Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Spiritual formation

I began my devotional reading this year with Dallas Willard's book Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ. Much is said today about spiritual formation and its importance for the Christian. However, Willard points out that all people have their spirit formed by something. He writes

"All people undergo a process of spiritual formation. Their spirit is formed, and with it their entire being...Spiritual formation is not something just for especially religious people. No one escapes. The most hardened criminal as well as the most devout of human beings have had a spiritual formation. They have become a certain kind of person."

One's spiritual formation may have been a positive one or a negative one, but each of us have been shaped by that formation. Through it we have developed a worldview that impacts how we view every experience.

Our spiritual formation comes through a lifetime of the books we read, the life experiences we have, the movies we watch, the friends we have, the education we receive, the religious training we receive (or its lack) and the way significant people relate to us. Virtually everything we experience from birth forms our spirit.

This is why we cannot be satisfied with simply seeing people come to faith in Christ. The act of accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior cannot undo a lifetime of experiences when it comes to spiritual formation. We may become new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), but we need to have our spirits transformed so that this new creation becomes a living reality.

Unfortunately, it is here that many churches fall short. We only have to look at how many Christians live their lives to see that those lives are often not much different from those who have never accepted Christ. Attend a business meeting in many churches and watch the immaturity of people as they oppose anything that might threaten their position in the church, and you will see people whose spirits have not been transformed. Listen to the theological beliefs of many Christians and you soon realize their lack of understanding of even basic doctrine.

The church has fed its members milk far too long. It's time we added some meat to the menu if we want to see people grow and mature in their faith (Heb. 5: 12-14). We must begin to take discipleship seriously if we want to see people's spirits transformed. We must begin to preach and teach the whole counsel of God even if it makes some people uncomfortable.

Believe me, when I went away to Navy boot camp in 1967 I found it a very uncomfortable experience. But, it was a necessary one. The military needed to change the way we had been taught all our lives how to think and act, and it needed to happen in a hurry. Until they could change our previous ways of understanding the world, they couldn't train us in how they wanted us to think and act.

One of the reasons the church has been so ineffective in the past few generations is that we haven't challenged our people to change how they think and act. Oh, we give people a list of things they shouldn't do any more, but we often don't explain why. Even worse, we don't teach them to observe the things Jesus taught us (Mt. 28: 20). We do little to help them experience a spiritual transformation.

Let's make 2016 a year we change this. Every church needs to take a look at its discipleship training and determine how effective it has been in training disciples. If it's effective, praise the Lord! If not, then let's begin to make some changes to help our people experience the spiritual transformation each of us needs.

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