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Spirit: Why Power and Love Always Go Together

Learn to embrace both aspects of the Spirit’s work

Craig Keener on June 6, 2017

The earliest Pentecostals began as people yearning for holiness and praying for power to evangelize the world in their generation. This twin passion for what we could call purity and power, condition and mission, or fruit and fullness, remains central in us being the agents for God that we must be for our generation.

Yet we all know some Christians who are weak in one area or the other. In our schools, workplaces and communities, Christians from a range of backgrounds regularly encourage one another and work together to share our faith. In these settings, we often meet people who are not baptized in the Spirit in the Pentecostal sense, who nevertheless display the fruit of the Spirit. Moreover, most of us Pentecostals have also known some ornery Pentecostals.

How do we account for this apparent incongruity? While sensitivity to the Spirit in one area of our lives should, and often does, spill over into other areas, it is possible to embrace one aspect of the Spirit’s work while largely missing another. Fullness and fruitfulness are two different ways that God’s Spirit works in us. Baptism in the Spirit in the Book of Acts is about power for mission, but the Spirit also transforms us into Christ’s image.

As a young Christian, I often did not feel “spiritual” unless I had prophesied or led someone to Christ that day. I soon discovered, however, that in Scripture love is a greater sign of spiritual maturity than giftedness. At the same time, God gifts us with power to serve in divinely effective ways those we love.

The Fullness of the Spirit

The Pentecostal movement began with Christians yearning for holiness and praying for power to evangelize the world in their generation. They prayed for “missionary tongues” so that language learning would not slow down the Great Commission. Although God occasionally did grant missionary tongues, most of our forebears rapidly discovered that the primary purpose of tongues was for prayer. Within a couple of years, almost all of them abandoned the idea of missionary tongues.

Their first instincts about the connection with mission were not completely wrong, however. Missiologists today speak of global Pentecostalism — including charismatics, now together numbering half a billion people after a century of growth — as the fastest growing movement in the history of Christianity. One of the reasons we have grown so rapidly is the same reason the Early Church grew in Acts: power for mission.

Power for Mission

Power for mission is so important that the pivotal scene that ties together Luke’s two-volume work, Luke and Acts, hinges on it (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:2-11). Here Jesus passes on His prophetic mission, “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). In Acts 2, the risen and exalted Lord baptizes His Church in the same Holy Spirit who anointed Him for His own mission (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38).

Likewise, power for mission is so important that Jesus forbids His disciples from beginning this mission until they are clothed with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). This language evokes Isaiah’s promise of the Spirit: “the Spirit ... from on high” (Isaiah 32:15).

The prophets depicted God pouring out His Spirit like water when He restores His people (Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25-27; 39:29). Indeed, Isaiah promised that God would put His Spirit on His people and make them witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 43:10-12; 44:8; 49:6) — the same way that Jesus commissions His witnesses in Acts.

The Spirit’s power for ministry includes signs and wonders. Luke most often associates power with healing (Luke 5:17; 6:19; 8:46; 9:1; Acts 3:12; 4:7; 6:8; 10:38) and deliverance (Luke 4:36; 9:1; Acts 10:38). The word usually translated “miracles,” in fact, means something like “works of power” (Luke 10:13; 19:37; Acts 2:22; 8:13; 19:11). We do not all have identical gifts, but we can pray and trust God to attest the gospel (not us) with signs (Acts 4:29-30; 14:3).

Proofs of Mission

God offered three signs on the Day of Pentecost: wind, fire and tongues (Acts 2:2-4). Of these, the sign of tongues (Acts 2:4) is the most important for Luke. Although wind (during the West Timor revival in Indonesia) and fire (during the revival at Pandita Ramabai’s orphanage in India) accompanied some revivals even during the 20th century, they are not repeated in Acts. By contrast, Luke explicitly repeats tongues on two more occasions when the Spirit falls (Acts 10:46; 19:6). Praise in tongues also provides the catalyst for Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:6,11-12), because Peter recognizes this praise as prophetically inspired speech (Acts 2:16-18).

Why is Luke so interested in emphasizing tongues? Because tongues serve to evidence and explicate the nature of receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Although John the Baptist probably envisioned multiple ways in which the Spirit would work (Luke 3:16), Acts focuses on a particular aspect of the Spirit’s work, as Luke tells us plainly in Acts 1:8. The Spirit empowers us to speak God’s message across all cultural boundaries. What greater sign could the Lord have given us at Pentecost about our mission than this: He inspired us to worship Him in other people’s languages?

Peter’s audience at Pentecost even offers a foreshadowing of that mission. Luke lists the nations present (Acts 2:9-11), basically updating the first list of nations in Genesis 10. But Genesis 10 continues into Genesis 11, where God came down to scatter languages at Babel. In Acts 2, God also multiplies languages — but this time as a foretaste of the church’s multicultural mission and future.

Promise for All Believers

The promise of the Spirit’s power was not just for the Eleven and those with them (Luke 24:33,49). They were the first witnesses, but the promise is for all of us (Acts 2:38-39) and for the same purpose those first witnesses modeled: to proclaim Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.

Quoting Joel 2, Peter explains to the crowd that tongues indicate prophetic empowerment (Acts 2:16-18). God is pouring out the Spirit on all flesh — crossing all human boundaries. Both men and women, young and old, will prophesy and have other prophetic experiences, such as dreams and visions. To make sure no one misses the point, Peter caps off verse 18 by reiterating Joel’s point once more: “and they will prophesy.”

A mind framed around the flesh will not achieve God’s standard of purity. What we need instead is a mind informed by God’s Spirit.

Prophetic power should be the Church’s new normal. In the Old Testament, God empowered prophets like Deborah, Samuel and Elijah. When Elijah ascended to heaven, his successor, Elisha, received a double portion of his spirit and carried on his ministry (2 Kings 2:9-15). Similarly, in Acts, the risen Lord ascends to heaven and pours out His Spirit on those who will now carry on His ministry.

But whereas the Spirit empowered only a few prophets in the Old Testament, now He empowers all of us to hear Him and speak for Him (Acts 2:38-39). Like the prophets of old, this power may assume different forms for each of us. Not everybody in Acts was a full-scale “prophet” (Acts 13:1; 21:9-10), but everybody can share the good news of Christ, the Spirit-empowered word of the Lord (Acts 8:4; 11:19-20; 12:24).

Praying for Power

When I was ministering in Indonesia, a dream showed me the most important lesson I had learned from writing my four-volume, 4,500-page Acts commentary: Prayer often precedes the outpouring of the Spirit.

Sometimes in Acts, God grants the Spirit without prior prayer — God is, after all, sovereign. But most often in Acts, the Spirit falls after times of prayer. Luke is the one Gospel to tell us that the Spirit came on Jesus at His baptism while He was praying (Luke 3:21-22). The disciples spent several days in concerted prayer before the Spirit fell at Pentecost (Acts 1:13-14; 2:1). It was after prayer for renewed boldness and signs that the Spirit fell on believers again in Acts 4:29-31. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritan believers to receive the Spirit (Acts 8:15). Saul and Cornelius had been praying before they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 9:11; 10:2-4,31).

Prophetic power should be the Church’s new normal.

The One whose promises are absolutely trustworthy assures us that if we seek the gift of the Spirit in prayer, He will not turn us away (Luke 11:13). May His promise stir us to pray in faith for more revivals of His Spirit among His people today.

Prayer invites us not only to fullness, but also to fruitfulness (Acts 2:42,46). Peter’s preaching converted thousands (Acts 2:41), but Pentecost was not just about power for preaching. Conversions to Christ continued after Pentecost (Acts 2:47) because of the radical way Jesus’ followers were living. They prayed together, ate together and learned God’s Word together (Acts 2:42,46). When some faced challenges and hard times, others even shared their possessions (Acts 2:44-45), a characteristic also of the next revival (Acts 4:32-37).

The Spirit empowers God’s people to evangelize. Yet the Spirit also comes to make us the body of Christ, a family who loves and serves one another. In Paul’s language, the Spirit not only gifts us to minister, but also produces fruit in us.

The Fruit of the Spirit

Early Pentecostals sought both purity and power. I experienced the power without seeking it or knowing what it was. Two days after my conversion from unchurched atheism, God gave me other tongues in which to praise Him, before I knew what speaking in tongues was.

Fruit, however, did not come so easily. Often in my own life, the harder I tried to be holy in my own strength, the further I felt from God. Like many before me, I had to discover that God does not ask us to depend on our own strength. He invites us to depend on His gift.

Not Legalism

God has consecrated us to himself; that is what it means to be saints, or His holy people (Romans 1:7). Holiness has to do with loving God more than anything else. Although some well-intended quests for holiness in history have degenerated into legalism, rules don’t make us holy.

In Galatians 5:16-24, Paul contrasts the life of the Spirit with the way of the flesh, that is, the best (and worst) that human beings can do in our own strength. The awful “works” of the flesh climax Paul’s earlier theme about human attempts at righteous “works” related to the Law, works undertaken without the Spirit (Galatians 2:16; 3:2; 5:19). Paul even directly contrasts life in the Spirit with being under the Law (Galatians 5:18,23).

The law of Moses could mandate refraining from lying or committing adultery, but it could not keep people from wanting to lie or commit adultery. Yet God had promised a time when He would write His laws on His people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). God promised, “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).

Paul declares that those who walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) will live so honorably that the Law would not condemn them: “Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23).

A Legacy for All Believers

Some stringent teachers were insisting that the Galatians could join the people of God only by circumcision, the biblical sign of the covenant. Paul responds by pointing out that God has already confirmed the Galatians as His people by a sign far greater than external circumcision. Old Testament prophets had promised the gift of the Spirit to God’s people at the time of their restoration (Isaiah 44:3). This is the gift that the Galatians have received (Galatians 3:2). This end-time reality makes mere fleshly symbols of the covenant superfluous.

Some Jewish teachers thought that only the most righteous, perhaps one person in a generation, could merit the Holy Spirit. But Paul responds that the Spirit is a gift to all who trust in Christ. Those other teachers warned that only by circumcision could the Galatians become children of Abraham and of God. Paul retorts that the experience of the Spirit is the real proof that we are Abraham’s children and heirs of the promise (Galatians 3:14).

In fact, the Spirit of God’s own Son has made us God’s children, moving us to cry out, “Abba” (Galatians 4:6). “Abba” means something like, “Papa.” Until Jesus, others only rarely compared God with an Abba, and never in prayer. But Jesus’ Spirit within us gives us the same relationship as God’s children that Jesus has. (For the full and non-stop access to God that the Spirit gives us in Jesus, one may compare also John 14:16-17,23; 16:12-15.)

The Image of Christ

Like Luke, Paul believes that every ministry must be Spirit-energized, including Paul’s own (Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 12:4,7-11; 2 Corinthians 3:6-18). But Paul’s focus in these Galatians passages is on how God’s Spirit within us makes our character look more and more like God’s, conforming us to the image of Christ. Paul is writing about our relationship with God, not power for mission.

Nevertheless, Paul is not suggesting that we necessarily embrace all the work of the Spirit at conversion. Not only did we receive the Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:2), but in the same way, God continues to supply the Spirit and perform miracles among us (Galatians 3:5). Paul does not rule out one or more subsequent experiences of the Spirit; he suggests a continued refreshing and daily dependence on the life of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25).

The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of God’s character percolating and growing within us. What should we expect the Spirit’s character to look like? The Father, Son and Spirit are three persons of the one triune God, so we can expect that divine character to look like Jesus.

The Spirit celebrates God and others with joy. The Spirit cultivates peace with our neighbors. The Spirit makes us patient with others’ faults, generous and thoughtful, gentle and self-controlled (Galatians 5:22-23). In short, the Spirit grows virtues in us that make us feel and act toward others more like the way God feels and acts toward us.

The most conspicuous fruit, though, is the one that Paul lists first. Paul summons us not to walk by the written code of ancient Israel, but by the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). We fulfill this law, Paul says, by carrying each other’s burdens, as Christ bore ours (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 3:13). In fact, Jesus’ own teaching summarizes the heart of what the Law was really meant to teach us: loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40). In Galatians 5:14, Paul shows that this commandment fulfills the Law.

Love, therefore, is not just any fruit of the Spirit. It is the chief characteristic of His work in us. Feeling love is marvelous, but love is more than a feeling; it is the way we treat others even before we feel it. The context in Galatians also shows us what love does not look like. Love does not look like fighting each other (Galatians 5:15). It does not look like bragging, envying or competing with each other (Galatians 5:26). It means helping up those who fall without looking down on them (Galatians 6:1-2).

New Life Is Christ Living in Us

Walking by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) involves walking the path the Spirit leads us upon — a path not subject to the Law (Galatians 5:18). What does Paul mean by being “led by the Spirit”? God led His people through the wilderness in connection with the Spirit (Isaiah 63:14). God’s Spirit leads us in His will in other ways (Psalm 143:10).

In the context of Galatians 5:18, however, the Spirit especially leads us in how we behave. We have something greater than merely a law or an informed conscience urging right and prohibiting wrong. We have a personal Guide who shows us how to meet anger with gentleness, hatred with love, and bitterness with patience (Galatians 5:22-23).

In Galatians 5:25, Paul continues this image of walking and being led by the Spirit. Here we are “guided by” (NRSV) or “keep in step with” (NIV, ESV) the Spirit. Given how Paul uses the same word elsewhere, we might translate it as, “Put your feet where you find the footprints of the Spirit.” In 5:25, Paul exhorts us to keep in step with the Spirit; in 5:16, he guarantees that, insofar as we do walk by the Spirit, we will not fulfill desires that are opposed to God.

Bodily desires serve a purpose. Without reproductive urges, the human race would die out. But our minds should be wise enough to control our desires and keep them within appropriate boundaries. When Paul says, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7), he is condensing Exodus 20:17. That verse tells us not to desire what is wrong for us to desire — namely, what rightly belongs to somebody else.

Unfortunately, this is sometimes easier said than done. Philosophers believed that trained reasoning could subdue passion; rabbis expected the knowledge of God’s Law to empower them against wrong desire. By contrast, Paul points out that such solutions often just draw more attention to temptation, bringing defeat (Romans 7:7-25). A mind framed around the flesh will not achieve God’s standard of purity. What we need instead is a mind informed by God’s Spirit (Romans 8:5-8).

When by faith we invite the Spirit’s purposes to compete against the flesh’s purposes, God’s powerful Spirit will win (Galatians 5:16-17). That means the way to overcome temptations of the flesh is not to struggle with them; such struggling just keeps our focus on the flesh. The way to overcome temptations is to focus on and follow the way of the Spirit.

The works of the flesh end up in sin (Galatians 5:19-21). By contrast, when we walk by the Spirit, we bear the fruit of the Spirit — fruit that springs up because of God’s heart in our hearts. It is not our work; it is God’s work in us, and we give Him the credit for it. As we trust and depend on God’s Spirit, sometimes we may marvel at how different we are from what we once were.

Fullness and Fruitfulness as a Foretaste of the Future

Both power and purity, fullness and fruitfulness, are ultimately a foretaste of our coming life with Jesus forever. Before His ascension, Jesus promises His disciples the Kingdom (Acts 1:3) and the Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). In Scripture, the Spirit accompanies the restoration of God’s people (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Joel 2:28 through 3:1). Most Jewish people did not expect the Spirit’s full work until the end times. In Acts 1:6, Jesus’ disciples ask Him the obvious question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

For Jesus’ followers, however, that time has begun, in what we can call the already/not yet of the Kingdom. The Messiah will come again to raise the dead and consummate His kingdom. Yet He already came once, rose from the dead, and is exalted as King. Jesus, therefore, now bestows His Spirit as a foretaste of that promised coming age.

The wind and fire at Pentecost (Acts 2:2-3) demonstrated that a piece of God’s end-time kingdom was breaking into history. When God revealed His presence in biblical theophanies, this often included stormy wind and fire. Scripture also depicted the Spirit’s end-time resurrection power as wind (Ezekiel 37:1-14) and often spoke of end-time fire (Isaiah 66:15-16; Luke 3:9,16-17).

Peter understood that the outpouring of the prophetic Spirit at Pentecost signaled “the last days” (Acts 2:17). Since it was already the last days back then, we are obviously still in those days — the era of the Spirit, prophecy and salvation. God did not pour out the Spirit and then pour the Spirit back again.

Likewise, the fruit of the Spirit points to the coming age. Paul suggests we cultivate that fruit by sowing to the Spirit, a foretaste of the harvest of eternal life (Galatians 6:8). By the Spirit, we have already begun to experience that life; God placed some of heaven inside us.

Paul repeatedly speaks of our experience of the Spirit as a foretaste of the future world (Galatians 5:5), the “firstfruits” (Romans 8:23) and seal or deposit of our future inheritance (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). Eyes and ears have not grasped what God has prepared for those who love Him, but the Spirit gives us a foretaste (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). The writer of Hebrews associates the Spirit with tasting the powers of the coming age (Hebrews 6:4-5).

What that means is the world should be able to look at the Church and see a foretaste of heaven. If the world cannot see something of the Kingdom’s vanguard by looking at the Church, we are living short of our birthright in Christ.

Both/And

God has promised the baptism in the Holy Spirit as power to cross all barriers with His gospel. He also cultivates in us the fruit of His character as we regularly acknowledge our dependence on His Spirit. Like the early Pentecostals, may we crave both holiness and power for mission.

I experienced empowerment for ministry as an unexpected gift. Eventually, I had to learn that transformation, too, grows in us as God’s gracious gift. Holiness and power for mission are not the same. Yet they have the same Source. We cannot earn either one. Our Creator and Savior bids us to depend on Him for both.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2017 issue of Influence magazine.

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