Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Importance of Ministering to People Afflicted by Demons – Part 2, Other Considerations

In part 1 of this article we saw that the Bible suggests, strongly at times, that ministry to people afflicted by demons is something that should be ongoing today. 

In this second part I will move on to consider some other relevant aspects of this topic.  Although the Bible will not be as directly in focus as it was in part 1, it will still feature prominently in the following discussion.


The first important point to make is that there are many people today who have demonic problems.

Of course, some who claim to be Christians deny the existence of Satan and evil spirits.  In this article, however, I don’t intend to argue that these creatures exist.  I am writing for those who already accept that they do.

More importantly for the purposes of this article, there are some Christians who claim that today people only very rarely suffer from demonic afflictions.  These Christians rightly agree that Satan and evil spirits exist.  And they rightly agree too that in the first century many people had demonic problems.  But they say that today things are different.

Those who take this view are completely mistaken, for the following reasons:

The amount of demonic affliction in the first century

To begin with, in the light of the amount of demonic affliction that there clearly was in the first century, it would be very surprising if demons didn’t afflict people frequently today.  Why would we expect things to be any different now?  After all, Satan is still the god of this age in which we live (2 Corinthians 4:4). 

Of course, in the last 2000 years the good news of the Christian message has spread to more and more people.  But this has hardly meant that the evil in our world has reduced in any real way.  We just need to read the news to hear of all sorts of terrible evils that go on everywhere.  The idea that the world is gradually becoming a morally better place is just a myth.  And we would therefore not expect demonic activity to be any less now than it was in the first century.


We should also listen carefully to Christians who claim to have experience of freeing people from demons.  They can often be heard saying that many of those who are diagnosed with psychological illnesses are in fact suffering from demonic problems.  And they say that physical ailments also often have a demonic root. 

Nothing about these claims looks implausible.  Just because non-Christians diagnose an illness in a certain way doesn’t mean that they have to be right.  We must remember that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10).  So if people’s starting point is wrong, it is likely that they will often reach wrong conclusions about things too. 

Modern Western intellectuals, including those in the medical profession, are typically non-Christians who don’t believe in the existence of demons.  It should therefore be easy for us to understand how doctors could misdiagnose demonic affliction as something else.

Demons speaking through people

In the Gospels and Acts we find examples of evil spirits speaking audibly through people.  See, e.g., Mark 1:24; 5:7-12; Acts 16:17; 19:15.  I think one reason why some Christians doubt that demonic afflictions are common today is because they don’t hear of examples of this happening. 

Again, we should listen to those who claim to have experience of freeing people from demons:

(1) They say that evil spirits do at times speak through people today. 

Sadly, ministry to people afflicted by evil spirits is so lacking in so much of the church today that many Christians never hear anything about it.  It is a fact, however, that there are reports of demons speaking through people in our day.

(2) Those who claim experience in this area also tell us that when a demon is expelled from a person, this is often the only time that it ever speaks through the person hosting it. 

(3) They tell us too that often a demon never speaks through the person it is inhabiting, even at the time it is expelled.

(4) They also tell us that in a majority of demonic afflictions, it is inappropriate to think of the demon as living inside the person in question.  Usually demonic afflictions are less serious than that, more of a demonic grip on a person than a living inside.  And in such cases, it makes sense to think that the demon would never speak through the person affected.

It is worth noting too that at times Scripture itself quite strongly implies that a demonised person never had a demon speak through them.

For example, in Matthew 9:32-33 we are told: 
32 As they were going out, a mute, demonised man was brought to [Jesus].  33 And when the demon had been expelled, the mute man spoke . . .’ 
Note here that the man’s problem was specifically inability to speak.  It therefore seems very unlikely that the demon spoke through this man before Jesus met him. 

Note too how the text says that the man spoke when the demon had been expelled.  This also suggests that the demon never spoke through him. 

Given this passage (and others), and given the claims of Christians who say they have experience in this ministry, then, it seems entirely plausible that many people today could have demonic afflictions without a demon ever speaking through them.  And, as I have noted, there are reports of demons speaking through people anyway.

Summing up

There seems to be no good reason, therefore, for thinking that people today only rarely suffer from demonic afflictions.  And in the absence of such a reason, it makes sense to think that today things are much the same as they were in the first century.  Today, as then, many people are afflicted by demons.


There are some Christians who agree that many people today have demonic problems, but who claim that the way to set people free is simply to pray for them.  They say that no special ministry of expelling demons or such like is needed.

I do think it is true that sometimes prayer alone frees people from evil spirits.  Nevertheless, there are a couple of points to make here:

First century ministry typically involved more than just prayer

To begin with, the Bible makes it clear that in the first century people were typically freed from evil spirits through actual ministry to them.  This ministry often involved prayer but it was rarely, if ever, confined to prayer. 

We know that when Jesus was on earth, He and His followers performed this kind of ministry.  See, e.g., Matthew 8:16; 10:1, 8; Mark 1:23-27; 6:7, 13; Luke 9:1, 6; 10:17

And we know too that when the early church ministered to people with demonic problems, they did more than just pray.  See Acts 5:12-16; 8:6-7; 19:11-12, and the verse we know as Mark 16:17. 

So why would we expect things to be any different today?  There seems to be no good reason.

The Bible suggests ministry today

Second, I refer the reader to part 1 of this article, where I discuss several biblical passages which suggest that ministry to people with demons should be ongoing today.

Summing up

The idea, then, that the way to free people from demons today is just to pray for them fits very poorly with Scripture.


There are some Christians who agree that many people today suffer from demonic problems, but who argue in this way:

To get free of a demonic problem in our day, all someone needs to do is become a Christian.  Demons will leave automatically when a person is saved.  And there is therefore no need for ministry to people afflicted by them.

This is a very weak argument, for several reasons:

Biblical teaching and examples

To begin with, the points I made above are also relevant here:

(1) We know that in the first century Jesus and Christians ministered to people with demons.  And there is no good reason for thinking that things should be any different today.

(2) The Bible suggests, strongly at times, that ministry to people afflicted by demons should be ongoing today. 

Both these points count strongly against the idea that no ministry to people with demons is needed today.

The Bible’s silence on demons leaving at conversion

Next, there is no suggestion anywhere in the Bible that demons leave people at the moment they become Christians.

I do admit that I have heard reports of this happening.  However, even if it is true that this does sometimes happen, it is still the case that the Bible never refers to it.  So we would hardly expect this to be a common thing.

Christians with demonic problems

Finally, those who claim to have experience of freeing people from demons widely agree that Christians can have demonic problems. 

There are some who rule out the idea that a Christian could have a problem of this sort.  They point out that the Holy Spirit lives inside Christians.  And they argue that the Spirit couldn’t and wouldn’t share His residence with a demon. 

This argument, however, is too simplistic, for two reasons:

(1) We need to take account of the metaphorical language here.

When we talk about the Spirit living in a Christian, we need to understand that this is a metaphor as far as the human soul is concerned.  Our souls are not spatial entities, i.e., they don’t literally occupy a space with physical dimensions.  So it is not as if the Spirit literally lives inside and fills them.  Instead, the idea is that the Spirit enlivens our souls in an important way and acts in very close relationship to them. 

Similarly, talk of demons living inside people is also metaphorical as far as the human soul is concerned.  And, as I have already noted, in a majority of demonic afflictions it is inappropriate to refer to demons living inside people anyway.  Usually demonic problems are less serious than that.

When we recognise that neither the Spirit nor demons literally live inside people, it becomes much easier to understand how a Christian could have a demonic problem.

(2) We must bear in mind that the Spirit (metaphorically) lives inside us despite the fact that we are not yet free of sin.  Although all true Christians are justified and upright in God’s sight, we remain sinners.  So the Spirit lives in sinners.  And sin, of course, is an extremely bad and serious thing.

But if the Spirit can live in sinners, it is not all that surprising if He could live in people with demonic problems too.  It is true that the Spirit and demons are totally incompatible.  Yet the Spirit and sin are also totally incompatible.  So if the Spirit can live in a sinner, as we know He can, it doesn’t seem implausible that He could live in someone with a demonic problem.

For two reasons, then, the idea that the Spirit couldn’t live in someone with a demonic affliction is too simplistic.

Something that causes misunderstanding here is Bible translation of the Greek verb daimonizomai, found 14 times in the New Testament (e.g., in Matthew 4:24; 8:16; Mark 1:32; 5:15; Luke 8:36).  In English versions the passive participle of this verb is usually translated ‘demon-possessed’. 

This is actually a very poor translation.  Importantly, there is no part of the word daimonizomai that signifies possession. 

Daimonizomai is related to two nouns, daimon and daimonion, both of which are used in the New Testament to mean ‘demon’.  Daimonizomai certainly implies some sort of harmful action by a demon.  But there is nothing in the word itself which tells us exactly what this action is.  By itself daimonizomai doesn’t imply that the action involves actual possession by a demon.

Those who translate the passive participle of daimonizomai as ‘demon-possessed’ think that when this word is used in the New Testament of a person affected by a demon, the action involves possession. 

However, the New Testament never teaches that anyone who is troubled by a demon is possessed by that demon.  And I believe that daimonizomai should be interpreted accordingly.  I would hold that all actions by demons on people in the New Testament always fall short of actual possession, even when a demon speaks through a person at the time it is expelled.

When translating daimonizomai into English, I prefer to use the simple term ‘demonise’ (‘demonize’ in American English).  And I translate the passive participle as ‘demonised’.  This avoids saying what kind of action the demon performs, just as daimonizomai itself avoids doing this. 

The reason this is important is that if a Christian thinks that having a demonic problem involves actually being possessed by a demon, they will say that it is impossible for a Christian to have such a problem.  And it is surely correct that no Christian could be possessed by a demon.

However, if we say that a Christian can be demonised in a way that is far less serious than being possessed, it is much easier to understand how a Christian could have a demonic problem.

All things considered, then, there seems to be no convincing reason for thinking that Christians cannot have demonic problems.  So when those who claim to have experience in this area say that Christians can suffer from demonic afflictions, we should pay attention to what they say.

If Christians can have demonic problems, as I am sure they can, this counts as evidence that demons don’t disappear automatically when people are converted.

Summing up

In the light of the above points, we should have no hesitation in rejecting the idea that there is no need for ministry to demonised people because demons will always leave automatically when people become Christians.  There is a need for this ministry, and demons, at least usually, don’t automatically disappear when people are saved.


That concludes our discussion of this topic, and we have found the following:

(1) The Bible suggests, strongly at times, that ministry to people afflicted by demons is something that should be ongoing today.  

(2) It makes perfect sense to think that many people today have demonic problems.

(3) We shouldn’t expect demons to disappear simply by praying for people.

(4) The idea that we should expect demons to automatically leave people when they become Christians is a mistake.

When all these points are taken into account, we should have no hesitation in saying that there is very much a place for ministry to people afflicted by demons today.

It is not my intention here to say exactly how Christians should get into this ministry, especially as I have little experience of it myself.  My goal has simply been to try to show that this is something that many Christians should be involved in at the present time.  Ideally, it should be a ministry that is performed by every local church.

My understanding of God, however, is that if Christians are closed to Him doing things through them, He usually holds back from working in those ways even if He would like to.  I would therefore encourage believers to be open to God working through them in this ministry and to seek His leading.

See also:

Friday, 26 May 2017

God Wants to Use Christians in Miracle Work Today – Part 3, Testimony

In part 1 of this article we saw that the Bible fits best with the view that God wants to keep using Christians in miracle work until Jesus returns. 

In part 2 I listed some objections that are made by those who say that Christians should not seek to work miracles today.  And I gave what I believe are good answers to those objections.


In this final part we will turn our attention to testimony of miracles.  In what follows, I will do two things.

First, I will say something about claims of miracles.  In recent years many Christians claim to have witnessed miracles.  I have spoken to some who say they have seen miracles.  And I have even witnessed a couple of miracles myself.

Second, I will make some comments on evaluating claims of miracles.

Reports of miracles

To begin with, let’s think about reports of miracles in the church today.  There should be no doubt that in recent years many Christians have claimed that they have witnessed a miracle.

That is not to say that all Christians will be aware of these claims, for at least two reasons.

First, more than a few believers, sadly, live their Christian lives isolated within their own denominational bubble.  And they therefore hear of little that goes on outside that bubble. 

This means that if a Christian is a member of a denomination that denies the place of miracles today, they may well not be aware that there are many claims of miracles in our day.

Second, more than a few Christians, equally sadly, have little interest in countries outside the one in which they live.  The New Testament makes it clear that the early believers took great interest in what was happening with their brothers and sisters around the known world.  And the same should be true today.  But unfortunately this is often not the case.

It is a fact that there are many more claims of miracles in some countries than in others.  So if a Christian lives in a country where these claims are relatively infrequent, and if they have no real interest in the church in foreign countries, they may not know how many believers today claim to have witnessed a miracle. 

A Christian who has contacts and interests within a variety of denominations and countries, will be in no doubt that many believers alive today say they have witnessed miracles.

I don’t intend to make a long list of such claims here.  But I will give one example of the sort of thing I mean:

A few years ago I was speaking to someone who has links with churches in Nepal.  I told him that I had heard that the church was growing rapidly in that country, and I asked him if what I had heard was right.  He replied, ‘It’s like the book of Acts.’

What he meant, as he went on to explain, was that, just as we find in Acts, God is using miracles to cause the rapid growth of His church in Nepal.  He also told me specifically about the case of a child being healed in a village that had led to a number of conversions.

At the present time worldwide there are many similar reports.  It should be regarded as a fact that large numbers of Christians in our day claim they have witnessed a miracle.

I have spoken to people who say they have witnessed miracles

I have also spoken personally to some Christians who say they have witnessed miracles. 

For example, I can think of one conversation I had with a local pastor a year or two ago.  He told me about a young woman who had suffered from severe mental illness.  She had been unable to work and had been on a lot of medication.  He told me that after his church ministered to her, she was able to work and no longer needed medication.

I can think of another conversation I had with another Christian many years ago.  He told me how he had laid hands on a woman who was wearing a neck brace.  He said that she had been healed and was able to immediately remove the brace.

I have had a number of similar conversations with various Christians over the years.

My own experiences of miracles

I would like at this point also to be able to reel off a list of impressive miracles that I have experienced personally.  However, I am not a position to do that.

I have witnessed God acting supernaturally in different ways.  For example, I have seen Him speak powerfully through prophecy and through ‘coincidences’, and I have seen him provide for me in striking ways too.  But in terms of what the Bible would define as a miracle, I have not witnessed all that much.  And what I have witnessed took place many years ago.   

Nevertheless, I will mention two experiences I have had, which I am sure were miracles:

Firstly, I have experienced one healing miracle. 

In 1989 I began to experience a difficult-to-describe abdominal pain.  This increased in intensity for a few weeks.  Then it remained for a further few weeks at a level where it was causing me constant and considerable discomfort.

A Christian brother laid hands on me for healing.  At the time he laid on hands I felt no change.  However, over the course of the next two weeks the pain melted away to nothing and never returned.  I am sure that this was a miraculous healing. 

Secondly, I have also seen one visible physical miracle, a miracle that was unusual in that it involved no human agent. 

When I was in a back-street in Paris in 1992 I saw a road sign with some printed writing on it, as there is on all road signs.  However, I am sure that the writing on this sign was a miraculous manifestation in which God was speaking to me.  

On the sign was written my name ‘Max’ and also the words ‘Giselle – Freund’.  I can’t remember if there were any other words on the sign too.  I didn’t have a camera with me, so I wasn’t able to take a photo.  Anyway, the main words were ‘Max’ and ‘Giselle – Freund’.

Immediately before going to Paris, which is of course in France, I had been in Germany visiting someone called Gisela, the French equivalent of which is Giselle.  She was my friend, the German for which is Freund. 

I believe that on this miraculous road sign God was telling me that He was with me, and that I was then, and had recently been, in the right place at the right time.  He did this, rather mysteriously, by putting my name, along with the combination of a French and a German word, on this road sign.  The fruit of this incident was that I had a better sense of God being with me.

I am rather hesitant to mention this event, because my experience is that more than a few Christians have no awareness of God confirming things in their lives in any way.  I suspect that what I have testified to here will look like nonsense to many.  I am also wary that I might be accused of fabrication. 

Nevertheless, I believe that God has called me to be a witness of what I have seen Him do (Acts 26:16), so I choose to obey.  He knows I am telling the truth.  And it is inconceivable that a workman in Paris ever put up a road sign with those words on it, at least while being aware of what he was doing. 

I should also point out that in the Bible many of the miracles we find God performing have a mysterious or even bizarre element to them.  So if God works miracles today, as I am sure He does, we would most naturally expect some of them to have a certain mysteriousness or strangeness about them.  Mysterious words on a road sign are therefore in no way incompatible with the biblical portrait of miracles. 

My main aim in this article is, of course, to encourage Christians to seek to be used by God as instruments in miracle work.  I am aware that the example I have just given is not in this category of miracles, since there was no human agent.  Nevertheless, I have given it in the hope that it will help persuade Christians that God really is working miracles today.

Evaluating claims of miracles

There should be no doubt that many Christians in our day claim to have witnessed miracles.  So what are we to make of these claims?  How should we evaluate them?

I am sure that Christians often go wrong at this point in one of two ways.

Firstly, there are those who start from the position that a reported miracle cannot be from God.  Perhaps this is because the existence of miracles today doesn’t fit their theology.  Or maybe they feel threatened in some way by miracles.  Whatever the reason, they immediately conclude that the report is false before even taking the matter to God in prayer. 

Some of those who take this attitude to miracles have been misled by unbiblical teaching.  Some are guilty of the sin of unbelief, one of the key sins in the Bible.  And some are just stubbornly believing what they want to believe.  Whatever the reason or reasons, this attitude to miracles is seriously wrong in God’s sight.

Secondly, there are those who go to the other extreme and immediately accept that a reported miracle is genuine.  I have seen this often.  Many Christians love the idea that God works miracles, and they therefore choose to believe every report they hear.

However, we should compare this attitude with that of Paul.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 he tells the church in Thessalonica: 
20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything . . .’ 
It is true that the testing here refers first and foremost to testing the genuineness of prophecies.  But Paul would surely have wanted Christians to do their best to test the genuineness of miracles too.

We find a similar situation in 1 Corinthians 14:29.  Here Paul instructs the Corinthians: 
‘Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.’ 
Again, although Paul is speaking about prophecy in this verse, he would surely also have wanted Christians to carefully weigh reports of miracles.

What we should do when we hear a report of a miracle is to start from a neutral position.  Instead of being biased for or against its genuineness, we need to humbly take the matter to God, asking for insight.

My experience of listening to Christians talking about the miracles they claim to have witnessed leads me to believe that testimony about miracles is mixed.  I am sure some of it is the figment of people’s imaginations.  On the other hand, I am sure that much of it is real.  Many specific accounts just sound right.  The testimony is not forced or exaggerated, and the fruit in terms of God building His church in one way or another is evident. 

In John 10:1-6, 16, 27 Jesus says that His sheep – Christians – hear His voice.  I think that if we listen carefully, those of us who are born again should be able to hear that God is working miracles today.  This is what Jesus is saying.


That concludes our discussion of miracles.  So let me sum up what we have found.

In part 1 of this article we saw that the Bible fits best with the view that God wants to keep using Christians in miracle work until Jesus returns.  And I noted too that in the absence of a compelling case for not obeying biblical instructions to seek miracles, we should certainly obey them.

In part 2 we found that objections to the existence of miracles today fail to convince. 

And in part 3 we saw that many Christians today claim to have witnessed miracles, and it makes most sense to think that some of the claims are based on genuine works of God. 

Let me end with a Bible text that I quoted earlier.  In 1 Corinthians 14:1, as we have seen, Paul writes: 
‘Pursue love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts . . .’ 
As I noted, the gifts Paul refers to here include miracle work.

Paul’s command in this verse is for every Christian alive today as much as it was for those in Corinth in the mid first century.

Let all of us, then, who are following Jesus as Lord, be faithful in heeding what the Spirit says in this verse of Scripture.  We dare not disobey it.

So how exactly should we seek the ability to work miracles? 

Well, most importantly we can pray that God would direct and enable us.  And for some of us, it may be good to seek out people who are experienced in gifts of the Spirit, those we feel we can trust, to ask for their help and guidance.  The more of us who can use spiritual gifts, including the working of miracles, the stronger God’s church is bound to become.

See also:

Is It Always God’s Will to Heal Christians?

God Wants to Use Christians in Miracle Work Today – Part 2, Objections Answered

In part 1 of this article we saw that the Bible fits best with the view that God wants to keep using Christians in miracle work until Jesus returns. 

In this second part I will move on to look at objections made by those Christians who deny that we should seek to work miracles today.  I am confident that each objection can be adequately answered.


The usefulness of miracles

There some Christians who say that it is not God’s will to work miracles today because they are unnecessary.  They agree that God used miracles in the first century to help the church get up and running.  But they claim that once the church was well established, miracles had outlived their usefulness, so God stopped performing them.

This argument is completely misguided:

First, the argument seems to start from the assumption that God wants to do the minimum amount of miracle work possible.  But why would we assume this?  There is no good reason.

Second, the book of Acts makes it clear that in the first century, miracles were used massively by God to build His church.  He used them to make evangelism more successful and to build up those who were already saved.  See, e.g., Acts 2:1-13, 41; 3:1-4:4; 4:31; 5:1-11; 8:5-8; 9:1-22, 32-35, 36-42.

There is absolutely no reason for thinking that miracles should have a different result today.  As far as their effectiveness is concerned, the fact that the church is now well established is beside the point.

Third, the New Testament strongly suggests that most miracles in the early church were healing miracles.  And a large part of God’s motivation for performing these was certainly because He loved people and wanted to free them from various afflictions.  But God obviously has the same love for people who are afflicted today.

To sum up this section, then, there are very good reasons for thinking that miracles today would, at least in many circumstances, be extremely useful.

Church history and miracles

Some Christians argue against the existence of miracles in our day by appealing to church history.  The argument goes in this way:

If God continued working miracles throughout the church age, we would expect Him to have done this as often as He did in the first century.  However, it cannot be denied that there have been relatively few claims of miracles in the following centuries as compared to the first century.  Therefore, this suggests that the claims there have been were all fakes or wishful thinking. 

It is surely true that for at least most of the church age there have been relatively few reports of miracles as compared to the first century.  However, there are two important points to make here.

First, the Bible often makes receiving things from God conditional upon believing.  The believing is very important.  So when a Christian doesn’t believe that God wants to give a gift of some sort, it seems that God would very probably not give that gift, even if He wanted to.  I would suggest that part of the reason why there has been a lack of miracles throughout church history is because most Christians wrongly believed that God had no desire to give them the ability to work miracles.   

Second, we need to recognise that the Holy Spirit is thoroughly mysterious.  And it is a mistake to claim that He must have chosen to do things in more or less the same amounts in each century of the church.

In 1 Samuel 3:1 we are told that when Samuel was a boy, ‘the word of the LORD was rare in those days’.  Similarly, I think that even under post-Pentecost, New Covenant conditions, it is not all that surprising if there is considerable variation in how much the Spirit operates supernaturally from time to time.

That is not to say that over the centuries God has been inconsistent in His requirements or promises.  In all centuries of the church He has wanted Christians to seek the ability to work miracles.  And in all centuries His biblical promises of healing in response to faith have stood, as, for example, in James 5:14-16.  But even so, I think this still allows room for considerable variety in how many miracles the Spirit performs at different times.

The Reformation and miracles

Another argument that is sometimes made by those who say that miracles are not for today appeals to the Reformation.   

The principle Reformers in the 16th century, most notably Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, believed that God stopped working miracles in the first century.  Because these men were giants of the faith, it is argued, it makes sense to think that their views on miracle work were correct. 

It is true that the Reformation was extremely helpful in some respects.  But to assume that the Reformers were correct on everything of importance cannot be right for the simple reason that they differed among themselves on a number of key issues. 

There are unfortunately many evangelicals today who follow certain people in church history without questioning their beliefs nearly enough.  This is really a form of idolatry and it should be avoided.  What matters is what the Bible teaches, not what certain Christians leaders have believed in the past.

Abuses do not mean that miracles are wrong in themselves

Sometimes those who deny the place of miracles today refer to abuses in the church to try to make their case.  They point to examples of where claims of miracles were surely wrong.  And they also point to false teaching, such as the so-called prosperity gospel, that is often held by Christians who say that the church should be working miracles today.

It is doubtless true that there are many false claims of miracles in the church in our day.  And it is true too that churches that are interested in miracles often have some seriously wrong ideas about things.  I am also sure that sometimes devout Christians who are trying to submit to God’s will in miracle work make mistakes in how they go about things.

But to say that abuses and mistakes show that all miracle work is invalid today makes no sense.  By the same logic, we should avoid anything that is abused or about which mistakes are sometimes made.

For example, teaching from the Bible is something that is massively abused in our day.  Every Sunday there are thousands of so-called Christian pastors worldwide who say they are teaching from the Bible, but who are actually promoting heresy in one way or another.   

But this doesn’t mean that all teaching from the Bible is false!  It doesn’t mean that pastors on a Sunday should abandon giving biblical instruction to their flocks!  And the same applies to miracles.  To say that abuses and mistakes mean that there is no place for miracles today is illogical.

Wherever there is something that is from God, Satan will almost always try to counterfeit it.  He will also tempt Christians into using gifts, including the ability to work miracles, in ways that are less than edifying.  And part of what it means to be a fallen human being is to make mistakes.  So even Christians with good intentions and motivations can get things wrong at times.   

Therefore, bad reports surrounding miracle work in no way mean that God doesn’t want Christians to work miracles today.   

This is not a matter of variation between churches

Sometimes Christians who accept that God works miracles today seem to have an attitude something like this:

Some churches work miracles and others don’t.  It’s just a different way of living out the Christian life.  We shouldn’t expect a great God to be uniform in His dealings with His children.  Therefore Christians and churches are under no obligation to seek the ability to work miracles.

There is a huge mistake here:

First, as we saw in part 1 of this article, the Bible actually commands all Christians to desire spiritual gifts, including the ability to work miracles.

Second, there is wrong thinking here about variation in the church.  Certainly, we can expect variety in how God deals with His children.  But not in terms of whether we should seek the ability to work miracles.  Miracles, and the other gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, are not just a minor issue, a kind of decoration that a church might or might not have.  Miracles are spiritual high explosive against the powers of darkness.  If you are in any doubt about this, just have a read through the book of Acts.  The power for building the early church that came through miracles was enormous.  And there is no reason whatsoever for believing that it should be any less today. 

Those who see miracles, and other gifts of the Spirit, as one way, among others, of living out the Christian faith have not begun to grasp what these things are all about.  Not using the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 is a bit like an army in a fierce fight to the death leaving some of its heavy weaponry in storage.  It makes no sense at all.

Summing up

There are other arguments that are sometimes used to support the view that God doesn’t want to use Christians to work miracles today.  But I have listed the most important of them.  In short, none of the objections convinces.   

In part 3 I will move on to speak about testimony of miracles.

See also:

Is It Always God’s Will to Heal Christians?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Does Faith Lead to Regeneration or Vice Versa? Part 2


One of the verses – perhaps the verse – that is most appealed to in support of the view that regeneration leads to faith is Ephesians 2:5. 

In Ephesians 2:4-5 Paul writes: 
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in transgressions, made us alive with Christ (by grace you have been saved), . . .’ 
The argument made

Those who claim that these words show that regeneration leads to faith argue as follows:

Verse 5 speaks about people who are spiritually dead.  Dead means completely unable, so the people in view must be unable to have faith.  Therefore, when this passage tells us that God makes the spiritually dead alive, i.e., regenerates them, it must be without any faith on their part.  Besides, there is no reference to faith in this verse.

This argument is far too simplistic and makes some unwarranted assumptions.  There are several points to make here:

No Greek word for ‘when’

The first point is a minor one.

The Greek clause I have translated as ‘even when we were dead in transgressions’ is literally translated as ‘even us being dead in transgressions’.

I agree that part of the sense is that Paul and his readers were made alive when they were dead in transgressions.  But the idea also seems partly to be that they were made alive although they were dead in transgressions.  ‘Even when we were dead in transgressions’ or ‘even though we were dead in transgressions’ are both possible translations.

My point here is just that there is no Greek word for ‘when’ in the text.  There is therefore a bit less emphasis on the making alive taking place when Paul and his readers were dead than translating with ‘when’ might suggest.

Uncertainty about the meaning of ‘dead’

Ephesians 2:5 includes the phrase ‘dead in transgressions’.  What does the deadness in this phrase refer to? 

It is a mistake simply to assume that it must mean inability to do something.  Romans 6:23 says that ‘the wages of sin is death’, where death signifies liability to condemnation and punishment.  And other verses in the Pauline letters refer to death similarly. 

It seems highly likely that in Ephesians 2:5 too ‘dead’ signifies liability to condemnation and punishment.  However, could this be all it signifies in this verse?  If so, the verse would be saying nothing about spiritual inability.

In my view ‘dead’ in Ephesians 2:5 very probably does in part signify spiritual inability.  But I don’t think that is completely certain.  It’s not impossible that the deadness here is just about being on track for punishment from God.

We mustn’t read too much into the imagery

‘Dead’ here is a metaphor.  And metaphors often don’t correspond exactly to the reality that they are portraying.

Furthermore, the Bible uses hyperbole, i.e., language that is deliberately exaggerated for effect, much more extensively than we are used to in the modern West. 

Therefore, even if ‘dead’ in Ephesians 2:5 includes the concept of spiritual inability, it is a mistake to assume that the people referred to as dead should be regarded as literally, totally, spiritually unable. 

Paul is giving a summary

Even if, improbably in my view, those described as dead in Ephesians 2:5 are totally unable in all spiritual matters, it is reading too much out of the text to say that no faith is involved when God makes people alive. 

When Paul says that God made him and his readers alive when/though they were dead in transgressions, he is just summarising what happened to them when they became Christians.  He is not attempting to explain in detail all that went on.  The initial state – being dead – and the final state – being alive – are referred to.  But to assume that God moved Paul and his readers directly from death to life without any faith on their part is completely unwarranted.

If God takes the initiative by awakening dead people and enabling them to have faith, and then responds to that faith by making them alive by regeneration, that would fit perfectly with what we are told in Ephesians 2:5.

Taking account of the context

The context of vv. 1-8 actually fits much better with the view that faith leads to regeneration than vice versa.

In Ephesians 2:5 the statement, ‘[God] made us alive with Christ’, is immediately followed in the Greek, as in some English translations, by the parenthetical statement, ‘(by grace you have been saved)’. 

The fact that these two statements are found one after the other without any words of explanation shows that there must be a close relationship between them.  It therefore doesn’t seem possible to understand the being made alive and the being saved as separate aspects of what goes on when someone becomes a Christian. 

Nor does it seem likely that the being made alive is a wider concept that includes the narrower concept of being saved.  Salvation in Scripture is often quite a broad term.  So to take being saved as a mere part of being made alive seems forced.

Instead, it seems most natural to understand the being saved here either as a rough equivalent of being made alive or as a wider term that includes being made alive.  Very probably, then, the being saved of v. 5 at least includes the being made alive of v. 5.

But we know from Ephesians 2:8 that being saved is through faith.  In this verse Paul says: 
‘For by grace you have been saved through faith . . .’ 
So if, as seems highly probable, the being saved of v. 5 at least includes the being made alive of v. 5, then in view of v. 8 we can say that this being made alive is through faith.  In other words, God responds to faith by giving regeneration.

The context in vv. 1-8, therefore, counts against the view that Ephesians 2:5 teaches that regeneration leads to faith.  In fact this context actually suggests that faith leads to regeneration.

Taking account of other passages in the letters of Paul

Most importantly, Ephesians 2:5 needs to be considered in the light of the rest of the Pauline letters, especially the rest of Ephesians itself.

Crucially, we have seen that there are good reasons for believing that Ephesians 1:13 strongly implies that faith leads to regeneration.  Therefore, we would expect 2:5 to be consistent with this.  And we would also expect it to fit with the Pauline Galatians 3:2, which, as we have seen, strongly implies that faith leads to regeneration.

Summing up

To sum up this section, then, not only is it a mistake to say that Ephesians 2:5 teaches that regeneration leads to faith, but there are very good reasons for believing that it teaches the opposite. 

1 JOHN 5:1

1 John 5:1 states: 
‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God.’ 
The argument made

Those who say that regeneration leads to faith often appeal to these words to support their view.  They claim that the words are telling us two things:

(1) Everyone who has faith has also been regenerated.

(2) Everyone who has faith does so because they have been regenerated.

1 John 2:29 and 1 John 4:7 are often brought in to support this argument. 

2:29 says: 
‘. . . everyone who practises uprightness has been born of Him [God].’  
And 4:7 states: 
‘. . . everyone who loves has been born of God.’ 
Those who refer to 1 John 2:29; 4:7 argue that these verses are saying two things: one, those who practise uprightness and love have also been regenerated; and, two, they do so because they have been regenerated.  And then they argue that the same train of thought must apply in 5:1 too: those who have faith have also been regenerated, and they have faith because they have been regenerated.

This interpretation is certainly not a forced way of taking these words in 1 John 5:1. 

However, there are a few points that need to be made:

Caution in drawing conclusions

It is not certain that in 1 John 2:29; 4:7 the author’s purpose is to tell us that those who practise uprightness and love do so because they have been regenerated. It is true that it would be correct theology to say that practising uprightness and loving are possible because someone has been regenerated. But that doesn’t mean that this is the author’s focus in these verses. It is possible that his focus is simply on the fact that those who practise uprightness and who love have also been regenerated.

What is more, even if the author’s purpose in 2:29 and 4:7 is in part to tell us that practising uprightness and love happen because someone has been regenerated, it doesn’t follow that the same grammatical structure must involve the same way of reasoning in 5:1 too.  The most we could say is that, all other things being equal, it is likely that the same way of reasoning would be found in 5:1, but this would need to be weighed against other factors.

Another plausible interpretation

Let me cite again the words from 1 John 5:1 that we are looking at in this section. They are: 
‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God.’ 
I noted above that those who see these words as support for the view that regeneration leads to faith think they are saying two things:

(1) Everyone who has faith has also been regenerated.

(2) Everyone who has faith does so because they have been regenerated.

However, we can just as easily interpret these words to be saying only the first of these things:

Everyone who has faith has also been regenerated.

In this case, nothing would be implied about the relationship between the faith and the regeneration.

This latter interpretation fits well with 1 John 5:13.  This verse states: 
‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.’  
This verse makes it clear that a key concern of the author of 1 John, probably the key concern, is to tell people that if they are believers in Jesus, then they have eternal life.  I suggest that in the words from 5:1 that we are looking at, the author is doing precisely what he says his aim is in 5:13, and is doing no more than that. 

In 1 John 5:1 he starts by referring to ‘everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah’.  He is letting his readers know that he is thinking of people like them, since they believe that Jesus is the Messiah and obviously they know that they believe this.

Then he says, ‘has been born of God’.  He is telling his readers something that he wants them to know, i.e., that all Christian believers have been born of God.  He could equally well have said, ‘has come into possession of eternal life’ or ‘has eternal life’.

We could paraphrase: 
‘You need to realise that you, like all Christian believers, have come into possession of eternal life.  You have eternal life!’ 
Under this interpretation, there is no attempt to comment on the relationship between faith and regeneration.  Regeneration is understood to have occurred at the time of conversion.  And although faith is referred to existing in the present, it too would be understood to have begun at the time of conversion.  Nothing about the relationship between the regeneration and the faith is implied. 

This interpretation is in no way forced.  And it fits perfectly with what we find in v. 13.

Fitting this verse with the rest of the Bible

When forming our views on something in Christian theology, we should always choose the path of least resistance, the solution that best fits all the biblical data.

If we were to interpret 1 John 5:1 as implying that regeneration leads to faith, we would be choosing to interpret it in a way that contradicts all the texts we have looked at which teach that faith leads to regeneration. 

Most importantly, we would be choosing to interpret this verse in a way that contradicts John’s Gospel.  And this is especially difficult, because 1 John and the Gospel of John are part of the same family of New Testament writings. 

Therefore, because, as we have seen, there is a plausible interpretation of this verse that does not suggest that regeneration leads to faith, we should certainly choose that one. 

Summing up

To sum up, then, 1 John 5:1 says nothing about the relationship between faith and regeneration.


That ends our analysis of the biblical data.  When all that we have discussed is taken into account, we should have no hesitation in saying that according to the Bible faith leads to regeneration.  God responds to our faith by regenerating us, by giving us His supernatural life.

So why is this important?

Not distorting the Christian message

To begin with, if we say that regeneration leads to faith, we are distorting the Christian message.  Part of this message is, ‘Believe and you will have life’, ‘Believe and you will have eternal life’, ‘Believe and you will be become a child of God’.  See John 1:12-13; 3:14-16; 5:40; 6:40; 20:31.  We need to keep this part of the message intact.

Not discouraging laying on of hands

Saying that regeneration leads to faith is also bound to discourage the practice of laying hands on new converts for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Scripture implies that in the early church one way in which new converts first received the Spirit was through the laying on of hands.  See Acts 8:14-17; 19:6; Hebrews 6:1-2.  And there is no good reason for thinking that God wants us to abandon this practice today.

I am not saying that it is God’s will for every Christian to have hands laid on them for this purpose.  Nor am I saying that if hands are omitted when God wants them to be used, a new convert with saving faith would remain unregenerated. 

Nevertheless, I do think that some Christians today who have never had hands laid on them for this purpose tend to be rather lacking in their experience of the Spirit.  And saying that new Christians have received the Spirit in regeneration before they even had faith is bound to discourage the laying on of hands.

Allowing genuine ability to accept or reject Christ

Finally, if we say that regeneration leads to faith, then regeneration has to be an act of God that doesn’t depend on anything people do.  In other words, people would have no real choice about whether or not they become Christians.  It would be God’s decision alone. 

When we recognise, however, that faith leads to regeneration, we no longer have to say that God alone chooses who becomes a Christian.  We can say that He gives people the genuine ability to accept or reject salvation. 

See also: