Only Believe…What, Exactly?

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Only Believe…What, Exactly?

James R. Aist

But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be made well.”

Jesus told Jairus to not fear, only believe, that his daughter would be healed (Luke 8:49-50). Here, Jesus made it clear exactly what Jairus was to believe; namely, that God would heal his daughter. Not just that He could heal her or that He was just willing to heal her, but that He would actually heal her. In struggling to understand what a “prayer of faith” (James 5:16) looks like, I have found that there are three successive steps in our journey toward believing God fully for a miracle: 1) believing that God can do it; 2) believing that God is willing to do it; and 3) believing that God will do it. Having done that, the rest is up to God.

The first step should be relatively easy, for those of us who really believe that the Word of God is true. The Bible tells us that God created the entire universe in all of its vastness and complexity, and that He sustains it with His almighty power (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 11:3). It goes on to say that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are replete with accounts of miraculous works done by God. Moreover, there are countless testimonies by reliable witnesses of miracles that God is doing in our generation. So, we can rest assured, based on the biblical witness and contemporary witnesses, that God is able to work the miracle that we need Him to work for us. We believe that God can do it.

The second step may be more problematic, however; is God willing to do it? This question gets to the heart of God’s attitude, purpose and desire for mankind, His heart toward us. We can see a man with leprosy struggling with this issue: “A leper came to Him, pleading with Him and kneeling before Him, saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, extended His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I will. Be clean” (Mark 1:40-41). In fact, the New Testament has no record of Jesus refusing a miracle for anyone coming to Him believing He could do it.  And, the Bible clearly teaches that God’s attitude and desire toward us is to enable us to prosper (Deuteronomy 29:9; Psalm 1:3; Philippians 4:10). But, there are at least two well-known biblical accounts of God being unwilling to grant a prayer request: one is Jesus’s request for His Father to let the cup of suffering pass from Him (Matthew 26:39), and the other is Paul’s request for God to remove the tormenting messenger of Satan from him (2 Corinthians 12:7). God was surely grieved to see His Son and His servant suffering like this, but He had a reason for their suffering that far outweighed the gravity of their suffering: Jesus would save from hell all who would believe in Him (John 3:16-17), and Paul would be kept from becoming swell-headed by the torment inflicted by the messenger of Satan (2 Corinthians 12:7). God was able, but He was not willing, and for a good reason.

This brings us to the third step which is, for many, the most difficult, and, it is often the most complicated. Will God always do what He can do and is willing to do? The answer, I believe, is “No”, and I will tell you why I believe that. The following encounter with God occurred during the first week after I returned home from burying my 20-year-old daughter, Liesel, who had been struck and killed by a car (Click HERE). I was so stunned and emotionally numb from the events of that “week from hell” that I couldn’t even go to work. I just sat around in my recliner all day trying to process what had just happened. Now, I had never asked God why He had allowed anything bad that happened in my life, but this bad thing seemed too awful to cope with. So, one day as I sat in my recliner rehearsing the details of the past week, I began to wonder why God had not healed Liesel instead of calling her home. I was about to ask God “Why?” when suddenly the Holy Spirit stopped me from saying it. Then, God spoke into my mind saying, “You don’t need to know why, because you know Me well enough to know that I had a good reason.” To this day, I can only speculate as to why God did not heal my daughter. Jesus knew, and Paul learned, why God said no, but I was told to just trust that God had a good reason for telling me “No.” In all three of these situations, I believe that, in some way and at some level, God wanted to say yes, but at the same time He wanted even more to say “No”, for a good, a greater, reason.

That brings us now to the conclusion of the matter. I believe that we should always bring our cares, our concerns and our needs to God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7; Hebrews 4:16). And, I believe that we should always pray with the conviction that He can do it, that he is willing to do it, and that He will actually do it. Anything less, I believe, is an offense to the nature and the heart of God, an offense to who He is in relation to us. That way, God is always honored by the manner in which we present our request. And, if God says “No”, then we can rest assured He had a good reason for doing so, even if we never find out what the reason was. In truth, God does not owe us an explanation, regardless of how badly we want our answer to our “Why?” If we pray expecting God to hear our request and expecting that He will actually respond to it, then, I believe, we can expect the best possible outcome, whether or not it is the outcome we had in mind. The Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). And remember, God always has a good reason; our God is a good, good God (Luke 18:19)!

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE.)

The God of “New Things”

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The God of “New Things”

James R. Aist

“Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. See, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not be aware of it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a)

The more I study the Bible, the more I am impressed with the value and importance of gaining a greater perspective on the nature and ways of God. Isaiah wrote, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). My belief is also that God’s ways are higher than our thoughts. Throughout the history of mankind, from the Garden of Eden until now, God has been at work doing things that He has never done before, things that mankind has never heard of before, things that mankind could not have even imagined He might do. These “new things” always surprise us, but God has His entire plan in His mind already, for He declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-11). The purpose of my writing this article is to demonstrate that the God of the Bible is, in fact, the God of “new things”, that He has already done many “new things”, that He is doing “new things” now, that He will continue to do “new things”, and that we need not be afraid to embrace and participate in these “new things.” In fact, God characteristically invites us to join Him in some of the “new things” He is doing today. Now, let’s take a brief look at some of these “new things”, in order to gain a clearer perspective on this important characteristic of our God.

First, let’s consider a few of the “new things” that God has already done, beginning with the Old Testament:

  • God creates Eve from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:21-22);
  • God sends “bread” from heaven (Exodus 16:11-35);
  • God makes water gush from a rock (Numbers 20:11);
  • A burning bush is not consumed (Exodus 3:1-4);
  • A donkey speaks (Numbers 22:28);
  • A snake on a stick is used to heal snake bites (Numbers 21:8-9);
  • City walls suddenly tumble down under their own weight (Joshua 6:5).

Next, let’s have a look at some more of God’s “new things”, as recorded in the New Testament:

  • Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit, rather than by a man (Luke 1:35);
  • Two men walk on water (Matthew 14:25-26);
  • God the Father raises Jesus from the dead, without human involvement (Galatians 1:1);
  • The Holy Spirit begins to indwell believers as they are saved (Ezekiel 26:27, Ephesians 1:13-14, 1 Corinthians 12:13, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 1 John 4:13-15);
  • The Holy Spirit is, henceforth, poured out on all people, not just a few Prophets (Acts 2:17);
  • Items of Paul’s clothing bring healing and deliverance, from a distance (Acts 19:12);
  • A coin from a fish’s mouth is used to pay the tax (Matthew 17:27); and,
  • Mud made from spit and dust is used to restore a man’s sight (John 9:5-7).

Finally, here are some of the “new things” that God will do in the future:

  • Jesus will come again, in the air, to gather the saints to Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17);
  • Evildoers will be cut off and banished to the Lake of Fire forever (Psalm 7:9; Revelation 19:19-21; Revelation 20:10, 14-15);
  • God will create a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-5); and,
  • God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5).

Do not fear, Only Believe

As you can see, the God of the Bible is, manifestly, the God of new things. In fact, everything God has ever done regarding mankind was a “new thing” at some point in history! So, when you encounter a supernatural manifestation, remember that it may really be of God, no matter how strange or bizarre or unnecessary it may seem to be. His ways are higher than our thoughts, and its just like God to do something that is new to us. By all means, test it to see if it is of God (click HERE), and if it is, then don’t be afraid to embrace it. After all, that’s what Jesus would do (John 5:19)!

After Words

Please don’t misunderstand, and assume that I am saying that God will do only “new things” going forward; I am not. Of course He will continue to do many of the things that He has done in the past. For example, God will always be faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9), the Father still draws sinners to Jesus (John 6:44), God still works in the saints to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), and Jesus still baptizes believers in the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8). God Himself does not change (Malachi 3:6), and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). But, He is not confined to doing in the future only those things that He has done in the past. To believe otherwise is to put God in a box, and such a god is not the God of the Bible.

(To read more of my Bible-themed articles, click HERE.)

When the “Supernatural” Is Not of God

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When the “Supernatural” Is Not of God

James R. Aist

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

Fore Word

I want to make it clear, right up front, that I am not among those who, in the Last Days, are content to have a form of Godliness but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:1-5). After more than 25 years of affiliation with and participation in Pentecostal/Charismatic churches and denominations, as well as more than 65 years of personal encounters with God (click HERE , HERE and HERE), I have the distinct impression that, often, too little consideration is given to the possibility that a supernatural manifestation may not be of God, but of Satan. The default setting seems to be that if it is supernatural, it must be of God, but that is not a biblical approach at all. The Bible clearly instructs us to test the spirits to see if they are of God or not (click HERE), and to hold onto what is of God. So, in this article, I want to relate some unequivocal examples of when the supernatural was not of God, but of Satan, so that a more balanced and biblical approach to the supernatural might become more commonly practiced be Christians going forward.

Introduction

Let’s begin by defining some relevant terms, shall we? “Natural” refers to things that are of this physical world that God created, often referred to as “nature.” “Supernatural”, on the other hand, refers to things that are above or beyond the natural, or not of this physical world. In this context, “supernatural” would refer to the spiritual realm, and, more specifically, to spirit beings or their activities. From the Bible, we know that spirit beings include God, angels (good and evil), demons and spirits (good and evil). Satan is the ruler of the evil angels, demons and evil spirits. Human beings are also spirit beings, but they have a physical body and a soul as well. God, as the Creator of everything, is ultimately sovereign over all of the physical and spirit beings. Jesus said that God is Spirit; consequently, whatever God does is supernatural. Likewise, whatever any of Satan’s spirit beings do is also supernatural.

Whenever we encounter a possible supernatural manifestation, I believe that the first thing we need to determine for ourselves is whether or not it is really a miracle at all. Many manifestations (e.g., random cloud formations appearing like Jesus or a cross, or rust dribbling down a statue) are easily explained by natural phenomena. Other manifestations (e.g., manufactured Words of Knowledge, messages from the “spirit world” or fake healing) may be nothing more than cruel hoaxes perpetrated by humans. Once such natural or manufactured phenomena have been ruled out as the cause, there are two possible sources of a supernatural manifestation: God or Satan.

Now, I assume that we are all familiar with accounts in the Bible of supernatural manifestations that were of Satan, not God. For example, the Bible says that Pharaoh’s magicians turned their rods into snakes (Exodus 7:8-12), and the Gadarene demoniac broke out of heavy chains and shackles using supernatural strength imparted by a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-13). But, to illustrate the point further, I want to give a more detailed account here of two supernatural encounters that I myself have had that were clearly not of God.

An “Angel of Light”

I was 19 years old, a college student and very naive and ignorant concerning spiritual matters and the Word of God. In my frame of reference at that time, anything supernatural was assumed to be of God.

Now, please keep in mind that I was fully conscious and aware during the entire supernatural encounter I am about to share with you. One Sunday afternoon, I was alone in my apartment praying earnestly to God for His guidance concerning a major life decision that I was about to make. While I was praying, I suddenly felt an invisible force pulling on me, weakly at first, but then stronger and stronger until my entire body fell limp and my upper torso was held upright (i.e., levitated) and literally pulled to the other end of the apartment by this force, with my lower legs and feet dragging along the floor. When I arrived at the doorway to my bedroom, the force released me, and I slumped into a full squatting position on the floor, still unable to move of my own accord. Then I saw, out of the corner of my right eye, a bright, round, white light about the size of a basketball. This light was situated at the juncture of the wall and the ceiling. Next, my gaze was turned toward the light, and a voice spoke into my mind. It told me what I wanted to believe as I had been praying to God, and the message was crystal clear and without any confusion on my part. Then my strength slowly returned and I was able to stand and walk.

In pondering what had just happened to me, I assumed that this entire and impressive spiritual encounter was a divinely inspired answer to my prayer. However, it was a frightening experience, and I have been reluctant to share it publicly until now. Believing it was of God, I acted on the message I was given.

As the years went by, it became more and more apparent to me that this “angel of light” had lied to me, because things were not working out as I was told they would. This development put me into a state of utter confusion, because I was, at first, certain that I had heard from God, who cannot lie. I was even in the midst of praying to God when this spiritual encounter occurred! “Surely God would not allow Satan to bring a false response to my prayer to Him!”, I reasoned.

More years passed, and, by now, I had become a student of the Bible and was a bit savvy concerning spiritual matters. But I was not yet fully convinced that this “angel of light” was not of God, even though what it said to me did not square with present reality. Then one day, as I was reading in 2 Corinthians 11, I came upon the verse that says “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” (verse 14). That caught my attention, but I tried to read on anyway. Each time I tried to read on, my gaze was directed back and glued to “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Finally, I saw the connection between this verse and my earlier experience with an “angel of light”: that wasn’t God, that was Satan deceiving me and setting my life on a course that did not end well! And, there it is. This supernatural experience was not of God at all, but of Satan, no more doubt about it. (Note: It is not uncommon for the Holy Spirit to quicken, or bring alive, the written word of God to a Bible reader in this manner. In Pentecostalism, this experience is sometimes referred to as an example of the “Rhema word” of God. For a sound, biblical teaching by Watchman Nee on the Rhema word, see text pages 51-59 at this link: https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/bfa-media/ebooks/TGC-eng.pdf)

A Slithering Serpent

Early on in my experience with Pentecostalism, I was an active member of the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship International (Ithaca, NY, chapter). A much larger chapter in nearby Syracuse, NY, invited me to be their keynote speaker at their next monthly meeting, and I accepted. They wanted me to relate my experiences in researching and publishing, on the Cornell University campus and to the Ithaca area, the facts and truth about homosexuality. Of course this was an inflammatory mission I was on, and the area homosexual activists were all up in arms about it, opposing me with every hateful and devious attack they could think of. The devil hates it when someone sheds light on his nefarious deeds of darkness, doesn’t he?

When the day came for my presentation, there was a sizable crowd of about 150 people who showed up to hear what I had to say. No more than about 10 minutes into my speech, I noticed to my left a woman standing in the aisle near the back of the crowd. As I continued to speak, I saw in the corner of my eye that she had laid down on the floor and was moving through the aisle toward me. When she was about half way to the front, I could see clearly how she was moving along the floor: she was face-down, her body taking the shape of a crawling snake and slithering toward me, all the while lifting her head, wagging her tongue at me and hissing audibly – just like a snake! I knew almost immediately that we were seeing a supernatural manifestation that was demonic in nature, so I continued right along with my speech so as not to allow this demon to disrupt my message. When the serpent lady had reached the edge of the open area where I was standing, a couple of the local men of the chapter came and quietly picked her up off of the floor, escorted her out of the auditorium the same way she came in, and ministered to her out in the foyer. This demonic manifestation was very impressive and creepy, but it didn’t spoil God’s purpose for my being there!

My Point

I want to encourage us all to not be too quick to conclude that anything that is supernatural is of God. False prophets can work signs and wonders too (click HERE). While it slanders God when we are duped by “wolves in Sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15), it is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit to attribute to Satan the miraculous works of God (Matthew 12:22-30). So, we must be very careful to always test any supernatural manifestation before we conclude that it is, or is not, of God (See Addendum, below). Peter and John did not believe the report that Jesus had been raised from the dead until they had direct, physical confirmation themselves, and Thomas withheld his worship of the resurrected Jesus until Jesus gave him the physical confirmation he was holding out for. Perhaps we would be wise to follow the example of these Apostles and require confirmation that supernatural manifestations are really of God, rather than being quick to just assume that they are. I have to believe that if God wants us to know what He is doing, He can and will make it clear to us, if we are willing to inquire, listen, watch and wait.

Addendum

I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you, for what its worth, some of the tests I use to evaluate the authenticity and the source of claimed “supernatural” manifestations. So, here is a “short list” of my tests:

  • Is there a verified, natural explanation available?
  • Is there a verified fleshly motivation to fake a miracle?
  • Do the human instruments of the manifestation appear to be trustworthy and reliable witnesses?
  • Does it involve anything that the Bible expressly prohibits?
  • Is it serving God’s purposes or Satan’s purposes?
  • What are my natural and my spiritual gifts of discernment telling me about it, if anything?

(To read more of my biblically themed articles, click HERE)

The Two Kinds of Faith

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The Two Kinds of Faith

James R. Aist

“There are two kinds of faith. There is the natural faith. But the supernatural faith is the gift of God.” – Smith Wigglesworth, in “Faith that Prevails”

Introduction

Several years ago I heard someone make the statement that “To help someone accept Christ, just show them that they already use faith in their everyday life, and explain to them that all they have to do is use the same faith to believe in Jesus.” Well, I didn’t know why at first, but that statement just didn’t seem to ring true, especially in light of what the Bible actually says about faith. So, I began to search it out more carefully, and that’s how I came to realize that there are actually two kinds of faith, and that they are really very different.

Natural Faith

“He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky…’” (Matthew 16:2-3a). Jesus is speaking here of a kind of faith that I call “natural faith.” Based on the appearance of the sky, we believe that the weather will be fair or stormy. And so, we plan and proceed with our day accordingly, using our natural faith.

What I mean by “natural faith” is the faith that we are born with, the kind of faith that we come by naturally. This kind of faith is in our “nature” from birth. Everyone, including atheists and scientists, has natural faith and uses it every day.

Here are some additional illustrations of the daily working of natural faith, to help you see more clearly what I mean by “natural faith.” By our natural faith, we believe that if we turn the ignition key, the car will start, and so we do it “on faith.” By our natural faith, we believe that the chair we are about to sit on will be strong enough to support our weight, and so, by faith, we “take a seat.” By our natural faith, we believe that if we put a dollar bill into a change machine, it will return four quarters, and in it goes. By our natural faith we believe that the peaches we see at the supermarket will be juicy, sweet and tasty, and so into the cart (“buggy” in the South) they go. And, by our natural faith, we believe that the pilot will get us safely to our destination, and so we board the airplane. We are all very familiar with this “natural faith.”

So we see that natural faith enables us to operate successfully and productively in this natural, material world in which we live. It helps us to overcome daily uncertainties that would otherwise paralyze us with fear and render us helpless.

While natural faith is a necessary part of successful and productive living in this natural world, it is not perfect, as witnessed by the fact that the car doesn’t always start, the chair doesn’t always hold, the change machine doesn’t always return four quarters, the peaches are not always juicy, sweet and tasty, and the airplane does not always arrive safely at its destination. And still, we continue to use our natural faith. What choice do we have, really?

Supernatural Faith

But there is another kind of faith, sometimes referred to as “saving faith.” Saving faith is the gift of God that enables us to believe the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that saving faith comes from God in Matthew 16:17, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven”, and in John 6:64-66, “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

Paul spoke of this gift of supernatural faith in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”, and in Philippians 1:29, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him…”

And in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul elaborates on the same teaching: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (For a scholarly exposition on the meaning of this passage as I understand it, click HERE). In this passage we have the two kinds of faith juxtaposed and contrasted:

  • this faith is “not from ourselves”; i.e., it is not something that we were born with and possess naturally; and
  • this faith is “the gift of God”; i.e., it is a present that is given, or added, to us by God (hence, “supernatural”)…that’s how we get it.

Likewise, we can see the two kinds of faith juxtaposed in one of my favorite Bible verses, Proverbs 3:5. To illustrate this example, allow me to reproduce this verse with the insertion of two italicized, parenthetical phrases: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart (supernatural faith), and lean not on your own understanding (natural faith)…”

So, what does supernatural faith do for us that mere natural faith cannot? Well, among many other things,

  • it enables us to qualify for heaven, (John 6:27-29) “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent”;
  • it enables us to stand firm in the faith to the end (Matthew 10:22);
  • it enables us to understand spiritual things, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14); and
  • it enables us to extend the “resources” that we can call upon, as we are no longer limited to what we can do for ourselves, but we can now appeal to God for His help and provision, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).

Will this supernatural faith ever fail us? No, contrary to natural faith, supernatural faith will never fail us: “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). God is faithful, even when we are not (Romans 3:3-4), and His word will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

Conclusion

We see, then, that our natural faith is necessary and sufficiently effective to enable us to operate successfully in this natural world, but it will not enable us to qualify for heaven. It takes a special gift from God – supernatural faith – to do that.

(For more articles on Biblical Teachings, click HERE)