Are Disciples of Christ Known by their "Signs and Wonders"?
There's a very false belief that teaches that all disciples of Christ must be filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of certain signs and wonders, namely speaking in tongues, casting out demons, and healing the sick.
This false and deceptive belief leads people to assume that these types of signs and wonders are evidence that someone has the Holy Spirit and that they're right with God and spiritually mature. There are a lot of arguments and opinions
out there about signs and wonders following believers, and we need to cut through the confusion by looking to the fullness of Scripture to see what God says about the matter because what God says is the final authority.
1. Just because a denomination has been teaching a certain doctrine for hundreds of years, this does not necessarily mean this doctrine is true and authoritative.
If the doctrine is false, then all this means is that
the denomination has been teaching a false doctrine for hundreds of years. We can trace false doctrine all the way back to the garden of Eden which goes to show that just because the doctrine is ancient, it does not necessarily mean that it is true.
Also, just because a 'bible scholar' or popular teacher with a big ministry teaches a certain doctrine with confidence and eloquence, it doesn't mean that what they're saying is true. Someone can be an expert in Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew,
and memorize the entire bible and they can still be wrong because mere head knowledge without wise understanding produces false doctrine (James 3:13-17).
We can't automatically accept what someone says as authoritative and true just because they seem well spoken and well versed. Instead, we must test things for ourselves (Acts 17:11). The ultimate question is "How does what they say, and what they do compare to what God says---does it line up with God or does it miss the mark?" If it misses the mark, then we have to throw that teaching out and not hold onto it for tradition's sake in order to be in agreement with someone else's opinion or denomination.
2. First let's turn to Mark 16:17-18 because this scripture is often misused to teach that all disciples of Christ are known by their signs and wonders.
This verse says: "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name
they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
On this occasion, Christ was speaking to His eleven hand picked disciples before He returned to heaven. In verse 15, Christ told them to preach the gospel to all creation and in verse 20 it says that God confirmed the gospel that they preached with signs and wonders following.
The question is: What gospel did the disciples preach and what gospel was God confirming with these signs?
Did they preach that one must be filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues? No. .....
Did they preach that disciples must cast out demons? No. ......
Did they teach that disciples of Christ must seek after signs/wonders? No. ......
The reason is that seeking after signs and wonders are a part of the false gospel that the enemy uses to distract people away from God and from the true gospel that actually saves.
The true gospel which the disciples preached is in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 which says "Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you---unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures..."
Remember, the gospel is not merely about believing a few facts about the Lord Jesus Christ for even the devil believes that Jesus Christ died for men's sins and was buried (James 2:19), but rather we must remember that the gospel is a life transforming message which gives hope. The true gospel shares the hope that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came into the world to provide forgiveness of sins for all who truly repent, but it also shares the message that men need new transformed born-again lives that now have a reverent fear of God (have truly repented and walk in true obedience as they follow the Lord faithfully daily) and that give Him the glory as we read in Revelation 14:6-7 " Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth saying with a loud voice, 'Fear God and give glory to Him."
The true gospel that saves is about lives that are transformed by the grace of
God and by the great love of Christ as He willingly gave His life for us, so we might understand His incredible love and therefore want to turn from all sin and selfishness, and instead walk in obedience out of love for Him! THIS is the gospel
of Christ that transforms and saves us, not false gospels that seek after "signs and wonders".
When we hold firmly to false gospels, this is believing in vain, and in Galatians 1:6-9, it gives us a strong warning about returning to different and false gospels that pervert the gospel of Christ and to let such people be accursed. We are living in a time when people are abandoning the grace of Christ, and are turning to false gospels preached by so-called "miracle workers" who sometimes even claim that angelic spirits are visiting and appearing to people. A huge 'red flag' to be on the lookout for would be that any time you attend an assembly that seeks to pressure you to "speak in tongues", "perform miracles", "cast out demons" etc. and they have more focus on these types of signs and wonders than they do on the true gospel of Jesus Christ then we should avoid such assemblies for the safety of our souls! Don't forget that Matthew 16:4 strongly warns and rebukes that "A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after signs".
God does not want us to be focusing on signs and wonders and seeking after them, but instead, the Lord wants us to be focusing on His Gospel that brings salvation and transformation to the lives of men! Other false gospels come from Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, etc, but we need to be even more careful of the false prophets within professing Christianity since they often appear to be more biblical because they contain additional requirements like signs, wonders, or Old Covenant laws that passed away.
Now let's return to Mark 16:17-18 which says: "And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover." Let's look at these verses and try to find the true biblical meaning of them. Many people point to Mark 16:17-18 as evidence that people of our generation should be concerned about "speaking in tongues", "casting out demons", "miracle healings", and sometimes even "handling poisonous snakes." Some Christians who are lacking in wise discernment have majored in minors when it comes to this area and for this reason, some churches even have regular snake-handling services in which of course many of these snake-handlers have been killed from dealing with poisonous snakes.
Overall Bible commentaries share a very similar message when examining the meaning of Mark 16:17-18. These commentaries tell us that these miraculous signs were made available to many of the early Christians for a fairly short time
because these miracles helped to confirm the message of the Gospel and to establish Christianity in the world. It is generally believed that these verses are speaking of a promise that was limited to the apostolic age and to a few of the disciples
of that time period. This power of being able to work miracles continued in the Church for about 100 years after Christ's ascension which gave Christianity the time to take root in men's hearts. God "watered" men's hearts with miracles at first since Christianity
could be compared to a new plant that needed this extra boost in order to grow faster and "take root". The miracles were also clearly supernatural and were done as loving acts of kindness and not for showmanship purposes.
These miracles served to validate the apostle's ministries and laid the foundation for the Church. As the Church was growing and being established the miracles were ceasing. By the time the Apostle Paul's ministry was reaching its end, Paul was no longer able to heal others by miraculous means. One example of this can be read about in 2 Timothy 4:20. Here we read that Paul had to leave Trophimus behind at Miletus because Trophimus was so sick. Paul did not heal Trophimus because we can see that the particular gift of healing is being phased out. Here in 2 Timothy, Paul is close to the end of his ministry and miracles were no longer necessary to validate Paul's ministry. Instead, Paul's writings were beginning to be recognized as Scripture which was a validation of God's truths instead. Another example of Paul's inability to heal can be read in Philippians 2:27.
3. We should not harshly condemn those caught up in false gospels because if we are honest and humble
with ourselves, we can admit that there have been times that we misunderstood something about God's will as well.
We instead need to gently seek to guide those who have false understandings in the same way that the Lord gently guides us into truth and by His mercy delivered us from false understanding and renewed our minds. We must continue to grow up in doctrine and the Lord will lead us to the truth. The most important doctrine that we must be mindful about is the Gospel because it is the central supreme message of God's salvation to mankind. It's a very serious problem to preach and believe in a false gospel as we are taught in Galatians 1:6-9.
I think many false gospels were created by well-meaning believers who isolated certain scriptures or certain blessings and aspects of God's will and magnified them beyond measure into pet doctrines of salvation. They may have had good intentions to deliver the truth of God to God's people, but they got off course by not seeking the full counsel of God on the matter, and forgot about their first love, who is Christ, and instead started to fall in love with a sign, wonder, spiritual gift, tradition, Old Covenant law etc, and then they added it to Christ's work on the cross, and now today we're witnessing the harvest of false gospels.
4. The false belief that believers are known by their signs/wonders produces a variety of bad fruits as I will share about below:
A. The false belief that believers are known by their signs/wonders produces the bad fruit of IDOLATRY by leading people to worship, seek, and follow signs and wonders:
There are different ways that sign seeking idolatry can manifest itself. It can manifest itself in more obvious ways like following after angelic revelations and mystical experiences, or it can manifest in more subtle ways such as following after speaking in tongues or casting out demons. In Matthew 12:39 Jesus said that one of the characteristics of an evil and adulterous generation is that they seek and follow after signs. On the other hand, two characteristics of a disciple of Christ which is different than this evil and adulterous generation is that WE follow CHRIST and seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
B. The false belief that believers are known by their signs/wonders produces the bad fruit of APOSTASY (which is falling away from the faith):
In Matthew 24:24, Christ made it very clear that in the end times evil workers will appear and perform signs and wonders to attempt to deceive God's people. Christ said "false Christs and false prophets will appear performing signs and wonders to deceive even the elect if possible." 2 Thessalonians 2:9 says that the coming of antichrist will be characterized by powerful signs and lying wonders. In Daniel 13:1-4, God warned the children of Israel about false prophets who perform miracles to draw them away from Him. The Lord said He would use these false prophets to TEST their hearts to see if they truly love Him with all their hearts. It says if a prophet or one who foretells by dreams appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place and he then says "let us follow other gods, gods you have not known, and let us worship them," then you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer since the Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love Him with all your heart and soul.
It's the Lord your God that you must follow and Him you must esteem and admire above all. Keep His commands and obey and serve Him. In Exodus, we saw where the satanic sorcerers of the Pharoah in Egypt were able to perform great signs and wonders too. In Revelation 13:11-15 Christ reveals that the beast will perform great miracles to deceive the world, plus there are much more examples in scripture of evil workers performing signs and wonders to deceive others. Because of all of these clear examples, we shouldn't think that signs and wonders are automatic evidence that someone has the Holy Spirit, or that they're obedient to God, or that they're spiritually mature. People can perform signs and wonders all day long and be evil at the same time.
C. The false belief that believers are known by their signs/wonders produces the bad fruit of BAD JUDGMENT because it leads people to misjudge others as unsaved simply because they don't perform signs and wonders, and it leads people to misjudge evil workers as anointed simply because they do perform signs and wonders:
Christ revealed that MANY will come before Him who will say "Lord, Lord have we not prophesied in Your name and in Your name have cast out devils, and in Your name have done many wonderful works?" And then the Lord will profess unto them "I do not know you, a worker of iniquity, depart from Me." (Matt. 7:22-23) Many people think that they are in good standing before Christ because of their "so-called power", and their "signs", but in reality, they AREN'T in good standing with Christ because they do not have a relationship with Him. They are busy FOR Christ but are still apart FROM Christ. These were independent of God and lovers of self who had a form of godliness but denying the power. They took glory in the works of their hands, but not in the LORD of Glory. So when it comes to discerning who has the Holy Spirit, we must not look to so-called signs and wonders, for the scriptures make it very clear that in the end times there will be a LOT of people going around doing signs and wonders who are in rebellion to God. God PERMITS this to take place to test our hearts.
D. The false belief that believers are known by their signs/wonders produces the bad fruit of PRIDE AND BOASTING by leading many to boast in signs and wonders:
Christ never boasted in His miracles, and on some occasions, He told people not to say anything when He healed them or cast devils out of them because He did not want the miracles to overshadow or become the message. On one occasion the 70 disciples returned to Christ with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name", and Christ replied "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and overcome all the power of the enemy and nothing will harm you. However, do NOT rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven!" (Luke 10:17-20) So these disciples fell into the error of letting the miracles overshadow the gospel and were rejoicing in the signs and wonders, yet Christ told them NOT to rejoice in their power over demons, but to rejoice that their names were written in heaven! So which miracle is greater in GOD'S eyes----having authority over evil spirits, or having eternal life?
It is true that God can still cause miracles to occur, and I know that people HAVE been set free from physical illness and demonic possession. BUT YET if we are exalting such miracles ABOVE the gospel and rejoicing in various signs instead of in Christ and in the eternal life He gives, then we have it BACKWARDS and we're missing the big picture. So we have to look deeper than signs and wonders when discerning the wicked from the righteous, and God has given us different ways to discern this.
5. The biblical ways to discern if someone is truly saved and filled with the Holy Spirit:
A. True believers are known by their GOOD FRUIT:
In Matthew 7:17-18 Christ said: "Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but every bad tree, bad fruit." In Matt. 12:33 Christ said, "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad for a tree is recognized by its fruit." Those who don't follow Christ produce bad fruit such as disobedience, walking in sin etc., while true Christ followers produce good fruit such as walking in obedience to God and loving God and His truths. Those who don't follow Christ cannot produce good fruit because they haven't received the good seed, and the righteous can't produce bad fruit because they've received, hear, and understand the good seed. Someone who is full of the Spirit and loves God will bring forth the good fruits of love, peace, joy, obedience to God, humility, words of wisdom, repentance, etc, but someone who is not full of the Spirit will have negative fruits which may include hatred, hostility, pride, greed, love of the world etc. Gal. 5:22-23 tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and James 3:17-18 teaches that the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. There are other scriptures that mention good fruit as the evidence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of disciples of Christ such as John 15:5, Ephesians 5:9 etc.
B. True believers are known by their LOVE:
John 13:35 teaches that "By this, all men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another." Ultimately we are looking for the love of God in people's lives and if they keep God's commandments. We have to ask -- do we love our neighbors as Christ loves them, and do we love our neighbor as we love ourselves? LOVE is what true believers are known for, not signs and wonders. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:29-31, "...Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts." So here we read that believers are not known for their signs and wonders, but in the next chapter (1 Cor. 13), Paul tells us that a true believer is known by their love.
So we should not be condemning one another about signs and saying things such as "Oh, you don't speak in tongues", or "Oh, you don't cast out demons", or "you don't do this" or "you don't do that." Instead, we should be looking for sanctification that produces a Christ-like nature. This is proof that we have Christ in us. What good is it if a person has various gifts and yet lacks in love? These are people who often spend a lot of time learning theology, and are deep into religious types of involvement etc, but many times they have not spent much time alone with Christ learning from Him. And when we fellowship with one another, what is it we need most? Isn't it LOVE? And when we're out sharing the gospel with the unsaved, what is it that they need most? It's LOVE. And to be frank, I could go the rest of my earthly life without seeing any sign, wonder, or miracle because I'm content just knowing God, being delivered from sin, having His word, and having a hope that is rooted in a solid foundation. But one thing I can't go without is His love and the love found in true believers as we read about in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.
The bottom line is that true Christians are known by their good fruit (obedience, abiding daily in the Lord, walking in the Spirit etc), and by their love. We should not be judging people based on areas like tongues, casting out demons, gifts of healing, etc. I've had people ask me if I speak in tongues and if I do other signs/wonders, but I've learned that if someone is trying to argue, and be combative in a harsh way while discussing the subject of tongues, signs, wonders etc, then they may as well be banging on a tin garbage can with a baseball bat because that is the equivalent of what they sound like to me for there's no life and no love in what they are saying to me, and the way in which they speak gives evidence that they are not walking in the Spirit.
If a person is walking in the flesh and has a religious spirit and they are so focused on signs and wonders, then that is not the way a disciple of Christ is to be. Instead, we are to walk in the Spirit and walk in love, for that is the evidence of the Holy Spirit that we look for! This article is not meant to inspire a debate about what speaking in tongues is about, or if tongues exist today etc (as well as the other miraculous type gifts) for holy scripture tells us to avoid foolish arguments, controversies, and quarrels. As Titus 3:9 tells us: "But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law because these are unprofitable and useless." Rather this article is about showing the TRUE evidence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer and how we can discern if someone is truly walking in the Spirit or not.
Article by Evelyn from "Faith and Reasons" ministry
Final important concluding teachings concerning Holy Spirit Baptism:
I would also like to warn that some people will try and discourage other Christians and tell them that they have not been baptized in the Holy Spirit unless they have "spoken in tongues." Do NOT be deceived by people who try to discourage you in this way, for holy scripture clearly teaches that ALL born again believers ARE baptized in the Holy Spirit and have had their past sins washed away, and there is no mention that tongues or any other miracle related gift are evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit.
People do not become 'baptized in the Holy Spirit' when they start having unusual type utterances come out of their mouth. People are baptized in the Holy Spirit at the moment of saving faith and the evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not because someone starts to supposedly speak in tongues, but it is evidenced because the person has truly repented and turned away from all known sin to now abide fully in Christ, and continues to walk on this path of holiness with the Lord. If a person has not been baptized in the Holy Spirit, then they are not even a child of God. Titus 3:5-6 clearly teaches that ALL true believers have had the Holy Spirit poured out upon them in Holy Spirit baptism and that the Lord saved us through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit. These verses tell us: "....not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior."
Baptism in the Holy Spirit is something that every true believer has experienced. Here is some scripture which verifies this truth:
Titus 3:5-6: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior."
1 Corinthians 12:13: "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and have all been made to drink into one Spirit."
1 Peter 3:21: "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ"
Gal. 3:27: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Eph. 4:5: "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (All children of God receive the one Holy Spirit baptism at the time when they have true saving faith and the evidence will be a new born again life that has turned from self and now lives to walk in the Spirit and abide fully in the Lord.)
All believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) which is not evidenced by signs/wonders but is evidenced by the fruits of the Spirit being seen in their lives.
How good it is to rest and trust in the truths of God's words and how good it is that His truths do set us free! Thank you for taking the time to read this and God bless you.
Final message by F. A. Butler