How Christian spiritual formation helps us become people who live and love well.
How does having a loving relationship with God actually change us? Many people say they have a relationship with Jesus. But do they 'live and love well'? God is an artist (not a factory foreman) and we are his masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10), not robots. As such, God will shape, work and tend to your soul in unique, individual, mysterious and personal ways.
However, it's helpful to be able to conceptualize the process of spiritual formation so we have something tangible to apply and notice in our lives.
spiritual formation is like a triangle
At the centre of this triangle, and our formation, is our friendship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are "hidden with Christ in God". God is at the centre of our life and we are changed through relating to Jesus as a friend.
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3
relationship is at the centre
We are hidden in God and immersed in the Church. Imagine the inside of the triangle is filled with your Christian community. Our relationships with other believers wrap around our life in God, they are essential to our spiritual formation. We can’t say: I don’t need you, I’ll grow in Christ on my own, I only need God. Actually, we need each other. We need the Church. When people say, "I can be a Christian without going to church", that may be technically correct. But your spiritual formation will be stunted. More then that, others will miss out on the formation you can bring to them.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you! 1 Corinthians 12:19-21
our mental picture of god
The top point of our formation triangle will be the picture we hold of God. The things we believe about God and the gospel will influence our formation because we become like the God we worship. When we have a healthy picture of God, we'll know God’s will and begin to understand his heart, his ways, his desires. This will shape who we become.
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
ordinary life events
The bottom points on our triangle refer to the things we do. On the left point are the ordinary events of life. It's helpful to appreciate that we have a great deal of input into our everyday choices, habits and routines. We can choose how receptive we are to God's good work through these ordinary life events because everything that happens in life will be used by God to shape and form us.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
The final point on our triangle are spiritual practices. These are the actions we take to throw off the things that hinder our formation, and the sin that prevents us growing in Christ. Spiritual practices are ways we run our Christian race, they are the things we do that help us fix our eyes on Jesus.
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
So, how does God change us?
It’s an interplay between what we believe (our thoughts), what we do (our actions), and who is in our life (our relationship with God and the Church). Each part of the triangle will influence the other parts. However, a key way we can sow into our spiritual formation is through the spiritual practices we choose to build into our life. What one practice would you like to explore, and make part of your everyday living?