Revival and Revivalism (Part 2)

(From Think on These Things. Read Part 1.)

Biblical Basis for Revival

If the Scriptures do not encourage us to seek revival, what does it say on the subject? In the Old Testament we find several references to being revived. The word that is sometimes translated “revive” or “revived” is found two hundred thirty-four times in the Old Testament and it means to give life, make alive, and give new life, depending upon the context.

In Psalm 119 we find this word for “revive” used several times in the context of spiritual renewal. On at least twelve occasions the psalmist prays to be revived. That is, an invitation to renew or make alive the spiritual passions and desires of a believer. By studying these examples we can find the biblical marks or characteristics of a spiritually alive person:

1. They want to know God’s way (verse 37)

Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity, And revive me in thy ways.

This verse reminds us of the sayings in Proverbs with both a negative and a positive statement. On the positive side the revived person wants to be going God’s way. He wants to be on the right path—God’s path.

On the other hand He knows that the great distraction here is the magnetic pull of vanity. Now, you might remember from the book of Ecclesiastes that vanity means emptiness or meaningless. This verse tells us more about ourselves than we would ever want to know: that we can be so shallow, so blind, so off-base in our understanding of life so as to exchange the way of God for the “ways of the empty.”

We are not talking about choices between a good and better way. We are talking about choices between the best way and the worst way; between the path of life and the path of death; between the path that leads to the fountain of life and the path that leads to empty cisterns. That we would choose the empty path is tragic, but it reveals the heart of the one who lacks spiritual passion and life.

2. They Long for Righteousness (verse 40)

Behold, I long for Thy precepts;
revive me through Thy righteousness.

The path of God is a path of righteousness, holiness. Here’s the rub for many. Who wouldn’t want to be on God’s path if it offered happiness, life, and eternal security, especially if we could continue to go down the empty path at the same time? That is, if we could have the good things of God and at the same time could continue to indulge in our sins and empty pursuits, then that would be very attractive to many.

But God’s path is a path of holiness. To walk in God’s path is to repent of sin and walk away from those things that deter holiness. God’s path of righteousness and the empty path meet at a cross roads and go separate directions, a choice must be made.

3. They Recognize the Source of Life (verses 88 and 159)

Revive me according to Thy lovingkindness. So that I may keep the testimony of Thy mouth. Consider how I love Thy precepts; Revive me, O Lord, according to Thy lovingkindness.

One of the most important things that the child of God needs to learn is that spiritual life is not a product of our sweat and tears, it is a gift from God. Our spiritual development springs from the God who is full of lovingkindness (faithful, merciful love). We are totally dependent upon Him for life and passion. It is God who causes the garden of our lives to grow and bear fruit.

Now, we can do certain things to cultivate that garden. We can water and weed and fertilize. We can read the Word, pray, fellowship, worship and serve. But it is God who gives the increase. And so, like our psalmist, it is altogether appropriate that we ask God to revive us according to His lovingkindness. It is right that we cry out to Him to show us Himself, His truth. And that He gives us the power and passion to walk in His ways.

4. They Make Use of the Means (verses 25, 50, 107, 149, 154, 156)

Revive me according to Thy word… That Thy word has revived me. …Revive me, O Lord, according to Thy word…. Revive me, O Lord, according to Thine ordinances.

While it is the Lord who does the reviving, He does use means, instruments; and the primary instrument He uses is the Word. We saw this in an earlier study when we were trying to trace down the biblical means for spiritual growth. Our study revealed that growth and sanctification are always explained in the Bible as being effected through the Word. We do not grow through music, worship, service, or even prayer. These are the outcomes of growth.

Every mention of the instrument of growth or revival (from the human perspective) points to the study and application of God’s truth as found in the Word of God. Our psalmist agrees. Unfortunately we all know Christians who understand a great deal about the Bible; they may even have great portions memorized, but they are still baby Christians. How can this be? Because they misuse the Bible. And how do we know that they are misusing the Bible? There are two ways:

1. We will delight in God’s Word and ways (verses 35,47,70,77,92,143,174)

Make me walk in the paths of Thy commandments, For I delight in it. … And I shall delight in Thy commandments, which I love. … But I delight in Thy law. … If Thy law had not been my delight, Then I would have perished in my affliction. …Trouble and anguish have come upon me; yet Thy commandments are my delight….I long for Thy salvation, O Lord, And Thy law is my delight.

The mark of the one with spiritual passion is that they delight in the words of God. Of the one hundred seventy-six verses in this Psalm only two or three leave out some direct reference to the Scriptures. This is a man in love with the Word.

But he is also in love with the ways of God. He goes to the Scriptures, not to win a theological argument, not to have ammunition to use against others, not to impress people. Rather, he goes to it to find God; to find God’s ways, and to have his life conformed to God’s ways. He does not do this because he feels he has to, but because this is his delight. It is the love of his life. It is what he longs for more than anything in life.

2. We will hate that which is false.

The Scriptures love to frame the positive with the negative. The reason it does this is because we often do not know how much we love something unless we know how much we despise the opposite. Our writer tells us that we know we love God’s Word when we:

Hate false ways (verses 104 and 163)

From Thy precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.—
I hate and despise falsehood,
But I love Thy law.

We are back to where we started. The best way to know how much we love God’s ways is to examine how much we hate the empty, false ways that surround us.

Does it turn your stomach when you hear of lying, deceit, corruption, unfaithfulness and slander? More importantly, does it break your heart when you know that you can do these very same things? Do you hate false ways, not only in others but also in yourself?

Hate false people (verses 113 and 158)

I hate those who are double-minded,
but I love Thy law.—I behold the
treacherous and loathe them,
because they do not keep Thy word.

Wait a minute, I thought we were to hate the sin and love the sinner. In a sense that is true. The Lord tells us to even love our enemies. But on the other side of this coin there is a holy righteous anger that even God has toward those who have rejected His ways.

The Christian with spiritual life and passion should be repulsed, not attracted to lifestyles and people who despise God’s ways. You cannot love the way of God and the Word of God, and not be deeply offended by those who hate it. The tightrope we walk is that of loving people who are the very enemies of God.


Our mandate is not to revival, as it is usually understood. Our invitation is to spiritual life and passion which is a gift from God applied through the means of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit. When we use terminology (e.g. “revival”) in ways not used in Scripture—and when we call for experiences not dictated in Scripture—we cloud the issues. Does God want spiritual passion, a hunger for Him, a heartfelt obedience? Certainly! But these things are to be found within the parameters of biblical instruction and example. When we set up extra-biblical experiences as the standard by which we gauge our present spiritual condition we have set up a false and confusing paradigm. The biblical petition is not for revival but for consistent Godly living. We would be wise to follow Scripture’s example.

Gary Gilley Bio

Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.

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