Before we continue looking at the rest of a Wesleyan way of salvation–our next stop being conversion–I think it’s helpful if we think about how God made human beings. In other words, when God created humanity, how did He create us? What are the parts that make up a person?
Dallas Willard, in Renovation of the Heart, draws a diagram that looks like this. The following descriptions are summaries of what Willard writes.
Mind (Thought/Feeling): The mind both thinks and feels. “Thought is that which enables our will (or spirit) to range far beyond the immediate boundaries of our environment and the perceptions of our senses” (Willard, p. 32). Feeling inclines us toward or away from things that we think of. Feelings and thoughts always go together; they are never apart.
Will (Spirit/Heart): This is how we make choices. It is our capacity to freely and creatively bring things into being that did not exist. We have the power to do what is good or to do what is evil. The inner choosing in the heart and the capacity to choose is what makes up the spirit or heart of a person. It is this spirit that must be reached and changed, or the rest of things will not. Choices are impacted by the mind, by both thoughts and feelings.
Body: The body is our strength. Our bodies are essentially social; we cannot separate ourselves from those around us. We will always be the son or daughter of our parents, for instance. It is through the body that we live, that we exercise the will, etc. The body is not essentially evil as some believe. It has been impacted by evil, but so has our mind and our heart. Spiritual formation cannot succeed unless the body is transformed along with the mind and the spirit.
Social Context: Our social context includes those outside of ourselves–God and other people. Jesus says we are to love God and our neighbors. Rightly understood, we know that “there is no salvation outside the church,” because our spiritual formation depends on not just a personal relationship with God, but a personal relationship with other Christians.
Soul: “The soul is that dimension of the person that interrelates all of the other dimensions so that they form one life” (Willard, p. 37). The soul is generally taken to be the whole person. In fact, the Greek term psyche is what the NT translates as soul and it also means “life.”
The body serves the soul which serves the mind which serves the spirit or heart which serves God (confusing, I know). Christian spiritual formation happens when the spirit or heart of a person is regenerated, redeemed, saved from sin, and then when the other attributes of a person also submit to God. Then we are able to love God with all our heart (spirit), mind, soul and strength (body). Willard says that we when the parts that make up ourselves are misaligned–when we fail to engage each one in spiritual formation (i.e., we seek to reshape our thinking without reshaping the way we use our bodies), then our lives are out of whack.
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.