I’ve received further e-mails asking for more of my thoughts on discerning what is truly of God when signs and wonders and revivals break out. This comes on the heels of two posts I wrote last week (here and here) discussing events at the Lakeland “revival” down in Florida.
At a time when discernment appears lost on vast portions of Evangelicalism and the charismatic movement, basic, biblical principles are needed to discern truth from error. While I believe that the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits cannot be condensed into a set of tips, I also believe that basic rules for discernment CAN be derived from the biblical text and from plain, old common sense. God gave us a brain smart enough to avoid eating obvious poison, and so we should use the brains He gave us to make wise choices about truth and falsehood.
What follows below frames my own set of rules for discernment. You may disagree or have better rules. And to those friends of mine who will most certainly be hurt by what I say here, I can only ask that you consider these things and take them before the Lord.
Always begin with healthy skepticism.
I always come to the miraculous with a healthy dose of skepticism. This is not the same as faithlessness because I wholeheartedly believe that God can do miraculous works. I also realize that the Enemy can mimic those works. God will not deny blessings to people who test the spirits to see if they are of Him. It’s a little like having a spam filter up all the time. The good stuff will get through and the rotten stuff won’t. And even if a piece of good stuff gets caught, God is not so weak that He won’t continue to do a good work in us. If that means He has to reattempt what got trapped in the filter, He most certainly will because He loves us enough to do so. He never punishes people who remain vigilant because they love Him and His pure works. On the other hand, people who open themselves up to everything wind up filled with garbage, a mess that can take a lifetime to undo.
God has a way of proving Himself true in time, but the Enemy never does.
By their fruit we will know them. Their fruit will remain, too. A little water under the bridge is a good thing because it allows us to test what is happening against Scripture, just as the Bereans did in Acts. One of the rotten fruits of phony miracles and revivals is that they open people up for even more error. A pinch of yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. Lies breed confusion, and “miracles” that come from the Enemy or from the hand of tricksters will only bring confusion in the long run.
Consider the past fruits of anyone or any group working the miraculous in the name of Christ.
Look at their theology closely. Also realize that words matter, and that some people confuse terms on purpose or twist them so that they look right even though they aren’t. Oneness Pentecostals may not seem antitrinitarian on the surface, but attempting a 1:1 analysis of their terminology with orthodox Christian doctrine ultimately reveals their error. We must also realize that a group with odd theology may continue to spawn odd theology even if they attempt to distance themselves from the past error. In charismatic circles, far too much deviant doctrine and practice has come out of the Kansas City Prophets of the late 1980s and early 1990s. One can trace all manner of craziness since 1990 directly back to that group, including the recent Lakeland “revival.” Anything “birthed” out of that movement should have an automatic red flag attached to it, as should any former leaders connected to it. This includes organizations and ministries such as IHOP, The Elijah List, MorningStar Ministries, Passion & Fire, and a whole host of others that looked favorably upon Mike Bickle, Bob Jones, John Paul Jackson, Rick Joyner, Paul Cain, and anyone else who came out of the Kansas City Prophets movement. In fact, since the entirety of the modern prophetic movement in charismatic circles is inextricably linked in a tangle to those groups and individuals, it may be best (and I say this with a heavy heart) to avoid the prophetic movement altogther as a national entity until God purges the corrupted seed.
Real miraculous works from God are often imitated by the Enemy.
Moses threw down his staff and it transformed into a snake. Pharaoh’s two magicians threw down their staffs and they turned into snakes, too. We must never forget this. Just because a miracle occurs doesn’t mean it came from God. The difference is that God’s miracles prevail and the Enemy’s never do. We must also consider the character of those who are present at the miracle. We know Moses was God’s man. But who owned Jannes and Jambres? We must apply that same thinking to discerning the source of miracles.
Any appeal to spiritual beings apart from the members of the Trinity is dangerous.
God created the heavenly hosts, including His messengers, the angels. A third of the angels fell and became demons. These spiritual beings are real. The error of Evangelicalism is that it tends to ignore them. The error of charismatics is that they tend to fixate on them. God commands the angels, we don’t. He has, though, given us authority over demons by benefit of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit living in us. However, we dabble with spiritual beings at our peril. The demonic comes as an angel of light remember. When I hear people appealing to angels or talking about them the way they are discussed by Todd Bentley of the Lakeland “revival,” I’m instantly alarmed. You can’t go to the Scriptures and find the apostles talking about angelic beings the way some charismatics do. That kind of talk is not there in the Bible, our source of truth. When we pray, we can ask God to send His angels to minister to us, but we should always test spiritual entities and go to the Lord to request them, not ask them directly. We may attract the wrong kind of spiritual entity if we bypass the Lord and His will concerning the sending of angels for assistance.
The whole counsel of Scripture matters, not just a verse here and there.
I am increasingly convinced that chapter and verse markers are one of the worst things to happen to the Bible. Because we added them, too many people pick and choose verses to contruct their theology rather than considering the whole counsel of Scripture. Charismatics do this more than anyone, creating elaborate fictions out of disjointed strings of verses. The old joke about the man who randomly opens his Bible to “Judas hanged himself” and then to another verse that said “Go and do likewise” applies here. I can guarantee that the vast, vast majority of Christians dashed on the rocks of phony revival and fake miracles wind up there because they don’t understand the whole counsel of Scripture. Sadly, our atrocious understanding, especially in those circles hellbent on mountaintop experiences at the expense of study, leads to error and heartbreak. The Bible cautions that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, and that knowledge comes from His word. Get wisdom; understand what the Bible says from cover to cover!
God’s revivals and miracles are not chintzy.
Real revival takes the worst people possible and transforms them into God’s people. Real miracles take the most desperate situations and conditions and alleviates them. God never settles for cheap. Read the miracles and revivals in the Bible; the miracles force entire cities to stand up and take note, while the revivals have thousands coming to Christ. While it might seem like a great thing that the tennis pro had his tennis elbow cured by the laying on of hands, if that’s the extent of the miraculous, something’s wrong. God does much bigger (and much more documentable) works. If we come back from a revival with a healthy glow, but a couple weeks later we’re just as ornery as we were before we went, that wasn’t real revival.
Novelty is not of God.
Yes, the Bible says that God does new things, but He only does them from a basis of what is old and established. God is not into tricks. He does not use flash to enhance His workings. He doesn’t have His servants dance jigs around someone they’re praying for, doesn’t have His people wave their arms and act like bad magicians. There’s no “Alakazam!” and no need for it. God isn’t into show. Preachers, prophets, and revivalists who make a big deal of novelty are supplementing. And God needs no one to supplement His power.
If a movement, revival, or series of miracles “feels off,” the Holy Spirit may be trying to warn us.
The Holy Spirit confirms truth, and all true believers have the Holy Spirit in some measure. If we’re around a miraculous event and we feel wrong about it, there’s a good reason to believe that’s the Holy Spirit talking. We better listen. Unfortunately, too many people who supposedly have the Holy Spirit living in them have turned a deaf ear to the Spirit’s warnings. Also, too many people have no ability to discern the voice of the Spirit in the midst of the background noise of life. That’s a terrible loss because the Bible explicitly states that we’re to be guided by the Holy Spirit. If we fail to listen to Him in situations that call for discernment, how will we be able to discern those difficult situations that normal Christians encounter? For instance, Paul and Silas were followed by the slave girl who announced that the two were from God and were proclaiming the way of salvation. On the surface, how many Christians would love to have such an ardent helper? But Paul, by the Spirit, saw the demon controlling their “assistant” and cast it out. That kind of discernment only comes by the Spirit of God.
We Christians are to seek Jesus, not signs and wonders.
We must remember this passage of Scripture:
For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”
The entirety of Paul’s context above is evangelizing the lost. Do we understand this? Signs and wonders are largely for the lost as a confirmation of God’s power. As Christians, we already know about signs and wonders; they should not shock us. We know Christ, and isn’t He greater than signs and wonders? He is our sufficiency, not signs and wonders. He is the source, and the source is always greater. Yet look how many people flock to so-called revivals just to see signs and wonders. This is a mockery, frankly. It detracts from Jesus, and the Holy Spirit always points to Jesus, not to signs and wonders. This is not to say that Christians cannot come to Jesus for healing or for a miracle, but that these are by far secondary to Christ alone. If anything, we Christians should not be surprised at miracles, but by the lack of them! They should be second nature to us, not to the point of us being blasé about them, but that we understand them as the inherent outworkings of the normal Christian life.
Real revival breaks out only among the humble.
Revival breaks out where God moves, not where some Christian celebrity moves. Any Christian preacher or revivalist who claims that revival follows him or her is operating out of spiritual pride. Genuine revival breaks out among people who have no names to make for themselves, around ministries that are local and less well known, and in backwater places with no marketing arm to promote them. It breaks out through the long-travailing prayers of humble servants, not the boasts of fly-by-night Christian celebrities who line their pockets with sales of cheap Christian trinkets or “pray for pay.” Remember, the Enemy loves to boast and loves the limelight. The people God uses to bring genuine revival are often the very people who were once scorned for their piety, humility, and singleminded devotion to Christ.
Christ Himself warned that genuine faith would become a rarity.
I am continually shocked that so many in the charismatic movement keep believing for some massive revival right before Christ returns. In many branches of the charismatic movement lurks an almost post-millennial frenzy that finds people believing we Christians will hand over a perfected world to the Lord at His second coming. Yet the Lord Jesus Himself asked whether He would find faith on earth at His return. Mark 13:20 says that if it were not for a cutting off of the chaotic days of tribulation, no one would be saved. We are heading into dark, dark times where even the elect might come close to falling away. So whenever I hear calls of worldwide revival, I’m leery. Revival to whom and by whom? Is this what the Bible teaches? If so, I’ve been unable to find it in the pages of Scripture. This is not to say that genuine revival will not come to this place and that dotted across the globe, only it probably won’t look like the kind of revival that some modern revivalists are trumpeting.
For more thoughts on this, please see the following previous posts: