In Galatians 4:19, the Apostle Paul used a phrase that has fascinated me ever since I first read it.
He says: “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
Spiritual Formation is a relatively new concept in the American Church. I’ve been a Christian for about 55 years and only started hearing the term with any regularity about 15-20 years ago. “Discipleship” seems to be a much more broadly accepted term, yet even that is often subjected to a whole lot of misunderstanding. What exactly does it mean to be a “Disciple” or a “Follower of Jesus Christ?”
In my own personal journey of seeking to understand what Spiritual Formation is all about, I’ve been challenged by a couple of books that have had an enormous impact on my thinking and on my life. They are: The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines, both by the late Dallas Willard. Willard was a Christian thinker and leader who for 40 years was a professor of Philosophy at USC. Someone asked him one time, why he, a Christian, wanted to be a professor in a Secular University and not a local church pastor. Dallas Willard said, in so many words, “I felt that if I was a leader in the Church, I would not be able to have much of an impact in the University, but if I taught in the University, I’d be able to also speak to the Church.”
One of the concepts that has gripped me from Divine Conspiracy as well as other writings, is the idea that when we take the step of trusting in Christ as our Savior and Lord, this decision carries with it the potential of having an enormous impact on our Actual Life. Now, you might say, “Why would anyone accept Jesus Christ into his/her life and not expect it to make a huge impact in their day to day lives.” But—this happens all the time in churches everywhere. As precious as it is to think that by receiving Jesus as Savior, we have the wonderful gift of complete forgiveness and Eternal Life, for many, it often stops there.
I’m not a fan of bumper stickers, but I recall one from years ago that became quite popular for a time among Christians. It read, “Christians aren’t perfect—Just forgiven.” I loved D. Willard’s take on this one. He wrote, “Just forgiven? Is that all there is to being a follower of Christ?” Actually, Christ is interested in so much more! He desires to form our lives around the inner work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to the degree that it actually changes the way in which we live our every day lives. Our Actual lives. But how does He do it? A paradigm or model that has really helped me with this is that Christ-likeness happens in our lives as we: Center our lives on Christ himself. One way to do this is to immerse ourselves in reading the Gospels. Then, within the life centered on Christ there is: (1) The action of the Holy Spirit on our inner life. (Romans chapter 8) (2) The everyday trials of life (James 1:2-4). And finally, (3) Planned disciplines to “Put on a new heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26). These disciplines would be things such as: Solitude and time with God; Prayer; Meditating on the Scripture; etc. If there’s anything I wish I had known in 1963 when I first accepted Jesus into my heart, it would be that there really is a path to walk on toward having a heart like His.
Randy Somody, Spiritual Formation Pastor