In case you don’t already know, the supernatural manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit can be, and often are, unnerving, mysterious, mystifying, messy, chaotic, and fear-inspiring. This is not new; it is just the way it is and always has been and will be. God’s miraculous activity cannot be placed in a nicely packaged, sterilized box. What was true in the time of the Old and New Testament remains true today. When God shows up in power, life as we know it flies out the door. However, there are many positive consequences to God’s miraculous activity, such as inspiring awe, salvation, encouragement, boldness, praise, thanksgiving, and joy. Additionally, the church is then held in high regard, and unsaved people begin to pay close attention to Christ’s church. Are not these all things we value and desire?
But we must also acknowledge the reality that there were numerous less-than-positive consequences in Bible times when God showed up in power. There are uncomfortable, disorienting, even negative consequences that are part and parcel of the work of the Holy Spirit. These come in varying degrees of negativity, but they are the price we have to pay for gaining the greater benefits of His presence and power. For instance, a quick walk through the book of Acts reveals some of the following awkward consequences that happened as God moved in amazing ways:
- People experienced “violent wind” and “the place where they were meeting was shaken” (2:2; 4:31).
- People were “perplexed” and bewildered (2:6, 12).
- Some people mocked God and His people (2:13).
- The church was threatened and persecuted (4:21, 29; 5:40; 9:1).
- “Great fear” seized the whole church (5:11), and this “fear of the Lord” continued for many, many months (9:31).
- Jealousy reared its ugly head (5:17; 13:45) and caused abusive words to be spoken against Godly leaders.
- Severe tension resulted with some people in the community, especially those in spiritual and/or political authority (5:17).
- The church was placed at odds with directives by those in authority over them (5:29).
- The church became the focus of hatred, anger (5:33), and backroom dealings and plots (6:11; 14:5).
- Yelling, screaming, and severe backlash and opposition occurred (7:54, 57).
- Believers faced martyrdom, with all the accompanying grief and sense of loss by those who lost loved ones (8:2).
- Noisy expressions of demonic deliverance occurred (8:7).
- People became disoriented (9:8; 13:11) and “speechless” (9:7).
- God’s activities caused great “commotion” (12:18) and He
- was vigorously opposed in the community (13:8).
- Even the sturdiest and most prayerful of believers found some of what God was doing to be unbelievable (12:15–16).
- Christian leaders found themselves being mistreated, expelled, misunderstood, and misrepresented, time and time again (13:50; 14:5, 11).
- Entire communities discovered that God’s supernatural work caused “uproar,” turmoil, and unrest in the community (16:20; 17:6).
- It was not uncommon for people to be agitated (17:13).
Even with the miraculous activity of God fully present in their midst, in-church grumbling, fighting, and administrative blunders occurred (Acts 6:1; 16:6–7). The church continued to have its fair share of sheep in wolves’ clothing and carnality (Acts 5:4). The need for courageous, direct, in-your-face preaching, church discipline, and confrontations only escalated (7:51). The church still needed to provide administration, policies, and procedures (Acts 4:35; 6:3; 15:6). Some of those associated with the first-century church were greedy, bitter, and power-hungry (8:19, 23), and skepticism and tensions between brothers and sisters in the Lord continued to exist (9:26). Bigotry and racism were found in the church, even when God was doing unbelievable things (Acts 11:2). The presence of the supernatural activities of God does not mean everyone will be happy, unified, mature, or healed (2 Tim. 4:20), or that everyone will experience or witness his or her own miracle from God. God is sovereign, and only He determines when, where, and to whom He will reveal Himself. As much as we would like to control what God does, He will not be controlled, nor will He be easily labeled. We need to remember that not everyone who has a personal encounter with God’s miraculous activity will find it persuasive (Acts 14:4). Even when God is working miraculously, there is a need for one to constantly be checking the message and methods of the church against what is revealed in God’s Word (Acts 17:11).
The presence of miracles is not a guarantee of the legitimacy of every word and activity of Christ’s church. Never forget: your first and highest allegiance is to Christ and His Word, not to the supernatural manifestations. Yet in saying all this, I still contend that the benefits of having God work in supernatural ways in our midst far outweigh the awkwardness and uncomfortableness. And best of all, the number of people who come to a saving knowledge and relationship with Jesus will be astounding.
Are you interested in learning more about the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of evangelism? Stephen D. Elliott makes the case for the central role of supernatural signs and wonders in the church’s proclamation in By Signs and Wonders: How the Holy Spirit Grows His Church. Get your free copy to sow with your purchase—learn more here.