What is “power”? It is important to know that a wrong understanding of things can lead to false hope and meaningless expectations. We live at a time when the much noise of Charismaticism has deafened ears of people so that they no longer can hear what Scriptures actually say. Drama has overshadowed reality in many assemblies of Christians.
In the year 2011 I was in Karamoja in Uganda. After a brother from Kenya ended his preaching ( it was a simple sharing which encouraged believers never to worry but to stay strong in Faith), brother John Mark walked to the pulpit to dismiss the small gathering in a tent as he said “We thank the Lord for His mighty hand in this service. The hand of the Lord is through his ministers who bring the Word.” If I was back in my pentecostal faith this would have been confusing: how could he say a ‘mighty visitation of God’ when no sign or miracle had occured?
Consider this: Elijah was a mighty prophet who performed great signs and wonders. His successor was Elisha. This man received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and signs also manifested in his ministry (2 Kin. 2:9). In the opening of the New Testament we read about a baby who was to be born and named John and was to have “the spirit and power of Elias” (Luk.1:17). Now, if you lived at the time of this prophecy, what would you have expected of John’s ministry? For many, “Spirit and Power of Elijah” equals “Signs and Wonders.” But when we look at John 10:41 we read that in his ministry John “did no miracle“! In this we see that the Truth of Scripture cannot be perceived by merely comparing stories or words. This should lead us to the important question – What was the Power of Elijah?
The Power of Prophets
The Power of Elijah, or any other true prophet, is the Word of God. It is in the prophet’s ability to truly speak in the Name of the Lord that sets him apart. Like the children of Israel were admonished, “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him” (Deu.18:22). Now, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…by whom he also made the worlds” (Heb.1:1-2). That was the Word which was in the beginning and by which everything was made (Joh. 1:1-4).
The people who receive the Word are given power to become sons of God (Joh. 1:12). Unfortunately, what many people have received is not the power of the Word but a mere appearance (form) of godliness. Like apostle Paul admonished, they have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5). The true Gospel is seasoned with power that can convert a person into a truly godly person. That is true salvation – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16)!
In all this we see that the true Gospel is not a mere intellectual teaching or dogma. It has life and power to transform people. Likewise the men who carry this Word of Power proclaim it with authority for it is like fire shut up in their hearts (cf. Jer.20:9). When people heard the Lord Jesus teach, they were “astonished at his doctrine for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the [intellectual] scribes” (Mat.7:28-29).
Out of the Power of the Word flows Deliverance
Many years ago, I took my Bible and with my friend went into the neighbourhood to share the Word of God. As we walked on the roadside we noticed a woman who was sitting at the door of her house. We went where she was and told her we were going round the compound to share the Gospel. She welcomed us. As I began to speak the Word she began to manifest demons. The power of God’s Word was present to challenge the demons that resided in her heart.
Out of the power of the Word flows salvation, joy, healing, and deliverance. The Word never flows out of signs. It should be signs flowing from the Word. Never give ear to any sign that does not proceed from the Word of God. That is a lying wonder (2 Thes.2:9). In this we can discern the true Gospel from the false one. The false one is dead. It has no life-giving power to transform hearts. The false Gospel is like a stove that is supposed to carry electricity but is not connected to any power source. It can have all the claims to have power but yet has none. But the stove with power flowing through it is live and no flies will sit on its hot plates. Just how many times have we seen believers oppressed by evil spirits of worry, depression, carnality, conflicts with other people? The spirits are free to sit on them because they are cold and no power of the Word abides in them! It is important to know that the Gospel is not in Word only, it has Power! (1 Cor.4:20, 1 Cor.2:4-5).
When the Word is spoken and the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of a person, they will experience the piercing Sword of the Spirit (cf. Luk.2:35). The Spirit will convict the worldliness in a heart (Joh. 16:8) and bring it to repentance. That is what happened to the people Peter preached to on the day of Pentecost – “Now when they heard this [the preaching of Peter], they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles , Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Act.2:37). The same Word that brings conviction also comes with the Joy that gives strength and liberates a person (Neh.8:10, Joh. 8:32).
The Power of the Spirit makes you a Witness
In Acts 1:8 we read that, “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me.” The word “witness” used here doesn’t mean going about from house to house trying to make converts to a doctrine. Neither does the word “witness” mean performing miracles. The word used in the Greek manuscript is “Martyr”, a person who dies for the cause of Christ. Yes, when a person has truly received Christ, they die to their flesh as they yield themselves to the leading of the Spirit. They become ‘martyrs’. Like Paul they can say, “I die daily” (1 Cor.15:31). In dying to their will and desires, they let Christ manifest in them and by that they truly become His witnesses. Yes, through them the world will see that Jesus Christ is still alive and living in people – “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal.2:20).
Here is counsel: Seek not signs and wonders. Seek for a closer relationship with God. Abide in His Word and live simply as a child of God. There is a time for everything. At the time of Elijah God used his prophet with miracles. But in John, a man who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, no miracle was wrought. However, at all times God’s Word has always manifested with Power. The question is: have you the eyes to know what is the power of God?
Someone once had that idea when she saw the Lord Jesus preaching. It was a woman, she got excited and exclaimed in the audience saying, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27). But the Lord Jesus in answering attached no spiritual or religious value to the womb of Mary that bore him – “he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
What about Mary herself, how did she regard her relationship with the Lord? Did she feel a little more important and deserving of special attention? Well, one day when there was a crowd, gathered in and around a home where the Lord was teaching, she and her other sons arrived desiring to see him. But they “could not come at him for the press” (Luke 8:19). A word reached the Lord Jesus telling him, “Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee” (v.20). Think of it: Were the people not supposed to have made a way for Mary to come into the house? And was Jesus’ family desiring to interrupt preaching to have a little time with their now famous family member? Whatever it was, the Lord spoke what many (if you were his mother, brother or sister) would have felt offended – “And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the Word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21).
There is nothing wrong with respecting anyone, but it should be clearly discernable when the word ‘respect’ has become a misused term for what actually happens – Worship! This is not about someone’s right intentions to please and honor God. A person can be sincerely wrong because sincerity does not define Truth. Remember Cain: he tried to offer a beautiful and best sacrifice of his farm-produce but it was rejected because it was not according to the Word!
“Jesus descended from the family of David. Solomon and Nathan were some of the children of David. Matthew’s geneology shows Jesus to have come through Solomon (Mat. 1:6) and the geneology in Luke lists Nathan (Luk.3:31). How can such a discrepancy be found in what is supposed to be inspired Scripture?”
Physically speaking Jesus Christ descended from the family line of King David (Rom.1:3). King David had many children and among them was Solomon and Nathan (1 Chr.3:5).
The genealogy of Jesus according to the Gospel of Matthew is traced through Solomon (Mat.1:6) and the one in Luke is traced through Nathan (Luk.3:31). This raises an important question: How can such a discrepancy be found in Scripture which is supposed to be inspired (“inbreathed”) of God and hence containing no error? The discrepancy leads to two different genealogies as evidenced by different names being stated for the father of Joseph – In Matthew Jacob and in Luke Heli! So, did Joseph have two fathers?
Well, consider this: How would you write the genealogy of a person who has no father? A genealogy is normally traced through males as they are the seed-carriers. This is the challenge that we encounter when trying to list the genealogy of Jesus. However, it is acceptable to either list His genealogy through Joseph, His foster-father, in order to satisfy an earthly (legal) requirement, or to come closer to a natural genealogy by listing Mary, the woman who bore him, on the genealogy. If two lists of such genealogies existed they wouldn’t be contradictory to each other but complementary. This is exactly the case with the two genealogies of Jesus.
When the record of Luke is read in the original language an important clue shows up: In Greek every name in the genealogy, except that of Heli, is preceded with the definite article “the”. That brings our focus to Heli. Thankfully again, a historical source saves us the time to unravel the puzzle: in the Talmud of Jerusalem Heli is referred to as the father of Mary! So, instead of putting Mary on the genealogy, her father’s name was listed. In this light we can actually read Luke 3:23 as, “Joseph, which was the son-in-law of Heli”. It is in that sense that we can say, Yes Joseph had two fathers: Jacob his natural father, and Heli his father in law. Thus, what we have in Luke is a maternal genealogy and the one in Matthew a paternal genealogy.
Find other plausible explanations to the genealogy question here.
How can the truthfulness or falsehood of a fact be determined by where someone has grown or lived? While it is true that an environment can influence a person’s belief, assessment of the truthfulness of his beliefs should be based on the evaluation of facts claimed by the belief system and not the examination of influences that may have led to the belief. For example, Michael Faraday a British physicist and Chemist was a deeply religious man; his obsession of science was influenced by his belief that the underlying power of God unified everything in nature. His faith inspired him to perform a lot of scientific experiments to decipher God’s handiwork in nature.
Now, while someone may disagree with Faraday’s religious convictions it is worthwhile to note that they are what led him to discover electromagnetic induction and electrolysis. So, would it be reasonable to discard electromagnetic induction and electrolysis on the basis of Faraday’s religious influences that led to their discovery?
It is true that science and faith do not use the same instruments of empirical verification, however, it is important to see that they both present facts which can be assessed by following where the evidence leads. So, although someone may have grown up in a region where a certain religion is practised, as he grows up and gets exposed to knowledge, he should make an informed decision concerning his faith. If a person calls himself a believer but without any reason for his beliefs, apart from carrying on what his family, race or people are accustomed to, then he or she actually does not truly believe! His faith is blind and a product of adaptation. Although there are many people who are Christians in this way, it is important to be aware that there are also some whose faith is based on evidence. Isn’t Faith scripturally defined as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb.11:1)?
That is why some Christians have afterward converted to Islam and others who grew up as well-trained Islamists later converted to Christianity. Likewise, there have been atheists who later converted to theism – Clive S. Lewis, Anthony Flew, Francis Collins, just to mention three examples.
Such is human life, we grow up and later decide for ourselves what we think is the best explanation of things around us. Similarly, True Faith ais not a blind assumption but an experience of Truth – “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Faith is not a blind hope; it is a hope grounded in reason – “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet.3:15).
Another way this question is often asked is “if God knows the future, why didn’t He prevent evil from the Beginning?”
It is important to know that angels and human beings were created to be a family of conscious beings, endowed with Free Will. I find Free Will to be the most mysterious act of God – Just how did He make something to be self-aware and have freedom of choice? I would say, the strongest force in the world is not Gravity but Free Will; the most elusive thing is not Dark Matter but the freedom to choose! Free Will is the ability to think, reason and choose. Free Will was (and is) the only way to have a real world. This real world ought to have love and fellowship. However, Free Will also creates a possibility to commit wrong or evil.
Surely God knew what a world of sentient beings would entail. He knew about the possibility of evil that would exist. Yes, He knew about the temptation Lucifer would experience to rise against God. God’s ability to declare the “end” from the “beginning” sets Him apart – “I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand” (Isa.46:9-10). But, it should be noted that His ability to know the future of a conscious being must not be confused with Him causing the being to do something (that would violate Free Will). However, God graciously (actually mysteriously) provided a way of escape to anyone who would follow His counsel. His wise counsel always stands because he knows what was, what is, and what shall be! It follows that any creature that is wise would follow the counsel of this all-wise and all-knowing God.
Price of Free Will
Some may argue that if God knows the future of something evil about to occur, He should either prevent the evil or guard a person from being influenced by the evil. Well, that cannot be. It is important to appreciate the fact that although God would be able to create such a world; a world that is void of the knowledge of evil but only populated with creatures that are programmed to do good wouldn’t be a true real world. So, despite the possibility of evil, we can say that God was willing to pay the Price of Free Will. Like CS Lewis explained:
If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a live world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying.
Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating.
So, when man later chose the wrong way in exercising his curiosity, God let him freely abandon the right way; man was free to partake of ‘the forbidden tree’ but he had to live through the ‘fruit’ (i.e. consequences) of his choice – “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices” (Proverbs 1:29-31).
Why allow Failure?
From the explanation above a question arises: What is the worth of creating something that you know will fail? Well, it may seem a vain exercise but not so when you perceive the intention of God: The presence of Free Will where the creator promises future redemption for a wrong can be rationalized if there is an intention to let the “vanity” expose the foolishness of a wrong, and hence use this process as a learning experience for the wrong doer. It can thus be explained that God’s willingness to temporarily lose creation to vanity is in hope that the sentient being will through experience come to freely choose God’s perfect will. As the Scripture says:
For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-23).
It is in this context that we can say God permits (or “creates”) evil – (Isa.45:7).
If the creature was to be made to accept God’s perfect will without learning or choice then that wouldn’t be true choice in the first place. We can see God working in the same manner with regards the giving of the Law – “that every mouth maybe stopped and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom.3:19). The learning process appears to be the way God lets people follow His Perfect Will but without infringing on their right of Free Will. They chose to follow God’s way by perceiving the goodness and righteousness of God.
So we can say that God permitted evil not as His Perfect Will but as something that was necessary for a world with Free Will. Even so, the same Free Will provides an opportunity to escape a bad end. It is for this reason that the “Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet.3:9). To understand how God knows the future of someone but yet allows Free Will for their escape seems as elusive as Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
The human mind loves to speculate. Let us start from Elijah the Tishbite. This was the man who once shut up the heavens so that it rained not and had called fire from heaven, a showdown against prophets of Baal. His ministry had such a majestic end – he was carried by a chariot of fire! (2 Kings 2:11). He did not experience death. The man after him was Elisha. Elisha had a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Would his ending be as glorious as Elijah’s? Would that be a true test of the authenticity of his ‘Elijah’ anointing?
Elisha performed great miracles including the healing of men who had eaten a poisonous meal. He also once multiplied bread so that a hundred people were fed (2 Kings 4:38-44). But as always happens, carnal men must have wondered at his ministry – was he a mere mortal man or he was something more, a divine being? Well, he was a great servant of God but he was still flesh and blood. His death by a sickness showed that. It signified to the people that all glory belongs to God and Elisha was only a vessel of God. Did the death of Elisha mean that God had abandoned or cursed him? Far from it: When a dead man touched Elisha’s bones, he revived and came back to life! (2 Kings 13:21). What else could that mean but that Elisha died serving God?
Next, we have John the baptist. He died a more terrible death than Elisha. After rebuking King Herod of his sinful marriage, he was imprisoned. John may have expected that since the Messiah had been revealed, the Roman empire according to prophecies of Daniel would soon give way to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. But as he lingered on in jail and was about to be killed, he got troubled and sent to ask Jesus, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Mattew 11:3). If God wanted he would have revealed to John more events to transpire before the physical manifestation and establishment of the Kingdom of God. However, God only revealed what was appropriate for John to know. John was beheaded. Scorners were certainly there to mock, “If he was truly Elijah why didnt he call fire from heaven to devour his enemies?”
Gentiles in the twentieth century witnessed an Elijah ministry in William Branham. So great a ministry it was that volumes of books and tapes have been recorded testifying of the signs and wonders that occured in his ministry. The ministry was too peculiar for many people. Branham had to be more than a man, they speculated ( a thing William Branham so harshly condemned in no uncertain terms!) Well, it is no surprising that people went to such extremes. Never before had Gentiles seen a mortal see visions and call out people’s names and their diseases, healing cancers and causing the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the dead come back to life. God would literally take over this man as he spoke THUS SAITH THE LORD. But at the end of his ministry, God again showed us that he was only human flesh, a vessel which had only yielded itself into the master’s hands. All glory had to be given to God. Even so, on that accident scene when his hand was made to touch his dead wife and she came back to life, God (like he did with Elisha’s bones reviving a dead man) testified of His presence still on the man. A confusing sign it was: The death confounded some people to reject the man, the revelation of the Word, and testimony of life on his wife, comforted the believers.
The world is yet to see the last Elijah to be sent to the nation of Israel. His ministry will manifest together with ‘Moses’.Together these men will astound and trouble the world. But at the end of it all, their lives will be terminated in a cruel death which will make the world rejoice. The Scripture has already prophesied their death in Revelation 11. But again, God will do something to raise them up!
May I answer this question using this illustration: There are some people who are not happy with their lives and have expressed anger at why they exist. Would it be justifiable then to assert that sexual reproduction is wrong because it precludes the consent of the child to get born? Too ridiculous a question but one which should provoke the common sense in you and I to know that when a male and female decide to bring forth another human being on this planet; much as the new person will later have an independent mind to decide his lifestyle – whether to be a vegetarian or meat-eater, an atheist or theist – he will have no other way to start life apart from first being in the complete control and care of his parents. The control should gradually recede as the person grows older. This situation would not have been so if humans were born adults. But we have found ourselves in a world in which the very initiative and possibility of one’s existence is in the control of his or her parents (i.e. they decided to make love and bring forth the child). Even after the child’s birth, parents will still decide what food or type of schooling is best for the child. When this child grows into adulthood he may adopt an altogether different way of life (become a vegetarian?) and philosophy (adopt theism or atheism?) quite different from his parents. This is acceptable; what should be avoided is indoctrinating the child. In the words of the famous atheist, Richard Dawkins, “What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe.” For once, I agree with him. However, an over-stretch of this statement to mean “carrying your two year old child to church is abuse and indoctrination” would be an exaggeration which would lead to various absurdities of trying to get a child’s consent on different issues which require personal choice (like the afore-mentioned case of birth-consent).
Wise and prudent parents do not force life’s journey on their child; they will give him an opportunity to see the world as they see it, and later when he is mature enough to use discretion, give him space to be aware of other worldviews and let him decide. Is it not for this reason that Richard Dawkins is a man who was raised up by religious parents but himself later became an atheist, and Francis Collins, a son of “free-thinkers”, was an unbeliever but later became a believer? Similarly, John Lennox had parents who, despite being Christians, encouraged him to think and analyse other world views.
In saying all this, however, I do not dispute your observation that some (or perhaps many) people force religion upon their children. Some religions are quite terrible on this. Some Christians are just as guilty when they tell people to believe because they just have to believe. In many churches today, sermons are so much filled with ignorance, even speaking against simple provable facts of science. But to be fair, try to recognise the fact that this is not representative of all Christians; there are still spiritual people (few as they may be) whose faith is not a blind one but one based on evidence and rigorous thought.
“A lot of money has been spent on SETI to search for alien life in space.Why do many scientists believe that we are most likely not alone in the universe? What are your thoughts on extraterrestrial intelligence?”
“Well” I answered: “I also believe that there are aliens out there!”
“Oh, but you are Christian Andrew!” the questioner shrugged.
“Ofcourse, ‘aliens’, as they call them, are first mentioned in the Bible. Is it not the Bible which told us that there is God, angels, and devils, way before the SETI project was ever set up? If the Son of God with angels came today, they wont cry ‘Jesus!’ They will point guns to the sky and alert the world, ‘Aliens have finally invaded!'”