Revival Through Persecution series: Christ-Centered Revival
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)
As I said last week, I am deeply convicted that although we are certainly not persecuted to the degree of the early Church or even many parts of the world today, the American Church would be greatly transformed and invigorated if it were eventually to see this type of affliction. I believe it could be a great blessing to this country, and very well could be God’s grace towards His Church in many ways. Before you think I’m crazy, let’s take a look at how scripture shows how persecution, and times of affliction could very well be the greatest thing for the Church, and how it could be the very means of the Lord bringing about great revival amongst His people.
I’d like to really delve into one of the most commonly used, commonly misused, and abused texts applied to
trials, suffering, and persecution. Yes, James 1 is the typical, cheesy, go to catch phrase for Christians facing trials, and an easy coffee mug slogan. However about 99.9% of the times I see it used, it’s either misused, misunderstood, or it’s full gravity just isn’t fully grasped.
For starters, the word used here for “trials” in the original Greek is ‘peirasmos’ which Joseph Thayer describes as “adversity, affliction, or trouble, sent by God and serving to test, prove, or refine one's faith, holiness, character.” First off, we need to stop seeing affliction, or trials as God’s neglect or forgetfulness of you, but rather His provision to draw you closer to Him, and conform you to His character, the very thing that brings Him the utmost glory. Persecution can be an invitation from Christ to have more of Him. These afflictions ultimately, are the very means by which the Lord uses to bring about Holiness within us, maturing and sanctifying us through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. The more sanctified the Church is, the more effective the Church will be, the more zealous it will be, and thus revival occurs. And the holier the Church is, the more glorified Christ will be through it. Trials are not God’s neglect, they are God’s grace.
Delving into the original language will always unveil deeper meaning, and greater contextual understanding of passages and their authors’ meaning. In Verse 3, when James writes about the steadfastness that is produced in us, he intentionally pens a very specific word, ‘hupomoné’. A word familiar to the scriptures that translates quite literally to, “the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings”. WOW! So not only do afflictions bring about revival by sanctifying us, but they also create revival by creating in us an unswerving heart that has absolute tunnel vision for God’s glory, marked with purposefulness and intentionality, with allegiance to faith in Christ. This is what true and God made steadfastness looks like. This is what true faithfulness in Christ is– anything less falls short of the biblical description of steadfastness.
Steadfastness doesn’t mean showing up every Sunday, it doesn’t mean reading the verse of the day each morning or joining a small group. It’s not a deliberate purpose for earthly freedom, not intentionality in staying physically protected and safe, not swerving from affliction, but unswerving from our faith which leads us directly into affliction, intentional in every thought and deed towards the will and purposes of the sovereign God. It’s certainly not loyalty to the flag, but loyalty to the faith. This kind of steadfastness, never fully produced unless one is refined through trial, is a fruit missing from the one who avoids affliction and persecution, or never experienced it.
Steadfastness in the Lord is a direct result of the testing of your faith. Your faith being tested through trial, affliction, and persecution causes steadfastness, it causes faithfulness, it causes a need and a desire in the believer to faithfully cling to Christ. It’s easy to wonder why America has become such a seemingly godless country 250 years later. But this country was birthed in the battlegrounds of affliction and trial. It’s no wonder why they were steadfast, or “loyal to faith and piety” so far as to protect the Christian religion through the Constitution, basically outlawing persecution. And they tried to found a country on biblical principles, at least the best they knew how, not that they were perfect by any measure.
And that protective padding of religious freedom has slowly but surely created a comfortable Christianity which for 250 years has seen no real persecution, no real religious affliction, and little to no testing of faith, at least not the way the Word prepares us for. Lukewarm, powerless, ineffective Christianity is a result of a faith that is never challenged or tested. That is one of many reasons why over time, I believe the American people have lost steadfastness. They have lost faithful dependence on God, because they have never been truly tested for Christ.
Now, I am not for a second saying that I hope our liberties get taken away, or that they ought to be. What I am saying is that if it were to happen one day, it will certainly test our faith to a degree that the American people have never seen before, and according to James 1, that will produce in us a steadfastness, and an unwillingness to sever from Christ. Unlike many modern day Christians who are so willing to sever from the true Gospel over something so trivial as acceptance and approval. And because of that steadfastness and faithfulness in Jesus, we would again see a revival amongst the true Church of God.
Now, what exactly does James mean when he says that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing?” It means that there is nothing missing from us because we have everything we need in Christ and we are fully satisfied in Him. All that Christ is, and all that He has accomplished, we have inherited through His imputed righteousness and His finished work on the cross. But we can’t be fully satisfied, having all we need in Christ if we aren’t driven to the point of desperate dependence on Him, while insisting on independence from Him.
Affliction is the very thing that drives us to our knees, crushing us to the point of this desperate dependence. This is why Revival results from full satisfaction in Christ. True Christ centered revival isn’t birthed out of anger toward government. True revival is birthed out of a people finally realizing how deep their need for Christ is, and so seeking Him and knowing Him. If your zeal to pursue God is birthed from a desire to defy or revolt against an authority that has angered and frustrated you, then it’s not Christ who we glorify, but a country or party. That’s idolatry, not worship. Revival is birthed from a people knowing that Christ is entirely sufficient to sustain them, even if they lose everything else.
Lastly, the criminalization of the Gospel will separate those who do church for God’s glory and to worship Him, from those who only go through the motions of church to glorify themselves and promote their organization and platform. It will weed out the imposters who only play church for popularity, because they will cease to have any need or reason to be a church anymore, seeing as no man receives glory by being thrown in a jail cell, only Christ could be glorified through that, and that is of no concern to them.
If COVID has proven anything, it’s that once you remove the platform from Christianity, you remove the majority of the “Church”. Once you make Christianity about Christ rather than social relevance and popularity, you’ll lose the heavy majority of professing Christians and churches. John describes this specifically in 1 John 2 when he writes, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now may antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
Affliction will always prune the Church, which weeds out the disingenuous and false teachers and organizations that lead people into shipwrecked faith because that don’t promote true worship, biblical doctrine, or true unity in Christ. This ultimately strengthens the Church, and makes it far more effective, and centralizes its focus on Christ’s glory, rather than man’s, and thus, revival.
Whether we see blessing, provision, and freedom, or affliction, hardship, and persecution, Christ will be glorified. In life, Christ is glorified, and even in our death, Christ will be glorified. Let it always be the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding that guards our hearts and minds, and not the security from a government. Let our peace come from the assurance of our salvation not the assurance of America’s safety. The peace which comes from Jesus is far more sufficient than the peace which comes from earthly authorities, and His protection will always outdo the protection of our Constitution, both in life and in death. His sovereign will is always higher than ours, and His wisdom is forever greater than ours. But only a God like ours can make hope, purpose, and reason out of the seemingly most fearful situations.
Let us praise Him for that. Let us thank Him that he is sovereignly in control, and that all He ordains will come to pass. What a pleasure to trust and follow such a God.