Sometimes we get mixed up as Christians in our thinking about how God works because we hold to a false dichotomy or dualism. In plain language what this means is we often wrongly conclude that God is present and blessing us only when we are praying, reading the Word, witnessing, or consciously thinking and talking about spiritual matters. As a result we attempt to manufacture the work of the Spirit through outward appearances and behaviors. This practice is called Pietism.
Pietism rears its head in many ways, from quiet contemplative false humility to identifying the work of the Spirit in emotionalism and sensationalism. The error of Pietism is two-fold: not only does it identify the nature of spirituality in outward appearances and behaviors, but it presents a false dichotomy that says life is divided into two compartments: the spiritual and the profane.
At the root of Pietism is a denial of the Providence of God. Question 11 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is God’s Providence?” The answer is then given: “God’s providence is His completely holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing every creature and every action.” God is always at work, and God can and does work in and through what we would consider normal or natural means. While Pietism teaches us that God is to be worshipped in a specific place at a specific time in one prescribed manner only, biblical providence declares that all of life is worship–not just some little corner of life that we label as spiritual. God’s Spirit does not need us to be in a visible emotionally ecstatic state to authenticate His presence and power. Nor does He need us to be quietly sitting in a dimly-lit corner with our shoulders rounded and lips pursed like little pharisees, praying for all those unfortunate sinners out there in the big bad world.
All through Acts we see how God worked mightily in and through Paul in the confirmation of the Gospel by conversions, miracles, and exorcisms. But in Chapter 22 we see God using ordinary means in the life of the Apostle to accomplish His purpose. The commander and centurion protect Paul from harm. Little do they know that God is using them to preserve His chosen vessel and that their actions would be recorded in God’s Word for millions of future readers to see. Surely Paul never anticipated that one day his lifelong status as a Roman citizen would be used by God to keep him from being unduly punished. Notice, too, that Paul spoke up for himself and used his “rights” as a Roman citizen. A more pietistic approach would have been to pray and “trust God” rather than to take things into his own hands and ”operate in the flesh.”
What idiocy! Christians, look around you. Everywhere there is evidence of God’s majesty and presence through general revelation in the created order. You do not need God to speak to you through an inner impression or so-called word of knowledge in order for Him to reveal Himself. Of course, God can do whatever He chooses, but He is not bound by our false dualisms and dichotomies. Be done with this neo-gnostic compartmentalized view of the world and Christian life. Look for God to work in and through the most ordinary and mundane circumstances, as well as through miraculous means if He so chooses. God is providentially present in your life always. The hairs of your head are numbered, and not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from His knowledge and control. God will take care of you. Correction: God is taking care of you!