"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
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
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
Galatians 5 ' the call to walk in the Spirit;
Ephesians 5 ' the summons for Christians to "awake" and forsake certain
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
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
"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
". . . 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
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
"Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."
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
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
III Christians should not seek revival since it only comes as a sovereign act
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
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!
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church|
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768