So, what exactly is “Spiritual Formation?”
Welcome to “Inside The Cup Podcast” with Mike and Holly Walsh
Season 1: “How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
Episode 3: “Spiritual Formation”
Once we take the step to become a disciple of Jesus, we have already had a spiritual formation. Our spirit and our character have already been “formed” in a world that runs apart from the things of God. Habits that lie stored up in our bodies produce much of our actions without us even choosing to do so. These habits must be changed if our actions are to be different.
Christian spiritual formation is taking all the parts of the person through a process where they are “formed” or shaped to look more like Jesus.
So, more accurate than spiritual formation then, is spiritual transformation. Jesus takes us on just as we are and we are brought through a process over time, where all the dimensions of the person (our heart, mind, body, soul, and social context) are all changed or transformed to look more like Jesus.
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Spiritual Formation | Episode 3, (04/14/22)
Season 1: How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Holly: Welcome back to Inside The Cup Podcast. This week, we’re going to talk about spiritual formation. That’s a pretty trendy term, Mike.
Mike: It is. You hear that a lot these days.
Holly: It sounds kind of cool. Spiritual formation. You have a masters in spiritual formation.
Mike: I do have a masters in spiritual formation.
Holly: And when I met you, I was like, “So what are you studying?”
Mike: It’s probably still a question: “What is this spiritual formation thing mean?” You know, we hear the word and the term a lot now in Christian circles, but I think in all…if we’re being honest, I think we’re all kind of thinking: “What in the world does that mean? Or what exactly does that mean?” Yeah, these things sound fancy, but let’s talk about what they are, and in a practical way, so we can really grasp what they mean.
Holly: So, what is Christian spiritual formation? Well, Christian spiritual formation is taking all the parts of the person through a process where they are formed to look more like Jesus.
Mike: Yeah “formed” to look more like Jesus. So spiritual formation is a process of forming us to look more like Jesus. Forming our mind to look more like the mind of Jesus, forming our body so that it’s used in a way that Jesus used his body. That’s Christian spiritual formation. So, at the time that we become a disciple, once we decide to become a disciple of Jesus, it’s not starting from scratch or from Ground Zero. We’ve already been formed to that point in our life and for the most part, we’ve been formed in a world that runs contrary to the things of God. So, now we’ve got all of that formation in our bodies, and in our minds to start with.
Holly: Our current character consists of habits that are already hardwired in us into our bodies, ready to go without even thinking about it or consciously choosing to do something. I grew up dancing and so it always makes me think of all the things that were already formed in me. My ballet instructor would tell me, “Move your hips this way and you’ll be able to turn more.” But then I would start turning and I would not move my hips the way she told me. It was just naturally, already in me. It took a lot of effort to think about, “OK, if I just do this, then I’ll be able to do multiple turns instead of my…just double or triple turn.
Mike: Yeah, that’s habit. So, your hips were acting without consulting your mind ahead of time.
Holly: A lot of times. I’d have to place the effort there in my mind of “OK, when I start this pirouette, this is how I’m going to form my body, so I’m able to turn easier.”
Mike: So, we’ve all got these habits and they’re hardwired into our bodies and our minds. And so who we are at the point we become a disciple of Jesus is really a complex result of our unique make up, our environment, our past experiences, our past decisions, and that’s formed us to this point. The person that we are, the character that we have.
Holly: So, more accurately than spiritual formation is spiritual transformation.
Mike: Yeah, we’re being transformed. We’ve already had a formation of our spirit and our character. So, then when we become a disciple, we talk about changing to become more like Jesus, it’s actually being transformed from the person we were initially to the person we become as a disciple.
Holly: So being a disciple does not mean that you are already spiritually advanced, but rather you are in a place to grow.
Mike: Yeah, it makes change possible now that you’ve become a disciple. So, an example I can take for this, I’ve gone through a lot of school at this point and one of the interesting points…
Holly: Just a little.
Mike: One interesting point in my educational journey is when I was in undergrad, as a pre-Med student. So, sometimes what would happen there would be some kind of medical urgency or situation break out and people would scramble and say, “Ahh, get Mike he’s a pre-Med student.” You know, somebody is having like…some poor person’s having an asthma attack or something and “Go get Mike, he’s a pre-Med student.” They’d rush me over and I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t know anything about medicine,” you know? And then…people didn’t know that. But I was a pre-Med student. What that meant was, you know, I’m taking some of these classes, I’m taking biochemistry and calculus and…which is important. It meant I was on the pathway to going to medical school, you know, I was following the path that you take to become a doctor. But at that point, I actually knew absolutely nothing about medicine.
Holly: So, you couldn’t help out that poor person that was having an asthma attack.
Mike: No. I was not the person to get. And fortunately, you know, we get the person to help they actually need. But it it’s the same thing with discipleship, now, you become a disciple, that doesn’t mean you have any kind of advanced spiritual capabilities, but it does mean you’re on the right path. So just like I was as a pre-Med student, if I wanted to become a doctor, the path to doing so was take the pre-Med route in undergraduate school. And eventually it got me into medical school, and residency, and you become a doctor.
Holly: The disciples of Jesus are a great example of this. Not that they were on the path to be a doctor, but they struggled with envy, pride, fear, doubt, and other things that we really can relate with. But they were brought through a process as Jesus disciples, hanging out with Jesus all the time, that they were changed into people who displayed holy character.
Mike: Yeah, we read about the people that they became later in the New Testament writings. These “average Joe’s” who struggled with all kinds of less than admirable characteristics, were changed or transformed over several years and became people with different character, who were able to accomplish incredible things in the power of God.
Holly: So, we have the same material that they had to work with, learning to do the things that Jesus taught. And we will go through a similar process as the disciples did.
Mike: You talked about spiritual formation includes, taking all of our parts through a process of transformation where they’re formed to look more like Jesus. We need to talk about the parts of the person. We’re going to take our analysis of the person from Dallas Willard’s work, which he really spells out in substantial detail in his book “Renovation of The Heart,” so, if you want any further information on the individual parts of the human person, check that out. But he lays out the five main parts of the human person. And he takes this from the Greatest Commandment that Jesus gives in Mark 12, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, and your neighbor as yourself.” Well, if you take those five things, your heart, your soul, your mind, for “strength” there is your body, and for “neighbor as yourself” there is your unique social context that you have. Those are the five dimensions of the person, and all five of those dimensions are going to be changed or formed to look more like Jesus.
Holly: And we’re going to talk about the heart in much greater detail in future episodes, as it just plays such a fundamental role in the transformation process.
Mike: Yeah, if we start changing the person, where we start is from is the innermost part, and the innermost part of us is our heart. So that’s what needs to be transformed or changed first. So, we’ve become disciples of Jesus, we need to be transformed into loving people, that’s going to be through this process of spiritual formation or spiritual transformation. And what that means in a real practical way is: Jesus takes us on, just as we are, with all of our habits and flaws, and unique characteristics. And he takes us through a process where he’s going to teach me how to use my mind the way he used his mind. He’s going to teach me how to use my body the way he used his body. He’s going to change my social relationships to be reflection of the way he went about his social relationships. This is the process of Christian spiritual formation or…
Holly: Or spiritual trans-formation.
Music: Vlad Gluschenko — Travelling
License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en