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What Makes A Religious Experience Genuine?

Today increasing numbers of people claim to have had a religious experience. Some say they have had several. They have received visions, the sense of God’s presence, or other miraculous signs. Quite a few now have a message to share with believers.

How is a Christian to decide what is genuine? Are Christians to pay any attention to these claims? How does one answer?

RSV 1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

The problem is not just testing other people’s claims, but also ensuring we do not deceive ourselves.

It is imperative to remember that the anti-Christ will also do miracles. And they will be practically undeniable. (See Revelation 13:13-14.) These miracles will mislead the uneducated, and the educated, rich and poor. It will make the unspiritual believe they are spiritual. The basest impulse it will legitimize and make holy. It will spread these ideas (lies) like propaganda. Not even the most famous popstar or leader in history will have such support from the masses.

RSV Jeremiah 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.

It is extremely easy to deceive ourselves or even make up something.

God has not left us in the dark. His word is the test to apply.

  1. Compare any such experiences with those recorded in the Bible.
    1. The visions in the Bible all have a clear purpose. What might be obscure is the timing, the players and forces involved or the exact details. Whether it is Daniel, Ezekiel or Samson’s mother, the purpose of the vision is no mystery.
    2. The reaction of most people to God or an angel in the Bible is fear, a sense of one’s own sinfulness, and one of utmost humility. Not once does someone in the Bible react with joyful ecstasy. And if there is such a case, the Bible certainly does not describe it as such.
  2. Does it glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31)? Is it about God, his word or his great plan? Or is it about the person receiving this religious experience or revelation?
  3. Does this message contradict any part of the Bible?

If it is a religious experience, these are the most common tests. If it is a miracle, it still must be independently verified.

Most claims will not meet all these criteria. This is not to say they are automatically the work of the devil, or just made up in someone’s mind. We don’t know. There is doubt. And as long as there is doubt, these claims must be put aside. There are more important things awaiting a Christian’s time. It would be wrong to dwell on what is doubtful.

One thing is certain, there are more religious experiences than miracles. How does a Christian verify or reconsider someone else’s experience? Aside from the person reporting it, what can anyone else know or say?

If the religious experience or miracle fits all these points, there are two final points to consider. It is important to distinguish between: A) what edifies a person, and B) what edifies the body of Christ.

  1. What edifies the person is the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). There is only one fruit, not many, and not individual parts or pieces. The word fruit implies that it grows. It is the result of a life lived according to God’s principles. It is not instantaneous and it does not come out of nothing.
  2. What edifies the body of Christ are the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 14:1). There are many different gifts. All gifts can be further trained, exercised and developed.

Only one gift can be said to be mysterious, tongues. It is clear that when the Apostle Paul mentioned tongues, in most cases he meant an actual language people could understand. In the rare case where a tongue could not be understood, he preferred such a gift to be silent (unless there was an interpreter). [1 Corinthians 14:13, 28]

The gift Paul preferred was prophecy. It is the most powerful witness.

RSV 1 Corinthians 14:24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,

There is nothing mysterious about prophecy. It concerns the real world, warning of sin and judgement. The only part that could be considered a mystery are the details as to when, and how judgement for sin will occur.

Only when the religious experience or miracle edifies the body of Christ will it be most useful.

The purpose of this website is to teach the proof of prophecy in God’s word, and to show a real miracle independent of human religious experience. It is verifiable by anyone. It is the witness that God’s word is still true.

Christians must not waste time or resources dwelling on miracles or experiences that cannot be verified from God’s word. They not only detract and hinder the true miracles, but may also run against sound Bible teaching.

Copyright© 2005 by Jerry Chin