And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32).
At Pentecost when the promised Holy Spirit came, Peter preached with great convicting and converting power, resulting in three thousand people calling on the name of the Lord to be saved and baptized. A few days later, while going up to the temple to pray, Peter and John met the lame man who was begging for help. Miraculously, Peter raised him up so that the man was leaping and praising God. Another crowd gathered and again Peter powerfully preached Christ crucified. Then the religious power brokers had Peter and John arrested and thrown into prison for the night, hoping to frighten them out of further foolish notions of preaching, commanding them no longer to speak in the name of Jesus. That is because these preachers were filling Jerusalem with their teaching, consequently bringing on the religious and political leaders the anger and ire of the people because they were the ones who had killed Jesus. Peter and John responded by saying they were to obey God rather than man. They proceeded again, right there on the spot with their divine swagger, to proclaim Jesus, whom these men had put to death by hanging him on a cross. They went further by saying that God the Father had raised up this Jesus and made him a Prince and a Saviour, the only One who could grant repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Peter and John could not stop speaking what they had seen and heard.
Persecution arose and many believers were martyred, including all but one of the apostles. But they kept on preaching Jesus, no matter what happened to them. They were witnesses to all that God had done; and so was the Holy Spirit whom God had given to all who obeyed him. Did you catch that? – the Holy Spirit witnesses to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and who are the instruments the Spirit uses? The answer – the Holy Spirit comes to those who obey God.
If you want Holy Spirit power, then obey God. If you want the fulness, efficacy, and fruitfulness of God the Holy Spirit, then obey what God says in his holy Word. This ought not surprise anyone. After all, we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom we are sealed until the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). To grieve the Holy Spirit is to live in disobedience to the commands he has given us. That is clearly the context of Ephesians 4 where Paul gives one command after another. Failure to obey God grieves the Spirit.
Now, for the practical implications of this simple truth. Increasingly in our churches I have observed an ethos of elitism that seems to be sweeping over us. By elitism, of course, I mean the notion that only a few people really understand culture and theology, and that they are the ones to tell the rest of us how we are to think and practice ministry. The elitists seem to be driven more by sociological or anthropological concerns than by the simple, Spirit-anointed preaching of the cross of Christ. The elitist seems to want to remove every obstacle for unbelievers coming to Christ for salvation. They seem desirous of being liked or respected by the intelligentsia, but Jesus told the church at Smyrna to be faithful unto death and they would not be hurt by the second death.
But now storms are stirring due to disingenuous lip service by some to long-held theological confessions. So we increasingly are finding pastors who are suggesting that theistic evolution is compatible in some way with the book of Genesis. Others are skirting the clear prohibition on women elders and deacons by refusing to ordain anyone to the office of deacon, and allowing women to serve the Lord’s Supper. Others are giving long, rambling, equivocating answers to whether or not homosexuality will send people to hell. Some are telling us that we simply do not understand the problems former Muslims face when they become followers of Jesus and that we ought to encourage them to stay inside their Muslim context without declaring themselves followers of Jesus. After all, they tell us that we see things with Western eyes and therefore really should not speak to issues we cannot understand outside our cultural context. And we are also being told by many that intentional, direct, evangelism like the apostles clearly did does not work, that such efforts at best are unhelpful, and at worst, downright harmful. Some are telling us, for example, that giving your testimony is a bad idea, that this will not resonate with people. But isn’t that what Paul does three times in Acts (Acts 9:1-9, 22:6-11, 26:9-18)? Isn’t that what the man born blind is doing in John 9:24-25?
What is behind all of this? Could it be a spirit of elitism, that only the experts are able to speak to such complex social and cultural issues? This is nothing knew. Every church culture battles with it. Friedrich Schleiermacher certainly did in the late eighteenth century. He so much wanted to reach the intelligentsia of his day that he decided to remove the obstacles of the miracles in Scripture. Later German theologians thought it best to ‘de-mythologize’ Scripture. And today, in such a desire to reach the well-educated, cultured, intellectual elites of the Northeast and other parts of our country [USA], we do theological back-flips to make sure we say nothing offensive to the movers and shakers of our cities. Could it be that those seeking to reach the intellectual elites of the Western world are embarrassed by the simple message that Jesus Christ came to save sinners? Their approach is heady. It is thoughtful. It is clever, but it lacks power.
Is this what you see Peter and John doing with the intelligentsia of their day, the Sanhedrin? Talk about power brokers. Apostolic authority was upon Peter and John and they were content with speaking forth the death and resurrection of Jesus, declaring him alone to be the Saviour of sinners. No political correctness from these guys! Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, declared to them, ‘There is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Notice there was no nuancing of words, no dancing around issues, no appealing to the intellectual and cultural sensitivities of the elite. They were straight-up gospel preaching.
How were they able to do it? In what had they placed their confidence? Jesus had promised them power from on high, the Holy Spirit, and he had come upon them at Pentecost (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8, 2:4). They were filled with the Holy Spirit, and he went before their preaching, doing what only the Spirit can do – opening the hearts of people to gospel truth, bringing conviction and regeneration, leading to conversion. This is the prescription. This is the remedy. This is all we need to do. This is not rocket science, my dear friends. God in an instant can bring profound, heart-wrenching fear and conviction upon the proudest, most intellectual sceptic in your community. He will not do it, however, unless the Spirit comes down and does his work. This is what we must seek. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing else will do. Nothing else is needed. So forget about trying to nuance and massage the message to the modern-day cultured despisers of the gospel. Go straight at them with the simple, Spirit-anointed message, ‘Jesus Christ came to save sinners. You are a sinner. Repent and believe the gospel.’
But here’s the rub – you must be filled with the Holy Spirit, and the filling only comes when you obey God. The Father gives the fulness of the Spirit to those who are walking in gospel holiness. No one does it perfectly, but God looks to the humble and contrite of spirit, those who tremble at the Word of God (Psa. 51:16-17; Isa. 66:2). If you want Holy Ghost power in your preaching, teaching, evangelizing, counselling, discipling, or leading, then obey God. Do not grieve or quench the Spirit. Do not resist him. Obey him, and he promises to fill and empower you.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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