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?
Lee Larsen says
A process that first makes God “real”. Teaching His word is only part of what eventually makes God “real” to us. “Coming to faith” is not a one size fits all process. A journey that has a different timeline for everyone.
Second, it is coming to understand the depth of love God has for us. To see past the price of our original sin and the resulting fallen world in which we now live. To be able to understand the source of the difficulties that we face in our lives and in the world around us. What comes from the fallen world/Satan and what comes from the results of our own sins. To come to the realization that we are the cause of so much of the pain & suffering in our world and that God’s word comes with so much love enabling us to avoid the snares that Satan has instore as well as the pain our own sinful actions cause. The more we come to understand this the greater the joy we experience in our own lives.
Through reading God’s word, attending worship, participating in Bible studies, fellowship with believers and service in His Kingdom (especially sharing Christ’s love & an invitation with everyone in your community through acts of kindness), all of the above mentioned takes place.
David Luecke says
Thanks, Lee. I have appreciated over the years how thoroughly you have interacted with my writings. God bless your continued ministry.
Bob Kersten says
Pastor Luecke, I feel fortunate in having come across your blog. It’s indeed rare to find a confessional Lutheran pastor who is also pro pietist. Although I’m no longer involved in a LCMS church, because like you’ve stated, pietism is a bad word due to the legalistic tendencies some have displayed. In answer to your questions: I believe that our part is to deny one’s self and follow Christ by picking up our crosses daily. My motivation is this; I believe Paul when he states that all who have been called and chosen are predestined to be conformed into the image of Christ. I believe the most effective way to draw others into a saving relationship with Christ is to unashamedly live out the faith we confess in words and deeds.
David Luecke says
Pro-pietist is a good term. I edited that Reflection to focus on pietist impulses, using Timothy Keller’s term. It’s a tough sell to those in our heritage.
Kristine McAfee says
Love this Reflection David!
I believe that sanctification is part recognizing that our redemption has been bought by Christ, and part realizing that our redemption is being applied by the Holy Spirit.
Does it really get any better than this? That God would go to such extreme lengths to bring us back to Him by sacrificing his only Son for us. And then allow us to become part of the sanctification process where God will begin to mold, shape, and transform us into the express image of His Son Jesus Christ. What a privilege and the highest of all blessings that we can receive from the Lord. In scripture, you can see how desperately God wants us to be actively seeking the sanctification process, and that this is something that He wants ALL of His children — to become a part of, not just a few of His select saints.
We as Christians may try to achieve this state of holiness without the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. That will not work. Those with the Holy Spirit leading them, do not flaunt their piety, goodness, or holiness. They are very humble about it. Everything they do comes from the heart, because the Spirit is leading the way.
Sanctification is done by the power of the Holy Spirit operating through the knowledge that the Word gives us. It is the Word and the Spirit working together that will cause this sanctification process to begin and occur in our life. Only with the Holy Spirit, this type of transformation will occur. However, the Holy Spirit will not work without the Word.
And we need to remind others that ALL Christians have the Holy Spirit within us, working as our guide, our intercessor, our advocate, and our helper.
The other big part is that although sanctification is personal, it is also deeply corporate. Christians are called into a body or a family, a group of other believers, in order to experience the work of the Spirit in our lives together. Christ died for a people. And apart from the body of Christ, sanctification is impossible. This is the way God designed the Christian life. There is no such thing as a growing Christian apart from active life in the body of Christ. Our sanctification is intimately tied up in our love for and service to others. We are all in this process together.
I completely agree with Lee Larsen above that “through reading God’s word, attending worship, participating in Bible studies, fellowshipping with other believers and serving in His Kingdom (especially sharing Christ’s love & an invitation with everyone in your community through acts of kindness)” are all part of the sanctification process.
David Luecke says
It is a genuine privilege to work so closely with someone who has the spiritual maturity to interact with my content. I am glad my words got and held your attention. Sunday I preached on going from milk to solid food. You are way past being a baby Christian. Praise God. I hope your congregation is able to engage your spiritual maturity in ministry.