The Power of the Spirit

Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.

Judges 14:5-6

Samson was set apart from birth. The angel of the Lord came to his mother and father and directed them regarding how to consecrate themselves and the baby to the Lord. Samson was set apart with a Nazarite vow from the time of his conception. God had a calling on his life as one who would begin to deliver the people of Israel from the oppressive rule of the Philistines.

This kind of exceptional consecration and calling resulted in an unusual level of anointing on Samson’s life. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, he was able to operate with an extreme level of power and authority. Samson didn’t always use this power wisely, but it was always available to him.

Then the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of everything and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.

Judges 14:19

Samson’s early life is a foreshadowing of Jesus’s birth and anointing. Jesus was similarly set apart from birth and operated in a similarly powerful anointing. And Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Samson wasn’t.

Samson is also a picture of what is available to us in the Holy Spirit. Samson had the Spirit come upon him in power. We have this same opportunity. As people who have surrendered our lives to Jesus, not only do we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, but we have access to the Holy Spirit coming upon us in power. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us for our sake but often comes upon us for the sake of others. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us in power, the enemy gets torn to shreds.

I’ve witnessed what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person who is preaching. What is released in the room is more powerful than the words that are being spoken. People are cut to the heart by the word of God. People give their lives to Jesus for the first time. People respond with their whole hearts and their whole lives.

I’ve witnessed what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon a person in prayer. Power is released on the person receiving prayer in such a way that dramatic things happen. Demons flee. They can’t seem to get out of there fast enough. Instant physical healings take place. The person’s body conforms to the Kingdom of God breaking into the kingdom of this world. Things are set right. Wounded hearts are repaired as the love of the Father is tangibly experienced.

Without the tangible demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, Christianity devolves into just one religion among many. But when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon us in power, and the reality of the Kingdom of God is on display, Jesus is revealed for who He really is–King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

This is how the apostle Paul describes his own ministry:

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done—by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 

Romans 15:18:19

For Paul, to “fully proclaim” the gospel of Christ meant that signs and wonders through the power of the Spirit had to be on display. Anything less than that was not the full proclamation of the gospel of Christ. We are called to daily walk in the power of the Holy Spirit!

I Swore

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips;meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:5-9

In order to be a leader, it requires strength and courage. Over and over we see God command Joshua as a young leader to be strong and courageous. He is to be obedient, not afraid, and not discouraged because of the awareness of God’s Presence with him. God’s presence, if we are aware of it, has a way of destroying fear and discouragement.

Also notice that this powerful thing that God is about to do through Joshua (take the people into the Promised Land) is not really about Joshua. God will surely use Joshua and God searched for someone ready and willing to be used in this way. It was an honor and a privilege for Joshua to be chosen for this leadership role. But none of this is about the greatness of Joshua.

What we learn from this passage of scripture is that all of this is about the nature of God who is not willing to break His promises. God swore to Joshua’s ancestors that He would give them the Promised Land. Joshua being used powerfully by God is more about them than it is about him. It is more about God’s faithfulness to keep His promise to Abraham. It is more about God’s willingness answer the prayers of the people when they were crying out in Egypt.

For those of us who are in leadership roles in ministry, this is a good reminder. We need to remember that when God uses us powerfully it is not about us at all. We are simply instruments of righteousness in His hands.

It is likely that if God moves powerfully through us to impact someone else, God is simply keeping a promise to someone who has been praying for that person. Maybe He is keeping a promise to that person. Maybe He is keeping a promise to one of their grandparents who prayed for them many decades ago. We won’t know until eternity. Until then, we are to serve and lead faithfully, knowing that God’s power flowing through us by the Holy Spirit is all about Him and not about us. It’s all about His greatness and His nature, not our own.

Good Question

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 

Matthew 22:29

The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they tried to trap Jesus with a theologically difficult hypothetical situation. They wove this complex story that they thought would trap Jesus.

Jesus responds with the above reply. He tells them that the question itself is based off of faulty assumptions and that the question itself is in error. He would then go on to give them an answer to their question and challenge their assumptions about the resurrection.

But we should stop and notice that it wasn’t the answer that the Sadducees got wrong; it was their question that they got wrong. If we ask questions that are filled with faulty assumptions and poor understandings then it doesn’t matter the answer; any and all answers will be in error. Jesus had to correct their question before He corrected their answer.

Notice why their question was in error. Jesus lists two reasons: 1) they didn’t know the Scriptures and 2) they didn’t know the power of God. In other words, if we don’t have a working knowledge of BOTH the Scriptures and the power of God we’ll not only get our answers wrong, we’ll ask questions that are full of error.

How many evangelicals know the Scriptures but have no understanding of God’s power? How many charismatics have understanding of God’s power but have no understanding of the Scriptures? How many mainline protestants have no working knowledge of either? We shouldn’t then be surprised when the questions people are asking are full of error, not to mention their answers.

If you’ve never operated in the power of God, then learn from those who have. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. If you don’t know much about the Bible, then learn from those who do. It’s arrogance to do otherwise. Only then will we start to ask good questions, questions that lead to the truth instead of questions that lead to unbelief and doubt.

For example, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a question that is full of error. It assumes the people are good and puts God’s goodness on trial, as if God should prove Himself to us, and yet our goodness goes without question. Can you see how arrogant this question is? Can you see how full of error it is? Once you ask such a poorly framed question, you’re bound to get a bad answer.

Yet, we know people are not “good” but are full of sin. We know people do all kinds of evil in the world. We know secret sins of every kind abound. Yet, God can only and always be perfectly good. So His goodness is never on trial. He never has to prove Himself to humanity (especially not after what He did on the cross).

So a better question would be “Why do so many good things happen to all of us who are so deeply messed up?” This is a good question, one worth pondering. And ultimately, while our goodness is on trial (as it should be), God is revealed for who He really is–a loving and gracious Father, slow to anger and abounding in love.

If you ask bad questions, you’re bound to get bad answers. Are there questions that you’ve been asking that are full of error? Do they need to get reframed in light of truth?

If we want to ask good questions, we must know the Scriptures and the power of God. Only then will our questions align with the truth. And God is pleased to answer all of our questions aligned with the truth.

Identity Amnesia

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

Just listening to the word of God and not doing what it says is a form of deception. It make us feel religious without actually demanding that we take up our cross and follow Jesus. The illustration of the mirror that James uses here seems purposeful. Listening to the word and yet not doing it can lead to an identity crisis. We forget who we really are in Christ. We suffer from a kind of identity amnesia.

There are two prevalent errors out there in the American church right now with this as its root cause. One group loves the word of God and loves learning about, studying, and listening to preaching from the word of God but often stops short of doing what it says.

There is a falsehood that is perpetuated in this group that believes an increase in biblical knowledge automatically leads to spiritual maturity. What is forgotten is that intimacy with Jesus, not information about Jesus, is what leads to spiritual maturity. Obedience to the word and not just the accumulation of facts about the word is how our spiritual muscles grow. This kind of error tends to happen in more conservative parts of the church.

The other group doesn’t hold scripture in high regard and so listening to the word, studying the word, and looking intently into the perfect law that gives freedom is not a high priority. Yet, they spend a lot of time “doing.” They are actively attempting to imitate certain parts of Jesus’s life, especially care for the marginalized, without actually submitting to the word of God.

Often in these circles there is a continual attempt to reinterpret uncomfortable passages of scripture in light of cultural norms. So whatever our culture deems to be normal takes authority over scripture. This tends to happen in more progressive parts of the church.

The first group looks into the mirror and walks away immediately forgetting what they look like. They are setting themselves up for a spiritual identity crisis. The second group has a mental picture of what they look like and uses that to get ready without ever looking at a mirror. They are setting themselves up for deception.

We are called to intently study the word and then actually do it. We are called to hold scripture in high authority both by studying it deeply and by practicing it regularly. It is in doing both that we experience the power of God. Both conservative and progressive groups often lack any experience or demonstration of the power of God because they have chosen to express one side of a false dichotomy.

The Sadducees came to Jesus with a question about scriptural interpretation. They wanted to know whether Jesus’s interpretation would fit with the cultural norms of the day, norms that they wanted to preserve for their own comfort. Rather than playing their game of interpretation manipulation, Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God”(Matthew 22:29).

If we do not trust the scriptures and do not live out the scriptures in our life, we will forfeit the power of God. We will find ourselves comfortably smug in our “rightness” and completely void of the power of God. Our ministry and church will have very little resemblance to Jesus’s ministry in the Gospels or the early church’s ministry in the book of Acts. “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do(James 1:25).