What makes us Christians? In one sense, it is as simple as “confess[ing] with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9, HCSB). Confess and believe. That’s about it, at least as far as our response is concerned.
But that’s still not the full answer, since it doesn’t address the bigger issue behind the question of what makes us Christians—is it our merely confession, or is there something else?
There’s not a magic formula, any more than there’s a magic formula to blaspheming the Holy Spirit (despite what the kids on YouTube were doing a few years back). It’s not something you can plan or strategize into happening, though
charlatans experts might tell you. It’s not something that you can schedule, despite what revivalism taught so many in the 1950s. It’s something you can earn or purchase or merit, either, despite what false religions and cults will tell you.
The answer is actually a lot simpler—and infinitely more complex–than any we might expect. It’s an answer I’m always thankful for whenever I get up in the morning and realize, “Yep, I actually do love and worship Jesus.” It’s something I’m grateful for whenever I get to read my Bible, when I get to teach kids at our church, and when I get to write a blog post. It’s the answer I’m grateful for, even when I drive past buildings promising a revival at 8:00 next Saturday.
The answer? It’s the Holy Spirit who makes it happen. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it this way in Revival:
What makes us Christians? The work of regeneration; the Holy Spirit of God doing a work down in the very depths of the personality, and putting there a new principle of life, something absolutely new, so that there is the ‘new man’. Now that, always, is a doctrine that comes out in every period of revival and of reawakening. And that is how you get, invariably at such times, these remarkable and dramatic changes. Men who had been utterly hopeless, and who had been abandoned even by their dearest relatives and friends; men who had even abandoned themselves, feeling that nothing could be done for them, feeling utterly hopeless, feeling rejected of all people and of God: suddenly this work takes place, and they find themselves new creatures with an entirely new outlook on living, and anxious to live a new kind of life. Regeneration. It stands out in the story and in the history of every revival that has ever taken place in the long history of the Christian Church. In other words, everything about a revival emphasises the activity of this sovereign God. He is intervening. He is working. He is doing things. And this is shown very plainly by the results and the effects of the work of regeneration. (57)
Christians can’t be Christians if there is no regeneration—if the Holy Spirit isn’t actively making dead people live, if he’s not breathing new life into those who would believe. This is impossible to schedule, manipulate, or fabricate. We can’t make it happen, no matter how hard we try.
So revival doesn’t start with us. But we can pray that we would see him work among us. That he will bring the dead among us to life. That he will give people the desire to confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts. That he will help us see that, as John puts it in his gospel, all this happens “not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13, HCSB).
And then we can celebrate.