Spiritual Transformation from a Christian Perspective (Part One)

Jesus washes the disciples' feet
Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (Photo credit: teawithlizzie)

Mick Turner

For decades the church opted for “membership” over “discipleship” and the fruit of that choice has come back to haunt the Body of Christ. The result is a large number of Christians who are quite shallow and inconsistent when it comes to understanding and implementing the faith they profess. While this creates a cadre of Christians who are lacking depth and discernment in their walk of faith, it also has a domino effect. It is impossible to live as Jesus lived and do as Jesus did without a firm, committed, and consecrated method of Christian practice, especially of the classic spiritual disciplines. Lacking such a practice, these folks wind up giving a poor witness for the faith and as a result, often drive people away from the Master rather than attracting.

It is for these reasons that we must come to have a highly practical and personally applicable definition of just what a disciple is if we want to become the optimal version of who we are, for the glory of God and the sake of others. Margaret Campbell gives us this cogent definition of “disciple” and/or “discipleship.”

A disciple of Jesus is a person who has decided to live in attentiveness to Jesus. We live in attentiveness in order to become like Jesus on the inside and, thereby, able to do what Jesus would do on the outside. As maturing disciples we progressively learn to live in attentiveness, adoration, surrender, obedience, and thankfulness to God, and all of this, without ceasing. Through the hidden work of transformation, God writes his good way on our minds and hearts and this is very good. By his grace, our hearts are divinely changed. We are progressively conformed to be like Jesus in mind and will and soul and word and deed. What we say and what we do more consistently reflect the glory and goodness of God.

If the church is to have any hope of rectifying the situation described above it must passionately embrace the renewed practice of spiritual disciplines within a context of ongoing spiritual formation.

 

Dallas Willard, speaking at the inaugural Pastors Conference in 2001, gave this cogent description of spiritual formation:

Spiritual formation is shaping the inner person in such a way that the words and deeds of Christ naturally flow from us. It is the inward transformation of the self that makes it easy and natural to do the things that Jesus said. Christian spiritual formation is the process. What we call spiritual formation in Christian circles now, is really spiritual transformation. Formation has already happened and that is a major part of the problem. We have already been formed spiritually and we need to be transformed. It is holistic; it applies to all of us. It is not just a matter of changing the center part. It is a matter of the transformation of self so that now your body is going to be set to do righteousness, as previously it was set to do what was wrong.

Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms that have in a very real sense been “spiritually formed.” For example, let’s recall the words of Peter:

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share in his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires (2 Peter 1: 1-4 NLT).

Each time I read these words of the apostle Peter I am moved to a place of stunned silence. If this is one of those passage of scripture that you have often read, but just quickly glossed over the words then you have done yourself a great disservice. Go back and carefully and prayerfully read over these four verses, soaking in the incredible message they contain. God has already provided everything we need in order to live the kind of life Jesus calls us to live. Along these same lines, Paul tells us that the Father has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ” (Eph. 1: 3). As Dallas Willard told us in the quotation cited above, we have already been formed. It is now up to us to become transformed.

I firmly believe that we are transformed by bringing down these spiritual blessings, these incomparable gifts of the Father, from the spiritual realm into the concrete and clay of our daily living. We do this first and foremost by accepting these gifts on faith. Just as we were restored to right standing with God by faith, we also appropriate the gifts he has already given us by faith. Second, we make these spiritual blessings, including the day-to-day ability to lead the Christian life as defined by Jesus, by making ourselves receptive. We do this through the committed practice of the classic spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith. Third, we follow Christ by abiding and we do this by immersing ourselves in his teachings and especially by living in obedience to those teachings. And finally, we make ourselves receptive by emulating Christ in walking the path of selfless service to others – in ways both great and small with take up our towel and basin and find some feet to wash.

To be continued…

(C) L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved

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