Thesis: The process of Spiritual Formation is intentionally dying and intentionally living.
Good Morning! Happy New Year!
It’s great to be with you today. Well, usually I kick off a message with an interesting story or perplexing question, but this entire week I have felt that we just need to have a simple conversation. That’s right, heart-to-heart. You and me.
Here is what has been going through my mind. There are many of you who have given your lives over to Jesus Christ as Lord and as Savior—yet you haven’t really been shown how to grow with God. There are also many of you who enjoy some of our ministries such as Small Groups and Sunday mornings, but feel like you just aren’t getting fed in the ways you need. And that my friends is because each of us Christians has a need to participate personally with God in our own journey of growth—a journey which is helped by your local church, but never replaced by it. This is the process of personal Spiritual Formation.
Much of what I am going to tell you is what you already know. But growing spiritually isn’t about gaining knowledge alone—is it? Just like in your personal finances you probably know you should save, give, and live on less than you make. But does knowing that always affect the way you behave? The same goes spiritually. I hope by the end of this message, you will have written down on your sermon notes, the start of a game plan to see spiritual change in your life for the year 2016.
Here’s how this little teaching time is going to work.
First, I am going to give you a brief overview of what Spiritual Formation is.
Second, I am going to explain how you can take part in your own personal Spiritual Formation.
That’s it! So let’s jump in.
So what is Spiritual Formation?
Here’s a definition:
Spiritual Formation is the process of beingconformed into the image of our Creator by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Means of Grace.
I’ll also mention that Spiritual Formation is synonymous with sanctification and the phrase becoming like Christ. All three of these are interchangeable and they all have the same idea in mind.
You see, in the beginning God created humanity in His image and His likeness with the purpose of reflecting who He is. We were, as theologian Thomas Oden puts it “little mirrors” reflecting the attributes of God. But since the Fall, our mirrors have been broken. It’s not that we are something entirely different than a mirror, but that because of our shattered souls we can no longer accurately reflect Him.
Think about this in every day life.
It isn’t uncommon for men and women to live and sleep together without being married. The desire to live and love one another is good, but this desire is being poorly reflected, as it has no covenant.
What about a man or woman who works and works until they eventually lose touch with their spouse’s feelings and their children’s needs? The desire to work is an attribute of God, but here it is again poorly reflected.
The desire for beauty, the desire for control, the desire for peace, the desire for prosperity, the desire for freedom—all attributes innate within us, but damaged to varying degrees in each of us.
In fact, in the study of the theology of sin, hamartiology, we understand that there is no such thing as “evil” as a substance. But rather “evil” is the way we describe “broken good” To the extent in which a person’s mirror is shattered, the more “evil” they are—the further from their true image they are—the good innate desires within them are being horribly manifest in robbery, rape, drug use, and abandoning one’s family.
And with an understanding of this definition, none of us gets a free pass. There is no “us” and “them”—those evil people over there and us good people over here, because we have all had our mirror’s broken, we are all in need of fixing. As Scripture puts it, we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God—which we used to reflect.
This, in a nutshell, is Spiritual Formation—the putting of the pieces back together in your soul, the re-orienting of each shard of the mirror so it properly reflects the glory of God again. The man and woman sleeping together desire a life-long covenant, the workaholic chooses to put God first, family second, and work third—trusting in God’s provision, the woman who desires to be captivating and lovely, finds her beauty affirmed in God’s truth and presence, those who start riots and war in the name of peace, now exemplify it through self-sacrifice, those who desire prosperity, now do so for the benefit of others at the expense themselves, those who fight for their own freedom, now lay theirs down to free others. What a glorious thing it is when we allow the Holy Spirit to put us back together through the Means of Grace.
At this point I hope you are wondering, “What are the Means of Grace you keep talking about?”
Well if Spiritual Formation’s illustration was a mirror, the Means of Grace illustration is the garden hose.
Throughout history, Christians have affirmed that the Holy Spirit has some predictable channels in which He heals our souls—we call these channels the Means of Grace, or sometimes Spiritual Disciplines.
Let’s break up the phrase means of grace.
Means is another word for way, path, or in this illustration, “garden hose”
Grace is God’s unmerited, unearned favor toward us, around us, and in us, or in this illustration, “free water”
And so, if you want to have the Holy Spirit sanctify you, you are going to have to position yourself near the hose, so you can get the water. It works much like your home. If you own a house, you probably have more than one place to hook up your garden hose. It’s all the same water that comes out, but through different hoses—different channels.
Which now opens the door for us to discuss some of these available Means of Grace.
In July 2002, less than fourteen years ago I gave my life to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior—like many of you have. I was at a Christian sports camp and I knew absolutely nothing about having a relationship with God, let alone Spiritual Formation. But when they gave me a Bible, they instructed me to read Colossians 3. And to tell you the truth, that’s all I needed at the time, because it provided for me the template for experiencing the Spiritual Disciplines.
Colossians 3:9-10 ESV reads
“…you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Colossians 3:9-10
It’s what we just talked about.
Throughout Colossians 3, Paul urges the believers to give up the ways and the habits of the past. He said you need to put off the old self, and put on the new self which is being renewed—like a mirror being put back together—according to the image of our Creator. Like I said, Spiritual Formation.
The Means of Grace are the habits of putting off old practices—of dying to your old life as Romans 6:4 puts it— and putting on a new self, living with new practices and habits. As Dr. Keith Drury categorizes them, we must engage in the disciplines of abstinence and action.
I will put a link to these under the sermon audio online, but let’s take a look at these classic means of grace.
Fasting: Abstaining from food for a time in order to gain mastery of the physical realm and open us up to the spiritual realm.
Matthew 6:16 ESV And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites…
Silence: Silence is abstaining from sound in order to open our spiritual ears and listen more closely to the voice of God.
1 Kings 19:12 ESV And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
Solitude: Solitude is abstaining from contact with people in order to be alone with God and become closer to Him.
Mark 1:35 ESV And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and
went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
Simplicity: Simplicity is intentionally paring down our lifestyle toward the essentials to free ourselves from the tyranny of “things” and focus on spiritual life.
Matthew 6:19-20 ESV Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…
Rest: Rest is choosing to step out of the usual current of life for the purpose of being restored physically and spiritually.
Psalm 23:1-3 ESV The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
Secrecy: Secrecy is abstaining from receiving credit for good things we do.
Matthew 6:4, 6:6, and 6:18 And your Father who seesinsecret will reward you.
Those disciplines will help you in your journey of taking off the old self. Now, let’s look at some ways to put on the new self.
Journaling: Journaling is the action of communing and communicating with God through writing.
Hospitality: Hospitality is opening our homes, our hearts, and our lives to others in order to provide them temporary safety, provision, and rest.
Romans 12:13 ESV Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to showhospitality.
Hebrews 13:2 ESV Do not neglect to showhospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
1 Peter 4:9 ESV Showhospitality to one another without grumbling.
Confession: Confession is humbly admitting our acts of sin and disappointments with another person for the purpose of spiritual healing.
James 5:16 ESV …confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may behealed.
Scripture: Scripture as a Spiritual Discipline is reading, memorizing, studying, meditating on, and obeying the Bible in order to know God, know about God, and become like God.
John 17:17 ESV Sanctify them in the truth; your wordistruth.
Charity: Charity is the giving of what is yours for the benefit of another—especially the poor.
Matthew 25:35 ESV For I was hungry and yougave me food, I was thirsty and yougave me drink, I was a stranger and youwelcomed me…
Prayer: Prayer is praising, interceding, petitioning, listening, or yielding to God.
Luke 6:12 ESV In these days he went out to the mountain topray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.
Penance: Penance is willfully embracing earthly punishment for wrongdoing which has already been forgiven by God.
Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:12 ESV For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.
These Spiritual Disciplines, these Means of Grace are a gift from God for the benefit of your soul. Yes, attending worship service and Small Group is also a Means of Grace, but these personal disciplines won’t just keep you on the level, they will change your entire life.
The question is, what are you going to do about it?
If you have something to write on, go ahead and get that out. Bulletin, insert, whatever you’ve got. I want you to write on this paper two things.
First, I want you to write down two or three disciplines that you think God might be leading you to consider. I’m not saying 100% He is, I’m not asking you to 100% commit to anything, I’m just asking you to pick two or three God might be putting on your heart right now. Jot those down.
Second, I want you to write a day and a time—like Monday, 10am. During this time is when I would like you to take a couple minutes to look at your calendar, think through your week, and consider what discipline or disciplines you would like to engage in, along with where they will fit into your life. You might even put a time limit and say for three Tuesdays in a row I am going to get up at 5:30am and journal for fifteen minutes. Just get started.
Band, you can come up at this time.
Church, I can tell you that God is on your side. God wants to see His children reflect Him again. I don’t think for most of us it is an issue of pride—thinking that we don’t NEED Him to work on us—although some of you may have that falsity. No, I think most of us just need a reminder and a plan. So that’s what you have in your possession now—a reminder and a time to make a plan.
We are now going to close with the song Come Thou Fount. May the spirit of this song ring true in your soul today, that you desire for Him to tune and bind your heart to His.
Let’s stand and respond to God’s Word together.
And now that you have asked God to tune and bind your heart to His, it is time for you to do your part.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:4 ESV)
Receive the benediction:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling… (Philippians 2:12 ESV)
Our prayer team is available in the front of the Sanctuary if you would like someone to pray for you. Please drop your Connection Cards and Small Group sign-ups in the baskets on your way out.
Go with God.