“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 ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
If the church is to fulfill her global mission, we will need unprecedented supernatural power. Unprecedented, because the baptism of the Holy Spirit had never been known prior to Pentecost (1:5). Supernatural, because the source of the church’s miracle-working, life-transforming power is the same Spirit that brooded over the waters in creation (Gen. 1:2).
In the words of Martin Lloyd-Jones, “If the apostles were incapable of being true witnesses without unusual power, who are we to claim that we can be witnesses without such power?”
Unfortunately, the historical church has too often sacrificed unprecedented supernatural power for lesser things. Below is a list of 7 common substitutes for the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus mentions the baptism of the Holy Spirit to His disciples, their first question is about how this relates to the politics of the Jewish nation (Acts 1:4-6). We see this same tendency in the American church, where many believers act like their primary mission is to convince voters, change laws, and scream on social media. Politics are extremely important, and we should employ all righteous means for seeking the good of our city and nation (cf. Jer. 29:7).
But politics are no substitute for power.
The church in Corinth was so full of eloquent, big-wig personalities that they sneered at the most influential communicator in church history (2 Cor. 10:10). The so-called B-Team preacher, known to us throughout history as the Apostle Paul, presented this response to his unimpressed church plant: “I will come to you soon… and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people, but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:19-20). Far too many churches are built on the personality of a pastor.
But personality is no substitute for power.
Paul warns Timothy that in the last days, the church will have “an appearance of godliness, but deny its power” (2 Tm. 3:5). Do you remember the last time you were shocked by the revelations of the secret life of a high-profile pastor? Me neither. We’ve almost come to expect hypocrisy, and with some justification. Studies consistently reveal that the morality of the church and the morality of the world are roughly the same. We’re great at staging a righteous Sunday showing.
But performance is no substitute for power.
The 120 men and women who gathered in the upper room before Pentecost were pious individuals, devoting themselves to Scripture, prayer, and the Person of Jesus (1:14, 16, 20-22). We do well to imitate their piety, but we can’t stop there. Churches that focus on piety but not power have settled for a pre-Pentecost experience and an impotent mission.
Piety is important, but it’s no substitute for power.
The Apostle Paul extols the value of knowledge (2 Cor. 8:7), but he also warns against it (1 Cor. 8:1). Even the most valuable knowledge of all—theological knowledge—can be harmful to our souls if it’s not paired with humility. In the absence of power, it’s easy to allow theology to fill the vacuum.
Theology is important, but it’s no substitute for power.
Paul was a wise master builder (1 Cor. 3:10), who undoubtedly employed his gift for strategic planning to plant churches. But Paul also recognized the futility of his plans apart from God’s blessing (3:6-7). This is one of my greatest weaknesses as a leader. God has given me a strategic mind, and it’s easy for me to rely on my gift instead of God. Plans are needed, but you can’t manufacture Pentecost.
Plans are no substitute for power.
Jesus says our mission is to be witnesses to the ends of the earth. But if you look at many of our church calendars, it would seem that our mission is to just stay busy. There’s nothing wrong with busyness, per se—the early church met every day (Acts 2:46). But when the focus of the church shifts from filling people to filling programs, we’ve lost our way.
Programs are great, but they’re no substitute for power.
The True Path to Power
Prior to the Resurrection, the Gospels record not a single instance of the disciples successfully praying. After the Resurrection, it becomes one of the most prominent features of their lives.
There are many different substitutes for power, but there is only one Source—the Holy Spirit—and there is only one conduit—the prayers of God’s people.