Believing God for Spirit-Empowerment
Are believers in the church abandoning Spirit-empowerment because of our failure to give them access to it in the first place?
by L. Alton Garrison
We seek extraordinary experiences. We reflect our passion for a life beyond the mundane in everything from our quest for career success to our entertainment priorities and even to what we expect in our corporate worship.
Regarding that second category, John Bevere tells us, “The most loved popular films that have captured the hearts and attention of the public involve extraordinary powers. There’s Spider Man, Superman, The Incredible Hulk, the Star Wars saga, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. … Add to this mix the movies with extraordinary heroes who do remarkable feats and live exceptional lives. … As of 2009, 17 of the top 25 all-time blockbuster movies fall under these categories. That’s almost 70 percent, and the percentage varies only slightly if you extend the poll to the top 50.”1
This generation seems preoccupied with the paranormal. From films such as The Avengers, The Twilight Saga, and the Harry Potter series — to the books and comic books on which producers based these films — superheroes, vampires, young wizards, and other characters beyond the natural realm monopolize the attention of millions.
Young audiences are well aware of the mythical nature of such stories, but Hulk, Ironman, Thor, and the like still entertain them. Why? I believe they understand an underlying life truth — that there is a reality beyond the material world, and that a greater power is at work in this universe. Think how privileged is the church. Beyond gleaning symbolic truth from mythical characters, as followers of Christ we can experience a very real presence and power beyond human capacity. We can be Spirit-empowered.
The primary purpose of Spirit-empowerment is to carry out the transformative mission of God among the lost. With the challenges facing the church today, attempting to affect change in the lives of people by merely using our own ingenuity, intellect, and human effort is senseless.
God has not abandoned us to that fruitless recourse. When we take hold of the Spirit’s power, He fully equips and emboldens us to confront our lost world with the hope of the gospel.
Sadly, it appears that believers in many corners of the church are either abandoning Spirit-empowerment or have failed to access it in the first place. I fear that if the Holy Spirit were taken completely from a church, many elements of the work of that church would go on as if nothing had happened.
What a travesty of what every church was meant to be. And can this also be true of our personal lives? Are many of us in our area of ministry calling churning out “Christian” activity day to day that has no touch of God on it?
Without that touch, most powerfully brought about through the Holy Spirit’s infilling and influence, believers hobble their effective participation in the Great Commission. A.W. Tozer offered this observation, counterintuitive at first blush to the follower of Christ anxious to be of service in the Kingdom: “The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it. [Emphasis his.] Our Lord said, ‘Go ye,’ but He also said, ‘Tarry ye,’ and the tarrying had to come before the going. Had the disciples gone forth as missionaries before the Day of Pentecost it would have been an overwhelming spiritual disaster.”2
I believe churches that have diluted the original mission statement of our Lord merit the warning issued to the prophet Jeremiah: “ ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water’ ” (2:13). Such churches have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof in their half-hearted acquisition of the Spirit’s leading and power. These churches have cut themselves off from the spring of living water and subsequently have nothing with which to fill their cisterns. What is left is an empty shell, merely an empty hull of theology.
These churches are Pentecostal sometimes — when it is convenient, when it is safe, when it is socially correct. Such believers are part-time Pentecostals. They have traded holiness for hype; they have forgotten righteousness in their pursuit of ritual; they have mastered the form of religion while sacrificing the force of the Spirit.
Part-time Pentecostals are high-maintenance/low-impact Christians. They boast of great authority, but are devastated at the first attack of the enemy. They know all their biblical rights, but recognize few of their responsibilities.
There is only one antidote to such a crisis. It is breathtaking in its possibility, it is awesome in its power, and it is liberating in its effect. It is quite simply the anointing. The anointing is the power of the Holy Spirit. At the end of the day there is no better definition. The anointing is the power of God to do the work of God in an ungodly world.
Steve Franklin, founder and president of Covenant Heirs International, defines the anointing succinctly: “The anointing is supernatural ability for a specialized assignment.”3
What is your specialized assignment? What is the specialized mission statement of your church or ministry? Where precisely do you fit within the divine framework of the Great Commission? The anointing will lead you to identify that assignment and will empower you to fulfill it.
The Power of the Spirit Is Necessary for the Church to Reach its Potential
When we think of an assignment, we naturally envision a goal. We understand the task we are to achieve. It lies ahead of us as our God-created potential. We need to be Spirit-empowered if we are to fulfill that potential and realize that goal.
The Early Church was not great because of its prosperity, planning, size, or structure. The Book of Acts does not glamorize the Church or create the kinds of myths discussed above. Early Christians were very ordinary people dealing with the kind of ridicule and opposition the church continues to face.
Their leaders had questionable backgrounds and most were not well educated (4:13).
They had limited financial resources (4:32).
Jealousy plagued them (5:17; 17:5).
They met in houses (Acts 5:42).
They faced racism (10:15).
Superstition was prevalent (14:11).
They struggled with legalism (15:1,2).
They encountered paganism (17:22,23).
They confronted witchcraft (19:19).
The Early Church was great because of the presence of God. The Spirit empowered these followers of Christ to impact and shape a world that, instead of recognizing the Messiah, believed the Romans had crucified a Jewish teacher from Nazareth. It took the power of the Spirit to break through this deceptive ignorance and carry the gospel — as communicated by Peter, Paul, Apollos, and Priscilla and Aquila — to the hearts of lost multitudes. Luke mentioned the Holy Spirit (or Spirit) 55 times in 28 chapters; the Holy Spirit is the central character in the Book of Acts. The Spirit made the Church’s potential become a world-changing reality.
A Spirit-Empowered Church Is a Missional Church
“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, ESV4).
One of the Articles of Faith included in the Cape Town Commitment — the document created at Cape Town 2010: The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization — emphasizes the importance of the Holy Spirit to the mission of the Church. “We love the Holy Spirit within the unity of the Trinity, along with God the Father and God the Son. He is the missionary Spirit sent by the missionary Father and the missionary Son, breathing life and power into God’s missionary Church. We love and pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit because without the witness of the Spirit to Christ, our own witness is futile. Without the convicting work of the Spirit, our preaching is in vain. Without the gifts, guidance and power of the Spirit, our mission is mere human effort. And without the fruit of the Spirit, our unattractive lives cannot reflect the beauty of the gospel.”5
The esteemed missiologist Arthur Glasser put it this way: “So then, we do not want to limit the Holy Spirit only to the work of awakening faith (justification) and to the work of perfecting faith (sanctification). The Spirit must primarily be seen as the driving force behind any and all movements of the people of God outward, beyond the frontiers of faith, to share the gospel with those who have not yet heard it. Mission means movement from Christ by His Spirit to the world He reconciled. As such it stands in sharpest contrast to the individualistic or ecclesiastical introversion so common in large segments of the contemporary Christian scene.”6
My friend Denny Miller has written extensively about the Holy Spirit and the mission of God. In his book, The Spirit of God in Mission, he writes, “The church faces a great challenge. More than 2,000 years ago Jesus commissioned His church to take the gospel to every nation and people on earth (Matthew 28:18–20; cf. 24:14). Today, as never before, that goal is within reach. Missiologists today talk of closure, or completing Christ’s commission.”7
How could that happen? Is it possible? It is only possible with God’s enabling.
When Luke wrote to the Early Church, many had lost their spiritual fervor and missionary zeal. The divine prescription for missional effectiveness Luke recorded was for God’s people to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and radically committed to Christ’s mission. We are empowered as a result of a spiritual experience called the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
“Just as Jesus had demanded that His disciples be filled with the Holy Spirit before they began their ministries, the apostles demanded that their disciples be filled with the Spirit before they began their ministries. In that way, the work would continue to progress and move forward unabated.”8
Let’s believe for a fresh renewal, a mighty outpouring of God’s power.
The Benefits of Spirit Empowerment
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:4–6, ESV).
“You have an anointing from the Holy One. … The anointing you received from him remains in you” (1 John 2:20,27).
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Consider who Christ is. He is the Anointed One. That is what His name means, that is how He lived and ministered, and that is how the Holy Spirit empowered Him to carry out His life-giving mission. How will you succeed? You must integrate with the Spirit’s anointing every gifting God has given you, every measure of wisdom with which you are blessed, every human resource put at your disposal.
To understand how the Holy Spirit helps each one utilize his or her gift, think about electricity. Electricity is generic in its flow, but specific in its output. When electricity flows into your house, it is generic; but whatever you plug into the current determines its output. If you plug in a heater, you get heat. If you plug in an air conditioner, you get cool air.
When the Holy Spirit anoints you, you clarify and accentuate your gift. If you are a teacher, you teach better. If you lead worship, you will worship better. Preachers preach better, givers give more and give with greater joy, and every lay minister moves into his or her responsibilities with vision and excellence.
The anointing will help you be more than you are
Acts 1:8 promises, “But you will receive power. …”
The Spirit helped a shepherd boy become a king, fishermen become disciples, a murderer in Egypt become a deliverer of a slave nation, and a carpenter become a Messiah.
Prayerfully consider the tasks God has placed before you. Do the obstacles seem like mountains? The same Spirit of power promised in the Old and New Testaments desires to give you what you need to do what God needs you to do.
“ ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).
The anointing will help you say more than you know
In Acts 2:4 when the 120 spoke in tongues, the Spirit anointed them to speak. The word is apopthengomai. They spoke in languages they did not know. It means “Spirit-inspired speech.”
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood and addressed the crowd and in his mother tongue he preached what in the Greek is called “Spirit-inspired speech” (Acts 2:14). The word is apopthengomai. In the same way the Holy Spirit inspired tongues — languages we do not know — Peter spoke his own language and the Spirit of God equally inspired him.
When the Holy Spirit anoints us, He takes our words and uses them supernaturally. As a response to Peter’s sermon, the people were cut to the heart and had to respond. The crowd went from “What does this mean?” to “What shall we do?” Three thousand were saved. When you are anointed by the Holy Spirit what you say in the marketplace or in the pulpit does not need to be your own words, but what you say is Spirit-inspired speech.
This journey with the Holy Spirit in Spirit-inspired speech begins with the initial baptism He brings with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. Make no mistake — an intense emotional experience in prayer is not the biblical evidence for Spirit baptism; Glossolalia is. And that gift of tongues should continue throughout your spiritual growth and ministry.
Melvin Ho notes: “Essentially what the Holy Spirit teaches through Luke and Paul is that the baptism in the Spirit with tongues as the initial evidence is both a normal and normative experience (Acts 2:4; 1 Corinthians 14:5); the relation between the gift of tongues as a grace and ministry is that of continuum. The former is the initiation of the latter resulting in a growing edification of the body and the expansion of the kingdom of God.”9
Some of you feel inadequate, unworthy, guilty, and unprepared because of past failures. But when you witness to a friend, teach a class, or make a decision in the marketplace you can give forth Spirit-inspired speech. You say what you have not studied, about things you have not learned, to people who know you do not know, and yet prophetically you are correct with your assessment.
When you meet those who are bruised and broken and open your mouth, you need the Spirit’s anointing to reach the world too wounded to ever be healed through human wisdom and eloquence. The anointing will help you speak more than you know.
The anointing will help you do more than you can do
When you are anointed you can win battles against impossible odds.
Samson killed 1,000 with a jawbone; Shamgar killed 600 with an ox goad; Gideon overcame odds of 450 to 1 when 300 Israelites defeated 135,000 Midianites with trumpets, clay pots, and lamps.
What vision has God given you? Is He multiplying your passion for your neighborhood? Your community? Your world? In the same way that God could multiply human ability in opposition to human foes and let one man defeat hundreds or even 1,000, the Spirit of God can multiply human ability in the rescue of lost souls.
As you reaffirm your belief in the Spirit’s empowerment of your life and ministry, there is truly no limit to what God can do through you.
Called to Proclaim the Comforter
“And I will pray the Father,” Jesus promised, “and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16, KJV).
Jesus was not merely promising the disciples a new source of power to be active in His own absence; He was directing them to receive the very empowering presence they had already observed in His own life and ministry.
Jesus was …
Begotten by the Spirit (Luke 1:35).
Empowered by the Spirit (Matthew 12:27,28).
Led by the Spirit (Luke 4:1).
Anointed by the Spirit (Luke 4:18).
Baptized by the Spirit (John 1:32).
Raised by the Spirit (Romans 8:11).
Made our atonement by the Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).
Thus, in all that you communicate to your congregation about Christ, about His mission, and about His commission to His church, you have the additional responsibility and opportunity and privilege to call the church to be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit just as the Savior demonstrated throughout His life.
Introduce the Person of the Spirit
The Holy Spirit is a Person, not an “it” and not merely a presence. He is not an attitude, atmosphere, or environment. He is a Person who talks, thinks, plans, and is infinitely wise and articulate. “He shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak” (John 16:13, KJV).
The most important aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit is not His gifts, His inspiration, His enabling, His manifestation, or His miracles — but His personality. He is the executor of the Godhead, our Helper in our weakness, the source of power for our godly lifestyle, the revealer of God’s will, the power of our intercession, the Spirit of our regeneration. In each capacity, He is active as a divine Person in our lives.
On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Early Church in the most personal manner possible. To connect your church intimately with the Person of the Holy Spirit, you must determine to create an atmosphere of invitation to seek the Baptism. This does not require a special sermon series, a guest speaker, or a call to revival (although each of those strategies has a value of its own). If you will be intentional about placing the Baptism before your church in your preaching, in your altar invitations, in your Sunday School classrooms, in your small groups, and even in your church bulletins and other publications, that saturation strategy will yield results. You will see a multiplication of Spirit baptisms, and your church will experience the power for effective ministry attendant with that blessing.
Proclaim the truth of the Spirit
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16,17). As you communicate the truth of God’s Word in the many venues of your pastoral service, take hold of each opportunity to point to the Spirit who enlivens that truth.
In an age and a culture that has hijacked, diluted, and relegated truth to relativism, insist that a daily relationship with the Person of the Holy Spirit will inject clarity of vision and purpose into believers’ lives.
Endorse the teaching of the Spirit
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). Our age is one of ever-expanding sources of information. And yet, with billions of facts at our fingertips, our knowledge can become a mile wide and an inch deep.
Confront your congregants with a renewed vision of the Spirit as divine Teacher. He can direct and lead more concisely and effectively than every self-help best-seller, every self-identified expert, and every mass media talking head combined.
Live in the victory of the Spirit
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18,19).
Every time you stand before your church, you look out over a sea of life challenges and assorted sorrows. But no obstacle is insurmountable to the Spirit, no heartache too great to receive His supernatural comfort.
As you call for a full-time focus on the Spirit, you will release a new anointing to proclaim the good news and enrich the spiritually impoverished. You will proclaim freedom from every form of bondage. You will point the spiritually blind to a new vision of the Father’s love and the Savior’s sacrifice. You will destroy the oppression of the enemy.
In the Spirit’s power, you and your church can embark on a year of the Lord’s favor never before experienced.
1. John Bevere, Extraordinary: The Life You’re Meant to Live (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2009), 2.
2. A.W. Tozer, Of God and Men (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications Inc., 1960), 35.
3. Raymond F. Culpepper, No Church Left Behind (Cleveland, Tennessee: Pathway Press, 2007), 102.
4. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Scripture quotations marked ESV are taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, copyright 2001, Wheaton: Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
5. “The Cape Town Commitment” 1.5, quoted by Gary Tyra, The Holy Spirit in Mission (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 11.
6. Ibid, 34, quoting Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, 263.
7. Denzil R. Miller, The Spirit of God in Mission (Springfield: PneumaLife Publications, 2011), 233.
8. Ibid, 234.
9. Melvin Ho, “A Comparison of Glossolalia in Acts and Corinthians,” (Assemblies of God iValue online articles, [http://agchurches.org/Sitefiles/Default/RSS/IValue/Resources/Holy%20Spirit/Articles/Glossolalia.pdf], Accessed 21 January 2013.