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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Part Two)

Don Stewart :: Why Don't Believers Today Perform the Same Miraculous Works as Early Christians?

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Why Don’t Believers Today Perform the Same Miraculous Works as Early Christians?

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit Part Two – Question 13

When Jesus Christ was here upon the earth He performed a number of miraculous deeds. The New Testament, which written by eyewitness of the events, or those who recorded eyewitness testimony, documents these miracles.

Furthermore, Jesus gave His miraculous power to those who followed Him, His disciples. After He left the earth and ascended into heaven, this miraculous power remained with them. From Scripture, we learn the following.

The Early Christians Performed Many Miracles

The Bible records the apostles of Jesus Christ having the ability to perform miracles. We read about this in the Book of Acts. It says.

Meanwhile, the apostles were performing many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And the believers were meeting regularly at the Temple in the area known as Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared to join them, though everyone had high regard for them. And more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord— crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles’ work, sick people were brought out into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came in from the villages around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed (Acts 5:12–16 NLT).

We note that the Bible says they did “many” miracles. The obviously had the ability to perform great works.

The Miracles Were Not Limited to the Apostles

These miracles were not limited to the Jesus’ apostles. The first martyr Stephen, who was not an apostle, also performed miracles. We read about this in the Book of Acts.

Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people (Acts 6:8 NIV).

Certain non-apostles had the ability to perform miracles.

The Miracles Caused Belief

The New Testament says the miracles caused many to believe in Jesus. The unbelievers did not deny the signs that they performed. After one particular miracle, the religious leaders concluded the following.

What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (Acts 4:16 NKJV).

They obviously could perform these great deeds. Indeed, there was no way in which anyone could deny what was taking place.

Why Don’t We See These Same Miracles Today?

Though there are those who contend that the same miracles that were performed by the apostles are occurring today, they are certainly not happening with the same regularity as in the New Testament period. Moreover it is not the normal experience for any church or any believer. The question is this: Why don’t we see the same type of supernatural things happening today? Should the believer expect to see these miraculous signs in our day and age?

There Are Three Possible Answers

A number of answers are given for the lack of miraculous deeds performed by the church today. They are as follows.

  1. The spiritual gift of the working of miracles was limited to the apostolic age as a confirmation of the truth of the gospel. This gift is no longer given.
  2. Miracles are possible today but sin and a lack of faith on the part of believers keep miracles from occurring.
  3. Miracles are still possible but not the norm.

Option 1: They Were Limited to the Apostolic Age

Among the reasons for the miracles performed by Jesus’ apostles was to establish the truth of the gospel message. Indeed, there are verses in the New Testament that speak of the confirmation of Christ’s message by miracles. We read in Hebrews that the miracles were done by the apostles.

What makes us think that we can escape if we are indifferent to this great salvation that was announced by the Lord Jesus himself? It was passed on to us by those who heard him speak, and God verified the message by signs and wonders and various miracles and by giving gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose to do so (Hebrews 2:3,4 NLT).

If the confirmation of the gospel were the only reason for these miracles, then after the word had been confirmed there was no further need for signs. Some people argue that this is why we do not see the miracles performed today. This argument sees the purpose of miracles as limited to confirmation of the message of Jesus Christ before the New Testament was written. If that were the purpose for the miracles, then we should not expect see modern-day miracles.

Yet, this argument has not convinced everyone. Indeed, is it said that if this were the purpose of the miraculous gifts, then we should expect to see them every time, or at least more often, than what is recorded in the New Testament.

In fact, if that were the case, we should expect to see the miracles on every occasion of the early presentation of the gospel. But we do not. This seems to indicate that miracles may have been for other reasons than the confirmation of the message of Christ.

In response to this, we should mention that Paul did say that the signs and wonders followed him wherever he went.

By the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ (Romans 15:19 TNIV).

Consequently, while they are not always recorded for us, it seems that this miracle-working power was evident everywhere.

Option 2: Sin and Lack of Faith Stop Them from Happening

There are others who feel the lack of miracles in our modern day does lay not so much with God as it does with humanity’s spiritual state. In other words, people have refused to believe that God would perform miracles. This is the reason as to why they do not occur; unbelief. This reminds us what was said of Jesus’ lack of miracles in a particular place.

And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith (Matthew 13:58 NIV).

Modern humanity seemingly has a scientific explanation for every event. While people of past generations attributed miracles to many things they did not understand, modern humanity believes it has a scientific explanation for every event. This anti-supernatural bias keeps God from working miracles in our day and age. Thus, the lack of miracles we see can be blamed upon the lack of faith of Christians.

This Was Not True for the New Testament Era

Yet, this position also assumes that miracles should be the norm for Christians. However, this was not true in the New Testament era. These miraculous deeds were not the norm. While God is certainly able to work miracles in our time, it is not necessary for Him to do so to demonstrate His existence.

Option 3: They Are Possible Today but Not the Norm

There is also the view that miraculous signs are still possible today, but they are not the norm. They could intensify during certain periods of the history of the church without dying out altogether. Miracles, on the order of those performed by the apostles, have not been the norm for the church age. There have been reports of some of these miracles occurring on occasion, but their frequency and verifiability has not been the same as with the apostolic times.

We Should Not Always Expect a Miracle

While it may not seem correct to rule out the possibility of modern-day miracles, we should not expect them to be the everyday experience of Christians. Obviously it has not been the usual experience throughout the church age to see the blind receive their sight or for people to walk on water.

God certainly is able to work miracles if He should choose. Nobody denies this. However, believers should not worry if miracles do not occur in their church or in their individual lives. God normally acts through natural processes rather than spectacular events.

People Are Nowhere Urged to Seek Signs

There is something else which we must appreciate. Nowhere in the New Testament are people urged to seek signs. Interestingly, when Scripture speaks of mature Christian behavior, miracles are never mentioned. Jesus said the following to the crowds in His day.

When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29 NRSV).

It is not a mark of Christian maturity to seek some outward miracle from the Lord.

They Must Listen to the Word of God

Jesus gave an important assessment of miracles in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In His story, Abraham said the following words.

But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’ (Luke 16:31 NKJV).

Believers in Jesus Christ should not be preoccupied with signs and wonders but rather with the Word of God. Our Christian life is lived by faith. Paul wrote.

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV).

Even if there are no outward miraculous signs of God working, believers are still to trust Him. Christians rely on who God is, not so much on the outward signs that He performs.

The Wrong Impression Can Be Given

Sometimes miracles can give people the wrong impression. After Jesus fed the five thousand the people wanted to make Him king. This basically took place because He could give them free handouts of food. We read the following in the gospel of John.

Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26,27 NRSV).

Yet we find these same people soon leaving Jesus. John also records this fact.

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more (John 6:66 NKJV).

These people who earlier had wanted to make Him their king were now leaving Him.

Jesus Did Not Trust Those Who Followed Him Because of Miracles

Jesus did not entrust Himself to those who followed Him because of miracles alone. John wrote the following about Jesus.

When he [Jesus] was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone (John 2:23–25 NRSV).

Therefore, miracles have limited value. We should always keep this in mind.

Summary – Question 13
Why Don’t Believers Today Perform the Same Miraculous Works as Early Christians?

The Bible says that Jesus Christ, during His earthly ministry, performed miracles. Even His enemies acknowledged this. We find that the New Testament says that Jesus’ apostles, as well as certain other Christians, also performed miracles. Nobody could deny this either.

However, miracles, like those recorded in the New Testament, are certainly not taking place in our day and age. Why did they occur through the hands of the first Christians but do not occur today? What is the explanation? There are three basic views as to why we are not seeing modern-day miracles.

One view says that these miraculous signs were primarily performed to establish of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These signs confirmed to the people of that day that the message of Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah who had come down from heaven above. In fact, many people believe that the confirmation of the gospel was the only reason miracles were performed. Thus, once the message of Christ had been confirmed, miracles of that order ceased.

Yet if this were the case we would seemingly expect to see miracles occurring wherever the message went in those early years. However, the Bible does not record miraculous signs being performed every place the apostles preached. This, it is argued shows that the signs were not given to confirm the gospel message.

However, this is not necessarily the case. When Paul wrote to the Romans he stated that the signs and wonders followed him wherever he preached. Thus, even though they were not recorded on each occasion these miraculous signs were certainly present. This gives further indication that the main purpose of the miracles was to confirm the message of Christ at the beginning.

Others disagree that miracles ceased with apostles. They believe miracles are still possible. The lack of miracles among believers is explained as a problem with Christians, not God. Indeed, it is due to sin and faithlessness in the church rather than the Lord withdrawing the gift. If Christians would only believe what God says in His Word then we would see more miracles.

The problem with this view is not that are few miracles occurring today like those in the New Testament but rather there are no miracles like this taking place in our day and age. Certainly, nobody wants to argue that there is not one Christian on the entire earth who truly takes God at His Word. Furthermore, as we read about Jesus’ apostles as well as others in the early church we discover that they were not always acting like spiritual giants. If the Lord wants to perform miraculous signs, for whatever reason, He can always find someone to be His instrument.

There is also the view that miracles are not the norm for the church age, yet still can occur on occasion when God sees fit. This perspective recognizes that miracles did have confirming value to the message of Jesus. However, it does not assume that since we have a written New Testament, we must, of necessity, not see any more miracles. Miracles were not the norm for most people in the early church and they certainly are not the norm today. Yet there are occasions when the Lord, for His own reasons, will still choose to do the miraculous. Those who hold this position do not believe that we should rule out this possibility.

We must also appreciate the fact that miracles did not always cause everyone to believe. In fact, there were always doubters who could come up with alternative explanations to the miraculous deeds which they witnessed. Thus, miracles, by themselves, are not enough. Any miraculous sign must be accompanied by a clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, the good news about Jesus is the power of God that leads people to salvation.

What Is the Gift of Miracles? ← Prior Section
Doesn't Scripture Promise That Miraculous Signs Will Follow Those Who Believe? Next Section →
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