The Miraculous Gifts of the Holy Spirit: what the Scriptures promise

What does the New Testament promise about spiritual gifts? A restoration of miracles, healings and tongues to the Church in the last days in preparation for the End? That is what Pentecostalism from its origin has believed. Pentecostalism began with a widespread desire for the gift of tongues (foreign languages) for world evangelisation and the desire for a restoration of the 'full gospel,' involving Spirit-baptism as a post-conversion experience of empowerment with the miraculous sign gifts such as healing.

The claim that God restored the miraculous gifts of the New Testament period to the church in the revivals of the early 1900s is questionable. Such a belief assumes that these gifts were in some way 'lost' in the first place. The Bible nowhere indicates that God would at some stage in early church history cease to give any of the spiritual gifts. Similarly, the Scriptures nowhere promise that God would continue to give them continuously throughout church history. And even more critically, the Scriptures nowhere promise an end-time restoration of the sign gifts such as prophecy, tongues, miracles and healing.

It is likely that God has continued to give all of his gifts to the church right throughout its history. It is certainly possible that God has enabled Christians to genuinely speak the tongues of the same identity as those of the New Testament period, for example. Similarly, God may well have used the prayers or involvement of many Christians to do genuine miracles or healing. He may also have allowed Christians to provide genuine prophecy of the same nature as that in the New Testament period.

But if the New Testament does not actually promise miraculous activity to Christians, what has God promised about spiritual gifts?

Warning: The promise of miracles

The New Testament does instruct Christians to expect miraculous activity in the last days. But remarkably, for Pentecostals at least, these instructions warn Christians to expect miraculous activity in the world! Christians are instructed to be very cautious about genuine miraculous activity from non-Christians and false-Christians and even from Satan himself. We are to test everything, holding onto only that which is good.

In order to understand this point it is vital to realise that none of the spiritual gifts themselves require a Christian context or content. Claims and evidence of miraculous activity have come from all sides of society and history. This includes spiritualists, agnostics, members of the occult and those leading immoral lives. Any claim to a miracle or healing does not necessitate the work of God for three reasons:

Firstly, mistakes are all too easy to make, especially in an overly keen state of mind. There are multiple factors that might account for so-called healings. These include wrong diagnosis and healing as a result of other causes. Other causes of healing include the natural bodily process of recovery and the use of bodily aids like therapy, medication and treatment.

The second and third reason why a miracle or healing does not necessitate the work of God are given by the New Testament itself when specifically warning Christians about what to expect in these last days.

Secondly, the Scriptures warn that false prophets will come who will be able to do miracles, signs and wonders that deceive and lead astray Christians (Mk 13:22, cf. Deut 13:1-5).

Thirdly, the Scriptures also warn that in the last days Satan himself will deceive people with powerful signs and wonders because of their refusal to love the truth (2 Th 2:9-10).

Therefore the presence of miraculous activity is not necessarily a sign of spirituality and the work of God. It is a warning sign. It should cause us to listen all the more carefully to the accompanying message being preached (or not preached), testing it against the Scriptures so that we are not lead astray from the gospel to something that is different and therefore false.

The Pentecostal case

Pentecostals argue the point that miraculous gifts such as healing, tongues, prophecy and exorcisim are promised to Christians. Pentecostalism relies heavily upon three passages for its position: Mark 16:9-20, in which Jesus is described as saying ‘signs will accompany those who believe;’ James 5:14-16 in which James states, 'Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church... And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well;' and 1 Corinthians 14:1 that instructs Christians, 'eagerly desire spiritual gifts' within the context of the miraculous (1 Cor 12:8-10). However a careful reading of each of these passages disqualifies them as a basis for an expectation of the miraculous activity of God within the church. But that's for the next article.

More on this topic

The miraculous gifts: The Pentecostal basis

Gifts of the Spirit: What Pentecostals believe

The gift of tongues: What the Scriptures describe | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.