When Jesus said that without him we can do nothing (John 15:5), he was stressing the need for a power beyond our natural abilities. That power is Holy Spirit power.
If you have lost the desire to serve God and are just ‘ticking over’ as a Christian, it is because you need this power. Many believers are just ticking over, with no vision, drive, enthusiasm, expectancy or commitment. The evidence of this is the state of our churches and the relative lack of impact of Christianity has on our nation.
But there is still the potential in God for every Christian to mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint.
The danger is that, if we do not have this power, we are tempted to try substitutes. In the past 40 years every conceivable gimmick has been tried by the church and we have tenaciously clung to traditions that have worked in previous generations, but all has been useless without Holy Spirit power.
What exactly is this power? A. W. Tozer in his book Paths to power defines it like this: ‘First, I mean spiritual energy of sufficient voltage to produce great saints again. The breed of mild, harmless Christians grown in our generation is but a poor sample of what the grace of God can do when it operates in power in a human heart.
‘Secondly, I mean a spiritual unction that will give a heavenly unction to our worship that will make our meeting places sweet with the divine presence. Then, I mean that heavenly quality which marks the church as a divine thing.
‘Again, I mean that effective energy which God has, both in biblical and in post-biblical times, released into the church and into the circumstances surrounding her, which made her fruitful in labour and invincible before her foes. Lastly, by power I mean that divine inspiration which moves the heart and persuades the hearer to repent and believe in Christ.’
Again and again, the Bible and church history record what this power has demonstrated in preaching and in the everyday witness of God’s people; the many revivals which the church has experienced have displayed this power in a remarkable degree. But it is also seen outside of revival, for not a single soul can be saved apart from it. Let us examine it in relation to five things.
First, consider power and preaching. When Paul evangelised the city of Corinth, he tells us his preaching was ‘not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’. This was important, for he did not want their faith to ‘rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power’ (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).
No doubt he could have gained a following by preaching what men wanted to hear, or by eloquent appeals to the intellect, or by offering various inducements to believe. But all these he spurned; nothing but the power of the Holy Spirit could create new spiritual life in those dead in trespasses and sins. Only people ‘born from above’ would hold fast to their profession of faith.
We also need to rely upon the Spirit of God for results. It is always tempting to try to entice people by gimmicks and entertainments, to attempt to build the church merely by human methods. But all such attempts are doomed to failure. The only results that will glorify God and endure to the end are those which flow from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearers. We are utterly dependent upon him.
Second, consider power and prayer. In the book of Acts, prayer time was not a matter of the apostle pleading with God for the souls of Gentiles, but of God dealing with his servant.
It is often said that prayer changes things, but this is chiefly true if the prayer first changes the Christian who is praying. Peter’s prayer in Acts 10 did change things dramatically, but only because it first changed his attitude to evangelism. This prayer eventually led to Peter preaching to Cornelius and the Gentiles. Then the power of God came and a great number believed.
Prayer is not about us persuading a reluctant God to do what we think is right. Nor does its power depend on how many Christians we can get to pray. If one saint or a million pray for something that is outside the will of God, it will avail nothing.
Perhaps we spend too much time in prayer asking for things and not enough time dwelling on who God is and seeking to know his purposes. To quote Tozer again: ‘Prayer is not an assault upon the reluctance of God, nor an effort to secure a suspension of his will for us or for those for whom we pray…
‘What the praying man does is to bring his will into line with the will of God, so God can do what he has all along been willing to do. Thus prayer changes the man and enables God to change things in answer to man’s prayer’.
This does not mean that we should not plead with God to save souls, but it does mean we must use prayer to commune with God, praise and delight in him, worship and learn from him. This creates a deeper knowledge of God, which produces a greater awareness of his power and a greater expectancy in us to see this power at work.
It also leads to more of the mind of Christ being fashioned in us. Like our Saviour, we shall weep for souls, not merely as a demonstration of emotion on our part, but as a reflection of God’s love. When this takes place, we can expect to see divine power saving the lost.
Third, consider power and effort. The salvation of a soul cannot be effected just by love. It needs God’s power too. Paul likens the latter to ‘the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead’ (Ephesians 1:19-20).
The staggering thing is that, even with such mighty power at work, God still requires the effort of Christians to be involved. Evangelism is our work, not that of angels, and in it we are God’s fellow-workers (see Acts 11:21).
The Ethiopian in Acts 8 was an earnest seeker who had the Scriptures, but he still needed Philip to explain the gospel to him. God’s normal way is to use his people to reach the lost. This is a tremendous privilege for us, but also a great responsibility.
Evangelism requires effort. God does not bless laziness and indolence. It’s no use praying for God to speak to your neighbour if you are not prepared to speak to that person yourself about Christ.
Fourth, consider power and obedience. Jesus said to his apostles that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came to them (Acts 1:8), and Peter tells us that God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32).
From these two verses, it is a reasonable deduction that without the Holy Spirit there is no power, and without obedience we shall not know the full glories of the indwelling Spirit. So failure to obey the revealed will of God will mean no fulness of the Spirit in our lives and little power.
Power in evangelism is not the result of good organisation and strong personalities exercising their natural abilities. The power that saves dead souls is exclusively and uniquely God’s. If we want to see it at work, we must begin not with ‘methods’ but with lives lived in obedience to the Word of God.
The obedience Jesus gave to his Father, and the obedience he expects from us, is not promoted by fear or selfish ambition but by love (John 14:15). In Christ’s life we see that true obedience involves communion with the Father; it is not merely following a set of rules. In other words, obedience and communion are twins.
Fifth, consider power and sanctification. A greatly neglected element in effective evangelism today is the sanctified lives of believers.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne linked the two things together when he said, ‘I feel there are two things it is impossible to desire with sufficient ardour: personal holiness and the honour of Christ in the salvation of souls’. David Brainerd felt the same way: ‘There was nothing of any importance to me but holiness of heart and life and the conversion of the Indians to God’.
To be sanctified is to be set apart for God’s use and glory. It is to be, in some measure, like Christ. This is only possible because we have also been justified in God’s sight. Justification means that God accepts us in Christ, and sanctification suits us for his use.
Union with the Lord Jesus Christ is the foundation of sanctification. He is become for us ‘righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). It is because we are in Christ that we are called to be like Christ.
The sanctified life of the believer is important to evangelism for two reasons. First of all, see it from the unbeliever’s viewpoint. Non-Christians are not fools and they can tell if what we say is contradicted by how we live. If our life does not match our words, then the words will be rejected.
It’s no use telling unbelievers not to look at you, but at Jesus. Such language is incomprehensible to them. All they see is you, and they judge the validity of your message by the impact it is making on your own life. A holy life is a powerful message and difficult to refute.
Second, a holy life pleases and glorifies God. If our lives are sanctified we can be of great use to God in evangelism, even though we could never preach a sermon. Sanctification does not mean sinless perfection — if that were the case, all evangelism would be a miserable failure. But it means seeking to be like Christ in all things, even though we often fail.
With Robert Murray M’Cheyne, we will pray, ‘Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be’. Personality and speaking ability are not as important as a life that pleases God.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that his ministry was ‘in weakness and fear, and with much trembling’ and ‘my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words’ (1 Corinthians 2:3-4). (Would your church invite an evangelist like that to conduct a campaign for it?). But Paul goes on to say that his ministry was ‘with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’.
The result was that many souls were saved and a church was established at Corinth. God was pleased to pour upon Paul the glorious power of the Holy Spirit, since Paul was seeking to live a life that honoured God and exalted the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is not telling us here that the use of natural gifts of oratory is wrong. Through the centuries God has been pleased to give his church great preachers like Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield and many others, but these men spoke with power because they did not trust in their natural talents, but in the power of God. May we follow their example!
The author is a retired pastor, who has ministered in Cwmbran, Rugby and Swansea.