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Spiritual formation in the midst of war



I am in the midst of writing a seven-part theology of spiritual formation for my doctorate class. I'm going to share each installment with you each week for the next seven weeks. This week is simply the introduction. I hope it blesses you on your journey to become more like Yeshua.


A Theology of Spiritual Formation

The artisan takes his tool and shapes an image from a marble slab. Only he knows what the finished product will look like. To others, it is just a massive metaphoric rock. But now it will go through another phase of metamorphosis, being shaped by a master craftsman. One might think of Michelangelo, who took on the challenge after two others quit, to carve the 17-foot iconic David from an enormous, nondescriptive piece of marble.[1]


That is spiritual formation. God is the craftsman, and we are the marble slab (or dust of the earth [Gen. 2:7]). The metaphor is not perfect because, unlike the lifeless rock, we play a role. We must position ourselves correctly for the master to form us into the likeness of Jesus.


Humans were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), but Adam and Eve forfeited much of this in the fall (Gen. 3:7). Jesus came to restore the image of God in man (Rom. 8:29, 1 Cor. 15:49, 2 Cor. 3:18). The Hebrew word translated image is צֶלֶם tselem and can also mean idol.[2] What is the connection between an idol and us being made in God’s image? Tselem “derives from the root word that means ‘to carve’ or ‘to cut.’”[3] An idol maker carves an image from a piece of wood. In the same way, God is forming believers into the image of his Son.


Spiritual Formation is Biblical

Richard Averbeck says spiritual formation has a biblical foundation, combining pneumatikos (spiritual), used 26 times in the NT, and morph (form, shape.)[4] In Romans 12:2, Paul uses the word transformed (metamorphóō), which “represents the thorough change in the nature of a Christian’s life as it comes to conform to God’s will. This change is contingent on God’s mercy and the action of His Spirit.”[5] The transformation takes place as the disciple encounters Jesus through prayer, the Word, solitude, service, and many other ways, “The goal of spiritual formation as revealed in the Word of God is the (trans)formation of our hearts and lives into the very image of Jesus Christ Himself, which is the will of God the Father.”[6]


One can see the word metamorphosis in the Greek word translated as transformed. The Oxford Dictionary says it is “the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages [emphasis added].” For the believer, it is being formed into Messiah’s image “from one degree of glory to another” (1 Cor. 3:18).[7]


This paper aims to establish a biblical theology for spiritual formation by examining both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. We’ll interact with biblical figures, like David and Paul, and modern scholars to arrive at a biblical understanding of spiritual formation. We will lie in the grass beside quiet waters with David, the shepherd, and suffer with Paul through service and self-denial as he seeks to get the gospel to those who need it. Ultimately, we will seek to discover how the Bible as a whole comes together to speak to the issue of spiritual formation.[8]


Disciples Grow in Maturity

In 2016, it was widely reported that then-candidate Trump made a profession of faith in Messiah.[9] One would expect that this profession would lead to a dynamic new life. Whereas before he engaged in adultery, now he would be a loving, faithful husband. He had previously written about his need for revenge,[10] but the new Donald Trump would be forgiving. In the past, he had exhibited arrogant, narcissistic tendencies, but now that he had embraced the Messiah, we would see a humble man, more concerned about others than himself (Phil 2:3-4). Of course, this never happened. Regardless of what one thinks about Donald Trump as a politician, there can be no argument that he never became a disciple.


Can one be a believer without spiritual growth? Is it normal for teenagers to still be in diapers, eating baby food? The oft-quoted words of Dallas Willard ring true: “There is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests that you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’s expense and have nothing more to do with him.”[11]


The Process of Formation

Robert Mulholland defines this spiritual journey in four steps, “as (1) a process (2) of being formed (3) in the image of Christ (4) for the sake of others.”[12] This process is impossible apart from God. As mentioned above, we play a role, but God is the master craftsman.


From a biblical point of view, however, “spiritual formation” focuses our attention on the dynamics of how the Holy Spirit works in us, among us, and through us. Spiritual formation is, first, dynamic in its emphasis on the divine power and means of formation, and second, deep in its focus on the inner workings of the human person. The Spirit of God reaches into the spirit of the person to do the core of his work. God has not called us to do something without enabling us to do it. There is a divine person, the Holy Spirit, continually at work in us, who acts directly on the deepest parts of us, our human spirit ….[13]


The Bible gives us a set of disciplines to lead us toward spiritual growth. Willard writes, “We meet and dwell with Jesus and his Father in the disciplines for the spiritual life.”[14] The purpose of these disciplines is to position us for reception. Think of a football player ready to receive a punt. He knows exactly where to stand to be in the best place to catch the football. He will not be positioned correctly if he’s on the sidelines, at the line of scrimmage with the other players, or facing the wrong direction. When the ball comes, he will not receive it.


Averbeck likens this holy positioning to turning ourselves into a temple God can visit. “A temple is a place of God’s residence, where the presence of God is practiced; a place of purity and, above all, worship.”[15] This applies to us individually (1 Cor. 6:18-20) and corporately as a body (1 Cor. 3:16-17).[16] Spiritual formation cannot be done apart from the body of believers. Much of formation happens when the church is together; “he dwells in their midst.”[17]


Making Room for God

There is no formation without dedicated or sacred space and time. Holiness has more to do with something being set apart for a particular purpose than the legalistic definitions we learn. What made the ground holy, causing Moses to take off his shoes, was the fact that God’s presence was there (Ex. 3:5). We tend to define holiness as the absence of sin when, in fact, it is the presence of God. The disciple must map out where and when we will meet with Yahweh. Jesus was up early, seeking him in “desolate places” (Luke 5:16). He spent time fasting and in solitude. Time with the Father was his priority. Similarly, the believer sets times and places during his days, weeks, months, and even years as holy, set apart for the Lord. This is how we do formation.



[1] Diane J. Chandler, Christian Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 74, Kindle Edition.

[2] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[3] Chandler, Christian Spiritual Formation, 30.

[4] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care Vol. 1, No. 1 (2008): 28.

[5] J. W. Simpson Jr., “Transform,” ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Grand Rapids: MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 889, Logos.

[6] Richard Averbeck, “The Bible in Spiritual Formation,” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation, ed. Alan Andrews (NavPress Publishing Group, 2010.) 198, ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/liberty/detail.action?docID=5395452.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).

[8] Stephen Lowe, “Watch: Introduction to Biblical Theology of Spiritual Formation,” Liberty University, accessed January 21, 2024, 00:35, https://canvas.liberty.edu/courses/509397/pages/watch-introduction-to-biblical-theology-of-spiritual-formation?module_item_id=59094152.

[9] Trip Gabriel and Michael Luo, “A Born-Again Donald Trump? Believe It, Evangelical Leader Says,” Washington Post, June 25, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/us/politics/a-born-again-donald-trump-believe-it-evangelical-leader-says.html

[10] David Cord, “Donald Trump Is Completely Obsessed With Revenge,” Mother Jones, October 19, 2016, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/donald-trump-obsessed-with-revenge/

[11] Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (San Francisco, CA: Harper One, 2006), 13.

[12] Mulholland, M. Robert . Invitation to a Journey, A Roadmap for Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 19, Kindle.

[13] Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission,” 28.

[14] Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1988), Preface, Kindle Edition.

[15] Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission,” 37.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 44.









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Thank you Ron for sharing... when will part 2 be available?

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