Last week we talked about walking in the Spirit, which we defined as a daily and lifetime pursuit to imitate Christ in our thoughts, minds and actions. But that is not all. If walking in the Spirit is all up to us, then God does nothing. If it were all up to God, then we do nothing. Walking in the Spirit is a cooperation between us and God. Walking in the Spirit is also walking under his power and control.
We cannot see God. For that reason, we lean heavily on what we can see, not what we can’t see. We can see our bank statements, our membership numbers, and our building facilities, so we assume that what we can see is all there is. We want physical evidence for what we can see and make our plans based on what is before us. But we leave out the power of the Holy Spirit.
We divide God from ourselves, make Him an impersonal force, not a living friend. Our tradition emphasizes the transcendence—or otherness—of God. Our vision of God is like watching a parade roll by. We wave at God as He passes us, and He waves at us, but only impersonally. God is high above us; so all we can do is pursue Him. But we forget that we can also know Him, talk with Him, and walk with Him. We keep the Spirit at a distance, and instead embrace the methods and knowledge of the World.
But God is so much more than an impersonal goal. When we walk in the Spirit, the Spirit of God is within us. As we walk with Him, He lives in us. No one can come to Christ without the Holy Spirit. He convicts us of sin. He gives us faith. By Him we are born again.
But we can—and often do—live daily without any recognition of the presence of the Holy Spirit living in us. This is understandable, of course. Since the Holy Spirit is invisible, we often overlook Him. It’s like watching a play. We see the actors on the stage, but we don’t see the stagehands and the director working hard in the wings to make the play happen. In the same way, we see the human agents of the Spirit on earth, and attribute all that happens to human action, without recognizing that it is the Spirit working behind the scenes.
Walking in the Spirit is not just than pursuing God. It is also walking with God, under His command and in His power. The more we submit to God, the more He is able to work through us.
The first thing we must learn if we are going to walk in the power of the Spirit is to submit to His command.
In Acts 1, Jesus is sharing a few last words with His disciples before He ascends to heaven. His disciples think they already know everything. They know—or at least they think they know—that God is going to restore the Kingdom. Just a short while before, Jesus had given them their marching orders, in the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Now, the disciples are ready to go into action.
They ask Him in verse 6, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7
Jesus answered, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” In other words, Jesus says it is none of their business when the Father is going to restore the kingdom.
We can’t stand to be told something is none of our business, especially from God. It makes us nervous. If we knew when God were to restore the kingdom, then we could prepare for it. We like deadlines, because we can work towards those deadlines. But Jesus refuses to give them this crucial bit of information that would allow them to plan for the future. Without plans, they don’t know how to proceed. When we have a plan, we know we have control.
But God doesn’t want us in control. In order for God to work in us, the Holy Spirit must have control. Submission to God is essential. A man cannot ride a horse that is not broken, neither can God use a man or woman who is not broken and submissive to His will. But when we learn to submit--what miracles, what power, hope, and love is present! When the Holy Spirit is operating in our lives and in our church, there is so much more that we can do, than when we merely operate in our own strength. We receive God’s power, operating through us, leading us, shaping us, and empowering us.
Let me illustrate with three personal events which happened to me shortly after I became a Christian. The first time in my life I was aware of the power of the Holy Spirit working through me was when I was a counselor at a Billy Graham Crusade. I was only sixteen, and not capable of counseling anyone, and I was full of my own doubts and questions about God. A girl from my high school responded to the invitation, and some friends pulled me over to talk with her. As I started talking with her, I soon recognized that the answers I gave weren’t coming from me. I was aware of God speaking through me. Whenever I wanted to go off and mention my own doubts or crackpot theories, the Spirit would prevent me. God would not let me get off course. I was quoting Scripture I was not aware that I even knew. I felt as if someone else had taken over my voice, speaking to her through me. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit had taken over and was using me.
The second time came my freshman year in college. I was working with a group of Christians who were starting a church in a small town in Kentucky. As we walked the streets I noticed sick people all around me. My mind churched with a nagging question—why do Christians not regularly see people healed? The need for it is still there, but God’s power doesn’t seem to be there. Maybe (I thought) we don’t see because we don’t ask. I prayed to God--let me see if you still heal today.
That evening there was a prayer meeting in my dorm. I shared what I had prayed with my dorm mates. One student there had had a knee injury, and the others asked me to try it out by praying for him. As I prayed I felt the bones move back into place in his knee. Something happened I could not explain rationally, but that power was real.
The third time I felt the power came just a few months later. I had just broken up with two girls in a month—or rather, they broke up with me! I was feeling very, very low. But even so, I remember reading John 4, how Jesus said that the Spirit within us is like a spring of living water, coming from within. In spite of my emotional distress, I became aware that there was another emotion—a feeling of joy that was present within, in spite of my emotional hurt, springing up from a hidden well inside. I came to understand that when I needed it, it was still there. The hurts of the moment might obscure it, but they did not hide it. It still remained inside.
These three personal illustrations each describe a different aspect of the Holy Spirit power.
He give us ability to lead, and power to speak. In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells us that we receive power when the Holy Spirit comes, and that we will be witnesses. In Matthew 10: 19-20 Jesus says, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
The Holy Spirit gives us power to do miracles. In John 14: 12-14, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
I do not have much agreement with so-called faith healers and miracle workers, who try to impress people on a stage with their Spiritual gifts. Healing and miracles are not a sideshow act. We don’t control the miracles of God—but it is the Spirit who controls us. The Holy Spirit is not a superpower. We work in submission to Him, not the other way around. But the Holy Spirit still works miracles through us, and bringing works of healing and deliverance, and is even able to bend time and space if necessary to do the will of the Father is very real. Miracles happen regularly when the Holy Spirit is allowed to be in control.
The Holy Spirit also brings inner joy and transforming our motivation emotional. Every time a Christian prays for boldness, he or she is praying for emotional change, because boldness is an emotion.
The Holy Spirit changes other emotions as well. He gives us hope--that’s the greatest one. He brings us inner joy, which is independent of circumstances. He grants us the gift of sorrow and remorse when we do wrong. We call that conviction of sin. He brings us emotional healing from the suffering of life. He grants us the gift of forgiveness of our enemies. He gives us love for people we would naturally hate. He gives us grace under fire, and the emotion of peace when things are not peaceful.
What happens when all this starts to happen inside us? Jesus tells us—we get power.
There are two Greek words for power. One is exousia, or authority. It’s what a policeman has by virtue of his uniform. It’s potential power, dependent on respect for authority. The other is dynamis, from which we get the word dynamite. It is real power to make things happen in spite of all resistance. This is the kind of power that the Holy Spirit grants to us, to be witnesses to Christ’s power everywhere.
When Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, he called together a group of investors to witness what happens when fire ignites a stick. That explosion witnessed to the power of his invention. When we become submissive and filled with His power, we become God’s dynamite. Blowing up the cultural barriers between Jews, Greeks, and Romans. Think of the impact that the Spirit can have in our community! As we learn to be submissive to God in our walk, actions, and feelings, then the Spirit ignites us, not just in specific ministries but wherever we go. We can really make an impact. We don’t have to know what or how to do it, we only have to know that the Holy Spirit is working and shining through us.
Christ called us to walk in the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has not changed. God’s power has not changed. It is God’s people who have changed. God has not failed us, but we no longer submit to Him, so He cannot do miracles through us. When we submit, we become witnesses of His power.