‘We Need the Ghost’
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6).
We must preach Christ crucified. This is not limited to pastors and missionaries.1 It is clear that disciple-making, including the task of evangelizing, is part and parcel of our sanctification. We are commanded to take Jesus to the nations, moving out through the concentric circles of our lives – to our children, grandchildren, extended family, neighbours, friends, work associates, city, nation, and world. But we are cowards, largely unmoved by what we read in Scripture of the impending judgment on all outside the kingdom of God. Besides, the task is an impossible one. We are doomed to failure unless God works among us. Why? Man is born rebellious to God. He is stiff-necked and does not want Christ. Paul says that the natural man does not receive the things of God because they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14). He says that the devil has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they do not see the glory of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4ff). And what keeps him away from Christ? His pride and ignorance. The Scottish and French Enlightenment, as well as modern Science and Logical Positivism,2 have largely been destroyed by Post Modernism,3 and this continues to embolden man to believe he is the measure of all things. Man’s pride and ignorance lead to apathy. He is unaware of his impending doom. He thinks such talk of hell and judgment is at the least quaint and superstitious, and at the worst, downright harmful and hateful.
The rejection of Biblical Christianity, while always present in America, began to gain speed in the late eighteenth century, growing all the way through the end of the nineteenth century. It was encouraged by the creeping Unitarianism of William Ellery Channing, Horace Mann, and Horace Bushnell. The great New England cultural and educational ethos, founded on seventeenth century Puritan Calvinism, gave way to a rejection of Calvinism that taught original sin, total depravity, and the need for the new birth. They kept the desire for knowledge but rejected the foundation of that knowledge – Holy Scripture and what it says about man, God, and culture.
What does this mean for us today? Our task is humanly impossible. As the old black preachers used to say, ‘We must have the Ghost.’ Without the Holy Ghost, without God working through the third person of the Godhead, we are doomed to failure. In Acts 10 Peter is led by God to Cornelius’ household in Caesarea. It is clear to him that God has opened the door of the gospel to the God-fearers, Gentiles who embrace Judaism. So he begins to preach to them, saying that Jesus, who was baptized and anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, went about doing good, overcoming the works of the devil. How many times have I read Acts 10! I have preached on it, yet I had never seen this statement of Christ’s anointing with the Spirit and power. How is it that Jesus needs to be anointed with power and the Spirit? Certainly he did not need this in his deity, but apparently he did in his humanity. Think about it – if Jesus, almighty God incarnate, needs the anointing of the Holy Spirit in order to fight the devil, then what does that say about us?
What happens when a preacher and congregation receive the anointing? Even a general look at the book of Acts yields many characteristics. There is revival prayer and revival preaching. There is an intolerable burden for revival and an insatiable hunger for God’s presence. The preacher begins to preach with a new authority and power, bringing the congregation to awareness of their own sin and need of repentance. This results in many conversions. It brings a new sense of power and joy to the congregation, a deep sense of unity and love. It yields mighty generosity for the poor, the people holding their money and time loosely. It causes the people to engage in grass roots evangelism. They cannot stop speaking what they have seen and heard. They are overflowing with gratitude and joy to the God of their salvation. God raises many leaders for ministry, including new preachers and missionaries. There is great societal impact on the culture, and there is opposition from the lost in the community who are finding their world rocked by all these fervent Christians. None of this will happen, however, unless the Ghost comes down with power, and he will not come down unless we seek him earnestly.
What does it mean to seek the Holy Spirit earnestly? Three neglected words are necessary – surrender, submission, and obedience – if we are to see the ‘Ghost’ come down upon our ministries. Jesus at Gethsemane is the model. Luke tells us (Luke 22:39ff) that Jesus, after the Passover meal with his disciples, went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed a stone’s throw from his disciples. He told them to pray that they would not fall into temptation. Luke tells us that they fell asleep due to sorrow. People suffering from depression often sleep a lot, using it as a defence mechanism. Luke only records one episode of Jesus saying, ‘Not my will, but thy will be done,’ but the power of this cosmic battle is nonetheless palpitating. Jesus, in his humanity, was tempted to not go through with his crucifixion, the very thing he came to earth to endure. He gave up his own rights, however. He surrendered himself to the Father’s will. He submitted himself to the suffering and humiliation of the cross. And he obeyed his Father’s call upon his life. I wonder if I have really surrendered everything to Jesus. Perhaps you wonder too. Until we are willing truly to say, ‘Jesus, I commend to you my life, my spouse, my children, my grandchildren, my portfolio, my health. Do whatever you wish with me to advance your kingdom,’ then we will probably see little in the way of Holy Ghost power in the church. Does that seem too difficult, too demanding? Then at the very least you must take small steps by submitting your will to God in the little things of life. Begin by obeying him in the little things he commands. And pray, asking God to give you the Holy Spirit, being quick to confess and repent of your sin when he brings it to your mind. This is the only remedy for a world gone mad in rebellion against God.
See Matthew 28:18-20, John 10:16, Acts 8:4, Romans 1:10ff, 1 Thessalonians 1:5ff. In each case the call is to make disciples, and the Acts, Romans, and 1 Thessalonians passages reference lay people.
A philosophy in the early twentieth century, championed by men like Rudolph Carnap and Herbert Feigl, which says that only statements about mathematics, logic, and natural sciences have definite meaning.
David Wells takes up this issue in his Above All Earthly Pow’rs.
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