I’m new to the reality of the spiritual authority we have in Jesus. I had never even heard the term until a few years ago. My good friends at CRM and Charles Kraft’s book “I Give You Authority” have been very helpful in growing my beliefs regarding this topic.
So as I was reading Acts 3 the other day, I was really struck by the statement Peter makes to the lame man at the gates called Beautiful:
“Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
Can you believe Peter’s boldness in this situation? Wowser!
My belief in spiritual authority has grown to the point where I didn’t read over this passage and keep going like I used to, dismissing it under the idea that “things are different now.” But even as I read this through my new lens, his boldness still shocked me.
I now believe I have the same Holy Spirit living in me and the same spiritual authority that Peter accessed that day. But I still struggle with fear and doubt. I’ve tried to envision myself coming across a crippled beggar and declaring the same words as Peter, but as I picture the scene, fear overcomes me and I get scared it won’t work.
As I thought more about this event in Acts 3, I realized chapter 1 and 2 came right before this moment. And a lot of action happened in those chapters. Peter and the disciples waiting eagerly for the promised Holy Spirit, tongues of fire in the upper room, thousands coming to Jesus… the Spirit of God was really moving. That was just Acts 1 & 2, which doesn’t include the three years these guys spent learning and apprenticing to Jesus.
So, in light of realizing all that Peter had experienced in the previous three years, his boldness in Acts 3 was less shocking. Peter knew what spiritual authority he had in the name of Jesus because of two reasons:
Experience: Peter’s experience of the Holy Spirit and the power that comes with it was very tangible and real. He had many experiences himself and he had walked with and observed Jesus over the last three years.
Training: Peter had been training, learning, and apprenticing to Jesus. He watched Jesus heal people hundreds of times and knew his identity and authority as a son of the King. Peter also watched Jesus model the habit of going away to spend time with the Father and then minister out of that intimacy and alignment with God’s will.
Experience is essential. So is training.
If we have a lot of scriptures in our heads about the Holy Spirit and have a lot of information about prayer, power, and spiritual authority, but haven’t experienced it ourselves, do we really believe it? Is it possible for us to know we have spiritual authority and that the Holy Spirit indwells us without experiencing it?
I don’t think so. Perhaps we would have a very weak belief, but I don’t think we would be prepared to act if an opportunity like this arose.
Experience is essential.
Knowledge has three sources:
These sources are all checks and balances for each other. Most of our knowledge comes through authority (Bible, expert, pastor, news, etc.), but it is important that we use our reason and see how it fits with our experience. My bias is that we as evangelicals have really lost the experiential knowledge component to our faith because of abuse and fear. Because of that, we have a lot of knowledge “about God” but not much knowledge “of God”. We know a lot about him but do we really know him?
Here’s the deal, Friends, I’m becoming more and more convinced that experience is essential. And the only way to gain experience is through action and experimenting. Head knowledge is good, important, and essential, but we also need experiential knowledge.
In “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, Dallas Willard says this:
“Because just as with the physical, there is a specific round of activities we must do to establish, maintain, and enhance our spiritual powers. One must train as well as try. An athlete may have all the enthusiasm in the world; he may ‘talk a good game.’ But talk will not win the race. Zeal without knowledge or without appropriate practice is never enough. Plus, one must train wisely and intensely for spiritual attainment.” -p.98
We inherently know this truth about how life works, right? We know that in order to be good at something, or have some measure of competence or expertise, it requires practice. I’m trying to teach my kids this truth all the time. I tell them, “You’re not going to be great the first time you try something. It takes practice, repetition, and a lot of hard work. So don’t expect to be perfect or the best the first time you try it, it’s going to take practice.” For some reason, inherently they think they should be great the first time they try something and I’ve seen them be disappointed over and over again. We talk about this mostly in relation to sports, art, and school, but doesn’t this same principle apply to our spiritual lives?
In sports, in our work, in school, and in art, we know that if we don’t practice, if we don't work on our craft, we are not going to be able to perform when the time comes. So why don’t we apply this same principle of “practice” or “training” to our spiritual lives? This is a VERY important question! I think there are many answers to this question, but here are a couple:
I’m not sure we really believe that transformation is possible. We have bought into the mantra that "people don't change."
We are not sure how “training” fits in with being “saved by grace”. To be clear, I’m not advocating for an “earning of salvation,” but this is a real tension for some. Willard has a helpful quote about this issue: “Grace is opposed to earning, but it’s not opposed to effort.” A lot of times what happens unintentionally is that we communicate “saved by grace” in a way that causes us to be passive because we don’t want people to slip into an “earning” posture. But effort is different than earning.
Sorry to leave you hanging on those brief answers. This whole topic of training and what our role is in our spiritual formation could be another blog series, but I don’t have space to expand on it here.
The reality is that Peter, Paul, and all of the disciples were trained by Jesus in the spiritual disciplines. Solitude, fasting, serving, giving, rest, spending time with the Father, praying for others, etc. Charles Kraft makes this point over and over again in his book, “I Give You Authority”, that Jesus spent time with the Father, aligned himself with the Father’s will, and was ready to step into the opportunities before him. This is why we hear Jesus saying things like, “I only do what I see my Father doing.”
This is how the spiritual disciplines and growing in the character of Christ are directly related to us exercising God’s power and accessing the resources of the Kingdom. When Peter has that incredibly bold and courageous moment in Acts 3, I can guarantee that after three years of practicing the spiritual disciplines with the other disciples, watching Jesus, and experimenting himself, he was ready for that moment. There is an element to our spiritual authority where acting in the power of God is connected to our Christ-like character. Again, we know that “Talk will not win the race,” and that we must train wisely and intensely so that we are ready to act when opportunities arise.
So why did Peter have so much boldness and courage in the moment in Acts 3? Experience and Training. Jesus gave the disciples vision for how to live. He also modeled it for them and had them experiment along the way. Then when the Holy Spirit came, as he promised it would, they continued in the same trajectory in obedience to what Jesus had trained them to do.
So what about us? What about now? Was this kind of movement and impact only for the days of Jesus and the early church? Can we follow the model of Jesus, Peter, and the disciples and step into the spiritual authority we have been delegated in the name of Jesus? These are also VERY important questions!
I now believe that since we have the Holy Spirit, are sons and daughters of the King, and are apprentices to Jesus in Kingdom living, we can live the same way. I’m also becoming convinced that we don’t live that way because we haven’t been given the vision, we’ve lost our understanding of the importance of experiential knowledge, and we haven’t applied the principle of “training” to our spiritual lives. Along with that, I really think that deep down we actually believe that the stuff that happened in the Bible isn’t possible today.
Next week we will be discussing further this idea of experimenting and experiential knowledge. In the meantime, here are some experiments:
Read the Acts 3 event of Peter healing the crippled beggar at the gates called Beautiful. After you’ve read it a couple of times, imagine yourself as Peter. What feelings do you have? Talk to God about the feelings that come up for you.
Journal your thoughts that came up for you as you read this post? Take some time to wrestle with these questions:
Was this kind of movement and impact only for the days of Jesus and the early church?
Can we follow the model of Jesus, Peter, and the disciples and step into the spiritual authority we have been delegated in the name of Jesus?
Why don’t we apply this same principle of “practice” or “training” to our spiritual lives?
Pray for somebody: The next time someone shares an illness, hardship or injury with you, pray with them on the spot. The toughest part is getting out the question, “Can I pray for you?” Once you’ve done that, the hard part is over! Out of the overflow of your intimacy with Jesus, bless that person with health, healing, and restoration. Train yourself to make a habit of responding to needs in the moment as they present themselves. You will be amazed at how blessed people feel.