What can I ‘do’ to honor God? I mean; is there any good I can accomplish that will impress God? Is God ever pleased with my action? I remember talking with a friend of mine some time back and he was not a believer even though he believed that God existed. I worked with him at a small family restaurant. The topic of heaven came up and I just asked him, “What do you think it takes to get into Heaven?” His answer was simple. He said, “Well, I’ve never murdered anyone and I’m a pretty good person. If God truly is good and if He is just I figure He will let me in. If He doesn’t let me in because of my goodness, then He’s probably not a god worth believing in.” This is the question I want to address. What does it take for any of us to please God?
Acts 1:1-14 (HCSB)
I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” He said, “is what you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time? ” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem — a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James. All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.
The context of Acts
In the first few lines, we are given the context for Acts. It was written by John Luke, the author of Luke’s Gospel, and it was written to follow Luke’s Gospel and tell the story of the Holy Spirit’s work in the church. It was written to Theophilus. Now, I don’t like saying that Acts is about the early church because it is specifically about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the worldwide effects of the Holy Spirit’s work through the church. Here we arrive at one of Christianity’s central ideas and it is that this life is not about us. It is about God and our identity is with Him, not within ourselves.
The promise of the Holy Spirit
In verse five, Luke begins to draw a line between earthly religious acts and acts of the Spirit. John baptized with water, he writes, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. Up to this point in history, baptism was a physical act of cleansing and was done as a ritual in the Jewish faith. John Baptized with this water, but a greater baptism was promised! In this text we read that baptism in the Holy Spirit is a prerequisite for receiving the power of God and for being a witness in God’s name. Here’s what is so crazy about this: in order to live for God or to honor God at all, we must first have God.
No matter how good we think we are or how good we seem to be, we cannot honor God unless we have been baptized in the Holy Spirit (that is, unless the Holy Spirit dwells within us)! Let me take this idea that somehow we can act good enough to please God, and demolish it. Isaiah 64:6 states that all of our good works are like filthy rags to God. God is not impressed when we do something good. He is not impressed when we live a pious life. He will not let us into heaven just because we live a good enough life or go to church. We must be baptized in the Holy Spirit (not just in water) to be able to please God because it is only the work of the Holy Spirit through us that honors Him. Lest we begin to think too highly of ourselves, let us remember that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit must come before we receive the power of God and before we can be a good witness for God.
The great encouraging part of this is that because we are incapable of pleasing God on our own, the eternal life that He gives must be a gift. If it is a gift, then it cannot be un-given because God cannot contradict, or deny, Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). So I am thankful that He does not depend on me to please Him.
Christ’s disciples ask: “Are you restoring your kingdom?” Jesus answers, ‘You can’t know when I will do that, but I promise you will have power in the Spirit and you will be my witnesses (my soldiers).’
Importance of prayer
I think about this, about the question that was asked earlier, “What can I do to honor God?” The answer is nothing! We cannot do anything whatsoever in our own power to please God. The answer for our lives is simple: it is surrender. We come to God and admit that we are not good enough. In our good deeds, we are not good enough. When we obey our parents, we are not good enough. When we respect authority, we are not good enough. When we feed the poor or care for the orphan we are not good enough. We can be the best athletes or the wisest teachers and we are still not good enough to impress God.
All of the sudden, “What can I do?” becomes the wrong question. Instead of asking this, perhaps we should begin asking, “By whose power should I live?” In everything I do, what is my motivation and where is my source of strength? The answer is ‘the Holy Spirit.’
How? How do we deny ourselves enough to live by the power of the Holy Spirit within us? First of all, we make Christ our Lord. If Christ is not our Lord, we cannot live a life that pleases God no matter how many ‘good’ things we do. Then we follow the example of the believers here in Acts. Instead of doing or acting from the start, they went to pray and prepare for God to shake the world through them. We remember that God reserves the right to build His church. If we are not seeking Him in prayer, how will we ever be ready to do His work?
So, how do we live by the power of the Holy Spirit? We begin by trusting in Christ. Then we pray continuously. Without prayer we have no power. Then God will tell us what He wants us to do by His power. Then we will be witnesses. Trust. Pray. Act. Witness. These are our orders on this battlefield. My fear is that we trust, witness and then act to try and validate that witness and yet we are amazed that the power of the Holy Spirit is not with us.
Here are our orders of operation: Trust. Pray. Act. Witness. This is how we live. It’s not about only acting. It is about being.