ASK A PASTOR by Phil Sommerville, Pastor of Spiritual Formation
Welcome to one of our new segments for the Good Morning email. This is your chance to "ask a pastor" questions that you have and we will do our best to answer them. The first question we have received is:
"What is spiritual formation and how does it work in the context of our church?"
This is not the first time I've been asked this question. “Spiritual formation” is a term that is unfamiliar to some. The term started rising in popularity and usage in the 1990’s. Simply put, “spiritual formation” refers to the process of being transformed to be more like Jesus Christ. The second book of Corinthians (2Corinthians 3:18) refers to this process: ”And we all…are being transformed into his [Jesus’] image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” In Galatians 4:19 Paul uses similar wording, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
In essence, spiritual formation is discipleship. It is the following of Jesus that results in our becoming more and more like Jesus. Becoming like Jesus is more than just a change in our outward behaviors and speech, it is a change of our very nature. Paul points out in Ephesians 2:3 that we were by nature deserving of God’s punishment. However, through the forgiveness of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, we can put off our “old self” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
This transformation of our nature to become like Christ’s involves all that we are, our:
- physical bodies
- mind and intellect
- passions, emotions and desires
As we are transformed, we less and less have to try to be like Christ and more and more naturally think, act and feel the way Jesus does.
The Holy Spirit is the One who accomplishes this transformation in our life. However, we are not passive spectators, we are active participants. That’ is why the apostle Paul instructs us to “walk by the Spirit” so we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
We use what are referred to as “spiritual disciplines” in order to work with the Holy Spirit in the process of spiritual formation. For example, the discipline of Bible study works with the Spirit to transform our mind. The discipline of forgiveness transforms our emotions. The discipline of tithing cooperates with the Spirit to transform our will. The discipline of fasting is part of the transformation of our physical bodies and will. The spiritual exercise we offered in one our Saturday Spiritual Growth emails called “Walking with Jesus in the Gospels, engages our mind, imagination and feelings. Confession is the practice where we enable the Spirit to cleanse us of sin in all aspects of life (1 John 1:9, Ro 8:13). Hopefully, you are getting the idea.
One more thing to understand about spiritual formation. You are not being formed for your benefit alone. Your transformation is also for the benefit of the church and the world. Jesus said clearly “You are the light of the world” (Matt 5:14). Our transformation allows Jesus to shine through us and be seen by the world. We shine the light of Jesus into other people’s lives, but only if we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness.
Our spiritual formation never stops. We are being transformed with “ever increasing glory.” So, at PGCC we are actively seeking to give you opportunities to worship and study God’s word, to strengthen your prayer life, to help you learn and practice the spiritual disciplines and to share Jesus’ light with others. We want you to experience a life that overflows with the life of Jesus and know the blessing that comes from being a blessing to our church, your family, friends, neighbors and world!
One last thought, you are always being formed, either by the world or by the Holy Spirit. The constant barrage of messaging through the media and friends can and does shape you, but not towards Christ likeness. But you can choose to be formed by Christ. So, I urge you, just as you listen to media everyday, participate every day in the spiritual practices that will allow you to be formed in the image of Christ. As JB Phillips paraphrased Romans 12:2. "Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within."
All of the spiritual Growth Exercises we have offered can be found on our church website and you can find them by CLICKING HERE