'God Should Work Miracles on Demand'
From Satan's Ten Most Believable Lies
One of the interesting developments on the current religious scene is the surge of interest in visible phenomena. As people become increasingly disillusioned with the age of materialism, they may well be approaching the attitude of mind that Gideon had when, in a time of Israels spiritual poverty, he remonstrated with God, Oh, my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? But now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites (Judges 6:13).
Where are all His miracles? people who think of themselves as the people of God often ask in a time of spiritual privation. In response to this sense of spiritual need, there are increasing numbers of religious leaders and increasing masses of religious followers who claim that the age of miracles has broken upon us in a new way. The word miracle has reentered our vocabulary and has become an object of intense interest.
We sing songs about miracles, and many Christians claim to have seen God work in miraculous ways. But, in addition to this, we have miracle magazines, miracle handkerchiefs, miracle publishing houses, miracle valleys, miracle messages, miracle meetings, and many who claim openly or by implication to have the gift of working one or another kind of miracles. This involvement has long been the case with the religious lunatic fringe, but extensive and loose talk about miracles has now entered into legitimate Christian circles.
This is therefore an appropriate time to note the seventh doctrine of the devil, namely, that God is a magician, working miracles on demand. We note this satanic doctrine from the account of Christs temptation in the gospel of Matthew.
Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:1-4)
In this passage, we have more than a dialogue between two individuals: this is the account of a stupendous moral contest, an encounter between good and evil, in which the destiny of the world was at stake. Here, Satan openly presents himself before Christ and presses his first temptation to the Savior, at what he presumes is Christs greatest temporary vulnerability: physical hunger. For the past forty days, the Lord had eaten nothing, and food was not available. Knowing this, the wily adversary moves in with his first moral attack against Christ. He says, in effect, If You are the Son of God, You have no problem with this matter of physical hunger. Be a magician; command that these stones be made bread. This suggests the satanic doctrine that working a miracle on demand is valid for the solution of personal problems and the satisfaction of physical needs. This implies that God is a magician, that a miracle is a capricious event, its purpose being temporary human satisfaction.
Christs response to this satanic assertion is most instructive. Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. He means that the physical or natural event is of itself without significance. The true significance of any phenomenon can only be understood by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Reality, then, is not finally made out of atoms and moleculesout of bread alone. Reality is the Word of God; His Word is ultimate truth. Events, more miraculous ones, are not of themselves significant; significance lies in a knowledge and understanding of divine truth.
The many claims to mysterious, supernatural workings that are current today make imperative a re-examination of the marvel of the miraculous. The time has come to ask basic questions about miracles that are answered from the one reliable source of data, the Bible. After the experiences have been reported, the testimonies given, the songs sung, and the wheelchairs parked, we do well to look into the Word of God to discover what this current supernaturalistic talk is all about.
First of all, let us consider the word that is the center of the discussion, miracle. What is a miracle? A miracle is a supernatural phenomenon in the experience of men, presumably occurring in contradiction to the laws of nature.
By this definition, it is obvious that not everything that happens and not even everything that is unusual is a miracle. A real miracle must be something more than mere coincidence, an occurrence quite distinct from what we would expect of nature. Many wonderful events may take place in our lives, and we may call these answers to prayer and workings of God. We cannot, however, on this account, call them miracles. We need to be careful about using language in this regard.
This, of course, poses the second question: What is the proof of a miracle? We are warned in Scripture to prove all things; hold fast that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). For want of proof, many naive and impressionable believers have been exploited by clever manipulators. Somehow, the idea that every claim of the unusual that comes to us with religious overtones must be believed, has entered into Christian thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Bible warns us in many ways that the world will see false teachers (2 Peter 2:1) and is worked upon by liars, deceivers, and blasphemers, who, as we approach the end of the age, will grow worse and worse (2 Timothy 3:13). In the light of the mounting delusions of our present age (2 Thessalonians 2:11), we must take time to prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
We are enabled to do this if we will follow the rules of Scripture. Many passages in the Bible explain in detail the nature of proof. The first principle is that no one persons witness or testimony to an event is of itself proof at all. The law says, One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established (Deuteronomy 19:15). The same principle of two or three witnesses is repeated in other places in the Old Testament (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6).
This rule for the verifying of unusual events was reestablished by Christ, saying, That in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Matthew 18:16).
How, then, do we prove the truth of any event? Any occurrence or claim, event or accusation, must be established in the mouth of two, and better three, reliable witnesses. We must reemphasize the truthful aspect of it, for the Bible warns of the presence and danger of false witnesses.
With this in mind, we may ask a third question, What is the purpose of a miracle? Obviously, the purpose of a miracle is not simply to do something interesting, nor merely to produce a result, such as healing, in the life of a person. It would be cruel for Christ to work a miracle for the sole object of producing healing in one and let others go without receiving this miracle. Happily, Scripture gives the purpose of the miracles of Christ.
The main purpose of Christs miracles was to bear witness to the truth of revelation. Speaking of the great salvation that we have in the Lord Jesus, Scripture says, Which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witnesses, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will? (Hebrews 2:3-4). Clearly then, the purpose of miracles was to bear them witness. God worked an unusual phenomenon in order to demonstrate to those present that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that the word of the Apostles was from God. The miracles were on-the-spot proof to the validity of a divine or divinely ordained speaker, either the Lord Jesus or the apostles.
If the purpose of a miracle is to bear witness to the truth of revelation, then obviously miracles are of little value when reported third or fourth hand, for soon they are spoken by individuals who cannot establish their credibility according to the law of evidence that we have stated. The verbal revelation of God, however, can be passed on from mind to mind and heart to heart. Truth bears its own credentials to the honest mind, especially when we remember that its early credentials were the miraculous power of God. The working of a miracle can be of great value to those who actually see it. The testimony of a miracle, passed on to others without the confirmation of eyewitnesses, loses that value. It is easy for the story to become confused, exaggerated, and easier yet for the listener to desire a similar miracle rather than to accept the truth of Scripture certified by the original miracle.
How unfortunate it is that so many reports are being published today of miracles from obscure corners of the world. Even if these remarkable events were true, it is unwise for them to be reported through books and pamphlets across the Christian world, because we cannot possibly prove their truth. There is no way you or I could assemble two or three competent witnesses to the miraculous occurrence. I must remember, therefore, that I am not required to believe these accounts; in fact, I am virtually required not to believe them. In that it is impossible for me to fulfill the admonition of Scripture to prove all things, I must be careful not to let my mind be influenced by these phenomenalistic accounts of events that are contrary to nature.
Beside that, even if these events were true, they do not fulfill the purpose of miracles. The purpose of miracles in the New Testament was to be a witness, a certification by God, of the revelation of His Word. The revelation of the Word of God is now complete in the pages of Holy Scripture, and we are forbidden to add to or take away from the written, canonical revelation. The scriptural function of miracles has ceased, in that the written Word of God has already been certified with signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The publishing of these phenomenalistic accounts is not only pointless, it is also dangerous, because the naive reader has a tendency to ask, If God is doing these things in other places, why dont I see such miraculous events? This person understandably tends to make a universal doctrine out of what may be a specific and unrepeated working of God in a given place. The Word, therefore, that we are to spread across the world is not the unsupportable verbal accounts of miraculous events" but the scriptural account of the great event that produced the gospel. This event, of course, is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
Because of the many warnings in Scripture, we obviously must consider another question in connection with this subject, namely, Who can work miracles? This is a telling question when we remember that in Scripture, miracles were worked by God, Christ, servants of God at Gods command, prophets, apostles, and other valid representatives of God. There is no question as to the validity of miracles by individuals specifically chosen of God and certified by Scripture.
But let us not forget the darker side of the picture. Miracles are also worked by Satan and his servants. Signs and wonders were worked by sorcerers and evil spirits (Exodus 7:11; 8:7; Matthew 24:24). According to Scripture, Satan himself is able to work miracles, and he will (Revelation 13:14; 16:14; 19:20).
The Antichrist will, after the working of Satan, be able to produce power, signs, and lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9). Many other false servants will claim to have worked miracles. Those who hope to enter heaven one day will say to Christ, Lord, . . . in thy name have [we not] cast out demons? And in thy name done many wonderful works? (Matthew 7:22, NSRB). Christs answer makes it clear that despite this supernatural ability, they were neither Christians nor servants of God. Although miracles are a supernatural working, that supernatural ability may come from a satanic source. Because of this, we are clearly admonished in Scripture to try the spirits (1 John 4:1).
We cannot emphasize this too greatly: all spiritual activity is not necessarily produced by our heavenly Father. Satan does indeed work miracles. He does this to add credence to his false doctrines. Because of this clever activity by our satanic adversary, we should be most careful and fearful of too easily believing and too quickly rejoicing in the reports from here and there of supernatural phenomena.
But, we may argue, is there not a legitimate place for believing God for a miracle within the activity of Christians? This raises a fourth question. Will faith produce miracles? Many claim, based on the promises of Christ, that proper faith will produce a miraculous working of God. Much modern preaching claims that strong faith will produce great miracles and that weak faith will produce small miracles, but that the miraculous is available to us all as a result of our faith. The great chapter on faith will help us in this regard.
Hebrews 11 tells us of some remarkable results that faith produced in the lives of people. We may be astonished to note that almost all of these results are inner attitudes and external human activities as against miraculous workings of God. In Hebrews 11, faith produces understanding (v. 3), the ability to make an offering (v. 4), the diligence to prepare an ark (v. 7), obedience (v. 8), and strength (v. 11). It produced in Isaac the ability to bless Jacob (v. 20); in Jacob, the ability to bless both of Josephs sons and to worship God (v. 21). By faith, Joseph made mention of the departing of the children of Israel (v. 22).
By faith, Moses was hidden (v. 23). Also by faith, Moses refused (v. 24), he forsook (v. 27), he kept (v. 28). By faith, the children of Israel passed through the Red Sea (v. 29). Precious few of the results of faith in Hebrews 11 could come under the heading of overt miracles. Most of the results of faith were inner resolution by which individuals believed God and patiently labored for Him. The list of the heroes of faith from verse 32 to verse 40 includes only a few miracles, but the larger result of faith was the ability to endure cruel afflictions and even to die without seeing the results of ones faith or receiving the promise.
The apparent message of Hebrews 11 was that those who had faith were able to go through painful experiences and did not need a miracle to sustain them. This is consistent with the great statement of faith made by Job in the midst of his grievous difficulties. Looking into the face of his God, he said, Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him (Job 13:15).
A related question is, Do not miracles produce faith? The gospels answer is no, not always. Thousands of individuals saw firsthand the miracles of Jesus Christ, beholding His divine and therefore remarkable ability to produce supernatural phenomena before their astonished eyes. We find, however, at the end of His earthly ministry, the multitudes rejected Him as their Messiah and hated Him for those very divine qualities.
The miracles of Christ had little permanent impact upon most of those who saw them. His miracles did not create living faith by which they would follow Him. An illustration of the inability of miracles to produce faith themselves is in Matthew 16:8-10. Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Christ indicts His hearers, because, though they saw the miracles, they neither believed nor understood Him or the nature of His ministry. Faith is produced, not by miracles, but by a knowledge of the Bible. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). An understanding of Christian doctrine will produce faith within the heart, and no external phenomenon, apart from this understanding, will cause us to believe.
A further question regarding miracles is, Do faithful, spiritual people really need to see a sign or a miracle? Nothing is clearer from the earthly ministry of Christ than that those who were constantly asking for a miracle and a sign were those whose hearts were furthest from Him. They were the unbelieving, and often, they were the critics and the hecklers. Those who lived in the quiet confidence that Jesus Christ was the Son of God were happy to listen with loving contentment to His words and lessons for them.
The other group, those who cared nothing for the real Jesus Christ or the real salvation that He had to offer, were the object of the scathing denunciation of Christ, A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed (Matthew 16:4). These forceful words of our Savior should give us a better understanding of those who seek miracles, demand signs, put out fleeces, and give themselves to other similar insults to God. The call for a miracle characterized the carnal and unbelieving, not the spiritual.
Because we are concerned, we must continue to question. The questions that logically follow are, Will not God work a miracle in answer to a given prayer? What is the formula for scriptural prayer?
A partial list of those qualities of prayer which will enable us to pray in a scriptural fashion would be most instructive.
These characteristics of prevailing prayer are not to discourage us but to warn us against spiritual presumption. God gives us these modifiers that will keep us from going off the deep end as we seek the Lord for answers.
These scriptural principles also serve to remind us to reject the human formulas for prayer by those who promote miraculous answers. Clever spiritual formulas are commonly advocated by those who hold to some sort of automatic A-B-C-type prayer involvement with God. The formulas are many, but most of them boil down to a three-stage approach. One, have faith; two, send me your prayer request and believe in my prayers; three, make a contribution to my cause. These religious charlatans ought to be held in sustained contempt by all spiritual and reasonable people. We have seen that the satanic doctrine is almost true, that all that a man hath will he give for his life. This almost truth has enriched the professional miracle-workers to an astonishing and heartbreaking degree.
How then shall we pray? The answer to that is clear from the life and experience of the apostle Paul. Paul had a painful affliction, a thorn in the flesh. Understandably, he prayed that he might be delivered from it. He prayed not once, but three times. The answer that the Lord gave to him is fraught with spiritual lessons that would be of value for each of us. His loving Lord responded to his prayers by saying, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Paul, understanding this gracious response of his heavenly Father, gratefully declared, Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christs sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). How shall we pray? We should pray with an attitude that leaves the results with God and rejoices in them. For the believer, nothing is better than sufficient grace.
What then do we understand about miracles? A divine miracle is a working of God in contrast to the normal laws of nature, the exercise of which depends finally on His own sovereignty. He invites us to pray, to have faith in Him, and to trust Him for His best. The method of Gods response to that faith and trust must obviously be left in His hands. There is a time to live and a time to die. There is a time to be sick and a time to be well, and all of these states can be endured to the glory of God.
Then let us ask that one final question. Is a miracle Gods modus operandi? Is a miracle the normal way God intends to work with us, and is it true that if we had more faith, we would see miracles as a regular practice? The answer is no. Here is why.
The devil was in effect saying, Circumvent natural law in favor of a miracle, when he told Christ to command that the stones turn into bread.
How are we supposed to get bread? The normal way is that wheat is grown in the field, brought to the granary, ground into flour, and baked into loaves. In the process, many people are given gainful employment, and the final consumer of the bread appreciates both the blessing of God and the labor of man. The modus operandi of God, then, is not miracles; it is natural law.
If God is to work a miracle, He must do it only occasionally. For God to reach into the natural universe and work in contrast to the operation of the universe may well disturb the balance of nature beyond repair. God may make it rain upon occasion, but He must not do this too often because He has promised never to flood the world again. It is true that God supplied the needs of some people by a method that occasionally appears to be miraculous, but He must not do this too often because soon even Christians will become spiritually irresponsible as they did at the church at Thessalonica. Some turned into busybodies, working not at all (2 Thessalonians 3:11), and were charity cases under the welfare program of the church. Therefore, the rule was, If any would not work, neither should he eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). They were to be fed not by a miracle but by their responsible labor.
Shall we then learn to expect miracles? Surely, we have no scriptural warrant for so doing. We must rather remember that whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting (Galatians 6:7-8). This is the path to spiritual responsibility.
Many efforts for God are produced across the world by people who labor, suffer affliction, hunger, and endure persecution. In this, they assemble the human components of a mighty work for God. God in His love does not choose to do the whole work Himself, for we are labourers together with God (1 Corinthians 3:9). God has not offered Himself to us as a magician, but rather as the Savior, both of our souls and of our competence. Competent, spiritual people will take God at His word and endeavor to be effective, responsible workers together with Him. They will not accept Satans lie that God is waiting at our beck and call for miracles on demand.
Satan's Ten Most Believable Lies