Question: Who is "responsible" for our spiritual formation? Us or our creator? Read on and let me know what you think. As always, Peace...
To hold the person of Christ as the example to whom I am supposed to conform; to make the characteristics of Christ the standard to which I must aspire; and to spend my days striving to be meet those standards destroys the relationship as it was intended to form and transforms the characteristics of Christ into nothing more than a new version of the law of Moses – and me into nothing more than a physical man striving to live in a spiritual world as opposed to a spiritual being existing as I am in this physical world.
In short, I am not Jesus Christ, can never be Jesus Christ, and insult Jesus Christ by trying to be like him in my present state of existence. Moreover, the proposition that our point and purpose as followers of Christ is to strive to become like him is a lie and as such a work of the enemy. It is a lie that not only causes us to “miss the point,” as it were, but deny Christ the very access to our “selves” that he wishes. Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, desires to live and breathe and minister again on earth IN and THROUGH us. He wishes to be in such a deep personal relationship with us that his spirit and our spirit become one and the same - as the two became one flesh.
In the context of a relationship of this nature, one will not have to strive to be like Christ. Christ will simply be himself. As such, we will no longer work to be kind – we will become kind. We will no longer work to be patient – we will become patient. We will no longer strive to love – we will become loving. We will become as Christ is. This is the point and purpose of our relationship with Christ and as such the point and purpose of Christianity. Therefore, it is the point and purpose of our spiritual formation to authenticate and deepen the relationship with Christ into which we enter.
If we remember the words of Willard, we will remember that is nothing we can do to become more spiritual – we are spiritual. What we are doing in spiritual formation is simply exploring the way God made us in our true natures. It is not a process. Process denotes that there is a methodology to be followed – a step by step set of rules that can be adhered to – and an end. This causes us to fall easily into the lie of the enemy that it is our doing and creates the “business model” for spiritual formation. I much prefer the term journey and the metaphor of marriage in order to describe that of which I write. Can you imagine first asking your spouse to marry you then giving them a list of characteristics and standards to which you now expect them to adhere?
The question of how this is accomplished is best answered with one word – prayer. Prayer is our conversation with Christ. Prayer as a noun denotes the special nature of that conversation; and prayer as a verb tells us that it is something with which and in which we engage. As an adjective used to describe the lifestyle of a Christian, perhaps prayerful is best used. Again, the enemy tells us that prayer is something so special that it is to engaged in only at certain times and in certain ways and perhaps even only with certain people. This too is a lie meant to deceive and drive a wedge in our relationship with Christ.
Prayer is the simple expression of our spiritual “selves” and is more of a state of being than an endeavor. Scripture teaches us that we are made to worship – thus, by extension, we are made to pray. Living with Christ is a matter of recognizing him dwelling within you literally on a minute by minute basis. This recognition takes the form of prayer – simple, heartfelt, authentic, prayer in which we engage Christ through the Holy Spirit and recognize his spirit as ours. Breathe in, breathe out – pray. Recognize the Holy Spirit in you; ask for his mercy; thank him for loving you; intercede for another; tell him you love him. Soon he will become you and you will become him. It is the miracle of sanctification – the ultimate Christian spiritual formation.
Being able to share this with brothers and sisters in Christ is a wonderful and important experience. Just as we are made to worship, we are made to worship together. People bonded by the Holy Spirit share an intimacy that the world cannot make available regardless of the lies of the enemy tell us. Those with whom we share this bond truly become our brothers and sisters in the family of God and this creates the foundation of congregation – the foundation of church; for just as God seeks to transform individuals by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling individuals, he seeks to transform his kingdom by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling his church.
It is in the Holy Spirit we find our lives, but it is in congregation that we find the expression of those lives. In congregation we not only see the face of Christ as it is reflected in us; we see the face of Christ as he emanates from others. We learn from our savior as he gathers with us in congregation and we worship him there as he expresses himself to us in the lives and the actions and the tragedies and the triumphs of all who live with him and for him. There are as many expressions of Christ as there are believers in Christ yet all share a singular bond and bring forth a singular power from within – the power of love. The Father is love, the Son is love and the Holy Spirit is love. Regardless of the behaviors we demonstrate as we live and worship together in congregation, we demonstrate them in the common bond of love.
We sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others when we commit to congregation. We agree that the needs of the congregation will always come before our individual needs and in so doing submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit as a church just we submitted to him as an individual – knowing that in so doing, we will have every need of our own met. The loving arms of the body of Christ invite us to rest in the Gospel as it plays out in the day-to-day life of the church and her members. A congregation in Christ is a safe place in which to rest and quickly becomes a place in which we can make ourselves vulnerable. It is when we serve one another from this place of vulnerability that a congregation truly becomes a family of God; for by the collective weaknesses of its members, a congregation s made strong in the Lord.
We cannot gather together and try to be a congregation. We must gather together, confess our sin, submit to Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, allow him to transform us and in so doing we will become a congregation. A congregation cannot be loving, it must become loving. A congregation cannot be sacrificial; it must become sacrificial. A congregation cannot be generous; it must become generous. It must become as Christ is; and this is only accomplished by communal transformation made possible by the life and breath of the Holy Spirit of God
We recognize that we are citizens of the kingdom of God. As such, our individual and communal behavior is based on the teachings of Jesus as it relates to the kingdom of God. This means that we should put away all of the “how to do church” books that are chock full of programmatic advice and step by step church growth principles and pray. There is nothing that a congregation can “do,” that will not reduce its place and function from the salvanic bride of Christ to a business of Christianity and social justice. We must remember that the secular world can do everything that the church can do except display God’s grace. In short, the behavior of the church must be a result of its relationship with Christ – not an effort to demonstrate its devotion to Christianity.
In congregation we experience the manifest Kingdom of God as it is displayed in the transformed hearts of believers. Joined together there is nothing that cannot be accomplished in the name of Christ of, by, and for the Kingdom according to God’s perfect will. Opening ourselves individually and then congregationally to the nature of the Kingdom of God is point and purpose of our worship and our prayer; for it is only when we go beyond the law to its fulfillment in Christ that we stop striving to “be” – as individuals and as a church – and allow ourselves to “become” what it is that Jesus wills. The purposes of congregation are to first transform (the individual), and then be transforming (to the Kingdom of God on earth).
The purpose of congregation, of the church, thus becomes bringing to fruition the Kingdom of God on earth as God intends it to be. This is the transformation that occurs when a congregation submits to the will of the Father. The mission of the church, as a result, becomes to increase the dominion of the Kingdom of God by Word and be deed. This is the transforming power that is imbibed to a congregation as a congregation grows in Christ; and Christ grows in a congregation. This also represents the falling away point for so much of the church for at some point most congregations stop becoming and start being – for the sake of being – once again.
Providing food for the hungry, homes for the homeless, counseling for the troubled and shelter for the tormented stop becoming the natural outgrowths of the power of the Holy Spirit in community and start being the sorts of programs that a church is known for. Mission becomes the mission – not the Kingdom. Mission becomes an end in itself and people once again become lost in the race to the top of the ladder of salvation as they strive to please God from the very wrong, temporal places of their hearts. We forget that the work that is being done is the very work of Jesus Christ on earth; thus we must be submitted to him, allowing him to live and breathe and do what he wills in us and through us. “We” have very little to do with it other than allowing Jesus occupation of our carnal being so that he can build his Kingdom throughout his creation. Just as we as believers proclaim that it is not me but Christ who lives in me; we as a church can proclaim the same.
The Kingdom of God is indeed within us and when we come together as submitted disciples of Christ in Christian congregation, then the Kingdom has a chance to perpetuate itself beyond the capacity of one person into the potential of community.
God has spoken to me in a variety of ways and continues to surprise me as the months and years progress. There have been, however, two primary ways in which God reveals his will to me: feelings and direct words. The two are actually closely related – although it did not used to be this way. I will explain.