In his 1986 book, Power Evangelism, John Wimber suggested that when people see miracles, they are more inclined to believe in Jesus and embrace the gospel.
But is that true? Is that actually what we see in the Bible?
There are verses like John 2:11, where it says that Jesus’ disciples, having seen the first of his signs by which he manifested his glory, believed in him. Furthermore, at the end of the Gospel of John, John says that he has told us about these particular signs that Jesus performed, so that we may believe in him.
However, another common theme in the Gospel of John is that many people in Jesus’ time saw him perform miracles, and although they were fascinated with and captivated by seeing miracles, it did not translate into genuine faith and devotion to Jesus.
Regarding the disciples and the verse in John 2:11 that they believed in Him after they saw the sign he performed, it should be remembered that at this point they were already his disciples – which means they already believed in him. What this miracle did was cause them to believe in a deeper way. It solidified their belief, in other words.
Something that always strikes me, is the fact that Jesus fed over 5000 people (on two occasions!), thousands of others saw him perform miracles, yet on the Day of Pentecost, there were only 120 committed followers in the upper room.
The question that must be asked is: WHY did Jesus perform miracles? Was it an evangelistic strategy (as Wimber supposes), or was it because those miracles were signs, pointing to something beyond themselves (as John tells us in his gospel)?
It would seem that if miracles were Jesus’ evangelistic strategy, they weren’t very effective in producing lasting, genuine faith. A good example is found in John 4, where there is a contrast made between the Samaritans, who believed in Jesus because of his word (John 4:41) – even though they never saw a miracle, and the Galileans, whom Jesus chastised because they were only willing to believe if they saw signs and wonders (John 4:48).
The message is that faith, rather than coming from seeing miracles, comes from hearing the Word of God and believing. This same message is repeated at the end of John’s Gospel in John 20:29, where Jesus tells Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
In a recent Sermon Extra, Michael and I discussed signs and wonders, whether miracles produce genuine faith:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
This text has been used, particularly by the Roman Catholic Church to say that if a person commits suicide, they go directly to Hell – no passing Go, no collecting $200.
“Mortal Sins” and “Venial Sins”
Using these verses as justification, the Roman Catholic Church labels suicide a “mortal sin,” for which no atonement can be made, as opposed to “venial sins” which a person may be cleansed of through paying for them via suffering in purgatory.
First of all, the entire idea of mortal and venial sins goes contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture, which states that there is only one unforgivable sin, which is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (click here for an explanation of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, it is only Jesus who atones for our sins, we cannot atone for any of our sins, and to claim that we can “pay” for our own sins through our sufferings is to negate and minimize the work of Jesus on the cross, and say that Jesus suffered and died in vain.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul uses the plural form of “you” – in other words, he is saying: “All y’all (together) are the temple of God.”
What’s important to remember about this passage, is that Paul the Apostle is writing to the Corinthian church about their church. Some in the church were harming and tearing apart the church with their divisive attitudes and actions, and Paul is giving them a stern warning that if anyone destroys the temple of God (the Church which He loves), God will take that personally and not let is slide.
Later in 1 Corinthians, in chapter 6, Paul once again speaks of the Temple of God in relation to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but there he does so in regard to the individual believer. This passage in 1 Corinthians 3, however, is not written to or about the individual believer, but to the church about the church. So the point of the passage is not about suicide at all, but it is a warning to those who would harm and tear apart the church with their words and actions.
When Christians Were Killing Themselves
Until the Edict of Milan, AKA the Edict of Tolleration was issued in 313 AD, Christianity’s status in the Roman Empire was that of religio illicita, an “illicit” or illegal religion (as opposed to Judaism, which held the status of religio licita). During this time, Christians throughout the Roman Empire experienced waves of persecution, usually dependent on the attitudes of local authorities, although there were times when persecution was the official policy of the entire empire – such as during the reigns of Nero and Diocletian. Christians also faced persecution outside the Roman Empire.
During this period, many Christians were martyred, and martyrs were highly regarded and respected as those who had been willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. In fact, martyrdom was so highly regarded, that people began to seek it out and desire it, as a way of expressing their devotion to Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, wrote about his desire to die as a martyr.
But some people took it even further. Jerome writes about a young woman named Belsilla who flagellated herself so much that she died from her self-imposed injuries. Another woman, Agathonike, upon witnessing the execution of a bishop by burning, also threw herself onto the fire, declaring “this is the meal that has been prepared for me.” She died in the flames, even though she had not been arrested nor charged. There are other accounts of Christians volunteering to be martyred even though they were not even being sought by the authorities. 
The Donatists, who considered themselves particularly hard core and dedicated (and looked down on those they considered less-committed, even to the point of questioning their salvation), greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred. Some Donatists even went to the point of simply killing themselves to show how spiritual they were, i.e. how much they were not attached to this life and how much they desired to depart this world and be with Christ.
The Response of the Church
Seeking martyrdom and committing suicide became such a big issue with the Donatists in particular that it threatened the credibility, and even the existence of the church in their area of North Africa.
Judaism had always considered suicide to be sinful, whereas in pagan Roman culture it was considered an acceptable way to exit this life, and was practiced mostly by the wealthy, in part because slaves were not allowed to commit suicide since their lives did not belong to them, but rather to their masters.
It was Augustine of Hippo, a native of North Africa himself, who took up the challenge of addressing this issue and clarifying Christian thinking on this subject. In his book ‘The City of God’, Augustine considered what the Bible has to say about suicide and weighed various arguments for and against suicide. His conclusion was that suicide is always wrong as it is a violation of the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not murder”), and is never justified even in extreme circumstances. This became the official position of the church. 
Just because 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 isn’t talking about suicide, it must be noted that suicide is clearly a sin and is never the answer.
Recently we have had the pleasure of getting to spend some time with some of our missionary friends from Ukraine, who have visited our church here in Colorado.
This past Sunday I had the opportunity to sit down with pastor Benjamin Morrison from Svitlovodsk, Ukraine to talk about his life and ministry. Ben is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Svitlovodsk, Ukraine, as well as the coordinator for City to City Ukraine and is part of the leadership of City to City Europe.
This turned out to be a great conversation in which we talked about how Ben came to be a missionary in Ukraine, what it’s like doing ministry in a post-communist context, and what “contextualization” means and how it works out in practice. We finished the conversation by sharing some practical advice for those who are seeking God’s leading and direction for how they can get involved in God’s global mission.
This past Sunday, we studied the second half of chapter 1, in which Paul talks about “the message of the cross.” In doing so, Paul makes clear between 1:17 and 1:18 that the message of the cross is the gospel, and the gospel is the message of the cross. This message is “the power of God” for all who believe; precisely the same thing Paul says about the gospel in Romans 1:16. In other words, the gospel (the central message of Christianity) is the message of the cross.
Martin Luther wrote about the difference between a “theology of glory” and the “theology of the cross.” In this week’s Sermon Extra, I explain some of this historical context for Luther’s differentiation between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross, as well as how we can recognize theologies of glory in our modern times.
You can also listen to the podcast of this episode here:
In this week's sermon extra, Pastors Nick Cady and Michael Payne discuss Martin Luther's description of Theology of Glory vs the Theology of the Cross and how it works out in modern thinking, as well as the way to be happy.
Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support
You can watch the entire message from this past Sunday, “The Message of the Cross & the Power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:17-31), here:
One of the questions that is sometimes asked about the Holy Spirit, is whether God will ever remove the Holy Spirit from a person because of disobedience or sinful actions.
Certainly there are verses which talk about God removing the Holy Spirit from people, such as Psalm 51:11, where King David prays, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” David prayed this in the wake of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), so that brings up the question: Are there times when God removes the Holy Spirit from someone if they do something really bad?
Furthermore, in 1 Samuel 16, is says that the Spirit of the Lord departed from King Saul, and in the Book of Judges, it says that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Samson.
So, does this mean that God will REMOVE his Spirit from YOU, if you live in a bad way? If so, that would be a pretty big problem, because Romans 8:9 says “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
Understanding the Three Relationships the Holy Spirit has with different groups of people
In order to answer this question and understand what it meant for David, Saul, and Samson – and what it means for us today, we have to first understand the 3 different relationships that the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit has with different groups of people.
Relationship 1: “WITH” All People
In John 14:17, Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit had been with them up until that point.
Jesus then he told them that the work of the Spirit in the world is that He brings about conviction in people’s hearts and minds about 3 things: Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment (John 16:8)
In other words, the Holy Spirit is at work in the world in every country, with all people, and he is whispering in their ears and speaking to their hearts about the fact that 1)They are sinners (they have fallen short of God’s perfect standard), and 2) God is righteous, so therefore 3) There is coming a day of judgment when they will have to stand before that righteous God and give account for their lives.
The purpose of this conviction is not to just make people feel bad about themselves; the purpose is to draw them to Jesus by bringing them to a realization of why they need a savior, so they will embrace Jesus and what He has done in order to save them.
Relationship 2: “IN” those who have been redeemed by Jesus
Jesus told his disciples in John 14:17: The Holy Spirit has been WITH YOU up until this point — but soon, the Holy Spirit will also be IN YOU.
This indwelling of the Holy Spirit is something that was prophesied by the Old Testament prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah, that one day God was going to put His Spirit within His people (Ezekiel 36:27), in order to transform them from the inside out.
For people in the Old Testament, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was always a future event, but after Jesus had died and resurrected, we read in John 20:22 that Jesus met with his disciples and he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” It was at this moment, that the disciples received the Holy Spirit within them, and it was at this moment that they were “born again.” (See also: “What does it mean to be “Born Again”?)
What it comes down to is this: Only those who have put their faith in Jesus have the Holy Spirit within them, and every person who has put their faith in Jesus has the Holy Spirit dwelling with them.
The Bible tells us that when you put your faith in Jesus, God puts his seal on you and gives you His Spirit in as a guarantee(2 Corinthians 1:23). Furthermore, the regenerating and indwelling Spirit is called “the Spirit of Adoption” (Romans 8:15) It’s His guarantee that you belong to Him, and you are His.
The indwelling Spirit sanctifies, leads, guides, strengthens, and transforms from within.
Relationship 3: “UPON” Some people at different times, to empower them to do what God has called them to do
Remember how in John 20 Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”? Well, right after that, Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them. (Luke 24 & Acts 1:4)
But… if they just RECEIVED the Holy Spirit, then why did Jesus tell them to wait for the Holy Spirit?
Because: this is speaking about two different relationships with the Holy Spirit!
When Jesus breathed upon them, they received the Spirit IN them (and they were born again) — but then they were to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to come UPON them: to EMPOWER THEM to carry out the mission Jesus had given them.
That’s why Jesus His disciples in Acts 1:8, “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.”
Throughout the Old Testament, before people could have the Holy Spirit WITHIN them — we read that the Holy Spirit would come UPON people, to empower them to do things God had called them to do. For example, it says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon! (Judges 6:34 NKJV) We’re also told that the Holy Spirit came UPON Samson, and UPON David, and UPON Elisha, and others — to EMPOWER them to do what God had called them to do.
So, Jesus was promising his disciples (and us) — that the Holy Spirit will also come upon us, to empower us to carry out the callings He has placed upon our lives.
Remember: in the Old Testament, the Spirit was WITH people (to bring conviction) and the Holy Spirit was UPON people (to empower them), but at that point that Spirit was not yet WITHIN people. So when we read in the Old Testament about God “removing” his Spirit, it’s not in the sense of a person who had the Holy Spirit dwelling within them, rather it’s in the sense of God removing the empowering work of the Holy Spirit from those people.
But for a person who has been sealed by the Holy Spirit indwelling them, we never read of God removing His Spirit from someone in that sense. The indwelling Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Adoption. God does not un-adopt us when we make mistakes and mess up, rather: he disciplines us like a loving Father (see Hebrews 12).
If He has SEALED you, as a guarantee of your salvation, that’s exactly what it is: He has placed his Spirit within you as a guarantee that He will see you through and bring to completion the good work that He has begun in you.
If you are His child, He won’t give up on you – and that’s really good news!
In the Bible, Satan is referred to as “the ruler of this world,” (John 12:31, 14:30) and even “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one.
How then can Jesus say that “all authority in Heaven and on Earth” has been given to him (Matthew 28:18)?
In this week’s Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discuss the authority of Satan, and what the Bible has to say about it: Did Adam and Eve hand over “regency” of the Earth to Satan in the Garden of Eden? And how does this relate to the scroll that only Jesus can open in Revelation 5?
Furthermore, we discuss the claim of Richard Dawkins and others, who say that Jesus’ death on the cross was “divine child abuse,” since the innocent Son of God was sacrificed by the Father – and how the deity of Christ changes everything when it comes to understanding the meaning of the cross.
Doubt is an inherent part of having faith. Faith, the Bible tells us, is having convictions about things which you cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). This extends to things which cannot be empirically proven through scientific method. If you can see something and prove it, there is no need for faith. Doubt therefore, is not how faith ends, but is the occasion where faith and trust begin.
But it is not only “believers” who have doubts. Studies have shown that professing atheists also have doubts about whether they are right.
CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianitysaid, “When I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”
A recent poll from Newman University and YouGov found that one in five British atheists and over a third of Canadian atheists agreed with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.” 
In his book The Reason for God, Timothy Keller challenges those who doubt to “doubt their doubts,” i.e. to consider to the faith and beliefs (the assumptions which cannot be empirically proven) that underly their doubts, and to honestly question whether they actually stand on firm ground. His conclusion is that faith is God is actually more plausible than the alternative.
This week in our Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discussed the role of doubt in faith, the fact that atheists have doubts too, and what we should do with our doubts. Check it out here:
What is the relationship between your faith and having your prayers answered? Certainly there is a relationship, but how much faith do you need to have?
What about righteousness, or personal holiness? If 1 Peter 3 tells husbands to dwell with their wives in understanding lest their prayers be hindered, does that mean that a lack of personal holiness can hinder your prayers? If James 5 says that the fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much, then what about an unrighteous person who prays?
In our weekly Sermon Extra video, Mike and I discuss this topic. You can get these videos, or the podcast audio version of these discussions, every week by subscribing to our YouTube channel or our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Here’s our discussion of the topic of the how faith and righteousness affect prayer:
Outside of proverbs, bribery is spoken against. Inside proverbs we see both direct opposition to it, but also some almost-approving of it. I won’t list verses which speak against it because they’re numerous and easy to find, but I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding verses like these:
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers. Proverbs 17:8 ESV
A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath. Proverbs 21:14 ESV
Corruption and bribery are major topics here in Ukraine and we’ve dealt with this question a few times.
That’s a great question. To answer it, I reached out to a friend who lives in Ukraine where he serves as a pastor and missionary: Benjamin Morrison.
We had a great discussion on this topic, which I think you will really enjoy and benefit from. In this video we discuss the nature of the Book of Proverbs, different scenarios in which bribes are asked for or offered – and how to respond in each, as well as some personal stories. Finally we end the conversation on a note of how the gospel helps and empowers us to face corruption and bribery and other things that are wrong in the world. Enjoy!