I have spent much time in my Christian life seeking God’s power both for ministry and life. I am thankful I have grown up in that segment of the Church, which believes that God’s power is still available.
Scriptures such as Jesus’ words to the apostles that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon” (Acts 1:8) have been touchstones for my life. I have seen God’s power move in powerful conversions, supernatural healings, and other powerful manifestations of the Spirit. Without dealing with the topic at great length, I believe God would have us continue to seek him for such manifestations of the power of his Spirit to confirm the word.
That being said, none of these things are the power source of the Christian life. These things affirm the truth of the Gospel but are not the Gospel. Paul tells us in Romans 1:16: “The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.” Notice what he is saying here. He is not saying that the Gospel sets up a power encounter or makes such an encounter possible. He is saying the message itself, rightly understood and believed, is the source of power for Christian living. It is the content of the Gospel that releases people from bondage to sin and transforms. That is still to this day the greatest manifestation of God’s power—transformed lives demonstrate the truth of the Gospel.
Wherever Jesus went during his earthly ministry, he preached the Gospel and left in his wake a multitude of changed lives. The most religious group of his day, the Pharisees, told fellow-Jews how they should live their lives in obedience to the 613 commandments of the Law. Their focus was on outward behavior; making sure that they appeared righteous before men. But Jesus condemned them for neglecting the inward—the condition of their hearts (Matthew 23:25-26). He taught only the Gospel changes men and women from within. No attempt at keeping the law can change people permanently.
The story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus found in Luke 19, provides one of the best examples of how the Gospel changes lives. As Jesus passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, he encountered this man. Luke tells us Zacchaeus holds the prominent position of chief tax collector, which usually made a man rich (Luke tells us Zacchaeus was). These tax collectors (especially the chief ones), were hated by their fellow Jews. The Romans hired these men to collect taxes from their countrymen. They were in a better position to know how their fellows were trying to avoid paying taxes. So, it is easy to see that these were bad men viewed by their countrymen as traitors. Only the worst of men sought to enrich themselves through the misery of their neighbors.
As Jesus entered the city, Zacchaeus ran to the Jericho road to try to get a glimpse of him. Unable to see him because he is short, Zacchaeus ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree that stood where Jesus was about to pass. Amazingly, when Jesus reached the tree, he stopped; Jesus looked up and addressed Zacchaeus (whom he knew by name): “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). No word of rebuke or command that he give back that which he had stolen but an invitation to fellowship and sup with this man. In Jesus’ day, to invite someone to your house was to bestow acceptance on a person. Luke tells us how most people viewed this; they grumbled about his inviting himself to eat with such a sinner (19:6). Nevertheless, Zacchaeus climbed down and invited Jesus into his house for a meal.
Luke goes on to tell us the result of his having fellowship with the Son of God: “And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” ( Luke 19:8).
There is something amazing in this story. There is no record of Jesus commanding this man to give half of what he had made to the poor or restoring fourfold to anyone he defrauded. The law itself did not demand it. Nowhere do we find Jesus telling Zacchaeus that if he was willing to change his life and repay what he owed he could be changed. Rather, he encountered the Gospel with its announcement of the love of God freely given through the Person and work of his Son. Zacchaeus was changed by the free offer of mercy given through the Gospel. In an instant, he went from being one of the most selfish people in Israel to become one of the most generous men.
What changed this man? Did he need a seminar on ‘Mastering Steps to a More Generous Life’ or ‘God’s Plan for Financial Stewardship?’ Did he need accountability partners to ensure he followed through on his commitments? These things have their place, but they are not what changed this man. The power of the Gospel changed him! As Zacchaeus glimpsed and tasted the beauty of Jesus, all earthly riches lost their allure.
Many have said the Gospel is not good advice; it is good news. In the first century, when a king won a victory, he sent out gospelers (‘good newsers’) who went throughout the land, proclaiming it. That is what the Gospel is—a proclamation of what the King has already done, the victory he has already won. As we hear it, with its radical message of acceptance due to the victory of the Son of God who died for sinners and rose from the dead, we believe it and are changed by it. And that announcement, as we believe it, releases divine power to transform our lives. That grace of God, when understood and properly believed, releases divine power into our lives (Titus 2:11-14). We don’t change so God will accept us; we are accepted and the result is, we are forever changed.
That is why the Church now sends out gospelers; men and women who share this great news wherever they go. To do this, they must speak words for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). There is a popular statement bandied around today, supposedly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi “Preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” It is truer to say, “Preach the Gospel and by necessity use words.” Only as the Gospel is clearly announced so that men and women can receive and believe it, can it exercise its transformative power to change lives.