Being a Pentecost Christian: Revival!
Generally speaking, to revive something is to bring it back to health or strength. Something is in some weak state and when it is revived it regains new health and vibrancy. Typically, when we hear the word “revival” in a Christian setting we think of a series of meeting that involve the preaching of the gospel in the hope and expectation that God will bring renewed spiritual health in individuals as well as the conversion of unbelievers.
Since the Holy Spirit is the person of the Trinity whom God sends to bring life to those dead in sins, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can bring revival. Moving from death to life in the “new birth” or being “born again” is a work of the Holy Spirit. He must impart life to that which is in spiritual deadness.
John 3:7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
John 3:8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The Spirit of God comes like a wind, according to his will, and imparts life. Without the work of the Spirit imparting new life, we cannot understand the gospel:
1Cor. 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.
1Cor. 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
A common understand of a “revival” is that it centers around a special event. Typically, what happens in a revival style meeting is a preacher or evangelist is brought in for the week to preach a series of salvation messages. In past generations, revivals were often called “tent meetings” because congregants would pitch large tents and preach outdoor to large crowds.
There are good historical roots to revivals. During the First Great Awakening in America, men like George Whitefield, John Wesley, and even Jonathan Edwards experienced numerous conversions as sinners were moved by the power and might of God to repent, confess sins, and turn to Christ. Sometimes these revivals caused people to stir with great displays emotion. While some rejected such displays outright and others automatically assumed this must be what the Spirit’s work looks like, Jonathan Edwards was careful to say that if it is indeed the Holy Spirit he will also cultivate lasting fruit and permanent changes in people’s life.
There are also some bad roots to the modern conception of revival. The Second Great Awakening, in Charles Finney and a few others, we have the use of methods to work up fervor so they would respond to the message. Finney actually argued if the minister applied the music and emotions, working the person up into an excited state, they were more likely to respond. Music, the altar call, and the “anxious bench” became the methods of manipulation. But the reality is no amount of human means can revive those dead in sins. Sadly, the idea persists today that if we can just work the person into a more heightened state of emotions, then they will be able to experience the work of God.
Let’s make some applications:
- Revivals are only the product of the work of God by the Holy Spirit. We should be utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit to do his work. No amount of effort on our part can cause a revival. I cannot work on the hearts of individuals, only God can. Therefore, we should pray regularly and consistently for the Holy Spirit to bring conversion.
- Revivals can be “big” and “small.” Sometimes we think and look for revivals as big extraordinary events. Sometimes they are this. Most times, God is at work reviving sinners in slow incremental processes of conversion and growth. The point is that while God at times may pour out the Spirit in abundance to overwhelm and convert a large number of people, this is no greater a miracle than the conversion of a single sinner. In large or small numbers, whenever sinners are moved from death to life the Holy Spirit is bringing revival. Therefore, we should ask the Holy Spirit to bring the lasting fruit that comes from conversion, rather than measuring revival by human standards of size and success.
- Revivals can happen to Christians. Consider in the book of Revelation, when John writes to the Seven Churches, several of them need revival. They need renewed strength, repentance, and a returning to their “first love.” There are times that the Christian needs to Holy Spirit to return them to a renewed fervor for the Lord. Therefore, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in us and draw us closer into communion with God.
Tim Bertolet is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College and Westminster Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pretoria, South Africa. He is an ordained pastor in the Bible Fellowship Church, currently serving as pastor of Faith Bible Fellowship Church in York, Pa. He is a husband and father of four daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @tim_bertolet.