Recently, I’ve had a stirring experience that I wish to share with you. It came while reading Scripture (surprise, surprise). I would like to invite you to join me as I share a testimony, a confession and an exhortation with you.
Some background: During my theological studies, I had a course that introduced me to the writings of Soren Kierkegaard. I adopted one of his techniques when approaching Scripture. It is a very simple technique, but a sobering one. Here it is: When approaching a text, ask yourself two (and as I’ve learned) dangerous questions:
- What is this passage saying to me?
- What is this passage saying about me?
Simple but — trust me — not so simple.
Another piece of background: The organization that I work with, ShareWord Global, is singularly focused on evangelism. We ignite, fuel, train and equip the local church to be bold in their witness, both here and abroad. I endorse wholeheartedly the direction given by Bishop Matt Whitehead in last month’s Focal Point article: “This explosive growth outside the United States is something that should bring us pride as a ministry family. But we also long for the day that kind of impact is being experienced here in the United States.”
Given that this is the desire of the Free Methodist Church – USA, we are honored to come alongside you as partners in this ministry. Recently I have been steeped in research studies seeking to understand the state of evangelism in the North American church. One of the fascinating articles I came across was written by Kevin Palau, son of evangelist Luis Palau. Two statements that he made within this article sprang out to me, and I’d like to share them with you:
“Many within the Christian community hunger for a faith that regularly experiences the supernatural, and a greater sense of spiritual authority. In my experience this leads to a bolder witness.”
“Where I’ve seen communities being renewed in their love for Jesus, I see a greater boldness and willingness to pray and share faith” (fmchr.ch/barnare).
As I saw it, this is what he was really saying:
Powerful Jesus encounter + awareness of spiritual authority = a bold witness.
The more I reflect on this axiom, the more I am convicted of its truth… it’s the naked truth. If you have not had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, you will not have a bold witness. If you have not come to fully appreciate the rights and privileges afforded unto you as adopted kin of the Most High God, then you will not have a bold witness. It’s the combination of these two things that Acts 2 and 4 teach us will produce a bold witness.
With this as background, let me now move onto my recent testimony. I decided to read the book of Acts in a single sitting and apply my Kierkegaardian questions noted above. The result was momentarily paralyzing. God revealed something to me clearly.
My witness needs to be bolder.
Now I’m in trouble. I’ve been preparing an article for you about having a bold witness, and God reveals to me that my witness isn’t bold enough and, worse, I now have the knowledge of the components of a bold witness:
Bold witness = Jesus encounter + spiritual authority.
So what’s my problem? Am I lacking in my personal Jesus encounter? Or am I not wielding the power of my spiritual authority as a redeemed child of God in Christ? Is it a bit of both? This is the naked truth…
It is in this turmoil that God gave me the text Acts 19:13–16 for consideration. I offer it to you as an exhortation today.
“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’ Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding” (Acts 19:13–16).
Notice the careful language displayed by Luke in verse 13. The Jewish exorcists appear to use language that distances themselves somewhat from Jesus: “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches…” There appears to be an opening in the language indicating that these Jewish exorcists did not declare Jesus as their personal Lord, but rather are calling on His name as a sort of incantation. Further evidence of this nuance is required before I can draw out an application. Thankfully, such evidence is forthcoming in verse 15b: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”
Read from the Greek we see that the verb used for the word “know” changes between both uses. This is what the Greek looks like:
“Jesus I ginosko, and Paul I epistamai, but who are you?”
For a good sense of the difference, contrast John 10:14–15 against Acts 15:7 and see how the word “know” is utilized differently.
If you’ll indulge my paraphrase, this is what is being said:
“Jesus I know (as in we’ve had prior dealings), and Paul I know about (as in I’ve seen him before; he’s with Him). But you … you I don’t know. You’re a pretender.”
My suspicions are now confirmed, and so is my exhortation. It is this: Secondhand faith cannot and ought not invoke the power of Jesus’ name.
The Way of the Cross
How do we move from secondhand faith to firsthand faith? A real commitment to Jesus implies much more than attending church, praying and reading the Bible. So how do we do it? Thankfully this same book tells the answer: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
The way to move from secondhand faith to firsthand faith is the way of the cross. The Jesus whom we follow went to the cross and tells us that to follow Him, one has to take up the cross. Commitment to Jesus is not only a matter of a confession of faith; it is also a matter of joining Him in facing the powers of evil. The demon knows Jesus because He has faced Jesus before. The demon knows Paul because Paul follows Jesus along the same path. This is why the demon knows and respects him. Paul walks along life facing the powers of evil, and those same powers know that he has the authority to invoke the name of Jesus. Evil will acknowledge our power only when we truly acknowledge the power of Jesus in our own lives.
Hymn writer A.H. Ackley had it right: “There is power in the cross.” The power for us is in the carrying of it, and that’s the naked truth.
Dave Kenny is the vice president of domestic growth for ShareWord Global (sharewordglobal.com). He holds a Bachelor of Theology degree from the University of Chester and previously served with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, regionally expanding the ministry through church networking, event planning and campus ministries. Dave’s passions for ministry are for evangelism and the local church. He and his wife, Jacinda, have six children.