Discerning Revival, and Rumors of Revival

Scriptures: 1 John 4:1-7
by Jacob Abshire on February 16, 2023

How can we know true revival from counterfeit revival? In case you haven’t heard, social media is blowing up with reports about revival breaking out at Asbury University. According to these reports, there was a call to repentance at the closing of a message during a routine chapel service, and students responded … and didn’t stop. It has since turned into a work of the Holy Spirit. Students and professors from the school, as well as local church leaders, are reading the Bible, praising God, exalting Christ, and praying together for a reigniting of Gospel advancement.

Unsurprisingly, there is intrigue and interest. Opinions are running wild. Questions are being asked. Confusion is stirring. People need clarity. Fortunately, the Bible provides some distinguishing marks of true revival in contrast to the counterfeit blend. We find this help in 1 John 4:1-7.

Dare we Question Revivals?

This is an important question to ask ourselves. Should we even question these things? Are we wrong to do so? Intentions aside, it is our responsibility to think objectively about everything, including revivals. In everything, even that which God brings about, the enemy distorts and false imitates. So, we should be on guard and apply Scripture to our thinking. In fact, that is how 1 John 4 opens up:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 4:1

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the beloved John tells us that there are counterfeits in the world of all kinds, and so we ought to be alert and not believe them. He says that we should “test the spirits,” which is not necessarily mean to sound metaphysical, to be refer to the energy behind the message. Is it God or something else?

He says that we can know the spirit behind something by examining its confession, what it promotes and encourages. According verse 3, the “spirit of the antichrist” (1 Jn. 4:3) is the energy behind “false prophets” (1 Jn. 4:1). The prefix “anti-” says it all. False prophets (or in our case, false revivals) are against Christ. So, do not believe them. Rather, be on guard and spiritually discerning.

False revivals, or false prophets at true revivals, can be seen throughout history. In fact, every true revival has had its counterfeits who seek to distort that which God is doing and has done. It has been repeatedly said, “The gold is always mixed with the dross.” This is true of most things in this world. As long as the world is made up of both genuine and counterfeit believers, the gold will be mixed with the dross. So, we need to exercise our minds to discern what is true and false revival.

How Can we Distinguish a True Revival?

Revivals are essentially renewals of spiritual life brought about by the Spirit of God. So, authentic revivals are evidenced by the work of the Holy Spirit. We only need to ask ourselves, what does the Spirit of God do in a revival?

Jonathan Edwards, a key leader in America’s first revival known as The Great Awakening, taught that there were five distinguishing marks of the Spirit’s work highlighted in the biblical text mentioned above. Below is a summation of his explanation which can help us be more discerning.

The Spirit of God Increases Worship of Christ

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

1 John 4:2-3

The Holy Spirit is all about bringing people to Jesus in order to apply the work of Christ to their lives by transforming them into His likeness. In fact, Jesus said that whoever identifies with Jesus publicly are spiritually awakened (Matt. 10:32). So, there is a preoccupation with Jesus, not the Holy Spirit, in a genuine revival. The people, by the work of the Spirit, will esteem Christ more than usual and most of all. And, the Jesus they esteem will be the Jesus of the Bible.

The Spirit of God Increases Attacks on Satan

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

1 John 4:4–5

Simply put, the Holy Spirit works against sin. True revivals cannot eliminate sin, but they are characterized by pushing it back, exposing it, and bringing it to light so that it will be dealt with biblically. In a true revival, we might witness people being convicted of sin and led into progressive sanctification. Or, we may witness Christians being awakened from their spiritual slumber and apathetic attitude toward sin. At any rate, Satan is not interested in convicting people of their sin. He wants their consciences turned off and calloused. However, the Holy Spirit does the work of activating consciences and causing them to be sensitive to sin and inclined to the things of God.

The Spirit of God Increases Love for Scripture

We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us.

1 John 4:6a

God uses the Bible to instruct and guide His followers. So, the Spirit of God will ignite and fuel an affection for the Word of God causing people to read it, understand it, and obey it. At a false revival, we might find leaders twisting Scripture or even the absence of Scripture. You might even find people teaching from their own imaginations instead of Scripture. Whatever the case, a true revival will manifest a hunger in the hearts of the people to know and consume Scripture because it is the life-giving Word of Christ.

The Spirit of God Increases Conviction of Truth

By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:6b

Since the Holy Spirit is exalts Christ and brings people to the Word of Christ, we will find an increase of conviction based on the truths of Christ found in Scripture at a true revival. People’s hearts and minds will grow deeper in their understanding with greater clarity and stronger convictions. This kind of work historically invites controversy in the world, because it doesn’t approve. It sees firm beliefs that are rooted in Scripture as intolerance and offensive. And, it disagrees. So, as the the Spirit of God causes people to draw a definitive line on matters of morality and truth, the culture of the world is aroused to anger.

The Spirit of God Increases Love for God

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7

The final distinguishing mark of the work of the Spirit in a true revival is a manifestation of biblical love. Christianity is a matter of the heart, the innermost part of us, and when the heart is set supremely on God, a great love for God and for the things of God manifests. This means that the people, by the Spirit, will express love for God in elevated ways that results in an equally elevated love for man that is witnessed by good works and kindness.

So, are we witnessing a true revival today at Asbury? What about in other places? Let the Scriptures decide. We should be discerning. And, when we find a true revival, we need to embrace it while praying that the Lord help guard it from Satan’s counterfeit intruders.

This article was based on a video published at The Disciple Shift.

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