In this chapter we see Peter providing us with a perfect example of an empowered life. It might be tempting to think that Peter had an advantage over us considering he personally ministered with Jesus. But no. I believe his advantage came from an intimate relationship with Jesus, which is also our advantage. Peter surrendered his spirit to that of God’s in the exact same way we must. That can only mean our lives should be just as empowered as Peter’s, right? So why aren’t they? Is this passage relevant and applicable today?
An empowered life can be defined as God doing a work through us, just like we see Him work through Peter when he heals the lame man. Let’s be clear, Peter isn’t awesome because he healed the lame man; God is awesome. In order for God to do a work through Peter, he had to first do a work IN Peter. Peter had to be readied for empowerment. Can you imagine if bolts of lightning directly powered our homes? We’d all be fried. Our homes must be readied and prepared to receive the power from the plant before it can be effective. Two essentials that ready us for empowerment are justification and sanctification. I usually try to avoid “churchy” words like these, but because these words hold tremendous meaning for a vital, empowered life, indulge me for a moment.
READIED FOR AN EMPOWERED LIFE
This is the immediate cleansing we receive when we surrender to Jesus and place our faith Him. We are born again and we are justified. Until we are justified it is impossible to be empowered by the Holy Spirit because we are about as far from Jesus as we can get. Justification literally changes everything. Peter says it in Acts 3:19, “turn to God so that your sins may be wiped away.”
Justification is sometimes defined as forgiveness, but it is much more than forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong. Forgiveness is great. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “to give up resentment of or a claim to requital for, or to grant relief from payment of.” The challenge with this definition alone is that it implies a single offense. What about the other claims and debts that may be outstanding or remain in our future? Once we sin again, we’re guilty again. When my kids insult or defy me, I insist on an apology from them each time, and I forgive them each time. This is not how justification works. Justification takes forgiveness and applies it to all past, present and future offenses. God not only sees the sin that’s going to happen, he’s already there while it’s happening, holding us and guiding us. Justification says, “You are not a sinner!” while we know perfectly well we still sin. If you have faith in Jesus, you are justified. Period. And you are now ready for sanctification.
This is a process of purification that God promises for us after we’ve been justified and we surrender wholly to him on an ongoing basis. The Bible compares this process of purification to that used with precious metals. To bring about the most pure and precious gold, you must place it directly in the fire and heat the metal with extreme heat, have it melt, and then filter out the non-gold impurities, dust, and dirt. Once it cools, it will be stronger, more beautiful, and highly valued.
Sanctification for believers typically happens through difficult circumstances. It’s within the tumult that we are tested and shown our most basic nature. We’re given the opportunity at that point to filter our character impurities. Are you struggling now? Do you feel like you’re being shot at from every direction? Congratulations! You are probably being sanctified. And if you are, rather than digging in your heels and denying any wrongdoing, simply ask God what he wants you to see. As God begins to reveal the opportunities for growth, confession and repentance will be the next step to freedom. It will always break a chain of sin and close a door to Satan. Over the last seven years God has shown me much of my pride and arrogance and it’s not an easy thing to see, humiliating in fact. I’ve seen how much I need Jesus, and each time it prepares me for empowerment.
THE EMPOWERED LIFE IS NOT EARNED
The early church did what they did, were who they were, and had great joy because they were empowered. The Holy Spirit moved through them in the same way he moves through us. First they were justified through their faith, and then they were sanctified through ongoing surrender and obedience. So much easier to say than do. How do we do it exactly? Our HOW will always, and I mean ALWAYS, fall back to the Holy Spirit. We must stay plugged into our power source. Sounds too simple. But it is that simple.
For all you Type A’s (sorry Type B’s, I’m not excluding you…I’m so envious of your easy going nature) and list keepers out there, as we dig into the how’s of staying plugged into the Holy Spirit, this could present a challenge. People like us get enormous satisfaction when we cross something off the list. In my previous professional life, there came a day when I switched from paper to an electronic application for my task list. Each time I completed a task, I would click the button and the task would disappear. I have to confess, it irked me that it disappeared because I enjoyed seeing the task crossed on my list. Well, I immediately adjusted my view so I could see my completed task with the strikethrough line. At the end of the day I would gaze upon my list of accomplishments accompanied by a sigh loaded with pride.
Y’all, this is not our faith. I’m not knocking checklists, because I still heart them. But let’s be honest. When we apply it to our faith, it represents a need to be in control, and ultimately a desire to earn that approval God freely gives us. You know? I still feel defeated if my list of chores doesn’t get marked off during my day.
When it comes to our relationship with God, if our desire to control and “earn” dominates our behavior, it’s evidence of our lack of faith. It can manifest as a desire to control other parts of our life too, so watch out list keepers! We’re essentially saying, “God I’ve got this! Check on me at the end of the day and I’ll let you know where I could use some help.” I’ve said it before, we are not in a business/transactional relationship with God and there is not a thing we can do to earn approval from Him. Consider a parable to further illustrate, found in Matthew 18: 21-35. I’m going to paraphrase.
THE PARABLE OF THE UNFORGIVING DEBTOR
Called the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor, we start with a king who is balancing his accounts and calls in a servant who owes millions of dollars. The king demands payment but the servant doesn’t have the funds to repay, so the king threatens to sell him and his entire family into slavery to repay the debt. The servant immediately drops to his knees and begs for more time. Even better than that, the king takes pity and completely forgives the debt. We then see this servant leave and immediately approach one his own debtors, demanding immediate payment. When that debtor can’t produce the funds to the servant, the servant starts choking the debtor. He refuses to show the same kindness he just received. The king learns of it and throws the servant in jail.
Until recently I have always viewed this story from the perspective of the king, and I too would have thrown the man in jail. Why would this servant refuse to pay it forward? How rotten. But consider for a moment that this servant didn’t really believe his debt was fully forgiven. That he walked away thinking, “whew…I barely made it that time. I need to hurry and collect so that I can start paying back what I owe to the king.” But the king forgave his debt!
What would you do in this scenario? Do you really believe you are completely justified, forgiven, and fully relieved of debt? Or do you feel like you need to complete a list of “Christian” activities to repay the King? A lack of faith will eventually take one down a dangerous path. When we don’t fully believe we are justified before Christ, we can’t help but pull out our checklist and earn our approval. And it’s at that point we unplug from the Holy Spirit. Faith does the opposite!
HOW TO STAY PLUGGED INTO THE SPIRIT
Okay, hopefully we understand that we cannot simply work harder for the Holy Spirit’s power. We cannot earn what’s freely given. So then, where do we begin? We are plugged into the Spirit when we are with Him, and we are with Him in several ways. Let’s go back to Acts and look at our passage. In fact let’s back up into last week’s lesson, Acts 2:42. It says the believers devoted themselves to, “the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” Later in verse 46 and 47 you see the phrases, “They worshipped together at the Temple each day…all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of the people.”
Here’s a great start:
· Devote yourself to God’s Word and the teaching of it.
· Devote yourself to fellowship with other believers.
· Devote yourself to prayer, all the while worshipping and praising.
These are the things that take you out of your own flesh and plug you into the Holy Spirit.
Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. (Acts 3:1-2 NLT)
At this point Peter and John were probably accustomed to surprises from the Lord. They’d seen plenty of miracles from Jesus and now they too were performing many signs and wonders (Acts 2:43). I’m sure they’d come to expect the unexpected. However in this moment, they were on their way to a prayer service. I’m guessing they didn’t wake that morning saying, “Hey let’s head over the Temple this afternoon and see what we can stir up for Jesus today.” And they weren’t just going to the Temple out of obligation because it was their custom. The preceding verses in Chapter 2 definitely indicate otherwise. They were pursuing their intimate relationship with Jesus and I’m positive that was their motivation in that moment. They were going to the Temple to pray. They were probably already preparing their hearts as they walked. Maybe even singing some praises. They were plugged in.
So when the opportunity to glorify God presented itself, they immediately saw it. They followed the Spirit’s direction, the man was healed, and many of the people in the Temple were receptive. Because Peter was plugged in, he again saw the opportunity to address the crowd. How do we know it was the Spirit of God? Peter immediately denies any connection to the miracle. He could not have accomplished this in his own power. He gives all credit to God.
This passage reveals so much about empowerment. Preaching, witnessing, serving and miracles all flow through empowerment. But they don’t come first. We must first be WITH Jesus. In fact, IN him. This is the HOW of staying plugged in. Everything else results from the overflow. If this still sounds too simple, and you find yourself a little confused about how this happens, don’t worry. Keep devoting yourself to this Bible study and ask God to show you truth. Pray and ask God to make the changes he desires in your heart. Ask him to speak to you and make you aware when you unplug. These are the kinds of prayers that get answered because these are the things he desires for us.