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Why revival must be tethered to Scripture

Students crowd the altar at Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University during a revival event that began on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.
Students crowd the altar at Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University during a revival event that began on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. | Josh Sadlon

Revival involves an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and is essentially an extension of what took place on the Day of Pentecost. Revival produces supernatural results within believers, such as: renewed repentance, heartfelt worship and a desire to exalt Christ, extended times of prayer, complete confidence in the Gospel, and a presence of the Holy Spirit that is exceedingly great.

Revival is a special gift from Heaven, as the world has witnessed in recent weeks at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky.

Spiritual encounters with the Lord often involve our emotions. But emotion is not always devotion, especially over the long haul. In order for a work of God to produce lasting fruit in our life, we need plenty of Scripture and prayer, as well as fellowship with mature followers of Christ who are able to help us discern truth from error.

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Think of it this way. Do you remember the last time you released a helium balloon into the air? As you watched the balloon eventually lift out of sight, you wondered where it might possibly end up. Now compare that experience to flying a kite, where you make sure the kite is tethered to a reel of string.

Spiritual renewal and revival refresh the soul and empower believers to live for Jesus. Revival is intended to be like a kite rather than a helium balloon. A revival experience that is not tethered to Scripture can result in a person drifting far off course.

Our spiritual adversary, of course, always looks for ways to interrupt God’s work in our life. Satan hates revival and searches for people who are caught up in the emotion of revival but are not grounded in biblical teaching. People who are untethered to Scripture are the easiest to mislead and discourage once the flames of revival have decreased.

There is a human tendency to become so overcome with emotion during a revival that you throw spiritual caution to the wind. You naively assume that anything you are experiencing must be from God. In reality, the devil and his demons look for opportunities to produce counterfeit practices among those who are unable to discern the difference between genuine renewal and extremism.

At the same time, some people are scared to death of allowing their emotions to become engaged during their spiritual experiences. This is yet another form of extremism. A spirit of fear is not conducive to flowing in the power of the Holy Spirit. “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

There must be a balance. Emotion is not devotion, and yet God created us with emotions. Christians tend to become emotionally engaged when they experience revival power. But we must remain tethered to Scripture in order to receive discernment from the Holy Spirit while our soul is being revived and refreshed. The Bible provides the wisdom Christians need before, during and after a revival.

Once the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers on the Day of Pentecost, they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The Holy Spirit gave them a strong spiritual hunger.

Healthy Christians hunger for the spiritual food of God’s Word. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Unhealthy Christians merely seek one emotional experience after another. They live for the spiritual buzz, with little if any hunger for the truth of God’s Word. And this is where Satan picks them off and leads them into despair, or into New Age practices or into a religious cult.

Does your Christian life look more like a tethered kite, or an untethered balloon? Do you find yourself regularly drifting far off course from what the Bible describes as the Spirit-filled life of a follower of Christ? Are you quick to chase after anything that appears to have a supernatural element to it? Remember, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). We must test everything by the Word of God and remain willing to learn whatever the Lord wants to teach us.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) is considered by many to be “the greatest mind that America has ever produced and this country’s greatest theologian.” Edwards was a leading figure in the First Great Awakening, which was a revival in the 13 colonies in America in the 1730s and 1740s.

Edwards listed “five marks” whereby a work of the Spirit of God may be distinguished:

1. It should convince men of Christ and lead them to Him in the assurance that he is the Son of God, sent to save sinners.

2. It should operate against the interests of Satan’s kingdom, causing men to forsake sin and to set their affections on the things that are above.

3. It should lead men to a greater regard for the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God.

4. It should awaken the ability to discern spiritually between truth and error, light and darkness.

5. It should manifest a spirit of love, both to God and to one’s fellow man.

If God allows you to take part in a revival, give Him all the glory and praise as you fill your heart and mind with Scripture. It is the only way to maintain a fruitful life of obedience to the Lord. Be sure to meditate often upon the agonizing death Jesus endured in order to save you from your sins and bring you to Paradise one day. Heaven is a place where revival power is constantly flowing and continually satisfying. Oh the joy we will experience forever under the refreshing waterfall of God’s love!

David summed it up well in Psalm 16:11: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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