Friday, December 26, 2008

The Sanctitron®

In answer to a question I received:

Christian teachers are always going on about how to defeat lust it's not going to happen through sheer willpower, but it'll have to be through the power of the Holy Spirit. But this is supremely confusing for everyone I've talked to on the subject. What exactly does it look like to be relying on the Spirit rather than on our own power? What does the one relying on the Spirit look like compared to the one attempting to defeat sin on his own power? Both would need to physically and actively do things to avoid and defeat sin -- so it is simply a matter of cognitive awareness of either that makes the difference? That is, if I am cognitively understanding my need to defeat sin as something I have to do with my power or if I am cognitively understanding that God is doing the work through me -- is that what makes the difference?

I doubt most Christian preachers and teachers who talk this way really know what they mean by it. I doubt they’ve thought it through.

1.In many cases, I suspect they say it because it’s a nice, pious sounding thing to say. But they make it seem as if the difference between someone who relies on the Holy Spirit and someone who doesn’t is that as long as we say we rely on the Holy Spirit, then we rely on the Holy Spirit. Telling ourselves or reminding ourselves that we rely on the Holy Spirit is what makes us rely on the Holy Spirit.

But from a theological perspective, if you’re a real Christian, then the Holy Spirit is already at work in your life. It’s not a light switch that you have to consciously turn back on every morning when you get out of bed.

Even if you’re a backslider, the Holy Spirit is still active in your life—to effect a spiritual restoration.

2.In other cases, it may involve a kind of quietism. I don’t do anything; the Holy Spirit does it for me. Indeed, if I try to do it myself, then I’m getting in the way of the Holy Spirit.

Again, though, this fails to appreciate how God is at work in our actions. It’s not as though I must be in abeyance for God to be active, or God must be in abeyance for me to be active. God can be active in my activities

3.Now lots of folks are deeply involved in a ritualistic form of works-righteousness. If you follow a set of spiritual exercises, like the Rosary or the Rule of St. Benedict, then that will make you holy.

There is something fundamentally autosoteric about that approach. It treats salvation or sanctification as a technique. Become a spiritual technician. Use the right words in the right order. Perform certain actions in a certain sequence.

Not surprisingly, this is a pan-religious phenomenon that transcends any particular religion. Catholic monks and Buddhist monks use different words and actions, but the underlying technology is the same. The same mechanistic and manipulative approach to sanctity or piety. Feed your vices into the Sanctitron® and watch them come out virtues.


  1. "Feed your vices into the Sanctitron® and watch them come out virtues"

    Somehow, I knew Ron Popeil was behind all this!

  2. "If you follow a set of spiritual exercises, like the Rosary or the Rule of St. Benedict, then that will make you holy."

    Do you think there's no value in "pushing yourself" in spiritual dry-spells then with self-disciplinary measures, like continuing to follow scheduled daily prayer/devotional readings say from prayer books whose use is common in some Protestant bodies such as Anglicanism/Lutheranism, even when you may feel for periods of time it's useless and you are doing it begrudgingly?


    "Do you think there's no value in 'pushing yourself' in spiritual dry-spells then with self-disciplinary measures, like continuing to follow scheduled daily prayer/devotional readings say from prayer books whose use is common in some Protestant bodies such as Anglicanism/Lutheranism, even when you may feel for periods of time it's useless and you are doing it begrudgingly?"

    One of the best times to pray is when you don't feel like prayer. Not to feel like praying is, itself, a spiritual need—a need for prayer.

    However, I'm dealing with the issue of rote devotion where merely going through the motions is thought to be meritorious. A superstitious conception of piety, where using the right words and the right gestures functions like a magical incantation.

  4. Steve,

    I appreciate this post. I do think this is a sore spot of misunderstanding for many.

    I want to add to your list of reasons or maybe this falls in the above somewhere.

    I've found people use this line of reasoning when there is disagreement on a theological point. I've encountered this is SS class. For example, a level of theological disagreement arose over what the text said. I explained my position from the text, but the other person(s) couldn't show their position from the text. There answer was to just say, "We just need to listen to the Holy Spirit."

    I then tried to explain that God gave us a brain and communicated with us in a certain way. That we don't have a blind faith which is just lead by our personal feelings, etc.

    Good post.


  5. Not Ron Popeil. Rick Warren...

  6. Steve what does St Paul mean about being filled with the Spirit, or keep in step with the Spirit? isnt it a daily thing?

  7. ANOTHER REQUEST: This is worth a response too. There is a big theme at the secularright blog where the atheists seem to take it for granted that science and Christianity have nothing to do with one another (indeed are antagonistic) and that all scientific advancement (medical, technological, etc.) is something Christians are totally in debt to atheists for.

    Here is a typical post communicating that:

    Obviously it's a massively ignorant thing to believe, but what is the basic response from the realm of Christian apology. Of course Christians founded most hospitals and universities and colleges and so on, but the atheists seem to be intent on saying small little facts like that are meaningless.

  8. I mean, I guess it's possible to just see that atheists are common low-grade intellectual trolls... I guess I resist this, but I am easily provoked too and feel like one must answer them as if they are somewhat serious...

  9. Come to think of it, the post linked above is just so dumb it's probably not worth anybody's time to respond to it.

    Atheists = common low-grade trolls... Answer a fool once...all that.

  10. I just googled this:

    It's short and hits all the themes. Though it doesn't mention all the effort by Christians to found things like hospitals and institutions of higher learning. Can't do everything in a short article.

  11. "You can do nothing without Me."- Jesus

    "Labor for the meat which endureth to everlasting Life;" -Jesus

    The Father watches over His vinyard. He takes the fruitless branches away. The branches that bear fruit He purges. And so these branches bear more more fruit.

    Jesus is the vine, and we abide in Him. The root is nourished by the rain and the Sun causes growth, and the fruit comes forth.
    There are branches with little fruit, and others with abundance. But the branches can take no credit.
    The Father gets all the credit, and so does the good Vine.
    They produce the fruit on and through the branches.

    The purging is a must, and a painful reality.

    "Let us learn to be patient in the days of darkness, if we know anything of vital union with Christ. ... and not murmur and complain because of trials. Our trials are not meant to do us harm, but good. ...Fruit is the thing that our Master desires to see in us, and He will not spare the pruning-knife if He sees we need it. In the last days we shall see that all was well done." -JC Ryle

  12. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

    This fact by no means relieves us of the necessity to put to death the deeds of the flesh which Paul says are obvious. He also instructs Timothy that bodily exercises profit little but godliness in every way.

    What is happening in us, will as Phillipians states, procede to its appointed end. But this is the very thing which He is doing, that we should no longer live according to the principles of this world. We are not to forget his discipline that brings scourgings, not because we are without sin, but precisely because we have sin in our members warring against the Spirit. The process of sanctification cannot be thwarted, nor interfered with in the faithful. What may appear as the opposition is in reality the carrying out of the mandate of Christ to the Spirit to bring us into all truth.

    It is a curious thing that Paul says when turning over one to Satan for the destrucion of the flesh that the man might be saved in the Day of Salvation. What appears to be failure on our part is God working out all things for the good. What then, should we sin? God forbid, because for this very purpose we behold Christ crucified for sin. Then if this is the way, we must offer our body of sin to the alter that the body of sin might be done away with just as our Lord was crucified and took upon himself our sin. Submission to the discipline of the Father put to death Christ by the Spirit, the same power that raised him from the dead. So too, we are to go boldly into the throne room of grace where he remains a High Priest, forever, having once for all made sacrifice for those being saved.

    Our sanctification then looks like it is not really. For we do not look on the outward man which is decaying, but the inward who is being renewed, "day by day" without fail. We note that a righteous man falls seven times, but yet will rise. As always the work of God is first monergistic going before us to prepare the land we will occupy. The we must look more ernestly into those who rebelled like Aaron, and even Moses, Deuteronomy 32:48-52, yet were not numbered among those who did not mix the promise with faith, Hebrews 4:2.

  13. Some might be interested in reading an article Steve wrote several years ago entitled "Sowing to the Spirit."

  14. Diane,

    I spent some time surfing the Virklers' website. This is charismatic/new age flimflam.

    You need to read a serious book on the subject, such as Bruce Waltke's Finding the Will of God.