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A Different View of Revival—Part I

A while ago I wrote an article entitled Revival, Revival, Revival. I postulated that revival is not primarily about preparing for the advent, and that revival will not come because of some rigorously practiced religious exercises. In fact, I believe that there is no cause and effect process between the practicing of the prescriptions and genuine revival. I will suggest that the practices are God designed prescriptions necessary for spiritual nurturing and growth but they are not intended to bring about revival. Ephesians 6:10-18 identifies the prescriptions as the different parts of the believer’s armour that must be worn to fight the good fight of Faith. Fighting can only be undertaken and carried out by individuals who are alive and not in need of being revived. Maybe the confusion rises from the wrong definition and use of revival.

The dictionary defines revival as: “Recovery from apparent death”. The verb to revive means to recover life and the noun ‘revivification’ is the act of recalling to life. Paul writes that we were all dead in our transgressions…but because of His great love, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ. God is the One who recalled sinful humanity to life. The question is how did God do it? The short answer is by the Cross, but the current interpretation of what took place on Calvary has blinded people to its deeper significance. Most Christians see the cross only as a forensic act that was designed to turn away God’s wrath from the sinner by placing on Jesus Christ the collective guilt of the race and the deserved death sentence. In other words, God placed on His Son our guilt and condemnation and, as the popular evangelical song says. “He took the fall… ”. Our response is to accept the transaction and all is then well. As to the obedient life, it is a matter of allowing Christ to gradually change our lives. We call this process sanctification and we rest in the understanding that this will be the work of a lifetime, which I suspect has unwittingly made us complacent.

When Adam sinned, the immediate consequence was that his nature, to that point identical to God’s in terms of sinlessness, turned sinful. There is linguistic evidence to show that the word that the early Biblical writers used to describe sin is the same as the word used to identify/qualify the curve/bend toward itself of a shepherd’s staff or crook. Georges Stéveny, the late Dean of Theology at the Séminaire adventiste du Salève, defines the sinful nature as the dreadful inner pressure that drags human being into disobedience. The French author Charles Péguy describes sin as the wall of separation built on the inside of the heart. It was the fallen nature that severed Adam’s ontological link with God, the only source of life, as symbolized by his henceforth inability to partake of the fruit of the tree of life. Death had entered onto the stage. Death does not come as a punishment that an angry God inflicts on sinners but as the natural outcome of being cut off from the source of life. God does not have to mete out death; death is the unavoidable other face of sin. This is the symbolic meaning of Adam no longer having access to the tree of life after he had sinned. Sinful nature cannot inherit eternal life, it must die either as the inevitable eternal consequence of separation from God, or it dies in Christ but then follows resurrection unto a new life.

God who is love was compelled by His very nature to provide a way out of the horrendous predicament. Paul made a fascinating statement which few believers take time to scrutinise. God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all (Romans 11:32, NIV).  There comes a defining moment in every person’s life when they stop and take stock of their moral situation.  They either decide to keep on eating and drinking for on the morrow they die (1 Corinthians 15:32), or like the prodigal son they remember their loving father’s house and decide to return. The father’s words were For the son of mine was dead and is alive again (Luke 15:24, NIV). It can also be said that the son experienced revivification. He went through a revival.

In the spiritual realm, revivification is about our sinful nature being put to death and a new nature, that of Christ given to us. This is the point where understanding the deeper significance of baptism is vital. Paul wrote a about the experience of baptism in his letter to the believers in Rome (Romans 6). In the previous chapter he made a strong statement “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20, NIV).  Paul was fully aware that his words could be distorted to mean that one could go on one’s merry sinful way recklessly because in any case grace would be there to cover it all.  He wrote chapter six to circumvent the distortion. Paul’s thesis is that the believers should never think like that because they have experienced baptism. So, what is baptism about?

Baptism is the mysterious, mystical, symbolic act by which an individual is totally incorporated into Christ to the extent that that person is as closely enfolded in Christ as a baby is in the mother’s womb; even closer than that. That person and Christ effectively become one. That individual henceforth experiences in his own life the same defining moments that Christ experienced, though with a difference in the sequence. For Christ it was birth, life of obedience, death, resurrection, and glorification. For the believer death comes first, followed by resurrection (new birth), a life of obedience, and finally glorification. Death has no mastery/power over the new life.

Jesus said “I came that my sheep may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).  Some have seen this statement as meaning that the present life of the disciple is to be experienced to the full of its potential. There is certainly some truth to this understanding, but the statement has a far greater significance. It is better understood when enlightened by three other quotes from Jesus.

  • I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
  • I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 NIV).
  • He who believes me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25 NIV).

The death referred to in the first two texts is the eternal death that follows separation from God the source of life. The death mentioned in the third text is the one that affects all human beings, referred to as a sleep and which the believers have no fear of (See Matthew 10:28). That’s truly reviving.

Pastor Eddy Johnson is the director of ADRA Blacktown and pastors two churches in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia.

Image: Piero della Francesca,The Baptism of Christ, 1448-1450.

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