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.
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.
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.