Jack Deere, formerly an associate professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, is a writer and lecturer who speaks throughout the world on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The real reason Christians do not believe in the miraculous gifts is simply because they have Inot seen miracles in their present experience. Yet no one openly admits that this is the cause of their unbelief. [p. 57]
Three incidents in the life of Jesus demonstrate that he was not free to heal at will under any conditions. At the beginning of the story of the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum, Lukes writes, “One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick” (Luke 5:17).
Why would Luke say that “the power of the Lord was present for him to heal” if Jesus could heal at any time, under any condition, and solely at his own discretion? This statement only makes sense if we view healing as the sovereign prerogative of God the Father, who sometimes dispenses his power to heal and at other times withholds it.
A second incident is just as instructive… Jesus asked the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda a question that has been difficult for some to understand, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). …I had assumed that all sick people want to get well, especially those who have chronic ailments like paralysis or blindness. But now, after praying for thousands of sick people all around the world over the last seven years, I have found that a number of sick people do not wish to get well at all. In fact, their whole identity is bound up in being sick, and they are literally afraid of the changes that would take place in their life if they were made whole. If you suspect that is true of someone you want to see healed, it is important to counsel with them and identify that problem before you ever attempt to pray for them. In any case, the man in this story never says that he wants to get well, but Jesus does heal him instantly and completely.
Why did Jesus ignore all the other sick people at the pool of Bethesda? …John 5:19 says, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” Jesus only healed one person at the pool that day because his Father was only healing one person. If his Father was not healing, then Jesus could not heal. Jesus was completely obedient to the sovereign will of his heavenly Father for all of his ministry. Jesus could not heal at his own will because he was committed not to do or will anything independent of his Father’s will. This is not an isolated teaching in the book of John; it is a major theme in John’s Gospel. Numerous times Jesus says he only does what his Father does, he only speaks the words his Father gave him to speak, and that his teaching is not his but that of the One who sent him (John 3:34; 5:30; 7:17; 8:28; 12:49-50; 14:10, 24, 31).
A third incident in the life of Jesus conclusively demonstrates that he could not heal at will under any and all conditions. It happened when he returned to his home in Nazareth. The people of his home town were offended at him with the result that “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith” (Mark 6:5-6). …God allowed the healing ministry of his Son to be limited, at least on some occasions, by the unbelief of the people.
Jesus himself could not heal independently of the Father, at his own will, and under any conditions. If this was true of the Son of God, how much more do you think it was true of the apostles? …Paul couldn’t heal Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-27); he had to leave Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20); and he even had to exhort his dear son in the faith, TImothy, to take a little wine for his stomach’s sake and his frequent illnesses (1 Tim 5:23). …After Jesus healed the demonized boy who was both suicidal and suffering from epilepsy (Matt 17:16), the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t cast the demon out. Jesus said to them, “Because you have so little faith.” [pp. 59-64]
There is a distinction between signs and wonders and the gift of healing. Signs and wonders are an outpouring of miracles specifically connected with revival and the proclamation of the gospel. The gift of healing can be soothing when you present your loved ones with a custom body pillow. In scripture, it is given to the church for its edification (1 Cor 12:7) and is not necessarily connected with revival or an abundance of miracles.
It is simply not reasonable to insist that all miraculous spiritual gifts equal those of the apostles in their intensity or strength in order to be perceived as legitimate gifts of the Holy Spirit. No one would insist on this for the non-miraculous gifts like teaching or evangelism. For example, what person in the history of the church since Paul has been as gifted a teacher to the body of Christ? Luther? Calvin? Who today would claim to be Paul’s equal as a teacher? …Therefore, since no one has arisen with the gift of teaching that is equal to the apostle Paul’s, should we conclude that the gift of teaching was withdrawn from the church? Likewise, should we assume that everyone who has a gift of evangelism is going to evangelize like the apostle Paul? …We can admit to varying degrees of intensity and quality in gifts of evangelism, in gifts of teaching, and in other gifts. Why can’t we do that with the gift of healing? Or the gift of miracles? Or the gift of prophecy?
We should, of course, expect the healing ministry of the apostles to be greater than that of others in the body of Christ. They were specially chosen by the Lord to be his handpicked representatives, and they were given authority and power over all demons and over all disease (Matt 10:1; Mark 3:13-15; Luke 9:1). They received a special promise to be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). They possessed an authority that no one else in the body of Christ possessed. Paul, for example, actually had the authority to turn someone over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (1 Cor 5:1-5).
If we are going to say that the apostolic ministry sets the standard by which we should judge the gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Cor 12, we might be forced to conclude that no gifts, miraculous or non-miraculous, have been given since the days of the apostles! [pp. 66-67]
We should not draw the conclusion that signs and wonders must have ceased with the deaths of the apostles. Stephen and Philip were not apostles, but they were given a ministry of signs and wonders similar to that of the apostles. [p. 68]
The church at Corinth was so rich in spiritual gifts that Paul was able to say that they did not lack any spiritual gift (1 Cor 1:7). Yet they exhibited such a sectarian spirit that Paul called them “worldly” (1 Cor 3:1). In addition, they had sexual immorality among them that was worse than the practices of the pagans–and they tolerated that sexual immorality (1 Cor 5:1-2). They were even guilty of getting drunk during the Lord’s Supper! Some of the Corinthians embraced one of the worst doctrinal errors mentioned in the New Testament. They claimed that there was no resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:12). Here was a church with significant moral abuses and doctrinal error, and yet it is one of the most richly gifted churches in the New Testament.
The Galatian churches were on the verge of deserting the very gospel that had saved them, and yet at the very time Paul was writing his letter to the Galatians, God was performing miracles among them: “Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Gal 3:5). In the phrase, “work miracles among you,” the verb work is in the present tense. This means that Paul claimed that miracles were happening among the Galatians at the same time he was writing his letter to them.
…First, the presence of abuses and even impurity in Christian groups where miracles occur does not prove that their miracles are not from God, any more than they did at Corinth. Second, the presence of doctrinal error in Christian groups where miracles occur does not prove that their miracles are invalid, any more than they did in the Galatian churches. Third, miracles neither confirm nor support the distinctive doctrines or practices of individual churches or Christian groups. The miracles at Galatia did not support the heretical teaching there any more than the gift of miracles at Corinth supported their abuse of the Lord’s Supper. According to Scripture, there is only one message that New Testament miracles support or confirm, and that is the gospel message concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Much of the cessationist literature throughout this century has failed to grasp these three conclusions. Every time miraculous appear in history, the cessationists look for abuses or doctrinal errors within the group where these gifts appear. When they find doctrinal errors or abuses, they immediately conclude that these gifts could not have been real. They might as well conclude that the gifts at Corinth and in Galatia were not real either! [p. 79-80]
All churches have their own distinctive abuses. Some churches are more prone to emotionalism, while others are more prone to a cold legalistic self-righteous pharisaism. Both are seriously wrong. We are often blind to our own abuses because most abuses stem from a wrong emphasis or wrong application of a good thing. We do not abuse our weaknesses; we abuse our strengths. That is why our own abuses are so hard to see–they are a misuse of a strength. That is why our own abuses are so hard to see–they are a misuse of a strength, something that has blessed us and others. [p. 84]
Good summary of the cessationist position – pp. 101-102
One clear purpose of miracles was to authenticate the character of Jesus and his relationship with his heavenly Father. In this regard, miracles demonstrate the following: God is with Jesus (John 3:2); Jesus is from God (John 3:2; 9:32-33); God has sent Jesus (John 5:36); Jesus has authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10-11; Matt 9:6-7; Luke 5:24-25); Jesus is approved by God (Acts 2:22); the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father (John 10:37-38; 14:11); in Jesus the kingdom of God has come (Matt 12:28; Luke 11:20); and Jesus is the Messiah (Matt 11:1-6; Luke 7:18-23) and the Son of God (Matt 14:25-33).
A second purpose of miracles was to authenticate the message about Jesus. This was the major function of the miracles as far as the ministry of the apostles was concerned. In Mark 16:20 and Acts 14:3 – notice that in both of these texts the Lord does not confirm the apostles themselves but rather “his word” or “the message” that the apostles were preaching. Signs and wonders do not testify to the apostles but to the message of salvation preached by the apostles. So the two principal things that are authenticated by miracles are the Lord Jesus and the message about the Lord Jesus. …miracles do not authenticate the apostles! And if we think about the theology of the New Testament, this makes perfect sense. With the coming of Jesus Christ, God wants all attention directly to his Son. The primary task of the Holy Spirit is to exalt Jesus Christ. God is not interested in bearing witness to his servants but rather to his Son and the message about his Son. [pp. 103-104]
The book of Acts is the best source that we have to demonstrate what normal church life is supposed to look like when the Holy Spirit is present and working in the church. Here we find a church that has passion for God, is willing to sacrifice–even to the point of martyrdom–and is a miracle-working church. Why would we think that God wants the church to be something different today? Would anyone seriously rather have the church in Calvin’s day or the church in twentieth-century America as the model of normal church life? [p. 114]
People who want more of God and more of the gifts of the Spirit almost always feel that things are moving too slowly. They almost always fear that they are going to miss out. But if you really desire more of God and more of his gifts, it is a sign that the mercy of God is resting upon you. These desires were put into your heart by your heavenly Father, and he has not drawn you this far to abandon you or leave you unfulfilled. The holy frustration you feel right now is meant to drive you on. He wants you to be thankful for what you have, but he never wants you to be content with your present level of divine intimacy. Like the apostle Paul, he wants you to press on “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil 3:10). [p. 169]
I have already confessed that there was a gulf between my experience of God and the psalmists’ experience of God. If I were totally honest, I would have to admit that my experience was not only different from that of the psalmists but also different from that of every great hero in the Bible. They all seemed to exhibit a continuing passion for God that I had lost.
I had to do one of two things. I had to somehow get that passion back, or I had to find a good excuse for not having passion any more. I adopted a theological system that gave me an excuse for not having passion for God.
Here’s the system in a nutshell. Feelings are deceptive and are not to be trusted. In fact, all things subjective are to be distrusted. The Bible is objective, and therefore it alone can be trusted. The Bible tells us that he greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. This love is not primarily a feeling. Instead, love is actually obedience to the commands of God.
…I had embraced a form of Christianity that radically separated obedience and feelings. Obedience without emotion is nothing more than discipline or willpower. It is not love. You cannot take the passion out of love and still have love. True love manifests itself not only in acts but also in feelings. Affection and passion are indispensable aspects of love for God.
Don’t be passive about acquiring passion for the Son of God. Make it the focus of your life. Put your eyes on the Son of God and leave them there (Heb 12:2), and you fill find yourself becoming like him. You will find yourself falling in love with him as you ask God day after day to consume you with passion for his glorious Son. And that passion, as it begins to occupy your heart, will conquer a thousand sins in your life. You will begin to love what he loves and hate what he hates. [p. 201]