". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


The American Church Needs Repentance and Revival

January 31, 2024

The American church is “desensitized,” Pastor Jack Hibbs told “Washington Watch” host and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Tuesday. “And I’m afraid, Tony, we’re going to have to get desperate.” In Revelation 3:14-22, the Lord Jesus urged a desensitized church to recognize the danger of its own spiritual lukewarmness. “You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing,” he told the Laodiceans, “not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

Hibbs identified three symptoms of the American church’s malady: idolizing comfort, rejecting conviction, and avoiding personal responsibility.

“Number one, comfort: we’ll do anything to be comfortable and maintain our comfort,” Hibbs began. In Jesus’s parable of the sower, the seeds that fell among thorns “hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19). Many churchgoers today expect to sit in a comfy seat, hearing music they enjoy, followed by a sermon that’s not too long, leading to service that’s not too inconvenient. Those aren’t all necessarily bad things, but the state of our heart is exposed when those creature comforts are taken away. Would a little discomfort make you angry or impatient, or act in a way that dishonors God? It’s worth examining our own hearts regularly on this point.

Second, Hibbs continued, “If we hear a message or a sermon that pricks our hearts and convicts us, we’ve mistaken that as a Christian culture, as ‘something I shouldn’t have heard, so I’m going to move on to the next church.’ Perhaps I’m going to find a message that might tickle, you know, because my ears might be itching.” Hibbs made reference to 2 Timothy 4:3-4, where Paul warns of a coming time when self-righteous unbelievers “will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Conviction is a vital sign for a genuine believer. The fundamental doctrine of the Bible that everyone is a wretched sinner who cannot be made right before the holy judge apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ is inherently convicting, and the Holy Spirit came in part to “convict the world” concerning this (John 16:8). If you are never convicted of sin when gathered with your local church, there are three possibilities: your church is not preaching the Word, you don’t have the Holy Spirit, or both.

Third, “We’ve got to get away from this ‘Sunday morning’ appearance and have it every moment of the week,” said Hibbs. He urged Christians to exercise “personal responsibility,” beginning “right there in your own home.” A Christian witness is mainly lived out at the home and at work, which is why the New Testament epistles pay so much regard to proper Christian behavior in these relationships. In Matthew 6, Jesus urged his hearers to deeds of private obedience, done out of faith in his refrain, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” If you lack integrity in private dealings, well, the Father still sees in secret.

These three symptoms lead to a serious diagnosis and a radical treatment: the American church has grown attached to the world; it “needs to be away from its distractions to turn to God.” That means, for starters, “turning the TV off,” Perkins recommended, and spending time in prayer before the Lord.

The good news is, “it’s not too late for America” to repent, said Perkins. “The Lord is long suffering. He desires for people to turn to him.” In fact, God “commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live,” the Lord God declared with an oath. “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

But beware! In the moment, the Lord’s discipline seems “painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). “When God clears his throat, I’m responding,” said Perkins, “because I’ve been through that breaking process before, … and it’s not a comfortable place to be.”

Although submitting to the Lord’s discipline and coming to him in repentance can seem frightening, God’s children can approach him in confidence because of their new identity. “We’re washed in the blood of the Lamb,” said Hibbs, referring to Revelation 7:14). “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,” the author of Hebrews wrote. Therefore, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19, 22). When we approach God in repentance and faith, we have an omnipotent helper in the Holy Spirit, who “himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). As children of God, we are no longer objects of wrath, but of love and mercy.

To provoke people to repent, God uses a variety of means — a “toolbox of ways,” as Hibbs described it. The Bible records God working through prophets, angels, sacrifices, laws, signs, songs, and acts of judgment. Today, he continues to work through his Word, his people, and his Spirit.

Perkins and Hibbs zeroed in on one utterly reliable means they believe has been somewhat neglected in America. “It’s the pastors of America that have been silent,” lamented Hibbs. “We go back to the Word of God and to that truth [John 17:17],” Perkins agreed. “The truth is what transforms. It’s the truth that sets us free [John 8:32]. It goes back to the pulpit.” In an age of excessive comfort, itching ears, and unholy living, faithful gospel preaching has become unwelcome in the culture, and even in many churches. “These are hard truths,” said Perkins. “Some people are offended by them. Some people call them hate speech. … We cannot shrink back from that.”

Hibbs urged Christians to dive into God’s Word and find “the biblical reason” for repentance and faith. “Christ died for our sins and rose again from the dead,” he said. “If we were reminded of that, we’d fall on our face.”

Consistent repentance invariably produces gospel fruit (see Matthew 3:8). Repentance is also often called “turning” — turning from sin, turning to God. It begins with “godly grief” and then proceeds to produce holy fear, righteous zeal, and an uncompromising pursuit of what is right (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). “God always works in our lives to improve us, to refine us,” said Perkins. “Unless, of course, we’ve chosen a path of sin, [in which case] punishment is yet to come.” God’s discipline leading to our repentance “is about our correction. It’s about our instruction.”

One fruit of this repentance is evangelism. When someone comes to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, they are given new life, cleansed, and healed. Where once there was guilt and enmity with God, there is now forgiveness and peace. Such is the joy of a new convert that they just can’t wait to spread it to others, bringing more people into the kingdom of God, to share in his bountiful grace. “You don’t have to be an evangelist, but just tell somebody,” said Hibbs. After all, God saves people “not with words of eloquent wisdom,” but with the simple power of the cross of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:17).

For this reason, repentance always precedes and accompanies periods of true revival. “If we’re going to see revival, this means that the Christians are going to have to own their sin,” said Hibbs. “It’s wrong for us to chew on Joe Biden or Barack Obama or Chuck Schumer or anybody else. We need to actually take a look at ourselves as believers.” A government or party cannot hinder the work of the Spirit of God; just look at Christianity in China. But revival rarely ever visits a catatonic church.

While acknowledging “some wonderful churches where there’s pockets of life,” Hibbs concluded that, in general, “America is spiritually dead.” This is true of most times and places, where God’s people comprise a tiny remnant, scattered as exiles and witnesses in the world. But even a relatively small number of genuine believers can have a salutary impact on their society. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour,” said Jesus, “till it was all leavened” (Matthew 13:33).

Yet apart from the power of God’s Spirit, America is about as functional as an unresponsive web page, in desperate need of a spiritual “refresh,” so to speak. In his second ever sermon, Peter pointed out that “times of refreshing” only “come from the presence of the Lord.” He urged his hearers, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19-20).

Hibbs insisted he wasn’t endorsing a version of Christian nationalism, but merely urging the church in America to turn back to the Word of God. “I’m not talking about bringing in the Kingdom on Air Force One. I’m talking about living righteously as we have been commanded,” said Hibbs. “What is it going to take for us to cry out?”

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.