In the Christian’s journey of faith it is foundational to understand the following biblical principles before we travel very far down the road of spiritual formation:
God has provided everything we need in order to develop and evolve spiritually. It seems he has done this in ways that are highly mysterious but also highly effective. One way of looking at it is that he has provided all that we will ever need on the spiritual level and also he has provided, through the person of the Holy Spirit, the power we need in order to contact these spiritual blessings and bring them down from the spiritual world and into manifestation in our daily lives.
Once we understand this fundamental reality, the logical questions now center on what our responsibilities are in this process. Some advocates of the “everything is by grace” school would insist there is nothing we can do to grow in the spiritual life, but even a minimal check of the reality of the situation would prove that position untenable. There is plenty for us to do as the process of our spiritual development, what is called our “sanctification,” is a joint venture.
Our part in this is first, to place ourselves into a position of receptivity and obedience. We can increase receptivity by practicing the classical spiritual disciplines, especially meditation, prayer, lectio divina, and contemplation. In terms of obedience, we do not need to make this process overly complicated. Most of God’s will for our lives in revealed in Sacred Scripture, but many of us ignore this aspect of obedience by looking for God’s “specific will,” which is fine, but can also be an exercise in self-absorption.
The other aspect of practical Christianity involves advancing God’s kingdom through service to others. That service, motivated by compassion and fueled by kindness is our main task. If we are to be truly obedient, we start right here.
So you see, here we have three aspects of practical faith before us:
The fourth element I might add to this is Sacred Character. The formation of sacred character is the goal of any path of spiritual formation. Sacred Scripture informs us that we have the mind of Christ and few of us it seems realizes just what a blessing this is. In addition to our own mind, we have operating in us the same mind that operated in Jesus when he walked the earth. We find that mind through quieting our own internal chatter enough to encounter Sacred Silence. The disciplines of meditation and especially contemplation are highly important here. It is through the transformative encounters we have with Sacred Silence and our Inner Light that the foundation stones for our journey of spiritual formation are laid. Encouraged by our increasing contact with the Divine Source, we are better equipped to walk boldly in the world and deal with the vicissitudes of life.
Sacred Character is synonymous with moral integrity. We know who we are, how we are supposed to live, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we live consistently with those values. Sacred Character means that we have a highly developed, internalized worldview and concomitant value system and that we live accordingly. In this way, Sacred Character becomes a bridge that connects our receptivity and our obedience with our service to the world. Here, then, we have the dynamic of our four responses to God’s grace and equipping:
If we seek a workable model of a person who integrated these four aspects of a dynamic relationship with the Father, we need look no further than Jesus. If ever a person was receptive and obedient to God, it was the Master. A deep, abiding sacred character was also evident in all Jesus said and did. And as far as service is concerned, Jesus gave us a great example in the 13th chapter of John when he introduced the disciples (and us) to the ministry of the towel.
I am certain you are aware of Paul’s idea, repeated in one way or another throughout his correspondence with the fledgling churches, of the relationship between Jesus and God. Paul tells us that all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ, which meant that God and Jesus were in some mysterious way the same being. In the Jewish culture of his day, Paul was making an incredible claim here. Jews were not supposed to make any image of God and even to speak his name was considered a capital offense. Now, here was Paul echoing Jesus by implying that the great and mighty Jehovah was in essence a loving, creator who was not only the Father of Jesus, but was also Jesus himself. And the reverse was true. Jesus was not only a great teacher and a skilled Rabbi; He was not only a great healer and the leader of a band of shady-looking disciples; Jesus, according to Paul, was Jehovah Himself.
Standing alone, that sort of statement was enough to give the High Priest a major migraine. Paul, however, wasn’t finished. In fact, he was just getting started. If you take a look at Ephesians 3:19, the Apostle tells the early church members that he prays “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (NSRV) Here Paul was pulling no punches; instead, he went straight for the knockout. Paul basically was saying that he prayed for and believed that, as Christians, the new believers were expected to become like Jesus.
No wonder the religious establishment saw Paul as a dangerous, if not demented, man. Equating Jesus with God was a reach. Saying that a human being could become like Jesus was beyond the pale of comprehension and acceptability.
Yet is precisely the character of Christ that we are charged to develop within ourselves. In order to accomplish this great mission we have a divine partner in the Holy Spirit and our Christian brothers and sisters for power, guidance, and support. An open, honest relationship with the Holy Spirit is where we must place our energies at this time, even though much confusion and lack of knowledge about the Holy Spirit exists. We are told by Jesus that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is where we are to focus our efforts for learning and guidance. Unfortunately, many of us refuse to get too close to the Spirit, as we operate primarily out of fear and ignorance.
Part of our process of appropriating the divine gifts already provided by God in the spiritual realm involves claiming them. This process is not so much “name it and claim it” as often espoused in the so-called “Prosperity Gospel,” but does involve a similar principle. We are not claiming something that is not rightfully ours, but instead, we are claiming the free gifts of grace provided to us and for us as joint heirs with Christ. In this sense, we do “name and claim,” – we name and claim what scripture tells us we should name and claim. In fact, if we fail to claim these free gifts of God’s grace we are, in essence, rejecting much of what Christ achieved on our behalf.
One other aspect of this also needs to be mentioned. By naming and claiming the gifts of character that are rightfully ours by virtue of our new status of being “in Christ,” we are not pushing God to act in our behalf and do our bidding. Instead, we are recognizing, accepting, and appropriating what God has already done through Christ. This may seem to be a subtle distinction, but it makes all the difference in the world. By recognizing and claiming our scriptural status as new creations in Christ, we are exercising our faith in God and praising him for what he has already accomplished.
Unlike the prosperity preachers, we are not turning God into some sort of cosmic bellhop who fetches at our command. Instead, by claiming his free gift of a new heart, a renewed mind, and a transformed character, we are recognizing God for what he is, a loving Father who has provided everything we will ever need to live the kind of life he desires for us.
As new creations in Christ, we are blessed indeed.
© L.D. Turner 2009/All Rights Reserved