Roger Morneau was facing a real-life test of his driving ability. Winter had arrived in full force in western New York State, and some of the snow had thawed during the day and then frozen again as the sun went down, leaving the road extremely slippery. Just keeping his car on the highway took all the skill he had developed over the years, and he didn’t dare to divert his attention from the road for even a second.
The road descended a gentle slope that led into a curve. Morneau let the car coast slowly down the slope, touching neither the brakes nor the accelerator lest he lose control. As he approached the curve at the bottom of the slope, he hoped that no cars or trucks were coming the other way. Rounding the curve, he was relieved to see no other vehicles; but something nearly as threatening loomed ahead: a large horse stood in the middle of the road. Morneau had time for only the briefest of prayers: “Dear Jesus, help me!”
Instantly, a force outside of himself seemed to take control of the steering wheel and guide the car toward the animal’s front legs. Just as the car was about to hit the horse, it reared onto its hind legs and pawed the air. Morneau ducked to avoid the hooves that he feared would smash through the windshield, but the animal’s feet cleared the top of the car, and it didn’t drop back down on all fours again until the car had passed completely by!
Morneau was convinced that God had intervened with a miracle.
There’s a lot of talk about miracles these days. Increasingly, people are willing to step forward and say, “A miracle happened to me.” And they’re always excited to tell how God intervened in their lives. Despite the scientific culture in which we live, the inexplicable and mysterious are attracting the minds of more and more people.
It’s good to be delivered from danger in a supernatural way or to be miraculously healed from a terrible disease. Healing is especially welcome for the person whose doctor informs him that he has just one or two more months to live. But our fascination with miracles raises serious questions about the power behind these phenomena. Could it be that in some cases something sinister lies beyond the attractive and sensational facade? If so, how can we know with certainty when a miracle is the result of God’s intervention and when it isn’t?
It’s easy to suppose that when the results of a miracle are good—health restored, danger averted, family reunited, and so forth—a good power must have intervened. This presupposition suggests that all good things come from a good God and that the devil does only bad things.
However, the Bible teaches that Satan often disguises his work behind a mask of good intentions and noble ideals. It doesn’t take a PhD in philosophy to see that evil is twice as dangerous when it presents itself under a veil of miraculous healings and supernatural phenomena.
The apostle Paul summarized this truth well: “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14, 15).
Jesus told of a dialogue between Himself and a group of mystical healers and prophets that will take place on judgment day: “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ” (Matthew 7:22, 23).
Since Christ “never knew” these people, their power to perform miracles must have come from another source.
Jesus also predicted that near the end of time Satan will increasingly reveal his supernatural power in order to deceive as many people as possible. “False Christs and false prophets will appear,” He said, “and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24).
Again, speaking about the future coming of the antichrist through the work of a “secret power of lawlessness,” the apostle Paul wrote, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (2 Thessalonians 2:7, 9, 10).
Finally, John the revelator, describing an apostate power that will rise on the earth during the last days of human history, wrote, “And he [the beast] performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 13:13, 14).
Applying all this information to the case of supernatural healings, it becomes obvious that Satan is able to pose as a brilliant healer. This being the broad biblical picture, the question arises whether we can assume that miraculous signs and wonderful healings offer incontrovertible evidence of God’s supernatural intervention. And the answer is, Not necessarily.
Four checks on deception
The basic issue, then, is not whether a miracle occurred but how to distinguish between those miracles that come from God and those whose source is Satan. Can a person determine the difference? Yes. I will suggest four things you can do to avoid deception.
1 Know God well
One day a man who was an expert at recognizing counterfeit banknotes was asked how he had acquired such skill. “By continually studying the genuine ones,” he said.
That’s good advice for Christians who want to learn how to tell the difference between miracles that come from God and those that come from Satan. To unmask the work of Satan, we need to become acquainted with the God who performs genuine miracles. The better we know Him, the easier it will be for us to recognize Satan. The better we understand God’s works, the better we will be able to detect those of Satan.
2 Make sure the miracle worker is committed to God’s cause
The Gospels tell us that Jesus traveled all over Palestine “teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (Matthew 9:35; italics added). His miracles always illustrated His teachings. They prepared people to accept His message of salvation by stirring their interest.
And when Jesus sent His disciples out on preaching tours, He emphasized first the idea of spreading the gospel and making disciples; signs and miracles served mainly as confirmation that divine power was working through them. Miracles were never to be the main focus of their work (Matthew 28:18–20; Mark 16:15). Whatever miracles might be wrought through them were not to be performed for the sake of sensationalism and self-glorification, nor were they to become a business enterprise. They were to be a means of opening people’s hearts, not their pocketbooks.
Christ’s miracles and those of His apostles were always performed in the context of proclaiming the good news of salvation. Their healing ministry was inseparably linked to their teaching ministry. This same pattern must be seen in the ministry of Christ’s followers today. To be genuine, today’s miracle workers must also combine whatever healing or other miracles they do with the proclamation of a biblically based teaching about salvation from sin. Otherwise, their miracles should be suspect.
3 Compare the miracle worker’s life and teachings with the Bible
Miracle workers who represent God must not only teach, but they must live the truth. Does the daily life of the miracle worker in question conform to biblical principles? Do the teachings that accompany the miracles harmonize with those of the Bible?
There will always be minor differences of opinion among good Christian people. But the miracle worker’s teachings should be in harmony with the Bible’s most basic teachings about God and His relationship to sin and sinners. For example, a false teaching that some miracle workers advocate today is the idea that each human being is a little piece of God, or even that each human being is God. Be very wary of any miracle worker who teaches that human beings are or can become God in any sense.
We should also be wary of any miracle worker who excuses sin. Jesus often said to those whom He healed, “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11, KJV; see also 5:13, 14). The miracle worker should call those healed to repent of their sins.
4 Notice who’s the star of the miracle worker’s show
Those miracles that call more attention to the human agent than to God are not genuine miracles. The issue is not whether the miracle worker is famous, for Jesus was famous. The issue is whether the miracle worker’s teaching emphasizes Jesus and salvation or whether he or she focuses on the sensational miracles. Does the miracle worker credit everything to God’s account, or does he or she ask you about the number and expiration date on your Visa or MasterCard? If the latter, don’t give that person any credit!
It’s not enough for a miracle worker to meet one or two of these criteria. God’s true miracle workers will meet all of them. For example, Jesus said that at His second coming many miracle workers will claim to have driven out demons and performed many miracles in His name but that He will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23). However much miracle workers may talk about Jesus, if their lives and teachings don’t harmonize with Christ’s teachings and the teachings of the Bible, we should be very wary of their miracles.
I believe the second coming of Christ is very near. This means that the deceptive miracles Jesus and His apostles predicted would occur just before He returns are also very near—and may already be happening in some cases. In an age when many are fascinated with miracles and the supernatural, we must be exceedingly careful what we accept as genuine, lest we be deceived. Carelessness could cost us eternal life!