This is the 2nd in a series of 3 posts with Dr. Tom Elliff’s chapter “Praying for Genuine Revival”. To see part 1 click here.
Again we are appreciative to CLC Publications for generously giving us permission to publish this chapter in its entirety on our blog from A Passion for Prayer, Experiencing Deeper Intimacy with God. To purchase this book click here.
THE REPULSIVENESS OF SIN IN THE BELIEVER’S LIFE
God insists that restoration of fellowship is directly related to our willingness to see the wickedness of our sin – to see our disobedience as He sees it (2 Chron. 7:14; 1 John 1:8, 10). Sin is disgusting to God. Though He shows grace to repentant sinners, He cannot look upon sin itself with the least degree of tolerance. “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters case up mire and dirt. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked’” (Isa. 57:20-21). While the sin of the lost world is repulsive to God, the sins of His people are even more so! If we confess, He forgives and cleanses; but if we refuse to admit our transgression, He will not restore the fellowship we have so foolishly broken.
Imagine, for instance, a man who after a beautiful time of courtship finally rejoices in the privilege of taking his beloved as his wife. She becomes the focus of his love, the object of his affection. He lives for her and sacrifices all for her. When he is away from her, his thoughts center around the great joy of having her as his wife. She is on his mind and heart night and day. He always carries her picture with him and proudly tells others how blessed he is to have her as his wife. He would bend heaven and earth to fulfill her every request. She is the great love of his life.
But what this faithful and dedicated man does not know is that secretly, through the years of their courtship and now their marriage, she is a practicing prostitute. During the day, while he is at work and dreaming of her, she is in one adulterous bed after another. Though he remains faithful to her, she has lost count of her lovers. Imagine the heartbreak when he discovers the truth.
The true church, comprised of all who have truly received Christ as Savior, is the bride of Christ. He died for her, and now He lives for her. His heart’s great desire is that she may be presented one day before the Father, pure and holy in her radiant, righteous apparel. But she is sometimes a prostitute, and God knows it. Her sinful flirtations and outright adulteries with the world pierce His heart moment by moment and will continue to do so until the day He calls His bride home to heaven. We, members of that church, redeemed but sometimes unfaithful, have played the harlot with the lover of our souls. How repulsive our sin must be to our Savior! How must we wound His heart – He who shed His life’s blood to cleanse us from our moral corruption!
The brokenness that attends personal spiritual revival comes when God’s people begin to see their disobedience as God sees it and to acknowledge its awfulness. Historically, in the early days of great revival movements, there were not so much songs of joy as there were weeping prayers of repentance. Believers on the verge of spiritual awakening are usually found on their faces, crying out before the Lord about the repulsiveness of sin in their lives. They have a fresh appreciation for the fact that God’s people must not continue in widespread wickedness, because they have been born of God (see 1 John 3:6-9).
GOD’S RESPONSE TO SIN IN THE BELIEVER’S LIFE
The Scriptures indicate that God deals with sin in believers’ lives through a series of three progressive and increasingly drastic steps: conviction, chastening and, finally, the call home, or what Scripture calls “sin leading to death” (1 John 5:16)
God’s first response to our sin is to bring conviction to our hearts. To do this, the Holy Spirit employs the Word of God, which is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). God speaks to us through His Word about the sin in our lives. Just as a mirror reveals how we look to others, the Word of God reveals how we look to Him. The Holy Spirit uses the Word much like a sailor uses a compass, showing us where we have strayed from the course He has charted for our lives.
But suppose we make no course correction? What if we ignore the Spirit’s voice and do not confess and repent of our sin? God then begins the process of chastisement:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom the Father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb. 12:5-11)
Scripture plainly teaches that chastening (God’s response to persistent sin) is so common for a believer that the failure to experience it indicates that an individual is not actually a child of God.
But what happens if God’s child does not respond to either conviction or chastisement? God might then possibly call the believer home. First John 5:16 speaks about “sin leading to death.” This probably refers not so much to a specific sin but to a specific attitude toward sin – the deliberate choice to persist in sin despite God’s attempts to bring an about-face. People with such an attitude are so confident of their relationship with the Father (or take it so lightly) that they are willing to presume upon His love by stubbornly engaging in what is so repulsive to Him. If a believer continues to ignore God’s voice and chastisement, the result may well be the judgment of Luke 13:9: “And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.”
We must all beware of falling prey to sin, whether overt or more subtle. David saw presumptuous sin as a most serious matter. Listen to his plea: “Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression” (Ps. 19:13). We should remember that although David occasionally sinned greatly, when he was confronted by the prophet of God, his heart melted and his spirit was broken.
God has committed Himself to deal with all sin in the believer’s life. He may do it through conviction, chastening or death. But above all, He wants us to turn away from sin so we can return to Him, come back to His table and enjoy restored fellowship. Like the prodigal son, fellowship with our Father awaits us at the end of the road of repentance.
Used by permission of CLC Publications, P. O. Box 1449, Fort Washington, PA 19034, and the author Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.