Renewal and Holiness
Dr. Harvey R. Brown, Jr.
My name is Dr. Harvey Brown. I live in the United States in a small town of about 4,500 people, Wilmore, Kentucky, which is the home to both Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary. Although I currently reside there, over the last thirty years I have lived in three different countries and have been involved in Christian ministry in a variety of settingspastor in local churches, full-time evangelist, college teacher, chaplain in the United States Army, and until three years ago college administrator at Asbury College. I now serve as president of Impact Ministries, a preaching and teaching ministry dedicated to renewing Christs Church so that we will be prepared to receive the coming end-time harvest.
The topic for this workshop is Personal Renewal and Holiness. I have chosen Acts 19:20 for our theme scripture: In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.
But personal renewal and holiness is more than just the topic for this workshop in Amsterdam. Based upon what I see and hear as I travel across the Body of Christ, the message of personal renewal and holiness is a major recurring themea now word of God (rhema)that is being spoken powerfully by the Holy Spirit into the Church all around the world. It is a message that transcends cultures and international boundaries. It is a message that defies the limits of our language barriers because it is a message straight from the heart of God...Be holy, for I am holy. (Lev. 11:45, 1Pet. 1:16)
The quest for personal renewal and holiness has also become the dominant theme in my own life and ministry for the last four years. For much of my Christian life I was painfully aware of a huge gap between what I professed in my ministry and what I experienced in my inner world. No one knew the depth of my conflicts and struggles. My exterior performance and successes covered up my interior turmoil and failures. I thought that I never would be able to love God...I would only be able to serve Him. To me, my inconsistencies could never be resolved.
The good news is that what I could not do for myself, Father did for me. He began to plant a hunger in my heart, and the more I hungered for Him the more He revealed His love and power to me.
I have become, as Tommy Tenney so wonderfully expresses, a God chasera person whose passion for Gods presence exceeds his grasp. A person whose passion for Gods presence presses him to chase the impossible in hopes that the uncatchable might catch him. A child chases a loving parent until, suddenly, the strong arms of the father enfold the chaser. The pursuer becomes the captive; the pursued the captor. Paul put it this way in Philippians 3:12: I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Before I go any further, I want to introduce my wife, Marilyn. She is an intercessorone
who has stood in the gap for me and others. Someone who, more than any other
person, is the reason I can share with you openly about what God has done in
my life to bring personal renewal and holiness into my life. To let you know
a little more of what I mean, I want to read to you the dedication page of my
book When God Strikes the Match: Igniting a Passion for Holiness and Renewal.
To my wife Marilyn, who for 25 years prayed faithfully that her husband
would experience the same grace, mercy, and power of the Lord Jesus that he
regularly proclaimed to others.
During the course of our time together, we will let the Word of God, the Bible, speak to us through some key passages and stories about Gods power, purposes, and plans to renew His Church and make us holy. I will also share with you some of my own journey so that you can understand the powerful miracle of grace that Father is working in my own life as I hunger and thirst for righteousness. We also will discuss together barriers to experiencing renewal and holiness, and then pray together and minister Gods grace one to another. My desire is that when we leave this session, we will be better equipped to be used by God because we not only will have talked about Him; we will have encountered Him.
In my role as a traveling preacher, I have had the opportunity to preach on four continents and in many different churches and denominations. This has provided me a wonderful opportunity to observe what God is doing. On these occasions I feel like I have been able to take the pulse of the Body of Christto check the vital signs that indicate the general health of the Body. In many places I find a heartbeat that is strong and for the most part healthy. There are many places in the earth where the Church is experiencing rapid growth and the Kingdom is advancing in the midst of overwhelming opposition.
However, there are, at least for us in the western world, some clear warning
signs that much of the Body may be at risk of developing certain spiritual diseases
which could threaten its health and vitality. And these conditions, if allowed
to continue without treatment, ultimately would cause severe damage to the work
of the Kingdom.
Some of these conditions are so subtle that they might go undetected for great lengths of time. Since there are enough good things happening in the Body of Christ, an observer might think everything is as its supposed to be. But careful examination, especially under the bright light of the Holy Spirits searching, might reveal that many parts of the Body of Christ are at risk of disease from within.
We who are called by God to the task of evangelism must be aware of the regular need to ask the Holy Spirit to give us a spiritual examination, and prescribe whatever He will to keep us healthy and growing.
THE NEED FOR PERSONAL RENEWAL
As we begin our look at personal renewal, let me ask you a question. Have you ever been weary in well doing (Gal. 6: 9)? That was the concern that the writer of Hebrews had for his readers when he encouraged them to fix their eyes on Jesus. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Certainly any person or group within the Body of Christ can grow weary, lose
heart, and need personal renewal. But I am convinced that leaders within the
Churchespecially evangelists and pastors as much as anyoneare the
most likely targets of the enemy for weariness and discouragement.
When we observe the enormous task that lies before us, the countless people who are lost and without Christ, the poverty and disease that ravage so many, the wars and injustice that plague our lands, it would be normal to become overwhelmed and discouraged. These things may even taunt us, just like Goliath taunted the army of Israel. And like them our hearts may melt within us.
We may know the promises of God. We may have experienced His mighty acts in our own lives or ministries. But sometimes the size of the giants that we confront overwhelms us to the point that Gods call to take the land is overshadowed by our fear or discouragement. Then we, like ten of the twelve men who were sent to spy out the promised land, begin to judge the size of the giants against ourselves...rather than against God.
For Joshua and Caleb, the size of the giants in the land was nothing more than
an opportunity to watch their Godthe same One who delivered them from
the hand of Pharaohdeliver them from the giants. Although in their own
strength they were no match for the giants and fortified cities, they knew that
God could blow their enemies away with His breath. Nothing could stand against
the ultimate purpose of His will. And it was His will to give them the landthe
land of promise.
Henry Blackaby has authored a book which has been used widely by God to revitalize many individuals and churches throughout my country as well as around the world. This book, Experiencing God, communicates something very simple yet profound: God is always at work. He invites us to join Him. We can, through experiencing God, discover what He is doing... and then adjust our lives so that we can join Him in His work.
Yet this very simple concept is opposite to the way many believers live within the Church and the Kingdom. We may be more inclined to look around us, decide what needs to be done, make a really good plan (at least to our way of thinking), then ask God to come along side us and bless what we are doing.
What is wrong with this idea is the fundamental failure to recognize that our
ways are not Gods ways. He may not be doing what we are doing. If He is
not, then regardless of how sincere our efforts are, they will be doomed to
failure. We will experience great frustration as we attempt to do Gods
work using our methods and plans. If we begin to search the Scriptures to understand
how God has worked in the past, we will discover a pattern that is contrary
to much of the way we would do things.
If we knew we would be leaving Egypt and going toward the promised land, we might want to hire bridge builders to create a bridge large enough for us to use to cross the Red Sea. But God wanted to do it another way to show His power and authority. To assault and conquer Jericho, we would formulate great military strategies, build siege ramps, and mount a traditional military campaign. But God wanted it done differently to show that the battle was His, and victory would come to those who fought His way. If we were to announce the birth of the King of Kings, would it not be to the princes and leaders of this world rather than to group of lowly shepherds? For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1Cor. 1:25)
One of the first steps to personal renewal is recognizing that we, Gods
people, are wearied with many of our plans and activities because they are exactly
thatour plans and our activities. We miss God when we are
working in our own strength and following the course of our own thoughts no
matter how sanctified they may be.
Isaiah writes, Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Is. 40: 27-31)
We do become wearied. We do become heavy burdened. We do experience battle fatigue because many of us face great battles. Waiting on the Lord, entering His presence just to be with Him, leaning into His strength and letting Him carry youall of these are what personal renewal is about. And this renewal gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Personal renewal also brings us back to our first love of God, causing us to passionately become a God chaser again.
One of the things that I have observed plaguing the Church in the western world
is the regular tendency toward growing professionalism among Christian leaders.
I have also seen this in developing countries as well. This professionalism,
when it begins to overwhelm servanthood, leads clergy to begin to act like the
disciplesdebating among themselves (at least in their own minds) which
is the greatest. Like James and John who sent their mother to Jesus, they search
for influential people in the Church who will work on their behalf trying to
acquire for them prominent appointments, or offices at the right and left hands
of persons seated in positions of power and authority.
A couple of years ago I was ministering through a series of conferences to pastors and church leaders in an Asian country. This nation had a very small Christian presencebetween one-and-a-half and two per cent of the total population claimed to be believers in Jesus. The Church has existed there for only five generations. But I was saddened to observe among the clergy of that nation the same things I have just described. During the meals at the conferences there was much conversation among the brothers about who was leading...and who should be. Some were quick to talk about leaders faults, and some spoke about bribery as a means of securing votes when it came time to elect denominational leadership. I observed one of the bishops of the church who acted as if he were a royal governor rather than a servant-leader. (I am glad to say, though, that I observed the opposite behavior in another bishop.)
Our passion for God and our desire to see the lost saved are deadened when we become concerned with our position, prestige, power, and personal following. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (Rom. 12:3)
I know from my own life how easy it is to be seduced by thoughts of my own importance. After my conversion to Christ and my theological education, I began to rise fairly quickly to positions of influence in my ministry settings. I pastored pastors and other leaders, and was recognized as a leader and noted preacher. During my career as a United States Army chaplain, I twice was the pastor to the home church for the Army Chaplaincy. In 1995 I retired from the Army to return to the college where I was educated, Asbury College, as part of the administration.
At Asbury I had discovered that the majority of the twelve hundred young men and women in the student body were committed believers. Many had already been involved in short-term mission trips. Some were gifted musicians dedicating their talents to the glory of God. Most radiated a personal faith combined with true enthusiasm for the things of the Lord. And I saw in these students an image that reflected the way I had been on the same campus twenty-six years earlier.
Watching these enthusiastic young believers brought me face-to-face with the
fact that something had happened to the image of what I had been as an Asbury
student. It had been significantly blurred by time...and sin. The more I was
with these marvelous young Christians, the more I realized that my interior
world had become a desert wasteland. I was holding solid, biblical truth; but
the life of the Spirit was a distant memory. Something had happened to my zeal
for the Lord. The fire that had burned in my bones was now little more than
embers. I was living and proclaiming a memory. There was no currency in my spirituality.
I was barren, bereft of any real joy in Christ.
In some ways I had become just like the churchmenprimarily preachersI had turned to as a young believer. Trying to find someone that understood and identified with my new-found enthusiasm for the Savior, I went from leader to leader. What I frequently discovered was a professional Christiansomeone paid to do church but who lacked passion and fire. Sometimes they seemed to appreciate what was going on in my life, but I rarely sensed in them the same zeal I felt as I talked about my new birth or the discoveries I was finding in the Word. Over a period of time, without realizing it, I too migrated from an enthusiastic believer to a person more concerned about professional acceptance and gaining more prestige and better positions of ministry.
As I observed closely how my denomination was structures, it was apparent to me that if you wanted to succeed as a pastor you learned how to fit in. Clergy who looked and acted like everyone else stood the best chance of thriving in the church. If you had fire, it was best to keep it the fireplace and not let it spread. Don't walk near the margins or go too fast. Be mainstream and respectable, learn how everyone else does it, don't ask too many questions, and certainly, don't rock the boat. Play by the rules and the organization will take care of you.
Although I hadnt set out to let professionalism replace passion for ministry, I gradually drifted toward the center of acceptability. I saw no developing conflict between being like all my ministry peers and doing effective ministry. After all, what better place was there to be responsive to the Lord than as a person of influence in a denomination with eight-and-a-half million members?
Over the years, I honed my ministry skills to a sharp edge. I knew when to speak a word of comfort or just sit silently by, nodding my head in response to the people to whom I was listening. I carefully crafted my sermons to capture and hold attention, designing them to peak at just the right moment to achieve the desired effect. I took additional training to qualify as a staff and parish development consultant. I reveled in the fact that my peers recognized how good I was and that my superiors consistently praised my skill and ministry performance.
What was happening, however, was that I was substituting my own efforts, energies, and education for the leadership and presence of the Holy Spirit. Although these are not necessarily mutually exclusive, I fell into the trap Jesus described as having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. Mine was a self-directed ministry. When comparing myself to other clergy, I found it fairly easy to be puffed up. Favorable statistics in terms of the number of people saved or touched by the Lord made me think that Gods blessings were upon my ministry. I didnt factor that the Lord was honoring the proclamation of his Word, not necessarily the one who was proclaiming it. I was mistaking God's mercy for His favor.
God used the lives and witness of the young believers at the college where I worked to show me how far I had drifted from where I had begun as a believer. I may have been a Christian leader, but I was in desperate need of personal renewal. And it would not be long before I would jump into the river of Gods renewal. But Ill wait to tell you more about that later.
It really is easy for us to think that because we are busy in Kingdom work, or because we see fruit in our ministry, that we are alright with God. But we need to hear Gods thoughts on the subject.
All of us who are in Kingdom work should once again ask the Holy Spirit to speak to us with through the messages to the churches in the book of Revelation. If we, in quietness before the Lord, will allow Him to apply these personally to our lives, we will probably find ourselves on our faces before God crying out for fresh grace and renewing of our hearts. We might discover that although we are consumed with Kingdom activity and ministry, its still possible to have lost our first love.
BARRIERS TO PERSONAL RENEWAL AND HOLINESS
[At this point, conferees will be invited to identify, from their own experiences
and observation, barriers to personal renewal and holiness. I will list these
on the board or overhead (depending on the size of the audience and venue),
we will have brief discussion, and I will resume presentation.]
Of the items we have identified in our group discussion, the clearest description of any of these barriers to personal renewal and holiness is sin. Our sin erects a barrier to the true blessings of God, thus blocking the flow of the Lords blessing both to us and through us. As a result, the task of evangelism and the souls of the lost suffer.
I sometimes am amazed at our ability to justify or excuse what is clearly sinful in our lives. Perhaps we make allowance for private sins since we convince ourselves that no one else will be hurt, and that God will forgive us. But the reality is that we are in a wara true spiritual conflictfor the souls of people all around us. And on many fronts, we are losing the war.
The story of Achans sin in Joshua 7 clearly shows us picture of the results of hidden sin, and how it can affect a nation as well as the individual.
In the battle for Jericho, God specifically had told the Israelites to destroy everything in the city except Rahab and her family. However, one man (Achan) saw three things that appealed to his desirea beautiful robe from Shinar, a wedge of gold, and two hundred shekels of silver. He coveted these things, and in disobedience took them to his tent and hid them.
I imagine that Achan thought What does it matter? Its not stealing because all the people are dead. And theres no use wasting something so good. I may never have this kind of opportunity again. Who will it hurt, anyway?
That might seem like good reasoning, except it was completely against what God
said. Not only did Achan die as a result of his disobedience, but his family
died for his sin as well. And thirty-six Hebrew soldiers died trying to capture
Ai. Thirty-six women were widowed; multiple children were orphaned. All because
this one man sinned. When God spoke to Joshua, He said that he would not be
with Israel anymore unless they destroyed those things that were supposed to
The Apostle Paul tells us plainly, These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Cor.10:11)
Sin is serious. Deadly serious. We must recognize that our sin does have consequences
for us, our families, our churches, and our nations. I believe we all would
agree with that. Nevertheless, some of us still have the capacity to construct
complicated excuses to try to justify what God plainly says is wrong.
Dr. David Seamands puts it this way, You cannot confess to God what you will not first admit to yourself. Its time for us to ask the Holy Spirit to begin to let us see ourselvesand our sinsas they really are.
I want to stop and pray right now. Father, we need to see ourselves and our sin as you see us. Please come among us now, Holy Spirit, and convict us of our sin, I believe that You will do this, Father, because it is your will, and because we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
REPENTANCE BRINGS REVIVAL
At this point I want to reintroduce our theme scripture, Acts 19: 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. The background for this wonderful statement is a revival that spontaneously erupted in Ephesus.
With just a dozen new believers, Paul began a ministry that lasted over two
years. This ministry was based on the Word and verified by extraordinary miracles.
To me it seems that all the ingredients for revival were in place. The believers
were sitting under the best preaching and teaching...probably actually hearing
from Pauls own lips some of the same things that have become parts of
our New Testament writings. And they saw dazzling displays of signs and wonders
in the form of healings and deliverance from demonic bondage. But the anointed
preaching and teaching of the Word, coupled with the signs and wonders, did
not spark the revival.
What sparked the revival was a failed exorcism. Seven men, not committed to Jesus but trying to use His name to expel demons, were soundly beaten by the man who needed deliverance. Suddenly the entire community became fearful because they saw that the power of darkness could easily overcome borrowed faith. To the demons, the name of Jesus was not threatening unless it was accompanied by a submitted and sanctified life. Without the submitted and sanctified life, the use of the name of Jesus had no real effect.
Suddenly, the believers in Ephesus were dramatically confronted with this truth: their belief in Jesus was insufficient to defeat the power of the demonic unless it was accompanied by holiness and a sanctified life. And this reality was terrifying to many of them...especially as the Holy Spirit began to show them, through conviction of sin, their need to openly confess their evil deeds (Acts 19: 18).
I need to point out that these were believers, not pagans. These were the same
folk who sat under anointed apostolic preaching and witnessed what the Bible
calls extraordinary miracles. Yet they still held on to secret sin and the vestiges
and items of the old sin lifetheir sorcery books.
As the Holy Spirit moved among them, believers came under conviction and began to openly confess their evil deeds. First one, then another came and said I have been living a double life; saying one thing but doing another. I repent of my sins, and I am ready to make a clean break with my past. Then others came and openly confessed. What began as a trickle became a stream then a river of repentance. God was cleaning up His Church.
This revival of repentance included not just confession, but action steps that
believers took to make a clean break with the sin that was so common among themsorcery
and magic. People began to gather together and brought all of their old books,
piled them up, and destroyed them. Apparently, this sin practice was so widespread
among the believers, that the value of the destroyed books was staggering; it
was the equal to what an individual would earn if he worked for 192 years!
Repenting of our sins, confessing them, and renouncing every claim of darkness on our lives: this is what revival is about. I have heard it said that God loves the lost too much to bring them into an unholy church. This is why I believe that true revival is Gods preparation for the harvest of the lost. It is Fathers preparation of a Bride for His Sona Bride without spot or blemish.
Our theme verse now appears at this part of the account in Acts 19. When believers came and openly repented and confessed their evil deeds; when they made a clean break with the past by destroying those things in their lives that dishonored God; the Holy Spirit caused the word of the Lord to spread widely and grow in power. Once the unholy blockage was removed, God was free to spread the gospel abroad with great power. As Corrie Ten Boom, the precious Dutch saint, said Revival begins when Christians stop talking about other peoples sins and start confessing their own.
But when the Holy Spirit begins to move believers to repentance and confession, two primary barriers to renewal and holiness begin to exercise their influence. Residing deep within us are evil twinspride and shamewho actively fight against the work of holiness. They team together to keep us from responding to the gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudges of the Holy Spirit regarding sin in our lives.
Just as the Holy Spirit begins to speak to us about our need to repent and confess, Pride says, You are important, you are a leader. You can handle this on your own. Its best that no none knows. What would they think about you if they knew that you struggled with sin?
Then Shame says, You are important, you are a leader. You must handle this on your own. Its best that no none knows. What would they think about you if they knew that you struggled with sin?
But what Pride and Shame do not tell you, is that the very thing they are fighting against is the very thing that will set you free from their lies...and their grip. There is something powerful that takes place in the spiritual realm when we, Gods people, begin to confess. If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
TWO DIMENSIONS OF CONFESSION
There is nothing more humbling than open confession and repentance. It breaks the back of the Accuser. It tears down walls of fear, pride and shame. It silences the lying voices of the demons and our own conscience that tell us we are doomed to living our lives in sin. Confession opens the heavens for forgiveness and healing for ourselves and our land.
Many believers, probably all of us here, have created a well worn path to the throne of God along the route of 1 John 1:8-9; If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. For some of us, though, this well worn, vertical path has been traveled repeatedly because of the same sins. We walk the rut of repeated failures in the same area of our lives.
I think there is another path, though, that is rarely used. It is a horizontal pathway to forgiveness that, in my opinion, completes the picture of the work of the cross in forgiveness. When this path becomes more actively used by the brothers and sisters in Christ, the power and grip of sin in our lives can be broken. What I am referring to is the horizontal dimension of forgiveness expressed in James 5:16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
I am not saying that forgiveness cannot take place unless we confess to someone. What I am saying is that something inside of usthat pride and shame among other thingsis defeated when we bring into the light those darkened places of our lives that we have been most reluctant to reveal. For example, I know that if I have an object that grows mold or mildew in a dark environment, by putting it into the sunlight the mold or mildew cannot continue to grow. In the same way, when we bring into the light parts of our lives where we have not realized true freedom, we are cleansed are made whole (healed). Our sin has been canceled on the cross. And our confession of this sin, as Charles Wesleys hymn expresses, ...breaks the power of canceled sin and sets the prisoner free.
If humble confession and repentance accomplish all of that, why are we so reluctant to live in a state of openness and honesty with ourselves, our Heavenly Father, and our brothers and sisters? Beyond the issues of pride and shame, I believe that it is because when we embrace sin, we open ourselves to the enemy and, over time, the establishment of demonic, or evil, strongholds in our lives.
At this point I dont want to enter into theological debate about demonic possession, oppression, influence, and control. I believe we in the more economically developed world have greater difficulty with these concepts than brothers and sisters from developing nations. But one thing appears certain to me: regardless of what we believe about the presence and degrees of influence of demons in believers lives, there is clear evidence that Gods people all around the world must actively turn from evil and pursue holiness, without which no one can see God. For some believers, though, the desire to turn from evil and walk in the freedom of Christ has been illusive and, in their own experiences, unattainable.
For me, this discussion is not just an idea or a concept, but something with which I have personally struggled.
I shared with you a little earlier about how I began to hunger for personal renewal after I joined the administration at Asbury College. Being around these wonderful young Christians whetted my desire to experience God again in a fresh way. And I shared with you how, over the years of ministry, my heart had grown cold even though I was outwardly very successful.
But during many of my ministry years there was another significant dynamic at work in my interior world. I wrestled with a recurring problem of lust and pornography that was pushed down and repressed, only to regularly rear its ugly head sufficiently to make me feel that I was destined to lead a life of defeat and powerlessness over sin. The cyclical trap that Paul described in Romans 7wanting to do right and not being ableseemed to describe the internal hopelessness that I felt. Inwardly I longed for a deliverance that always seemed just out of reach. I had bargained and pleaded with God, promising Him that if He would take the compulsion away I would never do it again, only to fall once again into a repetitive cycle of addictive behavior. I was trapped.
I got a glimmer of hope when my church hosted a well known Christian singer in a concert. During an interlude between songs, he referred to how the Lord Jesus had delivered him from addiction to pornography. I wanted so much to talk with him afterwards, or even call him on the phone to ask him to pray for me. However, the shame of my sinfulness kept me from bringing it to the light. I wanted God to deal with me privately so no one else would have to know. I was someone important in the church, at least in my own eyes, and I should be above and beyond such behavior. I would just have to work this out on my own.
I managed to make an uneasy peace with the monster withinrefusing it when I could and giving in when I couldnt stand it any longer, hoping God would forgive me one more time. I wished I could take back the territory the monster had claimedtake back my desert wasteland. I longed for a holiness of life wherein I would not always be battling a besetting sin. But I didn't want a kind of piety I had seen in some Christian gatherings where people seemed to be tied up in legalistic self-righteous knots. I longed for a holiness that wasn't based on striving. I wanted to be really free, but held out little hope that anything would ever be fundamentally different in my life until I got to heaven.
It was ironic that, after twenty-three years as a pastor and a chaplain, I was welcomed back to Asbury College as a senior leader in a holiness school when I had never proclaimed the doctrine of sanctification as Id been taught at Asbury. I couldnt. I didnt see it at work in my own life. Oh, I had tried. But regardless of all my attempts at holy living, I secretly saw my life as a dismal failure.
On campus I became acquainted with people who seemed to have the freedom I coveted. The students were always talking about what Jesus was doing in their lives. Many had fantastic testimonies of God's grace and deliverance. Some had experienced trauma and brokenness beyond my comprehension; yet the Lord had rescued them and set them free. Others were living lives completely liberated from past compulsions and addictions. Listening to these students talk about their love for Jesus, I sensed a softening in my heart. It was as if a window had opened ever so slightly, bringing in a refreshing breeze. Deep within me a stirring was beginning.
At the same time, I kept hearing about winds of renewal moving across the face
of the church. They had blown through my little town six months before we moved
back into the community. A local church had been the scene of a conference entitled
Light the Fireand the faith and spiritual lives of many believers
had been greatly refreshed. As a result, a number of my new friends spoke frequently,
and with great energy, about the current move of God. I began to feel
hope that this fresh wind of the Holy Spirit might renew me as well. So I decided
to attend a similar conference in a city several hundred miles away. My desire
was to have the old fires rekindled in my own heart.
When I arrived there I explicitly told the Lord that I was seeking no special experience. My only goal was to genuinely know Him better and love him more. If I were to have an "experience," that was OK. But if I were to return home without experiencing any phenomenon or manifestation of the Holy Spirits presence, yet loved Christ more, it would be worth the trip and the expense. I felt that I was being totally honest with God about what I expected. Others' opinions and descriptions were no longer sufficient. I had to see for myself.
My first glimpse of renewal came when the conference host, Randy Clark, spoke to over a hundred pastors in a pre-conference meeting at the hotel. The renewal coming to the church is like waves breaking upon the seashore, he said. It is not a single splash, but a series of visitations by the Holy Spirit to accomplish what God wants to do in these days.
He went on to compare the present outpouring of the Holy Spirit as a first wave of renewal to refresh a dry and weary church. He saw successive waves coming to equip the church to minister salvation to the nationsto equip the church to take the message of God's love to the ends of the earth.
The speakers words rang a bell in my heart. My concern for the lost was as high as it had ever been. In fact, a week before I went to this meeting I was involved in one-on-one prison evangelism at the largest prison in my state. This had moved me to a renewed compassion for those who do not know the Savior. And, here was one of the key leaders of renewal saying things that were agreeing with everything I had recently been feeling.
This man has the heart of an evangelist, I thought. Hes not proclaiming a self-centered gospel. These people are talking Kingdom talk. This is not a group concerned only with themselves and their blessings. They have a real passion for the lost!
During the final moments of the pastors meeting, the Lord really got my attention. A colleague of the conference host came to the front after we prayed for the lost. He took the microphone and said, The Lord has shown me that there are pastors here who are continually struggling with pornography and masturbation. If you want to be freeto be released from thisI invite you to come to the back of the room for prayer.
My mind began to spin. Could it be that the Lord is finally going to set me free? I wondered. No, this word is probably for others. After all, I had shed tears on altar rails on three continents, begging God for deliverance. But no matter how many times I had prayed, I always slipped back into old patterns of destructive behavior.
Why would prayer do any good now? Why expose my sin in front of all these pastors? What would my colleagues at Asbury College say if they were to find out? Id better just deal with this on my own.
Then I glanced back over my shoulder and saw that a number of men were already at the back of the room. If I dont hurry, theres not going to be any room left for me, I thought. Somethingor Someoneseemed to be calling me to respond.
I eased away from my front-row seat and turned toward the side of the room hoping no one would notice me, although I felt that everyone would certainly be watching to see who responded. But as I made my way to the back of the room, I discovered that every eye was not focused on me. Most of the people had their heads bowed and eyes closed. Obviously, they were interceding for the work Father was doing in that room.
I was last in the line of the men who responded to the invitation. After I stood there a few minutes, the pastor came to pray for me. For a brief time he just stood looking at me intently. I felt as if he were peering directly into my soul.
You have been unable to fulfill the exceedingly high expectations in your
life, he finally said, and you are retreating into a fantasy world
for comfort and consolation.
His words were like an arrow shot directly into my heart. Although I had never thought of my problems in this way, I knew that God had just revealed a key that would unlock my inner chains. God knew ME! And, this was it! I really was very self-critical, and no matter how well I did or how hard I tried, in my mind I never did well enoughcould never be good enough. By the time these thoughts had gone through my mind, the minister was gently placing his hands on my head. As he prayed and took authority over the problem in my life, I felt the power of God on me. Someone eased me to the floor, and I slipped quietly into a peaceful state of rest. Waves of mercy began washing over me. I knew a miraculous healing was taking place.
While I was on the floor, the Lord reminded me of the time when, as a twelve-year-old on a school trip, my friend Pete had introduced me to masturbation. After this, the practice had become a regular escape from loneliness and unfulfilled expectations in my life. All these years I had struggled to overcome the habit; now God was dealing a death-blow to the root of the problem by going back to the source. No longer would I be dealing with the symptoms. I was going to freereally free!
Yet there was more. The Lord also reminded me how the issue of pornography was another weapon that the enemy had used against me. Eight years earlier, while away from home for a nine-week Army training course, I had rented a hard-core pornographic video tape. I'm just curious, I had told myself. What real harm can come from this? I'm away from home in another state where no one knows me. I'll only do this once to satisfy my curiosity, and that will be it.
How wrong I was! The images replayed over and over in my mind until they had became a stronghold in my life. Now I was confronting another enemy I would have to battle repeatedly. I had allowed the enemy entrance into my life; and he, as the accuser, frequently exploited me by dispatching raiding parties to keep me harassed, distracted, and confused.
I might beat back one assault only to find devilish snipers shooting at me again. These allied enemies of masturbation and pornography carried on guerrilla warfare within me, managing to win enough skirmishes to make me feel I could never really win the war. Only occasional lulls in the battle allowed me any kind of uneasy rest. But I always knew there could be another ambush around the next corner.
This internal warfarewith its steady stream of strugglestainted any Kingdom victories I experienced. Sure, God was using my preaching to change peoples lives, but the sinful failures in my private world kept plaguing me with guilt and condemnationreal guilt and real condemnationthat gnawed at me like hungry vultures devouring a carcass. But, it all ended that night on the floor in the power of the Holy Spirit when God overwhelmed me with his love. The vultures were vanquished. The Victor had come.
What made the difference between my experience that night and all the other times I sought freedom from my spiritual bondage? Having asked myself this question many times, I think I have come up with some answers. Over the course of my Christian life I had, with varying degrees of intensity, quested for righteousness. I had pursued holiness; but, finding it illusive I had abandoned the quest in disillusionment. All I had discovered were unfulfilled hopes.
My struggles, I now know, were much deeper than wrestling with the acts of sin I committed. At the root of these sinful behaviors was something fundamentally flawed. My sins were the evidence of the brokenness of character that we Christians refer to as the carnal or sin nature. This inborn inclination to sin was the controlling factor in my life. No matter how hard I tried to overcome the behaviors, I was no more able to change them than a leopard is to change its spots. My sins were the evidence of my nature. It was more than my behavior that needed to be changed. I was the problem. And, there was nothing I could do about it. Yet coming to grips with this reality was a severe mercy.
Had I been able to overcome on my own, it would have been a work of the fleshwhether by self-reform, behavior modification, or strength of will. And works of the flesh are wholly inadequate to deal with root issues that are spiritual. I had exhausted every remedy for my sinful behavior, yet had remained stuck in a defeated life. The root of the behaviormy sin natureneeded to be dealt with before I could be delivered from the double life in which I was trapped.
I believedat least on an intellectual levelthat the power of God
was fully sufficient to deliver a person from the bondage of sin. However, because
of my consistent failures, I never expected to see this deliverance actualized
in my own life. Accordingly, I could never proclaim through my preaching the
full freedom of a sanctified life. Although I steadfastly declared free salvation
for all men, my failures meant that I could not with integrity deliver the full
gospel of salvation with complete victory over sin.
I knew that, at John the Baptists birth, Zechariah prophesied about the sanctifying and keeping work of the coming Christ. In the first words he spoke after recovering his voice, he said that the Messiah would "rescue us from the hand of our enemies and enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." (Luke 1:74-75) Now I felt that I could, with integrity, proclaim the validity of this scripture because of my own experience.
The term power encounter frequently is used to describe an occasion where God profoundly touches someone at a personal level through the operation of spiritual gifts or some other manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. My encounter with the overwhelming power of God was the entry point through which I experienced the irresistible, cleansing, sanctifying power of our Christa power strong enough to deal with the root issue of sin in my life.
Because the minister was willing to obediently respond to the Holy Spirit's revelation that there were pastors struggling with the sins of pornography and masturbation, I was set free to serve the Lord in holiness and righteousness. God spoke to my heart through this mans step of faith to share the Spirit-inspired revelation he had received.
God spoke to me again through the pastors prayer for me. He spoke something so specific and personal that I knew it could have been known only because of a gift of Holy Spirit operating through him. I cannot describe the impact of this spoken revelation. Because of it, I knew beyond any doubt that Father was dealing with me as an individual. I wasn't just another warm body standing among a group of sexually broken pastors. I knewreally knewthat I was going to be set free. Why else would He have demonstrated His power so conclusively through all of this revelation? Why else would the presence of God so overwhelm me that I could no longer stand?
After I left the room where I experienced Gods mercy through this power encounter, I immediately went to a friend and colleague who was also attending the conference. I confessed to Him the struggles I had been experiencing with bondage to lust. I also shared with him what the Lord had done just a few minutes before. I then picked up the telephone and called my wife Marilyn, confessing my sins and repenting to her over the phone. I then asked for her forgiveness, which she freely gave.
But there is more. When I returned home, I called a family meeting. With fifteen family, extended family, and friends present, I openly confessed to how I had been saying one thing and living another; to how I had defrauded them by not being who I pretended to be. I told them the whole story about how God had met me in the meeting. And I asked them to forgive me.
I dont have the time to tell you all that happened that night. But I will tell you that God visited us as a family. We were together from seven oclock in the evening until almost four the next morning because the Holy Spirit of God was released upon my children, my relatives, and all who were among us. Spontaneous repentance, forgiveness, and restoration flowed freely. Because I as the leader of our household led the way in repentance, others were free to follow. And our lives have not been the same since.
So when I talk about the two dimensions of forgivenessthe vertical expressed in 1 John 1:8-9 and the horizontal expressed in James 5:16I am really reflecting on what I have experienced in my own life. I sincerely believe that the power encounter opened the door to freedom and holiness, but the confession and repentance to my friends and family allowed me to walk through. If I had tried to deal with this just between me and Jesus, I believe that I could have easily slipped back into the shadows. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1: 7)
Please understand that I do not glory in my failures. But because of Christ, I glory in His triumph. Its not easy to be so vulnerable and honest. It is, quite frankly, very difficult. But doing so allows me to live the truth of Revelation 12: 11. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
It is through the blood of Jesus Christ that I am cleansed, healed, and forgiven. Each time I share my testimony I hammer another nail into the coffin of the old man. And by telling you the truth, I have not loved my life so much as to shrink back from dying once again here before you. Today I have again died to pride; died to shame; died to reputation; died to self.
In his famous sermon The Changed Life, Henry Drummond said that every verb in the New Testament relating to change is in the passive voice. That means that change is something God does, not something we do. The nature of true spiritual change is that we, through our own efforts, cannot effect real changecannot effect anything of eternal value. What we cannot do for ourselves, the Lord does. In the experience I just described, He did something for me that I had been trying for decades to do for myself. As I found myself in Him, my sin life was subsumed by His righteousness. When I arose from the hotel floor, the nature of who I am had been mysteriously changed by an encounter with the power of God.
Am I saying I will never sin? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that God moved me into a position in Christ where, through His resurrection power, I have the potential for living above habitual sin. In addition to freeing us from the guilt and penalty of sin, our Lord, through His Holy Spirit, sanctifies us. He declares us holy and causes us to share in His divine nature wherein we are being changed "from glory to glory."
As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NIV): Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. Think of that! We are being conformed (shaped, fashioned) into the image of God's Son. Again as Paul says: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, Romans 8:29 (NIV).
Some believers insist that we must sin. I thank God, through Jesus Christ my Lord, that I now know through experienceas well as studythat the Lord is "able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day," 2 Timothy 1:12 (KJV). Because we are in Christ and have the Holy Spirit's empowering presence, we do not have to sin. Consider Jude 24-25: Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
Jesus is able to keep us from fallingright here, right now. We don't have to fall. We don't have to stumble. We don't have to sin. Our Christ is big enough, strong enough, holy enough to keep us. His work is sufficient and complete. Because the divine nature of Christ is imparted to us through His Holy Spirit, the Lord is not relegated to a posture of having to wait patiently for us to come to heaven so that we will no longer practice sin.
The sanctification imparted to us expresses itself in joy. In addition to being kept from falling back into old sinful habits, I now fully experience the joy of the Lordexceeding great joy. In the presence of His glory, there is righteousness, peace, and joy. As a sanctified believer, I am walking in the glorious libertyjoyful libertyof the children of God.
So where do we go from here? I dont think that it is sufficient for me just to give you information. Rather, I believe that it is critically important to give you an opportunity to act on what what you have heard.
Over the past four years, as I have shared my story of deliverance from sexual brokenness and bondage to lust, I have seen Father use it to give others hope. You are not alone in your struggles. If you suffer from any besetting sin, Jesus can set you free. I have seen this happen hundreds of times...I share my story, brothers and sisters respond, Father sets them free.
One time I was speaking at an international Christian convention. After sharing
my testimony, a spirit of repentance fell upon the attendees. Person after person
began to seek God for forgiveness, freedom, restoration, and deliverance. Many
began to openly confess their evil deeds. One brother, a pastor from the Congo
was so overwhelmed with grief for his sin that he could not speak. So he handed
me a tear-stained piece of paper on which he had written, A number of
years ago I fell into sin. I know I was wrong, and the burden of my sin has
been unbearable. I publicly repent of all I have done, how I wronged my family
and my God. I ask you, my brothers, to forgive me.
As I read these words aloud at his request, I put my arm around his shoulder. I could feel his body shaking with sobs as his heart broke over his sin. I was then able to speak the comforting word of scripture that his sins were forgiven. And I was able to tell him what I want to tell all of you.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you have ever done that would cause Father to love you any less. He loves you. He was not surprised or caught off-guard when you failed. He knows you, and He loves you.
And in the same way, there is nothing that you can ever do to make Father love you any more. So just let Him love you. Just let Him forgive you, because Jesus his Son died for you.
I think that it is very important for me to give you the opportunity to respond to what the Holy Spirit may be speaking into your life right now, right here. For months I, and many others around the world who pray specifically for me and my ministry, have been praying toward this moment. We have been asking Father to bring His liberty into the lives of persons who would attend this workshop. We have been praying the promise of Isaiah 61:1the binding up the brokenhearted, the proclamation of freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisonersbelieving for its fulfillment among us. Believing that it will be happening today for any of you who need renewal, or any who struggle with broken, sinful areas of your life.
Please pray with me.
Dr. Harvey R. Brown Jr.