No Power

lighted tent at nightunlit tent at night

While cleaning his attic one afternoon, the pastor of a small church rediscovered a medium-size tent he had purchased years ago. As a result, he considered doing something different for vacation that year. Instead of staying at their usual retreat near a large lake, he convinced his wife that they should head out camping in a tent and travel to different campgrounds across the region. After considerable preparation, their vehicle was fully packed and they hit the road.

The most commonly asked question whenever they checked in at the campgrounds was, “Do you want a site with power (electrical hookups) or with no power (no electricity)?” Being the rustic and frugal type (sites with power cost more), his usual response was that ‘no power’ would be fine. But his wife (who always brought the microwave) would often beat him to it, and insist on a site with power. Not being one to start an argument, especially on vacation, he would always agree and pay the extra amount. After several attempts to impress his wife with his fine outdoor cooking skills over a fire, he concluded that a microwave on hand wasn’t such a bad idea after all. In the end, they had a delightful trip overall, although he conceded that a motel room would probably have been better in the long run, and considered doing this again at some future date.

After they returned home, the pastor began thinking about the “power or no power” question—that churches today are offering the same kind of deal. But the difference is that they don’t ask those who regularly attend which choice they want, because the overseers of the church have already chosen “no power.” Then he considered the multitude of churches that are spiritually in the dark. Sure, the lights are on, the music is playing, and the temperature is adequately controlled—but spiritually there is “no power.”

Why is there no power? How do these churches survive without it? They are operating in their own human power, not the power of God. Most of us are taught that to make it in this world, we have to be strong and powerful. We have to be constantly building up our mind, soul, body, spirit, etc. If we show any signs of weakness, we will be overtaken and dominated by someone else. How often this is seen in the business world, where ‘stepping on someone else’ is necessary in order to get ahead and be considered successful. “Survival of the fittest” is definitely the modern motto!

Yet God would have us do the opposite. He wants us weak so that our strength and power come solely from Him. This means that we are to yield our self-centered life over to Him, similar to the way that children submit to their parents and are dependent on them to provide a way through difficult situations. The Apostle Paul was considered to be one the most powerful men spiritually in the Bible. He wrote that Jesus “…said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10 emphasis mine). The power of any body of believers in Christ can only come through God and Christ.

man doing pull-ups

man standing with arms folded in prayer

It is good to build ourselves up physically. We need to strengthen our muscles and keep our bodies in shape. When our physical bodies are inactive, we begin to waste away and leave ourselves prone to sickness. But spiritually, our self-centered flesh (the part of us that desires the sinful and godless things of this physical world) needs to surrender and no longer be allowed to control us, so that our spirit can grow strong through Christ. We need to yield ourselves to Him because He must be in control of our lives, not us.

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…” (Romans 1:16 emphasis mine).

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18 emphasis mine).

When “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” is the focal point of the message being proclaimed in the church, then there will be power. The churches with no power have downplayed or rejected what Christ accomplished on the cross. They seek and worship God in their own strength and power. They therefore have “…a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5a emphasis mine). If they preach a crucified Christ instead, they go in the opposite direction of what they have been taught. This makes them appear weak to others. Then they lose their ‘dignified image’ to the sinful and ungodly community around them. In other words, their true colors are exposed—that they are pleasing the world and not God, in order to get ahead. They fully realize that people are not going to give generous sums of money to a church that appears weak and powerless. But God will not honor or bless the works of self or the flesh. This is what happens when a church tries to win the favor of the world.

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A church that has no power leaves those who attend with no power to overcome bondage. Only belief in Jesus and His finished work at the cross can bring true victory. That is where the power is. When a church leader proclaims that we have to work our way to holiness or righteousness ourselves to be in right standing with God, he cancels out all that Christ taught when He was here on earth. Sin continues to control us if we don’t confess it and turn it over to Him. No multi-step programs, secret codes to be unlocked, or special seminars, meetings or retreats will set us free from the oppression of sin. Only by faith in the victory of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross can true freedom be brought into our life, because we then have access to the power we need.

Has your church or fellowship chosen power or no power? Do you leave satisfied in your spirit after each service? Or does emptiness still remain in your heart? Is the finished work of Christ and His sacrifice on the cross proclaimed from the pulpit? Do you know more about the latest events on television or some popular movie than you do about the Bible? Is there a passionate desire to know God more intimately, or another fundraiser or new building program continually? Does your place of worship leave you confident that you are able to take on the world by yourself? Or does it bring you to the altar, knowing that you have no power unless Christ is leading you each day?

dark gothic building at sunset

If your church or fellowship has lost its power (or never really had it in the first place), seek God to lead you to one that has the power of God. Maybe the power is dimming where you currently attend. Your prayers are greatly needed there. Call upon the Lord on behalf of the church and plead with Him earnestly that they would choose power instead of no power. Impress upon other believers to do the same, and put to flight the efforts of the devil to kill the power of God there completely. Don’t succumb to peer pressure from other members of your church or fellowship and do nothing. There is no power in inertia or tradition. These things should not dominate your actions. A church that chooses the “no power” option yields a congregation that has no spiritual power.

No Good Thing

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).

Once we give our life to God, we discover that inside of us there is both the ‘old man’ (that person we were before God saved us), and now the ‘new man’ (that God is making us into). The very nature of the ‘old man’ is rebellion against God. Slowly we discover that we are not able to carry out our earnest desires to be good or to do anything good. All too often we find ourselves going in the opposite direction of our new nature—the ‘new man’—even though we don’t want to anymore. Therefore, we can’t put any confidence in our flesh, our ‘old man,’ even after we become believers.

Before we were believers in Christ, many of us tried to prove that we were righteous and deserved to be saved by our righteous deeds (hoping they would outnumber our unrighteous deeds). After we became believers, at some point we (hopefully) learned that there was nothing righteous about our ‘old man,’ and we really deserve nothing good from God at all. Our real problem is our old self. Inside our ‘old man’ there is no good thing. He doesn’t want to pray or hear God’s Word because he hates both. He does no good thing, because nothing in his nature is truly good (according to God’s standards). Why? because the ‘old man’ (the “flesh”) has made us weak due to sin, while our spirit is now quite strong and willing to do good.

The moment eventually comes when we finally realize that no good thing is naturally in our flesh. This means that we can’t put anything in ourselves that is good—only God can.

And where do good things come from? They come from the grace of God, from Jesus Christ, and from the Holy Spirit’s influence. So God comes in and makes a way for us to be set apart unto Him.

The Apostle Paul thought he could keep the law perfectly after God saved him. Slowly he began to understand that the ‘old man’ was still there, interfering with his ability to do so. Then he realized that “…it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17). When he saw that he would have to struggle all his life with this issue, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He came to understand that it was not him linked to Christ who was failing. It was sin living within him which still controlled him and caused him to fail. He wrote “…For to will [to do good] is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not (Romans 7:18). He did not have the power necessary to overcome the old sin nature, the ‘old man.’

Paul discovered a law here. The ‘new man’ inside him delighted to do the law of God. But, in spite of all his determined hard effort, by doing this he did not become holy like he thought he would. God allowed Paul to try his own way until he finally learned that it was destined to failure. Then he learned that our flesh is no different from anyone else’s. We can try all we want by our own effort to overcome our flesh, but we will never succeed on our own, even after we become believers. But when we finally give up, then God’s Spirit can come in and work on us.

Think of it this way: Suppose an abnormal growth is inside of you, threatening your life if left to develop on its own. Your doctor says it must be removed. Do you go home and cut yourself open so you can pull that thing out of you? Hopefully not! You know you must have the doctor remove the abnormal growth. While lying on the operating table, do you reach out and grab his scalpel and say, “Let me have that. I can cut this thing out of me”? No, you know you have to submit to the doctor’s superior knowledge and ability in this area. You have to trust him to do what needs to be done to help you. You are not capable of operating on yourself, even though you very strongly desire to get rid of the abnormal growth.

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When we give our lives to God, we have to come to the point where we trust Him to do what must be done to remove the abnormalities caused by sin that are hindering our progress in becoming a true man or woman of God. When our heart as a believer becomes more holy and pure, we more earnestly desire to obey God as we grow in His grace. And the more holy we become, the more we want that abnormal growth of sin still deep inside us to be gone. But then we discover another law in us, which Paul called the “law of sin and death.”

The ‘old man’ is the carnal man who has not been delivered from the bondage of the law. The ‘new man’ is the spiritual man, filled with God’s Spirit, and Jesus has become the ruler of his life. Sin can no longer rule over the ‘new man’ when grace rules instead.

Grace comes from outside of us—from God Himself—to help us overcome the lusts of our carnal mind. He sets us free from their control while inspiring a love of holiness in us. God’s supernatural grace is strong enough to hold back the ‘old man,’ so he can no longer do all the evil things he wants to.

The carnal (fleshly or worldly) part of our mind is constantly at war with the renewed mind that Christ has given us. Should we fight with it? No—it will bring us down every time. Turn away instead and be totally done with it! No amount of self-effort can bring this conflict within us to an end. When we finally realize that, we then learn the way to reach our goal. We need to delight in Jesus Christ risen from the dead—the only One who can deliver from the power of sin. We should look away from our self and law, and look to the risen Christ instead. When we cry out in anguish, “Who shall deliver me?”, what is the proper response? God will deliver us, through His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:2-4).

This is our battle: to crucify this indwelling principle of evil in our flesh, as we wage war continually against it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yield to God and obey Him; then we will be well pleasing to Him. We can’t live for God in our own strength. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit living inside us can we truly live for God as He wants us to.

Willing Spirit, Weak Flesh

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“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17).

When the Apostle Paul wrote these words, he was saying that he had discovered that he had no strength of his own to carry out the good that he wanted or willed to do in his life. He also said, “…how to perform that which is good, I find not…(Romans 7:18). After wrestling with this knowledge for a while, he came to the conclusion that he could carry out no good thing without Jesus Christ.

Why is this? It is because the “flesh” wants what the Spirit does not want, while the Spirit wants what the flesh does not want. And this is because “…these are contrary the one to the other…” They are total opposites, hostile toward each other in an ongoing conflict that never ends. If the Spirit side wants to do good, the other side opposes it and wants to do what is evil in God’s eyes. But when the evil side wants to do evil, the Spirit of God in those who believe in God opposes and tries to restrain it.

Now just what is “the flesh”? In the Bible, “flesh” does not refer particularly to our physical body, but to our human nature that leaves God out. It applies to the way man is as he has adapted to living in the world system. It refers to man’s “lower nature” where “no good thing” dwells.

The spirit of man is willing to do what God wants, once the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus) has access to it. But man’s flesh has been so weakened through sin that it always gets in the way of the good the Holy Spirit wants to do in and through our lives. Paul came to the realization that no good thing lives in our flesh. The good things live in our heart and spirit.

“For to be carnally [fleshly] minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity [hatred] against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:6-7).

The spirit of man cannot carry out the good things he wills to do because of this lack of harmony within him—unless he can tap into a strength higher than his own. Those “who walk in the spirit will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” because of this higher power in them, which the Bible calls “grace.” “And these are contrary …” meaning they are opposites and never in harmony with each other over anything. The Spirit of God leads us in the right way, but our carnal nature leads us in another.

When we are born again, we receive a new nature within us that comes from God. This is one very good reason to want to be born again. But those who become born again, like Paul, soon discover that we can still do the evil we used to do before we were born again. How perplexing this is to us, as we wonder why we can’t carry out the good we now desire to do. Our opposition comes from our old self, our “flesh.” Our old carnal, fleshly self always sides with what it loves, and what it loves is always contrary to what the Spirit of God loves.

What does God do about this? He imparts His supernatural grace into our born again soul, so that we can overcome all the lusts of our carnal, fleshly self and be free from their domination. In the Bible, “grace” refers to God’s compassion, mercy, and forbearance, His favor and forgiveness. Therefore, sin no longer has any right to dominate our body, because the new reigning power in our soul is grace. Our old self no longer leads the way to more sin for us, because the stronger power of the Holy Spirit that comes through God’s grace restrains it. Then God can inspire us to seek holiness in our soul instead.

Are we now going to continue to let our weak flesh do what it pleases? No, our new self now needs to watch and pray, as Jesus told His disciples.

Our flesh is not evil in itself, being a basic part of our make-up as human beings. But it continues to be weak, even though our spirit is becoming more and more strong. Our goal should be to overcome the influence and domination of the flesh by tapping into the strength of the spirit. How do we do this? By watching and praying. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak´ (Matthew 26:41).

Watching is not just being awake, but using our powers to guard against the evil the flesh wants to yield to. And while we are on guard against evil, we would be wise to ask God to help us overcome it. When we are on watch against evil, we are able to see temptation coming. Then, when we turn to prayer, we receive the strength we need to stand against the temptation when it arrives. Peter’s spirit was willing to watch. But, through his flesh, the evil one weighed him down to keep him from doing so. This is why Jesus warned His disciples to watch and pray. When they failed to, they gave the devil an advantage over their fleshly nature.

Even Jesus needed to watch and pray. When He was praying in the garden of Gethsemane before going to the cross, He was weighed down with sorrow to the point that His flesh was barely able to keep from giving in even unto death.”

(“Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry [wait] ye here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38)). He was asking His disciples to watch with Him during this most trying time of His life. Yet, even when Jesus was at His weakest point, He showed that He was the only One who could give all strength. He exhibited all grace even when He was undergoing and being crushed under divine judgment like no other man has ever known. Jesus was willing in His spirit to totally yield Himself to the heavenly Father’s will. His spirit was able to master His flesh and bring Him to victory. This meant that He would have to suffer and die on the cross, He who had never yielded to sinful fleshly desires in His entire life.

We are no longer to let sin have the rule in our physical body. “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof” (Romans 6:12). No longer are we to obey the sinful impulses, but are now to achieve victory over them. We can’t just come to the point of not doing evil; it is time to learn to do good. Jesus set the example for us. He will not accept those as His own who continue to yield themselves to be the slaves of sin. We have been trying in our own strength, in our flesh, to overcome, and we should know by now that this way does not work. What we are missing is that we need to tap into a power higher than our own to achieve victory. We need to depend on His Spirit working in us to overcome our sinful fleshly desires. Then we will no longer be the slaves of sin and the flesh, but willing slaves of Jesus Christ, obedient to His Spirit.

Board Games and Jesus

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“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?” Luke 9:23-25

When I was growing up, I was always open to playing a board game. But many times, when I couldn’t find a second player (since I am an only child) I would resort to my alternate lineup: me, myself and I! Trying to play objectively with myself (as a whole, not the specific player) as an imaginary player was interesting. Usually, the games came out about equal regarding which one of ‘me’ would win (although Scrabble was definitely not in my lineup as a solo game!). A fairly basic and typical pool of games was played in our home, consisting of: Monopoly, Scrabble, Life, Parcheesi, Payday, Easy Money, Mousetrap (one of my favorites), etc. Most of these are rather lengthy and involved, so they would often run late into the night. They therefore weren’t played as often as I’d have liked. Two games had a set of cards obtained individually either by a particular roll of the dice or a number spun on a wheel. Depending on the particular game, it could send you to a specific space on the board, require you to pay or collect a certain amount, or obligate a player to share half of the wealth gained or pay half of the loss acquired at a later time. The cards most prized exempted you from sharing your wealth or paying most fines, etc., for as long as you held the card.

Many people continue to carry the game-playing mentality into real life all through their lives, long after childhood ends. To them, Heaven becomes just a goal they are trying to win, and Jesus Christ becomes merely the means of obtaining their goal.

They feel that when they “get saved,” they are on the winning side and the game is almost finished.

Accepting Jesus is seen as their ‘get-into-Heaven-free’ card. As long as they keep out of ‘real’ trouble and do what they feel is right, when they die they can just hand their winning card as their entry pass to the angel at the gates of Heaven (or to Peter, as some have been taught). Then off they go to their magnificent mansion (or cloud) high above the sky.

The concept of surrender, sacrifice, and obedience never has entered their minds (or they did not want it to enter their minds). A growing movement believes that when you accept Jesus into your heart, God removes all sin from your life permanently. Some groups go to the level that even the whole concept of sin has been done away with.

“Sin is only in unbelievers. Jesus came and took care of all sin, and therefore when I gave my heart to Jesus I became free from sin forever” has become the general (but not literal) cry of this crowd. Even mention of the word ‘sin’ in a believer’s life is taboo, because they feel that this brings something back into existence that has been eliminated.

But in reality, these views are quite far from the truth. In his determination to keep us from following God, the Devil figures that if he can’t stop us from giving our lives to Christ, he will twist God’s word (the Bible) into something that sounds pleasing to our old self. If we listen, it will keep our new self from growing in the knowledge of God. Meanwhile, he creates the illusion (of which he is a master) that we are pleasing God all along. At the same time, he succeeds in keeping us out of a true relationship with Jesus (and ultimately out of Heaven). This paradox grows greater every day, especially as the Bible is forsaken for alternative teachings, or for what the latest bestselling author has to say, or for an ‘offend-no-one’ message in a church (or what once was called a church!). So much of the Bible has been taken out of context lately that it recently reached the list of banned books used as a guideline for schools, libraries, booksellers, etc.

The truth of the matter is, that when we give our hearts to Jesus, our old self, commonly known as ‘the flesh’ (the part of us that wants to live for the sinful pleasures of this world) has to give way to Jesus. The process is not optional, nor is it an easy one. Choruses are sung about “surrender” and “giving our all to Him,” about giving Him our lives and letting Him use them for His purpose, etc. Yet very few ever stop to ponder in their hearts what’s really being said or meant.

Jesus can’t be the Lord of our lives if we continue to be the lord. Our ‘self’ or ‘the flesh’ enjoys the idea of the joy, peace, and power He gives us when we accept Him. But it absolutely balks, almost in sheer rebellion, at having to yield totally to Jesus.

As a result, we have this determination and zeal to serve Him in our spirit, the opposite of our flesh, but the dominance of our flesh drives us to follow the sinful passions of this world.

God is a holy God, and He cannot allow any sin in His presence. So the Devil comes along and gladly offers to redefine sin for us! This satisfies our sinful flesh, and we no longer allow more of Jesus into our lives so we can become what God wants us to be. This begins our downfall as a believer in Christ.

The spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) within us cannot cohabit with our sinful flesh. Either the flesh goes, or He goes. He expects us to forsake our sinful ways, not accommodate them.

This world is no longer our true home; therefore, we should not continue to live our lives as if it is. God has a much, much better place for us. Nothing rots, decays or grows weary there. Due to sin, this present world is corrupt and dying, and never will provide true satisfaction. But as long as we continue to allow the world to dominate our flesh, we will never have real peace, and ultimately will die with it.

This doesn’t mean we have to allow ourselves to be tied up and left in a locked room, or abandoned in the middle of the desert with nothing to eat, and then cry out, “Jesus! I’m all yours now! Do whatever you want to me!” Instead, we need to stop trying in our own self or flesh to please Him, to do His work for Him as if we are going to win an extra turn or bonus points in the game. We need to allow Him the freedom to use us in the way He wants to. This doesn’t mean He’ll automatically send us to an unknown land where we don’t know the language or anyone at all, and they don’t know, or even want, us. Rather, it demonstrates to Him that we are open and willing to do His will, whatever it may be. If we refuse in one area, then He won’t use us in all areas. It’s like being in total control of a country, except for a small minority in the backside of the capital city that is holding out just in case something goes wrong. If that is the case, then you’re not in total control of that country. Ultimately, God wants us to surrender our authority over ourselves. When we “surrender all (as the popular chorus goes), all means 100 percent, not 50, not 85, or even 99 percent.

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:33

I ask you now, how much of your life are you going to yield to God? Are you going to allow your old self to reign? Are you going to continue playing life as a game, living like you please, flaunting your get-into-Heaven-exemption-card when troubles arise? Are you going to continue singing “I surrender all” when you are not surrendering all (or even some)? Are you spending time reading and studying God’s Word and communing with Him in prayer?

Prayer is not just a time of presenting our needs and petitions to God, but rather a time to align ourselves with His will.

As we surrender and submit ourselves to Him, we’ll find that the sinful (and even non-sinful) pleasures and desires of this world are not so pleasurable, and are actually appalling.

Let the finished work of Christ by His death on the Cross be the target of your faith and belief, not the latest self-help book, or ‘Christian’ fad on the Internet. Jesus loves you and wants all of you, not just whatever portion you can easily or conveniently give up to Him.

–James Pangburn