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The Theology Behind Spiritual Impotence

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Thirteen years ago I published a book called ‘Prayer, Power, and Proclamation’ in which I attempted to address the question:Prayer Power and Proclamation Book

‘Why do we see so few genuine miracles in our day?’


It is not that these do not occasionally occur, but they are scarce. I do not crave great and breathtaking acts of God, although they would be wonderful, but I do miss the regular powerful manifestations of his presence that I associate with genuine church experiences. Another way of stating the question is, ‘Why is there such general spiritual impotence in the church of our day?’ and this is what I specifically respond to in this current article.

There are several reasons for spiritual impotence that I can think of such as fear of fake manifestations, lack of expectation, and so on, but I suspect that there is a deeper and more theological issue underlying the lack of spiritual power in personal and church life.

Now, I do not want to lose you in many words and details, so before going any further, I need to state upfront what I believe a major part of the problem to be:

The theological stance of many church leaders is a barrier to receiving and ministering the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, they replace spiritual anointing with animated presentations and church optics.

Theology is Important

What we say, do, and expect within the scope of our devotional and church lives depends largely on our theology. So, in this article, I want to explore aspects of doctrine that I suspect stand behind what I have presented as a major problem in the church of our day.

Teachings that have a profound bearing on a lack of spiritual anointing in individual and church life concern:

  1. The Infusion of power by the Holy Spirit and
  2. The Indwelling of the person of the Holy Spirit.

In April 2021 I published an article on The Nature of the New Birth, in which I explained much of what I am addressing here in this present article.  Here is an adaptation of part of what I wrote then concerning the Infusing and Indwelling of the Holy Spirit:

“A doctrine deeply entrenched in today’s theological world is the doctrine of the permanently indwelling presence of the person of the Holy Spirit in the believer. I want to approach this ‘holy cow’ doctrine now, but with great reverence for the person of the Holy Spirit.

The traditional and majority view of theologians is that upon spiritual regeneration the Holy Spirit takes up personal and permanent residence in the believer. There are several texts on which to base this belief, but perhaps the matter is not as simple and clear as it at first appears. For instance, Jesus told his disciples that he would send them another like himself, whom he called the Spirit of Truth who would be with them and in them (John 14:15-17). However, the Greek word ‘en’, translated in this verse as ‘in’, can also be translated as ‘among’ as in John 1:14 or ‘with’ as in John 1:26, 28, 31, 33). There is no clear contextual or linguistic reason why we could not translate what Jesus said in John 14:17 as “he lives with you and will be among you”.

John also wrote in 1 John 4:4 that ‘the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’. That little Greek word ‘en’ appears twice in this sentence and could be understood as the Holy Spirit among the people of God being greater than the devil, who is in the world system.

Another text often cited is  James 4:5, which the NIV translates in a footnote as ‘God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us’. This makes little sense if James is understood to be referring to the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead, so in what way would God jealously long for God? But if the reference is to the spiritual power and seal of ownership that the Holy Spirit deposits in us at rebirth, then the idea makes sense. In his commentary on James, Douglas Moo writes that ‘it is not clear whether James thinks of the spirit which he has made to dwell in us as the Holy Spirit given to believers or as God’s creative spirit by which he has invigorated mankind’. Perhaps the matter would be clearer if we knew the scripture James claims to be quoting, but there is no direct equivalent anywhere in the Old Testament.

The text that most theologians develop to support the concept of the indwelling presence of the person of the Holy Spirit in the believer is Romans 8:9-11. Apart from the same problems with Greek prepositions that I have already mentioned, Paul connects the word ‘spirit’ to both God (the Spirit of God in vs 9) and Jesus (the Spirit of Jesus). He also uses the word ‘Christ’ several times and this word, particularly as used by Paul in Romans, is usually an epithet of Jesus. It seems easier to understand that Paul is speaking of the presence within the believer of the spiritual deposit/seal that the person of the Holy Spirit imparts upon rebirth. Indeed, Paul uses that language in 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13-14. He also uses the words ‘be filled with the spirit’ in Ephesians 5:18 as indicating the power of the Holy Spirit rather than the person of the Holy Spirit.

There is another way of looking at the matter of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that is to consider that the term applies figuratively and representationally rather than literally. This idea finds a degree of support in texts such as Romans 8:10, 15 and Galatians 4:6 where the indwelling spirit is variously described as Christ, a spirit of adoption, and the spirit of God’s Son. Indwelling could thus refer to God’s presence with us and to his values incorporated into us. To put it another way, ‘in you’ could simply be a way of saying that God’s presence is with us intimately and permanently.

Over the centuries several theologians and philosophers have attempted to construct coherent models to explain the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

The philosopher William Alston described three models, one of which he called ‘Fiat’, although he settled on another model, which he labelled ‘Partial Sharing’. In terms of the Fiat Model, God implants a new disposition in the believer. This is similar to my proposals in this article. More recently, Ray Yoe of Prairie College, Canada, wrote a paper titled ‘Towards a Model of Indwelling’ in which he stated that  ‘for God to infuse his love within our hearts is for the resurrected and living incarnate Christ to partially share his ongoing human loving disposition with us by means of the Holy Spirit.’

My conclusion, drawn from these considerations and many texts, is that the bible contains numerous references to both the person of the Holy Spirit and the power that he provides.

The Holy Spirit speaks, directs, guides, reveals, grieves, and so on. He also provides the power by which healings, miracles, and creative acts are accomplished. In his capacity as the 3rd person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, by the application of his power, re-creates the dead/separated spirit of each person who qualifies (the New Birth). The ‘qualification’ is repentance of the sin of personal rebellion, belief in the deity and unique saving capacity of the Lord Jesus Christ, and asking for, receiving, and then testifying to the reality the new birth received. The Holy Spirit also, after the New Birth, empowers (fills, anoints) the believer with ‘power from on high’ to enable disciples to live Christ-like lives and to minister effectively in his power (Acts 1:4). Believers are progressively transformed through the activity of the Holy Spirit and his work of regeneration within.

I find this to be the simplest, most reasonable, and biblically faithful way of understanding and applying the doctrines of The New Birth and the Indwelling  and infusion of the Holy Spirit in the believer. However, having said all this, I freely and thankfully acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is a multi-dimensional spiritual being restricted by neither space nor time. He can be present with and indeed in all believers simultaneously anywhere and at any time.  He can be both in, with, and among with no contradiction to Christian philosophy or biblical revelation. The reason I believe that the distinctions I have been at pains to make are important, is that our understanding of these things radically affects the way we view salvation, conversion, ministry, and indeed life in general.

If the Holy Spirit personally and permanently indwells us, and we are not simply automatons without discretion, then it means that we can resist his will and determine what he can and cannot do in and through us. For me, this is an untenable idea! Equally, if the Holy Spirit personally dwells in us, then any infilling, anointing, or baptism in the power of the Holy Spirit is both redundant and illogical. This then makes a nonsense of the scriptures that speak of the spirit coming upon us, being poured out on us, and clothing us (1 Samuel 10:6, Luke 1:35 and 24:49, Acts 2:33, 8:16 and 10:45 et al).

I concede that I may be overstating my case and that there might be room for both-and thinking or other ways of understanding. However, I do not think that traditional concepts regarding the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit align well with what Jesus taught and modelled, nor with how the early disciples, Paul, and others ministered. These and other conceptions have distinct consequences in the life and ministry of believers and the witness and effectiveness of the church

Let me state in brief what I believe concerning the indwelling presence and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. 

I believe that the Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Godhead and not just a euphemism for spiritual energy. However, he is the person of the Trinity who generates and imparts supernatural power. Just as Jesus, the 2nd person of the Godhead, was tangibly with and among his people whilst on Earth, so the person of the Holy Spirit is with and among the people of God today. He is the one who regenerates the spirit of man at rebirth (New Birth) and he is the one who imparts spiritual energy to those who have experienced the New Birth.

I do not think that the scriptures are clear on the ‘location’ of the Holy Spirit as in or with believers and in and through the church. However, the way we understand these things can radically affect the way we minister and live our Christian lives. This is why I have set out my doctrine of the Spirit the way I have in this article and my other works.

We are beings who are limited by our lack of capacity to even perceive, let alone adequately describe, spiritual realities, but we can and do determine how we minister and live. God is real, sovereign, and essentially mysterious, whatever we think or understand. He has created us and set the parameters of how we live.

All of the matters discussed in this article would be quite irrelevant if God’s chosen way of dealing with man was inflexibly pre-determined. (Calvinism). However, I hold that the biblical evidence and the example of Jesus overwhelmingly teach that God has granted man a meaningful degree of discretion. That is why what we understand and believe is important. What we think determines what we choose to say and do and how we live and minister. To speak and act in the power of the Holy Spirit we need models and constructs that enable us to respond in faith and effectiveness.

If our primary understanding is that the Holy Spirit resides permanently in us, then spiritual ministry consists only of what God chooses to do through us and when he so wills to do it. If we understand that we can be filled with power from on high as an infusion into our re-created spirits, then spiritual ministry consists of imparting that power to others to affect whatever it is that is needed. We are dependent on the Holy Spirit for receiving this power and we can only give what we have received from him. We are therefore dependent on the Holy Spirit”.

I stated earlier that the theological stance of some leaders is a barrier to receiving and ministering the power of the Holy Spirit. In terms of what I have just set out, let me now state how I see this working in practice.

The Theological Barrier to Receiving and Ministering

Although the Holy Spirit can indeed be within as well as with us, the way we understand this affects how we behave. A leader who sees the person of the Holy Spirit primarily as residing within him (‘her’ also applies throughout) must surely feel constrained; he sees the Spirit as being responsible for how he ministers to others and he sees himself as unable to initiate ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. If he doesn’t see evidence of spiritual ministry then he may attempt to remove any personal obstacles to the Holy Spirit by attempting to make himself more transparent to the Holy Spirit by searching his heart for any sin issues he needs to deal with. On the one hand, he sees the Holy Spirit as responsible for initiating ministry, but on the other hand, he sees himself as responsible for allowing the Holy Spirit to minister. This stance will invariably lead to passivity, spiritual impotence and frustration.

However, if a leader believes himself to be filled with Holy Spirit energy as a result of receiving power from the person of God the Holy Spirit, then two things will flow naturally from this stance:

  1. He will repeatedly ask the Holy Spirit to fill him with power and
  2. He will feel personally accountable for how, when, and why he ministers this ‘power from on high’ to others.

This stance will usually lead to dynamic ministry and blessings to the people of God.

Three of the many glorious biblical examples of this principle in action are:
  • Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” (Luke 8:46)
  • I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)
  • Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. (Acts 3:6-7)

As already stated, I strongly suspect that a major underlying reason for spiritual impotence is the theology of the church leaders concerned. To change this situation they would need to do the following:

  • Review their theology concerning indwelling and infilling using the biblical revelation of the life, words, and works of the Lord Jesus as their main yardstick. Even if they still do not concur with me, they can at least acknowledge that their chosen position makes a profound difference in how they minister.
  • Realise that they need both to teach their people and to be an example to them. The leaders should surely be the first to be publically and privately asking the Holy Spirit to fill them with his power. They should also be the first to step out in faith and actively minister this spiritual power to those in need.

I have thought long and hard about writing this article at all. It is likely that those who need to take heed will either not read it or will read but not associate themselves with its content. Matters concerning the things I have been dealing with here are sometimes seen as peripheral and subject to personal preference and tradition rather than matters of vital spiritual life for themselves and those to whom they minister.

What I have written may appear critical but it flows not out of theological dogmatism, but from a deep sadness for ministers and their people who effectively, if unconsciously, have a form of godliness but deny its power (ref. 2 Timothy 3:5)


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The sign of Jonah – or a whale of a tale

Over the years I have been keeping reasonably up to date on the findings and theories concerning the shroud of Turin. Every year something new emerges as various scientists seek to understand this enigmatic burial shroud.

The shroud put in its first recorded appearance in 1356 at a time when religious relics and superstitions were rife in medieval Europe. Some researchers claim to be able to trace it back to the sixth century and one even claims that there is reasonable evidence for it coming out of the first century. Whatever its recorded history, many religious people think it is the authentic burial cloth of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Recently the Pope went to pray before the shroud, so clearly he believes it has significance.

No matter what one thinks of the shroud, it certainly is a mystery. In 1898 it was photographed for the first time and this led to an intriguing discovery: the image in the shroud is a negative. Up to this time most sceptics thought that the image was simply the work of a skilled medieval artist trying to cash in on the relics market. However, the discovery that the image was actually a negative put this idea under a lot of pressure. Recently artists and scientists have attempted to reproduce such an image using pigments, dyes, rubs, heat treatments and so on. Their results are interesting but far from compelling. Besides, current microscopic examination of the fabric shows no evidence at all of any pigments.

The Shroud of TurinIn 1988 carbon 14 dating indicated that the shroud originated in the middle ages. More recently, however, facts have immerged which prove that the process was seriously flawed and that the cloth could well date back to the first century.

Since 2003 a number of articles have appeared in reputable scientific journals seeking to make sense of the shroud and its image. A popular hypothesis is that the image was formed by ammonia derivatives from a human body interacting with carbohydrate residue in the fabric (the Maillard reaction). But this doesn’t fully explain the remarkable image. It seems that the image in the shroud is a sort of 3D terrain map of the body it covered. Because of this quality, researchers have been able to use modern computer techniques to develop a full reproduction of the body. In 2010 the History channel aired a documentary showing the results of this process. The resultant 3D image shows a man with abrasions in his face, shoulder, and knees. The scourge marks of a cat-o-nine tails are visible and the wound in the side, wrists and feet are unmistakable.

The consensus opinion at this time is that the shroud of Turin is genuine in that it carries within its fibres the image of a man who died by crucifixion and that in all probability the material can be dated back far earlier than the medieval era. Is it the burial shroud of Jesus? No one can be sure of this, but it is true that the wounds shown in the image conform to the Gospel record of the crucifixion.

Some scientists are still not satisfied with the chemical interaction theory of how the image was formed. They claim that a catalytic event must have caused such a reaction. They theorise that some form of energy must have passed through the fabric to trigger a chemical reaction. One hypothesis is that the units of matter called nuceons must have decoupled causing a dematerialisation of the body. Simply put, the body passed through the fabric of the shroud.

All this is interesting but far from conclusive, so why am I interested in it, and why should you be? Luke 11 and Matthew 16 record Jesus’ words concerning the only sign He was prepared to give an unbelieving generation. Matthew 12:38-41 records, ‘Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”’  Whether or not scientific evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the sign for our age is debateable. What is certain however is that research continues, TV channels continue to produce documentaries, people write books, but the mystery remains. The crucifixion and resurrection remain in the public’s eye.

Every Easter the Christian church remembers the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am grateful that scientists and sceptics, although they may not believe, continue to wrestle with the possibility that this pivotal event in biblical history may well be historically and scientifically verified. If it was verifiable, would this effect my faith in any way? No, but it sure would make an unbelieving world sit up and take notice.

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Where have all the burnt stones gone…

…long time passing?

I was useless at mathematics when I was at school, but by the time I attended Business School I had warmed to statistics, graphs, and equations.  We all know the statement that “there are lies, then wopping lies, then statistics”.  There is some truth to that, yet statistics do alert us to trends and significant anomalies.

Here are some interesting statistics concerning the church:

  • George Barna estimated that in the United States 28% of the population is unchurched, and that 61% of these people described themselves as Christians.
  • Of these 18% stated that they are ‘born again’ and that their faith is of daily importance to them. To a reasonable extent the South African church statistics traditionally mirror those of the USA.
  • This means that there are roughly 8,000,000 people in South Africa who regard themselves as Christians yet do not attend church of any sort. Perhaps the majority of these folk are Christians by family history only. However, if the statistics are in any way reflective of reality, there are about 1,500,000 ‘born again’ believers who do not attend church.

I am not sure who first coined the term ‘burnt stones’ to describe these folk, but I think it was Ern Baxter.  Nehemiah describes how Sanballat ridiculed the Jews who were attempting to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He sneered, “Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?” (Neh 4:1-2) Very few people become disciples of Jesus Christ and do not initially attend church.

So, the one and a half million believers who do not attend must have dropped out for some reason or another. The most common reason given is “we were burned”.
By this, they mean that they were hurt, disappointed, disillusioned, financially milked, or over-worked by the church they were attending. There are other reasons cited but they are no more flattering to the perception of ‘church’ – boring, irrelevant, legalistic, manipulative, unfriendly, money-grabbing… the list goes on.

I am one of those who believe in the church. I see her as a precious body of believers, the apple of God’s eye. As a pastor, I know that church leadership often gets things wrong. Sometimes they try to structure the church as a business and as a result tend to produce spiritually bankrupt adherents to the Christian Faith. Sometimes they structure the church as an army and leave many wounded souls lying in their wake as they march on to ‘victory’. But the fault doesn’t lie solely with church leadership.

In essence, the church is the household of God (Ephesians 2:19).  It is a family (1 Peter 4:17),  yet so many of its members do not seem to appreciate that they are part of a real spiritual family. From time to time I learn that someone who has been attending for years has suddenly left and joined another local church or are not attending church anywhere. No reasons given; no goodbye and God bless you; just … gone. Of course, we follow up and usually find out that someone in the church ticked them off, or their children’s friends attend another church, or whatever. The question remains, ‘why did they just up and leave their spiritual family?’ In truth, the answer probably is that either they don’t regard the church as a family, or they have a warped view of what a family is and how it functions.

For too long now, too many churches have been setting themselves up as spiritual entertainment centres, colleges, clubs, or hospitals.
If the church presents itself as a supplier then it is hardly surprising if its ‘members’ behave as typical consumers. If a consumer doesn’t get what it feels it needs then it goes somewhere else. If the other church ‘suppliers’ don’t meet the need then the consumer becomes an unchurched ‘burnt stone’. A consumer says, “What can I get from this church?” whilst a family member says, “How can I contribute to this church family?”

Alternatively, so many people come from dysfunctional families that they think it normal to behave as though the church too is a dysfunctional family, even when it isn’t. Fathers walk out on their children, children rebel and leave home, so why not just leave church for whatever reason seems good at the time?

One and a half million ‘burnt stones’ – just think of that! What can be done? Well, if you are one of these, then I appeal to you to consider again just how important the family of God is. Acts 20:28-29 describes the local church as ‘the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.’  Now that makes the church important and valuable!

You have a place within the church, as a living stone, not a burnt one.
If you know folk who are ‘burned’ then why not try to lovingly explain what church really is and then invite them to connect with it again.


Where have all the burnt stones gone… Read More »

About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.