Only Through His Power

 We all know the feeling of being gripped in a riveting book, fighting between the impulse to read and the nagging reminder of everything else we have to do that day. It has been a little while for me, but that sensation reappeared over the past week in full force as I have been reading through The Cross And The Switchblade by David Wilkerson. It is an amazing book, with some great thought-provoking lines about following the Lord’s will as we seek to bring the gospel to people where they are at.

Overall, I would recommend the book for older audiences, but what really struck me in the last quarter of the book or so was the role of the Holy Spirit. The main character is Pentecostal, so as expected, the book makes much of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I am not going to get into that or the subject of speaking in tongues, for that is another matter. The point is that daily, you see the characters in the story firmly believing they can do nothing without the guidance, strength, and empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Then I got to thinking—a good number of my favorite novels have this common thread, and all of those have Pentecostal or Church of God characters. I’m talking about books like The Visitation by Frank Peretti and In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. This is ironic, considering that I have always been in some kind of Baptist church my entire life.

I am not arguing about or evaluating the different denominations, but I am trying to make this one point: I think in general, Christians do not rightly understand the role of the Spirit. For many, we hardly recognize Him. Sure, we “know” He is part of the Trinity and that He draws people to salvation, but other than mentioning His convicting role through prayer every once and a while, an observer would hardly recognize that we believe in Him. On the other hand, some circles elevate the Spirit so much, it almost seems that they exult the baptism of the Spirit over salvation (one impression I had from the final chapters of The Cross And The Switchblade).

While we may not want to admit it, neither of these positions is right. The Holy Spirit is perhaps the single, most vital part of our Christian life, yet we either neglect or abuse Him. Both can be deadly. Just consider some of these verses:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth.”

John 14:15-17a

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Acts 1:8, emphasis mine

“So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”

John 20:21, 22

“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.”

Romans 8:11

That last one is especially powerful: the Spirit that raised Jesus dwells within every believer. The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that without the Spirit, we cannot understand truth, we cannot overcome sin, we cannot be unified, we cannot even be saved, the list goes on and on (1 Corinthians 2:14; Galatians 5:16, 22, 23; Ephesians 4:3; Titus 3:5). Just looking at these verses show how much more work He does than simply saving a person, as miraculous as that is.

But the one I want to zero in on is this one: transformation. This was pointed out in The Cross And The Switchblade, that the gospel leads to lasting change, time and time again. Galatians 5:16 says rather plainly, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” This clearly states that living by the Spirit will give a Christian the power they need to overcome sin. It is not their strength, it is not in them to overcome, but the power of God flowing through them leads them in victory.

Here is a startling verse about this concept, one that comes from Ephesians: “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Now why would Paul juxtapose drunkenness with Spirit-filling? It is because both drunkenness and being filled with the Spirit alters a person’s natural behavior.

Let me clarify. I am not speaking about talking with various tongues (as the term is used today) or uncontrollable physical movements, for those do not seem to line up with what Scripture teaches about the Spirit in other places. What I am saying is this: no one can truly have the Spirit of God and continue living as he or she was when they were saved; they will change. To know Christ is to have the Spirit, and to have the Spirit is to grow more and more like Christ. John says that “no one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). We will still fail, that is why we have the faithful promise of forgiveness and Christ as our Advocate in that same letter (1 John 1:9; 2:1, 2). But the point John is making is that no one who has been born again and has the Spirit dwelling in him continues to live a life-style of sin. There will be a distinct, visible, and marked change in their lives.

Again, this cannot happen on our own. It is clear that we need the empowerment of the Spirit to overcome our fallen nature (Acts 1:8; Romans 7:18; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 5:16). We need Him, and we need Him desperately. His goal is to draw men to Christ, then once He saves them, to conform them more and more into the image of Jesus. He does not exult Himself, but He exults the Son. Without Him, our spiritual lives will lie in lethargic apathy. We will become discouraged, depressed, and cynical about serving the Lord, because we are trying to do it on our own, even though God has told us that we cannot.

So what I am trying to say is this: whether you are Pentecostal, Baptist, Church of Christ, Methodist, or whatever denomination, we need the Spirit and we need to recognize what His ministry truly is. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can live this life for God’s glory without Him, but we cannot become so fixated upon the Spirit that we lose sight of the goal, which is being made like Christ. The Church in America has laid dormant for far too long, and the pressure from the world is heating up, and heating up rapidly. If the Church is going to stand, it will only be by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. He is within every believer and His one desire is to grow us more like Christ, which plays out in victory over sin, sharing the gospel, and many other aspects of our lives. We need Him, and we need Him far more than we can know. He is the same Spirit who had the power to raise Christ, and God is giving us that same power to have victory over sin and take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

So why aren’t we doing it? I think it is because we do not truly understand or recognize the role of the Spirit. Let us do that, pray for guidance to understand it all the more, then go forth in His power for the glory of Christ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s