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More Power than You'll Ever Need
by Pastor Douglas Shearer
from a Sermon Preached in 1992
It was May of 1954. I was thirteen years old - still in junior high - and getting ready to begin high school in September at El Camino. Like most thirteen year old boys, I wasn’t at all interested in academics. That didn’t come until later. At the moment I was caught up in sports - especially track and cross country.
And El Camino was a track and cross country powerhouse - with a fabled coach by the name of Ross Clover at the helm. In the previous eleven years, stretching all the way back to 1944, Coach Clover had amassed ten Northern California cross country and track championships. He had built his reputation around his uncanny ability to gather together motley bands of n’er-do-wells showing little or no championship caliber - and turn them into indomitable winners. It wasn’t that he could spot potential - and, having spotted that potential, mold and develop it. That’s what any good coach is expected to do. No, Coach Clover seemed able to actually create the potential itself - where none had apparently existed before. He seemed able to first inject it; then shape it; then prod it; and, finally, drive it relentlessly - drive it to the point of winning championships. I could hardly wait to meet him.
Each May the Northern California track championships were held at Eagle Stadium on the campus of El Camino High School; and that May, as was expected, El Camino swept almost every event. She crushed all opposition - from the sprints to the two mile. I was in the stands; but after the last race was over, I made my way onto the infield grass to meet Coach Clover - and to let him know that I was going to be attending El Camino in the Fall - and that I was planning on going out for cross country. I got within ten feet of this storied figure; but, at the last moment, I chickened out. I thought to myself, “How dare I introduce myself to him. I’m a nobody; he’s a legend.” So, I left the stadium never having met him.
That fall, when high school opened, the only thing on my mind was cross country. Sign-ups were scheduled for 3:00 in the afternoon - and Coach Clover himself was going to be there. After school, trembling with anticipation, I made my way out to the stadium. I recognized many of the runners. The best known runners, of course, had graduated in June - and many had gone on to college - some just 80 miles west to Berkeley - where Brutus Hamilton was coaching - the same Brutus Hamilton who had coached America’s 1952 Olympic track team to victory at Helsinki. Northern California had become a seedbed for track and cross country stars - both at the high school level and at the college level.
But Coach Clover was never without replacements - that was part of his genius. He was always working with younger runners on the freshman and junior varsity teams - taking a personal hand in grooming them eventually for his championship varsity teams. I spotted Bill James who in his sophomore year had "blown away" all competition in the junior varsity races. And there next to Bill was Phil Cordero who even in high school was running below 1:57 in the half-mile - and who, later on in college, under Brutus Hamilton, got down to 1:50.
Now bear in mind that this was 1954, just two years after the first sub-four minute mile had finally been run by Roger Bannister in England - when coaches and athletes throughout the world were still saying that a sub-four minute mile was all but impossible. Roger Bannister, it was thought, was a one-in-a-million aberration. But already Bill James and Phil Cordero were inching their way toward that at one time impossible goal; and doing so in high school - under the tutelage of Coach Clover.
Coach Clover was talking with both James and Cordero - and the closer I got, the more my knees knocked. I actually began to tremble. I couldn’t control my shaking; so, once again, I chickened out. I wasn’t able to walk up to the three of them and introduce myself. I just couldn’t do it. Who was I? So I walked off the infield grass, jumped over the three-foot high fence separating the track from the stands, and made my way up to the top bleachers where I sat down dejectedly - disgusted with my cowardice. By the time
I got there and managed to compose myself, Coach Clover had organized the warm-up exercises; and everyone was doing jumping jacks and stretching their muscles.
And then it happened. The coach spotted me up at the top of the stadium. I must have been at least thirty yards from where he was. “Hey up there. What’s your name?” he yelled. “Come on down here.” I couldn’t believe he meant me. “Me?” I yelled back. “Yea, you,” he replied. “Come on down here - right now.” I bolted out of my seat and ran on down to meet him - four and five steps at a time. He took one look at me - and said, “You’re sure a skinny little guy. But here, sign your name on this sheet of paper; pick up your medical forms at the office and turn out for practice beginning tomorrow. And be on time.”
The next day, he gathered together all his freshman runners. And I’ll never forget what he said:
People say I can take nothing and turn that nothing into a champion. People say I don’t believe in differing potential; that you've all been blessed with same potential. But that’s not really what I believe at all. I do believe that some of you possess more potential than others of you; that some of you have more to work with than others of you.
But I don’t believe that potential is what limits any of you. It’s what you’re determined to do with whatever potential you’ve been given - that’s what matters. I’ve seen some men with lots of potential lose races and championships to men of lesser potential - only because the man with lesser potential was determined to do more with what little he had.
And I’ve never seen any athlete use all his potential. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anyone use even half the potential he possesses - even the very best of runners. That means that any one of you here can be the next Northern California champion.
Don’t limit yourselves to what you see in yourselves. And don’t be frightened of what you see in others. You’ve got more than enough potential to be a winner; in fact, if I can get you to use only half of what your potential consists of, I’ll turn you into a champion runner.
What a thought! I’d always been told that I was limited by my potential; that I could go only so far and no further; that there were built-in limits that I couldn’t get beyond. But here was a man telling me that potential had nothing whatsoever to do with what I made of myself; that I possessed so much of it that - as successful as I became - I’d never reach the end of it. Never! In fact, I’d never really get close to it.
And, sure enough, at the end of my junior year, I'd become a "dang-good" runner. And I was running on a championship team. And the trophies I helped to win are still on display at El Camino High School - forty years later. And it was all because a man taught me a new way of thinking about myself - that my potential will never determine what I become; it’s what I do with whatever potential I possess - that’s what counts.
Did you know that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us in the eighth chapter of Romans? Turn with me to Romans 8:37.
First, let me read from the King James
...we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Now, let me read from the NASB.
...we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
The phrase that’s translated “more than conqueror” in the King James and “overwhelmingly conquer” in the NASB is a single word in Greek: “hypernikomen.” It’s composed of: (1) “hyper” and (2) “nikao.” “Hyper” means “beyond measure” - “far in excess.” Some of you have hyperactive children; so I’m sure you can appreciate the meaning of the word “hyper.” “Nikao” means “conqueror.” How many of you own “Nike” tennis shoes? The word there is from this Greek word. The meaning here is that Christ has made us “superconquerors.” In short, we possess in Christ a potential to overcome that’s far in excess of what we’ll ever need.
Coach Clover produced championship teams by showing young men that they possessed the potential to become champions; in fact, more potential than they would ever need; that if only they’d develop and use a little of that potential they’d win a champion’s crown. And that’s exactly what Paul the Apostle is telling you and me here in Romans 8:37. We possess all the potential we need - in fact, much more than we’ll ever need. It’s not that we lack potential; it’s what we do with what we’ve been given that counts - and we’ve been given more than we’ll ever need - much more.
Turn with me now to Ephesians 1:19
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward...
The word “exceeding” is “hyperballon." It’s a compound Greek word consisting of “hyper” - meaning, as we’ve already learned, “far beyond” and “ballo” meaning “to cast.” So what we have here is the sense of being “cast far beyond measure.” The power that’s been given to us has been cast far beyond measure.
The word “power” is “dunamis" - and implies “raw power” - the raw power to crush disobedience - to break opposition. It’s often contrasted to the Greek word “exousia” - which means “authority” - and which implies willing obedience. Dunamis is often used whenever opposition to authority is threatened. It’s brought to bear when willing obedience is not forthcoming - when exousia is contested. In other words, it’s not simply that we possess authority, it’s that we possess the raw power in Christ to make good our claim to the authority we’ve been given over sin.
Now, let’s go on to verse 20
Which (i.e., the power) he (i.e., God) wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead...
The power we possess in Christ is far beyond measure. It’s the same raw power God used to raise Christ from the dead. And the power God used to raise Christ from the dead is far in excess of the power He used to create the universe. Never before and never since has God exerted such power. The resurrection of Christ from the dead is God’s most awesome display of power. And that power is “to usward” (verse 19). Let’s read now the two verses together:
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places...
The power we possess in Christ is unimaginable. We’ll never get to the end of it.
Now don’t get me wrong. Not everyone Coach Clover trained became a champion runner. Nor do all Christians manage to tap into the power that’s been given them. Some fail miserably.
Some of the young men Coach Clover trained could never quite bring themselves to believe that they actually possessed the potential to win. And without that belief, their expectations were never raised to the point that they’d push themselves the way real champions do - push themselves to develop their potential.
When a runner undergoes the rigors of training, he’s got to believe that he possesses the potential to win - there must be no doubt whatsoever in his mind. If he doesn’t believe that he possesses that potential, he won’t train hard; he won’t push himself. “What’s the use? It won’t do any good. I’ll never reach the finish line first; I just don’t have the potential to do it.”
Nobody is going to submit himself to the rigors of a disciplined, always painful training regimen unless he sincerely believes that what he’s training for can actually be achieved.
Not long ago, I was counseling an individual who was caught fast in the bondage of homosexuality. Tragically, he no longer believed that he possessed the potential to beat it; that, therefore, no disciplined regimen would ever prove sufficient. I knew he was wrong; but it wasn’t what I knew that counted; it was what he believed - that’s what counted. It wasn’t that he lacked the potential to break free from his sin; what he lacked was the belief to develop that potential into the raw power he needed to break himself free.
You’ve got to believe that you possess the potential to win in Christ. Because that’s the kind of belief that you’ll act upon - the kind of belief that prompts you to work out your salvation to the point that every bondage is broken.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Philippians 2:12 is telling us to work out our potential. It’s there; but we’ve got to work it out.
Paul never doubted that he possessed the wherewithal to break the power of sin in his own life; and that belief caused him to push himself relentlessly; he never ceased developing that wherewithal. You catch a sense of Paul’s relentless drive in Philippians 3:13-14
Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press (i.e., I drive myself) on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 9:24 - and let’s continue with our examination of the potential we possess in Christ to overcome sin - and the need on our part to develop that potential.
Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.
1 Cor. 9:24
The race to which Paul refers here is most likely the competition at the ancient Isthmian games at Corinth. Vast crowds attended those games - often as many as eighty thousand - as many as a modern football arena holds - almost as many as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Everyone who made the decision to compete in the games was required to adhere to a very strict training regimen - called the “Agonia" - from which we derive our word “agony.” The athletes were selected from various local trials held throughout Greece - and were then enrolled in the “Agonia” - which was ten months in length - and which included all the athletes chosen to compete. No athlete was ever permitted to train on his own - by himself - alone. He was assigned to a group - which was overseen by a trainer.
Every morning there were two trumpet calls. The first was a warning to get ready. The second was the signal to begin the daily workout. Marshals observed the workouts - and if any athlete was caught slacking off - just once during the ten months of training - he was disqualified. He was declared to be unworthy of the competition; it constituted prima fascia evidence that he was not seriously developing his potential - and that, therefore, he would never compete at his best; and by not doing so, he was guilty of disrespect and irreverence. He was declared “adokimos” (adokimoV) - disqualified.
And every man that striveth for the mastery (or supremacy) is temperate (possesses self-control) in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.
1 Cor. 9:25
Verse 25 speaks of discipline - mastery - faithfulness. In order to develop our potential in Christ, we can’t allow ourselves the luxury of slacking off - we must be always striving for mastery. We’ve got to train hard each day. We must read the Word faithfully, pray consistently, attend Bible studies, and meet with others regularly. We must submit ourselves to the criticism of our trainers - and be ever mindful that the “marshals” are observing our efforts.
And why am I willing to so discipline myself? Because I want to win a crown. I want to work out my salvation; I not only want to possess the potential of my salvation, I want to bring it to the surface of my life - and put it on display. I want to display it in my marriage, in raising my children, in my friendships, on my job, in my ministry, in my church life.
I want to be free of all addictions; free of all sin; I want to break all my bondages - and I want to lead others into the liberty that I enjoy. And, finally, I want my Lord and Savior to crown me with the laurel wreath of victory at the Judgment Seat of Christ - I want to hear him say, “Well, done.”
But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (adokimos).
1 Cor. 9:27
Too many of us don’t take our training seriously. That’s the meaning of verse 27. Don’t you realize that you won’t even be given a chance to compete unless you train seriously and rigorously? You’ll never get to the starting line. You’ll never even get to the infield grass. The word “castaway” in verse 27 is the Greek word “adokimos.” And, once again, what it really means is “disqualified.”
I can’t tell you how many Christians I counsel who want victory in their lives, but who don’t want to submit themselves to the rigorous training required to make them victorious. The potential is there; but it’s got to be developed. And only rigorous, disciplined, and always painful effort under the watchful eye of trainers and marshals can foster that development.
First, you’ve got to decide whether or not you really want to compete. The decision I’m asking you to make is “consecration.” Consecration is an act of dedication. You don’t hear that word used much anymore; but forty years ago, consecration was an act that was carefully explained to every new Christian - each of whom was then asked to make a decision in its favor. It was a decision pressed upon him just as forcefully as the decision to embrace Christ. "Without it," he was told, "you'll never follow through to victory. You'll never complete the training regimen necessary to bear the fruit of the Spirit." Turn with me to Romans 12:1 and 2. Romans 12:1-2 is plea for consecration.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The Holy Spirit, through Paul’s writing here, is pleading with you to present your bodies to the Agonia - to make of yourselves "a living sacrifice.” Yes, the Agonia requires sacrifice. Of course it does. But the sacrifice is worth it. The mercies of God are at your behest. The grace is there; just do it. Stop making excuses for a marriage that's barely "getting by." You shouldn't settle for that; and you don't have to. Enroll! Train for victory! Work out your salvation. Put it on display - so that you can prove it to the hundreds of people your life touches.
Having consecrated yourselves, let’s get to work. And let’s begin to expect changes; let’s begin to expect victory. The angels in heaven are peering over heaven's parapets. Go for the gold.