The Two Staples of Spiritual Formation
Anyone interested in the Christian way of life would rightly understand the concept of spiritual formation. It is essentially the sanctifying process by which we are conformed to Christ; “spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” The perennial verse for this process is Romans 12:2:
I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
You see, for the Christian, change is not optional. John MacArthur once stated that to know if someone truly is a disciple of Jesus Christ, the only evidence is a fully transformed life. This is spiritual formation, and it is entirely focused on Jesus. Dallas Willard wrote: “Its goal is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ. Obedience is an essential outcome of Christian spiritual formation (John 13:34–35; 14:21).”
There are two essential components to spiritual formation all eager students should learn first before they journey down this road; that is the concept of radical corruption and how calling plays into spiritual formation. Without a proper understanding of these two components, believers will find themselves suffering through the pitfalls of sin remorse and vocational bewilderment.
The idea of radical corruption, or original sin is often not associated with spiritual formation, and this is a grave error. Without understanding and coming to grips with the evil that the flesh fights for, it makes spiritual formation a long and arduous one. Everything goes through spiritual formation, not just Christians. All people experience some sort of spiritual transformation either into Christ or deeper into darkness. This is evident in the world around you, but it makes understanding your transformation easier and handling sin better. You will sin and so will others along this journey.
Recognizing the potential evil of the soul and a propensity to stand in opposition to the will of God is the humble first step. Before one can become conformed to the likeness of Christ, he/she needs to accept how we are now more formed into the likeness of Adam. “The biblical, prophetic illumination of the human soul in its lostness is emphatic, starkly clear, and repeated over and over, from Moses and Samuel to Jesus, Paul, and John. The only path of spiritual transformation today still lies through this illumination.” By clearly coming to grips with your brokenness, grounds you in humility and protects you from hubris and sacrosanctity. This will shield you from grief and depression from sinful action. It is a coping mechanism for the unpretentious.
The second foundation of spiritual formation is recognizing what true Christian calling is. This is one of the biggest problems with modern Christendom. Just because you have become a Christian does not mean God has called you to leadership, teaching, evangelism, etc. The first and highest calling is to be known by God, and for you to know Him. Paul Petitt aptly writes:
Our primary calling is to a living and dynamic relationship with God. Throughout Scripture, the chief concern is always God calling his children to himself and calling his children to a life of holiness. Our primary calling is the umbrella under which we function as believers. We are called first and foremost to God, not to just a role, a career, or a location. Our call to salvation and sanctification is paramount to any talk about the specifics of our life. The primary call for all believers is to God. The functional call (which follows) is how we live out our primary calling.
This is one of the safest and important pieces of theology that will only compliment your spiritual formation. Understanding what calling is prevents awkward conversations, unrealistic goals, and troubled ministry.
Gordan Smith breaks up calling into three valuable categories:
- The general call—the invitation to follow Jesus, to be Christian.
- The specific call—a vocation that is unique to a person, that individual’s mission in the world.
- The immediate responsibilities—those tasks or duties God calls us to today.
These are safe and helpful expressions of calling seen through the lens of vocation. Not every Christian is called to serve in ministry, but every Christian is called to serve in one capacity or another. Everyone is called to follow Jesus. From there each person needs to evaluate his/her special call, based on personal bias and spiritual gifts, and find some way to serve in God’s Kingdom in a righteous capacity where His glory is exalted, and the great commission honored. From there each, and every, disciple of Jesus Christ is called to live out their spiritual formation in real-time, with real people, in real situations – daily.
Once we recognize our calling, we have to own the fact that God then calls us to the community. “God’s program of redemptive covenants restores community between the faithful and God, and with one another.10 If nothing else, the epic history of salvation unfolds the restoration of communion between God and humanity, and between the individual and the rest of human society.” It is in community, with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that we live through them in community with one another and let our light shine to those in need of redemption (Matthew 5:16).
Learning these two foundations of spiritual formation will aid the process while blockading the road from unwanted grief and sorrow due to ill-fated whimsy. Knowing who you are and what you are called to do is paramount to serving the Kingdom of God and being properly transformed to the image of Christ.
Pettit, Paul. Foundations of Spiritual Formation: A Community Approach to Becoming Like Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc., 2008.
Smith, Gordon T. Courage & Calling: Embracing Your God-given Potential. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011.
WILLARD, DALLAS. RENOVATION OF THE HEART: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress PUB GROUP, 2002.
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2002), 22.
 Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.
 Paul Pettit, Foundations of Spiritual Formation: a Community Approach to Becoming like Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, a division of Kregel, Inc., 2008), 19.
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Hear, 22–23.
 Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, 49.
 Paul Pettit, Foundations of Spiritual, 198.
 Gordon T. Smith, Courage and Calling: Embracing Your God-given Potential (Westmont, IL: IVP Books, 2011).
 Paul Pettit, Foundation of Spiritual, 75.