Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Spiritual Formation and Transformation


Tree, in my backyard

One day I hope to finish my book on spiritual formation and transformation. 
This will be a phenomenology of spiritual formation; i.e., a description of what happens rather than a prescription of what we should do. I have 900+ pages of manuscript that I am working with!

Spiritual formation is the ongoing process of Christ forming himself in our heart (spirit); the ever-increasing heart-morphing into Christlikeness. Galatians 4:19 is a key verse here. It reads: 

My dear children, 
for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth 
until Christ is formed in you...

I like how Renovare's Life With God Bible expresses the meaning of this verse and the nature of spiritual formation.

"A hallmark verse for spiritual formation, Gal. 4:19 provides an image of the process of growth for Christians. In this picture it is Christ who is growing in us, rather than we who are growing in Christ. Christ is formed in us by the power of the Holy Spirit as we respond to his ever-present grace in our lives. This occurs in daily, ordinary life as we "practice the presence of God" in our work, our play, our relationships, and all of life. By the Spirit in our hearts we cry out to God "Abba! Father!" (Gal. 4:6) many times throughout the course of a day, acknowledging who we are and whose we are. Christ is also formed in us as we present ourselves as living sacrifices to him through the Spiritual Disciplines, which, far from being the binding legalism Paul condemns in this letter, are the loving response of disciples to God's grace.

Steadily, gradually, Christ looms larger and larger within us. We find ourselves thinking, feeling, believing, serving, and living ore like him. Not only are we becoming more like Jesus; we are becoming more human, more ourselves.

The work of spiritual formation is the subject of this letter [Galatians]. That the Galatians were submitting again to a yoke of slavery - the opposite of spiritual formation - prompted Paul to couch his commuication in the vocabulary of freedom. Spiritual formation and freedom have a dynamic relationship. Curtail one, and the other is stifled. Grow in one, and the other flourishes. Five dimensions of spiritual formation emerge from the text as a result of Paul's emphasis on freedom. These are seismic shifts in the core of his being as Christ is formed in him, in the Galatians, and in us." 

The locus of spiritual formation and spiritual transformation is the human heart. Here is the link to Dallas Willard's "Spiritual Formation: What It Is, and How It Is Done." 

Willard writes: "Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ."

This means that one's heart is formed, or morphed, into Christlikeness (Gal. 4:19). Spiritual formation, Jesus-style, is not about asking "what would Jesus do?" and then trying hard to be like Jesus and do the things he did. If a person had the heart of Jesus, the results would be, inexorably, the kind of interior and exterior life Jesus had. With the "interior" being ontologically prior to the "exterior." As Willard says, "Christlikeness is established in the very depths of our being." This is about "change of the inner person, where what we do originates."

The interesting thing about this is that neither you nor I nor anyone can bring this about. To think that one could do so is to diminish the transcendence of the transformation. I might think that I could, given enough time to practice, transform myself into Lebron James. Had I this belief, you would question whether or not I have seen Lebron James play basketball. Who Christ is so far surpasses us that our formation into Christlikeness can only be achieved by Christ himself,

(Willard's entire article is profound, deep, and insightful. See also Willard's more recent "Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What it is and How it Might be Done.")