I’ve been doing some reading about evangelism for a class that I’m taking, and in my readings, I found the answer to two questions that I’ve been working through. And since I passed nearly every part of kindergarten—darn handwriting requirements—I learned to share.
As a Pentecostal, I believe in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as described in the New Testament, but I’ve often taken issue with the bombastic language that many use to describe the Baptism of the Spirit and its outworking in our lives. Too many ministers make too much of what my course book calls the “spectacular,” as if it is the only thing that can qualify as “supernatural.” This approach is not only unbiblical, but it gives Christianity an “all sizzle, no steak” reputation to outsiders. I’ll take the rest of this post to demonstrate how this issue has come up and what we need to do to correct it.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Evangelism, the spreading of God’s Kingdom message about His love and Christ’s sacrifice, has been given to us as our life’s mission, but as far as missions go, reaching the whole world for the Kingdom with its myriad of languages, cultures, and political barriers sounds a lot like Mission: Impossible. That’s why Acts 1:8 is so important!
Jesus had previously told His disciples in parables and in plain language that they would be sent out into the world to share the gospel message, and in this instance, He has made it abundantly clear that they—and therefore, we—will be empowered to complete this amazing mission by being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Now, the issue I mentioned earlier pops up here in the discussion.
The word translated as “power” in this verse is the Greek word dynamin, from which we get out word “dynamite.” Because if this many have wrongly applied our modern connotations and applied them to this word in order to say that the Spirit’s baptism is like an explosion. However, Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, would have never had that image in his mind when he wrote this book. Furthemore, “power” is only one translation of the word dynamin. To be sure, it’s the most common, but there are others. “Miracle” or “miraculous power” is one of those translations, which many of the “pro-dynamite” preachers would perhaps prefer, but there is another that I like. It’s the word “ability,” and what I like about this translation is that it implies that the Holy Spirit baptizes us, not to turn us into tiny Jesus-themed Roman Candles, but to give us the abilities we will need to accomplish the mission for which the “power” is required.
The issue goes on from here, but that’s for another post. What I’d like to do now is dive further into the dichotomy between “explosive power” and “empowering ability.” First, I’ll say that I’m no Greek scholar, nor am I a theologian, but I believe that God’s Word is clear on this matter.
Our task is to preach the gospel and make disciples all over the world. While there are certainly times that requrie “explosive” displays of power—I’m thinking of Jesus raising the widow’s son and Paul cursing the socerer Elymas with blindess—but I can also see times when such power would be counterproductive to the Lord’s mission. For a prime example, look at James and John’s misstep in Luke 9:54.
When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”
Ouch! Big misstep there. Personally, on a daily basis, I don’t experience a lot of moments when I need explosive power, but I’m always needing my abilities to be empowered. I need my ability to make the right moral choice empowered by the Spirit. I need my ability to look first to God before finding comfort or satisfaction in any other thing. I need my ability to speak truth in love to my non-Christian friends to be empowered by the Spirit. Is there a need for moments of explosive power? You bet ya, but in general, I think that most of us are more likely to need empowered abilities.
Look at Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar. He didn’t heal her. He didn’t perform any “explosive” miracles, though the Spirit did give Him knowledge of the woman’s past and present sins. And yet, absent of any healings or displays of miraculous power, the woman and many in her town put their faith in Jesus. It was an “explosive” revival without a display of “explosive” power. I hope this makes my point.
In my next post, we’ll discuss the misunderstood nature of miracles that goes right along with this issue of explosive power versus empowered abilities.