Spiritual transformation is not so much a process of creating a “new you” – but instead, is about becoming the “real you.” As we increasingly grow “in Christ” we are led by the Holy Spirit into a deeper level of self-evaluation and, as the Spirit reveals to us both our strong and weak points, we gain understanding into who we are and why we do what we do. It is sometimes a painful process as we begin to see who and what we are behind the various masks we create. Still, this is a part of the process that we must undergo if we are to become useful vessels in God’s kingdom.
In essence, it is all about becoming a person of “authenticity.” An authentic person is a person who is guileless and consistently exhibits impeccable integrity. If more of us displayed just these traits, an absence of guile and consistent integrity, think of how different life would be. Wouldn’t things be more pleasurable and less taxing emotionally if we consistently dealt with people who are trustworthy and responsible?
You see, that is exactly what would happen if we developed enough authenticity to operate without guile and lack of integrity. We could count on others being worthy of our trust and we could also reasonably expect them to do what they said they were going to do.
Many of you must be thinking that this is both naïve and unrealistic. In the real world where “look out for No. One” is the most fundamental moral principle, to think that people can be trusted or that we can expect them to be responsible is nothing more than pie-in-the-sky idealism. This is certainly a viable response, at least on the surface of things. However, I think we need to take a deeper look.
Think of it like this – if we can never expect people to become better than what the currently are, why bother? The fact is, people can become better, a good deal better. Spiritual growth is not only possible, it is practical and furthermore, we live in a universe that is both evolving and purposeful. As integral parts of that evolving universe, we humans, as a whole, are also subject to what amounts to a universal law: something either grows or it dies. As we look about the created order, we can see this principle at work. The minute something stops growing, it begins the process of disintegration. God created a purposeful world and that purpose is continuing to unfold. As part of that purposeful creation, we, too, must continue to grow.
I am always amazed at those people who contend that spiritual formation and the classical spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith are not “biblical.” The fact is, if we didn’t need to grow spiritually, we wouldn’t need a Bible. Further, the notion that we can do nothing to improve ourselves is, in my mind, the worst form of heresy. Not only does it confuse justification with sanctification, but it also slanders the consistent teaching of Jesus, Paul, and Peter. Moreover, it ignores the biblical fact that Jesus, Peter, Paul, and all the rest – prayed, fasted, meditated, and practiced spiritual disciplines such as solitude, celebration, and especially, selfless service to others.
At the end of the day, the purpose of spiritual transformation is to become more authentic and humankind is in the process, sometimes slowly and certainly with pockets of resistance, becoming more authentic.
If we are to, indeed, become more authentic persons the obvious question becomes, from a spiritual standpoint: How do I become more authentic?
Chances are if you ask this question of a dozen different people, you will get 12 different answers, depending on the spiritual framework or tradition a person identifies with and advocates. Still, I think it is vital that we find at least a few universal principles that will help us answer this important question. Regardless of our spiritual tradition, I tend to think we can begin our journey toward authenticity by laying the proper groundwork and this fundamental task is accomplished through the establishment of moral integrity filtered through a well-thought-out and internalized worldview.
Authentic personhood and its foundational spirituality begin and end with personal morality. As I have expressed in other writings, our own system of personal values and morals should serve as the foundation stone for our lives. For me, this means that I have to have a clearly defined worldview and, as part of that worldview, clarity of vision in terms of what is right and wrong. My personal value system serves as my North Star, guiding my actions and fostering better decision making as well as personal integrity. My personal worldview and its component system of morality serves as a matrix through which not only are decisions made, but also, a filter to determine and evaluate how disciplined I actually am. How consistent am I in terms of keeping my behavior in line with my system of personal morality?
A further connection between personal values and my overall worldview is the ability to judge behaviors, feelings, and thoughts in relation to my worldview. Is a particular action, for example, conducive to living by my code of ethics? Will a particular action or decision move me toward the goals that flow out of my worldview? In this sense, is a specific course of action productive or counter-productive in reaching my goals and manifesting my purpose and vision? In this sense, our worldview becomes the matrix through which we can filter our thoughts, feelings, actions, and the events we encounter in our daily lives.
As we have seen, the presence of an internalized system of values and moral integrity, coupled with and flowing from a well-reasoned, cogent worldview are necessary if we are to mature as authentic persons. All of these things, taken together, are intimately connected with one another and form a kind of “spiritual hologram.” By this I mean that each component, the value system, moral integrity, reasoned worldview, and authentic personhood, contains all the elements of the other components.
Granted, putting together a workable worldview involves dealing with intellectual abstractions, but even these cognitive pursuits have their base in every day living. For it is our worldview that gives our lives meaning, purpose, and direction. Further, it is our worldview that forms the basis for our decision making process. Few things are more “down to earth” than these issues.
Authentic personhood, personal responsibility, trustworthiness, and the other spiritual traits we have discussed all flow from the common source of moral integrity and this foundational integrity is anchored in our worldview. Without a worldview, we have no compass to guide our actions – no North Star to serve as a reference point as we attempt to navigate the uncharted waters of our current cultural drift. Using another analogy, it is like weightlessness. Using the metaphor of gravity, Elisabeth Elliot speaks to the importance of our calling to discipleship:
In space, astronauts experience the misery of having no reference point, no force that draws them to the center. The effort of performing ordinary activities without the help of that pull is often vastly greater than it would be under normal conditions (try pouring a glass of water, eating a sunny-side-up egg, or turning a screwdriver – water will not fall, the egg will not stay on your fork, the screwdriver will not revolve; you will). Where there is no “moral gravity” – that is, no force that draws us to the center – there is spiritual weightlessness. We float on feelings that will carry us where we never meant to go; we bubble with emotional experiences that we often take for spiritual ones; and we are puffed up with pride. Instead of seriousness, there is foolishness. Instead of gravity, flippancy. Sentimentality takes the place of theology. Our reference point will never serve to keep our feet on solid rock, for our reference point, until we answer God’s call, is merely ourselves. We cannot possibly tell which end is up. Paul calls them fools who “…measure themselves by themselves, to find in themselves their own standard of comparison.”
From what we have covered in this article, it should be apparent that we, as both a culture and a spiritual tradition, need more people who exhibit authentic personhood, personal integrity, and purposeful living. In fact, it is around such people that the emerging forms of the Body of Christ must be built. With Christ as the cornerstone and authentic people as the foundation, the church can not only survive – it can come alive and thrive.
© L.D. Turner 2009