We actually branch off from our study of revival this week and begin to understand the meaning of reformation. It has become increasingly clear that the Holy Spirit’s revival, working and molding our hearts with a desire to follow God, must precede the actual performance of living out God’s will, as individuals or as a church.
Revival is definitely an ongoing process though, as we daily receive the Spirit’s nourishment to be able to reform, or transform, ourselves into a people who will glorify and uplift God to the world.
I think a lot of people, especially those who are sailing through life fairly smoothly on their own, are not as comfortable with the thought of reformation, as they are with revival. Reformation is viewed in the same vein as what we have come to know as rehabilitation. The transformed lives we hear the most about in church circles are those who came from very sin-sick situations: lives full of addictions, homelessness, disease, and heartache. And indeed, these stories are important because they show us the depths of sin that God can save us from.
But in God’s eyes, sin is sin, no matter how major or minor we are suffering its effects. This is undoubtedly because sin means a separation from God. Think of it as drowning. If you are separate from your Lifesaver God by a mile or by an inch, you are still not going to be saved from your drowning if you don’t grab onto the Hand that is trying to reach you. Besides, it can be just as hard or harder to put away sins of pride, selfishness, criticism, not being able to forgive, or any other bad attitudes we may have developed through the years.
No one is given a break when it comes to reformation. So it behooves us all to understand as much about the process as we can. Because unless we grow in grace (which is basically what reformation is), we are going to stagnate and eventually wither away off the vine.
Memory Text: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” Hebrews 2:11 NKJV
This text is vitally important for understanding the purpose of reformation. It’s not about us alone. It’s about uniting with the Father. In order to be “of one” with Him, we must become more like Him through the purifying process of sanctification.
Obviously He isn’t going to become more like us. This sinful planet has nothing to boast of in the area of character development. We must embrace the need to become more like our loving and caring Brother Jesus. We can give up a terrible addiction, but if we don’t do it to please God and become more like Him, we might be a better citizen on earth for awhile, but it will do nothing to further God’s future kingdom in heaven. God’s rehabilitation program lasts an eternity.
Our lesson this week looked at some examples of reformation through the ages. Let’s see how God’s people went about the challenging work of revival and reformation and see if their experiences can’t give us hope today.
Sunday: The Prophet’s Appeal for Reformation
The entire history of Israel and Judah is speckled with times of revival and reformation. Idolatry and cruel, heathen tribes surrounded the Hebrews, going back as far as Abraham. It was difficult to keep these pagan practices at bay, and at various times in their history, the infiltration was rampant. Only by serious appeals, uniting themselves to God with fasting and prayer, were they able to return to God.
The story of King Jehoshaphat in II Chronicles 20:1-20 provides us with a very good picture of what revival and reformation looked like in Old Testament times. A crisis had come, and sadly, it’s often a crisis in our own lives that leads us to seek God more fully. But despite the emergency, God came through for them. They were told to obey and go to the enemy, but that they wouldn’t have to fight. God would win the battle for them. I can’t imagine how much trust in God that must have taken. They were extremely outnumbered; but out of faith, they bravely met the enemy and allowed God to work out the victory in whatever way He chose.
“In every emergency we are to feel that the battle is His. His resources are limitless, and apparent impossibilities will make the victory all the greater.” ~Conflict and Courage, p. 217, Ellen G. White
In this instance, revival would be getting ready for the battle (prompted by the Holy Spirit) and reformation would be going out to fight the battle (with the Holy Spirit still doing the work). This negates all ideas that God revives us, but we can take credit for the reformation that results. It reminds us that God is doing it all. Our only part is in making the choice to ask for His help.
Discussion Questions: Is it necessary to wait for times of persecution or peril to experience the kind of revival and reformation Jehoshaphat encouraged? Must we depend on those in leadership positions to instigate revival?
Monday: Paul’s Appeal for Reformation at Corinth
We see a difference in the message of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, compared to his second letter. In I Corinthians, he mentions several times the need for using our bodies to glorify God, for disciplining ourselves to win the “race” for God’s glory, and the need to deal with those who were tearing down the church by their sinful actions. He is also careful to remind them that there is no sin that God is not faithful and powerful enough to remove from our lives. (I Cor. 10:13)
“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” II Corinthians 7:9-10
Even though the Corinthian church was in a great way restored by this reformation, there were still spiritual struggles and challenges to be met. But this is part of the journey of faith we all experience as the great controversy between Christ and Satan continues its course.
Personal Thought Question: What habits, attitudes, or relationships in my personal life can I identify as needing attention during a period of revival and reformation? How can I begin to renew and restore my most important relationship with God?
Tuesday: Revelation’s Appeal for Reformation in Ephesus
The seven churches, described in Revelation 2 and 3 which actually existed in Paul’s day, have for centuries also been thought by some theologians as referring to the Christian church from its beginning at Pentecost until Jesus’ Second Coming. After all, John was instructed to “‘write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this'” (Revelation 1:19 NKJV).
Ephesus, the first church mentioned in the series, representing the time from A.D. 31 to A.D. 100, had many positive things in its favor. It was commended for its hard work, patience, intolerance for sin, testing of the apostles, and perseverance in suffering. It only lacked one thing. It had lost its first love. Their love for each other and for God had slowly diminished. Even though they were still ardently defending the faith, they had substituted duty for a loving relationship.
Discussion Questions: How do you lose your “first love”? Can it be compared to a marriage relationship? Why is this one fault of the Ephesians so important?
Wednesday: Luther’s Appeal for Reformation
The church at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (please don’t take this name lightly) was very similar to the Jewish religion at the time Jesus was born. Tradition had overtaken the plain teachings of God. The masses were controlled by fear. Fear of God and fear of those in religious leadership positions. Confusion over the means of salvation was keeping people away from the true gospel of Christ. Satan was achieving success in maligning the character of God through traditions and beliefs that had little or no Scriptural basis.
Yet through this spiritual darkness in the Middle Ages, Martin Luther, by studying the book of Romans, became enlightened on the truth of salvation by faith alone. Other Reformers later found and restored various Christian beliefs as the Spirit led them. But, each Protestant church built on the foundation of God’s gift of unmerited grace.
Discussion Questions: How does understanding grace become essential to true revival and reformation? We might say that revival is appreciating grace and reformation is living out that grace. What happens when one is done, but not the other?
Thursday: Heaven’s Appeal for an End-Time Reformation
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, an outgrowth of the Millerite Movement, has become recognized as a Protestant church. And rightly so, because there were some Biblical truths still to be discovered in the 1800s. Foremost for the Millerites and the Adventists was a belief in the closeness of the Second Coming or Advent. Hence the name Adventist.
When the world didn’t end as predicted by those associated with William Miller, a group of devoted followers continued to study the Bible to see where they had made their prophetic misinterpretation. This led them to a belief that the Ten Commandments were still valid, including the one enjoining the observance of Saturday, the seventh-day Sabbath.
So, once again, a Reformation church was founded. A church that worshiped the Creator in the manner God prescribed in His Ten Commandment law and just in time to help counter the confusion of Darwin’s theories of evolution.
To this day, Seventh-day Adventists have a desire to follow God all the way and to share the gospel with all the world. Our logo of three angels reminds us of the messages of three angels in Revelation 14:6-12. It included a call to worship the Creator and ends with identifying saints as those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
Discussion Questions: Where and how does revival and reformation become possible? Why is it dangerous to wait for the person sitting next to you in church or the pastor to initiate the needed changes? Can you even wait for your spouse? Is it possible to experience this on a personal level and yet maintain ties with the church and continue to worship with a wayward flock?
On Friday, we see this statement: “Nothing could kill the call to revival and reformation more than a harsh and judgmental spirit toward those who don’t seem to live up to the standards that we think they should.”
Discussion Question: How can we avoid the dangerous pitfall of becoming critical, while still standing for the truths that we find in the Bible? Can you keep your own thoughts and words in check when you see women in church, for instance, who, in your eyes, don’t seem to be dressed appropriately? What if they are part of the pastoral team? When is it our place to speak out about such infringements? And how is it done constructively? What things should be overlooked and what things should not?