According to the late bible teacher, Derek Prince, in many places today the church is an ungodly mixture.
“No clear line is drawn between the spiritual and the soulish, and therefore there is no barrier to the demonic,” noted Prince, in his book Rules of Engagement: Preparing for Your Role in the Spiritual Battle.
“Genuine manifestations of the Holy Spirit are interspersed with manifestations that are clearly demonic. As a result, many sincere believers are confused and bewildered.”
One reason for this could be a preoccupation with spiritual gifts over spiritual fruits in these congregations.
If people are excessively preoccupied with spiritual gifts, it often indicates that they are more concerned with the things of time than eternity. Such people need to heed Paul’s warning: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Corinthians 15:19; NIV)
More important still, the exercise of spiritual gifts gives no indication of a person’s character. Let me illustrate with a crude example. Suppose a person who is lazy, deceitful and conceited receives an unearned gift of one million dollars. His character will not be changed at all. He will still be lazy, deceitful, conceited. In fact, he may even be more conceited because he has a million dollars in his bank account!
The same applies to a person who receives a dramatic spiritual gift, such as prophecy or healings or miracles. If he was weak and unstable before, he will be just as weak and unstable afterwards. But his new gift will give him greater influence with people and he will have the added responsibility of exercising it in a way that is righteous and pleasing to God.
A major problem in the charismatic movement is that people tend to assess ministers more by their gifts than by their character. Yet experience has demonstrated time and time again that it is possible for a person to exercise dramatic, impressive gifts and yet have a very defective character. Sometimes such people may even use their gifts to cover up the imperfections of their characters.
There was a minister in a Scandinavian country who preached on the “latter rain” of the Holy Spirit in such a powerful way that people in his congregation actually felt the Holy Spirit falling on them like drops of rain. Yet he went straight out from those services to commit adultery. When he was charged with this, people could not believe that a man who preached like that would commit such a sin—until eventually he acknowledged it himself.
As a young preacher, I greatly admired an older man who had a spectacular ministry of miracles. He also taught very forcefully that it is possible for a Christian to live without ever sinning. Yet eventually he divorced his wife, married his secretary, and died an alcoholic. Other well known and successful preachers have experienced similar personal tragedies.
When confronted with cases such as these, people often respond, “But surely if a person misuses one of these gifts, God would take it away!”
Yet the answer is No! The gifts of the Spirit are exactly what the name implies—genuine gifts, not loans with conditions attached or a repayment schedule. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Once we receive one of these gifts, we are free to use it, misuse it or just not use it at all. Ultimately, however, God will require an account of what we have done—or not done.
We need to bear always in mind the warning of Jesus, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:20, NASB) — not by their gifts. Jesus followed up these words by an explicit warning that the exercise of spiritual gifts is not necessarily a passport to heaven:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
This indicates that it is possible for a person to exercise spiritual gifts and at the same time to “practice lawlessness.” What is “lawlessness”? It is an arrogant assumption that God’s moral and ethical standards no longer apply to those who can exercise gifts of supernatural power.