Revival and reformation

Which do we need, a revival or a reformation? Or must they come together?

Neal Wilson, former president of the General Conference, and currently serving as special assistant to the General Conference president.

Aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called" (1 Tim. 6:11, 12, RSV).

Several times during recent months we have reminded ourselves that "a revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs." 1 But we should not confuse true godliness with revival. They are related but distinct experiences. True godliness is a lifestyle the way people live and think and speak and act and forgive and love each other; there fore, a revival of true godliness brings about a change a reformation in a per son's lifestyle. As a church we need both a revival experience and an accompanying reformation. Both experiences will come to us as we commit ourselves to fulfill the conditions upon which God has promised to give us the power of His Spirit. Make no mistake revival and reformation result from the work of the Holy Spirit!

As I call the church to repentance and a closer relationship with God, I realize that each one of us must understand what God asks of us and what He wishes us to do. If we do not understand this, my appeals for spiritual revival will be meaningless. We must be intelligent in these matters. Consider the following quotations. Notice the difference between revival and reformation.

"A revival and a reformation must take place, under the ministration of the Holy Spirit. Revival and reformation are two different things. Revival signifies a renewal of spiritual life, a quickening of the powers of mind and heart, a resurrection from spiritual death. Reformation signifies a reorganization, a change in ideas and theories, habits and practices. Reformation will not bring forth the good fruit of righteousness unless it is connected with the revival of the Spirit. Revival and reformation are to do their appointed work, and in doing this work they must blend."2

Revival renews the spiritual life and deepens our personal relationship with God. Reformation involves reordering the life and results in "true godliness." A revival is an intimate, personal experience with God. A reformation grows out of revival and is a visible change in the way we live.

Though they are different, revival and reformation go together and complement one another. There are two major reasons that revivals often do not last. One is that no support system is put into place to maintain the experience of the revival. The second reason is that the revival is not accompanied by a reformation in the lives of those who have, responded to the Spirit's renewing power.

God is calling His church to a revival of primitive godliness. He is calling us to a renewal of our personal relationship with Him and to a corresponding change in our lifestyles. But a revival cannot take hold among a people enamored of the earth, whose lives are devoted to seeking the things of the world. The Holy Spirit wants to take up residence in human hearts, but many Christians' hearts are too cluttered to allow Him room to move.

When the Holy Spirit moves in, a lot of other things have to move out. When the things of heaven begin to take precedence, other things have to move down, or even be bumped off of our list of priorities. Television viewing, trips to the movies, and the quest for earthly honor lose their luster when viewed in the light that heaven sheds into our lives. Gossip, back biting, and criticism suddenly become dis tasteful in the mouth of one whose lips have learned to share the sweetness of the gospel. As the Spirit develops in us a love for God, it becomes natural to want to spend time with Him, and the Sabbath hours, instead of being a burden, become the brightest of the week.

But these are only a few of the evidences of revival and reformation. Oh, friend, won't you reconsecrate yourself to seeking God's Spirit's moving in your life? When we do that, and give Him the space to move things about in our lives, He will bring both the revival and the reformation that we need. The two must come hand in hand, and the Holy Spirit is ready to give us both if we seek them with a sincere heart. Remember, this experience is our greatest and most urgent need, and to seek this is our first work.

Why all the emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

I deeply appreciate the words of appreciation and the encouragement that have come to me from many readers in response to the articles that have appeared in Ministry in the past four months. However, many still ask, "But why all this emphasis on the Holy Spirit? Are we so dependent on the Holy Spirit?"

The Holy Spirit illuminates the mind, reveals the things of God, is the only safe interpreter of Scripture, strives with sinners, convicts of sin, guides into all truth, regenerates the carnal mind and heart, confirms justification, produces sanctification, is the source of spiritual gifts, bears fruits of righteousness in human hearts and lives, comforts us in all our infirmities, and is our only hope for revival and true godliness.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit in Pentecostal power will:

(1) fit us to go forth to the world as witnesses of salvation;

(2) help us to resist sin and Satan;

(3) bring us into unity;

(4) provide the power for finishing the proclamation of the soon coming of Jesus;

(5) open new doors so we can reach the unreached;

(6) bring all other blessings in its train.

Truly, if we ever needed the Holy Spirit before, we sure do need Him now!

Laodicean condition demands revival and reformation

My fellow believers, we have drifted away from our Lord, and we have been tolerating conditions in the church that are not pleasing to Him. As far back as 1904 Ellen White wrote, "You have left your first love. Self-righteousness is not the wedding garment. A failure to follow the clear light of truth is our fearful danger. The message to the Laodicean church reveals our condition as a people."3

Eighty-six years have passed since those words were written, and the church is still in this world. It seems clear that our condition has not changed. We are Laodiceans, lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. We must admit that we still are not following the clear light of truth.

What does the Bible say about the Laodicean church? First, it points out that we have a twofold problem: "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17).

Our first problem as Laodiceans is self-righteousness, an attitude of spiritual smugness and self-satisfaction. Our second problem is spiritual blindness. We do not sense that we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. As long as we are self-righteous and spiritually self-satisfied, blinded to our true condition, there can be no revival and reformation. Spiritual blindness keeps us from wanting or even thinking about revival and reformation. It makes us believe that our spiritual experience is all right. But, my dear sisters and brothers, everything is not all right.

Cause of the Laodicean condition

I have often wondered what has brought about the Laodicean condition in the church. Consider this revealing statement that points out the cause of spiritual blindness: "It is because he has no true conception of the infinite purity and holiness of God or of what they must become who shall be in harmony with His character; because he has no true conception of the purity and exalted loveliness of Jesus, and the malignity and evil of sin, that man can regard himself as holy. The greater the distance between himself and Christ, and the more inadequate his conceptions of the divine character and requirements, the more righteous he appears in his own eyes."4

Beloved, here is the cause of our problems. Because we have been drifting farther away from Jesus, we no longer sense His purity, holiness, and exalted loveliness. We also do not realize how malignant and evil sin is in His eyes. The farther we drift from Him, the more righteous we appear in our own eyes.

Solution to the Laodicean problem

Just as the Laodicean problem has two aspects (self-righteousness and a blindness to our true spiritual condition), so the solution to the problem requires two things repentance (Rev. 3:19) and the establishing of a proper relationship with Jesus (verse 20). The reception of the Spirit will revive the church, bring about the final revival of true godliness, and bring all other blessings in its train.

The solution to the Laodicean problem—repentance and renewing our relationship with Jesus—is so important that I will devote a later article to this.

A revival is something that is in tensely personal. "Let us not wait for a revival in the church, or for special conviction," writes my favorite author, "but, realizing our need, and knowing that all heaven is at our command, let us now yield our hearts to God. . . . It is best for us to be awake individually, today yielding our hearts to God. Decide now to dedicate yourself to Him, not only as a congregation, but as individuals."5 Although a revival begins with individuals, it is wonderful to realize that it can also become a shared experience.

But a revival among us will not last unless there is an accompanying reformation. God is calling not only for a revival, but for a people who will bear within them the lovely image of Jesus' character. To experience this, we must put the holy law of God in its proper place. One can quickly see why the ten-commandment law of God is so vital in reformation. Reformation is a change of lifestyle. The law of God tells us what our lifestyle is to be.

We must not forget that we are in the very center of a spiritual conflict of cosmic proportions. The struggle for supremacy, in your life and in this world, is between two superpowers whom the Bible identifies as Christ and Satan (Rev. 12-14). Satan will not take kindly to what we are talking about and desiring to see in our churches. We are told that he will do any thing within his power to stop it. "There is nothing that Satan fears so much as that the people of God shall clear the way by removing every hindrance, so that the Lord can pour out His Spirit upon a languishing church and an impenitent congregation. If Satan had his way, there would never be another awakening, great or small, to the end of time."6

With a revival of true godliness among God's people there will also come the final effort of Satan to destroy those who keep the commandments and have the testimony of Jesus (Rev. 12:17). We have known this for years. But let us not forget that we shall also see the glorious triumph of God's love and power. Let us remember that the greatest and most urgent of all needs is for a revival of true godliness. Think it, pray for it, talk about it with your fellow believers and with those whom God brings into the sphere of your influence. We must have it, and it is our privilege to have it now. It is the only way the gospel can go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people on this earth.

Let me leave this precious promise for your meditation and encouragement: "Satan can no more hinder a shower of blessing from descending upon God's people than he can close the windows of heaven that rain cannot come upon the earth."7

1. Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 121.

2. Ibid., p. 128.

3. ____, Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904.

4. ____, The Great Controversy, p. 473.

5. ____, Signs of the Times, Jan. 16, 1893.

6. ____, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 124.

7. Ibid.

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Neal Wilson, former president of the General Conference, and currently serving as special assistant to the General Conference president.

May 1990

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