“Here, in Far Home”, a worship poem from L.Willows (Sovereign God, A New Day, New Heaven New Earth)

Here in Far Home

Walk with me, linger, in season’s sweet hue,
Throughout life’s fullness, like diamonds in the dew.
Mornings will come, far from this view,
warmed by a Sun that will give us renew.

Stilled by the dawn, silent and hushed,
Our prayers lift upward, like dreams forward rushed.
God of all morrows, Time listens in;
here we walk forward, framed by His Begin.

Walk into His season, walk with me now,
Yet cherish this moment, the one God allows.
Linger to shed His bounty of Love,
here in our far home near Heaven above.

© 2020 Linda Willows

Isaiah 46:9-10- “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”

2 Peter 3:13 -“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Psalm 84:11-“For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

“The Renewed Mind and The Holy Spirit”, from John Piper (True Freedom, Christ Exalting Truth)

The Renewed Mind and How to Have It

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)

As I have thought and prayed about these verses, it seems to me that there are two more very large issues we should deal with before moving on to verse 3. I would like to give a week to each of them.

“The Will of God”

One, which I hope to deal with next week, is the meaning of the term “the will of God.” Verse 2 says that we are to discern what is “the will of God.” It’s a very common phrase and I think that sometimes, when we use it, we may not know what we are talking about. That is not spiritually healthy. If you get into the habit of using religious language without knowing what you mean by it, you will increasingly become an empty shell. And many alien affections move into empty religious minds which have language but little or wrong content.

The term “the will of God” has at least two and possibly three biblical meanings. First, there is the sovereign will of God, that always comes to pass without fail. Second, there is the revealed will of God in the Bible — do not steal, do not lie, do not kill, do not covet — and this will of God often does not come to pass. And third, there is the path of wisdom and spontaneous godliness — wisdom where we consciously apply the word of God with our renewed minds to complex moral circumstances, and spontaneous godliness where we live most of our lives without conscious reflection on the hundreds of things we say and do all day. Next week we need to sort this out and ask what Paul is referring to in Romans 12:2.

“By the Renewal of Your Mind”

But today I want to focus on the phrase in Romans 12:2, “by the renewal of your mind.” Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are perfectly useless as Christ-exalting Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us. And the key to not wasting our lives with this kind of success and prosperity, Paul says, is being transformed. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed.”

That word is used one time in all the gospels, namely, about Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration (the mountain of “transformation” — same word, metemorphōthē): “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:2Mark 9:2).

More Than External Transformation

I point this out for one reason: to make the point that the nonconformity to the world does not primarily mean the external avoidance of worldly behaviors. That’s included. But you can avoid all kinds of worldly behaviors and not be transformed. “His face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light!” Something like that happens to us spiritually and morally. Mentally, first on the inside, and then, later at the resurrection on the outside. So Jesus says of us, at the resurrection: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).

“We are perfectly useless as Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us.”

Transformation is not switching from the to-do list of the flesh to the to-do list of the law. When Paul replaces the list — the works — of the flesh, he does not replace it with the works of the law, but the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19–22).

The Christian alternative to immoral behaviors is not a new list of moral behaviors. It is the triumphant power and transformation of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ — our Savior, our Lord, our Treasure. “[God] has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). So transformation is a profound, blood-bought, Spirit-wrought change from the inside out.

Freedom to Be Enslaved to Christ

This is why the Christian life — though it is utterly submitted (Romans 8:710:3), even enslaved (Romans 6:1822) to the revealed will of God — is described in the New Testament as radically free.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). You are free in Christ, because when you do from the inside what you love to do, you are free — if what you love to do is what you ought to do. And that’s what transformation means: When you are transformed in Christ you love to do what you ought to do. That’s freedom.

Renewal as an Essential means of Transformation

And in Romans 12:2, Paul now focuses on one essential means of transformation — “the renewal of your mind.” “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Oh, how crucial this is!

  • If you long to break loose from conformity to the world,
  • If you long to be transformed and new from the inside out,
  • If you long to be free from mere duty-driven Christianity and do what you love to do because what you love to do is what you ought to do,
  • If you long to offer up your body as a living sacrifice so that your whole life becomes a spiritual act of worship and displays the worth of Christ above the worth of the world,

then give yourself with all your might to pursuing this — the renewal of your mind. Because the Bible says, this is the key to transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

What’s wrong with the human mind? Why does our mind need renewing? And what does this renewal look like? And how can we pursue and enjoy this renewal?

The Problem with Our Minds

There are many who think that the only problem with the human mind is that it doesn’t have access to all the knowledge it needs. So education becomes the great instrument of redemption — personal and social. If people just got more education they would not use their minds to invent elaborate scams, and sophisticated terrorist plots, and complex schemes for embezzling, and fast-talking, mentally nimble radio rudeness. If people just got more education!

The Bible has a far more profound analysis of the problem. In Ephesians 4:23 Paul uses a striking phrase to parallel Romans 12:2. He says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” Now, what in the world is that? “The spirit of your mind.” It means at least this: the human mind is not a sophisticated computer managing data, which it then faithfully presents to the heart for appropriate emotional responses.

The mind has a “spirit.” In other words, our mind has what we call a “mindset.” It doesn’t just have a view, it has a viewpoint. It doesn’t just have the power to perceive and detect; it also has a posture, a demeanor, a bearing, an attitude, a bent. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

“The problem with our minds is not merely that we are finite, but that we are fallen.”

The problem with our minds is not merely that we are finite, and don’t have all the information. The problem is that our minds are fallen. They have a spirit, a bent, a mindset that is hostile to the absolute supremacy of God. Our minds are bent on not seeing God as infinitely more worthy of praise than we are, or the things we make or achieve.

This is what we saw last week in Romans 1:28, “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind.” This is who we are by nature. We do not want to see God as worthy of knowing well and treasuring above all things. You know this is true about yourself because of how little effort you expend to know him, and because of how much effort it takes to make your mind spend any time getting to know God better.

The Bible says we have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:23). And the image in the mirror is the mortal image we worship most.

That’s what’s wrong with our minds. This illumines the relationship between verses 1 and 2 of Romans 12. Verse 1 says that we should present our bodies — that is, our whole active life — as a living sacrifice which is our spiritual service of worship. So the aim of all life is worship. That is, we are to use our bodies — our whole lives — to display the worth of God and all that he is for us in Christ. Now it makes perfect sense when verse 2 says that, in order for that to happen, our minds must be renewed. Why? Because our minds are not by nature God-worshiping minds. They are by nature self-worshiping minds. That is the spirit of our minds.

Two Other Biblical Diagnoses

Now before I turn to the remedy and how we find the renewal of mind God demands, consider two other biblical diagnoses of the problem. Consider the way Peter describes our mind-problem in 1 Peter 1:13–14, “Prepar[e] . . . your minds for action. . . . Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance.” There is an ignorance of God — a willful suppression of the truth of God (Romans 1:18) — that makes us slaves to many passions and desires that would lose their power if we knew God as we ought (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:5). “The passions of your former ignorance.” Paul calls these passions, “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22).

They are life-ruining, worship-destroying desires, and they get their life and their power from the deceit of our minds. There is a kind of knowledge of God — a renewal of mind — that transforms us because it liberates us from the deceit and the power of alien passions.

The other biblical diagnosis is in Ephesians 4:17–18, “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”

Paul takes us deeper than Peter here. He penetrates beneath the “futile mind” and the “darkened understanding” and the willful “ignorance” and says that it is all rooted in “the hardness of their heart.” Here is the deepest disease, infecting everything else. Our mental suppression of liberating truth is rooted in our hardness of heart. Our hard hearts will not submit to the supremacy of Christ, and therefore our blind minds cannot see the supremacy of Christ (see John 7:17).

The Holy Spirit Renews the Mind

This brings us finally to the remedy and how we obey Romans 12:2, “Be transformed in the renewal of your mind.” First, before we can do anything, a double action of the Holy Spirit is required. And then we join him in these two actions. The reason I say the Holy Spirit is required is because this word “renewal” in Romans 12:2 is only used one other place in all the Greek Bible, namely, Titus 3:5 where Paul says this: “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

There’s the word “renewal” which we’ve seen is so necessary. And it is renewal “of the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit renews the mind. It is first and decisively his work. We are radically dependent on him. Our efforts follow his initiatives and enablings.

The Holy Spirit’s Double Work

Now, what is the double work that he must do to renew our minds so that all of life becomes worship? 2 Corinthians 3:18 sets the stage for the answer:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

What does the Spirit do to “transform” us into the image of the God-exalting Son of God? He enables us to “behold the glory of the Lord.” This is how the mind is renewed — by steadfastly gazing at the glories of Christ for what they really are.

But to enable us to do that, the Spirit must do a double work. He must work in two directions: from the outside in and from the inside out. He must work from the outside in by exposing the mind to Christ-exalting truth. That is, he must lead us to hear the gospel, to read the Bible, to study Christ-exalting writings of great, spiritual men, and to meditate on the perfections of Christ.

This is exactly what our great enemy does not want us to do according to 2 Corinthians 4:4, “The god of this world [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” Because to see that for what it really is, Paul says, will renew the mind and transform the life and produce unending worship.

“The Spirit renews the mind. It is first and decisively his work.”

And the Spirit must work from the inside out, breaking the hard heart that blinds and corrupts the mind. The Spirit must work from the outside in, through Christ-exalting truth, and from the inside out, through truth-embracing humility. If he only worked from the outside in, by presenting Christ-exalting truth to our minds but not breaking the hard heart and making it humble, then the truth would be despised and rejected. And if he only humbled the hard heart, but put no Christ-exalting truth before the mind, there would be no Christ to embrace and no worship would happen.

What Then Shall We Do?

What then do we do in obedience to Romans 12:2, “Be transformed in the renewal of your mind”? We join the Holy Spirit in his precious and all-important work. We pursue Christ-exalting truth and we pray for truth-embracing humility.

Listen to rich expositions of the “gospel of the glory of Christ.” Read your Bible from cover to cover always in search of the revelation of the glory of Christ. Read and ponder the Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting writings of great, spiritual men and women. And form the habit of meditating on the perfections of Christ. And in it all pray, pray, pray that the Holy Spirit will renew your mind, that you may desire and approve the will of God, so that all of life will become worship to the glory of Christ.

May the mind of Christ, my Savior,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.

May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.

May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.

May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.

May His beauty rest upon me,
As I seek the lost to win,
And may they forget the channel,
Seeing only Him.

(Kate B. Wilkinson, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior”)

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently What Is Saving Faith?

“Kingdom-Centered Prayer”, from Tim Keller (Spiritual Awakening, The Holy Spirit, Bold Prayer, Gospel Leadership)

KINGDOM CENTERED PRAYER with DR. TIMOTHY KELLER

Throughout the Old and New Testaments and church history, every spiritual awakening was founded on corporate, prevailing, intensive, kingdom-centered prayer. We cannot create spiritual renewal by ourselves, but we can “prepare the altar” and ask God to send his Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our churches, and our communities. Christians are used to thinking about prayer as a means to get their personal needs met. More mature Christians understand prayer as a means to praise and adore God, to know him, to come into his presence and be changed by him. But the corporate aspect of prayer is not well known. How do we pray, repent, and petition God as a people?

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AND RENEWAL IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God continually fall into periods of spiritual stagnation and then cultural accommodation to the idol worship and practices of surrounding pagan societies. Then there is a turning to God, the raising up of new leaders, and a “covenant renewal”—a restoration of spiritual vision and vitality.

This pattern is especially visible in the book of Judges, but it continues throughout the reign of the kings, the captivity, and the return from exile. Just as Israel was constituted a people with the reading of the law and the taking of the covenant oath at Mount Sinai, so the people must periodically remember who they are, renew the covenant, and return to the Lord.

Sinai-like covenant ceremonies occur again before entering Canaan (Joshua 24), before choosing the first king (1 Samuel 12), and after the return from exile (Nehemiah 8–9). Less formal but crucial renewal movements are continually happening (you can find a string of them in Judges 3:7–11; 3:12–15; 4:1–4; 6:7–10; and 10:6–16). If we look at all of these various revivals, we are first struck by how different they are. Some are formal ceremonies. Some seem to be spontaneous. Some are led by a strong central leader, and some seem to bubble up from the grassroots.

But one thing is stated over and over again: the people “cried out to the Lord.” It is the only factor that is always present in every revival. It is corporate, intense, prevailing prayer—not for personal needs, but for the presence and reality of God among his people.

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING AND RENEWAL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

Even in the New Testament under the leadership of the apostles, it is evident that there is still a need for continual renewal. Just as Israel’s election as God’s people was demonstrated at Mt. Sinai, so the church is constituted by the descent and filling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2. But just as Israel is continually called to Sinai-like covenant renewals, so the church, even when it doesn’t seem to be in major decline, receives fresh fillings of the Holy Spirit. “Mini-Pentecosts” happen in Acts 4:31; 7:55; 8:17; 10:44; and 13:9.

What do these have in common? It is very easy to get distracted by the three unusual phenomena of the day of Pentecost: the mighty sound like “a violent wind” (v. 2); the visible “tongues of fire” over each person (v. 3); and speaking “in other tongues” (v. 4), which each member of the multiethnic audience could understand in his or her native language (v. 6). Speaking in tongues happens in some of the other Spirit-filling occasions, but not all, nor even most.

The central, abiding characteristics of Pentecost are that they were together in prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:1), they were “filled with the Holy Spirit” (2:4), and therefore they “began to speak” (2:4) “declaring the wonders of God (2:11).” Compare this with two other incidents in Acts after Pentecost.

In Acts 4:31, like Pentecost, there is a period of prevailing prayer (4:24) and then a powerful shaking as everyone senses the presence of God descending. But unlike Pentecost there are no tongues of fire or speaking in tongues. What results again are boldness (an assurance of God’s love and reality) and the ability to speak the word of God (v. 31).

The incident in Acts 7:55–56 is interesting, because it is an individual experience. As Stephen is about to be executed, he raises his eyes to heaven (v. 55), as the believers in 4:24 raised their voices to God. He gets the same assurance and boldness, the sense of God’s reality and presence called “the fullness of the Holy Spirit.” This allows him to face persecution in a completely Christ-like way, with courage and forgiving love toward his executioners.

In summary, what do all of these incidents have in common? We see that there is a continual need to renew the fullness of the Spirit. We see also that the fullness, in general, is connected to prevailing prayer, especially in the face of a challenge.

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL RENEWAL?

Spiritual revival, or renewal, is a work of God in which the church is beautified and empowered because the normal operations of the Holy Spirit are intensified. The normal operations of the Spirit include conviction of sin (John 16:8), enjoyment and assurance of grace and of the Father’s love (Rom. 8:15–16), access to the presence of God (John 14:21–23; 2 Cor. 3:17–18), and creation of deep community and loving relationships (Eph. 4:3–13).

This view differs or opposes three other common views:

1) The popular charismatic notion of revival, which sees revival as essentially the addition of extraordinary operations of the Holy Spirit (miracles, healings, prophecy, revelations).

2) The popular fundamentalist view that revivals are simply especially vigorous seasons of evangelistic activity. A “revival” is taken to mean an evangelistic crusade or a city-wide mission, etc.

3) The popular secular view that revivals are primitive, emotionally cathartic events, occurring among uneducated people subject to psychological manipulation by evangelists.

Instead the marks of revival are based upon the following.

  • First, there is an outpouring of the Spirit on and within the congregation, so that the presence of God among his people becomes evident and palpable.

In New York City, the Fulton Street Revival began in 1857, when a layman at the North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street began a noontime prayer meeting for businessmen. These statistics are drawn from collections of sermons preached by New York City pastors during the revival years. When this happens, “sleepy” or stagnant Christians “wake up.” That is, there is a new and deeper conviction of sin and repentance—not just for major “behavioral sins” but for attitudes of the heart.

They experience a far more powerful assurance of the nearness and love of God, with the end result that Christians become both humbler and bolder at the same time. The more deeply one feels his or her debt of sin, the more intensely he or she feels the wonder of the payment on their behalf.

Nominal Christians, or Christians in name only, begin to realize they don’t actually have a living relationship with Christ by grace, and they get converted. When this begins to happen, it electrifies people. Long-time members are getting up and talking about being converted or speaking of Christ in radiant terms or expressing repentance in new ways. The early stages of renewal shake up other nominals and “sleepers” into renewal. Corporately, there is a sense of more passion and freedom and the presence of God in the worship services.

  • Second, as a result of this outpouring of the Spirit, new people are brought into the church, and it begins to grow. On the one hand, the renewed believers create a far more attractive community of sharing and caring and, often, great worship. There is the beautified community of the King. This can attract people from the outside.

On the other hand, Christians who begin to experience God’s beauty, power, and love put their relationship with Christ and the church first in their lives, and they become radiant and attractive witnesses—more willing and confident to talk to others about their faith, more winsome (less judgmental) when they do so, and more confident in their own church and thus more willing to invite people to visit it.

As a result, there are numerous conversions—sound, lasting, and sometimes
dramatic. Significant, even astounding, church growth occurs. Many churches in America grow rapidly, but almost completely through transfer growth. When that is the case, renewal dynamics are not strong in the church.

Many churches in America do grow rapidly, but there are tell-tale symptoms of lifelessness. Most or all of the growth may be by transfer, not conversion. There is no deep conviction of sin or repentance, and thus few people can attest to dramatically changed lives. Also, the growth of many churches makes no impact on the local social order, because people do not carry their Christian faith out into their use of wealth, their work, or their public lives.

Without deep renewal of the gospel in our hearts, our external lives will be sealed off from what we believe, and our beliefs will never result in concretely changed living.

HOW DOES SPIRITUAL RENEWAL COME?

There is much to say about this, but we will concentrate on what is, biblically and historically, the one non-negotiable, universal ingredient in times of spiritual renewal: corporate, prevailing, intensive, kingdom-centered prayer. What is that?

  1. It is focused on God’s presence and kingdom. Jack Miller talks about the difference between “maintenance” and “frontline” prayer meetings.
  2. Maintenance prayer meetings are short, mechanical, and totally focused on physical, personal needs inside the church.
  3. But frontline prayer has three basic traits: A request for grace to confess sins and humble ourselves; a compassion and zeal for the flourishing of the church; and a yearning to know God, to see his face, to see his glory.

It is quite clear when listening to a prayer meeting whether these traits are present. Most interesting. It is to study biblical prayer for revival, such as in Acts 4 or Exodus 33 or Nehemiah 1, where these three elements are evident. Notice in Acts 4, for example, that the disciples, who had been threatened, did not ask for protection for themselves and their families, but only for boldness to keep preaching!

 It is bold and specific.

The history of revivals shows one or a few or many who take the lead in praying fervently for renewal.

Their pattern is Moses (Exodus 33), who pitched a tabernacle outside Israel’s camp, where he and others prayed for God’s presence and to see his glory. Such prayer need not (indeed, usually does not) begin as an organized church program, but rather it is a private field of strong exertion and even agony for the leaders. The characteristics of this kind of prayer include pacesetters in prayer, who spend time in self-examination. Without a strong understanding of grace, this can be morbid and depressing. But in the context of the gospel, it is purifying and strengthening. They “take off their ornaments” (Ex. 33:1–6). They examine themselves for idols and set them aside.

They then begin to make the big request—a sight of the glory of God. That includes asking for a personal experience of the glory and presence of God (“that I may know you,” Ex. 33:13); for the people’s experience of the glory of God (v. 15); and that the world might see the glory of God through his people (v. 16). Moses asks that God’s presence would be obvious to all: “What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” This is a prayer that the world would be awed and amazed by a show of God’s power and radiance in the church, that it would truly become the new humanity that is a sign of the future kingdom.

It is prevailing and corporate.

By this we simply mean that prayer should be constant, not sporadic and brief. Why? Are we to think that God wants to see us grovel? Why do we not simply put our request in and wait? But sporadic, brief prayer shows a lack of dependence, a self-sufficiency, and thus we have not built an altar that God can honor with his fire (see 1 Kings 18). We must pray without ceasing, pray long, pray hard, and we will find that the very process is bringing about that which we are asking for—to have our hard hearts melted, to tear down barriers, and to have the glory of God break through. We need sustained, repeated prayer.

BUILDING AN ALTAR

Let’s return to Stephen’s “mini-Pentecost” in Acts 7. When Stephen was dragged before a human court, he was condemned unjustly and was about to be executed. But he was filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 55). How so? We are told, “full of the Holy Spirit, he looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him . . . While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed… ‘Lord, do not hold this sin
against them’” (vv. 55–57, 59–60).

What happened? First, he prayed. He looked up. Second, by the power of the Holy Spirit, something Stephen knew with his mind became real to his heart. He saw Jesus standing at God’s right hand. This refers to his work as our Advocate (1 John 2:1 says we have an advocate with the Father, one who speaks in our defense—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the propitiation for our sins). At the very moment that an earthly court was condemning him, he realized that the heavenly court was commending him.

In other words, the “fullness” he experienced was an experience of the gospel. At that moment, he got an extremely vivid, powerful sight of what he already knew intellectually—that in Christ we are beautiful in God’s sight and free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1; Col. 1:22). The Spirit took that intellectual concept and electrified his entire soul and mind and heart and imagination with it. Third, Stephen, although only for a moment, was able to exhibit the new humanity that God is creating. He had courage. He forgave his oppressors. He faced his accusers not just with boldness, but with a calmness and joy. That is spiritual renewal.

It is not simply an emotional experience—it is a heart-changing and therefore life and practice-shaping work of the Holy Spirit. A good image for seeking the fullness of the Spirit is the concept of “building a life altar.” In the Old Testament, an altar was built and a sacrifice placed on it, and then God sent his fire to burn up the sacrifice (e.g., 1 Kings 18). This is a great illustration of the dynamics of personal revival and spiritual renewal.

Paul uses it when he tells us to make ourselves a “living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1–2). We cannot create spiritual renewal—we can only prepare the altar and the sacrifice. Only God can send the fire. If we look at Acts 1, we see Jesus helping the disciples build an altar. There are at least four parts to this process.

A renewed church is vision-driven.

In Acts 1:6–8, Jesus repairs their faulty vision of what he is going to do in the world. They were looking for a political campaign, and he tells them about the nature of the kingdom, which will spread through his disciples as they become his witnesses and ambassadors.

The vision is that through our words we will bring people under the kingship of Christ, which will heal and repair all things.

A renewed church is gospel-driven.

In Acts 1:9–11, Jesus ascends to heaven, and the angels tell the disciples that now the knowledge of his ascension should empower them. As in the incident with Stephen, it is only as we “preach the gospel to ourselves” about our standing in Christ that the Holy Spirit takes that truth and catches it on fire in our hearts, creating times of amazing assurance that equip us for service.

A renewed church is prayer-driven.

In Acts 1:14, we see the disciples uniting in corporate, prevailing prayer. It is only in prayer and through prayer that the Holy Spirit takes up the vision and the gospel and makes them fiery realities in the centers of our being.

A renewed church is leader-driven.

In Acts 1:15–26, we see the disciples asking for God to raise up leaders. Personal and corporate revivals occur through leaders which God identifies and equips.

How, then, can we as leaders “build an altar,”

…seeking our renewal as a church and a people by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s begin now.

  • First, pray that your church grasps its own vision in a new way. Take time to thank God for your church, for what it has done in your life, and for what you see it doing in the lives of others and in your community. Ask God to help you better understand and grasp what he is calling you to do to reach your city. Pray that your small group and outreach ministries will give people a deeper appreciation of your church’s vision and an experience of real community.
  • Second, pray that your worship services this season will be particularly anointed, that the truth of the gospel will be unusually vivid and spiritually real to all hearers—believers and non-believers—and that God’s presence would be evident.
  • Third, pray that your seasons and services of prayer would not be just a passing program but would signal a greater emphasis on and practice of corporate prayer within your church.
  • Fourth, accept your leadership role in the church. Even if you are not an officer—even if you think of yourself as a “volunteer”—you, as an active worker and servant, are a model to those less committed.

Take time to pray for yourselves, that you could enter a season of self-examination. Ask that you may be, with full gospel assurance, nonetheless hard on yourself. Ask that God would show you ways in which you don’t represent Christ as you should, in your relationships, in your work life, in your family life, in your habits and attitudes, and in your relationships within the church. Take time to pray for yourselves, that God will make things you know about the gospel in your head real to your heart, and changing the way you live where you need to change.

Copyright © 2005 by Timothy Keller, © 2012 by Redeemer City to City. This article was first used for a leadership training session in 2005.