I hear the word “revival” thrown around in a lot of churches. Seeking revival. Praying for revival. Singing about revival. Even trying to schedule revival. It’s one of those buzz words that gets people excited and makes them feel like they’re doing big things for Jesus, and it’s often made to seem like “revival” is the pinnacle of the church’s effectiveness.
But I can’t help but think that if we want genuine cultural change, revival alone isn’t the answer. Most “revivals” suffer from being a flash in the pan—an electrifying encounter or movement that burns really bright but quickly fizzles. It gets a lot of attention and gets a lot of people pumped up, but often fails to do much more than that.
“Revival” is the initial act of bringing something back to consciousness, or back to life. Like when a lady is revived after fainting. Or when doctors revive a man whose heart stopped beating. Similarly, a spiritual revival is meant to bring dead sinners to life in Christ. Which is a wonderful thing, and something we should strive for.
But Jesus didn’t just send us to make converts, He sent us to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). The Great Commission calls us to train people in a whole walk of life; to build men, women and children on a gospel that infiltrates every area of thought, emotion and practice. Revival is a good thing. But it’s only the starting point—what we really need is something deeper. Something that moves beyond a fleeting moment or one-time experience. We need something that transforms the entire way people see life and alters the whole of their worldview.
What we need is reform.
While revival is an act of resuscitation, reform is a thorough and ongoing change. It is, in its technical sense, “the amendment of conduct, belief, etc.” Reform is a total overhaul of the way we see life. The issues in the world, and even in the church, are not magically fixed by getting people to say the sinner’s prayer. That starting point of revival and conversion must lead to an all-around transformation in the way we perceive things, the way we think about things, and the way we respond to things. In order to see real, lasting change, our theology, politics, personal conduct, work ethic, family structure, priorities, entertainment choices, and day-to-day habits must all be conformed to the image of God’s Son.
This is called reform. It’s to reshape the way we look at life, thus reshaping the way we live. That’s why the work of men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century is known as the Reformation. These men didn’t just seek converts (which, I cannot stress enough, is a good thing), but they went above and beyond that by biblically reshaping the whole of how the church viewed every area of life.
Scripture says, “Turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.” (Jeremiah 18:11) Scripture also discusses the reforms of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:1), King Asa (2 Chr. 15:1), King Jehoiada (2 Chr. 23:16), and others who led the people in a godly shift that called for loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. And when Jesus sent His apostles to advance the kingdom of God, He did not just send them to revive people, but to reform their lives.
Was there revival? Certainly. But it was a part of a much greater process. It was a part of reform. Today, as the kingdom of God continues to spread, He calls us to do the same.