When was the last time you attended a revival meeting that blessed you abundantly? How long did that impression stay with you? Have you ever wondered why the warmth of such revival fires goes out so soon? This article will attempt to answer these important questions and offer a biblical remedy to ensure a lasting revival and reformation.
Consider a parable of Jesus: “ ‘When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, “I will return to the house I left.” When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first’ ” (Luke 11:24–26).1
This parable tells of a man possessed by the devil with Jesus likening his life to a messy and dirty house. But when the evil spirit was cast out, Jesus depicted the man’s life as a clean and orderly house. After some time, the evil spirit returns to the man and finds him to be like a house, clean, well-swept, and orderly. The spirit enters the man and repossesses him along with seven other spirits. The man is now more greatly controlled by the demons than before, and the later condition of the man becomes worse than the former. The question—why? What led to the evil spirit’s success? Was it because the house was swept and put in order?
Matthew 12:43–45, a parallel passage, provides additional insight: When the spirit returned, it found the house not only clean and orderly but empty. “ ‘Then [the evil spirit] goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. . . . That man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.’ ”
The cleanliness and orderliness of the house have nothing to do with the sad fact of the relapse. Rather, as Christ points out in Matthew, the house was empty, and the evil spirit accompanied by seven others repossessed the house. The man was worse off than before.
What is the message of this parable? What does it tell us of how to ensure a lasting revival and reformation?
The message of the parable
Look at the context of Luke 12:24–26. Jesus told this parable when He was accused of driving out demons with the help of Beelzebub. The fact that an evil spirit was driven out of a person demonstrates that a stronger power has triumphed over and taken control of the situation. This stronger power or being is, indeed, Christ who came “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). The parable illustrates that the entrance of Jesus into someone’s life not only drives out the evil power, but also purifies the person. This is not nearly enough, though. We need to comprehend the importance of remembering that the house representing the life of an individual should be cleansed but not empty.
When we attend revival meetings, we tend to experience similar outcomes. Jesus drives out the evil powers in our lives, but the fire of such revival can easily go out, and we risk a worse condition. And this leads to utter discouragement, and we ask the familiar question “why?” Why does the impact of our revival meetings seem so short lived? The answer? The house stands empty. The house can be cleansed and put in order during the revival but, if the abode becomes empty afterwards, chances are it will be repossessed.
And the latter condition will be worse than the former.
How can this dangerous state be avoided? The simple answer is, Do not leave the house empty. Cleansed of the evil spirit, the heart is clean, but do not leave it empty—let Jesus dwell in it as a permanent occupant of the heart. The apostle Paul gives us a two-step action plan:
First, be filled with the Word. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16). This is a command—not an option. The following steps will help us make this verse a living reality.
1. Read and/or listen to the Word. The incarnate Word that dwelt among us must also dwell in us in the form of the inspired Word. Says the psalmist: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). Without the Word of God and His commandments dwelling in our hearts and guiding the course of our lives, we are constantly exposed to the danger of coming under the influence of the evil one (see also Rom. 10:17; Rev. 1:3).
2. Study the Word in-depth. A deep and continual study of the Word is necessary so as to be filled with it; a superficial reading or listening will not get us very far (2 Tim. 2:15; Acts 17:11; Ps. 119:11). As Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord and firmly declared that he would not leave Him until he received His blessing, we should also struggle with the Word of God until we clearly see Jesus Christ and His purpose in our lives.
3. Obey the Word. We should not focus on Bible study to satisfy our curiosity, but rather to maintain a fulfilling relationship with Jesus. “ ‘If anyone loves me,’ ” said Jesus, “ ‘he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’ ” (John 14:23).
Second, “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). To avoid the risk of leaving the house empty, the house should be filled with the Spirit. Ellen White counsels, “The religion of Christ means more than the forgiveness of sin; it means that sin is taken away, and that the vacuum is fi lled with the Spirit. It means that the mind is divinely illumined, that the heart is emptied of self, and fi lled with the presence of Christ. When this work is done for church members, the church will be a living, working church.”2 Notice how Ellen White equates being “filled with the Spirit” with “filled with the presence of Christ.” This experience is one and the same. Thus, a Spirit-filled Christian will join Paul in saying, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Due to many strange practices ascribed to a filling with the Spirit, some are afraid of it. However, fear should not lead us to an unwise act of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” The existence of the counterfeit experiences cannot be an excuse to forfeit the genuine gift. Paul speaks of a drunkard, controlled by the influence of alcohol and acting under its influence. That experience is called part of the “works of the flesh.” But to be under the control and influence of the Holy Spirit should be the goal and aim of a Christian, and Paul calls this experience a part of the “fruit of the Spirit” (see Gal. 5:19–23).
Ellen White wrote an appropriate comment: “By what means shall we determine whose side we are on? Who has the heart? With whom are our thoughts? Upon whom do we love to converse? Who has our warmest affections and our best energies? If we are on the Lord’s side, our thoughts are with Him, and our sweetest thoughts are of Him. We have no friendship with the world; we have consecrated all that we have and are to Him. We long to bear His image, breathe His Spirit, do His will, and please Him in all things.”3
The Word and the Spirit
The Word of God is authored under the inspiration of the Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). The Word and the Spirit, with which our life should be filled, are complementary not contradictory. Indeed, true Christian experience becomes possible only where both are present. Some may profess to have the gift of the Spirit, but their lives are not subject to the Word, and, in such cases, they really do not have the presence of the Holy Spirit; indeed, they may have some other spirit. Others may profess to know the Word, but do not manifest the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and, in such cases, they may know only the formality of the Word but not the power thereof. The Word without the transforming power of the Spirit creates dead formalism. Professing to have the Spirit without obedience to the Word is mere irrational emotionalism, but when the two come together they transform a heap of dry bones to a mighty army.
In Ezekiel 37, the prophet was taken to a valley, and he saw there a great many dry bones. While astonished with what was in front of him, a question came from heaven. “ ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ ” (v. 3). The prophet answered out of his bewilderment, “ ‘O Sovereign Lord, you alone know’ ” (v. 3).
In the vision, the Lord explained to Ezekiel what these dry bones represent. These “ ‘bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” ’ ” (v. 11). But the good news that came out of this dismal picture was the following statement from the Lord Himself: “ ‘ “O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them” ’ ” (v. 12). The vision also tells what instruments God will use to make this real.
The first command given to the prophet was to prophesy, and thus, the Word of God was declared. When the Word fell on the bones, they came together “and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” This clearly depicts the fact that the Word alone cannot finish the work of bringing a lasting revival and reformation. It may give us a form of godliness, but the power does not exist. At this point the second command to speak to the wind came onto the scene. The Hebrew word for wind in this command is ruach, that can be translated also as breath or Spirit. When the Spirit was coupled with the Word, the dry bones rose to become a mighty army.
If we are filled with the Word and the Spirit, we not only guard ourselves from being repossessed by the evil spirit, but we can also fight and defeat the evil powers as a mighty army under the leadership of the indwelling Jesus. Thus, just to experience revival and reformation is not enough, and this experience is not sufficient to cleanse our inner temple. What we need is not to leave our cleansed hearts empty, but to fill them with the Word and the Spirit. The continuity of a revived and reformed lifestyle demands the continual presence of the Word and the Spirit in our lives.
1 All Scripture passages, unless otherwise stated, are from the New International Version.
2 Ellen G. White, Ye Shall Receive Power (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1995), 318.
3 Ellen G. White,, Counsels for the Church (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1991), 185.