Posted by: stpowen | May 7, 2010

Looking to God for Revival (5) Turning from Wicked Ways

2Chron 7:14.  ‘If My people, called by My name will humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways…….’.

The final command from God is for us to turn from our wicked ways.  Perhaps it is as well to remind ourselves that this instruction is not made to atheists or pagans who have no knowledge of God, but to ‘My people, called by My name’– to Christians, to God’s own folk.  The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us; ‘Therefore……..let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher (1) of our faith…..’ (Heb 12:1-2).  As Christians we need to turn away from anything that would displease God; not to escape hell;  ‘There is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1), but of course the verse continues, ‘who do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit.’   How can those whose lives are utterly carnal, who give no sign of any influence of the Sprit in their lives, suppose that they are ‘in Christ Jesus’?   Moreover, this turning away from sin should be coming out of love for our Saviour.  ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15).  If we will not set ourselves to obey His commands, what evidence is there that we love Him?  And even if we do love Him, how can we expect a blessing if we are careless as to how we live?  Do Christians suppose that people don’t notice when they do their shopping on Sundays, when they buy their lottery tickets, tell those little white lies to get out of trouble, use bad language when they become annoyed, get tipsy at parties?  Of course they notice!  And they think to themselves, “I don’t think much of that person’s religion.”

The ‘wicked ways’ mentioned above are pretty gross, but I want to suggest that they are merely the outworking of two ‘root’ sins.  The first of these is undoubtedly pride, but since I have already  covered this (2) I move on.  The second, I suggest, is irreverence, a ceasing to fear the Lord.   I think it is fair to say that the fear of God is something of a lost chord amongst His people today, and in my opinion there are three main reasons for that state of affairs.  The first is a loss of reverence in many churches.  I am not a fan of using 17th Century English (‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’) in addressing God, since I see no precept or example of it in the Bible.  However, such language is far preferable to the assumed chumminess towards the Almighty adopted by many church leaders which is the very antithesis of the awe and reverence used in the Bible (3).  Such language used by ministers can only serve to deceive congregations into the view that God is really their ‘mate in the sky’ rather than their sovereign Lord who holds their very lives in the palm of His hand.

The second cause is the abandonment of the Biblical doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints, and its replacement by the teaching of ‘Once saved, Always Saved.’  The two ought to be synonymous but they by no means are.  The implication of the second teaching is that if you have responded to an altar call or muttered a ‘sinner’s prayer,’ you are all sorted out with God and can live how you please thereafter without particular reference to the commands of God since He is obliged to save you.  The Perseverance of the saints teaches that God will indeed save His elect people (John 10:27-30), but that they will only be saved as they persevere in the faith (Matt 24:13).  Therefore, if you are not persevering in holy living, what reason do you have to suppose that God has saved you (Heb 12:14)?

The third reason is the exclusive focus on the love of God at the expense of His holiness, justice and wrath.  As a result of this, people become unable to believe that the Lord could ever be so ‘unloving’ as to send people to hell.  And why should you fear someone whose only characteristic is love?  And of course, when bad things happen, Christians taught in this way have no answer when unbelievers ask them, “Where’s your God of love in all this?”

We need to learn the fear of the Lord.  ‘”Do you not fear Me?” Says the LORD; “Will you not tremble at My presence, who have placed the sand as the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass beyond it?  And though its waves toss to and fro, yet they cannot prevail: though they roar, yet they cannot pass over it.  But this people has a defiant and rebellious heart:  they have revolted and departed.  They do not say in their heart, ‘Let us now fear the LORD our God…..’”’ (Jer 5:22-24).  The earthquake that caused the tsunami which devastated the coasts of South-East Asia in 2004 was one of the largest ever measured, being around Eight on the Richter Scale.  What prevents an earthquake of Force Nine or Ten, Twelve or Fifteen?  What keeps the Earth from shaking itself to pieces, or prevents a tsunami that could engulf the whole world?  ‘Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed’ (Lam 3:22).

Perhaps it might be useful to spend a little time considering just what is meant by ‘The fear of the Lord.’  ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge’ (Prov 1:7).  The very first work of grace that God performs upon a human heart is to teach the fear of Him, and it should lead us to realise our sinfulness and to turn from it.  ‘Come, you children, listen to me; and I will teach you the fear of the LORD……..Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.  Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:11, 13-14.  cf. Job 28:28; Eccl 12:13).  The wicked and unbelieving do not know this fear unless God reveals it to them.  In Rom 3:18, Paul having listed the gross sins of unbelievers, declares, ‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’

The fear of the Lord therefore is a divine fear, born of knowledge.  It is not a natural fear, like that brought about by the approach of danger, as we might fear to cross a busy road or to swim in a stormy sea.  Nor is it a superstitious fear like that which makes people cross themselves, touch wood or be afraid to walk under a ladder.  It is not a craven fear, but actually one that brings comfort.  Acts 9:31 speaks of ‘walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.’  The fear of the Lord is a divine fear, born of knowledge.  That which God withholds from others, He gives to those who fear Him.  ‘The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant’ (Psalm 25:14). It is the reverencing and adoring of God as immeasurably holy, knowing and understanding His great power and hatred of sin.  It is to know Him as so great and mighty that we fear to displease Him; so kind and good that we are afraid of losing Him.

The fear of the Lord is mixed with love (Psalm 145:19-20).  It is associated with holiness and faith, with industry and also with righteousness (Heb 11:7).  It is coupled with humility (Prov 22:4); with purity (Psalm 19:9), and with hope (Psalm 33:18).  As we have seen it is associated with wisdom and the shunning of evil (Job 28:28).  Finally, it is a fear that drives out carnal fear and gives courage.  Exodus 18:21, according to Thomas Watson, could be translated, ‘Men of courage, such as fear God.’

If pride and the lack of fear towards the Lord are ‘root sins,’ their fruit is a whole variety of petty and not-so-petty sins.  I have heard people say, “I don’t think God minds if I get drunk occasionally,” and even justify adultery by saying, “It feels so right!  I can’t believe that God would be against it.”  Because God does not immediately strike sinners dead, they imagine that there is nothing to fear.  ‘These things you have done and I kept silent;  you thought that I was altogether like you.  But I will rebuke you, and set them in order before your eyes.  Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces and there be none to deliver’ (Psalm 50:21-22).  Do we wonder at the lack of blessing to the churches when professing Christians are so careless how they live that it becomes impossible to tell them apart from the world?  ‘Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save;  nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have separated you from your God;  and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He will not hear’ (Isaiah 59:1-2).

We cannot keep our sins and expect the blessing of God.  We must turn from anything that would displease Him, and ask Him to reveal it to us if He finds anything in our lives displeasing.  Our prayer must be, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23-24).

Now the question is, can we take Old Testament promises to Israel and apply them to ourselves today?  I believe we can. ‘For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we, through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope’ (Rom 15:4. cf. 1Cor 10:11).  The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New, and His word is sure to those who believe.  So if we will do these four things, then God makes us three promises.  He will hear from heaven- we will see our prayers answered, perhaps in ways more wonderful than we can imagine.  He will forgive the sins of our nation- God’s wrath, which is surely hanging over Britain at this time, will be assuaged.  And He will heal the land.  God will take away the famine of hearing His word (Amos 8:11-12), and raise up faithful preachers and evangelists to herald the good news of His kingdom.   He will destroy the locusts of materialism and secularism which are eating away at this country’s life; and He will remove the plague of wickedness and immorality so that even unbelievers are ashamed to commit sins openly.

We know that the world will never be perfect until our Lord returns, but that is no reason for us not to long for it to be made better, as it was in the great revivals in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, and as is happening today in parts of Africa, Asia and South America.  I hope it is not  too disrespectful to imagine the Lord keeping a calendar, but in my mind’s eye I see a date ringed round in it and the words, ‘End of World; return of Christ’  written beside it.  I do not know what date that is, but if it is in the Lord’s calendar, that does not preclude another, earlier date  being ringed round and the words ‘Send revival to Britain’ being written by it.  Surely we can plead with God to bring us one more great revival before the Day of Judgement? 

‘O Israel, return to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity;  take words with you and return to the LORD.  Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices of our lips.  Assyria shall not save us, we will not ride on horses nor will we say to the work of our hands anymore, ‘you are our gods (4).’  For in You the fatherless finds mercy.”’  Then God promises,  “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.  I will be like the dew to Israel;  he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon.  His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  Those who dwell under his shadow shall return;  they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine” (Hosea 14:1-7).

Would it not be a wonderful thing if the true believers in this land would come together and covenant one with another to do these four things?  Let us declare before God and each other that we will humble ourselves before our God to follow His word in all our doings- in our churches, in our homes, in our lives and in our conversations.  That we will pray unceasingly for God’s mercy on this land and its people.  That we will seek God’s face diligently through prayer and the meditation of His word, and that we will turn away from any thought, word or deed that is unworthy of our wonderful Saviour.

‘O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Send a revival- start the work in me.’  (J. Edwin Orr)

Notes

(1) Or ‘Perfecter.’

(2) See ‘Looking to God for Revival(2)- Humiliation.’

(3) I have no objection to the use of Olde English (‘Thee’ and ‘Thou’) in addressing God.  I merely assert that it is not necessary.  For a Biblical example of reverence in prayer,  cf. perhaps, 1Chron 29:10-15.

(4) Assyria, horses and idolatry speak of three things that people can put their faith in other than God.  ‘Assyria’ refers to human alliances; ‘horses’ to military might, and ‘the work of our hands’ to false religion.

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