“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.”
Has this ever happened to you? You’re sharing the gospel with a friend, you’ve encouraged them to turn from sin, to face Christ by faith, and begin a new life of obedient love. Your friend looks you square in the eyes and says, “What you say is true. And I do believe in Christ. And right now I feel like I could make a commitment. But I’m so weak. I just don’t think I could hold out. And rather than make a commitment I cannot keep, I think I’d better wait.”
Underneath that person’s excuse is the misunderstanding that when one becomes a Christian he has to live the Christian life on his own power. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth!
If you talk about automobiles you must mention the power to run them— gasoline. If you talk about sailboats you must mention wind. With nations it is politics. With households it is electricity. And with Christians it is the Holy Spirit.
Man, you see, was made to run on God’s Spirit. Just as a car will not run on air or sand or water, so the Christian life cannot run on pride or money or education or moral fortitude. There is simply no substitute for the Holy Spirit.
And the good news is that the Holy Spirit is available. Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” Power to overcome temptation, power to break bad habits, power to forgive, to love, to suffer. “You shall receive power . . . ” to hold out, to live the Christian life!
The Greek word for “power” in the text is “dynamis” from which we get our English words dynamite, dynamic, and dynamo. So, when Jesus said, “You shall receive power . . . ” he was not talking about anything less than explosive, enduring, life-changing energy, adequate power for daily living.
See this power at work in the early church. Without much money, with no seminaries to train their leaders, without the aid of microphones, air-conditioned church buildings, computers, mailing lists and automobiles and airplanes, first century Christians evangelized the known world by planting churches, they broke down racial barriers, wrote the enduring theology we call the New Testament, and in countless lives, witnessed permanent character transformation. And they did it all in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Today’s church has her jets, air conditioning, seminaries and printing presses, but our known world is not being evangelized. We’ve got the political power, the social, financial and intellectual power, yet racial barriers still exists, our theology keeps veering off course into humanism, and, instead of having our character transformed by the gospel, we seem to want a gospel that only excuses us for being the way we are.
Could it be that we are trying to run the church on the wrong fuel? Instead of spiritual power are we trying to run on human and material power?
A key word in the text is “receive.”Jesus said, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you… .” The idea behind all of this is our receptivity to the things of God. The underlying truth is that God is totally available to those who are totally available to him. And this is where we’ve continually run into problems.
The sin of the Old Testament Jew was rejecting God the Father. The sin of the New Testament Jew was rejecting God the Son. Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross! And the sin of the church? For nearly 2,000 years of her existence we’ve rejected God the Holy Spirit. And that is why we have no power to live a victorious Christian life.
With us, however, the promise of Christ still remains. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Now, let us turn and ask some probing questions about the power of the Holy Spirit and the receptive Christian.
The first question is “When?” When does the Holy Spirit come to a Christian? And the answer is at conversion.
Two key verses of Scripture plainly teach this. In Romans 8:9 Scripture teaches, “Anyone who does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” And 1 Corinthians 12:3 says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the spirit.” Very simply then, if one is not indwelled by God’s spirit then he is not yet converted. But if we are truly converted to Christ then He has already put His spirit within us. The trouble with so many Christians today is that they have the Holy Spirit and don’t know it. The Holy Spirit fills them yet they ignore Him or live at odds with His will.
A guest preacher in a South Texas church met a tall gentleman in a three-piece suit after the worship service. As they shook hands the preacher noticed an incongruency. The man wore the suit of a wealthy business executive yet his hands were very calloused like those of a manual laborer. And in so many words the preacher inquired, “What gives? You don’t match!” The Texan smiled and began to explain that he owned a farm in those parts and spent the better part of forty years trying to scrape together a living. Then one day a geologist visited, said there was a high likelihood of there being oil on his property. A well was dug, “And now I own one of the biggest oil wells in Texas,” the man confided.
All those years the oil was there, his for the taking. And yet ignorance kept him from it. He lived poor when right there all the time waiting to be received was a source of power and wealth untold! And it is the same with the Christian and the Holy Spirit. As part of our birthright we receive the Holy Spirit at conversion. And we receive all of Him that there is to receive. After all, the Holy Spirit is a person. You cannot divide Him up by receiving an arm, two eyes, a leg and a nose. He comes intact, complete, as a living person!
So, the question is not, “Does the Christian have the Holy Spirit?” But, “Does the Holy Spirit have the Christian?”
Another question: “Where?” Where is the Holy Spirit in the Christian?
I mean, it is puzzling, isn’t it? To talk about the third person of the Trinity living inside us is an astonishing thing.
A neighbor’s six year old child was quizzing his mother at the supper table about all of this.
“Does God really live inside me?” he asked.
“He sure does,” his mom replied.
“Doesn’t He need furniture?” the boy inquired.
“No, He lives all over you inside just the way you are,” she explained.
“Can I see Him?” the child wondered. “Does He ever stick out?”
“No, He’s invisible like the wind,” his mom responded.
A look of wonder spread over the child’s face and after supper he went to his room to read. Then suddenly the lad burst into the living room flushed with excitement. He had his hand inside his pajamas over his heart. Feeling his pulse he said, “Mom, I can feel the Holy Spirit bumping around in there!”
It is true that the Holy Spirit is invisible to us, that He is a person, and that He lives inside of us. Jesus said, “I will pray the Father and He will give you another counselor to be with you forever, even the spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; you know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14: 16-17).
A few years ago I toured the Battleship U.S.S. North Carolina. All my life I’d heard how big and powerful a battleship was so I was excited to climb aboard! Yet there was no power to be seen there. The crew had all gone ashore. The only power to be found was running a few lights in the galley, a fan here or there. The huge 16 inch guns were silent. The propellers were still. “Where’s the power?” The answer is that the power is there inside the ship, but while it is in port it doesn’t need very much of it, so it is not at all obvious. Yet put that same ship at sea in a storm and the enormous power from within becomes apparent. Crew members swarm over the vessel, the engines throb as the ship knifes through the sea, every light beams, the radio is alive with important communication, and hot food is served in the galley.
The same is true for the Christian. Full power from the spirit is down inside each of us right now. But perhaps where you sit at this moment not much strength is necessary. Yet, let temptation or struggles or important opportunities come and His enabling presence is there. “As thy days so shall be thy strength” (Deuteronomy 32:25).
I once preached at a coaches conference with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in upstate New York. From Monday through Friday all I did was preach and teach and counsel from early in the he morning to late at night. And by the last day I was entirely spent. But there was one final meeting to share. And I was scheduled to preach. I looked at my notes and they were an irrational blur. I looked at the text and couldn’t understand it. My speech was a slur. And I panicked! “Lord,” I prayed, “I’m supposed to share again and I’ve got no power. Your Word says that as my days are so shall be my strength. Enable me by your presence within to finish this ministry.” And with that I walked to the auditorium, took my place, and did my work as at other times. And His enabling presence was there to help.
“When do we receive the Holy Spirit?” At conversion.
“Where is the Holy Spirit?” He is within giving strength as needed throughout the day.
A third question is “How?” How does one tap the Holy Spirit’s power inside?
Have you noticed the American public’s affinity with supernaturally powered people? The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Superman, He-Man, Power Rangers. Television and newsstands are loaded with their stories! And how do these beings tap their strength? The Incredible Hulk has to get mad. He-Man has to raise his sword and say a magic word. And Wonder Woman has to twirl herself about. So, how is it a Christian enters into a life of spiritual strength?
One, we must repent of our sins and be baptized. In Acts 2:38 Peter preached, “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Two, we must ask by faith for the Holy Spirit to minister within us. Galatians 3:14 teaches, “We. . . receive the promise of the spirit through faith.”
Three, we maintain peak power spiritually by living in obedience to God. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray to the Father and He will give you . . . the spirit” (John 14:15-16).
Actually, living in the spirit’s power is like sailing. You’re out in the bay on a sleek 34 footer, the sails are hoisted, the wind is blowing, but you’re dead in the water! What’s wrong? Well, first, it’d help to weigh anchor. Then it is necessary to tack. And suddenly you find yourself running before the wind!
The same with living in the Holy Spirit’s power. “The wind blows!” And when we make our lives available to Him by continuous repentance, faith and obedience we are powerfully carried along in God’s will by His own spirit.
One final question. “Why?” Why does the Lord give us the power of His spirit? The answer comes from the text in Christ Jesus’ own words. “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses . . . .”
So, why does God empower us? To be His witnesses. The Greek word for “witnesses” is “martyrs.” Now, before one jumps to conclusions about being a martyr for God by dying, let me point out that it is possible to be every much a martyr witness for Christ by living sacrificially for Him as it is by dying for Him. Indeed, history is full of people who’ve been willing to argue for God, go to war for Him, and even die for Him. But the number of believers who’ve been willing to live for Jesus, to serve His people, His world, is fewer.
Being a martyr for Christ is to be like a candle. One literally gives himself away bringing light and warmth and comfort to others.
In the health club I found a friend of mine slumped over an exercise machine.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I’ve had it,” he complained. “Work all week and party all night, then to the beach every weekend. Whew! I’m zonked!”
And that’s not the lifestyle Jesus said He came to empower. Work is important, to be sure. And so is play. But don’t omit worship and ministry to others. Christ didn’t come to make us selfish playboys who look out for number one first, second, last, always, but to empower us to live for Him, to achieve balanced lives, and to be helpful servants to others.
It is interesting that Christ takes the time in the text to tell us where we are to do our sacrificial serving.
“And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem,” He says. That’s where Christianity started. That’s one’s hometown. And unless a person can live his witness at home then he will never be able to live it successfully anywhere else.
Christianity, you see, is a start-at-home religion. Jesus first went to His hometown to proclaim the gospel. Paul spent at least ten of his quiet years after his conversion in his hometown of Tarsus. Barnabas took the gospel to Cyprus, his own home, when he and Paul began their first mission journey. And Christ told Legion to “Go home and tell them there how much the Lord has done for you” (Mark 5).
Yes, “Be my witnesses in Jerusalem,” Jesus says. The gospel is a start-at-home faith. But it is not a stay-at-home faith. For Jesus says that after Jerusalem we are to be His witnesses “in Judea.” That is the region or county around Jerusalem. And for us this means our ministry of servanthood reaches out to the hospital, the campus, the newsboy, the club and City Hall.
Beyond Jerusalem and Judea Christ calls for our witness “in Samaria.” This is the region north of Jerusalem and Judea, the place where no Jew would go, where social outcasts live. Our Samaria might be the other side of the railroad tracks, the jail, or among people of other races, aides victims, unwed mothers . . . .
And, finally, Christ calls for our witness beyond the realm of the city, the county, and the nation. “To the ends of the earth,” He says. To the starving masses of Ethiopia, to those enslaved by voodoo in Haiti, to the spiritually hungry in China and New Guinea and Aringa. “Be my servants there,” Christ asks.
Permit me to ask you a serious question now. Where are you in all of this? Have you received the spirit of God? Are you living in His strength continually as you repent, trust in Him, and obey His will?
Just as it is possible to try and row a sailboat, so it is possible to try to live the Christian life by one’s own cunning. But both attempts turn an exciting voyage into an excruciating journey. And maybe that’s been your life so far. And today finds you spent in frustration. Right now, why not ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit? Pray, “Lord, all of you for all of me. You’ve made yourself so available. And now I receive you by faith. Fill me. Enable me! I’m available to you as a living witness!”