This is a follow-up to my last post. Thanks to those who commented. I agree with the comment by “savedbygrace” on that post– the gospel we preach defines us. This is precisely why I think it is so important we get it right. Of course as imperfect beings, we do not and will not have perfect theology this side of heaven. Nevertheless we must strive to improve our understanding, and moreover, I think God expects us to preach and teach an accurate gospel in the essentials.
So, is the gospel an invitation to a “charismatic” life characterized by the super-spiritual– constantly receiving direct revelations from God on what we are to do, say and pursue; being able to “see in the Spirit”; the ability to do all the same miracles Jesus did that we may convince people to believe; prophesying that which we claim is from God (but may not be 100% accurate)? I don’t think so.
Granted, Christianity is indeed a supernatural life and the Holy Spirit indwells us, and we are called to be filled with the Spirit today (see John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; Eph 5:8). But this does not require that we have all of the above sorts of manifestations. God is free to give such things if He chooses, but I don’t think in this day He is normally giving such gifts. Rather, we have been equipped by God’s Word and by His Spirit to live the Christian life we are called to live (2 Tim 3:16-17; 1 Cor 12:4-31). Thus I think the chief mistakes in the larger charismatic movement are: 1) to pretend that miracles are happening all the time when in fact they are not; 2) to downgrade the gift of prophecy to hit-or-miss pronouncements characterized by inaccuracy; and 3) to promise healing based on a supposed provision of the atonement that guarantees it (see my article, Sickness, Healing and the Christian, Pt 2 (Biblical Analysis).)
A reformed, and I think biblical response to the charismatic portrait of the Christian life demonstrates practical differences in the two approaches:
- We pray to God for all our needs (Phil 3:6) and may even ask Him to do miracles, which He may or may not do as He wills. We rejoice if and when God does miracles in our midst, but of course, do not and cannot demand them. We define miracles as that which is extra-ordinary (as in the healing a of a man born blind, for example). God’s providential care for us as He answers prayer doesn’t necessarily constitute a miracle, which by definition is a special and rare occurrence. Moreover we argue that the miracles of Jesus’ day were signs authenticating the message of Jesus and His apostles (Matt 12:28, 2 Cor 12:12) and that that season of miracles apparently has passed.
- We preach and teach the Word of God as accurately as possible (2 Peter 4:1-2), knowing it alone is God’s inspired revelation to us (unlike charismatic prophecy, we don’t need to guess what percentage of the prophecy comes from God and what part is human error). We trust therefore that God’s Word is sufficient to provide the guidance and instruction we need to properly live a Christian life and to teach and make disciples (2 Peter 1:3, 2 Tim 3:16-17). We define prophecy as Scripture does– the very words of God spoken through the mouth of people (2 Peter 1:21). So we hold all prophecy to the high standard of Scripture in terms of its accuracy– if it does not come to pass– it’s false prophecy and the person who has spoken it is falsely speaking for God (Deut 13:1-5; Deut 18:20-22).
- As we obey God and live for Him we ask that He would heal the sick, and we can lay hands on the sick, as the Word prescribes (James 5: 14-18). But we leave the answer to these prayers to God– if He heals, we rejoice in that, and if He does not heal, we trust that God knows best (2 Cor 12:8-10). We don’t claim God has healed if in fact He has not healed, and we don’t charge folks with not having enough faith if their prayer for healing is answered in the negative. We don’t claim to know that all sickness is caused by sin or by the devil, but trust that ultimately God in His sovereignty rules over this and all areas of our lives.
Thus far we have been addressing what the gospel is not. I have claimed it is not an invitation to a supercharged, mystical life full of continuous miraculous manifestations. So then, what is the gospel and what is the normal Christian life?
The gospel is that Jesus Christ– Son of God and God in the flesh– came to Earth, lived among us, was crucified on a cross for sins and was raised again by the authority and power of God after three days in the grave (1 Cor 3:3-5; John 1:9-18, 34; 1 John 5:11-12, John 10:18) . The person who puts their faith in Christ is forgiven all their sins, because God poured out His full wrath and anger at sin upon Jesus as He hung on the cross, and by raising Him from the dead, God validated Jesus’ claims to be God, in fulfillment of the many ancient prophecies that predicted a Messiah would come that would do all the things Jesus did (Romans 4:23; Romans 5:9). The life Jesus lived– a perfect, selfless life– satisfies God’s requirement of holiness– and Jesus’ record of sinless obedience is transferred to the one who has faith in Him (2 Cor 5:21). So our sins of commission and of omission are both fully taken care of and removed by the cross and the obedience of Christ, and we are thus reconciled to God, adopted as His children, and called to a new life of fellowship with Him and with brothers and sisters who have likewise been called (Romans 5:10; Col 1:22; John 1:12; 1 John 1:3). Much more could be said, but these are the essentials.
So what does this Christian life look like? Well, outwardly it is a very normal life, in many respects. The Christian doesn’t necessarily look any different than before, but inwardly, a miracle of new life has been wrought in his/her heart, one which plants a desire to love God and to be obedient to Him (Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Cor 5:17). We are drawn to the Bible (1 Peter 2:2), which by the Spirit we recognize as the true Word of God to His children (1 Cor 2:12-13). This new life implanted within has a supernatural quality, in that we have new desires that prod us and help us to transcend our old selfish tendencies. But the Christian need not manifest anything outwardly spectacular. I think that biblically the Bible doesn’t teach that Christians need special experiences like being “slain in the Spirit”, speaking in tongues, the so-called “baptism in the Spirit” that is subsequent to salvation, in order to be fruitful. Yes, we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) but this seems to be an ongoing process that involves many non-flashy activities– reading and meditating on God’s Word, obeying God’s Word, etc. Ultimately, people will know we are Christians, not because of our exciting supernatural manifestations, but rather, by the fruit we bear in love towards God and others (see John 13:33-35; 1 Cor 13).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:22-24, ESV)
For further thought:
Providence by J. I. Packer
God’s Providence over all (PDF) by B.B. Warfield
Divine Providence, or What About Miracles? by S. Lewis Johnson