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The key to the power of God

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Acts 2:1–11; Ephesians 5:18

It’s been an unhappy week in the news. A twenty-six-year-old man died early Thursday when he fell from the eighteenth floor of the Hyatt Regency in Dallas. A Dallas police officer was arrested for aggravated assault. The national news has been filled with stories about racism, sexual abuse, and abortion.

This is good news: people who attend worship services regularly are happier than others. A new Pew Research Center surveyed thirty-five countries and concluded that being a regular participant in a religious community was “clearly” linked with higher levels of happiness.

This is the way it should be. People who have a personal relationship with God should be different as a result. We should be able to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). There should be a transforming power in our lives.

We’ve been walking through Peter’s life in the gospels. Now we’ll turn to the Book of Acts. Here we will see him preach at Pentecost, leading three thousand people to faith in Christ. We’ll watch him stand up to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council that condemned Jesus to death. We’ll see him used by God to heal the sick and raise the dead. His story is miracle upon miracle.

Here’s the question: Can God do with our lives what he did with Peter’s life? Can we have the same power in our lives that he had in his? If we can, why don’t we see this power more each day?

Where do you need more of the power of God? Let’s learn how the Spirit worked in Peter’s life, so we can learn how he wants to work in ours.

How did the Spirit work?

The first Christians were meeting in an upstairs room of a house in Jerusalem; tradition says it was the same place where Jesus took his Last Supper with them. They were spending this time exclusively in prayer and worship (Acts 1:13–14).

Then came the day of Pentecost, one of the three great Jewish holidays, fifty days after Passover (early June on our calendar). Every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally required to come, and Jews from across the world would crowd the streets of the city for the party.

Suddenly, while the first Christians were in prayer in their upper room, the Holy Spirit moved in a way never before seen in human history.

Previously the Spirit would come “upon” people for a particular purpose and time (cf. Judges 14:19). This is why David prayed, “Take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). No one after Pentecost needs this prayer.

For now the Spirit moves “into” us, taking up residence forever. These Christians are “filled” with the Spirit—he moves into their lives. They are empowered by him for the purpose Jesus had assigned them: to be his witnesses.

In fact, each believer was so empowered that he or she began immediately going into the crowd to tell about Jesus. The people were shocked: “How is it that each of us hears them?” (v. 8); “we hear them declaring the wonders of God” (v. 11). Not Peter yet, but each of the 120 fulfilling God’s purpose by God’s power.

This was truly miraculous. People from across the world had crowded into Jerusalem for the festival. Fifteen different nations are listed here by Luke, each with his or her own language. But by the Spirit’s power these Galilean Jewish Christians spoke of Jesus in languages they had never learned.

Imagine how it would feel to hear yourself speak words you don’t know, in a language you’ve never learned, and you’ll have something of the wonder and joy these men and women felt. Imagine being far from home in a distant country, surrounded by languages you do not know, then hearing the gospel in your own native tongue. You think this person is an American, but discover that he’s a German, or Spaniard, or Frenchman, and he’s just as surprised to be speaking English as you are to hear it.

Their response then was the same as today.

Some are confused: “Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?'” (v. 12). Some criticize: “Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine'” (v. 13). But others are convicted: “When the people heard this they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” (v. 37). And these celebrate as well: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41).

All of this because Peter and the other believers were “filled” with the Spirit.

When does the Spirit work today? (Ephesians 5:18)

Do you want God’s Spirit to work in your life like this?

Do you believe Scripture when it says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8)? Do you believe that God can do anything today he wishes and that he could move in our lives with the same power we saw in theirs?

Then why doesn’t the Spirit work like this today in us? Where he doesn’t, the simple reason is that we haven’t asked him to. We haven’t done what Scripture teaches us to do, that we might know his power today.

So, what are we to do? Ephesians 5:18 is our key: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Let’s walk through this verse, step by step, and experience it in our lives this morning.

First, receive the Holy Spirit in salvation. This verse is to believers, and it assumes that we have already asked Jesus to forgive our sins and be our Lord. When we do, the Holy Spirit moves into our lives (cf. Romans 8:9). Have you made this decision? If you have not, make it today.

Second, decide that you need his power. Not just his salvation, but his power. A carpenter knows that a drill needs power. Do we know that our lives need power as well?

To be “filled” by the Spirit means to be under his control. Just as someone drunk with wine is “under the influence,” so a Christian is to be “under the influence” of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s the catch: God will not do for us what we try to do for ourselves.

If we are comfortable and complacent with our spiritual lives, we will not know the power of God’s Spirit. Some of us like the credit, we don’t like being dependent on others, we’re convinced we can do it ourselves. But we cannot.

This step is the hardest for most of us, and essential: we must admit that we need him. That we need him as desperately as these first Christians did. Only then can he move in power in our lives.

So I ask you, are you experiencing the full power of God in your life? His leadership? His presence? His working through you? His joy?

Do you want the Spirit to have control of your life? To empower you? Make this decision right now. If you do, you can proceed to the next step.

Third, be cleansed from all that hinders him. I can connect my electric drill to a socket and still have no power, if the plug is corroded. The plug must be clean for the power to flow.

In the very same way, we are seeking the power of the Holy Spirit, and he cannot fill and control a dirty vessel. He cannot give his power with a dirty plug. We must be clean first.

Are you willing to be cleansed from everything which hinders the Holy Spirit in your life? Then take a moment today for a moral inventory. Ask the Spirit to show you anything in your life that displeases your Father, then write down what comes to your thoughts. Confess each sin specifically with a repentant heart and claim God’s forgiving grace. Do this regularly.

Last, ask him to control and empower your life. It’s been said that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. He will not intrude or impose himself on us. As Philip Yancey noted, he goes where he’s wanted.

Will you do this, right now? In prayer, simply ask the Spirit to take control of your life, your mind, your time, your abilities. Surrender your will to him. Promise to obey him wherever he leads you.

And believe that he has. Nowhere does the Bible describe how it “feels” to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. Some of you will feel something unusual; others will not. I seldom do. The proof is in the results, not the feeling. So step out in faith, believing that the Spirit has empowered you, for he has.

And do this daily. The literal Greek is, “Be continually being filled.” Whenever sin corrodes your relationship with him, confess it and claim cleansing. Then reconnect with the Spirit. Stay in communion with him all through the day—stay “plugged in.”

As you do, remember that God empowers us according to his purpose for us. The Holy Spirit never empowered a Christian in the Book of Acts except to make him or her a more effective witness. If we are not willing to serve and share Christ, we will not have the power of the Spirit. If we are, we will.

Conclusion

Dwight Moody was the Billy Graham of his day. In an era before television, he packed crowds in massive halls across Europe and America. He preached in the Agricultural Hall in London, the Hippodrome in New York City, in Brooklyn, and other massive places around the world. It is estimated that he preached to over one hundred million souls across his ministry.

He founded what became Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and was widely considered one of the godliest men in America. His prayers have been recorded and published; his passion for the lost was legendary.

And yet Moody often said of his own soul, “I am a leaky bucket, and I need to be refilled daily.” If he needed this, so do I. Do you?

Does God still move? Can we see “Book of Acts miracles” today? Can some of us be the next Peter?

The choice is ours.