The Spirit Calls, Gathers, Enlightens and Sanctifies God’s People
A Pietist’s Advocacy of Evangelical Ministry
Sanctification is the journey of being drawn closer to God. It is not an accomplishment we achieve on our own. The Holy Spirit is the key actor.
What is our part in the process of sanctification? Verbs become important. Some would say that we decide to follow Christ. But that implies our growing relationship with him is something we accomplish. Then we lose sight that our special relationship with him is a gift by his grace. Theologians warn against the danger of “synergism”—working together, which we cannot do for our salvation.
What is a better verb? Try “to invite.” Our part in this grace-focused relationship is to put ourselves where the Spirit can most readily work on us. Use the image of the Spirit’s workshop. That is wherever believers are gathered around God’s Word and share its meaning in their lives. A church building readily comes to mind, where the Word is preached and applied, and people sing their praises. But the Sprit’s workshop can also be where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name discussing the practical implications of their special relationship with God.
My Heart—Christ’s Home
Robert Boyd Munger uses the image of rooms in our house where we can “surrender” our natural sinful condition to the Spirit’s influence. He challenges us to invite the Spirit to change our perspective on how we live. His immensely popular spiritual guide is My Heart—Christ’s Home, most readily available in a small booklet published in 1986. Munger was a Presbyterian pastor who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary and developed the spiritual formation program in which I became an advisor.
Munger keys off Paul’s word to the Ephesians “that God may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (Ephesians 3: 16-17). He offers the paraphrase “that Christ may settle down and be at home in your hearts by faith.” Another foundation is John 14: 23: “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” A third reference is Revelation 3: 20: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Note the verb “to open” the door. That’s our part of the sanctification process. We invite, open and surrender.
Here is Munger’s interpretation. “If you want to know the reality of God and the personal presence of Jesus Christ at the innermost part of your being, simply open wide the door and ask him to come and be your Savior and Lord. After Christ entered my heart, in the joy of that new-found relationship, I said to him, ‘Lord, I want this heart of mine to be yours. I want you to settle down here and be fully at home. I want you to use it as your own. Let me show you around and point out some of the features of the home so that you may be more comfortable. I want you to enjoy our time together.’ He was glad to come and seemed delighted to be given a place in my ordinary little heart.”
Conversations in the Living Room
In his booklet, Robert Munger describes rooms in his heart, like the library of thoughts, the dining room of desires, the living room of fellowship, the workroom of abilities, and the recreational room of activities. He invites Christ into his heart to develop a growing, closer relationship with him. This he does through the fellowship of his Spirit.
Speaking in the first person, Bob Munger invites Christ, for instance, into his living room of the heart. Christ says, “Indeed, this is a delightful room. Let’s come here often, and we can have good talks and fellowship together. He would take a book of the Bible, open it, and we would read it together. He would unfold to me the wonder of God’s saving truth and make my heart sing as he shared all he had done for me and would be to me. Those times were wonderful. Through the Bible and his Holy Spirit he would talk to me. In prayer, I would respond.”
But Bob gradually spent less of these times together. Christ observed that “you have been thinking of the quiet time, of Bible study and prayer, as a means for your own spiritual growth. This is true, but you have forgotten that this time means something to me also. Remember, I love you. Just to have you look up into my face warms my heart. Don’t neglect this hour if only for my sake.”
And so the conversations can go, as we invite the Spirit into other parts of our hearts with its desires, abilities and activities. He wants to draw our whole inner being closer to God. We invite him to take over more and more of our life. This is the sanctification process.
Pastor Munger wrote out what is called the pietist heritage of Protestantism. Its roots are in the Lutheran church of the 18th century, and it has its equivalent in Reformed circles. Pietism has always been controversial in the context of church life. Because it is so subjective, it can easily be criticized, especially by those whose focus is on objective doctrine. Indeed, it is easy to mock because of its emphasis on personal experiences.
The last century has been a time of mocking. Generations of seminarians have been taught that Pietism is bad. Why? Because it too easily degenerates into an unhealthy emphasis on the behaviors that result from the regenerated heart. The key is to live in ways that resist temptations, like not dancing or attending movies—as if these lifestyle choices become the basis of our relationship with Christ.
In a previous Reflection on church practices, I featured late nineteenth-century Lutheran pastor Heinrich Schwan and his reminder to pastors to keep church practices focused on evangelistic (Gospel-oriented) motivation rather than legalistic (law-oriented) practices. He cautioned that Evangelistic emphases work infrequently. Legalism brings faster results. Evangelical practices expect the fruits of the Spirit to be produced solely by the Gospel and are willing to wait for them. Such practices bear with all manner of defects, imperfections and sins rather than remove them merely in an external manner.
The essence of Lutheran Pietism was explained by Johann Arndt, considered the grandfather of Lutheran Pietism. “True knowledge of Christ is ignited by the Holy Spirit in our hearts as a new light that becomes ever brighter and clearer, like a mirror that is polished, or as a small child grows and matures daily in body. A man is a newborn in his conversion if the righteousness of Christ is given to him through faith. Then the image of God will be daily renewed. He is not yet, however, a perfect man but a child who must yet be trained by the Holy Spirit and become conformed from day to day with Christ Jesus.”
Another classic pietistic explanation defines sanctification as “that gracious act of God’s Spirit by which he daily more and more renews the believers after the image of God.”
Such Spirit-driven growth in sanctification is basic to my understanding of good ministry today.
Pastor Timothy Keller’s writings about church ministry are currently very popular among young Evangelical pastors. He planted and is the senior pastor of the mega-church Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Here is what he says about pietist influences in the context of other emphases in Protestant churches:
“The pietist impulse puts the emphasis on the individual and the experiential. Pietists do ministry through church courts, but they are also supportive of ministry through para-church ministries. Pietists stress core doctrine over secondary ones and feel more like part of the broader evangelical movement than do doctrinalists. This branch, like the doctrinalists, is generally suspicious of the (third) emphasis on social justice and cultural engagement. While the doctrinalists fear culture accommodation, the pietists are more afraid that it will detract from the pietists’ main concern—evangelism, mission and church growth.” I have suggested the term “Guardians” for the doctrinalist position and “Missionaries” for the Pietist orientation. The tension between the two is healthy. My advocacy is as a Missionary Pietist.
What do you feel is our part in the process of sanctification? If sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit overcomes our sin by increasing our desire for and joy in Christ, what motivates you to grow in this process/relationship? And how can we motivate others?