A revival occurs when a person or group of persons isolate themselves from the apathy around them and commit themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to live differently in light of that recovered doctrine. Many people think of a revival as an evangelistic crusade, but a revival is more. Revivals do not start in the world (under a tent or in an arena); revival starts with God’s people seeing their sin for what it is (e.g., the Jews in Ezra 10).
We can identify a revival as having the following 6 characteristics.
- Revivals result in God visiting His people in a way they have not recently experienced. For example, on New Year’s Eve 1739, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and some of their friends held a “love feast” which became a watch night of prayer to see the New Year in. At about 3 a.m., Wesley wrote, “The power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.” They felt as if God was personally visiting them in a unique way that they become both fearful and joyful. Revivals always begin with a restoration of the sense of the closeness of the Holy One. Thus, people get on their knees; they pray.
- Revivals elevate one’s esteem for Jesus and the cross. Jonathan Edwards called this one of the distinguishing marks of true revival. For the Christian, the person of Christ is an unavoidable reality but during revival this mark consumes him. Edwards wrote about this in his work The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. He says, “The person to whom the Spirit gives testimony and for whom He raises their esteem must be Jesus – the one who appeared in the flesh. No other Christ can stand in his place. No mystical, fantasy Christ! No light within – as the spirit of Quakers extols – can diminish esteem of a dependence upon an outward Christ. The Spirit who gives testimony for this historical Jesus and leads to Him can be no other than the Spirit of God.” (pg. 30)
- Revivals wage war against any interest of Satan’s kingdom. Again, Edwards says this is a distinguishing mark of true revival. Revivals don’t eliminate sin, but they do fight against it. When revival comes, people are struck by their sin and awake from their sinful slumber. They get on the offensive when it comes to battling sin. They don’t wait for sin to crouch at their door; they attack it before it invades their life.
- Revivals cause a deeper love and affection for the Bible. Since the days of sola Scriptura and the Reformation, the Bible has been vandalized in too many different ways. During revival, the Word of God is not vandalized but prized by all. And the product of such affection is absolute obedience. A.W. Tozer once asked, “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late – and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work. To pray for revival while ignoring the plain precept laid down in Scripture is to waste a lot of words and get nothing for our trouble. Prayer will become effective when we stop using it as a substitute for obedience.”
- Revivals invite fresh love for the Gospel as never before. The sense of God’s nearness creates an overwhelming awareness of one’s own sins and sinfulness, and so the power of the cleansing blood of Christ is greatly appreciated. Thus, as God’s people love the Gospel for themselves, they can’t help but preach it to others.
- Revivals stir up repentance. This is a natural outflow of one’s understanding of their sin and the power of the Gospel. Repentance results in restitution.
When revivals happen, the Spirit works fast, godliness multiplies, Christians mature, and converts appear.
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