Visiting a friend’s church recently, the sermon I heard really bothered me. In general, I hate to criticize pastors or their sermons, as I know the they spend a lot of time and effort composing something that they believe to be true and helpful to the congregation, but this one kept replaying in my mind. Maybe writing it all out will help.
The young pastor started off by reading Matthew 11:28, a familiar verse: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Then he asked some good questions: How do we come to Christ? We believe in Christ Jesus, but “where’s the beef?” Where do we get the power to live out the Christian life day to day? How do I hear His voice? How do I get the strength I need?
Stop at this point and consider—how would you answer this question?
Sitting in the pew, I immediately thought, “Oh good! He’s going to talk about the Holy Spirit, or prayer, or maybe abiding in Christ. This will be great!”
How did you answer? When I later asked my husband and my daughter these same questions, they answered more or less how I did—we let the Holy Spirit live in and through us, and that happens when we’re submitted to God and in intimate relationship with Him.
The pastor had me on the edge of my seat, but I never expected what I heard next. He started singing, “The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me…”!
It quickly became clear that we would not be talking about prayer, intimacy with God, or the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather, he went on to elaborate on 2 Timothy 3:16-17—“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Of course, all those things are true—the Bible is helpful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. It’s the standard we use to determine God’s will. It’s how we know about God. Because the Scriptures are alive, God can still speak to us through His word even though it was written thousands of years ago. The Bible is amazing! But—it’s not God.
We can study the Bible for hours every day, for our entire life, and know everything humanly possible to know about God—and not know God. Reading the Bible tells us right from wrong, what to do and what not to do—but a book will never give us the power we need to be like Jesus.
While the pastor ended up giving a terrific sermon about the Bible, he never answered his original questions. Where do we go to be empowered for living the Christian life?
To some extent, That’s asking the wrong question. Yes, we receive power, but it isn’t our power and we don’t get to keep it, apart from God. Look at Acts 3:12—
When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:7—
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
In John 15: 4-5, Jesus pointed out that we have to abide in Him to accomplish anything of value—
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
And in Acts 1:8 He told the disciples,
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you….
Finally, Paul wrote about power in 1 Corinthians 4:20—
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
Sadly, trying to gain power from a book, even if was authored by God, will only leave us frustrated and exhausted, knowing the life we should be living, but unable to live it out in our own strength.
I’ll end with a quote from Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians:
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead….
Thank you. I feel much better now.
Indeed, as Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:6 – “(God) qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The written code without the Spirit is the old covenant, as Paul continues in 3:14b – “when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.”