The cultural quicksand appears to rapidly be pulling us down into a place that is dark and foreboding, with the result that calls for revival are increasingly heard. Now, we know from the Apostle Paul that the end of the end times will bring a great departure from the truth of God. He says that preceding the Tribulation will be the apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3). But will a time of revival come before the time of great apostasy? Is talking about “revival” realistic? For sure, an apostasy will come (or is here) but what about revival? In an attempt to deal with this significant issue, we really need to take a step back and try and be clear on these two subjects.
The Matter of “Revival.” Many believers aren’t sure what they are looking for when they are talking about and seeking “revival.” Just ask them. Some Christians, imagining a “revival”, think of some mystical working of God where strangely unique things happen. Some of this comes from accounts of alleged revivals from the past. But if we seek revival, just what is it that we are expecting to observe? Would we know it if we saw it?
Several realities about “revival” should be clarified. First, unbelievers cannot be “revived” because they have never had spiritual life as their experience. They can’t be restored to something they never had. They need to be born again, so the issue is evangelism. Second, we need to define the word “revival.” I would like to suggest that revival is a believer’s new beginning of obedience to the truth of God. Revival is for God’s people. Third, real revival is inseparably connected with the Word of God. This is seen in numerous biblical accounts, such as the revivals in the days of Ezra, Nehemiah and King Josiah. When the Word was heard and correctly responded to, that is when “revival” took place: that new beginning of obedience in the lives of God’s people. Fourth, revival is not a one-time event, but should be regularly taking place in our lives. As we are exposed to new truth from God, or are reminded of truth we knew from the past, we refocus on our obedience to God’s truth. For example, we hear a message on prayer and we think to ourselves, “I need to be more diligent and consistent in my praying.” And we do that. That is “revival”, as we have embarked on a new beginning of obedience related to our prayer lives. So, biblical revival ought to be going on regularly in the life of each and every believer. But usually, the idea that “we need revival” is looking at some sort of mass movement which targets the unbeliever.
But can this great, mass movement happen today in our culture? The question is obviously not, can God do something. He is omnipotent and He is sovereign. But He has also put the spiritual mechanisms in place for accomplishing His purposes in individuals, as well as nations. And what must be in place is the accurate proclaiming of God’s Word. No Word, no revival. And this brings into focus the role of the Church both corporately and individually. But today there is precious little proclaiming of God’s truth; certainly not what characterized the church in years past. What passes for biblical preaching in many too many churches is simply not biblical instruction in the doctrines, standards and commands of God. Sermons today are characterized by a quick reference to a verse or two (without any real, solid investigation of their meaning in the text), followed by lots of stories and alleged applications of the biblical text. The point I am making is that without a cognitive understanding of God’s commands and righteous standards, along with an understanding of WHO God is, there cannot be “revival”. It is God’s truth that must be responded to. So, can there be revival today? No, not unless that Church makes some dramatic changes in the way it is doing the Lord’s business. God can do anything, but He put in place the mechanism of human involvement in the bringing about of revival.
While the above might seem unnecessarily gloomy, recent statistics concerning the evangelical church (the group that probably should be leading the way in “revival”) is both enlightening and depressing. What were once core evangelical beliefs have increasingly been abandoned by many churches, pastors as well asindividuals. (So much so that the term “evangelical” has pretty much lost its meaning). Just consider a few results of a very recent survey. This survey says that 30% of evangelicals do not believe that Jesus is God; 35% want Roe vs. Wade kept as it is and 56% think that same sex marriage is fine. Other recent studies have revealed that the decline in those who believe that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, error free Word of God is declining rapidly among those in both the pulpit and the pew. So, if the Word of God is essential (and it is) to real revival, then things don’t look very bright. The only hope is for pastors especially, and churches, to reverse the current trend and courageously proclaim God’s precepts without apology and without reservation. If believers hear God’s Word and chose to obey it, then revival begins. It is then that evangelism of unbelievers will really take place. But if one thinks that the Holy Spirit is going to swoop down in some mall (or even in a church building or tent) and overwhelm the people there and cause them to change their ways, further thought is needed.
The Matter of Apostasy. Since the church began in the book of Acts, apostasy has been present. The term “apostasy” is used just once in the New Testament (2 Thess. 2:3) but it is used several times in the Old Testament. As it is used, the word has the idea of “departing from the truth” but the element of rebellion is there as well. And that makes sense. To depart from God’s truth is to depart from God Himself (so says Paul in Gal. 1:6), which is an act of rebellion. But while the word itself (apostasia) is used infrequently, the idea of walking away from the truth of God is everywhere in the Scriptures.
The Apostles included in their writings warning about turning from God’s truth and how this church age will end. They were unusually concerned with what the church would be like when this age came to its end. Prior to the Rapture event, there will be an unusually large invasion of false teachers with their false teachings that come into the Church. Now, we know that Satan, since the Garden of Eden, has used false and distorted ideas as his primary tool in countering God’s work in the world. This is nothing new. But the Apostles foresaw a time when falsehood in the church would explode leaving believers in grave danger. Large numbers of men and women would seduce the saints with their damaging doctrines and there is so much of that today. These terrible teachings will hurt believers in this life; affect the life to come; and they will carry on into the Tribulation. And while we cannot set dates and times, we are certainly seeing such an explosion of falsehood. The “apostasy” is accelerating and often in places we never imagined, as once solid schools, churches and Christian leaders turn from truth to accommodate themselves to this decaying culture.
We can never look at the absence of sound (health) doctrine and declare that because of that, the Lord will be returning on such and such a date. What we can say is that He might indeed be coming very soon because of the ongoing departure from the truth of God in “the church”. The apostasy is yet another one of the props that will be on the prophetic stage when the end comes. This points to the possibility that it is close to curtain time, and the beginning of the final act of human history known as the Tribulation.
In the meantime, until the curtain goes up, you and I need to daily refocus on the Lord Jesus (see Heb. 3:1). We are easily consumed by the events in the culture with the result that we become timid and fearful. The Scriptures are loud and clear that we must “contend earnestly” (Jude 3) for God’s truth, and to “expose” the distorted doctrines that are being promoted in the church (1 Tim. 4:1; Eph. 5:11). This contending for the faith is part of what a faithful servant of Christ does. Without being obnoxious, we need to confront errant pastors and culturally compromised Christian leaders about their “apostasy.” Fellow believers who have been drinking the “Kool aide” of these leaders have a need to be informed about what God’s Word really says. Most of us will never stand behind a pulpit speaking to thousands, but more likely will be one on one with a fellow believer who has been seduced by man pleasing ideas. We must not be argumentative, but we must be clear, compelling and full of conviction in our handling of truth.
There is no revival without a new beginning of obedience to God’s truth in the life of a believer. Without revival the apostasy will come, and perhaps fairly soon.