Wonder Working Power

revivalI had a group of continuational leaning folks challenge me in the comments under this post of mine. One commenter named “Earl,” who claims to have miracle working power happening to him all the time, wrote,

I find it odd that you cessationist’s feel confident that you known God and are walking with him but have no Biblical sings [sic], wonders and miracles happening around you.

Contrary to what Earl says, I am very confident of God’s miracle working power happening all around me. In response I wrote,

Actually Earl, we have a miracle service every Sunday night at Grace Church. We see people baptized who were once hardcore sinners whose hearts have been supernaturally made alive to God through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, so now turn from hating God to loving God. That is true, wonder working miracle power.

Entirely unsatisfied with my answer, Earl shot back,

That is not a Biblical miracle. It is a feel good politically correct response in cessation circles in effect an escape from the reality of a well defined meaning to the word miracle. I am glad people get saved and baptized. Please do not water down the Word by calling that a miracle. Its not and you should know it.

Indeed. In response, I wrote once more,

You seriously do not think the supernatural work of God in the heart of a fallen, rebellious person who hates God that turns him into a humble, God-loving servant of Christ is not miraculous? And you think I am limiting God’s work? Amazing.

If you believe “miracle” is only defined as some spectacular outward sign and wonder, then you have a warped definition of “miracle.” If you sincerely think God changing the heart of a hate-filled, blasphemous sinner into a loving, kind, God fearer isn’t miraculous, you certainly have a warped definition of what is a miracle.

Of course, I imagine you are probably Arminian in your theology, and seeing that you believe salvation is a shared work between God and man, I can understand why you would hold the miraculous power of God’s regenerating Grace is such low regards.

Providing one last blast, Earl writes,

What a hypocritical and devious response. You take the word miracle and my context of correct Biblical usage give it your own meaning and thus change the word of God to mean what you want it to mean. Then you accuse me of holding God’s grace in low regards. Pitiful. 21 uses of the word miracle in the Greek in the NT and not one of them is used describing the born again experience.

Go ahead and slander me for speaking the truth calling my teaching warped when it is you who are twisting the Word of God as you serve your own ego and flesh. Hope your ‘peers’ make you feel good because I know He won’t give you that same pat on the back for your hard heart.

Far be it from me to be hypocritical, devious, and slanderous.

Let’s examine his claim about the “21 uses” of the word miracle in the Greek NT.  Is it merely a “politically correct” response in cessationist circles to call the work of regeneration a “miracle?”

To begin, I am not sure which English translation my critic is using, but assuming he is utilizing the standard KJV, and by doing just a basic word search with Bible Works, I count approximately 32 uses of the English word “miracle” or the plural, “miracles.”

Furthermore, the English word “miracle” is translated from two different key Greek words:

First, the word semeion, which has the idea of “a mark,” or “sign,” or “token.” It can also mean “a sign of unusual occurrence,” as well as “a portent,” meaning some warning sign of impending, future judgment or disaster.  The primary usage of semeion as “miracle” is found in the Gospels, particularly the Apostle John. He uses the word a lot.

Additionally, in the KJV, the word semeion is translated “sign” at least 50 times, which if we equate the idea of “sign” with our discussion about “miracles,” increases the NT usage up to over 70 times. Again, the primary place where the word is used is among the Gospel writers who use it to describe the works Jesus performed.

I should add that when you consider the use of semeion in the Gospels, it is always connected to audiences of people “seeing,” or “beholding.”  The idea being that the “sign” or “work” was visual and witnessed by people who were then able to testify about what they saw. Also, the primary definition of semeion is “sign,” not necessarily “miracle,” even though miracles can be signs. By that I mean the “sign” is meant to point to something greater than itself, and hence miracles were not the finality in and of themselves.

As we consider the ministry of Jesus, the people were often fixated on the sign, and not what the sign pointed to.  John 6 is a great example, because after Jesus fed the 5,000, rather than recognizing their long awaited Messiah and their need for the eternal life He offered, the crowd was stuck on the great miracle everyone witnessed the previous day (John 6:26).  After Jesus rebuked them for their misplaced commitment, the crowd went away hostile toward Jesus, including a number of his followers (John 6:66).

The second NT Greek word translated as “miracle” in English is dunamis that has the idea of “strength,” “power,” or “ability.” In the KJV translation, I counted roughly 9 instances where dunamis is translated either as “miracle” or “miracles.” It is primarily translated as “power” or “mighty works.” When translated as “power” dunamis is tied to the “power of faith” or the “power of God” or the “power of the gospel” as in Romans 1:16.

There are a few instances in the the Gospels where dunamis is speaking about the miracles Jesus performed.  Yet there is one important instance where dunamis is translated in the KJV as “miracle,” and that is in Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, the key passage that provides us with apostolic teaching regrading the display of spiritual gifts within the body of Christ.

However, the indicative form of dunamis, which is dunamai, is translated as “could” or “can” or even the opposite, “cannot” or “could not,” when a negative ou or ook comes before or after it.  In this instance, dunamai speaks to the ability to do something, or in the case of the negative ou and ook, the inability to do something.

Regarding our discussion of the nature of man and regeneration, dunamai speaks to the lack of ability fallen men have within themselves to come to Christ for salvation. For example, in John 6:44 Jesus says that “no one can come” to Him unless the Father draws him. Later in Romans 8:7, Paul writes that the fallen, sinful carnal mind is not set upon the things of the Lord “nor can it be.” In other words, the fallen mind of men has no ability (and I would add, willingness) to set his mind upon the Lord. Then in 1 Corinthians 2:14 Paul writes that the natural man, meaning unsaved sinners, cannot know spiritual things. In other words, the spiritual truth of Christ and the Gospel is alien to the natural man and he has no ability within himself to comprehend those things properly.

Seeing that natural, fallen men have no ability and are powerless to come to salvation on their own, their only hope they have is if God moves supernaturally to give fallen men the ability. This is exactly what happens when God regenerates a sinner’s heart. The person is made alive to the things of God (Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:12-13) so that now he has the spiritual ability to come to Christ and set His mind on the things of God and submit himself to the Law of the Lord.

Now. If we understand the basic English definition of “miracle” to mean “God supernaturally working in the natural world,” then by what we gather from the NT discussion of man’s fallenness into sin and the power of the Gospel and regeneration to change that radical fallenness, it is ignoring the clear biblical witness to say regeneration is not miraculous.

Of course, charismatic folks, as I initially noted to my commenter, only define God’s miracle power exclusively as an extraordinary supernaturally outward manifestation.  The very act of regeneration cannot be seen, so it doesn’t really qualify as “miraculous” in my commenter’s thinking.

However, the fruit of regeneration can be seen and any God-hating, self-absorbed, mean-spirited, angry, individual who is seized by the Holy Spirit and the power of the Gospel and is transformed to being a God-fearing, others-focused, kind-hearted, compassionate individual, has experienced a genuine, blue ribbon miracle straight from the hand of God.

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23 thoughts on “Wonder Working Power

  1. I know myself and have had a glimpse of my unregenerate heart. That I am regenerate is a miracle. That I am not what I could have been is a miracle. I was dead in my sins, and I am now alive. This is a miracle, no matter how the word is defined.

    You alluded to Arminianism in your article, and I think that this is a very good point. One’s overall theology/soteriology/anthropology cannot be separated from one’s view of any given subject (such as miracles).

  2. Wow. What a disheartening conversation. What’s so sadly ironic about Earl is that for all his posturing about ostentatious displays of the miraculous, he’s *EXACTLY* the sort of person Paul wrote the first letter to the Corinthians in order to REBUKE.

  3. Great post! I’ve always known that the greatest miracle in my life has been God saving me. It’s the only miracle I need :)

  4. Thank you, Fred for this excellent exegesis of the text. It was a thorough study of God’s Word that brought me out of Charimaticism and my prayer is that this post will do the same for any Charismatic who may read it. All glory to God alone.

  5. i wonder if his whole point isn’t just a case of the word study fallacy anyway. Places like John 3, 2 Corinthians 4, and Ephesians 2 may not use the word “miracle”, but can you honestly call it anything less?

    Perhaps the reason “miracle” is never used is because of its meaning as a sign, that it points to something greater. In regeneration, you have the judgment of sin for the salvation of the sinner to the glory of God. To what greater thing can this point?

    Final observation. Sunday I got to teach the first few chapters of Acts. In the (mostly not-nutty) charismatic church I’ve been to and in many of the videos linked, the preacher starts, and after a while people start with the ‘tongues’ and ‘manifestations of the spirit’ and whatnot. But in Acts, the sign precedes the preaching; a miracle is performed, the people pay attention, and the Apostles quickly preach the Word of God and proclaim Christ as Lord. In scripture, the sign prepared people for the preaching. In charismatia, the preaching prepares people for the ‘signs’.

  6. That’s absolutely correct, Trogdor. I was a part of the Charismatic church for a dozen years and I can attest that preaching was ancillary to the exercising of the “gifts” which were considered the crescendo of any/every gathering.

  7. “In regeneration, you have the judgment of sin for the salvation of the sinner to the glory of God. To what greater thing can this point?”

    Was that a rhetorical question?

  8. This happens so often:

    1. You make a Biblically-based sharp criticism on some false teaching.
    2. Some hand-wringing creampuff wails that you’re straw-manning and mud-slinging
    3. An actual adherent of the false teaching opens his mouth and exemplifies everything you just said

  9. The choice of your title, “Wonder Working Power” was a great choice alluding to a wonderful old hymn and very apropos to the point you emphasized, that of the amazing divine power that changes a person’s heart from rebellion against Christ to loving obedience to Him. Anyone who has truly experienced the new birth and new life can testify that God’s power to save is indeed miraculous and wonder working.
    This exchange with “Earl” illustrated the difference between your thorough and honest exegesis of the Bible that allows God’s word to say what it says contrasted with shallow proof texting that stops when a desired point seems to be supported, and I emphasize “desired point”. This was a classic example showing how it is essential that “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) be “rightly divided.”

  10. So sick and tired of hearing these charismatic ,sign seeking people always only looking for proof of the Holy Spirits power in people’s lives. I think it was John MacArthur that said this is not ” faith” but ” doubt looking for proof “

  11. I’m still shock from the description of God’s Saving being denied as a Miracle. Let alone the study of the relationship of miracles and salvation in the BIble and Greek word study…

  12. Biblical Lexicography fires me up Fred!

    Let’s allow the Bible to define the semantic range and contextual meaning of terms and then conform ourselves to the biblical usage of biblical terminology!

  13. Pingback: Quick Link – Biblical Lexicogrpahy: What are “signs” and “wonders”? | Watch Your Life and Doctrine Closely...

  14. So well said Fred.
    It’s another example of how understanding God’s sovereignty affects all of our spiritual outlook and expectations.

  15. So many of the typical comments on in a discussion like this really only amount to religious cheerleading,maybe with a proof text thrown in to add clout. Thanks for serving up something nourishing

  16. Ed, don’t you think your comment amount to doing the very thing you accuse others are doing? You should check out “Mennoknight”‘s Lexical study…

  17. Pingback: Do Not Be Surprised… This ‘n’ That 09 August 2013 | Truth2Freedom's Blog

  18. u r collect sir, one of d greatest miracle is that of a soul. No wonder heaven rejoice over a soul thatt got repented

  19. Pingback: Articles on Cessationism and Contiuationism | hipandthigh

  20. Pingback: Articles on Cessationism, Continuationism, and Spiritual Gifts | hipandthigh

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