I recently heard someone share on what the phrase “power to be witnesses” found in Acts 1:8 means. As he spoke I began to ponder within myself what that actually means as I’ve never really given it much thought in the past. As I asked the Holy Spirit to direct my thoughts on this He pointed me in two directions to look. No, these two directions do not conflict with each other, but instead confirm and validate the other. Follow with me as we take a brief look at what it means to have power to be witnesses for Him.
The Spirit first directed me to look at the life and ministry of Jesus while He was here on earth. He reminded me that Jesus did not live His life here according to His own deity, something that would have both negated the sacrifice of His life for our sins as well as negated His example of how we should live. In Philippians 2:5 we are told to have the same mindset as Christ, and in the subsequent verses were shown the example Christ left us to follow. In 1 Peter 2:21 we are told that Jesus left us an example for us to follow. Even though the passage in 1 Peter refers to suffering, we have to remember that to be a disciple of someone means we are to be like them in all ways, and so being a disciple of Christ means being like Him in more ways than just how He handled suffering. In John 5 Jesus tells us that He only did what the Father showed Him, and what the Father was doing. In Matthew 4:1 we see that Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit, and that is what we need to do as well.
The Holy Spirit then directed me to look at the early church and not just the apostles. The lives of those in the early church after Pentecost should give us a good picture of what it means for the power of God to make us His witnesses. Just in case people want to argue that what Jesus did was done out of His own deity and not by the leading of the Holy Spirit and what the Father showed Him, what we see from the early church should silence any argument of how the Holy Spirit empowers us to be witnesses as none of them had any deity to fall upon. Yet, what we see in the lives of the early church are very similar to what we see in the ministry of Jesus, and therefore what we see in both should give us a clear indication of what it means for the Holy Spirit to empower us to be witnesses of Christ.
There are four characteristics found in both Jesus’ ministry and the lives of those in the early church that we can attribute to the empowering of the Holy Spirit. There may be more, but these were the ones I believe the Holy Spirit showed me as I pondered the above question, what does it mean to have the power to be witnesses of Jesus?
Four elements of a person empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a witness;
- Boldness to “proclaim the gospel”
The first element was the boldness to proclaim the gospel. In Acts 4:23-31, after being commanded by the religious leaders to no longer proclaim the name of Jesus, Peter and John went back to their companions explaining all that was said to them. It is believed that while their companions may have included some of the other apostles, it no doubt included those who were not. After sharing with their companions all that was said to them, they immediately went to prayer asking Jesus for boldness to speak His word. What was God’s response to this prayer? The place where they had assembled together was shaken and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, after which they spoke the word of God with boldness.
Just in case you’re thinking it was just the apostles, we have to remember Stephen in Acts 6-7. Stephen was not an apostle, but the Spirit of God gave him boldness to proclaim God’s word with authority, and the religious leaders did not like that. We, too, should have this kind of boldness to proclaim Christ to those around us. It’s not just the commitment to share the gospel whenever the opportunity presents itself, as we can see anybody can do that, but there is a boldness that goes over and above just a commitment to share.
- Leads us to speak to the heart of an individual
The underlining point in all of this is that we are to be led by the Spirit of God in all that we say and do. As we are open and sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and grow in that, there will be times when we will speak right to the heart of an individual. We see many instances when Jesus did that with others, including the Samaritan woman, but we can also see multiple instances in the book of Acts and other parts of the New Testament. While it is true that Stephen was not talking to an individual in Acts 6-7, the things he spoke did pierce the heart of individuals as he spoke.
There were times when Jesus or those in the early church spoke to the heart of an individual bringing them hope and deliverance, among other things, but they also spoke to the heart of individuals whose hearts were wrong and wanted nothing to do with the truth. The Spirit of God leads us to speak to the heart of individuals in ways that only He can, as He is the only one that truly knows the heart of each person. He can reveal things to us about someone that only that person knows, and that in itself shows that God is acutely interested in them.
- To do signs, wonders, and the supernatural
The third point that the Holy Spirit showed me was that a life that has been empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Christ will do signs, wonders, and the supernatural. If we want to truly be His witnesses then we need to be open to allow Him to do these things in and through our lives for the benefit of the Kingdom of Christ. A person that is closed off to that being a part of being His witnesses is limiting God in their own lives, and are presenting Christ as someone less than all-powerful to those who we are reaching out to.
The apostle Paul, who was very learned being a Pharisee, in I Corinthians 2:1-5 indicated that he did not seek to reach people through his excellent words and speech, but instead through the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Many times we limit ourselves to proclaiming the gospel through our words and intellect, but Paul who was well trained chose instead to proclaim the gospel through the demonstration of the Holy Spirit and of power.
When we go back to when Peter and John, and those who were with them, prayed for boldness, we see that they also prayed that God would stretch out His hand to heal, and that they would do signs and wonders through the name of Jesus. This was something they recognized as essential to being His witnesses to a lost and dying world.
Now before you think that was limited to the apostles, let’s go back to Stephen. In Acts 6:8, we see that Stephen, who was not an apostle, was full of faith AND power, and that he did great wonders and signs among the people. This is something that should be a part of every believer that has been baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire as John the Baptist said Jesus would do in both Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16. If the early church, both apostles and those who were not, prayed that they would do signs and wonders to proclaim the gospel in demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, then who are we to say that we shouldn’t do the same thing?
When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 10 to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, and to cast out demons”. In Mark 16:15-18, Jesus told them not only to go and preach the gospel to everyone, but He also told them that signs would follow those who believe.
There is nothing wrong with asking God to do signs and wonders to validate and promote the gospel He’s called us to share with others. It’s part of being His witnesses, ambassadors of His eternal kingdom. Many are closed off to this aspect of being His witnesses, but as we see in scripture not only should it be a part of our life, but just as the early church did we must also be open to and asking God for this to be evident in our lives for Him. To deny this element, or any other for that matter, basically expresses an attitude and mindset making ourselves superior to Christ and the early church, when in reality they should be an example to us of what it means to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus.
- To be martyrs for Christ and the kingdom
Finally, to be His witnesses means that we are willing and ready to die a martyr’s death for Him. All the apostles except for John are believed to have been martyrs for Christ. One of the signs that we have been empowered by His Holy Spirit is that we’re willing and able to be martyrs for Him. The word translated as witnesses in this passage means to be martyrs, so this is important for us to understand. There are many people in the world who are willing to die for a cause, but this goes beyond that. We are willing to be a martyr for Christ, the gospel, and for the Kingdom of God. We’re not trying to make a statement as many martyrs do, but instead we are willing to die for the one who gave His life for each of us, knowing that eternity with Jesus is far greater than anything we may ever experience in this life.
The apostle Paul in Romans 8:18 tells us that the sufferings of this present life are not even worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us. And, it is the empowering of the Holy Spirit that enables us to have the ability and resolve to give our lives for Him no matter what the cost. Not only is it believed that the apostles died a martyr’s death for Christ, but history shows that countless numbers of believers in the early church died a martyr’s death for Christ, some of which were even thrown to the lions in the Roman coliseums. Even in the day we live in now we hear of Christians who are dying a martyr’s death for Christ, something that requires the empowering of His Holy Spirit in our lives.
Have you received the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus? Do you see the above elements active in your life as a disciple and witness of Him to a lost and dying world around you? I have to admit that in looking at the above attributes of one empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to be witnesses, I find myself falling short. Just as the church in Acts 4 asked God for boldness and to perform signs and wonders in His name, I need to seek Him more to fill and empower me to be the witness of Him He’s called each and every one of us to be. How about you? Are each of these elements an active part of your life as a witness of Him, or do you need to seek God for more of that empowering in your life. If you find that you lack in any of these above areas, then I encourage you to begin seeking and asking God to manifest each of these in your life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Time is short and the world needs to know and see that the power of God is more than sufficient to meet their every need.