As we continue talking about discipleship — the kind of revolutionary
discipleship Jesus modeled, we want to talk about discipleship in terms
that you may not be familiar with, yet.
Spiritual Formation: the process of being spiritually formed
Another term for talking about spiritual growth or discipleship is
“spiritual formation.” This term has been around for a long time,
although it’s probably not too familiar with most people. If
discipleship is the ongoing process of becoming like Christ, that
process is spiritual formation, the process of being formed into the
image of Christ.
The reality is that because you and I are spiritual beings, we are
being spiritually formed all the time. We are being spiritually formed
by people like Rush Limbaugh, Oprah, and even organizations like
How do you want to be spiritually formed?
That’s the question: how do you want to be spiritually formed? We, as
the church, are in the discipleship business; we are in the business of
spiritual formation, forming disciples
for Jesus Christ! We need to think about everything we do as spiritual
formation. We need to view our roles similar to the way an abbot in a
monastery views his role — to exemplify the practice. One of the ways
we spiritually form people is by modeling the way of Christ in our own lives.
We are clay: Jeremiah 18.1–13
I love the imagery in this passage of Scripture, of the potter
creating, shaping, and forming something out of a clump of clay. Paul
wrote in 2 Corinthians 4.7 that “this precious treasure … is held in
perishable containers” … or “earthen vessels,” or “clay jars.”
“Work out” & “Work in”
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my
presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your
salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to
will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2.12–13)
Not “Work for …”
Notice that this passage does not say, “work for salvation.” Paul is
writing this letter to Christians, Christ-followers, people who are
already in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He is not
telling them to work for their salvation.
But “Work out …”
But he is telling them to work out their salvation, to stay involved in
the ongoing process of spiritual formation, the process of being formed
in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ!
Some of the ways we work out our salvation, include prayer, reading
Scripture, fasting, practicing godly discernment, worship, as well as
through our actions.
Being AND Doing
We’ve been talking about “being and doing.” I have said that both are
important; it’s not Either/Or, but Both/And. But, if I was forced to
choose between them, I would have to choose being. If you are
preoccupied with doing without being, you go through the motions, and
your heart is not in it. But I believe that I you and I truly become
like Christ (the goal of being), then we will naturally do God’s will.
And “Work in …
Scripture says, “it is God who works in you …” Spiritual formation,
i.e. discipleship, is a cooperative effort with God working in us.
We think of God working in us through God’s grace. A good ways to think about God’s grace is the way John Wesley understood grace; he saw at least three aspects of grace …
- Prevenient Grace: God’s work in our lives prior to salvation
- Justifying Grace: God’s work of salvation through forgiveness
- Sanctifying Grace: God’s work in our lives from salvation and beyond, forming and shaping us to become like Christ.
“God’s mercy … goes before the unwilling to make him willing; it
follows the willing to make his will effectual.” (Augustine of Hippo)
“Grace is everything for nothing to those who don’t deserve anything.” (Our Daily Bread)
Spiritual Formation in Community
Spiritual formation is not just between God and me. Certainly there is
a personal element; we practice many of the spiritual disciplines alone
with God, but spiritual formation cannot be complete without the
community of faith. We’ll pick up with this idea next week.
“God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t
take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward
for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For
we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so
that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians
“Forwe are God’s masterpiece.” Isn’t that great news? God is forming us and
shaping us into a masterpiece, a work of art. I want to be part of what
God is doing, what about you?
One of my prayers is expressed in a song called, “Touch of Greatness.” Let this be our prayer …
“Oh Lord, take the clay I am; mold me to your plan, as I surrender to
your touch of greatness.” (Joe Beck & Billy Sprague’s song, “Touch