Christian Spiritual Formation

Previously, we wrote about a definition of spiritual formation, as well as a definition of discipleship. Here, we’ll expand phrase-by-phrase on what we mean when we say,

Christian spiritual formation is the lifelong process of being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.

Christian spiritual formation
As we’ve said, everyone goes through spiritual formation. But ours is distinctly “Christian” in the sense that we have:  
1. Experienced conversion of the heart, where God makes it possible for us to partner with Him in our own spiritual formation. 

2. Identified ourselves as Christians, and thus embraced the historic creeds, practices, and faith of Christianity. Self-identification alone is not enough, but it is necessary. 

3. Submitted ourselves to Christ. Our faith and trust is in Him.
4. Decided to reject other forms of spiritual formation as we are made aware of them.

We must determine, according to Dallas Willard, what in our spirit needs to be changed and how that change can be brought about. He says in Renovation of the Heart,

“The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It [His revolution] is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations” (p. 15).

Christian spiritual formation takes place only as our hearts are transformed. Thus, Jesus can speak of how our inner person comes across in our outer person. Matthew 12:33-35 says, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in them, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in them.” 

The danger here is that because we can see what happens externally, we then focus on it as the barometer of our spiritual formation or of the spiritual formation of others. We delve into legalism quickly when we watch for how people dress, whether they pray, church attendance, etc. 

Implications for the Church
1. Conversion is a necessary part of spiritual formation, but it alone is not sufficient. Just as self-identifying as a Christian does not a Christian make, so also conversion alone does not a disciple make. It is the “ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another” that makes the ongoing difference. 
2. Rejection is as crucial as embrace. What are the things that we are called to reject? This is a tougher question, one that we don’t have time for now. Historically, the questions of rejection and embrace have  spiraled into legalism. We are not undergoing Christian spiritual formation because we reject types of media or music or dress, nor are they necessarily a marker that shows who is and who is not serious about relationship with God. Rather, they become choices we make based on what God is doing in our hearts. And don’t hear what I’m not saying: I’m not speaking of making a hard choice on rejecting things such as what Paul lists as the acts of the sinful nature in Galatians 5. This is a question of guarding one’s heart, not of participating in sin. 
3. What happens in the heart will show up on the outside. No questions asked. We may be able to do a good job of hiding or covering up what is happening when we’re in public, but even our best efforts at masking anger, greed, pride, lust, or jealousy will eventually come out. 

Posted on May 16, 2014, in spiritual formation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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