I share this post with the acknowledgement that I, like all of us, so often fall short of the ideals that Jesus calls us towards. There is always grace, and there is always forgiveness, but there must also be repentance. I think that is part of what it means to ‘consecrate yourselves’.
This longer piece represents the script of a talk my wife Amy and I gave at our local church, South West London Vineyard, early in 2019 at a theology-themed evening service. You may find it helpful to have read the previous instalments, one locating the Vineyard in relation to what different churches believe about the Holy Spirit, and the second looking at the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This considers what it means to say that the Spirit is Holy, and how that influences how we might talk about (And prepare for) revival…
Over the years I have been intrigued by this topic of revival. I was desperate to see this revival in my teens, but over time I wondered if it was just a popular Christian fad that people of my age had. Is it something God desires and does in this world? Are we to be praying for a revival?
Over the last few years, God has been really stirring my heart around this area. He has completely turned upside down how I view revival, and how we pray and pursue one. For so long I thought to give space for a revival, it involved just pursuing Gods tools, his spiritual gifts, and having extra time to welcome Jesus in our midst and give him space to work.
Now this is absolutely right and what God calls us to do. This is a significant part of it.
However, when we look at the history of Revival in the church and who God uses, his primary will is to use the most sacrificial, Jesus-loving, all-in people. People who are expectant. Not perfect people, or people who can prophecy particularly well or have a particular glossy gift. He brings revival to people and churches who pursue holiness. Who, collectively, decide to put Jesus first in every area of their lives at whatever cost.
Pursuing holiness is pursuing a life that glorifies God.
He blesses and comes to those who choose to spend time with the Lord, who give up things they don’t want to give up… for God. It’s a hard message to give, but we are called to sacrifice everything. Everything. There is not one part of our lives we can hold to ourselves if we want God to powerfully work. If, as a church, we keep checking ourselves, our motives, and giving to God what is His, our money, relationships, family, career, history, pride, fear, hurts, offence, lack of forgiveness… if we give every part to Jesus, He will do big things.
He uses those who mess up all the time, but run back to Jesus and ask for forgiveness.
We see this not only in church history, but in the Bible. David was a prayer warrior, he passionately loved Jesus, pursued him and put him first. God blessed this and he became King. But God knows he is human… and David messed up! He wimped out of things, he had an affair, he acted selfishly on numerous occasions. But God still used him… why? Because David always ran back to God and consecrated himself. His life direction was always to glorify God, no matter how many times he stumbled. Look at Moses – he transformed Jewish history. Why? Because his heart was for the Lord, he sacrificed everything for him. He wasn’t the most obvious person to lead the Jews it God saw his heart.
I have found for myself, the more I give to God, the more I remember to spend time with him, give him things I find difficult, trust him with my decisions, the more His blessings come. The more he gives me hunger for the spirit to move. The more he makes me expectant for new things and God to move powerfully.
The more we give to God, the more he plants in us these desires for more, for revival, for things to happen.
So we don’t need to force things. We don’t need to feel like we should be doing anything. When we pursue holiness, everything else falls into place.
We found this video helpful in stirring a passion for revival.
The video was followed on the evening by a short discussion time, around the following questions in small groups:
- what do you think revival is?
- what part do you think we can play in revival?
- what has your experience been of revival talk?
I then shared broadly the following (tweaked for blog post):
Amazing to think about, it encourages our hearts and that is all fine,
We’ve talked about the stuff. But what can we do?
We want the Spirit to come and move in power. We want to see our church, our city, our country and this world changed. We want to see the Kingdom come, God’s will to be done, and see people that we love and people that we’ve never met come to faith. We want people to come on the journey that’s been a bit like us – from death to life, from fear to faith, from despondency to hope.
One Bible verse that God has been continually drawing me back to in the last few years is from the book of Joshua. Joshua is a key part of the salvation history of the Old Testament, and is, according to J. Gordon McConville and Stephen M. Williams’ commentary, “undoubtedly theological in character, since it aims, like much of the Old Testament, to persuade its audience to remain faithful to Yahweh, God of Israel”. The thing with good theology, though, particularly with theology that is rooted in and respectful of the Bible, is that it changes us, challenges us, and always invites us into more. If we want to see revival, if we want to see our nation brought back to life, then we are invited to pursue holiness, to pursue God himself.
Joshua 3:1-5 tells us a little story, that gives us a hint of how we might want to pursue holiness, to pursue the God who invites us to be holy, as God himself is holy:
“Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.” Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.””
You may know all about the Ark of the Covenant, which physically represented the relationship that Israel had with God, and which they carried from place to place, setting it up in the temple or tent, as a physical sign of the presence of God. You may also remember that to enter the Holy of Holies, the place where God was so present, behind the curtain, without being consecrated first.
This is an important word for understanding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We will see the world change when we are a people who are purified, consecrated, and totally committed and convinced to the pursuit of holiness, as an overflow of our love of Jesus.
I wonder whether, and this is a theological suggestion rather than a general observation, so I would invite you to use your own discernment, the story of Joshua 3:5 offers us a blueprint for revival, for change in our culture.
We are called as Christians – and especially as Christians who take the Bible seriously and want to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, we need to learn what walking in the Spirit looks like. We’ve considered where the Vineyard sits in relation to our brothers and sisters in the worldwide church on beliefs about the Holy Spirit, and also what the gifts of the Holy Spirit look like in the life of the church today. We looked at the different lists of gifts in the New Testament, and considered what they might look like now.
We didn’t talk about something else that happens when the Holy Spirit comes into our life, a list we find in Galatians 5. Here Paul is writing to a church, encouraging them in a fascinating way with a list of the Fruits of the Spirit.
Now holiness is often associated with legalism, but the opposite is Jesus’ intent. You might remember that in that short snippet from Joshua, we are invited to go a new way, which we have not been before. This is the new way that God calls us to – as the Spirit did to the Israelites, as Jesus does to his disciples. In Galatians 5 an early church leader, Paul, unpacks what this ‘new way’ might look like:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
Holiness is less about ‘not’ doing things, and instead about choosing to love God and love others more than we love things or love ourself. Holiness is like tending a garden – snipping out the quick-growing but ugly weeds, and instead cultivating and encouraging the habits and forms of growth that Jesus loves.
It is worth saying that Paul is not inviting us to hate the flesh, our bodies, and be super-spiritual. Bluntly, our bodies are important and that is why we should avoid sexual immorality, drunkenness, orgies and the like.
So there is this list of vices – which touches on other vice lists in the New Testament – but it is followed by the beautiful statement of the list of the fruits of the Spirit, ‘against those things there is no law’.
By leaning in to the cultivation of these practices we pursue Jesus whole-heartedly, showing a watching and wounded world that we are his, and no longer belong to sin, death, and the devil.
A church leader called J. C. Ryle wrote this more recently:
“I have had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country… The immense importance of “adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour” (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked. Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that “religious” persons, so-called, are not so amiable and unselfish and good-natured as others… sanctification, in its place and proportion, is… as important as justification. Sound… doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life. It is worse than useless: it does positive harm. It is despised… as an unreal and hollow thing… It is my firm impression that we want a thorough revival about Scriptural holiness”
Because God is Holy and we are invited to become like him. And maybe, just maybe, if we start to consecrate ourselves, not by effort, but out of love, perhaps we will see God do amazing things amongst us.
Since wrestling with my own issues of personal holiness this year, I’ve found more and more of this to be true. I recently reflected that ‘Holiness is a harvest‘.
- Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing our tragic neglect of the Holy Spirit – a brilliant book.
- Simon Ponsonby, The Pursuit of the Holy – this book is a beautiful follow-on from MORE, inviting people to know God better.
- J. C. Ryle, Holiness: It’s nature, hindrances, difficulties and roots – the classic on this subject
- Nicky Gumbel, The Jesus Lifestyle – this book is a great introduction to living for Jesus, particularly for those who have recently finished Alpha, or other evangelistic courses.