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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
"Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken." (Jeremiah 6:17)
God sends revivalists to His people when they are spiritually low. They come to call us to repentance and to faith in God's mercy for a refreshing from above. But just as there are always revivalists when revival is needed, there are always naysayers to oppose the preaching that calls people back to God. Some of these objectors are actively and consciously working for the Devil, but many certainly are sincere in their objections to revival truth. Just now the Spirit of God seems to be moving among the churches to awaken them to their need for revival. The old truths about the ministry of the Spirit, the importance of holiness in the lives of Christian people, the great power of prayer, and the primacy of evangelism, truths which have sparked revival in the past, are again being taught to fundamentalists. Yet there are also loud fundamentalist voices being raised against the idea that repentance brings a response from God, or that prayer for revival can expect an answer, or that there is even a need for revival in the churches. Without meaning to do it, some Christian leaders are throwing up barriers to revival with their words. Many of these arguments are easily answered from Scripture. Here are the Biblical answers to three of them.

I. Christians do not need to be revived because they already are!
This argument against praying for revival is gaining a growing following, but it is based on improper overemphasis on the word "revival" itself. The fact is that it is the Old Testament that uses the word "revive" to mean bringing God's people back to the level of obedience and faith that will bring God's blessing. In the Authorized English Bible, forms of the word "revive" are used 14 times in the Old Testament. In each instance, it is translated from a Hebrew verb that is based on the word for "life." Chayah means to keep, make, or save alive. It often can mean to "revive," or restore to life. This verb is translated "quicken" 14 times in the Book of Psalms. In these 28 instances, the idea expressed is bringing someone or some group of people back to a state of good physical, emotional, or spiritual health. We find references to distinctly spiritual revival (or quickening) in passages such as Psalm 80:18-19, Psalm 85:6, Psalm 119:25, Isaiah 57:15, Hosea 6:13, Hosea 14 (the whole chapter), and Habbakuk 3:2. The word for "revive" or "quicken" is sometimes used by the Old Testament to mean people repenting and being restored spiritually, but the concept is not confined to passages where the word is used.

Of course, the Lord made a covenant with Israel, which, among other things, promised certain blessings if the people obeyed the statutes and laws He gave them. You can find these blessings and this promise in Deuteronomy 28. This important chapter also warns that certain curses will come if these laws are disobeyed. Then Deuteronomy 30 (as well as other Old Testament chapters) promises that the curses will end and the blessings will return if disobedient Israel will "return and obey the voice of the Lord" (verse 8). Their repentance will bring back God's promised blessings. This is an Old Testament revival, and the Bible records many instances of it. When the people repent, God's blessing returns. The prophet Zechariah stated it simply:

"Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 1:3)
In most of the accounts of these revivals, the word "revive" is never used.

The New Testament never uses the word "revive" to mean God's people returning to a certain level of obedience and faith. This English word is used only two times, in reference to Christ's resurrection (Romans 14:9) and (believe it or not) to the revival of sin in our hearts by the work of the Law (Romans 7:9). It is translated from the Greek word that means to live again. The word translated "quicken" is another, but related, word that means to make alive. Forms of this word are translated "quicken" ___ times in the New Testament, but it never means what "quicken" means in the Old Testament. It either means a physical resurrection or the spiritual resurrection of regeneration (See John 5:21, Romans 4:7, Romans 8:11, I Corinthians 15:45, Ephesians 2:5, and Colossians 2:13). While the idea of Christians coming back to submission to God is not called "revival" in the New Testament, the concept is definitely there!

The Lord promised certain blessings to New Testament Christians if they would live in a spiritual state called "abiding in Christ" or "being filled with the Holy Spirit." Find these blessings promised in John 14, 15, and 16. When believers are disobedient, they lose these blessings, and they are called to repent.

Look at the great "revival passages" of the New Testament (which don't use the word "revive"!):

John 21 ' the restoration of Peter and the other wayward apostles; The warning chapters of I Corinthians, which call on believers to repent of sin;
Galatians 5 ' the call to walk in the Spirit;
Ephesians 5 ' the summons for Christians to "awake" and forsake certain sins;
Colossians 3 ' the call to "mortify" our sinful ways;
James 4 ' the promise of revival in response to repentance;
Revelation 2 and 3 ' repeated calls for Christians to repent.

Those who say that "revival is not a New Testament concept" are right only in regard to the use of the word "revive." The idea of revival among believers is all over the epistles and in the Revelation, just as much as it is found in the prophets and the Psalms. Sometimes the Old and New Testaments use nearly-identical phrases to call for revival (Compare James 4:5-10 with Proverbs 3:34, Psalm 26:6, and Malachi 3:7). We should not tell Christians that need to repent of carnality, worldliness, and self-will that it would be wrong to seek revival. Revival is what they need!

II There is no such thing as a carnal Christian.
An argument connected theologically with the one just discussed is the contention that all true Christians are "spiritual." "Carnal" people, it is said, are unsaved, and therefore it is incorrect to speak of "carnal Christians" or to urge Christians to reject carnality and to live "in the Spirit." This point of view compels preachers to aim at getting professed believers "really saved" rather than getting carnal Christians right. Real believers live right, we are told, and bad behavior indicates that a person's profession of faith in Christ is false. There is no such thing as a carnal Christian, some are saying.

Yet I Corinthians 3 proves that this argument is wrong. Look at what it says:

"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." (verse 1)
The "carnal" recipients of Paul's letter are called "brethren" by divine inspiration, and their carnality is said to make them like "babes in Christ." They are "carnal" (fleshly), but they are "brethren" and are "in Christ."
"For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"
These carnal believers "walk as men," as the "natural man" of I Corinthians 2:14.
". . . the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
Because they have been born again, they are now able to receive spiritual truth, but they nevertheless "walk" as unregenerate men do because they are yielding to the influence of their flesh. The fallen flesh of unsaved men causes them to act as they do, and the same fallen flesh can pull a believer down. "He that is spiritual" in I Corinthians 2:15 is a believer yielded to the Holy Spirit within Him, rather than to his sinful flesh. This term "spiritual" is also used in this way in Galatians 6:1.
"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
Notice that the "man overtaken in a fault" is one of the "brethren," and not an unsaved church-member. He is to be restored by those who "are spiritual." This terminology refers back to Chapter 5, where scripture says,
"Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16)
Christians are told that walking in the Spirit will produce certain good "fruit" (verses 22-23), while yielding to the flesh will produce certain bad works (verses 13-21). Both ways of living are possible to the "brethren." Spiritual living is not automatic or inevitable for the true believer. He must choose to live in the Spirit.

Back in I Corinthians 3 the possibility of true Christians not living right is asserted in other ways, too. At the judgment for rewards when Christ returns for His saints, some will not be rewarded although they will be "saved" (verse 15). Even people who "defile the temple of God" still have God's Spirit dwelling in them (verses 15-16), although the consequences of living this way are dire. I Corinthians 3 proves that some Christians live carnal lives. Revival involves turning them from their flesh to the Spirit of God within them.

If this is not true, then what are the rewards at Christ's judgment seat about? In I Corinthians 3:8-15, some will be rewarded for their faithfulness, and some will "suffer loss" because they were not faithful. If the elect are always faithful, why will some of them not be rewarded? The fact is that carnality is a very important issue in revival. To deny its reality is to block the way. Those who deny the possibility of a Christian being carnal sometimes use Romans 8 to prove their point. In the first half of the chapter, being a Christian seems to be identified with walking in the Spirit. Verse 1 identifies "them which are in Christ Jesus" with those "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Verse 6 says that "to be carnally minded is death." Verse 9 says, "Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you." Verse 14 says, "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." One thing that may be happening in Romans 8 is that terms are being used in a different way than they are in I Corinthians 3. Of course, the term "carnal" simply means "fleshly," in Greek or in English. If Romans 8 defines the term "in the Spirit" to mean having the Spirit within you, might it not use "carnal" to mean not having the Spirit? This, of course, is not the way "carnal" is used in I Corinthians 3. Some highly respected scholars, however, such as Bishop H.C.G. Moule, have discovered the cause of this confusion not in the use of terms but in misunderstanding what Romans 8 is saying. Moule taught that Romans 8, just as I Corinthians 3, contrasts being "carnally minded" and being "spiritually minded" in absolute terms, applicable to anybody. "Death" as a result of carnal living does not mean damnation for the believer, but rather deadness in the life. It is contrasted with "life and peace," which describe the experience of anyone living in the Holy Spirit (verse 6), the way all Christians ought to live. Anyway you read it, Romans 8 does not contradict the clear teaching of I Corinthians 3 about Christian carnality.

Revival lifts God's children from carnality to spirituality, from love of the world to love of the Father, and from disobedience to submission. To deny carnality as a problem for believers is to deny the need for revival among them. Doing so sends us down the road of trying to save the saved through a false, works-based redefinition of salvation. Shall those who have trusted in Christ but still struggle with sin seek to be revived, or re-saved, or "really saved"? The question is a serious one, and an important one raised in part because the truth about carnality has been ignored.

III Christians should not seek revival since it only comes as a sovereign act of God.
God is sovereign, but not all He does should be described as sovereign acts. The conditional promises of the Bible say that if men will meet certain conditions, God is committed to do certain things. God will save those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. God will give to those who ask. God will open Heaven's windows to tithers. God will forgive those who confess their sins. Salvation, answers to prayer, the supply of our needs, and daily forgiveness are based on conditional promises God has made. And so is the reviving of the saints. It is not a sovereign act! The sovereign acts of God are things He does without regard to human faith, effort, repentance, or prayers. He is responding to nothing and no one when He performs a sovereign act. No scriptural promise is proven in these cases. God acts sovereignly in many ways every day, but revival is not one of His sovereign acts. It is His promised response.

To say that revival comes only as an unsolicited, independent, and sovereign surprise from Heaven is to say that His people are in sad shape only because God has not decided to revive them yet! It means that the worldliness and sin in the churches will remain and worsen until and if the Lord decides to change things. The "sovereign act" theory of revivals has a long history, but no Biblical basis at all. Christians are obligated to repent and seek the Lord when they have strayed from His ways! When they do, He will respond.

"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you." (James 4:8)
This is not to say that revival is initiated by man. God is always calling sinful people to repentance. Revival comes as God response to man's response to Him!

One reason otherwise knowledgeable Christians teach the "sovereign act" view of revival is that they pay too much attention to the historical accounts of revivals, and too little attention to the teaching of Scripture. These accounts tend to emphasize the "incidentals" of revival rather than the "essentials." The sound of rushing wind, the shaking of the house, the use of new tongues, and the number of people saved were incidental to the revivals in Acts. The essential elements were the repentance of believers, their faith evidenced by earnest prayer, their filling with the Spirit, and the fulfillment of the promises of John 14-16. In some cases of revival thousands were saved, and in another somebody was murdered. Revival is in the essentials, and not in the incidentals. When we define revival by saloon closings, crime reductions, filled churches, and supernatural events, we are misdefining it. These incidentals often do come as sovereign acts of God, but revival itself is a promised response. By looking to history instead of Bible doctrine, we define revival by incidentals rather than essentials and call it a sovereign act of God. We have no right to pray confidently for the incidentals of revival, but we can and should pray in faith for revival itself.

It is time for fundamentalists to get serious about revival. Perhaps discouragement has diminished our faith so that we are open to some ideas that we would have considered ridiculous forty years ago. Now let us lay aside human ideas and arguments and embrace the promise of the Father to revive us again!

Monthly Article
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

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