Are the Holy Spirit’s displays of power in Acts normal? Should we expect it today?
Jesus said in Acts 1:8 that the disciples would “receive power when the Holy Spirit” came upon them. They certainly did receive power! In chapter two the Holy Spirit arrives with a bang, and after Peter presents the Gospel, 3000 people believe and are saved. From then on we see several amazing events recorded.
Should those displays of God’s power be considered normal for today? Are we missing something if this is not a part of our normal experience?
Some would say we should see these things today, and that there is something wrong with us or our faith if we do not. Now I do believe that God can work this way today and does perform miracles, but I do not believe it should be considered normal.
The displays of the Holy Spirit’s power in Acts are incredible. But just because they are recorded in Acts does not mean we can conclude that they should be normal for today. Here are three reasons why:
Descriptive is not prescriptive. Narrative sections of the Bible should not be presumed to be prescriptive of how we should live. It is a logical leap to assume that because it is described, it is meant to be imitated. All scripture is profitable for us (2 Tim 3:16); there are life-changing applications to be drawn from descriptive sections of the Bible.
Highlights ≠ normal. I remember as a kid watching football highlights on TV and thinking, “Why don’t they throw it deep to the endzone on every play?” Of course God is capable of miracles and awesome displays of power today. But we can’t make the mistake of assuming those displays should be normal, everyday occurrences. Even the incredible displays of power in Acts are rare for Acts. This is true throughout the Bible. There are about 20 miracles recorded in Acts and the book covers about a 30 year period. So less than one miracle per year on average is recorded. Yes, other miracles are referenced as happening, but I think the point still stands that they are uncommon.
And even if you look at the detail you’ll see that sometimes miracles did not happen in a situation where they happened before. For example, Paul and Silas were miraculously rescued from prison in Acts 16, but then later in Acts, Paul spends years in prison. With further study I think we find that God was just as involved and engaged in both situations. But it is wrong to assume that because it happened once, it should then happen again.
Fast and dramatic is not the only kind of miracle. It would be great if thousands of people flocked to hear us preach, and then in one message, 3000 people came to faith like we see in Acts 2. That was quick growth of their numbers and dramatic displays of power. But it is wrong to say that the more steady movement of God in the hearts of people is not also a miracle. When someone moves from darkness to light there is a celebration that happens in heaven! That is not boring! When the Spirit works on a Christian to enable them to resist temptation and instead do what is right, we see a great work of God. We would love to see God work dramatically and quickly, but we should not minimize the incredible work that God does faithfully over time and in our hearts.