How can we discern counterfeit miracles?The Bible provides us with several warnings about counterfeit miracles being performed by false prophets, even by those who claim to be in Christ. Jesus said: "For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). The works of Satan can be evidenced by "false signs and wonders" (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
The book of Exodus tells us the story of the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt. Before they were freed, God sent Moses to speak to the pharaoh to tell him "Let my people go" (Exodus 7:16). Because the pharaoh's heart was hardened, he did not let the Israelites go or believe that Moses was God's messenger. God did a series of miraculous plagues to demonstrate that He is Lord, as a judgment against the Egyptian gods, and to show that Moses was truly His messenger (Exodus 4:1–9; 7:1–5; 12:12). However, after the first sign Moses performed and after the first two plagues, "the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh's heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said" (Exodus 7:22; see also Exodus 7:11 and 8:7). When they were not able to replicate the third plague, the magicians realized it was God at work (Exodus 8:19). Finally, after the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn, the pharaoh let the Israelites go (Exodus 12:29–42).
The Egyptian magicians were able to replicate the first sign and two of the plagues, but these men were not of God and were demonically powered. If counterfeit miracles are possible, how do we discern which ones are genuinely of God and which ones aren't? We do it by testing the spirit behind them and recognizing the spiritual fruit of the messenger.
The Bible doesn't specifically tell us how to identify counterfeit miracles, but it does tell us how to identify false teachers. In Matthew 7, Jesus warned about false prophets and said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16, 20). First John 4:1–3 goes further: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already."
There are two key factors, which identify true as opposed to false messengers from God. First, true godly messengers' teaching must line up in agreement with the written Word of God, the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16–17; 4:2; Hebrews 4:12). Second, their lives must bear evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12–13; Galatians 5:22–23). There should be demonstration of their Christlikeness in their homes, habits, character, and spiritual maturity. When considering a church leader specifically, the apostle Paul laid out the required qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1–13. Both of these factors must be met in order to verify that a leader or teacher—and any miracles associated with their ministry— are truly of God.
Miracles done by teachers without evidence of godly character or sound biblical agreement are counterfeit at their spiritual core, even if a miracle has truly occurred. What we see in the New Testament is that miracles performed by the apostles served to validate and propel the gospel message (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:4).
Today, we have the Bible, but also the Holy Spirit at work within us to help us "test the spirits" and discern truth. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." When in doubt, we can refer to the Word of God that will enable us to discern well: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). Let the Holy Spirit and the Word of God be your guide into all discernment and truth.
How can I gain spiritual discernment?
What does it mean that you will know them by their fruit in Matthew 7:16?
Is there really a difference between miracles and magic?
Does God do miracles today?
How can I come to really know God?
Truth about Everything Else