One of the first thoughts that comes to mind at the mention of spiritual formation is the idea expressed in Romans 8:29; For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brothers. Biblically and fundamentally, spiritual formation concerns all that is involved for followers of Jesus to become like him in life and service. The concept of spiritual formation is implicit in the very word, Christian. This word which is descriptive of those who believe in Christ and follow him has the idea of Christ-likeness, or, Christ-look-alikeness, or, little-Christs. Therefore, the concept of spiritual formation is foundational to what Christian faith is all about; that those who believe in Jesus Christ, should be (and actually appear to be) like him in thought, word, and deed.

In spite of this old biblical idea, the term, “spiritual formation” itself is relatively new in the vocabulary of Protestant evangelical Christians. Its close relative, Christian spirituality, is also a relatively new description of the nature of Christian life and service among those concerned with Bible teaching and shepherding.  And though the practice of spirituality among Christians has been a distinctive feature of the faith from the beginning, spiritual formation is a new and popular way to describe what is understood as God’s intent for believers in his Son.  Spiritual formation then, is the means by which believers in Christ become mature in their faith and experience, whereby they actually look and act like Jesus, because they are in reality united with him and share his character and gifts for ministry.

Theologically, spiritual formation has been the focus and main subject of sanctification.  In Protestant tradition, John Wesley brought the issue of sanctification to the forefront of Christian theology.   It was his emphasis on the need for practical holiness as an expression of genuine faith that became the central issue in spiritual revivals of the time, and since then as well.  Questions of how sanctification occurs became the subject of intense debate and resulted in the emergence of distinct denominations within evangelicalism.  Some of these have accented sanctification as a second work of grace by which it is understood that the believer comes to recognize the subtle and continuing power of sin and yields the will of Christ, and the human spirit to the filling of the Spirit. The Reformed tradition, on the other hand, treats sanctification more as a process of ongoing understanding and obedience to Christ.  In this belief, the believer is technically made completely holy at the time of conversion and justification. But the practical outworking of sanctification is a continuing process.

In the tradition of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, to which this writer belongs, sanctification is understood as a completed action at the time of initial faith for conversion. But true practical sanctification, it is believed, takes place in actual experience, through a separate experience of Spirit-filling as persons by faith, identify themselves fully with Christ in his death and resurrection and yield their wills fully to him and to the Spirit. Yet it is acknowledged that true sanctification is also an ongoing process.

Another more recent development related to spiritual formation has come to understand sanctification as an experience in Christian discipleship.  In this view of spiritual formation, the emphasis falls on the practice of daily obedience to Christ worked out through various disciplines usually related to prayer and meditation in the Scriptures.  The discipleship model is based on the example of Jesus and his disciples as seen in the Gospels.   By contrast, the charismatic movement of the last century looks to the experience and example of Christians in the Book of Acts.  The latter sees sanctification most often as a second blessing of God’s redeeming grace mediated by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Please write for further discussion on this important aspect of Christian life and experience.

© Second Wind Ministries

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