Revival and Repentance

We are continuing to consider the topic of revival. In short, a revival is a special work of God to bring about life (again) to a community who has lost sight of the everyday work of being friends of God. Revival does not have to be big, highly visible, or fast. Sometimes it is in a small place, a quiet revolution of the Holy Spirit, and often it takes time. Either way, revival is something we should hunger for.

Last week, we considered how prayer is essential to that hunger, both as a primer for revival, an engine during revival, and as an ongoing fruit of revival. Now, we turn to another essential, yet complex, part of preparing for, experiencing, and seeing long-term results of revival – seriousness about sin and repentance.

Moreover, Josiah put away the mediums and the necromancers and the household gods and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might establish the words of the law that were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.

2 Kings 23:24

One of the great revivals in the OT was under the reign of Josiah. Things had gotten bad, real bad, in Judah, the southern section of Israel. God’s people were almost unrecognizable, given how much they now lived as if they were pagans. But God was not done with Israel. His sovereignty caused His Word to be discovered again, and His Spirit abided in a new King, Josiah. Josiah read the Law, was convicted to his depths, and led an anti-idolatry, pro-Yahweh campaign. The above passage is just one instance of Josiah not merely giving assent to the Lord, but also removing evil from Judah. Revival is not merely turning to God, but it is a turning away from those things that try to replace God and in turn redirecting our lives away from hellishness to godliness.

Revival begins with taking sin and repentance seriously.

One brother in Christ caught me after the second service last Sunday to tell me he was a part of God’s renewing work in the early 70’s that I had mentioned in the sermon. He told me that it started with a lot of confession of sin at his home church. Likewise, I was reminded of my junior year at Wheaton College in the spring of 1995, God visited our campus in a special way for two weeks that spring. Confession of sin began the actual events of that revival. My good friend, Doug, was actually the first person to stand before a mic, and over 800 of his peers, to confess the sin of bitterness around 8 pm in Pierce Chapel on the campus of Wheaton College. Fellow students lined up behind my friend to also confess. We had to stop that meeting the following morning at 6 am. This continued for about four more nights. As the week progressed, whole black hefty bags were being filled with pornographic magazines and video tapes, drugs, alcohol, and other household gods, idols, and abominations. As each person finished their confession, they would descend the platform and several others would surround them and pray over them. At no point did this ever seem like wanton human emotionalism, or fleshly seeking of absolution over against the simply means of grace. Rather, there was a spirit of utter relief and release as the Holy Spirit was mercifully cleansing His people. And that is so much of what revival accomplishes. It is a clearing of the brush of idolatry and self-sufficiency and the sins that arise from fleshly self-salvation so that real salvation and real joy can fill the hearts of God’s people.

To this end, I want God to direct all that will come without presumption. At this point, I will not suggest some public format. God must direct us. But be ready. We do not know what God will ordain. However, may I exhort you as your pastor to do business with the Living God and to yield to his work of conviction, which many of you have been wrestling with, perhaps for months or even years.

Idolatry has two great manifestations in the Bible, relational sin and sexual sin. I would like to start there.

  • Are you holding onto bitterness? Do you struggle with rage? Are you unable to forgive someone? Give it to the Lord. See His mercy for you in Jesus. Forgive. Give grace. Trust God for justice. 
  • Are you living in secret sexual sin? Are you looking at pornography? Are you fantasizing about someone who is not your spouse? Are you trying to find meaning, identity, and destiny in shaping your own sexuality?

But, sin also manifests itself in related but unique other ways. May I speak some questions for us all in some of these areas?

  • Are you regularly committing theft? Perhaps the theft of stealing information, or a reputation, or services you did not pay for? Do you commit plagiarism on a regular basis? 
  • Are you not trusting God for today and tomorrow’s provision and thus filled with anxiety? 
  • Are you constantly coveting other people’s bodies, money, jobs, travel, intellect, and personalities without regret and even with justification?
  • Are you angry with God because he has not given you something yet – a spouse, children, a certain career, an income level, certain gifts? 
  • Do you use your money for self with very little sacrifice or sense of stewardship for God’s mission?
  • Do you have a critical spirit, often leading with condemnation and your own self-righteousness, rather than love and grace toward others?
  • Do you often use your giftedness to show your glory, rather than to point to Jesus and His glory? 
  • Do you find yourself bearing false witness? Do you shape information to make yourself look good? Do you lie because you do not believe the real you is enough for God? 
  • Do you find yourself trying to figure out why the Bible does not apply to you or a societal need rather than doing your best to trust it, submit to it, and walk in obedience?

OK. That is a lot. But I know I often need to hear specific things in order for my heart to be specifically pierced with God’s specific truth. 

But one more thing needs to be said at this point, which I will focus on next week.

Taking sin and repentance seriously is a miracle, is a work of grace, and can only be done with a rugged commitment to receiving God’s grace. God seeks to purify our lives because He loves us! This is not behavior modification, arbitrary morality, or self-improvement. This work of revival is the gift of God to bless us with Christ-likeness, nothing less. 

My sense is that God has been at work to convict us all of things mentioned above. Again, my exhortation now is that we simply surrender. Let the Spirit finish His work. Confess. Give over. Turn. See the Lord. Be changed. Be revived. 

Jay Thomas, Lead Pastor