Understanding the Activity of the Holy Spirit

Miraculous Spiritual Gifts

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In the last few lessons we have looked at the working of the Holy Spirit. We noticed that the promise of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the gift of the Holy Spirit were synonymous terms that described the arrival of the kingdom of God, the offer of a covenant relationship with God, and the offer of God’s blessings. Joel prophesied that the miracles would show that these things had arrived and were being offered. The miracles were not promised. The miracles simply proved or confirmed that God had fulfilled His promises. There was also a second work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth. The apostles received and spoke the very words of God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:20-21). They wrote down those words so that when we read them, we can understand God’s will (Ephesians 3:3-5). Earlier, we examined the scriptures that declare that the Holy Spirit dwells in us. But we also noticed that Christ dwells in us, and God the Father dwells in us. Further, sin can dwell in us when we put our minds on the things of the flesh. By examining the scriptures carefully we see that Paul is not describing a literal, physical indwelling of the Spirit. Rather, Paul is speaking about what is ruling our lives. Does sin rule our lives or does the Spirit rule our lives? Do we set our minds on wickedness or on spiritual things? Do we submit to our own desires or to the law of Christ? This is the contrast Paul is drawing in Romans 7-8.

But there is another aspect of the Holy Spirit that we have not addressed yet. The apostles were not the only people doing miracles. We read the first letter to the Corinthians that a number of them had miraculous spiritual gifts. How were the Christians of the first century performing miraculous spiritual gifts? Did these miraculous gifts come upon them at the time of their salvation? Should we expect to be able to perform miraculous gifts today? If not, why are there not miracles being performed today?

The apostles needed a way to prove that what they were teaching were the very words of God. The words of Jesus had not been written down and widely distributed yet. The apostles were teaching about a new covenant and restoration of the kingdom, which were the fulfillment of the words of the prophets. The miracles verified their words. I think it is important to see that not everyone would have this ability, according to the words of Paul. Paul told the Ephesians that when they read the scriptures, they could understand Paul’s insight into the mystery of Christ that he had received through the Holy Spirit. Remembering this other work of the Holy Spirit is important when reading through the book of Acts.

In Acts 8:4-13 we read about the Samaritans listening to the preaching of Philip about the kingdom of God. Then we are told something interesting in Acts 8:14-17:

“14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.”

By sending Peter and John to Samaria from Jerusalem to give these miraculous spiritual gifts, we quickly learn that only the apostles had the power to give these gifts to another person. There is no reason for Peter and John to travel to Samaria unless Philip was unable to give the Samaritans the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Hence the language, “they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Luke is not denigrating baptism or what the Samaritans had done in obedience to have their sins forgiven. Rather, Luke is emphasizing the need for the apostles to come to bestow the miraculous works upon the Samaritans, because no other disciples can perform the task. Remember that the apostles had previously laid their hands upon Philip (Acts 6:5-6) and Philip was performing miracles (Acts 8:6-7). However, Philip could not bestow miraculous spiritual gifts on the Samaritans. The apostles were needed.

This point is explicitly stated in the next verse: “Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, ‘Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 8:18-19; ESV). Notice that Simon explicitly observes that the apostles had to lay their hands on people. Simon was a Christian at this point (Acts 8:13), but he did not have the ability to lay hands on others to give them the ability to perform miraculous spiritual gifts. Only the apostles had this ability and Simon tries to purchase this ability from the apostles.

Since only the apostles could transfer miraculous spiritual gifts to others through the laying on of hands, then we can see when miraculous gifts stopped. When the apostles died, the gifts could no longer be transferred. When those who had received the miraculous spiritual gifts through the laying on of hands died, spiritual gifts would stop. Anyone who claims to be able to perform miracles speaks against the scriptures since only the apostles could give such abilities to a Christian.

Peter said in Acts 2 that anyone who repented and was baptized would have the forgiveness of sins and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit promised by the prophets. The Samaritans are baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus, but they had not received the Holy Spirit. Was Peter wrong about how the Holy Spirit was received? Not at all. We need to see that Luke is recording the other work of the Holy Spirit. Peter taught that when a person repented and was baptized, he or she received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Samaritans were baptized but did not receive miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit until the apostles laid their hands on them. Therefore, the gift of the Holy Spirit is not miraculous. Since the promise of the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are synonymous with the gift of the Holy Spirit, then the baptism and promise of the Holy Spirit was not the promise to perform miracles.

Why were miraculous spiritual gifts necessary? What was the purpose of having Christians performing these gifts in the first century? We need to remember the situation that we explained at the beginning of the lesson. The revealed will of God had not been written down by the apostles yet. How would the first century Christians know what God’s will was? How would first century Christians prove to the Jews and to the Greeks that Christ had been raised from the dead, the kingdom had come, and a new covenant had been established? It should be of interest to us that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit centered around the revealing of God’s will to the world:

1 Corinthians 12:7-11. “7 A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial: 8 to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, 9 to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of languages, to another, interpretation of languages. 11 But one and the same Spirit is active in all these, distributing to each one as He wills.”

The purpose of the miracles was to prove that the words of the speaker were truly from God. Notice the gifts of the Spirit also included “the message of wisdom,” “the message of knowledge,” “prophecy,” “distinguishing between spirits,” that is, true or false teachings (see 1 John 4:1), “speaking in different languages,” and “interpretation of languages.” These gifts center around the revelation of God’s will, which is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would guide into all truth. As we have rightly recognized, the Christians in the first century did not have the revealed will of God yet. The New Testament did not exist yet. There were only twelve apostles, who could not be at all of the churches at the same time, though the apostles traveled extensively. Christians in the churches needed to know what the will of the Lord is so they could be obedient to His laws. Therefore, the outpouring of these miraculous gifts was necessary. These miraculous gifts were imparted through the laying on of the apostles’ hands.

Logic would dictate that these gifts would no longer be necessary once the complete will of God had been revealed. Thus, Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10, “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for languages, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end.” The miraculous gifts were only necessary to know what God’s will was and to validate their teachings as the authentic word of the Lord. We understand this to be true with the fact that only the apostles could pass the miraculous gifts through the laying on of their hands. Once the apostles died, the gifts could no longer be given. Within one generation, in the early second century, these gifts would have faded away completely, because those who had received the miraculous gifts through the laying on of the apostles’ hands could not transfer the gift to another. Once these died, the miraculous gifts ceased. But the gifts were no longer necessary because God’s will had been completely revealed by the end of the first century. Jude tells us that the faith had been delivered to “the saints once for all” (Jude 3).

Hebrews 2:3-4. “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”

Mark 16:20. “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.”

Both the writer of Hebrews and the gospel of Mark show that the miraculous gifts were to confirm that their words were the words of God.

Conclusion

Jesus made the promise that the Holy Spirit would come and guide the apostles into all truth (John 14-16). We see the apostles are given that ability from the Holy Spirit. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21; ESV). The apostles were able to transfer the ability to perform miraculous gifts by laying their hands upon various disciples (Acts 8:18). These miraculous gifts were about the revealing of God’s will to the people because God’s will had not been written for all to know yet (Ephesians 3:3-5). These miraculous gifts ceased for two reasons: (1) The gifts were no longer necessary. Once the word of God had been recorded, miracles were not needed to know or validate God’s word. The scriptures are now the tool to know God’s will and validate our teachings. (2) The gifts could not be transferred. Since disciples could not transfer these miraculous gifts to other disciples, when the recipients of the gifts died, the miraculous gifts ended with them. One proof is the silence in the writings of the church fathers in the early centuries who do not speak about people performing miracles or knowing God’s will through miraculous gifts. These gifts died when those early disciples died.

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