Revival Requires Repentance

Dr. Brian Allison

Stephen Olford's book, Heart Cry for Revival, deals with the various aspects of spiritual revival. At one point, he quotes A. W. Tozer who outlines how Christians may experience personal revival. Tozer lists ten principles that can be followed in order to promote and facilitate personal revival. His fourth principle is: "Do a thorough job of repenting. Do not hurry to get it over with. Hasty repentance means a shallow spiritual experience and lack of certainty in the whole life. Let godly sorrow do her healing work. Until we allow the consciousness of sin to wound us, we will never develop a fear of evil. It is our wretched habit of tolerating sin that keeps us in our half dead condition" (p. 21). Repentance can be a very painful experience. God is pleased to confront His people's sin and to do a deeper work of grace in their hearts, revealing the corruption and evil that yet remain and lurk inside. Though true repentance necessarily involves pain, this pain eventually gives way to peace and joy which ensues from the experience of God's forgiveness.

Unless there is repentance, there can be no revival – neither personal nor corporate. Revival requires repentance. In Acts 3:19, the apostle Peter declares, "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing [revival, restoration] may come from the presence of the Lord." Now, the context of this verse is an evangelistic one. The apostle Peter is preaching to an unconverted audience. The passage in which this verse is found deals with believing in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. But I submit to you that these words in Acts 3:19 are equally applicable to professing Christians. Christians can become spiritually cold in heart. They can turn away from the Lord. They can leave the paths of righteousness and holiness for a season. Though this text is primarily evangelistic in its intent, in this message I will apply it to professing Christians. The truth of this text is relevant to backslidden Christians who are living in sin.

This may sound like a contradiction, but, realistically speaking, those who confess Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord may be living in sin. Perhaps, because of their busyness and various pressing responsibilities, Christians may slip into habitual sin, and thus fall prey to spiritual coldness. And because of the spiritual blindness, which often accompanies spiritual coldness, they may not even realize that there is a serious spiritual problem. Because they have their few minutes of prayer each morning, and read their 1 minute devotional reading from the Daily Bread booklet, they may delusionally think that everything is fine – but everything may not be fine.

Now, I know that it is impossible to be totally free from every vestige of sin, because we are still in these frail, fallen bodies. We may still have unwanted (and I want to emphasize that word 'unwanted'), unclean thoughts come into our minds; we may still have unwanted, evil desires assail our souls. I am not here referring to spontaneous or involuntary sin. I am concerned about deliberately choosing to sin. I am talking about purposefully sinning. I am saying that there are professing Christians who choose to sin. They deliberately violate the Word of God. There are professing Christians who buy pornographic magazines, knowing that it is wrong; who watch risque movies, knowing that it is wrong; who flirt and entice someone of the opposite sex, even though they are married, knowing that it is wrong; who steal, knowing that it is wrong; who do not pray, living a life of prayerlessness, knowing that it is wrong; who are grumpy, quarrelsome, and argumentative, knowing that it is wrong. Many Christians are deliberately living in sin. Sinning has become a lifestyle for them.

The call to repent

Of course, God calls us to live a life of holiness and righteousness; and to be free from known sin. Are you living in sin? Maybe you continue to choose to be angry, or choose to be impatient, or choose to be moody and sulky, or choose to lie. Has living in sin become something that you have become used to; and as a result, you continually justify yourself in doing it, saying, for instance, "Well, that is just me; I cannot help myself. God understands when I live in sin"? No, God doesn't understand when believers live in sin. Many professing Christians can live in sin, and yet wonder why they are so spiritually cold, and why they are so pathetically complacent; or they wonder why, when a week of prayer for revival is called, it does not even enter their minds to go to Church and pray. Apparently, they do not even realize that they need to pray. They seemingly are 'okay'. For them, the Lord and His Church come second place or third place, or even further down the list. These people are blinded to the fact that God is angry with them, and that they need to repent – "Repent therefore..." (3:19a).

Repentance is simply turning away from your sin. It is not simply saying, "Sin is bad. My goodness, isn't that a naughty thing to do." It is more than an empty admission of wrongdoing. Repentance is not simply realizing that God views sin as bad and that He dislikes it, and feeling somewhat disturbed by it. No, true repentance is rejecting sin – having nothing more to do with it, leaving off with it. Now, in order for someone to repent, he or she must see the vileness of sin – that it is ugly and disgusting. Does your sin bother you? Or have you lived in your sin for so long that wrongdoing no longer rubs your conscience? If you answer 'yes' to this last question, then you are in a sad state.

Before you can truly repent, you must realize that sin is something that offends God. God hates sin. You must see sin in all of its blackness and horror, before you will turn away from it. Consider, for example, the story of David and Bathsheba. David perpetrated the murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, because he wanted to cover up his sin of adultery with her. It seems that David had no conscience about the wrongs that he had committed; but when Nathan the prophet came to him and, by means of a story, said to him, "You are the man who has sinned," David was then broken. He was overwhelmed with the horror of his sin. He realized that he had sinned against God, and he penned the penitential Psalm 51, "Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight...Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which Thou hast broken rejoice. Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities" (vss. 4,8,9). So, David was crushed with the weight of the vileness of his sin, which resulted in godly sorrow.

Accordingly, before there can be true repentance from sin, one must feel grief over his or her sin. 2 Corinthians 7:9,10 reads, "I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss of anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death." So, true repentance involves not only realizing that your sin is bad – a heinous offense to God – but really 'feeling bad' about it, which consequently leads to definitive change. To be sure, you can have a sorrow of the world, by which you may say, "Oh woe is me, for I did that naughty thing again;" and you can even break down, and go to the person you have sinned against and say, "I am sorry! I will never do it again. Please forgive me." And when the emotions have subsided, and you no longer feel guilty, then you may very well do the same sin again the following week. Many Christians feel sorry for their wrongdoing, but the grief seldom translates into real change. It is merely a 'worldly sorrow'. However, the sorrow of God (for it is the gift of God) is a sorrow that leads to repentance; and true repentance results in salvation. A person knows that he or she has experienced the sorrow of God only when there is an actual turning away from sin. Do you grieve over your sin? Does it lead to real change in your behaviour? Godly sorrow produces demonstrable good fruit or deeds.

Furthermore, true repentance not only involves the recognition of the vileness or evil of sin, and the experience of sorrow over sin, but also the actual confession of sin. In other words, one must agree with God that he or she has done something wrong; that is, one must cry out to God, admitting, "Yes, Lord, I have sinned. I agree with Your Word that I have done wrong. I make the acknowledgement with my mouth, Lord, that You are right, and I am wrong. I have sinned against You." Have you actually confessed your sin to God? I did not say, "Have you thought it?" But have you actually verbalized it?

The need to return to God

You will continue to struggle and strive with fears, doubts, spiritual coldness, spiritual failure, etc. until you repent; because there is no revival without repentance. Now, there is a difference between repentance and mere moral reform. Moral reform may say something like this, "Oh, I am not going to smoke any more; I am going to give that up;" or, "I am not going to drink alcohol any more;" or, "I am not going to lie any more;" or, "I am not going to be deceitful any more;" or, "I am not going to steal any more." One may refuse to act wrongly and still not repent, but simply reform morally. True repentance consists of turning away from sin and turning to God. When we turn to God, there is a change in our lifestyle, not simply feeling bad for a moment. To truly turn to God means returning to God – "Repent therefore and return [to the Lord]" (3:19a).

What is sin? It is, among other things, a turning away from God. It is 'doing our own thing'; it is being a law unto ourselves. It is saying that we know better than God, that we know what is good for our lives more than God does. Isaiah 53:6 reads, "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way." That is sin. Sin is when you think you are smarter than God, that you can give God your time when you choose, that God has to fit into your schedule and agenda. This Scripture says that all of us, in our natural state, have turned away from God. Turning away from God means that we have rejected Him as our Creator and Lord, and have denied His sovereign rule over our lives.

Thus, we are to repent and return to God. 1 Peter 2:25 reads, "For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls." What is this verse saying? Well, at one time, we rejected God and did our 'own thing', but now, as repentant rebels, we have come to acknowledge God, and that He has a claim on our lives. We have now submitted to His sovereignty and His Lordship. We have come to realize our personal poverty and have surrendered our lives to Him. We have turned to Him with new allegiance and devotion; and we willingly confess, "You are God, and I am the creature, You 'call the shots', and I simply follow." Simply put, returning to God means that there is a new commitment of obedience to God. My friend, do you need to return to God? Ask God to help you. Have you returned from 'sowing your wild oats'? Have you returned from your fleshly escapades in the world? Have you returned from your carnal pleasures? Have you returned from your self-life? God says, "Repent therefore and return."

God cancels out sin

Now, what I have said up to this point has not been too positive. This is an understatement. Remember, you have to hear the bad news before you can appreciate the good news. The surgeon must first make an incision before the tumor can be removed and healing begin. My friend, never react to bad news, for hearing the bad news may lead to your salvation. Now, here is the good news: In turning away from your sin – it is a deliberate choice – and turning and returning to God, He will cancel out your sins – "that your sins may be wiped away" (3:19b). When we return to Him, having confessed our sins, God no longer remembers our sins – the sin of adultery, the sin of fornication, the sin of extortion, the sin of embezzlement, the sin of deception, the sin of dishonesty, the sin of stealing, the sin of uncontrollable behaviour, etc.

In thinking about this concept of God wiping out sins, imagine a one-room country school-house; and in the class that meets there, a mischievous boy, Johnny, terrorizes the other students. The teacher warns, "If you act up again, Johnny, I will write the offense on the board; and all you have to do is act up once and you will get a whipping. Every time that I have to write an offense on the board, you will receive another whipping; and all the whippings will be administered after school." Johnny speaks out; Johnny pulls Sally's hair; Johnny kicks Joey; Johnny does not do his school work. Eventually all the boards are filled with Johnny's misdemeanors. He has many whippings forthcoming. At the end of the day, before the children are dismissed, Johnny's dad quietly enters the classroom. He looks over the boards on which are listed all of Johnny's misdemeanors. His dad picks up the brush and erases all the boards. But justice must be exacted because wrongdoing has been committed; and Johnny's dad offers himself to be whipped. In order not to undermine and gainsay his word, the teacher takes Johnny's dad out back, and proceeds to whip him, and whip him, and whip him; and Johnny is let off 'scott free'. Now, this may be a homely illustration, but in a very real sense, Christ became our whipping boy, the fall guy. Do you understand that? Because He was whipped for us, because He bore the wrath of God for us – dying in our stead – God wipes out our sins, and we can sing, "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I am free at last." That is the Gospel.

When you repent of your sin and sins, and return to the Lord, only then is there forgiveness. Let me emphasize – God's forgiveness is His response to our repentance. Notice that I did not say mere confession, but rather repentance. We receive His forgiveness when there is true repentance, not by ritualistically or mechanically confessing, "O Lord, I did wrong. Lord, I won't smoke that stuff any more," or, "I won't hit my wife any more," or, "Lord, I won't be prayerless any more;" and yet sin again the next day or the next week (I am not denying that there may be some sins with which we have a particular struggle – intrusive evil thoughts, unsuspecting lustful urges, etc. – and thus will require special grace; and thus may seem to be continually confessing them. God knows the sincerity and intent of the heart. He is not deceived). God demands repentance from deliberate sinning before He grants forgiveness.

Some people think that they are experiencing God's forgiveness simply because they have confessed; and they may be sorely self-deceived. Acts 2:38, for instance, reads, "And Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" To be sure, this refers to the initial experience of salvation, but the principle remains true throughout the Christian's life. Christians need to be continually repenting from sin, as God is pleased to reveal remaining darkness in their lives. And with repentance from deliberate sinful practices and activities, God grants forgiveness. There will be many self-deceived, professing Christians in hell because they misunderstood the Gospel of grace, and how God works. Again, Luke 17:3 reads, "Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him." (Now, this verse is not intended to teach that there are sins that we require endless repentance over, or that we should expect such. Jesus is not primarily dealing with a particular concrete situation, but rather with a general principle, namely, whenever someone repents, regardless of the offense or how often we are hurt, we are spiritually obligated to forgive.)

Someone may retort, "Hold it! What about 1 John 1:9? There is no talk about repentance there. All it says is, 'If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'." But we must consider the context of verse 9 in order to appreciate the significance of this verse. The context concerns walking in the light. This verse does not have in view one who is living in sin, living in darkness, but rather one who is in fellowship with God. Accordingly, if, while he or she is self-consciously walking in the light, the believer happens to stumble and sin, there is the assurance of forgiveness. Sinning is here viewed as the exception, not the rule. So 1 John 1:5, 6 reads, "And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness [that is, continue to sin, or engage in habitual sin, or have sin as a lifestyle], we lie and do not practice the truth." Notice 1 John 2:1, "My little children, I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins [that is the exception, not the rule, knowing that we are still in these frail, fallen bodies, do not worry about it, for God has made provision], we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." If we are walking in the light, endeavouring to please God, having fellowship with Christ, and yet stumble, all is not lost. We need only ask God for forgiveness; we need only confess that stumbling. God will not only forgive us, but we have the assurance that He will also cleanse us – He will continue to sanctify us and make us more like Christ. He will not only accept us, but He will also give us power over sin. This promise is for those who are living in holiness, and not walking in darkness. But for those living in sin, God's forgiveness is only for those who repent.

Revival follows repentance and forgiveness

The grand result of the experience of forgiveness of sins, because of repentance, is spiritual revival or renewal – "in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (3:19c). The joy and blessing eventually experienced make the pain involved in repentance all worthwhile. Some who are reading this message are feeling spiritually cold, some are feeling spiritually dead. Perhaps you are bemoaning your languishing relationship with Christ, or why things are not changing as quickly as you would like. Maybe it is time to take a hard, long look at how you are living and ask God to turn on the search light (and that may be painful). That is the first step to enjoying spiritual refreshment from the experience of His presence.

Spiritual refreshment comes by being in the very presence of God. God is pleased to visit those whose hearts are clean and pure. Refreshment, of course, presupposes exhaustion, the depletion of energy. Many Christians seem to drag themselves along; and if not that, they hope that someone else will drag them along. They have no desire to seek God, and no appetite for spiritual things. They are spiritually tired and exhausted. My grandfather used to be a marathon runner. He said that he typically experienced a point in the race – often the twenty mile mark – when he would 'hit the wall'; he felt sheer exhaustion. After one race, he went into the locker room, ready to drop. There was another runner there who had just swallowed an ounce of brandy, and had perked up immediately. My grandfather did the same; and he said that his body warmed up and he felt refreshed (Now, I am not recommending that you drink brandy, but this is an illustration of becoming refreshed).

Repentant, forgiven believers can know the experience of new energy, new power, new strength from experiencing the gift of the presence of God. God is pleased to manifest His presence and allow us to enjoy it. Fellowship with God is always invigorating. Duncan Campbell, who was instrumental in the revival on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, defined revival as 'a people saturated with God'. Do you want to be revived? Do you want to know His presence? Perhaps the question is this: Do you want revival badly enough? Again (and I do not apologize for the repetition), it begins with repentance. Please, no more excuses. Stop with the excuses and self-justification. I do not know about you, but I am tired of all the excuses, and even self-justification. How do you think God views all these excuses? Can you offer these excuses to Him without blushing?

Have you left your first love?

In Revelation 2, Jesus addresses the Church at Ephesus. He commends this Church for their love of the truth. These believers loved orthodox doctrine, loved to hear good preaching, loved to be taught in the Word; they were jealous for truth. But for all their orthodoxy, and for all their faithfulness to sound doctrine, notice what our Lord says to them in 2:4, "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love." Is that true of you? Let's be honest. Have you left your first love? Or, can you say with all conviction, "Christ is my first love – not my family, not my husband, not my wife, not my children, not my job, not my pleasures. Absolutely nothing comes before Christ. I am committed to Him, His cause, and His kingdom." Can you say that? Does your life demonstrate that?

So, what is God's solution to a cold heart? We read further, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen [that is, deliberately bring to mind the downward moral spiral, the decline in holiness and commitment, which has resulted from allowing other things to crowd into your life], and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you [speaking to the Church, but we can make personal application], and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent." Jesus warns that repentance is the only option to our spiritual malaise and sickness. Forget about the false tears, or the fabricated sorrow, or the empty promises that lead no where. Repentance is your only recourse; that is your only salvation.

Each one of us knows from what we have to repent. Jesus says that if we repent, we will continue to be a recipient of His grace, and He will leave our lampstand lit. Jesus created the lampstand, and He can destroy it. God stands ready to heal and restore. He is saying to His Church, "Wake up, because you are on the verge of losing your lampstand." Do you have ears to hear? Will you respond?