The Wonder of the Church: Part 7 – Unique Ingredients
46. Power – for life transformation
1 Cor 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
Rom 8:9-11 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.
Taken for Granted: I have a feeling that we take the word ‘power’ for granted in some parts of the church. As you may have gathered if you look back over the full sweep of this series, my mind ebbs and flows rather like the waves on the seashore and so there is a sense that some of the things that I suspect may emerge here, have already been touched upon when we talked about ‘life’ in an earlier study, but I feel that this subject is of vital importance in that it distinguishes Christian thought and experience from non-Christian, and nominal believer from real believer. Rather that lay out a systematic, possibly soulless outline on the theme of ‘power’, I think we may be fed more from Scripture if we meander our way through verses in a more organic way, seeing where the thoughts lead us.
What is Power? I wonder what John the Baptist’s followers thought when they heard him telling the crowd, “after me comes one who is more powerful than I.” (Mt 3:11) Now John was a pretty powerful speaker. Having heard Billy Graham in the past, I would have said he also was a pretty powerful speaker. In fact the modern church has many ‘powerful speakers’, but was that what was meant about Jesus? I don’t think so. Why? Well, later on in his ministry we find people asking about Jesus, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” (Mt 13:54) which must refer back to, “Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.” (Mt 12:22) Prior to that Jesus told John’s disciples to tell him what they had seen: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” (Mt 11:5) Later the apostle Peter was to sum up all this as: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Power, seen through Jesus’ ministry was God’s life force exercising authority to bring physical and spiritual changes to people.
More than Words: We have already pondered on the use of power in respect of preaching but there is a danger here that we can short-change the kingdom of God. Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Cor 4:20) When Herod heard about Jesus, having known about John the Baptist – and having had him beheaded! – he knew that John was a powerful preacher, but he recognised that something was going on with Jesus that was more than what happened through John, hence he speculated, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” (Mt 14:2) This is the primary thing that distinguished Jesus from John, the power of God. During his teaching, Jesus chided the Sadducees, “you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mt 22:29) I simply make that point because there he noted two distinct things: knowing the Scriptures and knowing the power of God. We (leaders) often pride ourselves on our knowledge of the Scriptures, but I wonder about the power of God?
Power of the Word for Salvation: Now I think ‘power’ is used in two ways in respect of how we come to Christ, how we are born again. First, there is a more general sense. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” (Rom 1:16) There is a process that is followed for elsewhere he wrote, “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom 10:17) having earlier written, “a person is justified by faith,” (Rom 3:28) and went on to say, “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Rom 10:10)
So the process, which we have considered earlier in this series, is the word is preached to us, the Holy Spirit applies it to us and we are convicted by it in such a way that the power of unbelief in us is broken, and so we confess our sins and repent of them and receive the salvation that God offers us through Jesus’ finished work on the Cross. It is a combined work of applied Word AND Spirit, creating the power to release us to repent. (At one point Paul taught Timothy about, “the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Tim 2:25 suggesting the work and gift of God, the help of the Spirit, to bring about repentance.)
Power of the Spirit for Salvation: The second way ‘power’ is used in respect of our salvation is through the specific indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes about at conversion. Jesus referred to this power when speaking to Nicodemus when he likened the coming of the Holy Spirit to wind – power. To his disciples he said of the Spirit, “you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (Jn 14:17) The apostle Paul was to refer again and again to the Spirit in our lives, for example, “Do you not know that you[c] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.” (1 Cor 6:19) It is foundational teaching through the New Testament, as we have seen in earlier studies, that we are ‘new creations’ (2 Cor 5:17) brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit who comes and indwells us.
Powerless? What about us today? Paul warned Timothy about the ‘last days’, of people who would be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:4,5) Do we have a form of Christianity, a form of church, that is embarrassed by such Biblical talk and simply reduces Christianity to ‘being nice’ or ‘being religious’? How many churches are there that deny the power of God that transforms lives when they surrender to Christ, not merely transforming them by giving them a new set of rules to live by, but by indwelling them with His Holy Spirit and bringing that transformation from inside-out?
Bible or…..? One of the battles that is being fought over the Church today is the veracity of the Bible. It always has been a battle and always will be, but when it comes to power in the Church, observe the churches that believe the Bible and make it the basis of their beliefs, and there you will see the power of transformed lives. See churches where it is just a background feature to faith, probably where tradition is more important, and you see lack of power. This matter of ‘power for transformation’ is the second of the four motivating forces that can set the church on fire in God’s hands so that it becomes that God-glorifying, life-transforming and community-impacting body I have referred to earlier.
Believers being transformed is the first step in the power equation; power for service is the second step and that we will go on to consider in the next study. But may I conclude this one with one more comment: I have observed in some places in recent years, a tendency in the church to downplay this power transformation that takes place when a person is ‘born again’, and I believe we need to restate it loud and clear and expect to see it when there is a profession of faith being made. I leave it to the Living Bible to have the last say here: “we Christians …. (are like) mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him.” (2 Cor 3:18) May it be so!