Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:7-9
As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost Sunday Colin Dye reminds us of the purpose of the power that is at work in us through the Holy Spirit.
As Pentecostal believers we know that the Holy Spirit is God’s power in action. So, obviously, one main work of the Spirit is to bring power to those whom he fills.
In the Old Testament, when the Spirit fell on a select few, he caused them to break out in inspired speech. It is the same with the New Testament pre-Pentecost fillings. After their anointings, John, Elizabeth, Simeon, Zechariah, and Jesus all spoke with power and authority. People constantly remarked upon Jesus’ powerful speech.
We might think that disciples who had healed the sick, cast out demons, accompanied Jesus for three years and seen physical proof of his resurrection would be more than adequately equipped to be witnesses. This was not so.
They possessed experience, training and knowledge, but lacked the only acceptable qualification – power. In Luke 24:48-49 and Acts 1:4-8, Jesus promised that the anointing with the Spirit would remedy this deficiency. The book of Acts is the result. Pentecost was the first fruit of the harvest. The three thousand converted in one day were the result of the power – with the promise of much more to follow.
The Greek word for power is usually dunamis: this describes a moral, physical or spiritual ability which resides in a person or object. It is the explosive energy which makes things happen! It is the supernatural power of God by which miracles occur, preaching is made effective, and people are strengthened to endure terrible persecutions and adversity.
Power for proclamation
Old Testament prophets were given power to speak by the Spirit. They knew what to say and they had God’s authority to say it. In the New Testament, the Spirit also enabled men and women to speak with a power and authority that they did not naturally possess. Paul testified to this in 1 Corinthians 2:4, “My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
At Pentecost, the Spirit transformed the disciples’ speaking, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak… as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4)’. This prophetic speech – especially tongues – is still the key sign that somebody has been baptised in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables men and women to speak with a power and authority that they do not naturally possess.
This has been the testimony of God’s people throughout history. By the anointing of the Spirit, believers have been changed from people whose words about Jesus are widely ignored, into those whose words have an enormous impact. They may say almost exactly the same things as before, but now with supernatural authority and power. This is what makes a vital difference to our evangelism. This sort of prophetic speech is the distinctive sign of the Spirit’s anointing today.
Power for miracles
The prophets were the miracle workers of the Old Testament, and so it is in the New Testament. Because of the miracles, the people constantly assumed that Jesus was a prophet. They knew that the signs and wonders meant God was with Jesus in a special way. This is another key difference that the Spirit makes.
It is important we grasp that the Spirit gives power for miracles essentially in the context of evangelism. Signs and wonders are mainly given to convince people that the message about Jesus is true. Of course God heals because he cares about sick and needy people, but he cares even more about their eternal destiny!
The Spirit gives power for miracles essentially in the context of evangelism. Sometimes the focus on miracles can be all about the healing of believers’ minor ailments. But the power of the Spirit is given to help believers persevere in hardship, and to demonstrate to non-believers by miraculous signs that Jesus is alive. It is a fascinating study to read Acts and carefully note both the contexts and the consequences of the amazing miracles.
Power for warfare
We know that all Christians are involved in a titanic struggle with the forces of darkness. We can feel weak and inadequate when we think about all the evil in the world, when we struggle with personal temptation, and when we try to answer people’s objections to our faith.
Thank God that the Spirit gives us all the power we need for this spiritual warfare. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6 promises that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” Time and again, we have to cry to God, begging him to help us, to strengthen us, to give us power to speak and act in the right way, to make us equal to the pressures we face. Only the Spirit’s power can give us victory in the fight against evil.
Without exception, we all have to go on fighting evil in its many different forms – both within us and around us. It is crucial we understand that only the Spirit’s power can give us victory. We will be defeated whenever we rely on our own resources or experience. In Ephesians 3:16, Paul prays for his readers that God would grant them, “according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with dunamis through his Spirit in the inner man”.
Surely this should still be a constant prayer both for ourselves and each other. We desperately need the Spirit’s explosive power to help us push back the frontiers of evil in society and establish God’s kingdom in our locality.
Power for victory
Some Christians see every difficulty as demonic activity, and seem to be obsessed with spiritual warfare. Yet many of the problems we face are just part and parcel of fallen humanity. The devil is not necessarily the reason why rain falls on our washing, our car fails to start in the morning, we wake up with toothache, or next door’s cat digs up our seedlings.
The ordinary problems of life can be overwhelming, but God does give us the grace and strength we need to overcome our weaknesses and troubles. In 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Paul records God’s promise and his response.
“‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Power for hope
Our observation and experience of society’s breakdown, and our exposure to the media’s constant reporting of the world’s problems, can trigger real depression and despondency. We feel that everything is getting worse, and that there will never be an end to the hardships.
Most Christians know about God’s glorious promises. But we need the power of the Spirit to translate these promises into a tangible experience which fills us with joyful hope in the face of yet more grim news. We need to go on praying Paul’s Romans 15:13 intercession for each other: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Power for perseverance
Western society increasingly demands instant solutions. The fashion is for ‘fast’ everything. If something breaks, it is discarded and replaced. Many believers have been influenced by this pressure to seek quick solutions to their difficulties rather than God’s power to persevere through hardships. God’s strength for endurance is often his way for us to overcome hardships.
It is the power of the humble Spirit which stiffens our resolve to persevere. It is the Paraclete – ‘the Encourager’ – who urges us to keep going in adversity. It is ‘the Spirit of Truth’ who teaches us to recognise that patience produces faith, and to reject worldly thinking and attitudes.
Power for the church
Ephesians 1:19-23 is one of the greatest New Testament descriptions of God’s power – and makes it clear that God gives power essentially within the context of the church. In recent years, there has been a tremendous emphasis in western society on the individual.
Unfortunately this has spread into the church, and many leaders have overstressed the importance of our individual response to God. This truth must be complemented by the New Testament focus on our corporate response, relationships and activities.
Generally, the word ‘you’ in the New Testament means a plural ‘you all’ rather than a singular ‘you on your own’. The promises of God are more for us together than they are for us apart. This is why the pictures of the church describe one united entity – the body, the bride, the temple, and so on – rather than many small separated units.
Ephesians 1:19-23 is a healthy reminder that God’s power is given mainly in a church setting. It is the. Church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail – not isolated, individual believers. This means that our prayers for power should be ‘give us’ rather than ‘give me’!
Power for witness
If we tried to wrap together all the different reasons why the Spirit gives us his power, we would surely have to come to a verse like Acts 4:33, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.”
The Spirit gives us power to proclaim and to persevere, for miracles and warfare, in order that we will become powerful witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus. Miracles are not only to bless us. Victory and hope are not only to make our lives more comfortable. They are to provide an eloquent and effective testimony for others.
Power to know Jesus better
Every aspect of the Spirit’s power is given to enable us to know Jesus better, and to help us reveal Jesus more clearly to the world around us. The real test of true spiritual power is whether or not it brings people into a deep knowledge and understanding of Jesus.
The test of true spiritual power is whether it brings people into a deep knowledge and understanding of Jesus Jesus’ stark warning in Matthew 7:15- 23 shows clearly that the ability to cast out demons, to prophesy, to perform miracles is not enough on its own.
Too many believers are praying for power for reasons other than knowing Jesus better and revealing him more clearly. And too many leaders are trying to manipulate divine power at their own will, when they should be experiencing the Spirit’s power as they obey God’s will.
The Spirit does bring breathtaking changes through his dunamis power. He does provide us with the strength and ability to do what we know we ought to do. This empowering from Christ through the Spirit is a glorious truth which we should want to experience more and more. But only so that we may know Jesus better. And only that we may reveal him more clearly!