Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

An email from the inbox: “Good afternoon Pastor John! I’m Jane from South Africa, a born-again Christian. How do you respond when people who sit next to you in church, who are attending church, by their own admission, because they want to ‘experience miracles’? What should we think of attending church for this express purpose of experiencing the miraculous?”

Before I can answer what I think about that person’s motive or what is going on there, I need to 1) define “miracle” 2) distinguish kinds of miracles, and 3) get at God’s purpose in the Bible of what miracles are for. And then, I think, if we do that, we will be close to our answer.

1) A miracle is an event in the heart or the mind or the body or nature in the world that would not have come about if God had not supernaturally intervened in the ordinary process of natural cause and effect. And I realize as soon as I say that definition, it runs the risk of treating the natural world as though it were not sustained and guided by the hand of God in everything. It is sustained and guided by God in everything. Jesus said, “Not [a bird] will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). And what could be more natural than the fall of a bird, the death of a bird in the jungle or the forest?

So, when I define miracle as the supernatural intrusion into the ordinary course of natural cause and effect, I am not denying that all natural cause and effect is, in fact, the work of God — is sustained and guided by God.

2) Now, that definition means that there are different kinds of miracles, some of them more obvious than others. The new birth, the creation of a Christian, is a miracle because the natural mind of the human being is hostile to God (Romans 8:7). It would never ever come to faith without the supernatural sovereign grace of God raising us spiritually from the dead and giving us new life in the heart which then sees and embraces the beauty of Jesus. Every step of sanctification is a miracle by my definition. Every act of genuine, Christ-exalting love is a miracle. None of these things would happen if we were left to ourselves and to the natural course of cause and effect in the mind and in the heart.

“Every step of sanctification is a miracle by my definition.”

But also the removal of a cancerous tumor by God without any natural causes is a miracle. The splitting of the Red Sea, a miracle; the multiplying of the loaves and fishes, a miracle; the healing of a lame leg instantly by Jesus or today, a miracle. So, there are miracles that happen in the spirit and in the mind and in the heart, and there are miracles that happen in the body and in nature.

3) Now, what is the purpose of God in his supernatural breaking into the natural flow of cause and effect? One way to answer that question is to cite 1 Corinthians 14:26 where Paul expresses God’s goal in all of the supernatural spiritual gift like healing and others. “Let all things be done for building up.” Building up: that is the goal of these miracles. Building up means being built up in faith, built up in hope, built up in holiness. In other words, the aim of God’s supernatural working in the people of God and in the world is that these miracles might be faith-awakening, faith-deepening, faith-purifying, hope-intensifying, love-empowering, holiness-refining and, therefore, Spirit-dependent and-Christ exalting and God-glorifying. Those are the goals of God’s miracle-working in the world.

“The goal of miracles is to build up the people of God.”

So, should we come to church in search of miracles? That was the question. How should I feel about that? Now, I suspect that what was meant in the question is that someone is coming to church in the hope of seeing a physical miracle or a dramatic exorcism or some amazing prophetic prediction. And there is certainly nothing wrong with hoping that God would display his power in these ways. I would love to see God move in these ways in the service of his glory and our good and our holiness. But there is nothing distinctly Christian or Christ-exalting or holiness-advancing in any of that.

Supernatural things happen by the devil — or even by God to test his people. I was just reading recently in Deuteronomy 13:1–3 where it says if a false prophet comes and predicts the future — really predicts the future — and tells you to follow another God, you shouldn’t follow him. Why? “The Lord your God is testing you.” This is the Lord behind this. Therefore, seeing the mere event of an external physical miracle should never be the goal of the Christian — never.

“Seeing the mere event of an external physical miracle should never be the goal of the Christian.”

But if we come to worship hoping and expecting to see God do the miracle of new birth though the preaching of the Word, see God supernaturally convict people of sin, fill despairing people with hope, the miracle of changing hatred into love, the miracle of having timid people made bold in the gospel, the supernatural work of reconciliation when people are alienated, a whole congregation supernaturally made radically holy and humble and courageous in witness, then we probably are coming for the very things that God counts most dear in and through any physical miracle or not.

So, that is the distinction I would want to make in answering the question. Are we coming to worship with our hearts most intensely desirous of what God is pursuing in and through all his miracles — not just the dramatic, physical ones which, in themselves, are no sure sign of his saving presence?