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Apart from Me You Can Do Nothing

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“But why don’t miracles like that happen in our church?” As a young boy in Sunday school, I had just finished reading the early chapters of the Book of Acts. Thrilled by the stories of God’s work among first-century Christians I asked the same question that a thousand others, both children and adults, have articulated. My teacher looked a bit uncomfortable, but he gave the standard answer representing the theological tradition of that denomination. “God doesn’t do things like that anymore.”

He explained that at the end of the New Testament era, when the books that would become the New Testament had been written and the apostles had finished their work, the “age” of miracles ended. Since we now had the Bible, there was no more need for miracles. That answer did not make much sense to me, but I accepted it much as thousands of other Christians seem to do.

Years later, as a seminary student, I had occasion to ask the very same question to a professor of theology. He had a more thoughtful response, speaking to me about the sovereignty of God and the history of redemption. He pointed out that there are really only three major periods in biblical history when there is evidence of a lot of miraculous activity: during the period of the Exodus, when God used Moses to judge the gods of Egypt and lead His people out of bondage; in the time of the two great Old Testament prophets, Elijah and Elisha; and during the public ministry of Christ and the early years of the establishment of the Church. At other times, even though there were godly people (like Abraham, David, Isaiah and Jeremiah) not many miracles were happening. That was certainly a better answer, but it still did not satisfy.

For one thing, it does not “square” with the promise of Scripture that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will empower the people of Christ to do “even greater things” and to bear witness to the Savior. For another, it does not “fit” with the evidence of godly men and women through the ages who have witnessed the mighty hand of God at work in their lives and in this world. The evidence abounds that God is still active in the lives of those who obey His word and dare to believe that His promises are “yea and amen” to those who follow Him.

Here then is our dilemma. We believe that our Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever, but we do not see His mighty hand working in our churches. If the answer is not to be found in saying that God has changed in the way that He deals with us, then it can only mean that we have changed in the way that we relate to Him—or at least that we do not relate to Him in the way that those early Christians did.

We know that they were filled with the Holy Spirit, but are we? American evangelical churches are full of men and women who believe that they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, because the Bible teaches that all who are in Christ are born of the Spirit. However, there is a difference between being indwelt by the Holy Spirit and being filled with the Spirit. There is little evidence in the lives of many believers that they are filled with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is not evident. The joy of the Spirit is curiously absent. The gifts of the Spirit are not in operation, and the anointing and power of the Spirit is virtually unknown. If they answer truthfully when they are asked, my suspicion is that the vast majority of American Christians would be unable to say with any assurance that they are truly “full of the Holy Spirit.”

It is sad that the miracles seen by believers in the first century are seldom if ever seen in most of our churches. The reason, however, is not a great mystery. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. He already indwells His people but His people are not filled with His presence. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5), and He meant it.

ALLIANCE CORE VALUE

Without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish nothing. (1 Chron. 29:14)

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