Advancing in the Power of the Spirit

Tomorrow sees the start of what, off the top of my head, must be the 96th Annual International Apostolic Convention, or as we call it nowadays, AblazeUK. It's a big change this year, with the convention being held outside Wales for the first time.

But it's also a big theme for the Convention this year: 'Advancing in the Power of the Spirit.' So, before I head off to Cheltenham, here are just a few brief thoughts about Advancing in the Power of the Spirit.

1) We can't advance without looking back!

The Holy Spirit points us to Jesus. He glorifies Jesus and draws people to Jesus. And the Jesus He glorifies and points us to is the Jesus who revealed His glory through suffering for our sins in His death on the Cross. So, if it's in the Spirit's power that we're to advance, that advance will mean looking back to Calvary.

Last year the Convention theme was 'Proclaiming Jesus'. This year we're not leaving that behind. The message of the Cross isn't just a starting point from which we look to the Spirit to lead us onward into new thing after new thing (and yes, my inelegant prose there is a reminder not to rip Isaiah 43:19 out of context, as can be our wont). The message of the Cross is the Christian message. Christ Crucified is the Christian proclamation. And advancing in the power of the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit draws us ever backward to the reality of Christ crucified. The only way forward is backward.

2) We can't advance without looking forward from the right vantage point.

The vantage point from which you look determines what you see. I was watching Shakespeare's Henry V last week on the BBC and when the king gave his St Crispin's Day speech just before the beginning of the battle of Agincourt, they showed him with the leaders of his army on top of a hill, overlooking the whole of both the English and French armies. King Henry and his dukes were going to lead the men forward in battle, but in order to do so, they needed to look from the right vantage point. If they had gathered in a hollow, they wouldn't have been able to see the opposing troops and would have had no idea where to go.

Now, we're not battling massively superior foreign armies. But we still need the right vantage point. The danger is that we often look forward from our own vantage point. And yet Scripture warns us that that isn't the right vantage point at all. We look forward and try to move forward based on what's on our hearts, yet the Scripture tells us that 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9). We try to advance from the vantage point of our thoughts about the situation, yet 'My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD' (Isaiah 55:8). Our own vantage point really is a hollow from which we cannot see the way forward. And that's why we need the Holy Spirit, for He lifts us out of our hollow and sets us upon the hill from which we see with clarity: the hill of Calvary. It's as the Holy Spirit takes us back to the Cross that we can truly look forward and advance.

Why? Because that's where we're going: our call is to take up our cross and follow Christ (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). Because that's where our life is: we have been crucified with Christ and live now only through Him (Galatians 2:20). Because that's where we advance in the Christian life: Christ went to the Cross, not only for our conversion, but for our sanctification (Heb. 13:12).

Sometimes there's a danger for us a Pentecostals. When it comes to thinking about the Holy Spirit, our attention might perhaps jump immediately to the gifts, and the more spectacular aspects of His ministry. Our mistaken temptation then might be to move on from the Cross to the gifts. But that's not the Spirit's work. His work is to point us to Christ. His gifts testify to Christ. We don't move on from the Cross to the Gifts, but rather the gifts should always be calling us back to the Cross.

True Christianity is not the way of the spectacular, but the way of the Cross. As Martin Luther expressed it nearly 500 years ago, 'Now it is not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.' (Luther, Heidelberg Disputation, Proof of Thesis 20).

Christ Crucified isn't just something important to the Christian faith. Christ Crucified is the Christian faith. And no matter how far we advance, we cannot go beyond Christ and His Cross. The true advance is not an advance from the Cross to something else, but rather an advance into a deeper understanding and appreciation of the wonder of the Cross where the true glory of Christ is revealed.