Summary: We begin our new series on spiritual formation by defining it and talking about how to be spiritually formed in Christ.
I honor parents because they have the incredibly hard job of bringing their children into adult maturity. These children must grow and learn so many aspects of life to survive it without the forever guidance of their parents. They must be able to navigate the waters of life successfully on their own.
I am not a parent in the way you would think. I don’t have biological children. But as a pastor and teacher, I am responsible for the growth of spiritual children God has placed under my care. The best way I can describe what I do in a holistic approach is spiritual formation.
Spiritual formation is the most important work of the pastor and teacher. It is as hard as parenting. Indeed, Paul and John called the disciples under their care spiritual children. Every Christian from the moment of salvation onward is engaged in becoming more like Jesus, spiritual formation.
Thus spiritual formation must be on the mind of every Christian. We must realize when we are becoming stagnant, what makes us grow in Christ, what keeps us from growing in Christ, and who makes us grow, so we keep growing. This is what this blog series is all about.
What Is Spiritual Formation?
If we’re going to make spiritual formation the most important thing we do as Christians, we must understand what it is and is not. But it’s not good enough just to define it. We must live it every day of our lives.
We can approach spiritual formation through many facets. But if we only approach it through the facets we enjoy doing, like contemplating Christ and His teachings, walking with Christ, teaching others, prayer, Bible study, and the like, we will miss the facets we do not enjoy as much, or come to us as easily.
This is why we must have a holistic approach to our growth in Christ. The things that don’t come easily to us must still be accomplished for us to become perfect in Christ, complete and mature spiritual and physical beings. Jesus does not set out to do a halfhearted work in us. He aims to complete His work in us.
So let us attempt to fully define spiritual formation so we practice it in its fullest form to be as complete individuals in Christ as we can be. We consider spiritual formation in at least three approaches.
Spiritual formation has at its heart formation of our persons, discipleship to be like Christ, and maturity as its end goal. Some scriptures that aid us in understanding spiritual formation are Romans 8:29, Romans 12:2, Galatians 4:19, Matthew 28:19, Colossians 1:28-29, and Ephesians 4:13. Let’s consider each of these parts of spiritual formation.
Spiritual formation begins with formation, or the transformation of our persons into the image and likeness of Christ (Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19). We do not just assimilate information. We take the information we learn and become molded into the image of Jesus.
The best vehicle to achieve this part of spiritual formation is the spiritual disciplines that will transform us into Christ’s image. Therefore, we will discuss the spiritual disciplines and how to use them as we walk with Christ.
Second, spiritual formation means we become, and remain, disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:19). To be Jesus’ disciple is to learn from Him continually. We become like Jesus through listening to, learning from, and applying His teachings to our own lives. He is our example in everything.
Jesus’ disciples know His voice and listen to it (John 10:27). We follow Jesus in His example and teachings. To be a Christian is to become a “little Christ.” We grow to be like Him, to take on His character and do what He did.
The Holy Spirit plays the largest part in becoming like Jesus. He nurtures us into the image and character of Christ. Disciples of Christ pattern their lives after Jesus. We want to be “Jesus with skin on.” We will be the only Jesus people meet.
The best vehicle for being disciples of Jesus is His teachings in the New Testament. We will be taking a close look at His Sermon on the Mount and other teachings throughout the Gospels. These help us know what He expects of us, and how to be like Him and follow His example.
The third facet of spiritual formation is to become mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28-29; Ephesians 4:12-16). To mature is to grow, for our character and person
to be transformed into His character in every aspect of our life. Maturity is completeness, or perfection, in Christ. Jesus said we are to be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Perfection is a tall order. I prefer the term “complete” because completion seems more down-to-earth for us. But completion is just as hard as perfection. Jesus wants to make each of us complete in His character and Person. Rest assured, He does most of the heavy lifting for our maturity in Him.
He works through His Holy Spirit to make you the most godly you can be. His standard through His teaching is your completeness in Him. This isn’t just learning about him or knowing facts about him. It is becoming like Him, doing what He did, being who He is.
Being like Jesus does it mean you become a god. That “being” is purely for Jesus. But we resemble Him as a child resembles his or her parent. We become like Jesus in His attributes. We become holy, loving, merciful, gracious, and so forth.
Spiritual formation will be our aim, understanding and implementing it in our lives throughout this blog series. And we will see the Lord Jesus changing us from the inside out throughout our discussion on spiritual formation.
The Goal of Spiritual Formation
As we wait on our Lord Jesus to return, spiritual formation is the goal of every Christian. So as we talk about it, our goal is to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. We want to be like Him and show Him to this world.
We want to be transformed into His image and demonstrate His character in our life. We want to live like Jesus. We want to do the things He did. He told us we would do greater works (John 14:12).
We want to grow in godly wisdom, increase in faith, be transformed in our inner character and mind (Romans 12:2), become godly people, put on Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27), and become holistically what Jesus desires us to be.
We wish to grow closer to Jesus, learn how to do what He did, grow farther from worldliness, sin less, and be good examples of who Jesus is to those around us. We want to be conformed to the image of Christ and have it show on the inside and the outside.
It’s a Process
If you’re like me, you’re getting excited about the paths we will take in this blog series. Has anyone ever guided you through this process of becoming like Christ in spiritual formation? And that’s just it. It’s a process.
You don’t just wake up someday and look exactly like Jesus. The Holy Spirit takes us through the process of growing into the image of Christ. He takes us through trials, molds us through character development, teaches us to be godly and make godly decisions.
The journey is just as important as the destination. We don’t get there at once. But when we do get there, we will be at Jesus’ side. I’ve heard it said that when we become complete in Jesus, we will be in heaven with Him.
This doesn’t mean we won’t look more like Jesus every day as we grow in Him. It doesn’t mean we will not look like Him as we walked this earth. He wants us to be examples of godliness to those around us while we are here.
As we grow in Jesus, the Holy Spirit will return to the same lessons. The more we experience life, have trials, and grow, we will need to learn these lessons in deeper ways. Revisiting previous lessons is not failure. It is learning them as deeper truths and practices for our lives.
Being Conformed to Christ
When I describe spiritual formation and the lessons we learn over and over in deeper ways, does it make you feel like you’ll never “arrive”? I don’t want you to get this impression. Every saint arrives at the perfection God desires from us. But when you do, you graduate to heaven.
Arriving is important. But allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us is just as important as arriving. Just when we think we arrive, we find that were only part of the way there. It’s like humility. The moment I congratulate myself on being humble, I’m right back in the Holy Spirit’s classroom.
The best way I can describe spiritual formation is through Romans 8:29. Paul describes how each Person of the Godhead is for us. When he gets to the Father, he explains His desire and program to conform us to the image of Christ.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28–30, ESV)
I hear Christians quoting Romans 8:28 a lot without the proper context. All things work together for those who love God. But they work together for our godly good. It’s not always the way we want it to happen.
We go through trials, suffering, and persecution. But these perfect our character and bring about God’s program of transformation to make us godly. It’s His good being worked out in us. Through all the hard things we go through, our heavenly Father is forming and growing us mentally, spiritually, relationally, and in our character.
He foreknows us because He made us. He predestined, or predetermined (programmed), for us to guarantee we will be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ. As you desire to be spiritually formed like Christ, our Father makes sure that happens.
Jesus is the firstborn of many believers because we are following Him, being conformed and transformed into His image. As the Father is conforming us to Christ, He calls us into ministry, into His service.
He calls you into ministry for Him and justifies you in Jesus. We will talk about justification in our post on what Jesus does in salvation. When the Father justifies you, He guarantees you are glorified now, and will be glorified into heaven, when Jesus returns.
I get fired up when I think about all our Father is doing on our behalf. He’s doing things we didn’t even know needed to be done. So, this is the foundational verse we will use over and over as we discover and apply the principles of spiritual formation as we grow into Christ through this blog series.
Think about why you want to be spiritually formed into the image of Christ. How much of this process is God working in you, and you being obedient and implementing everything the Holy Spirit teaches you? How do you see yourself being conformed to the image of Christ?
Now that we have defined spiritual formation and how we grow and become conformed to Christ, we start at the beginning. We must understand what God does in salvation, the goals He sets for our new life in Him.