Many Christians look for shortcuts to the power of God. To try shortcuts is to become, at best, frustrated; at worst, a false teacher or prophet. Listen very carefully: there is tremendous power for us in God but not without holiness. Holiness precedes power.
Let us understand the prophet, John the Baptist. According to Matt. 3:13-17, John was filled with the Holy Spirit “while yet in his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). We are also told his coming was in the spirit and power of Elijah. Historians tell us that John’s penetrating, uncompromising ministry led nearly one million people to repentance. Vast multitudes left their cities and towns and went into the wilderness to hear the prophet and be baptized into repentance in preparation for the kingdom of God.
Only Jesus knew the fallen condition of the human heart more perfectly than John. No class of people escaped the Baptist’s judgment: soldiers and kings, sinners and religious leaders alike were all brought into the “valley of decision.” John’s baptism was more than a simple immersion in water. He required a public confession of sins as well as the bringing forth of righteousness (Matt. 3:6, 8).
Jesus testified that John was “more than a prophet.” He said, among those born of women, “there has not arisen anyone greater than John” (Matt. 11:9–11). John was a “seer prophet,” which meant he had open vision into the spirit realm. He testified that “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven” (John 1:32). He saw “the wrath to come” (Matt. 3:7). He witnessed “the kingdom of heaven” (v. 2). John had insight into the secrets of men’s hearts. His vision penetrated the veneer of the well-respected Pharisees; within their souls he saw a “brood of vipers” (v. 7). Understand this about prophets: they are aware of things that are hidden from other men.
But when Jesus came to be baptized, before the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended, John saw something that was overwhelming even to his standard of righteousness.
He gazed into Jesus’s heart, and he saw no sins, no lies, no lusts. John saw a level of holiness that, without knowing he was gazing at the Messiah, caused him to utter with astonishment, “I have need to be baptized by You” (v. 14).*
Jesus, as the “Lamb of God” (John 1:36), was without spot or blemish. This is exactly what the prophet beheld in Jesus: spotless purity of heart. Christ’s virtue took John’s breath away! The powerful emanation of Christ’s inner purity made John immediately aware of his own need.
When John saw Jesus, he discovered a level of righteousness that was higher, purer than his own. This great prophet looked into the heart of Jesus, and in the brightness of Christ’s holiness he cried, “I have need.”
And so it is with us. Each time we see Jesus, each successive revelation of Christ’s purity makes our need more apparent. As Christ’s holiness unfolds before us, we cannot but echo the same cry of John the Baptist: “I have need to be baptized by You!”
Yet, in the beginning of our walk, we embraced life in our own strength, trusting in our own skills for success and attainment. Yes, we turned to God, but mainly in times of grief or trial.
But as the Lord brings us into maturity, what we once considered strengths are actually discovered to be more subtle and, therefore, more dangerous weaknesses. Our pride and self-confidence keep us from God’s help; the clamor of our many ideas and desires drown the whisper of the still small voice of God. Indeed, in God’s eyes, the best of human successes are still “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
In time, we discover that all true strength, all true effectiveness—yes, our very holiness itself—begins with discovering our need. We grow weaker, less confident in our abilities. As the outer shell of self-righteousness crumbles, Jesus Himself becomes God’s answer to every man who cries for holiness and power in his walk.
We may think we have spiritual gifts, we may presume we are holy, we may rejoice with human successes, but until we see Christ and abandon our reliance upon our self-righteousness, all we will ever have, at best, is religion.
Oh, let us grasp this truth with both hands; let it never slip from us. Jesus Himself is our source of holiness! We are so eager to do something for Him—anything, as long as we do not have to change inside. God does not need what we can do; He wants what we are. He wants to make us a holy people. Let us not be anxious in this process. Allow Him to do the deep inner work of preparation.
Jesus lived thirty years of sinless purity before He did one work of power! His goal was not to do some great work but to please the Father with a holy life.
Hear me; our goal, likewise, is not to become powerfulbut to become holy with Christ’s presence. God promises to empower that which He first makes holy. Do you want your Christianity to work? Then seek Jesus Himself as your source and standard of holiness. Do you want to see the power of God in your life? Then seek to know Christ’s purity of heart. If we are becoming the people Jesus calls His own, we should be growing in holiness.
A mature Christian will be both holy and powerful, but holiness will precede power.
Francis Frangipane is the founder of River of Life Ministries in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and has traveled throughout the world ministering to thousands of pastors and intercessors from many backgrounds. Francis' heartfelt prayer is to see established in every city Christlike pastors and intercessors, united before God, revealing the love of Christ to their communities. Since 1985, he has written fourteen books plus a number of study booklets. Over the past decades, Francis has served on a number of other ministry boards. However, in recent years he has gradually resigned from these various boards. As of June 2009, he has also retired from his position as senior pastor of River of Life Ministries. In this more simplified life, Frangipane is devoting himself to prayer and the ministry of God's Word. This article was excerpted from Frangipane's book Holiness Truth and the Presense of God.