My writing and thinking on the issue of how we grow, how we become less like the broken and more like the healed and in turn more like Christ, is something that I’ve grown to love and wear like a comfortable shirt. I realize, however, that there is a great segment of people to whom the concept of “spiritual formation” has no value, no worth, and beyond that no real application to their life. The reasons vary from “I don’t come from a faith background that talks about it” to “That sounds too mystical and flaky to me.”
I understand both lines of thinking but at the same time it doesn’t change the fact that I believe spiritual formation is critical especially in the shifting cultural climate in which we live.
In order to try and clarify spiritual formation – and in turn hopefully win over some skeptics, let me offer 3 questions that in my mind demonstrate the importance of spiritual formation in the Christian life.
1. How do we REALLY change? There aren’t many people who would deny the need to renovate pieces of themselves or their lives. The solutions are many and varied, including diets and attempts to change one’s mindset through positive thinking. But how do we really change? How does lasting and comprehensive life change take place apart from a set of grace-filled disciplines that change our allegiances and our minds (Romans 12:1-2) so that our heart and our motivations will follow.
2. Is change mandatory or voluntary? Is it possible to live life in Christ without ever taking intentional steps to allow the grace of God to move us beyond comfortable status quo and into new areas of maturity and life? Can we simply coast, doing little, and trusting that we will never lose our salvation? Is that the goal - winning our salvation in the end - or is there a greater life that goes along with transformation? What does it mean to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12)
3. Does maturity simply happen or is it a process that we actively undertake? If the goal is to reach maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11ff), then does maturity come by accident or does it come by our opening spaces to learn and practice? Can we become mature in Christ if we never have a situation arise - perhaps even one where we've strategically placed ourselves by participating in community - where we have to practice forgiveness "as we have been forgiven" (Matt. 6:9-13)?
These are obviously not the only questions, and I know they make several assumptions that not everyone reading this blog will share. However, I believe they are questions we have to take seriously as we pursue the greater life, the life to the full (John 10:10) that we have been promised in Christ.