Personal piety has become widespread, but unfortunately it is confined to what could be called purely religious experience, which cannot stand before God. Many of these exclusively religious movements have arisen in recent years, confining themselves to preaching and personal confessions of faith, to a private experience of the Savior and a very limited personal sanctification.
However much we rejoice that people are awakened to a love for Jesus, that they experience forgiveness of sin in his death on the cross, we must state that Christ’s love and the meaning of his death on the cross are not fully understood if they are restricted to the individual’s subjective experience of salvation. It was to be foreseen years ago that the influence of modern theology would be disastrous. True, it did show us something great: God is totally other than all our movements for personal salvation or social reform. Yet a one-sided emphasis on this otherness, which removes the living God to the distant beyond, is bound to have the effect of minimizing or even suppressing social responsibility.
It is truly Christian to proclaim the good news of the pardoned sinner, who is now able to lead a purified life so as to belong more and more to Christ (Col. 1:28). The New Testament, in fact the whole Bible, speaks of it. That is why we are thankful that movements have sprung up again and again of people who long to be purified for God by Jesus their Savior. Such waves of inner revival keep recurring, and that is a great grace. We are thankful that very many of us have experienced something of Christ in similar movements.
It is important to observe, however, that the purely personal approach does not bring satisfaction in the long run. A Christianity that concentrates only on the individual soul and its experience cannot endure for long.
Our reverence for the reality of the Holy Spirit must become so great that our trivial personal concerns, including our state of health and our emotional needs, will be consumed as in a mighty flame. When the great hour comes, will there be a generation worthy of it? As far as humankind is concerned, only one thing is worthy of the greatness of God’s kingdom: the readiness to die. But unless we prove our readiness in the trivialities of daily life, we shall not be able to muster up courage in the critical hour of history. In our communal life we need to overcome completely all our petty attitudes and feelings, to give up all personal ways of reacting to things, that is, fear, worry, inner uncertainty – in short, unbelief. Instead, we need faith, a faith as small as a tiny seed but with the same potential to grow (Luke 17:6). This is what we need, neither more nor less.
Through Christ and his Holy Spirit, this faith is at work in our midst. We have felt it, but we have not lived accordingly. If the Holy Spirit had to withdraw from us because we have grieved him and driven him away, have not held him in reverence but thought little of him, valuing our own affairs higher, then all we can do is ask, “Send your judgment upon us, and in your infinite mercy spare nothing!” And then this judgment in mercy, this mercy in judgment, will release us from ourselves and prepare us at last for mission, making us ready for God to use.
If we live according to our old nature, we cannot represent anything good, even if we base it on the Bible. But in the new creation, in Christ, in his Spirit, wherever his Spirit is present without being distorted or caricatured, indestructible community has arisen among people. Let those grasp it who can! The truth of the Bible is not intellectual or logical truth. It is beyond logic. It is given only to those who believe (1 Cor. 2:12–13). So we are faced with quite practical questions: Do we believe that the Holy Spirit will be increasingly poured out over the church? Do we believe that Jesus comes into our midst, that he opens his heart to us so that we may live as he did and have an influence in society as he did? Do we dare to carry out the task as his church in his coming kingdom, to be a corrective within society through the grace of the indwelling Christ? Do we dare to live a life of love in the midst of the world, giving up all privilege and even the right to our possessions and our own bodies? Are we ready, completely defenseless, to follow Jesus?
Adapted from God’s Revolution (Walden, NY: Plough, 2021).
Article edited for length and clarity.