The Role of Faith in Revival
By Richard Owen Roberts
Thank God for all who are burdened and prayerful about revival. But that alone is not sufficient. We live in a time when reformation also is absolutely mandatory. There are millions and millions of people who belong to evangelical churches of America who sincerely believe themselves to be Christians who have nothing but wasted faith. Tragically, no one has ever enabled them to understand the difference between faith and mental assent.
Description of Saving Faith
There are two passages that I want to draw to your attention: 2 Peter 1:1-11 and Hebrews 11. I have time only to skim over the top of the first one, but I draw your attention to the incredibly urgent matters in this passage of the source, the appearance and the conduct of saving faith for further consideration in your own private study and prayer life.
"Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (v. 1). Two of my points are there. What is the source of saving faith? Faith is "received"
–it is given to you. Part of the tragedy of the hour is that people are trying to muster up faith. They hope they have inherited it from a grandparent or a parent. They think that perhaps by exposure to people of faith that faith is theirs. Faith is a gift of God, just as repentance is (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25).
My second observation from this verse is the appearance of saving faith. What does it look like? It is "a faith as the same kind as ours." Peter had saving faith. It took a long time to develop. He made a lot of tragic errors along the way, but it is crystal clear that he got it. Paul and Stephen had saving faith. Every individual named in Hebrews eleven had saving faith and multitudes through the centuries had it. All saving faith looks alike. If you wonder whether you got the real thing, compare it with what the Apostle Paul and Peter had and discern whether or not you have the real thing.
Verse two: "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord: seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply [number one] moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, [number two] knowledge; and in your knowledge, [add number three] self-control, and in your self-control, [add number four] perseverance, and in your perseverance, [add number five] godliness, and in your godliness, [number six, add] brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, [number seven] Christian love."
Faith that has not been added to by these seven qualities is not saving faith. It is as I have said already, wasted faith. You may be one of those who say we are saved by faith alone. Consider the revelation of truth that Peter had. Look at verse eight: "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing…." Notice that it is not enough to have them; they have to be added one by one, in the sequential order here. You don’t add Christian love when you are in the grip of hypocrisy. You have to have moral earnestness before you can have true perseverance. If these qualities are not yours, and they are not on the increase, you are in a lot more trouble than you ever guessed.
Returning to verse eight we read that these qualities ..."render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is [number one] blind or [number two] short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins." Think about this! If you do not have these qualities and if these qualities are not on the increase, there are two possible reasons why. Number one: you are blind. That is a serious statement. In First John there is a powerful passage about blindness and our Lord Jesus Christ made it crystal clear that the blind man is a man who does not know the Lord. You can have what you call faith but if these qualities are not yours and are not on the increase, you are blind. You have been deceived. You have been taken in by some false teacher. He may pose as an evangelical; he may give an altar call after every service. But saving faith is busy adding qualities and those qualities are ever increasing.
The alternative to being blind is being short-sighted. You have forgotten the reason for your former deliverance from sin. Christ does not save anyone to deliver them from hell. Christ saves us in order to enable us to bring Him glory and to impact our world and to advance His kingdom. If you think you received faith and you think the faith you received is the same as the apostles received, but you have not been adding these qualities and they are not on the increase, then you miss the point of the grace God has shown to you. You cannot live at the entry level of Christianity. We all have to start somewhere but it cannot end there. It has to go beyond that.
Qualities of Saving Faith
Let us go back and reflect upon the qualities of saving faith:
Quality number one. The translation that I have read uses the expression "moral excellence." The translations vary. Some translations say virtue; some refer to holiness. The very heart of it is the concept of moral earnestness. There is something so urgent, so vital, so real that it puts you in an altogether different class than the Pharisees and the scribes and the lawyers of the New Testament. It separates you dramatically from the world around you, because there is a moral earnestness that grips you. Much of the church knows nothing about moral earnestness. They are much more earnest about everything under the sun than Christ and His kingdom.
Quality number two. When he speaks about "knowledge," it is not just about Bible knowledge. It is discernment, so that you know what to do with what the Holy Spirit teaches you. In seasons of revival, there is desperate need for discernment as to what matters. Many movements in recent years focused on physical phenomena which draw attention away from Christ. It is absurd to be burdened for revival and yet not be seeking discernment so that you will be able to keep the focus on Christ, because revival is very fragile. In a true revival it is all eyes on Christ. All the devil has to do to destroy true revival is to get the eyes off of Christ onto something which in itself may be legitimate, but it is of minor consequence. So to moral excellence, add discernment.
Quality number three. Add "self-control." There is a high percentage of the church that does not know anything about self-control. The many divorces in this day are a clear indication of a lack of self-control. I am not sure how you could call anybody godly who lacks self-control.
Quality number four. Not only are we to add self-control but "perseverance." Over and over I’ve observed people who have come under the burden of revival and then a few months later, they are under some other burden. We have a phenomenal lack of perseverance in our day.
Quality number five. And to perseverance, add true "godliness."
Well, you get the picture. Every one of us ought to be burdening ourselves with this passage. If you are a preacher, the bulk of the people in your congregation know nothing about this kind of thing. You need to seriously start preaching and teaching what the Word of God says about faith.
I said earlier that I will have to rush along the top of this, so let me simply finish this passage by commenting on verses ten and eleven: "Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you."
I think a lot of folk feel that if they can somehow manage to just slip in to the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that is about enough. Peter is saying that if these qualities are in you and are on the increase, you are going to receive an abundant entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. An abundance entrance can be to His glory. How much glory the Savior will receive as everyone who enters the eternal kingdom enters with a vast, oversupply of grace!
Faith in Hebrews Eleven
In Hebrews eleven, I want to draw your attention to five of the things that are part and parcel of true saving faith. And in the hopes that some of you might remember these truths, I want to lay them out in a simple pattern. Might we let each letter in the word "faith" stand for a part of Hebrews eleven:
The letter "F" – facts in focus.
The letter "A" – active obedience.
The letter "I" – intimacy with God.
The letter "T" – tenacious valor.
The letter "H" – hope.
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1).In keeping with those words, read these words from Romans 8:5-8: "For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
A high percentage of all those who think they have saving faith still have the mind-set of the world. But true saving faith always brings a person into the mind-set of the Spirit, and verse one of Hebrews eleven makes this clear. When you have saving faith, the things that you hope for are given substance, and the things that are unseen are brought into the realm of absolute certainty and assurance. And the consequence is that the things that are unseen, the things that are of a heavenly nature, the things of the Spirit, the things that are eternal – become much more dominant than the things of the flesh, the things of this earth, the things that you can taste and touch and see. But multitudes who think they have faith know nothing of that mind-set of the Spirit. I go back to what I said to begin with – a reformation is desperately needed, a time when we return to true biblical teaching and preaching.
People regularly tell me, "You cannot preach doctrine. Doctrine is divisive." Of course it is divisive. It separates the sheep from the goats. Some of you pastors have worn yourself out trying to shepherd goats. It is an impossible, an exasperating, and an exhausting task.You cannot make the dead alive by discipleship. In the mind-set of the Spirit, faith always brings the unseen and the eternal into such focus in the life that they are much more dominant than the seen and the felt.
You quickly observe this when you get into a group where you are among those who profess to be Christians. Many a time after a Sunday morning sermon I’ve been invited to the pastor’s house for lunch, and I have found it absolutely impossible to maintain a conversation that focuses on Christ and His kingdom. There is the mind-set of the world. Multitudes of congregations, when the final "Amen" has been pronounced, are immediately conversing about the football game that afternoon, about the picnic yesterday, about some television program, etc. The sermon is entirely gone. The mind-set of the flesh is death (Rom. 8:6).
"F" – Faith always brings facts into focus. Those with faith know that that which is eternal is vastly more consequential than that which is temporal. And that which cannot be seen and can only be hoped for is vastly more consequential than anything in this life. So each of us returns to ourselves and to the Word and the Spirit of God. We need to be absolutely sure that we have the facts in focus.
"A" – active obedience. We have clear statements and commands in this passage. Look at Hebrews 11:6: "…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." Some of the translations insert the word "diligently" and I believe appropriately because the term here, "who seek Him," carries with it the whole idea of diligence. We treat seeking God as something once done, forever accomplished. But no! The life of faith is the life of perpetually seeking the face of God. Here is an absolute command to seek God with all your heart.
There are more than ample warnings in the Old Covenant about seeking God. King Asa was told ever so plainly, "…the Lord is with you when you are with Him. And if you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you" (2 Chron. 15:2). We are dealing with incredible numbers of people who do not seek the face of God, and no one has loved them sufficiently to make it clear that a mandatory aspect of faith is active obedience. Our Lord said, "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
Think of what is said of Noah in Hebrews 11:7: "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith." For one hundred and twenty years he went alone and endured perpetually the taunts and the curses of his fellows. But he pleased the Lord in what he did.
I know that when Abraham was commanded by God to take that son who was indeed the son of promise, and was ordered to prepare to sacrifice him, he did so in faith with conviction that if necessary God would raise that son from the dead in order to fulfill His promise. You go through Hebrews chapter eleven and it is more than obvious that faith is not mental assent. What if Noah had listened to God in His command to build the ark and said, "Now, Lord, that is a remarkable concept. I can hardly envision this thing. I want to assure you that I am going to think about what You have said." That is the response of multitudes in terms of hearing the Word of God preached. There are pastors who have hardly ever heard anybody say anything more exceptional than, "O pastor, that was interesting. I never thought about that." When people step up to me after a service and say that, I grieve inwardly.
Whatever the Lord says to you, do it! And do not delay! How is there any sense in saying that you will think about a command that the Lord issues? Saving faith is active obedience. Go through the Gospels again. Read the records of the wonderful healings and deliverances. Time after time, God told the person what to do and he did it. But some of us waste our time and our energy debating the role of works in faith.
Our Lord gave us a small but an immensely consequential story about a person in whom there dwelt a demon and the demon was cast out. The place was "swept and garnished" – made ready for the next occupant, but it stood empty. The demon passing by saw that it was still unoccupied and he gathered some of his pals and the last estate was worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26). We must practice active obedience. But you cannot obey the Lord when you are obeying the commands of your own lust. You cannot practice active obedience if you have not denounced yourself and your own ways and desires.
"I" – intimacy with God. Hebrews eleven brings this matter of intimacy with God into focus in verse five: "By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God." Enoch was 65 years of age when his son Methuselah was born, and then it is clear that he walked with God in this intimacy for three hundred years. Faith brings one into intimacy with God, so the things that God sees we see, so the things that God feels we feel, so the things that God is committed to, we are committed to. The highest percentage of those that I reach who think they have saving faith, do not know this intimacy with God. I do not want to deceive people; I do not want to pretend that faith is mental assent. Faith is active not passive; faith always brings those who have it into intimacy with God. In Hebrews eleven we see that Abraham enjoyed this intimacy with God. It is quite clear that Moses had this intimacy and many others as well.
Courage Versus Cowardice
"T" – tenacious valor.Read these words, starting at verse 32: "And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground."
Every one of these is demonstrating tenacious valor. Countless times people have stepped up to me and said, "How did you dare say that?" and I say, "How do you dare remain silent?" All this issue of "political correctness" shows what cowards we are. I am often reminded of a song we used to sing as children, "Dare to be a Daniel; dare to stand alone; dare to have a purpose firm; and dare to make it known." Not a single person made it into Hebrews eleven who was a coward. Go back over the verses just read. It is truly marvelous to observe the tenacious valor that they demonstrated.
Take Gideon for example. What an example of tenacity! What is tenacity? You lay hold of a matter and you will not let it go. If it means imprisonment you hang on. If it means death you hang on. If it means living in a cave or a hole or in a tent, you hang on. Courage – that is being tenacious! I believe we would see revival very soon if the church got serious about the subject of faith. I pause to ask you, do these qualities show up in your life?
"H" – Hope. Verses 39 and 40 in a magnificent way bring this into our vision: "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect." Oh what a message is recorded in those words! This is amazing when you think about it. Think about Samson. His name is mentioned here. He is not commended because of his absolute consistency throughout life, but in the end, he had that faith that was pleasing to God. When he laid hold of those pillars and asked for one more return of strength, God met him and enabled him to bring that building down. We are not talking about perfection here, but we are talking about moral earnestness; we are talking about perseverance. All of these individuals listed got the testimony that they pleased God. Some of us who think that we are "super saints" do not have that testimony. We have no evidence that we are pleasing to God. Some do not even please themselves. They do not have any sense of the pleasure of God upon them. But every one of these in Hebrews eleven without exception had this testimony that they pleased God.
But they did not get "the promise." Now they got promises. In the passage there are references to promises in the plural and there is reference to "the promise" singular. It is more than amply clear that Christ Himself is "the promise" and they did not get Christ. God had provided something better for us we read in the final verse. Would you not agree that an entire Bible is better than the Pentateuch? Would you not agree that a great High Priest who lives forever is far greater than a high priest who dies and has to be replaced? Would you not agree that the law of God written on your heart is better than the phylactery around your arm? God has provided something better for us! But the tragedy is we live as if we had received less than the heroes of Hebrews eleven received.
And some have the notion that we can get away with more than they got away with. "…from everyone who has been given much shall much be required" (Luke 12:48). You have received vastly more than any of these saints whose names appear in this record, and thus you are vastly more responsible for what you got. Our great hope is that in fulfilling our responsibility in terms of what we received, the Lord will hearken and will say, "Before I come that final time, I am going to come again among My people and make them ready for My final return."
Without faith it is impossible to please Him. We can pray all we like, but if our prayers are not prayers of faith, there is no consequence. The role of faith in revival, its urgency and its consequence, I cannot sufficiently emphasize, but at least I can draw it to your attention and ask that you give the Word of the Lord the kind of consideration and response that it deserves.
(edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2008)