You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
When the disciples came down from the upper room, an impossible task loomed before them. They were charged to announce that Jesus of Nazareth, a man executed as a common criminal, was in very fact the divine Son of God. They were responsible to persuade others that Jesus, so humiliated in His death, rose on the third day from His grave. They were also to declare that this Jesus was risen on high from whence He was surely coming again to reign!
Left to herself, the church was doomed to die as thousands of other abortive sects had died. That she did not so die is due to the miraculous element within her. That element, supplied by the Holy Spirit, was power. Of necessity, we must conclude that the church is not merely an organisation, but that she is a living embodiment of power.
The church began in power and advanced in power. So long as she possessed power, she advanced. With diminution of power, she resorted to mechanisms of conservation. Every return of the church to New Testament power has been marked by fresh blessing and new advancement, an upsurge in missionary zeal and bold proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. During those periods when the church has retreated into scholasticism, monasticism, and institutionalism, the blessings which she tried to keep became as kept manna, full of worms and stinking.
There can be no doubt, as we look on the churches of today, that by-and-large we are in a period of conservation marked by institutionalism. Amongst fundamental Bible believers is this odious retreat especially to be marked and shunned. Institutionalism, the feeble efforts of puny man, has largely replaced the power of God in our churches today. Christians and churches are resorting to trickery, gimmicks, and outright deception rather than return to the source of their power.
Our modern state is accurately set forth in 2 TIMOTHY 3:1-5: 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. The saddest aspect of this description is this: having the appearance of godliness—being religious, being churchgoers—but denying its power. Most of us are churchgoers, we have a form of godliness, but we deny the power thereof.
How desperately we need the power of God in our lives, individually and as a Body. We have a problem, and our first impulse—and perhaps our last—is to turn to the denomination, to experts, to promotions—there is no room for the Holy Spirit! No room for the working of the power of God. The better our organisation, the less power we possess. I fear that we have about organised the Holy Spirit out of our churches.
Dr. A. W. Tozer, in a marvellous little booklet entitled PATHS TO POWER, describes power with a five-fold definition:
1. spiritual energy of sufficient voltage to produce great saints;
2. spiritual unction that will give a heavenly unction to our worship
and make our meeting place sweet with divine presence;
3. that heavenly quality which marks the church as a divine thing;
4. that effective energy which God has, both in biblical and post-
biblical times, released into the church and into the circumstances
surrounding her, which made her fruitful in labour and invincible
before her foes;
5. that divine afflatus which moves the heart and persuades the hearer to repent and believe in Christ.
This is a marvellous definition, capturing the observable quality necessary to a full understanding of supernatural power. We cannot explain power … it must be experienced. Neither can we observe power; we must confine our observations to the result of power. I think it fair to state that most of us want nothing to do with a religion which can be explained; such would draw God down to the level of the ordinary and make Him no greater than man. You and I need to do some experiencing of the power of God. We—you and me—need to experience the power of God in our lives.
BIBLICAL POWER IS SPIRITUAL ENERGY OF SUFFICIENT VOLTAGE TO PRODUCE GREAT SAINTS. The power which we encounter in the Word of God resulted in the production of great saints. They did not find it necessary to resort to commentaries, analytical concordances or the original languages in order to prove they were saints; their lives proved their relationship to God. The life of the believer is supposed to be testimony of his saved status. For the most of us, there is nothing peculiar about our lives to distinguish us as saints. Where New Testament power is manifest, lives serve as proof of our claim to sainthood. Look at the lives of saints in the Book of Acts.
When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptised, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and 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. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved [ACTS 2:37-47].
Now there is a holy boldness where before there was timidity and fear. Then—the disciples cowered in a room fearing the wrath of those men who had crucified the Master. Now—the same frightened disciples charge these people with the death of God’s Messiah. This is true boldness!
Empowered by the Spirit of God these once frightened disciples boldly identify themselves as disciples of this despised Jesus, and if they did not so identify themselves their speech would betray them, for the same Spirit which empower Jesus now empowers them. When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognised that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition [ACTS 4:13, 14].
Nor were the leaders alone emboldened; but every disciple had opportunity to be filled with the same Spirit and would speak with holy boldness and witness to the grace of God in Christ the Lord. Consider the conditions set for the appointment of the first deacons. Brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom… They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; and Philip, and Procorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.
And the Word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people [ACTS 6:3,5-8].
Neither should we think boldness such as this we see to be confined to a select few. Rather boldness such as this displayed here is the heritage of each disciple of Christ and of all disciples. Those who were scattered went about preaching the Word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice, and many who were paralysed of lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city [ACTS 8:4-8].
Paul, writing the saints at Corinth appealed to this demonstration of power as he taught them in his first letter. And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God [1 CORINTHIANS 2:1-5].
The power of which I speak produced an Athanasius. In the fourth century A.D., Athanasius defended the faith against the Arian heresy. Arius, an eloquent man, had swayed the entire Christian world toward the declaration that Jesus was not very God. Constantine together with the whole Roman system, supported Arius in his error. Athanasius, despite repeated exile, stood for the truth that Jesus is in very fact God in the flesh. Together with a little handful of men, he prayed through the night, and on a day, Athanasius stood to defend the truth that Jesus is God. He spoke in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Nicene Council reasserted the faith that Jesus is very God in the flesh.
The power of which I speak produced a Savonarola who stood against the evil and corruption of ecclesiasticism in his day. He turned one of the most influential cities in that day to righteousness, even though it was to cost his life. The power of which I speak produced a Bernard, that flaming evangelist of the Dark Ages, who spread the Word of God across the entire European continent. That power of which I speak produced a Hubmier who stood for right in the face of severe persecution from both the Catholics and the Reformers, mightily influencing the reformation to move closer to the New Testament. The power of which I speak produced a Blaurock, a Grebel, a Manz, all willing to seal their testimony with their lives.
Time would fail me to speak of Wycliffe, who gave his life that the people might have the Bible in the vernacular. The power of which I speak produced a Tyndale. So feared was Tyndale’s translation of the Word of God that bloody Mary, Queen of Scots, ordered that all copies of this translation were to be gathered and burned. If a home was found to contain Tyndale’s translation, the man of that house was to be burned. Mary had copies of Tyndale’s Bible stacked as high as St. Paul’s cathedral in London, oil poured over the stack, and set ablaze. Then she is reported to have wrung her hands in glee and said, “It is finished. There is not another copy of Tyndale’s Bible left in all of England.” Yet, in a little rock chapel in Bristol you can find a copy of Tyndale’s Bible and read therein, the Word of the Lord … endureth forever.
These fulfilled all that was written of saints of another era: And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth [HEBREWS 11:32-38]
Had I time, I would speak of the power which was gloriously evident in the life of John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and their colleague George Whitefield. That same power energised Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, Spurgeon, and literally millions of nameless saints who were revealed to be saints by the lives they lived. How it must break God’s heart to hear all the pious platitudes of multitudes who insist they are willing to die for Christ, yet who are unwilling to live for Him.
BIBLICAL POWER IS WITNESSED IN SPIRITUAL ANOINTING WHICH GIVES A HEAVENLY UNCTION TO OUR WORSHIP AND MAKES OUR MEETING PLACES SWEET WITH DIVINE PRESENCE. How long has it been since we went to church and knew that we had met with the Spirit of the Lord? How far afield we have come since it was written of those first disciples: None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem [ACTS 5:13].
Our forefathers met in anticipation of the blessings of Almighty God. There was an air of expectancy as they came together since they had spent the week in prayer for the blessings of God to be poured out on them. Those saints of that bygone era would often sing a delightful old hymn which is virtually unknown today:
Brethren we have met to worship
and adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power,
While we try to preach the Word?
All is vain unless the Spirit
Of the Holy One comes down;
Brethren, pray, and holy manna
Will be showered all around.
We meet in anticipation of nothing and we are seldom disappointed.
I remember preaching at a conference for the Oakland, California Chinese Bible Church. We were in a retreat at Lake Lucerne in northern California. What a week! Those blessed saints had met for weeks preceding the conference and they had prayed, asking that God would meet with us there and that He would reveal His grace by filling our hearts with His love and with His power. I recall that I preached some anaemic messages urging the people to live for Christ, but it was Him and His presence which transformed that conference from business as usual into something different.
That last session I spoke and gave my best effort. I felt an abject failure—and I was—so I simply concluded by asking that we bow our heads and pray silently. Then I sensed it—the awesome presence of God. I heard the sound of quiet sobbing from first one, and then another. Soon, the entire body of believers was sobbing and falling to their knees, myself included; and we worshipped God who had honoured the multiplied prayers of His people. I shall never quite get away from the glory of that moment nor from the experience of unity discovered in the presence of the Holy One.
Were the power of God to be evidence among us, we would assuredly know the sweet presence of the Lord again today. Sinners would not feel comfortable in our presence, for the holiness of our meetings would convict men and women of unrighteousness. Cold, apathetic, backslidden believers would hasten to forsake their wayward walk and hasten back to the fellowship of the congregation of God. The pastor would not find it necessary to plead with reticent saints to obey the biblical injunction to identify with Christ in believer’s baptism or to openly unite with the congregation, placing life and influence where it will make a difference. Saints would look forward eagerly to the apostle’s doctrine, the fellowship of believers, the breaking of bread and the prayers of God’s united people. There would be no hesitation on our part to enter into the experience of united worship. This divine presence will not be known among us until we return to New Testament power.
The early churches were expected to meet together with power as evidence by Paul’s letter to the Church of God at Corinth: When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus [1 CORINTHIANS 5:4].
BIBLICAL POWER IS EVIDENCED IN THE SPIRITUAL QUALITY WHICH MARKS THE CHURCH AS A DIVINE ENTITY. The most damning indictment against the church of this day must be the fact that there is nothing mysterious about her in the eyes of the world. Surely, this must be a damning indictment: we can be explained! The world is allowed to become coarsely familiar with the virgin Bride of Christ, treating her as a vulgar and common friend. We are no longer marked by power, the identifying mark of a divine entity.
The first church was marked by power. The world recognised that she was a divine creature. No wonder that the people hesitated to join themselves to her. No man wants to thrust his hand into live coals; but who is afraid of ashes? The church was not born in the mind of man; nor does the church grow out of the efforts of man. The church is the result of divine power. The church grows by divine power and the church advances in power or she does not advance at all. The power which marks the church is divine in origin; thus the church is divine in per preservation and divine in her destiny. We must return to this glorious power that we may once more be marked as divine.
One cannot explain that first church. One cannot explain the existence of the church; one can only experience it. Who can explain ACTS 4:31-33? When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the Word of God with boldness.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.
One does not explain such a phenomenon; one can but experience it. It is not possible to explain the church. The fact that people in this community find it possible to explain this church is an indictment against our lack of power. Our lack of souls saved in stirring conversions, our lack of changed lives in this congregation, our eager lowering of standards to get someone to join us, all alike and each alike argue against power as surely as sparks fly upward.
BIBLICAL POWER IS EFFECTIVE ENERGY WHICH PRODUCES FRUITFUL LABOUR AND RENDERS US INVINCIBLE BEFORE OUR FOES. Power changed the lives of those early saints: And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs [MARK 16:20]. The whole of the Book of Acts is but an extension of that one verse. What a stinging rebuke to our lives is HEBREWS 2:3, 4: how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
The words of the Apostle are a stinging rebuke to our anaemic attempts to disseminate the message of grace. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ [ROMANS 15:18, 19].
May I say that it is an evil day when we find it necessary to apologise for the miraculous. We evangelicals are so fearful that someone might label us fanatic that we deny the miraculous altogether and stifle the wonder of God’s power at work among us! You say you don’t believe in miracles? You don’t believe the Bible! If our lives were marked by the purity, the passion, the power of the first disciples, miracles would abound. I do not need to go around looking for miracles. I don’t need them in order to keep on trusting and serving, but I do need to see the hand of God in much of my life and in my witness. As I yield myself to the Spirit of God for His use, I surrender my life to the miraculous and I do see miracles occur.
Ask yonder soul who has just been saved, “How did it happen?” He’ll answer, “I don’t know. I know one thing; once I was blind and now I can see.”
Yonder is another new babe in Christ. Salvation has broken out on her like the measles. “What happened?”
From sinking sand, He lifted me,
With tender hand, He lifted me;
From shades of night to plains of light,
O praise His Name, He lifted me.
Fruitful labour and invincibility against our foes is marked by the miraculous. You won’t have to work it up, pray it down, or any other such foolishness; it will be a natural outworking of the power which God places at our disposal. Little wonder that the early church was fruitful in labour. Little wonder that the early church was invincible before her foes. They were embellished with power from on high. God confirmed His Word and their labours with signs and wonders, miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We desperately need that same confirmation.
BIBLICAL POWER IS THAT DIVINE AFFLATUS WHICH MOVES THE HEART AND PERSUADES THE HEARER TO REPENT AND BELIEVE IN CHRIST. Power is not eloquence; neither is it logic. Power is not argument. All of these, or some of these, may be present with power; but they are not in-and-of themselves that divine power. It is that divine operation of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man which draws men to Christ. It is that supernatural inspiration which turns the heart of men to righteousness. It is that gracious moving of the Spirit of God causing men to repent toward God, placing full confidence in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Without supernatural power, men will never be born again. Except the Spirit of God move amongst us, we can never see sinners coming to Christ in repentance and faith. Lack of fruit in a believer’s life is sure evidence of lack of power.
A. W. Tozer has aptly said: Everything else being equal, we shall have as much success in Christian work as we have power, no more and no less.
Consider the apostolic words designed to encourage the struggling Christians in Thessalonica: our gospel came to you not only in word, but also with power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia [1 THESSALONIANS 1:5-7]. The Word came in power and turned these Thessalonians to righteousness and to life. In the power of the Holy Spirit, despite strong opposition and bitter persecution, these humble men and women received the Word and were converted.
I heard an account how that some time ago a group of tourists were being conducted through the Collegiate Church of Saint Peter in London—popularly known to the multitudes as Westminster Abbey—and the guide was dutifully describing its impressive story, starting with its founding as the abbey church of a monastery during the reign of King Offar of Mercia. He traced the illustrious history highlighted by King Severt of Essex, Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Henry VIII, George II and queens Mary and Elizabeth.
He noted that all the English kings since William the Conqueror had been crowned at the Abbey and called attention to the coronation chair which contains the ancient Stone of Scone, brought by Edward I from Scotland. He pointed out that thirteen kings and five sovereign queens are buried in the Abbey, along with such statesmen as Gladstone, Pitts, Fox, Hastings and Palmerston; literary greats in the Poet’s Corner such as Tennyson, Chaucer, Browning, Dryden and Gray; plus innumerable giants in the fields of theology, music, science, theatre and the military.
As the precise expostulator paused impressively for emphasis after one of his glowing descriptions, the silence was punctuated by the irritated exclamation of an elderly lady in the group, who said, “Young man, stop all your chatter and tell me: has anyone been saved around here lately?”
This is the important question. It matters not who has worshipped here in days gone by. It matters not what was accomplished in the past. The question of supreme importance is: “Has anyone been saved around here lately?” Does the Word of the Lord ring out from this pulpit – from the lives of our people – from me and from you – in power to turn men and women to Christ. A church not in the soul-winning business has no business being in business.
In this we join Spurgeon as he cries out: Oh, for the zeal of Wesley and Whitefield, the zeal of men who were always preaching or praying, men who seemed as if they knew no weariness, or shook it off as dust from their feet! Oh, to have the zeal of apostolic times again, when the very least among you should be ready to be martyrs for Christ, if need be; and when all of you should testify of Him, wherever you were called to go. Oh, for more zeal in the household, that you might seek more anxiously the conversion of your children; more zeal in the workshop that you might communicate to your fellow-workmen the spirit which actuates and moves you. Oh, for more zeal in the Church, and church-meetings, and prayer meetings, that everything might be done with spirit. Above all, oh, for more zeal in the pulpit. Holy Fire come down! We have the wood, we have the altar, we have the sacrifice, but we want the fire!
WHERE SHALL WE OBTAIN THIS POWER? It is necessary that we first realise that we have no right to this power if we are not children of the Living God. It is essential that we admit that we can never claim such power if we have never been born from above. The Spirit of God dwells only in the naos of the believer’s heart. We will we stop trying to tickle the ears of men and admit to the Word of God.
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [ACTS 4:12].
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God [ROMANS 8:14].
In Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God, through faith [GALATIANS 3:26].
You can never know, you can never experience, you can never appreciate the power of the Spirit of God, until that day you turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, receiving the gift of eternal life. You must be born again. This is the great need of the hour. Oh, that each of us was born from above!
Having been born from above, you must be obedient to God. Preachers today will not preach repentance to the lost and they dare not preach it to believers. Have you received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? If so, the Word of God declares that you are responsible to publicly confess Him as such, following Him in believer’s baptism.
There is a heresy taught from many evangelical pulpits which teaches that you can make Jesus Saviour now and make Him Lord later and at your convenience. It is heresy! The Word of God presents Jesus as both Lord and Saviour. He will never be your Saviour if He is not your Master. If He is Master, you will be obedient to His divine commands. You will follow His example and His divine command to be baptised upon your profession of faith. You will be obedient to affiliate with the Bible believing church in your area.
If you are known by Christ and if you are obedient to Him, you will confess your lack of power. There is a gracious promise recorded in ISAIAH 40:29:
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Few of us today dare admit our weakness in the presence of others. I guess we feel that such admission will make us vulnerable. Without the power of the Holy Spirit – we are vulnerable! We must admit our weakness. We must admit our lack of strength. We must admit our frailty. We will never desire the strength of the Lord until we are willing to cease from our own efforts.
May I say that if we will discover the power of the Spirit we must turn from all known evil in our lives. God will never send His power into our lives, collectively or individually, until we are cleansed from our wickedness. Whatever it is that hinders the Spirit of God, we must forsake it. Is it a lack of love? Forsake that lack of love. Is it an unwillingness to fellowship with the body of Christ? That body is our own and we must confess that sin. Is it a lack of prayer and communion with the Lord? We must turn to God with broken hearts and admit our lack of zeal and our lack of communication. Is it that we refuse to spend time in the Word of God? Turn to Him, receiving His gracious forgiveness.
If we have done all this – trusted Christ as Lord, obeyed His command to identify with Him and to unite with His people, confessed our lack of power and turned from all known evil in our lives – we must go. The River Jordan did not roll back until the soles of the priests’ feet touched the waters. Likewise, we shall not know the power of the Spirit until we go. That is the teaching of the Great Commission: Jesus … said, ‘‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” [MATTHEW 28:18-20].
His power awaits our appropriation. Who today says, “I will go! In the power of the Holy Spirit, I will go.” Amen.