The Power of the Spirit.
We have been discussing various matters that motivate us for the mission of telling others about Christ (series begins here). Motivation is an extremely valuable gift from God, because it is so much easier to do what we have strong motivation to do than what we merely think we ought to do. Today we are going to explore a resource that may not precisely be a motivation but that will impel us to speak nonetheless. I’m referring to the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
Many of us have conflicted feelings about the Holy Spirit. As we have read the Scriptures carefully and openly, we see that the Holy Spirit has a vital role in Christianity. Many of us, however, are also concerned about extremes we have seen in some quarters. Regardless, we should not allow our thinking to be controlled by fear and reaction but by a healthy reading of Scripture in its context.
Most of us are probably clear about and comfortable with the Spirit producing his good fruit in us. This includes at least the nine specific qualities mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23. I believe another equally clear and important way the Spirit affects us is that he gives us his good desires (Galatians 5:16-18). This is important because having a desire to do something, whether good or bad, most often leads us to do that thing. Having the Spirit and his wholesome desires in us is a fundamental and powerful distinction of the New Covenant compared to the old. And mark well, authentic Christianity is indeed a matter of serving “in the new way of the Spirit, not the old way of the written code”(Romans 7:6). I have described the dynamic of living by the Spirit in a little more detail in a short series of posts beginning here.
So, it is clear that when a person is full of the Spirit and lives by the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit will grow and increasingly emerge in his/her life. This includes the well-known fruit of Galatians 5 mentioned above but more. People who are full of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) will also “come to church” sharing the Spirit’s desire to sing (versus demanding a certain kind of songs)(v. 19), express thanks (versus complaining about the church)(v. 20), and be submissive to their brothers and sisters (versus pushing for their own way)(v. 21). I realize the matter of submission in v. 21 transitions in to a discussion of submission in vv. 22ff., but it is also one of five participles (the “-ing” words in ESV) in vv. 19-21 that express the effect that being filled with the Spirit has on someone. Similarly, the Spirit will produce “righteousness and peace and joy” in a church, in contrast to a preoccupation with disputable matters like “eating and drinking” in their day or ________ (you fill in the blank from your context) in ours (Romans 14:17). The Spirit will also lead a person to be filled with hope (versus fear or dissension)(Romans 15:13). The Spirit desires all these things and empowers us to desire and act on them as well.
That leads to the point of this post. The Spirit also has a desire to testify about Christ. This is something that he himself has clearly done (John 16:8-11; Acts 10:38; Hebrews 2:4). I won’t enter the debate over what ways the Spirit may or may not testify today, but I will say there is no reason whatsoever for thinking he has lost his basic desire to testify about Christ.
We noted above that the Spirit wants us to share his desires, and that is true in this case as well. He wants us, too, to tell about Christ. This is stated overtly (John 15:26-27; Acts 5:32). It is the will of God for both his Spirit and his people to testify about Christ. And if one of the ways the Spirit works is that he gives us his holy and healthy desires, then we should expect him to give us his holy and healthy desire to testify about Jesus.
This adds new perspective on Jesus’ words to his followers after his resurrection:
“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance forthe forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”Luke 24:46-49
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”Acts 1:8
Clearly it is the desire of the Spirit to empower people to tell testify to who Jesus is (the Christ) and God’s work in his suffering and resurrection. He gives people the power to do so.
We may think, however, that these words don’t apply to us, either because they were addressed specifically to the eleven remaining apostles or because he gave them some specific powers we may not have. As to the former, there is no reason for thinking the Spirit abandoned his desire to testify about Christ when the last apostle died, so there is no reason for thinking he wouldn’t impart that desire to us today as well. As to the later, not everyone in the first century had all or the same gifts of the Spirit either (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). For example, anyone of any century who does not have gifts of healing from the Holy Spirit should not conclude that the Spirit will not otherwise work with power in his/her life (see all of the above).
Could desire be a part of the power the Spirit gives that helps us testify? I don’t know whether Jesus had that in mind in the Luke 24 or Acts 1 passages mentioned above, but I do know desire is powerful. I’m guessing you are well aware of the awful power of sinful desire. Hopefully we also know something about the strong power of godly desire. I hope this isn’t shocking, but sometimes I actually want to do the right thing! For example, sometimes a person will come to my mind and I really want to contact them to see how they are doing. It’s not hard to do that when you really want to. (Yes, sometimes I think of a person and feel like I “ought” to call them, and as you know that is not nearly so powerful.) I am convinced from Galatians 5:16-18 that all good desires such as these come from the Spirit of God and when we follow them we are being “led by the Spirit.”
So, finally, the point. I believe the Spirit will give us the desire to talk to other people about Christ, and I believe this is powerful. As with other good desires the Spirit imparts to us, we may have barriers and walls to overcome (see blog series on overcoming barriers to speaking here). But in most everything, as our desire to do something grows, we will find ways to overcome any barriers and do the thing we want to do. This is one specific and powerful way the Spirit works and motivates us to tell others about Christ. I’m not saying it’s the only way, but that it is one way and that it is powerful.
If we believe the Spirit works this way, then there are two specific things we can do to increase this motivation: 1) Keep on praying to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and 2) by all means, act on any good desire he gives us, including any desire to speak to others. Acting on the good desires of the Spirit is a vital part of living by the Spirit and being led by him. It is also a matter of stewardship. I’m convinced that the stewardship principle of “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more” (Mark 4:24), applies to the desires the Spirit entrusts to us. If we act on any little desire he gives us to engage with people, then he will give us more and stronger such desires. In fact I believe that is exactly what has happened to me over the years.
Let me briefly add that the Spirit also gives us courage and boldness to speak. This is another part of the power of the Spirit, and it will help us overcome some of the barriers we have to speaking. My favorite example is in Acts 4, when the apostles have been threatened and instructed not to speak in the name of Jesus (vv. 18-22). When they are released, they go to their own people and together they raise their voices in prayer to God. They ask him to take note of the threats, but surprisingly, they do not here ask to be protected. Instead, they ask God to enable them to speak his word with boldness and to continue his own working. Sure enough, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31).
May the Spirit of Christ give us the desire and courage to tell others about him.
For more on how my ministry of Empowering Subjects equips people to reach out and speak to others about Christ, see here.