The Power of the Church
By Charles F. Stanley
How would you describe your church? Perhaps the word loving comes to mind—or maybe friendly, family-oriented, traditional, contemporary, or evangelistic. Of all the wonderful adjectives that describe our local fellowships, the word powerful is probably not the first one that occurs to you. Yet that is exactly what Christ wants His body to be.
All of hell would shudder if the people of God recognized their mutual calling, took hold of His power, and united to accomplish His work. But sadly, few local bodies see evidence of the Lord’s dynamic presence in their midst. Perhaps that’s because they’ve lost sight of their purpose and have become distracted with their own agendas.
The church’s true power is spiritual, not political or social. At times people try to manufacture, manipulate, or duplicate its impact, but that’s impossible because the church is divine in nature and originates from heaven, not from man. Its essence is found, not in committees, creeds, or denominations—nor in large congregations, impressive programs, or outreach activities—but in the person of Jesus Christ living through His followers. If we want to be dynamic as believers, we need to align ourselves with the Lord’s goals. His power is not available to those who prefer a “country club” approach to spirituality. If God’s people want only to stay warm and cozy in their comfortable pews, they have no need of divine empowerment.
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave His church a commission to “go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” But too many churches aren’t going anywhere. They’re like people in cars with empty gas tanks and dead batteries. They sit comfortably with each other, waving as the world goes by. But the world is lost and passing into eternity. Its only hope for salvation is found in the message entrusted to the church. We need to fill our tanks with the gospel, charge our batteries with the Holy Spirit, and start moving.
God’s Powerful Provisions
The Lord has provided everything we need to accomplish the work He’s set before us, but each local body is responsible to actively cooperate with Him.
The Gospel: First of all, He’s given us a message of reconciliation and redemption to share with the world. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). It can change the eternal destiny of those who hear and believe, but how can they believe if they don’t hear (Rom. 10:13-14)? Only those who have received salvation in Christ can tell others how and why they should do the same. The responsibility for reaching the lost rests solely with the church.
The Bible: The Lord has also provided His inspired Word, which is absolute truth (John 17:17). Whenever a church holds to the veracity of the Bible and actively puts its principles into practice, the power of God flows though that congregation. But a church that abandons Scripture, or picks and chooses which parts to believe and obey, cuts itself off from the divine power supply. There will be no evidence of God’s supernatural touch in such a fellowship.
Qualities of Churches That Impact the World
- They believe the Bible is true from cover to cover.
- They understand their total dependence upon God.
- They are committed to prayer.
- Their bold faith releases the Holy Spirit’s power.
The Holy Spirit: As powerful as the gospel and Word of God are, they alone are not enough. We need an internal power source in order to carry out the mission Christ has given us. When Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, He told His disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promised Holy Spirit. At the time of the Helper’s arrival, they would receive power and be Christ’s witnesses at home and throughout the world (Acts 1:4-5, 8). If they could have done the job on their own, Jesus would simply have said, “Go to it!”
However, even though the disciples had lived with Jesus for over three years, heard Him teach, and seen Him perform signs and miracles, they were still unprepared to carry out the mission He gave them. Any one of us would think that being with the Son of God in person would be enough to set us on fire to win the world for Christ, but it’s not. The only thing that prepares and enables us to fulfill our calling is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.
To understand what a difference He makes, let’s look at Peter. Even though he was part of the inner circle of Jesus' disciples, he failed miserably in remaining faithful and courageous. He had denied the Lord (Matt. 26:73-75) and after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection was found cowering behind closed doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). But when the Spirit came at Pentecost, Peter boldly preached to a large crowd, with the result that 3,000 people were saved (Acts 2:14-41).
If the disciples couldn’t fulfill their calling without the Spirit, neither can we. To accomplish the humanly impossible work Christ has given His body, we need to be gripped by His message and filled with His Spirit. Where did anyone ever get the idea that Christians are given the gift of salvation so they can sit around and wait until Jesus takes them to heaven? We have work to do! He calls and equips us to pour out our lives as a continual blessing for others. Although we’re all spiritually gifted in different ways, each person’s work is vital to the success of this singular mission.
Each member of a church plays an essential role in determining the vitality of his or her congregation (Eph. 4:7-16). We can be either a conduit of the Spirit’s power or a cause of weakness in our local assembly. How you live your life is not just a personal issue; it affects the entire body of believers in ways that may be obvious only to God.
Most Christians want their fellowships to exhibit the dynamic energy of the New Testament church—who wouldn’t want to be a part of a congregation where prayers are answered, the sick are healed, and the lost are being saved?
But God’s power flows only through churches whose members have personally surrendered their lives to the Spirit’s leadership. And, I’m afraid, too many believers are unwilling to make the personal commitment required for such vibrant collective faith. We can’t have the advantages of a dynamic community without the sacrifice of our own will.
We get only one trip through this earthly life. The choice before us is whether we’ll live for the Lord or for ourselves. Are you going to be Spirit-filled or self-filled? Which will it be—to let God use you to accomplish His great plans, or to sit on the sidelines and waste your opportunity? Today is the day to make your life count, because you never know how many tomorrows you’ll have.
If you want to be greatly used by God, begin by following these steps:
- Acknowledge your inability to fulfill God’s purpose for your life apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. His goals for you are beyond human capabilities.
- Deal with every known sin that the Lord brings to your mind. Instead of making excuses or rationalizations, agree with Him that it’s wrong and repent—that is, turn away from sin and toward Him (1 John 1:9). God wants to make you a pure vessel filled with His Spirit.
- Yield yourself to Christ. This means that you voluntarily and deliberately transfer all possession, control, and use of your body, soul, and spirit to Jesus. He is rightfully your Lord because He created and redeemed you. This is not a partial transaction in which you keep part and give Him the rest. Everything belongs to Him and is placed under His authority and control—your rights, plans, desires, and dreams.
- Believe that the Holy Spirit has filled you. If you’ve taken the previous steps, then on the authority of God’s Word, know that Jesus will live His life through you (Gal. 5:24-25).
- Live in the Spirit’s power. Move forward in faith and obedience, putting your confidence in God, who promises to make you adequate for His calling (2 Cor. 3:4-6).
If you will continually put these steps into practice day after day—and sometimes hour by hour—the Lord will pour His power into your life, and thereby into your church. He’ll use you in ways you never imagined possible. We can’t just sit in our pews, expecting God’s power to simply fall from heaven. Every one of us must be committed to letting Christ live through us. Then our churches will become powerhouses of divine energy, capable of doing their part to evangelize the world. Let it begin with you today.
For further study
Read Ephesians 4:1-16 and then answer the following questions.
- What behaviors and attitudes are present in a Spirit-filled church (Eph. 4:1-3)?
- What are the sources of unity (Eph. 4-6)?
- Although our spiritual gifts vary in the church, what goals should we all work toward (Eph. 4:11-15)?
- What will be the result when all members of the body work together in submission to Christ (Eph. 4:15)?
- Which word in verse 16 implies that a dynamic church fulfills its call to evangelize the lost (Eph. 4:16)?
Do you know God? Take the first step in discovering the wonderful plan your heavenly Father has for your life.