Every person is as spiritual as he or she wants to be.
God has called us, created us and redeemed us. In order to fulfill His calling, we must have the right inner substance or character. We must come to grips with who we really are, inside and out. For we will do what we are.
We will need to become the kind of people who routinely and easily walk in the goodness and power of Jesus our Master. For this, a process of “spiritual formation”—really, transformation—is required. Here are just a few New Testament verses that pertain to this topic:
“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”
“Since we stand before so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, with our eyes set on Jesus, who initiated our faith and will bring it to perfection.”
“There is no good tree which produces bad fruit….
The good man out of the good stored up in his heart, brings forth what is good.”
Spiritual formation for the Christian is a Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self –our “spiritual” side—in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself. In the degree to which such a spiritual transformation to inner Christlikeness is successful, the outer life of the individual will become a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus. We will simply “walk the walk,” as we say.
Christlikeness of the inner being is not a merely human attainment, of course. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Nevertheless, well-informed human effort is indispensable. Spiritual formation in Christ is not a passive process. Grace does not make us passive. Divine grace is God acting in our life to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. It informs our being and actions and makes them effective in the wisdom and power of God. Hence, grace is not opposed to effort (in actions) but to earning (an attitude).
Paul the Apostle, who perhaps understood grace as none other, remarks on his own efforts for Christ: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (2 Cor. 15:10) The supernatural outcome that accompanies grace-full action stands out.
Spiritual growth in Christ is the way of rest for the weary and over-loaded, of the easy yoke and the light burden (Matt. 11:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and the dish (Matt. 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (Luke 6:43). It is the path along which God’s commandments are found not to be “heavy.” (1 John 5:3).
We need to be clear about the general pattern that all effective efforts toward personal transformation—not just Christian spiritual formation—must follow. Because we are active participants in the process, and because what we do or do not do makes a huge difference, our efforts must be based on understanding. The degree of success in such efforts will essentially depend upon the degree to which this general pattern is understood and intentionally followed. Jesus indeed said that without him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) But we can also be sure that if we do nothing it will be without him. So he commands us to “abide in the Vine.” (15:1-7) We must find a way to do that.
Let us begin with a couple of easy illustrations, and then spell out the pattern in its generality.
Learning to Speak Arabic
Suppose someone wishes to speak a language they do not presently know: say Arabic or Japanese. In order to carry through with this simple case of (partial) personal transformation, they must have some idea of what it would be like to speak the language in question—of what their lives would then be like—and why this would be a desirable or valuable thing for them. They also need to have some idea of what must be done to learn to speak the language, and why the price in time, energy, and money that must be expended constitutes a ‘bargain,’ considering what they get in return. If they are to succeed, all of this needs to be clearly before them. They need to be gripped by the desirability of it. That would be their vision.
The general absence of such a vision explains why language learning is generally so unsuccessful in educational programs in the United States. The presence of such a vision, on the other hand, explains why the English language is learned at a phenomenal rate all around the world. Multitudes clearly see the ways in which their life might be improved by knowledge of English. As the vision is clear and strong, it pulls everything else required along with it; and the language is learned, even in difficult and distracting circumstances.
Still, more than vision is required, and, especially, there is required an earnest intention. Projects of personal transformation do not succeed by accident, drift, or imposition. Effective action has to involve order, subordination, and progression, developing from the inside of the personality. It is, in other words, a spiritual matter, a matter of meaning and will, for we are spiritual beings. Conscious involvement with “order, subordination, and progression, developing from the ‘inside’ of the personality,” is required.
Imagine, if you can, a person wondering day after day if he or she is going to learn Arabic, or if he or she is going to get married to a certain person—just waiting, to see whether it would “happen.” That would be laughable. But many people actually seem to live in this way with respect to major issues involving them, including spiritual growth. That fact goes far to explain why lives often go as badly as they do. To learn a language, as for the many even more important concerns of life, we must resolutely intend the vision, if it is to be realized. That is, we must initiate, decide, bring into being, those factors that would turn the vision into reality.
And that brings us to the final element in the general pattern of personal transformation: that of means or instrumentalities. Carrying through with the pattern for the illustration at hand, one will sign up for language courses, listen to recordings, buy books, associate with people who speak Arabic, immerse yourself in the culture, possibly spend some intensive times in Jordan or Morocco, and practice, practice, practice. There are means known to be effective toward transforming people into speakers of Arabic or Russian, etc. This is not mysterious. If the vision is clear and strong, and the employment of the means thoughtful and persistent, then the outcome will be ensured.
Speech given to the Augustine Group, 2005. Read more at www.dwillard.org.
Used by permission.