Reformation is the labor of God’s people to conform our lives, our churches, our institutions, and our whole society to the standards God has established in his Word. Revival, however, is no less than an act of God to change hearts and lives; bringing life – or a quality of life – into being, where no evidence of it previously existed.
Both are necessary. As a vision statement of the Presbyterian Church in America illustrates:
Without an emphasis on revival, “reformation” may become either a mimicking of political ideologies or sterile doctrinalism. Without an emphasis on reformation, “revival” may become a shallow pietism or mysticism. Only reformation and revival together can accomplish the Great Commission of our Lord.
Which comes first? In one sense that question may be about as easy to answer as which came first, the chicken or the egg? But in another sense it seems to me that revival is far more necessary.
While the goal of Reformation, in part, is to allow the free demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel, it does not always work out that way. Theoretically a Reformation can take place without any real effect on the heart. We can establish order according to God’s standards, without necessarily being reconciled to God, or being drawn closer to him.
A Revival however – a REAL Revival – changes the heart; revealing our sin, and opening our hearts to the love & grace of God, demonstrated in Christ’s death to pay the debt of our sin; leading to living in humble joy to the Glory of God.
(I distinguish between a REAL Revival, and the revivalism that is prevalent in some parts of the USA. In some places signs are posted, and newspaper ads taken out, saying: “Revival this Week…” The old cliché is correct: Posting a sign does not guarantee a revival; and if a REAL Revival is taking place, you don’t need a sign.)
But, again, both Reformation and Revival are needed. I’ll let God work out the logistics.
But since God alone can create a revival, it seems worthy of our efforts to pray for God to send one.
While unpacking my files recently, I stumbled upon the following observations and reasons we need revival. I have slightly edited them from the original work of John Murray in the Banner of Truth.
1. We have gone on so long without seeing a revival. There has been no major revival in more than a century. (Habakkuk 3:2)
2. There has been a great spiritual and moral decline in the land, and some areas are dark and almost pagan.
3. The prevailing Christianity is powerless, and the church has lost her credibility.
4. Deadness, formality and worldliness have taken hold of many congregations. (Revelation 3:1)
5. True conviction of sin is lacking. The first work of the Spirit is to convict of sin. (John 16:8)
6. The broken spirit and the contrite heart are rare. We do not mourn over our sins. (Zechariah 12:10)
7. Many of us have “left our first love” to the Lord Jesus Christ and lack warmth and fervency. (Revelation 2:4)
8. Zeal for the glory of God is lacking, and we are not grieved by the dishonor done to His name in church and nation.
9. We are not deeply moved by the Sight of multitudes passing into eternity without Christ.
10. In many pulpits, the true Gospel is buried out of sight, and sinners are flattered and encouraged in nominal Christianity.
11. Trust in the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible has been undermined, and the distinction between truth and error lost.
12. Preaching is in decline, and there is a famine of hearing the Word of God. There is no great hunger for the Word. (Amos 8:11)
13. There is widespread ignorance of the basic truths of the Gospel and of the nature of Christian conversion. The doctrine of the new birth is watered down.
14. Evangelism has become centered on man and his need instead of on God and His glory.
15. The decay of family religion and family worship. The subversion of the family threatens the very fabric of society .
16. The decline in church attendance and the failure to retain the youth.
17. The neglect and desecration of the Lord’s Day.
18. The lack of any fear of God in our communities. There is open defiance of God and of His ways.
19. Ignorance of what God has done for us in the past. (Judges 2:10)
20. We are sinning against great light because God has so blessed this nation in the past.
So, let’s commit to praying for Revival, while laboring together for a heart-felt Reformation.