When is Revival Real?

by Matt Williams on March 08, 2023

When is Revival Real?

 What This Paper is About

The question I am trying to answer in this blog is, “When is revival real?” The first way I will answer that question is to define revival. Revival is a work of the Holy Spirit upon many people in one geographic location. Martin Lloyd-Jones noted, “A revival is not the Church deciding to do something and doing it. It is something that is done to the Church, something that happens to the Church.” One of the reasons I am writing this blog is because I am preaching through Luke and I want our church to understand how the Holy Spirit works so that we can properly pray and experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our church. Another reason I am writing on this subject right now is in response to what is happening at Asbury University. Many people are asking good questions and I want to faithfully answer them.

What This Paper is Not About

            This paper is not an exhaustive list of everything that happens when God initiates a true movement of the Holy Spirit. This paper is also not a paper about the doctrine of conversion. My assumption is that everyone who reads this paper understands that the Holy Spirit only dwells in, and therefore exclusively works in, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who have experienced the new birth (John 3:3). The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit permanently indwells believers the moment they believe. A revival may indeed result in many people confessing the Lordship of Jesus and being born again, but the distinction I want to make is that a person cannot claim that the Holy Spirit is working in them if they have not first trusted in Christ for salvation.

A Caution

At the very heart of the question posed above is an underlying caution to us all as we know that sometimes “revivals” can be fake. What do I mean by fake? A fake revival is a manmade, man centered, emotional experience with potential devastating eternal effects. Satan is very powerful and could use even well-intentioned people to give false assurance to a lost person who experienced an emotional high at a tent meeting. There are also individuals who are not so well intentioned who prey upon people’s emotions using religion as a guise to make money off those who do not know the difference between a true work of the Spirit from a fake one. The Bible calls these people false prophets (2 Pet. 2:1-3). These false prophets are unknowingly used by Satan to draw people away from Jesus. Those who know their history well know that these have happened throughout church history with, I believe, devastating effects. Those who know church history also know that true, God sent, God centered revivals have taken place with eternal, glorious effects. So, how can one tell the difference? Let me give you 5 ways you can tell a true revival from a fake one. All five of them are taken from John’s gospel.    

5 Results of True Revival from John 14-16

First, in John 14:15 the Spirit is called a “helper” or “counselor” or “advocate.” So, how does He help us? 14:17 says, “even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.” So, a few observations. First, He is called “the Spirit of truth.” In John 17:17 Jesus prays for His disciples saying, “sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth.” The Spirit has the distinct role of helping us understand God’s Word. The first way you will be able to spot a true revival from a fake one is that God, through the Spirit, will cause many people to understand and love His Word. Also notice that this is an internal (he will be in you) work of God causing a person to experience heart change. Man-centered revivals seek external evidence to prove the legitimacy of the Spirit’s work. Anytime a “revival” breaks out which is not focused on internal heart change then it is a fake revival. Beware of false teachers that focus on physical healings or using God to increase one’s wealth. This first evidence is an internal heart change that the Spirit brings about in a person to help them understand the truth in God’s Word. This is why in our church services, we read God’s Word, sing truths from God’s Word, pray God’s Word, and preach God’s Word. God’s Word is not secondary but primary in our services. It is baked into everything we do. Any supposed movement of the spirit that is divorced from God's word is fake.

            Second, Jesus says in John 14:21 that, “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.” The second way you will be able to spot a true revival from a fake one is that many people will experience a renewed resolve to obey Jesus’ commands. In John 14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.” People led by the Spirit make decisions differently than people who are not led by the Spirit because there is a fear of disobeying God’s commandments. Spirit led decision making is not marked by thoughtless, impulsive behaviors like suddenly quitting your job or suddenly moving across the country, or other erratic decisions. A true movement of the Spirit is an interest in knowing Jesus commands and a desire not to break them in any way. Decisions are made carefully and prayerfully not erratically because a true movement of the Spirit causes people to be governed by God’s Word, not their impulsive desires. You might be wondering how I can say that obedience to Christ’s commandments is a result of the Holy Spirit when the Holy Spirit is not referenced in the above verses. My answer is that John 14:18-24 is the result of the Spirit’s movement because Jesus says in verse 25, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” So, Jesus summarizes the preceding verses by explaining that a new resolve to obey the commands of Christ is a result of the Helper teaching you and bringing to your mind Christ’s commands at times when you are trying to determine God's will. Also notice that the Spirit is called the Holy Spirit in verse 25. Any supposed revival that is divorced from personal holiness is a fake revival. A true work of the Holy Spirit always results in the removal of sin.

            In John 15:12 Jesus says, “this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” This command to love other believers comes immediately after the Lord's teaching to abide in Him as the true vine. These results that I am pointing out to you of a true revival of the Holy Spirit are abiding changes in a person’s life because of the deep rooted heart change. This is why it is almost impossible to properly determine if a revival is true or fake right away. Time will tell. Does the desire to please God last or does it fade away? The third way you will be able to spot a true revival from a fake one is that many people will experience a renewed love for their fellow brother and sister in Christ. A true movement of the Holy Spirit is focused on others. Fellowship with other believers is constant and ongoing. A true movement of the Holy Spirit squashes individualism and self-autonomy. Any supposed revival that is divorced from an abiding desire to continually fellowship with other believers is fake. This is why a true movement of the Holy Spirit is always connected to the local church. Are worship services being attended in greater numbers in the cities where there is a supposed revival? Then true revival has taken place. If local churches around the supposed revival do not grow in number, then there has not been a true movement of the Holy Spirit. True revival may begin in a tent or university, but it will abide with a commitment to a local fellowship of believers.

            In John 15:26 Jesus says, “but when the helper comes, whom I will send to you from the father, the spirit of truth, who proceeds from the father, he will bear witness about me, and you will bear witness because you have been with me from the beginning.” Jesus says, “and you will bear witness.” The fourth way you will be able to spot a true revival from a fake one is that many people will begin to evangelize the lost people around them. People will begin to experience a boldness and a pressing to share with others the salvation that is in Christ alone. Rejection of their testimony does not mean the revival was fake. A true revival is not a guarantee of evangelistic success, but it is a guarantee of evangelism. So, don't get discouraged! Keep sharing your faith with boldness and let God work in their hearts.

            In John 16:13 Jesus says, “when the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” There are several things here. First, notice that the Holy Spirit does not speak on his own authority. The Holy Spirit speaks whatever he hears from the father. It is not the Holy Spirit’s job to bring new revelation. The Spirit's job is to guide you into the truth that Jesus teaches. The Spirit's job is to shine the spotlight on Jesus and his teachings. Not to bring his own teachings. This is perhaps the most misunderstood role of the Holy Spirit in our day. So, if someone says that God told them to do something that is opposed to the truth in God's word then God did not speak to them. They did not hear from God. Perhaps the most persuasive element in determining true revival from fake revival is that there is an awesome glorification of the Lord Jesus (He will glorify me). People will love, worship, adore, and praise Jesus for his redeeming work in their lives in a new and fresh way that was absent. And they will seek to worship Jesus with others who want to worship Jesus in the same Spirit. Any supposed movement of the Spirit divorced from the person and work of Jesus Christ is fake.

A Word to The Bored

            I can imagine how this must read to the person who believes that I am limiting the person of the Spirit and minimizing the excitement of the work of the Spirit. If all the Holy Spirit does is make me holy, teach me how to understand my Bible, help me obey Jesus, cause me to love my fellow brothers, encourage me to share my faith and shine the spotlight on Jesus then how is that any different than my everyday life as a believer or my weekly church services that I experience every Sunday? Pastor, the way you describe the person and work of the Spirit sounds…well…boring! I want to experience something new and different, some may say. I really want to respond to my brothers and sisters who seem to constantly seek new and exciting experiences of the Spirit with Jesus words in John 15:11. Right in the middle of His teachings on the Holy Spirit in chapters 14-16 He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” According to the master, the creator of all things, and the one who is closest to the Father, these five evidences of the Spirit are the way that our “joy may be full.” In other words, we will be as happy as we can be in this life when we are as obedient as we can be in this life. My advice to those who lack joy is to seek these five things and not experiences of fleeting emotionalism.

A Word to The Pessimist

            I write this last section really for me and others like me. As I am writing this blog, I have been asking myself the question of why I am automatically pessimistic when I hear that there is revival going on in another area of the country. After all, I am seeking such a revival to happen in my heart and in my church! Wednesday after Wednesday we gather and intentionally pray for such a movement of the Spirit to happen in Fairborn. Well, what if God actually answered that prayer? Would I be surprised? Would I be pessimistic? What would I do? I am not sure what I would do honestly because I’ve never experienced a revival according to the definition I gave, where many people at the same time in one geographic location experience the fruit of the Spirit. It seems to me that the work of the Spirit is usually a slow work overtime in a person’s life. It also seems to me that most Christians desire God to speed things up a bit. We are impatient people, aren’t we? And I am as impatient as anyone. I believe that the key is found in Colossians 4:2 which says, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” We must realize the fact that the Spirit’s work is steady (not slow) and remain hopeful that we will experience this fullness of Joy in our hearts that Jesus speaks of. I hope this encourages you all. May God bless you!

Tags: revival


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