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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Thoughts on Being Spiritually Formed and Transformed.

I will be giving a talk on this topic tomorrow at imagine/Northampton. Below is an expansion of what I will say.

"We always thank God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel which has come to you as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing-as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
And so from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

Over the years I have noticed often that Christians can have a tendency to pigeon-hole spiritual formation/transformation into a number of activities, unwittingly making the means the ends. Here are a few examples:
  •  Living spiritually formed and transforming lives is mostly about not sinning, and trying to be good - not doing what God says is wrong. Certainly learning to live wholly unto God includes working on our sin, but it is a freeing dance of grace with God being in the lead that conforms us to the image of Christ over time.
  • Living spiritually formed and transforming lives is mostly about going to church, reading our bibles, having quiet times to pray, being in a small group, writing a check, i.e., doing our religious "duties" faithfully. Again, all of these activities are means by which the Holy Spirit can teach us to know, love God, and walk in his ways, but they do not comprise the essence of our formation.
  • Living spiritually formed and transforming lives is trying to be really spiritual or pious about the things of God: keeping a prayer journal, going on retreats, fasting, writing and observing a Rule of Life, doing Lectio Divina, or having a Spiritual Director. Any and all of them can be efficacious means of grace toward maturity, but they are not the essence.
  • Living spiritually formed and transforming lives is about going on mission trips (now you're really serious about your faithwalk), attending Christian conferences, going to a Christian college, reading Christian books and attending Christian concerts. God shows up in those situations as well, but they only function as doors not the wellspring of our calling to love God with all we are and have.
The wonder and miracle of what Paul writes so exuberantly about in these Colossian opening passages is that living spiritually formed and transforming lives springs from a radical, existential change of the heart, the core of our being - an astonishing revolution in your fundamental nature takes place. You were a spiritual "corpse" and now you are a new creation in Christ: fully alive and loved in him. Your understanding of yourself must open to this new reality, and along with it, your core values and ultimate life choices have to come under your new identity. If you really get what's happened, you know something earth-shattering has occurred and you'll never be the same.

Paul puts it this way by writing the Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, having delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Jesus) in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Monumental change has overtaken you and God did it sovereignly by grace and mercy flowing from abounding love. He is its Beginning and End.

At the split second of this existential change, your primary identity and true nature are birthed and spiritual formation begins, however stumbling it may be at first. Your deepest identity can no longer be contained by your sex, race, country, family of origin, social status, class, politics or power. You've been given a place in an eternal, universal family. You have been summoned to become a Jesus-follower. Paul says it like this: we are to "be filled (fully immersed in), with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." Our primary identity is to be immersed in relationship with him, knowing him, walking in his ways and working with him in the redemptive Kingdom mission he is completing. If we yield to the Spirit and respond to grace, our transformation deepens over a lifetime

And there are benefits to what has happened to you. Here are a few:

  • The chance to be formed and transformed by having wounds of your heart healed so you are freed to live by faith and love because of the hope which stays and grows in you. It will be an iterative process. Through the Spirit and gifted people summoned to the work of inner healing, you can be gradually released from captivity and the sins of others against you. It can happen at different junctures of your life, but God extends his hand to you time and time again.
  • As you surrender your heart to being formed and transformed by the grace of Christ, you'll notice a growing capacity to trust God and live by faith. It happens through testing and experiencing God's timely faithfulness repeatedly. His word of truth (the Scriptures), gradually helps you increase in the knowledge of him. As you do, you're slowly being strengthened by power to hold fast (endure) to what you believe no matter the adversity or trials you face in life. Acquiring patience with joy through the animating power of God lifts you from being ruled emotionally by your troubling circumstances. You learn to stay the course, regardless.
  • You have the opportunity to be formed and transformed to embrace a life set apart to God (holiness), and his missional Kingdom ways. The incline of your heart can become "your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" through loving and serving people, and by so doing, helping them discover this God who is far more than they ever imagined, i.e., "bearing fruit in every good work." Your priorities and deepest desires turn toward the heart of God that it might be known through you.
Tomorrow afternoon, I will ask the following question of the folks gathered at imagine. Perhaps one relates to you or maybe there are others more apropos to your current walk with Jesus. Take a little time to reflect in a quiet place with him - have a conversation and invite him to help you answer:

"Where do you think spiritual formation and transformation still needs to continue in you?"

  1. Your knowledge of who Christ is, what he has done for you, how he relates to you, or how the Kingdom of God works? How to surrender your heart more fully to him and follow more closely?
  2. The wounds of your heart/life still need inner healing?
  3. Learning to live the spiritual disciplines: prayer, worship, study, service, solitude, etc., as means of grace to be more fully formed in him?
  4. Living your faith more transparently and publicly because you long for others to know him?
Perhaps the best way to close is something God said to my wife Tricia in prayer this week:

"To know my will is to know me,

To follow my will is to know my ways,

To be transformed is to know my ways,

To know who I am is to love me and let me love you."









 
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