by Francis A. Schaeffer
The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us.
All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.
Speaking to His disciples and to the church at large, after His resurrection and before His ascension, Jesus said:
All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. (Matthew 28:18–20)
There is no source of power for God’s people—for preaching or teaching or anything else—except Christ Himself. Apart from Christ, anything which seems to be spiritual power is actually the power of the flesh.
Luke’s record of Jesus’s pre-ascension statements has exactly the same emphasis: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The force of the Greek is, “ye shall receive power; then ye shall be witnesses.” A specific order is involved: after having the Holy Spirit come upon them, the disciples were to witness.
Though we today are immediately indwelt by the Holy Spirit when we accept Christ as Savior, being indwelt is not the same as having the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit. The disciples had to wait to receive the Spirit at Pentecost. Christians today are to follow the same order: to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit at salvation and to know something of the reality of the power of Christ through the agency of the Holy Spirit— and then to work and witness. The order cannot be reversed. There are to be many “fillings.”
Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way is not a matter of being saved and then simply working hard. After Jesus ascended, the disciples waited quietly in prayer for the coming of His Spirit. Their first motion was not toward activism—Christ has risen, now let us be busy. Though they looked at the world with Christ’s compassion, they obeyed His clear command to wait before they witnessed. If we who are Christians and therefore indwelt by the Spirit are to preach to our generation with «tongues of fire», we also must have something more than an activism which men can easily duplicate. We must know something of the power of the Holy Spirit.
Recognizing Our Need
How do we receive something of the power of the Holy Spirit? Though there are great differences between justification and sanctification, we can almost always learn important facets about the latter by considering the former. For example, the story of the Pharisee and the publican who was at the point of conversion is in- structive. Before a man is ready to have Christ as his Savior (that is, be justified), he must cry out like the publican (with at least some comprehension of what he is saying), “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). A person cannot be a Christian without first recognizing his need of Christ. And as Christians, we too must comprehend something of our need for spiritual power. If we think we can operate on our own, if we do not comprehend the need for a power beyond our own, we will never get started. If we think the power of our own cleverness is enough, we will be at a standstill.
Teaching about the Holy Spirit and His indwelling must never be solely a theological concept. Having the proper concept—that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit when we are saved—we must press on, so that the Spirit’s indwelling can bring forth results in our lives. If we want tongues of fire, our first step is not only to stand by, complacently thinking the right theological thoughts. We must have a genuine feeling of need.
Furthermore, this feeling of need is not to be once and for all. A Christian can never say, “I knew the power of the Holy Spirit yesterday, so today I can be at rest.” It is one of the existential realities of the Christian life to stand before God con- sciously recognizing our need.
The publican illustrates that justification requires humbling. Christians must humble themselves to know the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. To the extent that we do not humble ourselves, there will be no power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Lord’s work in the Lord’s way is the Lord’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in the power of the flesh.
The Central Problem
The central problem of our age is not liberalism or modernism, nor the old Roman Catholicism or the new Catholicism, nor the threat of communism, nor even the threat of rationalism and the monolithic consensus which surrounds us. All these are dangerous but not the primary threat. The real problem is this: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, individually or corporately, tending to do the Lord’s work in the power of the flesh rather than of the Spirit. The central problem is always in the midst of the people of God, not in the circumstances surrounding them.
We can sense what this means in practice if we view the statue of Napoleon at the Hotel de Invalides in Paris. As he stands there with his hand in his coat at his breast, he is a personification of «I DID THIS.» The sculptor has caught the attitude, the attitude of the great man of the world, the one who says in all three tenses, “I did this; I do this; I will do this.” This attitude as shown forth so well in the statue personifies the flesh.
In contrast, we can think of the Lord Jesus Himself in the quiet of Gethsemane. As we see there the eternal Son of God who in the incarnation is now also true man and as we hear His words, we perceive no sign of Napoleon’s massive egoism. To the contrary, the Lord Jesus said to the Father, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Unfortunately, we Christians can and often do take Napoleon’s stance, but what a contrast to the Lord Jesus Himself!
Led By The Spirit
In Matthew 3 is a passage that has often been used as a proof-text for the doctrine of the Trinity: “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16–17).
This is a classical text on the Trinity, but it is not to be a bare proof of the Trinity. The passage teaches much more, especially when we place it in the larger context of the next few verses: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1). As soon as Jesus was baptized by the Holy Spirit, He was led by Him. If He was thus led by the Holy Spirit, how much more we need so to be! We must not reduce these passages only to a theological statement, even a true theological statement; we must act on them in our lives. Then He goes on to the gar- den in a few short years and then to die on the cross.
John the Baptist made two prophecies concerning the Christ. Not only did he say, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but he also affirmed, “The same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:33). This second prophecy indicates that not only was Jesus Himself baptized and led by the Spirit, but He also baptizes us with the Spirit. Are we, when we accept Christ as our Savior, indwelt by the Holy Spirit? Then we are meant to know something of both His leading and His power.
As we see the Lord Jesus dying on the cross, we who are Bible-believing Christians must fight for the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement. Theological liberalism deliberately destroys the atonement’s substitutionary quality, and liberalism controls much of the traditional church structures. So we may have to pay a high price ecclesi- astically in order to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching. But no matter the cost, let us be faithful. We must stand at all costs for the substitutionary atonement.
The central thrust of the cross is the substitutionary atonement, but this does not exhaust its meaning. The cross also teaches a lesson in humility. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus . . . being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5, 8).
This is where the Christian is to dwell if he is to know something of the power of the Spirit. Just as Christ was humbled in the external space-time world, in the hard stuff of history, not merely in someone’s imagination, nor in some idealistic setting that makes His death a utopian statement withdrawn from life—so, too, a Christian should have a truly humble heart in the hard reality of the practical world. There is to be a practical reality of the seed falling into the earth to die.
One of the Pope’s titles is “servant of servants.” And what a tremendous title it is! But in Rome traditionally he has been carried in a gold-covered chair on the backs of men. I saw him need help trying to stand because of the weight of the jewels and gold which adorned him. Men had to take his arms and stand him upright. I do not know what is the case today, but in the past when the Pope ate, he ate on a raised platform while other people ate below this servant of servants. We may react against this, but is it not true that a great deal in our own lives mani- fests about the same level of humility? We speak of humility and crucifixion, but we are like the Pope, speaking about being a servant of servants and then being carried on the backs of men.
While we talk about humility and the power of the Holy Spirit, we spend much of our lives in the stance of Napoleon. As soon as we seek the Me rather than follow the example of Christ, we are walking in the flesh rather than in the Spirit.
Taking The Lowest Place
Christ taught His disciples that they were not to be called “Rabbi” or “Master” (Matthew 23:8, 10) and that the greatest among them would be the servant of all (Mark 10:44). Doesn’t each one of us tend to reverse this, following our natural inclinations as fallen men while ignoring the Word of God? Don’t we like the foremost place? And if this is our mindset, isn’t this living in the flesh, and to that extent leaving the Spirit no place?
Seeking the highest place is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Lord. Christ instructed His disciples, “But when thou art bidden [to a wedding feast], go and sit down in the lowest room” (Luke 14:10).
If we are going to do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way, we must take Jesus’s teaching seriously: He does not want us to press on to the greatest place unless He Himself makes it impossible to do otherwise. Taking the lower place in a practical way (thus reflecting the mentality of Christ who humbled Himself even to death on a cross) should be a Christian’s choice.
Even if we have an “office,” like a parent with a child or an elder in a church, it is only the office that sets us apart. We are not greater than those over whom we have au- thority. If we have the world’s mentality of wanting the foremost place, we are not qual- ified for Christian leadership. This mentality can lift us into ecclesiastical leadership or fit us for being a big name among men, but it unfits us for real spiritual leadership.
To the extent that we want power, we are in the flesh, and the Holy Spirit has no part in us. Christ put a towel around Himself and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:4). We should ask ourselves from time to time, “Whose feet am I washing?” Some churches have made foot-washing into a third sacrament; members wash each other’s feet during their worship service. While most of us think it is a mistake to make this a sacrament, let us admit that it is ten thousand times better to wash each other’s feet in a literal way than never to wash anybody’s feet in any way. It would be far better for us to make a mistake and institute a third sacrament of literal foot-washing than to live out our lives without once consciously choosing to serve each other. Doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way is not some exotic thing; it is having and practicing the men- tality which Christ commands.
Seeking God’s Approval
In addition to teaching us not to seek power, the Lord Jesus taught us not to seek human praise. Those who seek the praise of men, He said, have their reward when they have the praise. We often read this pietistically and miss the point. Jesus meant what he said: if our aim has been praise and power and we have it, either in the world or in the church, we have had it. It is the one who does not seek it now who will have the praise when he stands before the dear Lord’s face. Scripture is clear that we must either humble ourselves now or be humbled in the future.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul pictures a “believers’ judgment,” when every Christian will stand before Christ, not for salvation (that is determined at the cross when the indi- vidual accepts Christ as Savior), but to have his works as a Christian tried (1 Corinthi- Corinthi 3:13–14). No Christian will lose his salvation in this judgment, but whatever he has done for himself (including seeking power and the praise of men) will be lost. If he has not humbled himself in this life, he will be humbled then. There is no third way.
Trusting God’s Methods
Is it not amazing: though we know the power of the Holy Spirit can be ours, we still ape the world’s wisdom, trust its forms of publicity and its noise, and imitate its ways of manipulating men! If we try to influence the world by using its methods, we are doing the Lord’s work in the flesh. If we put activity, even good activity, at the center rather than trusting God, then there may be the power of the world, but we will lack the power of the Holy Spirit.
The key question is this: As we work for God in this fallen world, what are we trust- ing in? To trust in particular methods is to copy the world and to remove ourselves from the tremendous promise that we have something different—the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the power of human technique.
Under the leadership of Moses and Joshua, the Jews marched when the ark marched and they stood still when the ark stood still. They did not rush ahead if God did not order the ark (which represented Himself) to be moved. Sometimes they stayed in one place for long periods. We Christians, individually and corporately, must learn to wait like this. Tongues of fire are not for us if we are so busy doing the clever thing that we never wait quietly to find out whether the ark of the Lord has gone ahead or stayed.
Once after I had given a message like this, a man told me, “You have opened a door for me. What you say is true. I am on many Christian boards, and I have large holdings in cotton mills. So I am in one kind of business meeting at one time and another kind of business meeting at another. And sometimes in the midst of a meeting I will suddenly look up and say, Which meeting am I in?” He could see no difference what- soever; in both cases just the clever thing was being done. This is not the way to have spiritual power. The Lord’s work must be done in the Lord’s way.
The Battle in the Heavenlies
The real battle is not fought by Christians just against forces in this world, whether theological, cultural, or moral. The real battle is in the heavenlies. The Scripture, therefore, insists that we cannot win our portion of the engagement with earthly weapons.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains the classic expression:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. (Ephesians 6:10–18)
There is nothing in this list that the world accepts as a way of working, but there are no other ways to fight the spiritual battle. Imagine the Devil or a demon entering your room right now. You have a sword by your side; so when you see him you rush at him and stab him. But the sword passes straight through and doesn’t faze him! The most awesome modern weapon you could think of could not destroy him. Whenever we do the Lord’s work in the flesh, our strokes “pass right through” because we do not battle earthly forces; the battle is spiritual and requires spiritual weapons.
Besides, if we fight the world with copies of its own weapons, we will fail, because the Devil will honor these with his own, but our Lord will not honor these with us, for that does not give Him the glory. They may bring some results—activism does have its results—but they will not be the ones the Lord wants. Our hands will be empty of honor from God because He will not be getting the glory. We must not try to serve the Lord with our own kind of humanism and egoism.
In this war, if Christians win a battle by using worldly means, they have really lost. On the other hand, when we seem to lose a battle while waiting on God, in reality we have won. The world may mistakenly say, “They have lost.” But if God’s people seem to be beaten in a specific battle, not because of sin or lack of commitment or lack of prayer or lack of paying a price, but because they have waited on God and refused to resort to the flesh, then they have won.
Getting Things Done
Let us not think that waiting on the Lord will mean getting less done. The truth is that by doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way we will accomplish more, not less. You need not fear that if you wait for God’s Spirit you will not get as much done as if you charge ahead in the flesh. After all, who can do the most, you or the God of heaven and earth?
Nor should we think that our role will be passive. The moving of the Holy Spirit should not be contrasted with either proper self-fulfillment or tiredness. To the contrary, both the Scriptures and the history of the church teach that if the Holy Spirit is working, the whole man will be involved and there will be much cost to the Christian. The more the Holy Spirit works, the more Christians will be used in battle, and the more they are used, the more there will be personal cost and tiredness. It is quite the opposite of what we might first think. People often cry out for the work of the Holy Spirit and yet forget that when the Holy Spirit works, there is always tremendous cost to the people of God—weariness and tears and battles.
The Lord brings the real contrast into focus in Galatians: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. . . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vainglory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16, 25–26). In these verses, walking in the Spirit (that is, doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way) is not contrasted with tiredness and cost but with vainglory. We cannot have God’s power and deliberately place the Me in the center of our lives. We cannot know much about walking in the Spirit until we realize and implement the washing of feet and the humility of the cross. As long as vainglory exists, it will have destructive results, such as “provoking one another, envying one another.”
If we do not want to waste our lives after we have become Christians, then we must understand the importance of having a humble, quiet heart and the power of the Holy Spirit.
While we were working in Champery, one of the people who accepted Christ as Savior was an elderly woman of the German aristocracy. She was a dear woman whom we came to love very much. After she had accepted the Lord, she said that her one regret was that most of her life had been completely wasted. The high social life of Egypt, in which she had lived for many years, and similar circles in which she had traveled in various parts of the world had been without meaning. It is not only non-Christians, however, who can lose years. Christians must also be careful not to throw away large portions of their lives.
Practicing the Biblical Position
Humanism presses in upon us, constantly challenging our very lifestyle. So we must not fail to practice its opposite—the biblical position—presenting a real, practical con- trast in our day-to-day living. Is not the central problem of our generation that the world looks upon the church and sees it trying to do the Lord’s work in the flesh? Let us ask ourselves the hard questions: Do we really believe God exists, and do we really believe God?
Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and re- vival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion. But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian’s life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit. The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival un- less there has been reformation, and reformation is not complete without revival. May we be those who know the reality of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world in which we live may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and a Spirit-filled life.
As I see it, the Christian life must be comprised of three concentric circles, each of which must be kept in its proper place. In the outer circle must be the correct theological position, true biblical orthodoxy and the purity of the visible church. This is first, but if that is all there is, it is just one more seedbed for spiritual pride. In the second circle must be good intellectual training and comprehension of our own generation. But having only this leads to intellectualism and again provides a seedbed for pride. In the inner circle must be the humble heart—the love of God, the devotional attitude toward God.
There must be the daily practice of the reality of the God whom we know is there. These three circles must be properly established, emphasized and re- lated to each other. At the center must be kept a living relationship to the God we know exists. When each of these three circles is established in its proper place, there will be tongues of fire and the power of the Holy Spirit. Then, at the end of my life, when I look back over my work since I have been a Christian, I will see that I have not wasted my life. The Lord’s work will be done in the Lord’s way.
This article is adapted from No Little People by Francis Schaeffer.