Foundations of Spiritual Formation: Personal Morality

Morality (Photo credit: dietmut)

Mick Turner 

All major spiritual traditions recognize the importance of ethical living. Unfortunately, in our post-modern culture the notion of morality and ethical conduct often is either downplayed or overlooked entirely. On the spiritual path, to do either is deadly. If one thinks clearly about the issue of personal morality, it can be easily seen that having an internal moral compass is a tremendous help in two important arenas of life: our character and our relations with others.

Spiritual formation is all about becoming the best version of ourselves for the glory of God and the sake of others. A major component of this growth toward wholeness in Christ is the development of what I like to call “Sacred Character.” The cultivation of Sacred Character is an essential part of the process of spiritual formation, although sometimes teachers, trainers, and spiritual directors only mention it as an afterthought. This trend is unfortunate in the sense that we cannot take our personal morality for granted nor can we afford to give it less than our full attention.

Sacred Character begins with our personal conduct flowing from an internalized value system that we view as important. We need to know just what we believe to be right and wrong. Again, this issue is often glossed over in our post-modern world and this is in many ways a tragedy. In today’s world truth is often relative and situational. What is true for one person and one situation is not true for another person and another situation. In the post-modern world, there is no ultimate truth. The result of this trend is a world populated by people who are many times confused, stressed, and uncertain as to how to respond to various situations. In short, these folks have no moral compass.

As Christians, we should not be vulnerable to this sort of ethical confusion. Although the Bible does not give us guidelines on how to respond to every situation we may encounter, scripture does give us sufficient moral direction to prevent uncertainty as to our response. In James A. Michner’s epic novel, Chesapeake, Edward Paxmore, a Quaker ship builder, repeatedly exemplifies the importance of possessing an internal moral compass. Listen as Michner describes Paxmore:

 In his personal life Edward Paxmore had discovered that a man lived best when he maintained some central belief upon which he could hang all action and to which he could refer all difficult moral problems; he was then vertebrate, with a backbone to sustain him, and he had observed that men and women who failed to develop this central belief wandered and made hideously wrong decisions because in time of crisis they had nothing to which they could refer instantaneously. He had found his backbone in obedience to God, in the simplest form possible and with the most direct access.

Don’t you just love the words Michner uses to describe Edward Paxmore? He was vertebrate and had a backbone to sustain him. And where did Edward Paxmore find his backbone? In obedience to God.

Here is the foundational truth to get down in the depth of your being: Your value system, your sense of personal ethics, is the foundation upon which your spiritual journey is constructed. Without a system of personal morality, you are building your house on sand. I firmly believe that personal morality is one of the strengths of the Christian path toward perfection.

© L.D. Turner 2008/2012 All Rights Reserved


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