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The Beauty of a Mended Life
We all come to Christ in a marred state. That's why we need spiritual formation—or the shaping of our inner selves into the image of Christ.
In my 20s, as an aspiring evangelist, I used to study the sermons of Billy Graham. One, in particular, stood out. It was titled: Made, Marred, Mended. This sermon alerted listeners to the spiritual truth that we all come to Christ and begin our journey of discipleship to him in a marred state—disfigured by sin, stained by self-centeredness, and damaged by ignoring or rebelling against God.
We don’t come to Christ as clean whiteboards upon which he can begin to write his story. We come with the frames of our lives bent, the rollers stuck, and the boards grayed by years of writing and erasing the wrong things. That’s why we need spiritual transformation.
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God is delighted when we seek this formation, but it is not to earn anything from him, to make him love us or accept us. To the contrary, we seek spiritual transformation into Christlikeness in a relational context of already and always being loved by God—not merely accepted, but desired and longed for by God’s seeking affection.
Spiritual transformation is the Spirit-driven, re-creative work of God, forming our inner selves in such a way that they become like the inner being of Christ himself. This formative process is meant to train us for life in God’s kingdom. God—his grace—is the primary initiator/actor, but grace does not set us aside or render us passive. Grace is opposed to earning, not effort. God delights in our partnership with him, in our whole-hearted, well-directed, grace-based use of the spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer, meditation and fasting. These disciplines lead to growth in Christoformity—being formed into the image of Christ.
If you have been reading my Substack newsletter the last couple months, you may have noticed me writing on the kingdom of God, sacred engagement with culture, the purpose of the Church, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Today I want to show you how spiritual formation—or pursuing apprenticeship to Jesus—brings all these aspects of Christian spirituality together in one whole, mended life.
Spiritual formation equips us for life in God’s kingdom.
In this fallen world, we are not born with kingdom hearts. They must be formed in us by the grace and power of God as we give ourselves to being the students of Jesus. We are bent toward selfishness—and that cannot facilitate being agents of the kingdom. We tend toward fear—we need it replaced by confident faith. We are judgmental—that kills gracious interactions. In short, we can’t embody the reality of the kingdom without the transformation of our hearts. Spiritual transformation equips us for life in God’s kingdom.
Spiritual formation enables us to love others.
Our culture has a keen ability to see religious hypocrisy and dysfunction. Consequently, one of the most powerful and intuitive apologetics for Christianity is a truly good person. We need hearts formed in love of neighbor and enemy if we are to have fruitful interactions with the people in our lives. Jesus taught that the outward words we speak and the external actions we take come from the overflow of an inner reality: our heart. A transformed heart radiates into our interactions with the people and events of our lives.
Spiritual formation helps us find our meaning in God’s great story.
From the beginning, God has been forming a people—from creation, to Noah, to Abraham, to the patriarchs, judges, kings, prophets, all the way to John the Baptist, the coming of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit to launch the Church. As we read that long story, with its depressing lows and inspirational highs, we realize we are meant to find life’s meaning in something external to us. Our meaning comes from the story, will, intentions and purposes of the one, true, creator God. He has called us to be the Church, a community of people seeking formation in Christ for the sake of being God’s cooperative friends.
Spiritual formation asks us to care for our own hearts.
Mean, manipulative, dishonest and abusive behaviors do not come out of the blue. Neither do love, generosity, graciousness and service. All these come from the overflow of our hearts. That means that the primary focus of every Christian is not mere effectiveness or productivity, but becoming a different kind of person who shapes a different kind of community.
Thus, our core orientation must be this:
Put everything you have into the care of your heart—the hidden, causative, motivational you—for everything you do flows from it. It is the real source of your outward life. It determines what your life and leadership amounts to.
Proverbs 4:23, my own paraphrase
Spiritual formation helps us cooperate with the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:5 says: The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. The Holy Spirit is operative in every element of our formation: intellectual, moral, devotional, relational and missional. God’s love beckons us onward in spiritual formation. God’s love gives vision, enthusiasm and hope for formation. God’s love reveals his purpose for human beings: cooperating with him toward the new heavens and the new earth. Spiritual transformation occurs as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, allowing God’s love to permeate every aspect of our being.
I wonder what you think. Do you resonate with the way I’ve described spiritual formation? Do you notice a nudge from the Spirit to prioritize your own formation? I pray that you are motivated to dig a bit deeper to discern the ways Divine intention has been marred in you.
And then, let’s seek the mending of our souls so they both contain and emanate the loving purposes of God.
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