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I grew up in church and remember scheduled revivals. You know what I mean if you’ve been church life for awhile. The pastor or staff schedules a special guest speaker to come in and preach for two-to-three days or more. The special occasion is dubbed a revival. Whether or not revival actually occurs is another story; nevertheless, the moniker sticks.

All my life I have heard people pray for revival. And who hasn’t heard the pastor wax eloquent regarding the need for revival in our land? I thank God for the prophetic voices of revival preachers reminding us that we are to walk in personal holiness before the Lord of glory. It is so easy to allow sin to slide into our souls and subtly begin to share space that belongs to the Lord Jesus. The shifts of our hearts and minds happen gradually like rising water eroding away riverbank. Certainly what is needed is a return to holiness in our lives!

Though revival preachers remind us of the need for a holy walk before the Lord God. It is my contention that this is not all there is to revival. If the sum total of our quest for revival is a return to personal holiness then revival is not understood in its fullest and most biblical context. I think a better model for revival is found in James 1:27 wherein is described by the Holy Spirit what constitutes pure religion.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” [emphasis mine].

Pure religion consists of two things:

  1. Showing mercy to the marginalized, as illustrated by the mention of orphans and widows.
  2.  Keeping oneself unstained from the world.

Let’s address the latter one first: For true religion to exist in our lives we must deal with personal sin. We cannot expect vibrant fellowship with the Lord Jesus when we sacrifice our values and morals on the altar of popular cultural opinion. We must cleanse ourselves of impurity and pursue godliness so that we are unstained by the world’s philosophical values, morals, and ethics. We must look heavenward and embrace what matters to God – what is right and true.

But true revival must include more than a return to personal holiness. It must also include a turning out to personal action toward those who are powerless. It is this second point that I think is lacking in much of the emphasis that still remains in our pursuit of revival. Often times when we hear revival, we think of how much our country is going down hill. We don’t often talk about how the church should be moving toward the down and out in Jesus’ name – firmly holding onto truth and the mission of God on the one hand and demonstrating the compassion and mercy of Jesus in the other. We need a James 1:27 revival.