The Importance of a Process for Spiritual Formation
One of the most important questions that a church needs to answer is how do we help people with “spiritual formation.” If that phrase is new to you, it comes from the passionate longing of the Apostle Paul for his spiritual children in Galatians 4:19. My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! Spiritual formation is the process every believer goes through to be inwardly formed and changed into the likeness of Christ. Paul uses an intensive form of the same word in Romans 8:29 when he says that believers are “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” Conformed means “to be fashioned like unto.” Spiritual formation is the process we go through to become more and more like Jesus Christ in our character. It is also called spiritual growth, the process of sanctification or being discipled as a Christ-follower. Several things about this are very important.
First of all, spiritual formation is God’s goal for every believer. Romans 8:29 makes it clear that God wants every believer to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. In Colossians 1:28 Paul says his goal was no less than presenting “everyone mature in Christ.” Every church must call and encourage people to this goal as God’s priority for every believer. At Bethel, our mission statement says that all are to be “becoming Christ-followers who grow” as of first importance.
Another idea involved is that spiritual formation is a process. There is no such thing as instant maturity. It takes time. Hebrews 6:1 says, Therefore leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity. Clearly maturity (spiritual formation into the likeness of Christ) is something that takes time. But it was also clear that it was an attainable goal. Earlier in Hebrews 5:14, the apostle called some believers “the mature.” They had grown to the place that they were like Christ and were modeling His life. It had taken time but they had followed a process that had led them there. The less mature were expected to move on in that process as well. Stagnation was unacceptable to the apostle. Stagnation in a church should never be acceptable to us either.
Another essential element in spiritual formation is that it takes training. The mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice,” Hebrews 5:14. We get our word “gymnasium” from the Greek word used here for trained. It means “to exercise vigorously…either the body or the mind.” The word “practice” means “a power acquired by custom, practice, use.” Spiritual formation is obviously not a passive process. It involves engaging the mind in spiritual exercise so that new powers can be developed by use and practice.
One of the sad things a person may hear from Christians is that “no one ever discipled me.” “I was left to figure out the Christian life on my own.” “I struggled along making little progress because no one ever came alongside of me to help me grow.” How many believers have that sad tale? That is often the result of a church giving little thought to spiritual formation and a process that people can be trained in so they can grow. Here at Bethel we are in the early stages of implementing a simple training process called The 1st Principles that can help believers engage in hands-on spiritual formation guided by mature believers who have grown themselves. You will be hearing more, but for now ask yourself, “What spiritual formation process have I been thru, need to go thru, or need to take others thru to mature me or them in Christ?”
Your friend, in training with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).