie on the floor and moan as soon as the meeting starts. Instead of seeking the joy of knowing the Lord through the study of scripture they seek a counterfeit ecstasy that comes from another source and is a fleeting experience rather than an ever-present reality. 2 Peter 1 says of those who practice this kind of deception, “But false prophets also arose among the people … And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”
Signs Do Not Indicate Faith
Thomas insisted he would not believe Christ had risen from the dead unless he saw the nail prints in his hands and the sword wound in his side. When Jesus appeared to him and showed him these signs, Thomas acknowledged him as “My Lord and My God.” Jesus’ response was, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:28-29).
Those who seek signs will not necessarily believe as Thomas did. Those who believe without seeing a sign are more blessed. God told the rich man in hell that even though one were to rise from the dead, those who received him would not believe. Jesus refused to commit himself to those who were convinced of his claim to deity by the miracles he performed. He “would not entrust himself to them” on one occasion and withdrew from them on another because they sought to overthrow Rome and make him king. (Jn 2, 6).
Paul said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-25).
The Sufficiency of God’s Word
John Calvin said that since the Apostolic era there has been only one stream of revelation and that is the preaching of the Word of God. When you add a second stream of revelation like signs, wonders, and prophecies, you water down the Word of God and weaken the pulpit. And this is very evident in the ministry of our charismatic friends. They like to talk a lot about power and miraculous answers to prayer but speak less of the power of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and produce true faith through repentance. They supplant the true ministry of the Holy Spirit with a false sensationalism based on ecstatic experiences.
As the Apostle Peter says, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:19-21).
The role of the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the ministry of the Word of God. It casts light upon it, amplifies it, and applies it to the heart. Here is how John MacArthur describes the true ministry of the Holy Spirit as it is presented in scripture:
“How did the Holy Spirit work in Christ? Did He knock Him down? Did He make Him look drunk? Did He cause Him to fall, or flop, or roll, or laugh hysterically, or bark, or babble, or talk gibberish? It’s a bizarre thing to think about anything like that. And people who make people do that are not Spirit-filled. That’s not what the Holy Spirit does” (http://bit.ly/29XflP5). He goes on to say that the Holy Spirit works in us the same way he did in Jesus. We grow in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man (Lk 1). We are anointed by the Holy Spirit (Mk 1). We are sustained by the Spirit during temptation and empowered by the Spirit for ministry (Lk 4). We are filled by the Holy Spirit to walk in perfect obedience (Heb 9:14).
The Holy Spirit conforms us to Christ. So, he does for us what he did for Christ. The Bible says he comforts us, confirms our adoption, guarantees our inheritance, intercedes for us in our weakness, secures our salvation, grants us wisdom to understand God’s word, and fills us with joy.
The Danger of Deception
Jesus warns his hearers that, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Mt 7:21-23) A hard as it may seem to believe, there will be people refused entrance to Heaven who for all appearances not only believed in Jesus Christ, but performed miracles in his name. But evidently they did not obey Jesus Christ because he calls them “Workers of lawlessness.” The true sign of salvation is obedience to Jesus Christ.