A second letter responding to a reader’s query about miracles and our critique of the Bethel network. See the first letter here.
In my last letter I responded to some specific verses you cited—verses which might be seen as supporting the idea that we should all be expecting to do miracles like the apostles. I argued that when we look at the context, we see that those miracles were meant to be signs, and that the Bible wants us to focus on the meaning of those signs: Jesus and his great mission.
But does it have to be either/or? As you note, the Bible says that we should be seeking to be like Jesus (e.g. 2Cor 3:18). You also point out that we have the Holy Spirit and that makes us like Jesus too. Didn’t he do his miracles by the power of the Spirit?
Jesus was a genuine man. He wasn’t a human/divine hybrid who did his miracles by a secret glowing power-supply hidden inside his ribcage.
Now this question of Jesus and the Spirit is an important one, and it is something that has come up again and again in discussion around the Bethel movement. The theology involved in that dispute heads into some tricky areas so I won’t address it in this letter. I have however written a companion post for anyone who wants to go a bit deeper with it.
Jesus: Man of the Spirit
Cutting to the chase here, however, I would like to partly agree with what you are saying. Jesus was a genuine man who lived his life by the Holy Spirit. He wasn’t a human/divine hybrid who did his miracles by a secret glowing power-supply hidden inside his ribcage. It was all the Spirit:
He was conceived by the Spirit
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)
He was directed by the Spirit
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12)
His message came by the Spirit:
He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:17-18)
He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. (John 3:34)
His works of power were achieved through the Spirit:
God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)
So, in one sense, we might indeed say that Jesus’ signs were not that different from those done by any other man of God. Did Jesus speak God’s words by the Spirit? So did the prophets. Did Jesus raise the dead and heal from a distance? So did Elisha. Did Jesus multiply food? So did Elijah. Did Jesus walk on water? Moses divided the sea.
A Question of Identity
The works that Jesus did weren’t just works of the Spirit, they were potent signs of who he is.
And yet when we look closer, there are big differences. The works that Jesus did weren’t just works of the Spirit, they were potent signs of who he was (and is). So, when he calmed the wind and waves, the disciples didn’t say, “wow what a great display of spiritual power. How can I do that too?” Instead:
… they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41)
That was the right question. And the answer, if they knew their Old Testament, should have been pretty clear:
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. (Ps 107:28-29)
The same thing happened with the demons. When they fell before him, it wasn’t his spiritual power that terrified them, it was his identity:
And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” (Mark 5:6-7)
Now it may well still be that Jesus was calming the sea and casting out the demons by the Holy Spirit. But that is secondary here. The important thing is who those works revealed Jesus to be.
Jesus and Us, Same but Different
What I’m trying to say is that pointing out similarities between Jesus and us can be helpful—but only if you first understand that he is completely different from us. If you say, for example, Jesus is God’s Son and the Bible says I am God’s child too, you have made a true statement. But Jesus was, and is, God’s eternal Son. The works of the Spirit that revealed his sonship on earth were not only unique (you and I were not conceived by the Spirit) they were appropriate for him. The only reason you and I can call ourselves God’s children is because:
… God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6)
Some people are getting so excited about being like Jesus that they have forgotten that it’s all about Jesus himself.
Can you see my concern? I’m worried that some people are getting so excited about being like Jesus that they have forgotten that it’s all about Jesus himself.
The Spirit’s Focus
M_______, at one point in your letter you mention the power promised in Acts 1:8—the power that comes with the Holy Spirit—and you ask “why do we need power if not to do the things that Jesus did?”
The answer to your question comes from the very verse you mention:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)
This is the primary work of the Spirit! He comes to give us power to understand and bear witness to Jesus.
- That was true in the Old Testament: When the Spirit came to the prophets in the Old Testament he came as “the Spirit of Christ” preparing the way for Jesus. (1Pet 1:11 c.f. Luke 24:27; 1Cor 10:4,11; 2Cor 1:20)
- It was true for the apostles: When Jesus promised the Spirit he said that “he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)
- And it is true for us: When Paul speaks about the Spirit he talks about him in the context of preaching the cross. The message of Christ crucified sounds stupid to Jews and Gentiles (1Cor 1:23) but…
… we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1Cor 2:12)
Let me repeat, as I did in my last letter, that this isn’t to reject the possibility of miracles today. If God really blesses your witness with miracles that is good. Do them! But we must never focus on the miracles themselves, and we must never ever confuse ourselves with Jesus.
It is good to want to be like Jesus. But it is also very important that we let the Bible guide us as to which ways God wants like Jesus.
It is good to want to be like Jesus. But it is also very important that we let the Bible guide us as to which ways God wants us to be like Jesus. God does not want you to die for people’s sins like Jesus did. He does not want you to try casting out demons in your own authority as Jesus did. I would suggest he is very unlikely to give you power to repeat the miracles which revealed Jesus as Messiah and God.
So can I finish by challenging you to read through the letters of the New Testament and list the ways they encourage us to pursue Christ-likeness? How often are we commanded to do miracles? How often are we exhorted to be like him in things like love, humility and holiness? Where does the emphasis lie?
Thank you once again for writing to us at TGCA. May God bless us all and help us to grow in our love and understanding.