"Oh God, do it again! Do it in our day! Do it for your glory and praise!" Such are the prayers that instinctively rise from the hearts of serious Christians when they read or hear accounts of true conversions and of Spirit-wrought seasons of awakening and revival. We find such records in our Bibles, in the annals of church history, and in contemporary reports of these gracious works of God occurring in various parts of the world.
However, it is crucial that we recognize that both conversion and seasons of awakening are never to be looked upon as the arrival at a destination—a destination that we repeatedly describe and for which we yearn, nostalgically regarding them as capturing "the good old days." Rather, they are to be regarded as the beginning of a wonderful journey—a journey of ongoing communion with God and obedience to God that grows richer and deeper with the passing of time.
Acts 26:20 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 are two texts that demonstrate the truth that conversion is the start of a journey. In the first of these texts, Paul emphasizes that conversion begins with a radical turning to God in repentance that issues in a lifetime of living out the implications of that turning by "performing deeds in keeping with [that] repentance."
The second text describes the conversion of the Thessalonians as consisting in a radical turning to God from idols, issuing in a life of bondservice to the living God, and an eager waiting for the completion of salvation to be bestowed at the return of Jesus.
Our initiation into spiritual life by conversion occurs in different ways. God has no detailed "conversion blueprint" to which His saving work must universally conform. But, if any professed conversion is indeed God's saving work, it always issues in the following: a life of growing communion with Christ (1 Cor. 1:9; Phil. 3:8–10); a life of increasing conformity to Christ (2 Cor. 3:18); a life of continuous abiding in Christ (John 15:1–11); and a life of principled obedience to Christ (John 14:21, 1 John 2:3–4).
The life of a true child of God shaped by these realities will become a blessed and beautiful fulfillment of the promise of Psalm 92:12–14: "The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green."
On my sixtieth birthday, some twenty-one years ago, I took these verses as my own special companion for whatever years were yet marked out for me. While most other older saints and I are constantly reminded that our "outer [man] is wasting away," according to the promises of Psalm 92, we also experience the reality that our "inner [man] is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16).
Growing in Grace
Pentecost was a singular epochal event in redemptive history. However, the flood of spiritual life and power sent down from the enthroned messianic King continues to come upon the emerging and growing church, often as a steady, gentle shower. Awakenings and revivals, when they are the work of God, are periodic intensifications of the ordinary work of the Holy Spirit in which, instead of a gentle and steady rain of heavenly life and power, Christ sends upon His church an intensified localized deluge. As the old gospel song puts it, "mercy drops 'round us are falling, but for the showers we plead."
What was the result of that initial Pentecostal deluge? Did the 120 disciples remain in the upper room, repeatedly rehearsing to one another the thrilling experience of hearing the "sound like a mighty rushing wind," seeing the "divided tongues of fire," and experiencing the linguistic miracle of speaking in other languages? No. Their risen Lord had told them that when the Spirit came upon them, they would receive power to bear witness to Him and to His saving work in ever-widening circles, even to the "end of the earth" (Acts 1:8, Luke 24:45–49).
The biblical account of the Spirit's work subsequent to that initial deluge is focused upon bringing more sinners to conviction and conversion, and then incorporating those converted sinners into an organized community of the people of God, called the church. Luke informs us that the three thousand who were converted were added to the 120 and "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). The subsequent record indicates that the church formed on that day did not meet in a perpetual celebration of the events of that day, but grew in the corporate graces of brotherly love, practical benevolence, and demonstrable unity, which validated the power of the gospel that was being preached by the Apostles (Acts 2:43–47; 4:32–36).
The book of Acts, the Apostolic letters, and church history contain irrefutable evidence that true revivals and awakenings give birth to churches and bring renewed life to dying churches. May the Lord do so again, for His glory and praise.