Where is the Presence and Power of the Lord?

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by R. Scott Smith

Surely God is at work doing many things in the United States, and evangelicals have been trying to hold to the doctrinal truths of Christianity. Moreover, Christians are to be marked by God’s presence and power. Nevertheless, it seems that, overall, evangelicals do not have much influence, especially given the promised power of the gospel and the risen Lord Jesus, and His promised presence. So, where is the power and presence of the Lord?

With this in mind, I have been impressed by how often Paul mentions the fullness of the Lord in his letter to the Ephesians. I think this emphasis is not minor; rather, it is one of vital importance to the Christian life. But, I also think too many Christians, particularly in the states, do not really appreciate it. Paul explains how we, even in the increasingly secular west, can know and experience God’s amazing power and presence.

First, though, consider some biblical context. Throughout Scripture, God unfolds more and more of His plan to have a relationship with humans. Several Old Testament passages speak to His desire to be our God and make a people for Himself: e.g., Ex 6:7; Lev 26:12; Jer 7:23, 11:4, 30:22; and Ezek 36:28. Other passages announce His intention to dwell in the midst of His people; e.g., Ex 29:45-46; Zech 2:10-11; and Ezek 37:27. Others illustrate His intimacy with individuals – e.g., with Moses (Ex 33:7-20, 34:4-6a), and David (Ps. 27:4). The New Testament continues these themes, such as in John 1:14; John 17:3; and 2 Cor 6:16. Finally, at the culmination of Revelation, these same themes reappear in glory (Rev 21:3 and 22:4).

I summarize this overarching theme as I will be your God, you will be My people, and I will dwell in your midst. God’s great plan is to be in an intimate, personal relationship with His people. This theme relates closely with the greatest commandment, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). Our hearts and minds are to be united with His, and loving God with all strength requires the Spirit of Christ’s power, for apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5).[1]

But, when Adam and Eve sinned, they died to God. Their hearts and minds were united with the enemy, and they too desired to be like God, knowing (i.e., defining, choosing) good and evil (Gen 3:5). This is why we must be born again, by the Spirit (John 3:3-7), in which we are given a new heart (Ezek 36:25-28). We also have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). Plus, we have the power of the Spirit available, who now lives in us.

Now, Paul has much to say in Ephesians about our relationship with Christ, especially along the themes of intimacy and power. God loves us lavishly (e.g., 1:3-13), and He wants us to live out the richness of this new life, so that we may have “[deep and intimate] knowledge of Him” (1:17, AMPC).[2] He also wants us to know (not just intellectually, but also by experience) the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe (1:19). Notice that Paul illustrates this power by appealing to Jesus’ resurrection, a miracle par excellence, and not bearing the fruit of the Spirit, though it too utterly depends upon Him.

Paul also explains how God is making a people for Himself by uniting all who trust in Christ in His body, which is “the fullness of Him Who fills all in all [for in that body lives the full measure of Him Who makes everything complete, and Who fills everything everywhere with Himself]” (1:23, AMPC, emphasis mine). In the body, Jesus is present now, in all His power.

In 3:14-21, Paul gives us a much more detailed look into this fullness. It includes His great plan, with Him dwelling in us (v. 17), and His great power (v. 18), so that we would be able to experience His great love (v. 18, AMPC). Then, almost in a crescendo, Paul explains that God really wants us to come “to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God – [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!” (v. 19, AMPC). God doesn’t want us to have mere “head” knowledge of Him; He also wants us to experience His love and fullness. Paul is not afraid of rich experiences of the Lord in the Christian life. Yet, they should be rooted in knowledge of Him and Scripture.

But, what does His fullness look like? What should we expect that to look like today in the U.S.? Scripture, our standard, depicts the Christian life as a supernatural one. So, suppose Jesus was living in the flesh with us today; how would He live? It seems to me that He would do similar things as He did during His thirty-plus years on earth. For example, He would preach the gospel, make disciples, live in unity with the Father and in the Spirit’s power, and perform miracles out of compassion (cf. Matt 14:14).

But, Jesus is here now in the body of Christ (Eph 1:23). So, it seems that we should see God doing these things through us. But, that raises the question: shouldn’t we expect Him to be doing miracles amongst us? And wouldn’t He address the specific beliefs people (Christian and non-Christian) today have that blind them to God?

That raises the issue about whether the miraculous gifts are for today. So, it is intriguing that Paul broaches the gifts in the context of fullness of Christ within the passage that spans 3:14-21 through 4:13, where he instructs that we are to reach maturity by attainting to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of the Christ” (AMPC). I do not think this positioning of the gifts is accidental; it seems that they are part of God’s plan to manifest Christ here and now (see 1 Cor 12:7), until they are no longer needed (see 1 Cor 13:8-10). Since Christ is to be manifested in all His fullness through His body, and He would be speaking truth to us today in our contexts, and showing His power through miracles, it seems the miraculous gifts (miracles, prophecy, etc.) actually are critical for today.

Otherwise, it seems to follow that Christ will not be manifested in all His fullness through His body. Yet, so often, that result seems to be the case. I think this should not be a surprise since many evangelicals believe either the miraculous gifts have ceased, or they are at least very cautious, even skeptical, about them. But, Paul clearly commands us to be filled with His Spirit (Eph 5:18). In order for Christ to be made fully manifest to the watching world, we should not refuse the full measure of Him. In Ephesians, that seems to require the “miraculous” gifts.

I think Paul has Christ’s fullness in mind when he discusses the armor of God. At the start, he tells us to be strong in Him and His strength (6:10). Interestingly, often the various “pieces” of armor are treated as largely defensive, and one or two being offensive – the word of God (v. 17), and prayer (v. 18). I think, though, that this treatment can tend to minimize something crucial – the power of Christ. How did He deal with spiritual battles? Consider Luke 11:14-26: Jesus cast out a demon by His power (v. 22). Jesus went on the offensive against demons, but He did not utilize just prayer and the word of God. Though they imply use of God’s power, this text indicates explicitly that He drew upon the power of the Spirit. Yet, too often, I am afraid evangelicals in the U.S. do not stress this because they do not expect God to show up supernaturally in power.

Now, someone might say I have read Ephesians too selectively. For in 2:20, Paul taught that the foundation of the faith (i.e., Scripture) has been laid. Since we have the completed canon of Scripture, there is no more need for the miraculous gifts. However, I think this objection misses the point of God’s great plan throughout Scripture, to be intimate and live in the midst of His people, so they may know and experience His presence and power. Knowing and obeying the written word of God is utterly important; it is God’s authoritative, inerrant teaching for all. But, it is not intended to substitute for the living Word, Jesus Himself.

While I think there are some other factors why evangelicals seem to not be as marked by the fullness of Christ’s presence and power as they should, one reason seems to be that too many seem to limit God by not embracing the “miraculous” gifts today. Perhaps this stems from fears of excesses or adding to the canon. But, if God were to speak specifically to us in our contexts now, it simply would not add to Scripture since the canon is closed (Heb 1:1-2; Jude 3; Rev 22:18-19). Yet, from Ephesians, it seems unity of both groups (continuationists, and cessationist-or-open-but-cautious) are needed. Satan has divided and withered the whole body by sowing distrust in both groups. The result is an anemic, divided body, which cannot stand. That is a condition from which believers in the U.S. must repent urgently.

[1] Our heart is the core of our being, from which we truly live, will, feel, and trust; cf. Prov 3:5-6; Rom 10:9-10. The mind is our intellectual faculty. Here, I believe “soul” refers to the totality of our being, rather than the immaterial essence of who we are (for the heart and mind are faculties in the soul).

[2] All references to the Amplified Bible, Classic edition, come from The Amplified Bible (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1987).


IMG_0941R. Scott Smith, Ph.D., is a professor in the M.A. in Christian Apologetics program at Biola University. He is the author of four books, including In Search of Moral Knowledge (IVP), and Truth and the New Kind of Christian (Crossway). He has written articles and chapters in various scholarly publications, and also for Christian Research Journal. One of his current book projects is a cultural analysis and call to repentance for evangelicals in the west from how they have been de-supernaturalized and subtly, yet deeply, influenced by naturalism.

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