By Rick Becker 16 December 2021
“…having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5) is a portion of a verse that’s often quoted by those who claim to operate in the supernatural, exercise the supernatural gift of their choice, and have “encounters” with God. They quote this part of the verse in a disparaging sense, directed at individuals or churches that in their view are not “spirit-filled,” don’t operate in supernatural gifts, “quench the Holy Spirit,” and resist the current “revival” or “move of God.” They view the ones that deny the power as people with a “religious spirit,” or people under the influence of an antichrist spirit. They accuse them of being opposed to any form of the supernatural; people whose devil is bigger than their God because they’re afraid of taking risks in the supernatural and being deceived. Boring people, content with doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. But when we examine the context of the verse (2 Tim 3:1-5), we’ll discover that some who abuse this text (whom I’ll refer to as having a false view of the supernatural) are guilty of “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
Those who quote this verse in the manner described above, usually have a false view of the supernatural. Before we delve into the text, and for the sake of clarity, allow me to explain what I mean by a “false view of the supernatural.” It’s a belief typically found in some Charismatic or Pentecostal churches, and churches that have embraced the aberrant doctrines of the New Apostolic Reformation. A False view of the supernatural:
1. Every believer can operate in the supernatural, and has received a supernatural gift – every believer can speak in tongues, prophesy, and if they exercise enough faith and are in a right relationship with God, can perform the same and even greater miracles than Christ (It’s this particular belief that’s caused Bethel’s “school of supernatural ministry” franchises to spread across the world).
This is false because 1 Cor 12 makes it clear that it’s the Holy Spirit “who apportions (gifts) to each one individually as he wills” (vs 11). Secondly, the chaos and bizarre manifestations in NAR-type churches and various Charismatic churches, are a violation of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians regarding order during worship: “But all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40). Finally, the “greater works” that Jesus mentioned in John 14:12, do not refer to greater miracles.
2. Signs and wonders are normative.
The scriptures include many accounts of miracles, signs and wonders, which cause some to believe that they are normative. This is false because the following is not taken into account:
• The sign gifts were not given to all believers (1 Cor 12).
• The scriptures span a period of approximately 4000 years.
• There were centuries that went by during this time, without any recorded miracles.
• The number of people who performed miracles was relatively few.
• The major reason for signs and wonders in the New Testament has been fulfilled – to authenticate the message and ministry of the apostles (2 Cor 12:12), and to authenticate the identity, message and ministry of the messiah (John 10:36-39).
3. The office of apostle and prophet still exists. (If you’re wondering why I’ve included this point under a false view of the supernatural, it’s because both offices involve some form of the supernatural such as extraordinary miracles, writing scripture, and infallible prophecies).
This is false because no one can qualify for the office of apostle. One of the qualifications for the office of an apostle was that they had to be a witness to the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22). Although Paul was unique in that he was saved after the resurrection and the last apostle, he was called directly by Christ (Gal 1:1) and saw the resurrected Christ (1 Cor 9:1; 15:5-9). Secondly, and this ties in with the previous point, there were “extraordinary” (Acts 19:11) and specific signs and wonders that could only be performed by the apostles – “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Cor 12:12). For example, only apostles raised the dead in the book of Acts – Peter (Acts 9) and Paul (Acts 20).
Take note – “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles” (Acts2:42-43).
Those who claim to hold the office of prophet, with the same authority and function as old testament prophets, need to explain the need for their prophecies since the scriptures are complete. Furthermore, by their admission and history, their words are not infallible and rarely accurate. This contradicts the biblical test for prophets which has never been modified in scripture – one false prophecy makes you a false prophet (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
The foundation for “God’s household” is the “apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). That foundation is complete, and the true apostles and prophets are still speaking through the scriptures.
4. In their pursuit of encounters and taking risks in the supernatural, God will not allow them to be deceived because they trust in his ability to keep them, more than they trust in their ability to be deceived.
This is false because they assume that they’re born again, and many are not, and therefore not able to discern truth from error. Secondly, God sends a delusion upon those who have rejected the truth, a delusion that includes the signs and wonders these people pursue: “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11.) There goes the argument that “God will never allow me to be deceived.” If you reject the truth and pursue the supernatural, God will allow you to be deluded. (see also Matthew 7:21-23)
In addition, apart from “Satan’s activity,” or counterfeits, what is often assumed as being “supernatural,” is psychological, or plain skullduggery – the leg-lengthening trick is a prime example.
Those with the false view believe that anyone who rejects their experiences or teaching on the supernatural – such as the manifestations in their midst, or teachings that anyone can operate in signs and wonders, are rejecting the true operation and work of the Holy Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Discerning believers are rejecting:
• manifestations that are found in various cults and the occult such as kundalini manifestations, incoherent babbling, animal noises, being slain in the spirit, and convulsing like the demon possessed.
• lens flares in a photograph that are supposedly angels or an anointing captured in a photograph.
• glitter, “glory clouds,” smoke, breezes, scents, “angel feathers”, gold fillings, gemstones, or any other manufactured “sign and wonder.”
• tall stories about trips to the third heaven, angelic encounters, new revelations, fire tunnels, and countless unverifiable “miracles.”
Discerning believers who reject charlatans and their counterfeits are not rejecting the real work of the Holy Spirit, nor do they deny that God can work miracles. The Christian life is supernatural. It begins with a miracle – being born again. The indwelling Spirit of God working in and through believers is miraculous. There are times when God has intervened on our behalf in miraculous ways that we may be unaware of. There are times when God does heal – according to his will. You cannot separate the supernatural from the life of a believer! Discerning believers are rejecting deception and error, it’s those who have rejected the truth, that are deluded and resisting the Holy Spirit.
BROADER CONTEXT – Paul’s letters to Timothy.
The greatest threat to the church has never been external persecution, but internal perversion (Acts 20:29-31; Jude 4; 2 Peter 2:1-4; 1 John 2:18-26). Paul addresses this threat in both of his pastoral epistles to Timothy. He begins as early as 1 Tim 1:3: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” Then the solemn warning we’re familiar with in 1 Tim 4:1 – “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.”
In the final chapter of first Timothy, Paul identifies certain characteristics of those who teach a different doctrine:
“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,” (1 Tim 6:3-4).
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul likewise continues to warn Timothy about those who don’t teach sound doctrine. Paul instructs Timothy to “rightly divide the word of truth,” as opposed to those who engage in “irreverent babble” which leads to ungodliness and spreads like gangrene (2 Tim 2:14-17). This second epistle concludes with a sobering prediction that is being fulfilled in our generation: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).
SPECIFIC CONTEXT – 2 Tim 3:1-5:
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”
Those who abuse 2 Tim 3:5 are merely parroting what they have heard, and not even bothered to read the context. Paul is not describing godly people who are just missing out on the things of the Spirit. Paul is not describing nice Christian folk, but due to ignorance or fear of the supernatural are missing out on supernatural gifts and signs and wonders. Paul is describing the ungodly who masquerade as godly in the visible church – people who claim to be Christians or have an appearance of being a Christian. These are people we must avoid, not fellowship with.
Some of these ungodly people masquerade as ministers of the gospel, and in New Apostolic Reformation circles, many claim to operate in the office of an “apostle” or “prophet.” Let me be clear that some believers are caught up in the signs and wonders movement and quote 2 Tim 3:5 out of context. They need to receive accurate instruction. However, in the context of this passage, Paul is referring to people we should avoid.
The irony is that 2 Tim 3:5 in context, usually applies to those who abuse the context in the manner I’ve described:
• “An appearance of godliness” can apply to those with a false view of the supernatural.
Those who quote 2 Tim 3:5 out of context to justify their false view of the supernatural, usually make a false assumption concerning the phrase “an appearance of godliness.” Their view is that this description can only apply to one particular type of church – a traditional church service with a handful of members sitting on uncomfortable wooden pews, trying to stay awake while the minister labors on. The odd hymn is seen as a welcome relief to stretch the legs, and get the blood flowing to endure the remainder of the service without nodding off. It’s an image of a dead and dry church, a church that quenches the working of the Holy Spirit – the antithesis of a church that’s alive, full of power, and gives the Holy Spirit free reign. While many “traditional” churches are void of the gospel, merely going through the motions, and are spiritually dead, an “appearance of godliness” is not limited to the traditional type of church, but is found across the spectrum in the visible church. Included in this spectrum, are individuals, groups, and churches that claim to experience the “power” in the form of signs and wonders, supernatural gifts, manifestations, and diverse supernatural encounters.
The harsh reality is that many in this particular group will be shocked to find out that their appearance of godliness in the form of “supernatural” works did not make them superior, or even mean they were born again: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Be aware that the evil characteristics that Paul lists in 2 Tim 3:2-4 will most often be disguised. Some will argue that their “apostle” or “prophet” that operates in the supernatural is the most humble, sincere, kind, and passionate leader one can ever hope to find. An “appearance of godliness” has deceived them, and as a result, they are lured into the pursuit of power in the form of mysticism, Gnosticism, vain imaginations, and demonic counterfeits.
• “Denying its power” can apply to those with a false view of the supernatural.
In context, it’s clear that “denying its power” is not referring to people who do not operate in the supernatural, pursue spiritual encounters, or manifest the sign gifts such as speaking in tongues. The power that was lacking in these individuals was not the power to perform signs and wonders or exhibit supernatural gifts, but the power of the gospel, or the power of the cross (1 Cor 1:18) to transform their lives. Many of those with the false view are unregenerate, and you’ll find the characteristics listed by Paul prevalent in many contemporary and popular “apostles” and “prophets” – as well as their followers. They claim to perform miracles, receive new revelations, and receive prophetic words for individuals, churches, and nations. But these performers have never been transformed by the gospel, and they do not conform to the word of God. A few examples of how the characteristics listed in the text apply to these charlatans:
• lovers of self – those who preach the gospel should rightly divide the word of God (2 Tim 2:15), and preach the word of God (2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9) False teachers, apostles, and prophets speak about themselves most of the time. Instead of pointing to Christ, they will tell you all about their encounters and exploits. They are lovers of self, they make sure they are filmed while they perform their “miracles” or “evangelize” the lost. They care more about their brand, building project, and book release than the bible. These lovers of self attract those with itching ears who are desperate to hear messages about their self worth, and what a grand destiny awaits their life on earth.
• lovers of money – False teachers are motivated by shameful gain (2 Peter 2:3; 1 Tim 6:5; Titus 1:11). Some assure their followers that anyone can perform signs and wonders, and entice the gullible and “power” hungry by charging them for schools of “supernatural ministry” that would have been the envy of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:19-20). Others encourage the biblically illiterate to “sow their seed” during certain Jewish festivals or in “times of famine.” The most despicable teaching is that you are cursed if you don’t tithe and open the door to the devourer.
• boastful or proud – this is a characteristic of false teachers: “For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error” (2 Peter 2:18). In the New Apostolic Reformation, self-aggrandizing ”apostles” and “prophets” tell exaggerated stories and flat out lies. They are the privileged ones that God beams up into his throne room for private conversations. They are the elites who receive new revelations from God for the whole body of Christ. Their so called encounters with God legitimize their false teachings in the minds of their gullible followers. Others boast about the healings or salvations that have taken place in their midst, how many food packages they’ve given out, or some other social justice project they have started.
• arrogant – question their teachings or spiritual escapades and you’re likely to get a taste of their arrogance and incur their wrath. That loving and humble veneer will disappear in a flash, and you’ll realize you’re dealing with a Jekyll and Hyde, not a servant of God.
• slanderous/revilers – they blaspheme God and slander true believers. For a contemporary example of slandering or false accusations, look no further than the topic at hand – those with the false view who have elevated themselves and accuse those of not “having the power” as being deceived and second-rate Christians.
• swollen with conceit – this is one of the characteristics of those who teach a “different doctrine” (1 Tim 6:3-4)
Paul instructs Timothy to avoid the people he’s described, which leads me to believe he’s not describing weak or ignorant believers. You will recall another passage where Paul instructs his readers to avoid people: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Romans 16:17-18.
FURTHER CONTEXT – 2 Tim 3:6-9:
“For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.”
• Some are wolves in sheep’s clothing, they creep in and capture the weak: “For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” (vs 6).
Paul is not referring to people outside of the church system that exploit women, he’s referring to people with “an appearance of godliness” that operate in the visible church. That’s the modus operandi of false teachers; they disguise themselves and creep in: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Cor 11:14-15).
“For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
The women who Paul describes have been deceived by various “passions”. In the next chapter, Paul describes those who find teachers to suit their passions: “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2Tim 4:3-5.
Peter also makes it clear that false teachers entice through “passions” – “These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:17-19).
The current new breed of “supernatural” revivalists, apostles, and prophets are like waterless springs and mists. Despite their predictions, prayers, proclamations, and promises they are powerless, and just as enslaved as the ones they promise freedom to.
• The captured remain in their error – “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (vs 7).
Does that not remind you of the endless “revelations” and new philosophies being taught and sold in the visible church – particularly in the New Apostolic Reformation. As far as the supernatural is concerned, believers with the false view of the supernatural are on an endless quest to perform greater miracles than Christ. After thousands of activations, impartations, supposed mantles from dead faith healers, etc, we’re still waiting for them to produce a death certificate from someone they’ve raised from the morgue.
The women Paul described would never come to the knowledge of the truth because apart from being consumed by their sins and passions, their teachers opposed the truth:
• Teachers that oppose the truth – “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (vs 8). This verse is the only time Jannes and Jambres are mentioned in scripture. According to Jewish tradition, they were Pharaoh’s sorcerers who used their secret arts to duplicate the miracles God performed through Moses and Aaron (Exodus 7). Magic arts were being practiced when Paul was in Ephesus (Acts 19:19), and Paul is writing to Timothy – a pastor in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). It’s possible that Paul mentioned Jannes and Jambres to remind Timothy about this particular practice in Ephesus. What is clear is that they were men who opposed the truth. Similarly, there are men who oppose the truth in our generation. Their secret or magic arts come in various forms: manufactured ones such as using google for words of knowledge, pumping glitter through air vents, the leg lengthening trick, or demonic counterfeits.
CONCLUSION – 2 Tim 3:10-17.
In the remainder of the chapter, Paul encourages Timothy to follow his example and points him to the scriptures. Paul uses his own life as an example of what the power he’s referring to looks like, and it’s not operating in the supernatural: “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra – which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me” (2 Timothy 3:10-11). In other words, the power is that of a transformed life. Paul, the man who persecuted believers, became a persecuted believer. Paul was chased out of cities (Acts 13:50), stoned (Acts 14:9), beaten (Acts 16:22), lashed (2 Cor 11;24), and imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9). Paul was persecuted for preaching the truth, not distorting it! A far cry from modern day “apostles” who distort the truth and interpret persecution as being questioned about their experiences or teachings (something scripture commands – 1 Thess 5:21; Acts 17:11).
As for suffering, those who hold the false view typically believe that physical healing is guaranteed in the atonement, so any suffering in the form of sickness is due to sin, lack of faith, failure to decree, declare, or plead the blood of Jesus. They must surely view Paul as a really bad mentor to the young Timothy – Paul’s advice to Timothy for his frequent ailments: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” 1 Tim 5:23.
There’s no room for suffering in the popular and false gospel. We’re at the stage where guaranteed health, wealth, the ability to perform miracles and decree things into existence as if we were God, has become the standard for a “form of godliness” in the New Apostolic Reformation, prosperity and word of faith “churches.” This is because “evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (vs 13). It seems as if the days of creeping into households is over. False teachers can hardly be accused of clandestine tactics. They are brazen, in your face, and their teachings and “testimonies” dominate “Christian” bookstores and TV channels. They peddle their false teachings with confidence, raking in dollars from a few ignorant sheep and millions of goats. They have gone from “bad to worse.”
The sufficiency of
signs & wonders scripture:
“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:15-16).
In contrast to the “weak women burdened with sins and led astray by various passions” who were captured by those who opposed the truth, a young Timothy was influenced by women who embraced the truth: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” (2 Tim 1:5).
The godless people Paul described in the opening verses of the chapter, did not have the power to live transformed lives. The power they lacked, was not the power to operate in the supernatural, but the power of God for salvation. That power is in the gospel: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” )Romans 1:16). A gospel that Paul never compromised:
“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,” (1 Cor 1:22)
Signs and wonders don’t save or sanctify. It’s the gospel contained in the God breathed scriptures that saves and sanctifies. In fact, the word of God performs a supernatural work in believers:
“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-26).
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” ( 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Have you been seduced by men and women having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power? Are you minimizing the scriptures, looking for signs, pursuing the supernatural, and trusting in subjective experiences? Will you be one of the many who will point to their prophecies and mighty works on that day, only to hear the most terrifying words “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Perhaps you are on the opposite end of the spectrum; you would never fall for that crazy supernatural stuff! You have been baptized, catechized, memorized scripture, can recite the creeds and confessions backwards, attend a solid church, and have an excellent understanding of systematic theology… which may be your form of godliness.
It behoves us all to examine ourselves and see if we are “in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5). If we are, we must be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” otherwise we are deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). We must deal with any hypocrisy in our lives and “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).