Reformation or Revival? (Part 14)

Discipleship Series
by Rayola Kelley

We have been considering various aspects of the Christian life. Last month I dealt with the subject of conversion. People are being converted to embrace some type of worldview according to philosophies of the world or the belief systems of man. Such a conversion will determine the attitudes and lifestyles of those who are converted.

When it comes to religion, conversion can lead to reformation or revival. Recently, I just finished reading a book about the revival that was prevalent in Charles Finney’s ministry in New York in the 1800’s called “Holy Spirit Revivals. The stories are incredible. One of the most popular stories surrounding this revival had to do with Charles Finney being invited to the next community to preach. Mr. Finney always prayed for his text. He was given the text ofGenesis 19:14: “Get up, get out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city!”

This text was in reference to the destruction of Sodom. As he was preaching, he noticed that the men looked angry. He could not figure out why they would be offended from this simple text. To make a long story short, he later found out that the community he was preaching in was called Sodom, and the man that had invited him to the community was named Lot.

We tend to remember such stories, but my goal in reading this book was to understand the environment that was present for such a revival to take place. Stories may inspire us in our faith, but coming to terms with the environment is how we can glean from the experiences of others.

Environment has to do with the state or disposition. State or disposition is determined by the spirit and attitude that is present. As I mediated on the environment conducive to revival, I could see a pattern. Note, I said a pattern, not a method, but a pattern that was obvious throughout Mr. Finney’s book. The Bible talks about patterns. They can be followed, but to follow a pattern does not necessarily mean you will always get the same results.

Before I present to you the pattern that I observed through this incredible revival, I must establish what real revival is. When the Church attempts to come back to center to God, its calling and responsibilities, it has been known to work within the two environments that I have already made reference to: that of reformation and revival. Reformation points to reforming in the way something is being done. Revival is an awaking out of an indifferent or dead state. In fact, revival occurs when one is actually awakened to his or her spiritual state. Reformation involves changing our outward conduct, while revival entails a total transformation of the inward state or disposition. You can have reformation without revival, but you will not have revival without reformation following.

It is easy to study these two environments. Because of King Hezekiah’s personal spiritual awakening or revival, he brought great reformation to Israel during his initial reign. As you study this reformation, you will see that the people of Judah may have complied outwardly to godly cleansing and separation, but under the next king, they went right back into their idolatrous and pagan ways. Therefore, reformation may result in people lining up to godly practices outwardly, while still maintaining a mixture of idolatry and pagan preferences.

A good example of revival is the story of Jonah and Nineveh. Nineveh was a wicked city, doomed by God. However, a reluctant Jonah was sent to the people of Nineveh to warn them of the judgment that was about to befall them. Out of Jonah’s preaching came true revival. These wicked people were truly awakened to their spiritual state and responded accordingly, and judgment was stayed for many years afterwards.

Today there is a lot of talk about revival, and some reformation, but is the environment surrounding the professing Church conducive to revival? There are individuals who are experiencing personal revival, but could the visible Church be a candidate for a true revival?

As I consider the trends, attitudes and emphasis of the professing Church, my answer to whether it is a candidate for true revival would be a resounding, “NO!” Granted, it is not impossible for revival to occur, but in its present state, the professing Church is not even close to experiencing a revival. I realize this blunt honesty will not make me popular, but as I considered the environment of Charles Finney’s day there is no way that the environment surrounding the professing or visible Church would ever encourage a true revival.

There are three ingredients necessary for true revival. The first ingredient is God. Revivals are a sovereign move of God. They are done outside of religion and man’s traditions and efforts. This is why many in the professing Church can talk about revival, but they most likely will not experience it.

In the past I experienced a revival. It was not on the scale of Charles Finney’s, but the one thing that I was quite aware of was that it was a total, sovereign work of God outside of the church system. I witnessed an incredible move of the Spirit upon the hearts of people. They were being awakened to their spiritual condition, and as a result, they were open to the salvation message. As you read Charles Finney’s book, he likewise was aware of this fact. He never took any glory for what God was doing. He was simply a messenger, a mouthpiece for God.

The second ingredient is referred to as a spirit of prayer. Nothing gets accomplished without prayer. But, this is not just any prayer. This prayer is inspired by the Spirit, is in tune with the heart and work of God, and is steadfast in seeing a matter fulfilled for the glory of God. There were times recorded in Mr. Finney’s book when the Spirit lifted from the work of revival. Committed saints got on their faces and prayed that the Spirit would not lift, but continue to do the work of revival in the hearts of people. In fact, these individuals would mourn and wrestle before God if the Spirit was missing.

The third ingredient involves preaching. However, the main emphasis of the message had to do with sin. Charles Finney’s anointed preaching was a sword that went into the very spirit and soul of people to expose their hopeless condition that was wrought by sin. In his book he made this very profound statement: “Ministers generally avoid preaching what the people before them will understand. They will preach to them about other people, and the sins of other people, instead of addressing them and saying, ‘You are guilty of these sins’ and ‘The Lord requires this of you.’ They often preach about the Gospel instead of preaching the Gospel. They often preach about sinners instead of preaching to them” (“Holy Spirit Revivals,”pg. 68).

Preaching that addresses where the people are in their spiritual lives gives the Holy Spirit something to work with. If a person is not being made aware of his or her sin, the Holy Spirit will have no means to convict or reprove him or her of sin. Sadly, people are not concerned about their sin breaking fellowship with God; rather, their main emphasis, even in some Christian circles, is that they want to feel good in their sin. They want to be esteemed in their sin, and be placated and pampered in their darkness.

This brings me to another important point. True revival begins in the Church. People who consider themselves to be Christians need to also be awakened to their spiritual condition. Finney wrote that there was a man who was a leader in his church. He even conversed with the pastor on various occasions. One day he approached Mr. Finney concerning the fact that his prayer to have all that God had for him was unanswered. Mr. Finney told him, he must be praying with a wrong motive. The man was insulted by the truth, but as he went to prayer, God exposed his selfish motive. Before it was over, the man had such a deep sense of his sinful condition, he even asked God to take his very life. It was from this premise that the man was finally converted.

The truth is, without the awareness of sin there can be no revival. The main work of the Holy Spirit is to awaken us to our sin, the righteousness of God, and the judgment to come. If the issue of sin is missing from preaching, there will be no real premise or anointing in which to awaken a soul to his or her need of repentance from sin and conversion to righteousness. Without true repentance and conversion, a person has no assurance of being spared from the impending judgment that has already been pronounced upon those who belong to this present age of rebellion, idolatry and paganism.

As I considered my own situation, I realized the greatest transformations that took place in my life were when I was the most aware of my sinful condition. At such times, I could do nothing more than cry out for mercy, knowing that I deserved great judgment for my condition and actions. In times such as these, I also sense how far Christ had to go to reach me in the depth of my sin. He had to come from heaven as the sinless Lamb of God in order to die on the cross. He then went into the depths of the earth in order to be raised in newness of life.

This brings us to the environment of the professing Church. It may preach about various matters, but in some cases the matter of sin has been ignored, watered down or totally cast aside. Without the awareness of sin, a person will have no need to repent. And, as Jesus stated, we must repent or perish (Luke 13:3, 5).

Without repentance, a person will never turn around in order to be truly converted to the righteous ways of God. This brings me back to the pattern. The pattern of revival begins with the sovereign move of God upon the hearts of people. In this move, the Holy Spirit impacts a person in such a way that he or she feels totally undone and exposed. This usually occurs when certain people are interceding on behalf of others in compliance to the Spirit, or there is anointed preaching that strips away cloaks of delusion and religion exposing people’s true spiritual condition.

Once an individual has a true sense of his or her spiritual condition, then he or she will be ready to repent. Repentance implies one has changed his or her will, mind or direction, which causes an about-face in relationship to God, sin and life. However, an about-face is just the beginning. Christians must face God in order to be converted to His way. Obviously, a person who is converted to some kind of religious code will reform his or her way. However, when a person is truly converted to the Person of the Lord Jesus, recognizing his or her need for forgiveness for his or her wretched condition, revival takes place in the inner man.

Sadly, sin has been negated, repentance has been perverted, and conversion has been misrepresented in the postmodern churches. Today conversion is a matter of saying a sinner’s prayer, rather than a total conversion to a particular Person and His work of redemption.

Clearly, revival will result in conversion, while reformation often just produces outward change. This brings me to a very good question. Many people may be reformed in their practices, but how many of them have been revived to walk in the ways of righteousness? The problem with reformation is that a person can take pride in the fact he or she no longer sins a certain way, but, without conversion, such pride often ends in self-righteousness and delusion. Sadly, this person will not see that he or she has never been converted to what is right. These individuals consider themselves in light of what they are no longer doing, instead of in the light of the righteous ways of God.

In reading about the revivals that took place in China in the early 1900’s missionary James O. Frazier pinpointed five manifestations of the Holy Spirit that were consistently evident in these revivals. They are as follows:

1)     Conviction of sin in light of God’s holiness.

2)     Revelation of Jesus: We must behold the Son to begin to grasp His grace as our Redeemer and His glory as Lord.

3)     Understanding the truth: God’s truth must be presented so that people can clearly see their spiritual ineptness and condition.

4)     Outpouring of love: Godly love is the only fruit that clearly identifies Christians. One of the major sins that will hinder revival, agreement, and growth in Jesus’ Church is unforgiveness. Being unforgiving breeds anger, conflict, bitterness, and revenge.

5)     Anointing of Power: The Holy Spirit is the One who brings such anointing to preaching, teaching and evangelism. Anointing breaks the yoke upon people.

My question to you is have you truly been converted to the person of Jesus Christ, resulting in being revived from that which was dead? When was the last time that you were undone by the Spirit of God moving upon your life in deep conviction of sin? When was the last time you repented because you were lifeless or near death in your spiritual life? Only the Lord can show you these matters, but if you are tired of nominal or lifeless Christianity, God is always near those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The prophet Isaiah put it best:“For thus saith the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the heart of the contrite ones (Isaiah 57:15).