“Put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10)
When it comes to promoting spiritual formation, three grand themes of Scripture control content: God’s standard for the Christian life – what he expects of me; God’s provision for me to reach that standard; and my responsibility in accessing that provision. These themes are pervasive in Scripture, but they’re more than pervasive. Actually, they are the point of revelation. Consider them briefly:
God’s standard. God’s standard is no less than God himself. From Genesis where we are created in his likeness to Revelation where the image is fully restored, from Jesus’ command that we are to be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:58) to Paul’s assurance that the new self is being renewed after the likeness of him in whose image it was originally created (Colossians 3:9,10), our goal is God. We must ever hold in pragmatic detail and specific application God’s standard for the Christian life. That could be dreadfully distressing but for God’s provision, so the second great theme of Scripture is God’s provision for our salvation in it’s full splendor from initial forgiveness through the final denouement when we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is (I John 3:2). The standard must be coupled always with the provision.
God’s provision. Enter the Holy Spirit, the one who created us on God’s pattern in the first place (Genesis 1:27), who convicts us of our hopelessness and helplessness (John 16:8), who breathes new life into us (John 3:6), changing us into altogether new creations with vastly new potentialities (2 Corinthians 5:17), who takes up residence as our inside companion (John 14:17), the one who gave us the Book in the first place (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) and who daily illumines it’s meaning, the one who transforms us from one degree of Jesus’ glorious character to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). The person of the Holy Spirit is the provision of the triune God for living godly in an ungodly world.
In the church I attended for two years I loved the profound expository preaching. Gradually, however, I began to realize something was missing. He obviously believed strongly in human sinfulness. He also believed in justification and glorification. But, I gradually came to understand, he didn’t believe in much in between. By selecting only those passages that advanced his “doctrines of grace,” as he termed them, we were left with little hope for the interim between initial and final salvation. But God has made full provision in the person of the Holy Spirit, empowerment to be transformed from one degree of his glorious character to another.
Just as the standard is God himself, so the provision. But, you will ask, how do I connect? How does it happen? So we must be faithful to the implications of our personal responsibility for accessing that provision.
My responsibility. The access code is so simple. And the glorious truth is, it’s available to all! Faith. Faith for initial salvation, faith for transformation, faith for growth toward our goal. “…let us rid ourselves of all that weighs us down, of the sinful habit that clings so closely, and run, with all endurance, the race for which we are entered, our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom faith depends from start to finish” (Hebrews 12: 1,2 Knox, NEB). Why do so many church members seem to be spiritually on hold? Of course, a spiritual plateau isn’t really possible- we’re either spiraling up toward every greater likeness to Jesus and ever greater intimacy with him or we’re spiraling downward, away from that tight connection, ever less like him. So what must we do when the spiral up falters, what’s gone wrong? We say faith is the key, but why doesn’t it seem to work? Why doesn’t the connection seem to produce the promised results?
Perhaps there’s a disconnect after all, perhaps we only plugged into the positive pole of faith, neglecting the negative pole. Bible faith – whether for salvation or sanctification – is bi-polar. Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). If the “faith” is just intellectual assent to certain essential truths, a person is no more saved than the devils who also believe (James 2:19). And sanctification? Yield and trust, the same two poles of biblical faith. Neglect one or the other and growth stops because there’s a disconnect.
These if we are serious about nurturing spiritual formation: God’s standard- himself; God’s provision- the Spirit; and our responsibility- faith. How do you line up with these three themes in spiritual formation? Which of the three are you strong? Which needs further growth? How will you address growing in spiritual formation?
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)