Christians will sometimes lose the realization of Jesus. The connection between themselves and Christ will be, at times, severed as to their own conscious enjoyment of it, but they will always groan and cry when they lose that Presence. What? Is Christ your Brother and does He live in your house and yet you have not spoken to Him for a month? I hear there is little love between you and your Brother if you have had no conversation with Him for so long.Charles Spurgeon, sermon 2598, “Spiritual Revival, the Need of the Church”
Just one more episode after this and our series on unity in Christ for the church will be finished. Certainly, this sermon of Spurgeon’s has perhaps more…directness to it. In our day and age, a preacher going up and basically putting a finger directly in the face of his audience and delivering a message a la the prophet Nathan saying to David, “You are the man!” is not going to win that preacher very many friends.
But that points, in many ways, directly to the issue of our day that this century-old sermon still speaks to. The title itself draws out the comparison between a faithful pursuit of Christ and what is seen in many churches–after all, what is a “revival” in many places but a period, however long, where the faith is turned into a grand entertainment and distraction? How often is the concept of “revival” equated, not with life given by the Holy Spirit to live life in Christ, but with brief seasons of great emotion?
But what Charles Spurgeon points to in his sermon is a reminder that the kind of spiritual revival needed in all of us, the kind that God’s people need to call for, is not emotional excitement, though it may and often can contain that. It shouldn’t end with that, however. The kind of revival he is calling us to seek after is the kind that requires everything that we’ve talked about in the previous episodes. The revival is not an upswelling of feeling, but a trusting of our day to day life to a strength that is not our own. And it requires a unity in the body that is not static or intellectual by any means, but is constantly moving even as it rests fully in Christ. I am talking about unity in striving after holiness.
I want to clarify right away: I am not talking about some form of sinless perfectionism. Every time the call to Christians to put their sin to death and desire the holiness of Christ to rule over their lives comes up, there is always an outcry by those who believe that this somehow is a cry to works salvation or to some other measure besides faith being necessary for salvation. Of course, much of the time the people who make this objection define “salvation by faith alone” as what one might term “decisionism.” That is, getting saved is a matter of saying a certain prayer, giving a spiritual tip of the cap to God, and boom–you’ve got your fire insurance.
No, the unity shared by the body of Christ in pursuing holiness is not striving by our own strength to act right. It is a striving against sin in the infinite strength of God to bear the fruit of the Spirit. We are not doing this on our own, but even this is a great and beautiful gift of God: from the desire itself being a fruit of the new life given by the Spirit, to the day by day battles we engage in with our own flesh as much as (or more so than) anything outside ourselves, to the day when Christ returns to finally and fully restore creation. It is our great hope in Christ, after all: looking to that day when we follow after our elder brother Jesus in the resurrection into eternity.
But what about right now? How often do we each feel the ravages of sin in our lives, as we fail and stumble and continue to fall even when we know the evil of the desire we are fulfilling? How often do believers cry along with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death!” But by God’s grace we can also say with the apostle, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We have a hope in Christ that means I have the right, and in fact the duty, to say no to our sins. But when we fail, as John promises in his first epistle, we also have the right to bring these before the Lord and to know, not just forgiveness, but the transforming grace that leads us into holiness, into that degree-by-degree renewal in the image of Christ.
And that is why, as brother Spurgeon warns, a Christian who does not know the pain and evil of his own sin ought to be crying out to God, “O Lord, revive Your work!” Not because he’s not sad enough in his day to day life, not because we need to work ourselves into some sort of self-flaggelating frenzy where we can hardly think of anything but how wretched and unworthy we are, but because the flavor of Christ has become stale in our mouths, and the foolish thought that sin may somehow be sweeter enters into our minds. It is in those times that we need to be praying for that revival fervently, patiently, and with full faith, because it is a good and right thing for one of God’s children to ask for a greater love and desire for Him above all other things.
We battle to put our sin to death day by day, dragging it to the cross knowing that Christ’s death there has already paid for it fully, and our strength to do that is from the Holy Spirit.
So then, brothers and sisters, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, because if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs–heirs of God and coheirs with Christ–if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.Romans 8:12-17 CSB
What a hope! We ought to be overwhelmed with joy at this thought. Yet every Christian knows from his or her own walk that this life is not filled with perpetual joy and peace, but instead we all suffer in ways particular to our own lives and in varying degrees. And so, we as the body of Christ have our daily walk and our daily struggle in that: put sin to death, trust to God for His redeeming and transforming grace: the Father’s call, the Son’s sacrifice and resurrection, and the Spirit’s continual work in each of us.
This striving is God’s work in us, and I want to point again to Paul’s words in Romans:
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.Romans 8:28-30 CSB
God began this work, and He will finish it. That doesn’t mean we sit on our hands and wait, but rather, that we can walk in our daily lives trusting to God for success in this pursuit. He hears His children and loves them as He leads them to Himself.