It is impossible to read the book of Acts without seeing the evident power of the Holy Spirit working through the first-century churches—not just in the miraculous sign gifts, but in the daily witness of the churches.
I’m convinced that the reason we do not always see this power in our churches today is because we tend to focus more on programs and action items than we do on seeking God’s power. It has been said, “If you can fully explain the ministry of a church, something is wrong.”
What evidences do we see in the early church of the work of the Holy Spirit? The same evidences set forth in a Spirit-led church today:
1. Fear of the Lord
Worship has never been about bringing God down to our level but about worshiping God for who He is. When we have a sense of awe and godly fear in the presence of God, we carry an awareness of His presence through the week and live in obedience to Him.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul…—Acts 2:42–43
In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.—Proverbs 14:26
2. Desire for the Holy Spirit’s Fullness
Although I regularly preach on the holy lifestyle God calls His children to live, in the past twenty-eight years of pastoral ministry, I’ve preached more on the Spirit-filled life than any other topic. Without a yieldedness to the Holy Spirit and a hunger for His power, no matter how free from worldliness our lives may be, they will be empty and shallow. Having a desire for the power of the Holy Spirit means we move from self-reliance to God-reliance in every facet of our lives.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;—Ephesians 5:18
3. Fervent preaching
Biblical preaching that lifts up Christ and boldly declares the truths of His Word is the great need of the hour. As E.M. Bounds rightly said, “The power of Christ’s dispensation is a fiery pulpit. Not a learned pulpit, not a popular pulpit, not an eloquent pulpit, but a pulpit on fire with the Holy Ghost.”
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.—Acts 4:13
4. Doctrinal teaching
Nothing is as important as the doctrines of the Word of God. The early Christians saved at Pentecost continued first in the Apostles’ doctrine. With the emphasis on doctrine—the clear teaching of God’s Word—they continued in fellowship and prayer. The doctrine of the Apostles was the natural backdrop for teaching young Christians the lifestyle set forth by those doctrines. To reverse the pattern—teaching what we do before teaching what we believe—is to give people the fruit without helping them develop the root.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—Acts 2:42
5. Fervent prayer
One of the overriding characteristics in the early church was prayer. Prayer was their source of power, comfort, courage, and hope, and it was the underlying force for their witness, faithfulness, and growth. A church without frequent times of fervent prayer is a church without power.
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication…—Acts 1:14
But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.—Acts 6:4
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.—Acts 12:5
Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;—Romans 12:12
6. Loving fellowship
We easily connect the two words fervent prayer in our minds. But what about fervent love? Indeed, the early church was a loving church—a church with an intense spirit of love for one another to bear burdens, sacrificially give, and gladly fellowship.
And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.—1 Peter 4:8
7. Sacrificial spirit
The natural outflow of love is sacrifice. As Amy Carmichael once said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.—Acts 2:44–45
8. Obedient witness
The early church not only witnessed in the power of the Holy Spirit, but they did so in spite of intense persecution. A Spirit-led church is a church that witnesses for Christ regularly, passionately, and faithfully—regardless of the obstacles.
And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.—Acts 8:1–4
9. Gracious spirit
A Spirit-led church overflows with the grace of God. And that grace will never be more evident than it is in the relationships within the church. Whether it be the member to member, member to pastor, or pastor to member relationship, every relationship in the church should set forth the graciousness of Spirit-filled people. A bickering, quarreling church is not likely to see the supernatural power of God.
And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.—Acts 4:33
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.—James 4:1–2
10. Dedicated ministry
While the first characteristic we saw—the fear of the Lord—is an attitude of the heart, this characteristic—dedicated ministry—is the corresponding outward action. To serve the Lord is to obey His will by obeying His commands. And a Spirit-led church will be focused on obeying Christ’s command to preach the gospel in its community and around the world.
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
Do these characteristics describe the church you pastor or attend? More importantly—because, after all, a church is comprised of people—do they describe your life?
I’m all for carefully-planned programs to further a biblical vision of fulfilling the Great Commission. But programs without the power of God are empty and fruitless. As it has been wisely said, “Anything done in our own strength will fail miserably, or succeed even more miserably.”
To see the power of God in our churches and spiritual fruit for our efforts, we need to return to a dependence on and yieldedness to the Holy Spirit of God.