Power or Power: Aiming for self preservation or self destruction?

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The Book of Acts is the incredible story of the early Christian church navigating its way through persecution and launching out into unentered mission fields. But all the way, the main theme is clear: this book is not so much the Acts of the Apostles as it is the Acts of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is made mention in this book 56 times while the entire New Testament mentions the Holy Spirit 92 times.1 So over 60 per cent of mentions of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament are found in the Book of Acts alone!

What we are seeing here is a dynamic outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon individuals who are radically transformed by Christ.

Christ is with His disciples for 40 days instructing them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). But with time running out before Jesus leaves, the disciples are anxious to know what the future holds for them and the fate of Israel. And so, they ask Jesus: 

“Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Acts 1:6 (NKJV).

This is an important question. Jesus has been teaching them about establishing the kingdom of God on earth but the only thought pressing on their minds is whether Jesus will restore the kingdom again to Israel. 

There are two kingdoms in conflict here: the kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish and the kingdom of Israel that the people want Jesus to restore.

The entire gospel narrative sways side to side between Jesus seeking to implant into the minds of His disciples the nature and character of God’s kingdom while the disciples fail to understand Christ, blinded by their desires to see Israel glorified as a great nation once again. 

So, why was the restoration of Israel so important to them? If you think about it:

They’d been under oppression by the Romans. They want freedom.

They want justice and for their enemies to be trampled upon.

They want respect and honour from other nations to be restored.

What were they really longing for?

Freedom, justice, respect and honour—all the values we crave, even today. And yet, when the disciples ask Jesus when He will restore the kingdom of Israel, Jesus doesn’t give them a direct answer. Instead, He says,

“It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power” Acts 1:7 (KJV).

It’s interesting that the word Jesus uses for “power” here can mean freedom, justice, respect, honour. Jesus says there will come a time when He will restore all these things back to His people but it’s not for them to know when He will do it.

Instead He says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” Acts 1:8 (italics added). 

The power He is committing to us is of a different nature. The word for power here is dunamis from where we get the word “dynamite”. This is the kind of power Jesus wants to give us to break our bonds of negative thoughts, bonds of depression and anxiety, bonds of porn addiction, bonds of loneliness and low self-esteem.

Jesus was not so much interested in us defending our rights for freedom, justice, respect and honour in a world where we will constantly find our rights being violated. That’s the power we want. But the power Jesus wants to give us transcends our cravings for self-protection and self-preservation. It focuses on self-destruction—less of self and more of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and the lives of others so God can establish His kingdom in our hearts.

Look at this conversation between the Pharisees and Jesus in the Bible:

“One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, ‘When will the Kingdom of God come?’ Jesus replied, ‘The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, “Here it is!” or “It’s over there!” For the Kingdom of God is already among you’” Luke 17:20,21 (NLT).

In other translations, Jesus says, “The kingdom of God is within you.” God wants to create permanent transformation on the inside by reigning in our hearts rather than a temporal and superficial fix on the outside.2

Think about it: if the world is fixed, and freedom, justice, honour and respect restored for everyone and yet our hearts are not conquered by God, we will always be slaves to sin and selfishness and never truly be free.

It’s this power Jesus wants to give us. Power to set us free to live a life of perfect purity, peace, love and assurance.

That’s why Paul said: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” Romans 14:17 (NKJV).

We see this lived out in the story of the demoniac who Jesus met. The Bible describes this man as possessing superhuman strength. The only way to contain his “power” was to chain him. But when the man sees Jesus he comes and falls at His feet to worship Him. All the power of this man has to bow down to the all-surpassing power of Jesus.3 

Jesus releases the demoniac from the power that binds him and replaces it with His own power—the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus then tells this man to go and tell his friends “what great things the Lord has done . . . and how He has had compassion” Mark 5:19 (NKJV).

When Christ transforms our lives and the power of His Holy Spirit at work in us is so real, it always overflows into the lives of others.

In Acts 1:8, when Jesus says, “But you shall receive power . . . and you shall be witnesses to Me. . .” He is saying the power of Christ within us would compel us to reach others for Jesus. 

The word “witness” here comes from the word we often translate as “martyr”. Because the dunamis power of the Holy Spirit at work within us destroys and crucifies self, we no longer live for ourselves; we live for Christ and the establishment of His kingdom of love in the lives of all around us.

We are told: “The indwelling of the Spirit will be shown by the outflowing of heavenly love. The divine fullness will flow through the consecrated human agent, to be given forth to others.”4 

In the Roman world where Christians were being persecuted for their faith, we find a man named Polycarp who chose to live and die for Christ as a martyr and witness. 

Being dragged from his home, Polycarp was taken to the city where a deafening noise arose from a multitude. When Polycarp was given the chance to recant he said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who has saved me?”5 

Polycarp died a martyr, a witness of how his love for Christ was more powerful than his love for self. It’s this selfless love that inspired generations of Christians to stand firm for their love for Christ and through their testimony positively impact the lives of others.

This same power—the power of the Holy Spirit—is available to us today. In our broken and fractured world, there has never been a better time to focus less on self-protection and self-preservation and more on self-destruction.

Before Jesus returns, the Bible tells us there will be a group of people whose lives are so dramatically changed that this world will see through them an outflowing of God’s character of love like never before.

Jesus’ prayer before His death says it all: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one . . . As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” John 17:15,18 (NKJV).

Let this be our prayer today. Amen.

Vikram Panchal is a church planting pastor in Melbourne and creator of the “Lead Your Life” podcast.

1. <findanyanswer.com/how-many-times-is-the-holy-spirit-mentioned-in-acts>.

2. Coleman, R, The Master Plan of Discipleship. Baker Book House, 1998, p22.

3. <bible.org/seriespage/16-healing-demoniac-gadara>.

4. White, EG, Christ’s Object Lessons. p289.

5. Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine. Penguin Books, 1989, pp120,121.

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