Many of those who are seeking spiritual revival today have been touched by revival fires in the past.
|Dr. Rick Flanders|
We can be grateful that we do have extensive light on revival matters from the words of the Lord Jesus Himself. The night before He died, He met with His disciples (at least the apostles and probably some more of His followers), first in the Upper Room and then on the walk to Gethsemane, and talked with them (and us) about life under the New Covenant. These exquisite and important words from our Lord are recorded in the book of John, chapters 13 through 17. And in them we find the answers to our questions.
In chapter 15, Jesus boils down what He was saying about the abundant life (the real Christian life, which is His gift to us) by giving us the metaphor of the vine and the branches. The key to that life from our perspective is to “abide” (“continue,” “remain”—verses 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11) in Him as a productive branch must stay connected to the life-giving vine. The “abide in Me” life is described as a life of continual dependence (verse 5) and absolute commitment (verses 9-10). Such a life is called friendship with Jesus (verses 13-16), and promises the experience of peace, love, joy, victory, and productivity. It is appropriately described by the Lord back in John 10:10 as having life “more abundantly” (beyond measure).
In verses 2 through 5 we find Jesus describing the processes by which a believer is brought into and up to such a productive life. He is purged in order to bring forth more fruit. Having been purged (the word for “clean” in verse 3 comes from the root of the word translated “purgeth” in verse 2), he is ready to “abide in Me” for the abundant life. This is the process we often see working in revivals. The Father purges branches of the Vine in order to bring them to a new level of productivity. Once purged (the Greek word means “cleansed”) they are “clean through the word” and are prepared to abide in Christ and bear His fruit. Often in revival efforts, the Word of God is preached to the saints, and purging happens (remember what we read in John 13:1-11 and Ephesians 5:25-27). Then they are ready to surrender for service and reproduction (it is clear from verse 16 that the “fruit” of John 15 is not the fruit of repentance, nor the fruit of the Spirit, nor the fruit of the heart, but rather the fruit of the Christian, as in John 4:34-36, Romans 1:13-15, and Philippians 4:15-17: others becoming Christians through our Spirit-empowered witness). What is going on among Christians in revival is purging and then abiding.
REVIVAL BEGINS WITH PURGING
There aren’t a lot of significant spiritual victories happening in Bible-believing churches today, and when anything does happen, we tend to think it is full-blown revival! Revival in scripture is the work of God in which He lifts His people up to the level of faith and commitment where He can bless them as He promised He would (James 4:8-10). In some sense therefore, any part of the revival process can be called “revival.” Reviving someone is a process, and therefore the term is relative. But God is going somewhere with us, and is taking us somewhere. When powerful things happen to start the process, it doesn’t mean that we “have arrived.” And God starts with purging.
This is true about revival, both personal and corporate, everywhere in the Bible. Take a look at Second Chronicles 7:14, Psalm 51:7-15, Malachi 3:1-3, Mark 1:1-8, and James 4:8-10. God’s people are confronted by God’s Word with their many sins. When they respond by repenting, they are purged. But it’s only the beginning! When a group of believers in a church or at a conference or in a youth rally or at a camp cooperate with the Spirit of God by turning from their sins, there is a significant and powerful and often public purging. However wonderful (and unusual) such a thing is, it is a means to a more wonderful end. The goal is the miraculous harvesting found in the book of Acts, which is the need of the world, and the goal of revival.
We can’t be filled with the Spirt until we deal with our sins. Purging is indeed Step #1, but it is not the final destination for seeking believers. Those great experiences of the past may well have been the beginning of greater things, and the fuller victory may have been somehow thwarted. One way revival is derailed is by Christians being content with the progress so far.
THE MAN WHO IS PURGED IS CLEAN
It is a sad fact that many and perhaps most Christians never really feel “clean.” But that night, Jesus made it clear that he wants His followers to get fully clean, and then to consider themselves clean. The words He used earlier were “clean every whit” (read John 13:4-11). The talk began with a visual lesson taught in the washing of the disciples’ feet. As He washed their feet, He told Peter, “If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.” Partnership with Jesus (later called abiding in Him) must be preceded by purging. Then He assured them that a believer (one who has legal forgiveness before the justice of God by faith in the Lord Jesus) who confesses his sins (obtaining practical forgiveness before a holy God by the thorough confession according to First John 1) will be “clean every whit,” and ready to labor with Christ.
This is why He assured them in chapter 15 that they were “clean through the word.” He wants us to know that confession can “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (First John 1:9). Contrite King David found that when he confessed his sins, he was made “whiter than snow” and had “a clean heart” before God (read Psalm 52 again). He wants you to feel clean. And the work of confessing your sins can bring any believer the cleansing he wants and needs.
PURGING MUST BE FOLLOWED BY ABIDING
But we must learn that purging, as we said, is Step #1 in the reviving of a saint or a church. After John 15:3, where the believer is told he is clean, the imperative verb is used in verse 4 to command him to abide in Christ. The truth is that the cleansed Christian will fall back into the same problems unless he learns to abide in Christ. The reason we sin at all is that we fail to abide in Christ. Study the words of First John 2:28 through the startling statement in 3:6. The way we receive eternal life is by coming to Jesus (John 6:35-37). Then the way we live for Him after we are saved is by abiding in Him (John 15:1-8). It is only a life of partnership with Jesus Christ, committed to doing His bidding and depending on Him for the power we need, that will give the Christian victory over himself and his sin. And if you just admit your failure and get clean, but go back to living a life of self-dependence, you will also go back to failure. So every purged believer must be taught to commit his life to follow Christ and depend on Him for victory, day after day.
Do not separate purging from abiding. This is also a truth for corporate revivals. When a group has come through a season (long or short, intense or less emotional) of thorough purging, they need immediately to enter the phase of Step #2. Now it is time for surrender and filling. Now we need, as the Jerusalem believers on the day of Pentecost, to partner with God for the work of evangelism. We must pray and we must begin to speak (review Acts 2:1-4, and then compare the revival at Pentecost with the next one recorded in Acts 4:29-33). Let the Lord fulfill in us His stated program of Acts 1:8, revival and evangelism. Abide in Him, and bear His fruit. Go all the way, and don’t get stuck in the process. Let Him cleanse you thoroughly and then unite with Him to reach the world!
Dr. Rick Flanders