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.