"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Reason I No Longer Lead People to Intense, Personal Introspection

Every now and then people will ask me "How have you changed over the years?" Usually the question is asked in regard to my ministry or my marriage. People are either curious as to how I've changed or whether I will admit to having changed. I know that I have changed in a variety of ways in both ministry and marriage over the years. What I'd like to focus on in this post is one particular area where I'm radically different in ministry than when I first began in the summer of 1982.

I grew up reading the Puritans. One of my theological mentors, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, believes that any Christian steeped in Puritanism is benefitted. He writes:
"The Puritan is always a crusader. To him Christianity is a fight, a noble crusade, not merely a defensive action against the principalities and powers, but also a challenge to and an assault upon their fortress. … Oh! how far have we wandered from this! ‘Plain living and high thinking’ are no more! The church is no longer distinct from the world, for instead of the church going out into the world we have allowed the world to capture the church from the inside. We nearly all recognize the position. When will we return to Puritanism? Let us be up and clear the brushwood and the thorns that have overgrown the face of our spiritual world"
I used to agree with Lloyd-Jones about the Puritans. I've changed. My esteem of them is lower for a singular reason: I now believe the Puritanical emphasis on personal introspection to discover inward or hidden sin does more damage than good.

The Puritans were constantly examining their lives, particularly their hidden thoughts and intentions, to see evidence of genuine salvation. The Puritans knew that people could "seem" to live good lives, but might be actually lost and in need of salvation. Their promotion of an intense inward analysis to see if they were 'in the faith' ultimately does damage to genuine faith.

Here's why. We are all sinners (Romans 6:23). God loves sinners (Romans 5:8). Christ saves sinners (I Timothy 1:15). Here's the kicker: When we come to faith in Christ, God sees no sin in His people (Numbers 23:21). That doesn't mean He doesn't know we have sin, for we do and He knows it, for God knows all things. Nor does it mean He doesn't disciple us when we are in sin, for He loves us and separates us from sin for our own good (Hebrews 12:11). When we say "God sees no sin in His people," we mean that judicially God sees the righteousness of His Son in us, and He never punishes us for our sin because Christ atoned for them (II Corinthians 5:21).  Therefore, if God sees us as righteous, then it is worthless to constantly introspect ourselves to find 'hidden sin.' It's always there. We know it. He knows it. He's dealt with it. Turn your eyes toward HIM.

Here's how the New Testament puts it: “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” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

You become what you behold.

God encourages you to take your eyes off of yourself and look to Him. Instead of introspection, you are called to Theospection. Look to God, and not yourself. Take for granted that your motives, your agenda, your thoughts, and your inner life will never be completely free from selfishness and sin. Behold the glory and grace of God in Jesus Christ for sinners and be transformed into His image by beholding Him! In other words, the more you behold His love for sinners, the more you begin to love people who've wronged you; the more you behold His grace and mercy toward sinners, the more you begin to give grace and mercy to those who fail you; the more you behold His incredible, sustaining affection for you, the more you find your heart warmed for people.

The good news is about Him, not you. Growing in grace and the knowledge thereof (true spiritual growth) is only accomplished by taking for granted that you are a sinner and will never be completely free from sin until heaven, and accept it. Then you allow yourself to be ravished by the unconditional love and immeasurable grace of God for you in Jesus Christ!

That's how I've changed in ministry. I no longer have any desire to lead anyone into intense introspection because there is no ultimate good in beholding an image of sinful self, but there is an immeasurable good in beholding the glory and grace of God in Jesus Christ.

25 comments:

GM said...

Wade,
As someone who benefited personally from the ' Doctors' wisdom during my years in the UK,( i was a young Pastor and he had a monthly retreat for us) I think he would agree with you..His emphasis on the Spirit as necessary to make alive and apply such Doctrine as you outlined counterbalances some of the dryness that too much introspection surely produces..He always stressed ''Heat &Light' in the Christian Life .
What you rightly point out is the classic ...Disciples taking it further than the Master'

Wade Burleson said...

Great point, GM.

Anonymous said...

Your point is similar to that of Jason Clark's in Prone to Love, which I am almost done reading. Don't agree with all of what he writes in it, but it's worth reading, imo.

I'm wondering what you think, Wade, about the common idea that the good we do is always done from mixed motives - some flesh, some Spirit? In my own life I'm sure many actions do stem/contain from mixed motives, I'm just not sure that every single one has to be, especially when the love of Jesus so deeply compels.

Ken

Victorious said...

I now believe the Puritanical emphasis on personal introspection to discover inward or hidden sin does more damage than good

Just wondering how this belief is demonstrated in accountability-type, sin-focused groups; i.e. sexual addictions, alcohol, anger-management, “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” etc.

For the record, I couldn't agree more with this Christ-centered focus of ourselves. Thanks for this post! Real freedom in Christ means being free from the self-image that could cause some to give up their faith.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Gal 5:1

Wade Burleson said...

Ken,

"Wade, about the common idea that the good we do is always done from mixed motives - In my own life I'm sure many actions do stem/contain from mixed motives, I'm just not sure that every single one has to be, especially when the love of Jesus so deeply compels."

I understand, Ken. I must say (only speaking for myself), I am not convinced my motives have EVER been 100% pure and unselfish, God-glorifying, and kingdom oriented.

I'm okay with that knowledge, and believe God uses me anyway. :)

Wade Burleson said...

Victorious,

"Just wondering how this belief is demonstrated in accountability-type, sin-focused groups; i.e. sexual addictions, alcohol, anger-management, “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” etc."

The moment somebody tells me that somebody ELSE needs to be in an accountability group is the moment that I know the person making the request is the one in need. :)

But when a person himself (or herself) asks for accountability for HIMSELF (or HERSELF) then I think accountability groups can be wonderful - as long as the person being held accountable has the knowledge that the goal of 'accountability' is always to create a person who lives a whole, productive life WITHOUT it. :)

Darren said...

Just what I needed today Wade - thanks

Bob Cleveland said...

It would be some sort of ultimate tragedy if Jesus came to (A) seek and save that which was lost ... ME ... and you ... and that has been perfectly accomplished in those who believe, and (B) give us abundant life, and we settled for (A) only.

We, being evil, give good gifts to our children and how much more does our Perfect Heavenly Father want us to have good gifts, the chief of which is salvation (accomplished) and an abundant life. And if we want our children to want the gifts we get them, how much more must God want us to want an abundant life?

Since our sin has been atoned for, the only reason I see God would be disappointed in what we do is that it keeps us from abundant life. The one Jesus died to bring us.

I'm sick of churches and pastors that "guilt" God's people. If we have an open invitation, we should be singing "Victory in Jesus" as the invitation hymn. That's what we're inviting people to, isn't it?

Pege' said...

Wade, In a discussion last week... and now your post... has me thinking...it was proposed to me that we are already in the image of Christ..as we grow we recognize that image more clearly... as we grow in grace and knowledge. The work of sanctification is done by the Holy Spirit and he has already completed that work. 2 Peter 1:3 "By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence."
and 2 Corinthians 1:20 "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory."
I have been taught and have believed that sanctification is done over a life time..a process...but I was told I am sanctified...NOW...as I grow in grace and knowledge, what I am becomes more apparent...we can not perform to get to a point of sanctification. The only thing that happens in time is our understanding of who we are in Christ becomes deeper. So my believe that God is making me more Christ like ...is wrong...I am like Christ already...just do not understand it all. So What are your thoughts?

Wade Burleson said...

Bob, Amen!

Pege, I think you are spot on!

"He IS our sanctification!"

:)

Laura Justus said...

Wade,

Jason and I attended church this Sunday at Bartlesville Wesleyan Church. The message the pastor gave was right in line with your blog. At the end of their service their worship leader led in a song "Redeemed" while members of their church gave their cardboard testimonies. As each member held up their testimony they would flip to the other side to share how Christ has changed them! I know that we have done this before at Emmanuel but my soul was moved to tears as I rejoiced with these fellow believers what our Savior has done. So I say "Amen" to your statement "Behold the Glory and Grace of God in Jesus Christ for sinners and be transformed into His image by beholding HIM. It is all about Jesus! What freedom I feel when I know that I can take for granted that my motives, my agenda, my thoughts and my inner life will never be completely free from selfishness and sin. But I am redeemed through HIM!

Brindusa said...

Yes, yes, this is so good! There are so many wonderful things to be learned from the puritans and the depth they had... but they did cause me lots of grief with this seemingly endless focus on introspection. (And if you have a tendency to be given to perfectionism... you end up beyond miserable.) You can look so deeply within yourself, to the point where you no longer even know what you believe, *if* you believe the right way, if you believe enough, etc. Things seemed to be so simple in the Gospels... and then I read all those points and sub-points about the right kind of faith and the right kind of religious affections, and things in which false faith might mimic the right one... It can leave one in a state akin to despair!

Years ago I came across this article which greatly blessed me: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2011/09/preaching-assurance-vs-preaching-doubt/I think it fits in nicely with what you are saying.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

I used to agree with Lloyd-Jones about the Puritans. I've changed. My esteem of them is lower for a singular reason: I now believe the Puritanical emphasis on personal introspection to discover inward or hidden sin does more damage than good.

It leads to something my church calls "Excessive Scrupulosity", a form of OCD where you're obsessed with avoiding sin to the point you become unable to function. The Puritans (and similar navel-gazing sin-sniffers) just gave themselves the Morbid Introspection form.

stevenstarkmusic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stevenstarkmusic said...

I do, however, wonder if most Christians believe that the "image of God" is within them? And if so, isn't introspection a way of "digging for gold"?

However, I much agree that "too much analysis breeds paralysis" and sometimes you should get off the analyst's couch and dig in the garden with others.

stevenstarkmusic said...

I think I agree with you Wade - we just use different terminology.

Every action and thought we have is the product of several competing desires. Feeling guilty for feeling all those desires at once is not helpful.

The Eastern traditions focus on this a lot - excessive self judgement often hinders us from taking the right path. Simple mindfulness, trying to be fully aware and present, is usually enough to allow us to recognize the right way - and that we are worthy enough to take it.

In teaching, we often try to phrase things in positive language;

"Play with your fingers curved" rather than "Don't play with flat fingers". The former puts the correct image in the student's mind. The latter does the opposite.



Rex Ray said...

I think I’m right about this…that Puritans did not believe that married couples should have sex unless they were trying to have children.

I believe they along with lost people hold to their beliefs because of the same reason the disciples had “disbelief” that Jesus was alive in Luke 24:41.

The ‘joy’ of sex and the ‘ease’ of obtaining salvation is ‘too good to be true’.

Anonymous said...

"I understand, Ken. I must say (only speaking for myself), I am not convinced my motives have EVER been 100% pure and unselfish, God-glorifying, and kingdom oriented.

I'm okay with that knowledge, and believe God uses me anyway. :)"

I'm okay with it if it's the truth, but recently have been questioning if the voices of the Puritans are speaking louder on this issue than those of Jesus or the Apostles.

To reframe the question - was the death/resurrection of Christ powerful enough to practically bring about singularity of motive (love of Christ) in a choice/decision/action from a faith/Spirit-filled follower of Him?

If so, that truth would make much Christ. I'm okay with that too. :) Ken

Christiane said...

The concept of ‘repentance’ among some Christian people lacks an element that appeared among the Hebrews in Our Lord’s time . . .

Repentance was seen as needed because men had ‘turned away’ from God, which was negative and brought evil, separation, and suffering.

But the MAIN Hebraic meaning in the word ‘repentance’ is that people begin to ‘turn toward’ God again, to return to Him.

This Hebraic expression of repentance involves
REPLACING a negative connotation with a positive one,
focusing on the superior state being approached rather than the inferior prior state being departed from.

For too long, some Christian people have spent time ‘repenting’ by being negative themselves, and focusing on the negative in others’
instead of celebrating a positive returning towards the Lord . . .
a turning that involves a journeying of the mind, the heart, the soul, the spirit, the strength of a person becoming increasingly focused on Christ.

This has many names . . . teshuva, metanoia, repentance

. . . . the one who has been ‘in darkness’ begins the turn towards the ‘light’ and in the Book of Ephesians 5:9 we come to know this:
“(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)”

darkness is the absence of light . . . Christians must not continue to dwell negatively on the darkness once they have begun the great journey towards the light of the Risen Christ

Curious Thinker said...

I am striving to learn more about this as I embrace the Christian faith more. I wonder does this mean we are no longer under law but under grace as I read about in the past? Great post once again.

Wade Burleson said...

Curious Thinker,

Precisely.

:)

Christiane said...

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth...And of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."
(John 1: 14, 16-17)

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/52/Jesus-Christ-from-Hagia-Sophia.jpg/785px-Jesus-Christ-from-Hagia-Sophia.jpg



"God descends to the humble as waters flow down from the hills into the valleys."

(St. John of Kronstadt)

ScottShaver said...

Great post Wade:

I must confess that a lowered opinion of Puritans for the reasons you've put in print is the way I've felt inwardly for several years.

hyperintrospection can lead to some pretty bizarre behavior.

Thank you for having the courage to come right out and say it.

Manifestations of the problems you describe are replete in the baptist blogosphere.

M. Joy said...

"You become what you behold. God encourages you to take your eyes off of yourself and look to Him. Instead of introspection, you are called to Theospection. Look to God, and not yourself. "

Yes, I like how you put that in words.

I've seen people cycle in and out of our church over the years who have been into this type of naval gazing and it made me very uncomfortable. In one instance, a couple who used to be in our small group bought everybody copies of CJ Mahaney's "Why Small Groups" and the first thing my husband and I noticed is that Mahaney heavily promotes everybody digging into everybody else's sin. (and since we were a mixed male/female group this was VERY inappropriate) The couple didn't stay in our church long.

M. Joy said...

Wade I have a question for you. I've heard teaching off and on over the years (usually Sunday school or bible studies) that we should be daily praying for God to reveal our "hidden sin" to us. I've been convicted of my sins, but it's usually something the Holy Spirit points out to me (through scripture, circumstances or conversations with one of my "iron sharpening iron" friends) and not because I'm constantly praying and wallowing in "intense, personal introspection" as you call it. What is your view of how God reveals our sin to us?