c) 2012' name='copyright'/>Michael DeShane Hinton: The Purpose of Spiritual Formation

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Purpose of Spiritual Formation

The purpose of spiritual formation is to make us like God.

To know what God is like we must read the Gospels for in them we find Jesus, who is the Son of God, who said that to see him is to see the Father, and who did what he saw the Father doing and said what he heard the Father saying.  Knowing this, Paul wrote that Jesus was the image of the invisible God.  So, the purpose of spiritual formation is to become conformed to the image of Christ, becoming Christ-ian, because Christ is like God and is God.

What did Jesus do?

One of the things Jesus did was to perform extraordinary miracles.

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:18-23 ESV)

Notice that Jesus did not answer the question of his identity directly.  Following the Socratic Method he pointed to evidence that could be used by John in Aristotelian fashion to draw his own scientific conclusion, allowing John to make his faith stronger by using his own mind to figure it out rather than being told in a dogmatic fashion.

The evidence provided were the various miracles that Jesus facilitated.  Jesus acknowledged that it was God at work in and through him to do those wonderful, amazing, loving things for people.  Ultimately those miracles were used as signs by the disciples to confirm that Jesus was the Christ.  They were God’s imprimatur upon his being, authenticating his authority.

The supernatural nature of Jesus was from beginning to end a display of consistency, from his virgin birth to his being raised from the dead, and in the means being consistent with the end: a supernatural being that visited us did supernatural things among us.  As we become supernatural beings in spiritual formation then there should be a testimony to that reality in the miraculous things that go on around us.

How does that happen?  What mechanisms of the universe did Jesus use to bring that about and can we honestly say that we are like him and thus spiritual if we cannot ourselves do similar things?  Jesus himself said that if we believed in him we would do the works he did and even greater ones.  How?  The cause/effect relationship between Jesus and his miraculous power resides in the kind of person he was, a few elements of which we might consider.  The answer to how it happened is this: God blessed him with miracles because God was pleased in him because of what he did toward God.

First, Jesus was a righteous man.  He had no sin and was confident in being free of sin.  He challenged his detractors, for instance, to show where he had any sin.  He spoke against sin and wanted people to live righteously before God.

One might panic at this point and say, “Yikes!  I have a thousand sins!  How can I ever qualify for miracles with all these sins attaching to me?”

The answer is simple: forgiveness.

John wrote, I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Therefore, let us confess our sins, allowing the Spirit to reveal them to us, until we feel clean and confident of being righteousness.  IN that same letter John also wrote (3:21-22), “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

Likewise, spiritual formation understands the doctrine of holiness, which says that we can be free of sin by obedience to God’s commands.  Romans, chapter 6 explains that our baptism symbolizes death to sin and arising to the righteous life that God intends for us.  It signifies a radical break with the past.  These are key passages from that pivotal chapter:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. [13] Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness … Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? [17] But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness … now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (Romans 6:12-13, 16-18, and 22 ESV)

The linear pattern is clear: conversion -> obedience -> sanctification -> eternal life …

And being qualified for God’s blessing in a supernatural existence like that enjoyed by Jesus, who loved to help people in miraculous healing and deliverance.

Second, Jesus was a man of prayer.  Scripture tells us that he often went by himself to desolate places, away from the crowds and his own disciples, to be alone with God in pray.

What did he say?  How did he pray?

We have glimpses of that from the Garden of Gethsemane, where someone overheard what he was saying in his last private moments on earth.  It must have been Mark because his dad and the others were a ways off and/or asleep!  Whoever it was saw a man in anguish of soul.  Jesus was called the Son of David.  We know of his physical descent in the royal lineage.  But what if it also means the spiritual heritage that we find in the Psalms, where David is likely to say anything to God in open, honest, earnest prayer?

Third, Jesus sought to please God and not man.  We see this in how controversial he was.  He openly criticized the religious hierarchy and authorities, for instance, confronting them in a number of ways, sometimes nose to nose in what seem like shouting matches (see John 8:12 and following).  He interfered with them making money, at one point physically attacking their storefront operations.  “You cannot serve God and Mammon,” he said.  So, he was free of the constraints and limits often placed upon people because of denominational affiliation or institutional loyalty.

Did Jesus love his religious heritage and fellow Jews?  Of course, he loved them like his mother.  We often speak of Jesus as the embodiment of the Suffering Servant, meaning Israel.  But is it not Mary, the obedient Jewish girl, who better represents the people that bring him forth into the world?  “Salvation is from the Jews,” he told the Woman at the Well.

Likewise, Jesus did not derive his support from the religious establishment but several women followed him and contributed to his needs out of their own resources (Luke 8:2-3) – because they believed in him –  because he helped them in miraculous ways, like Mary Magdalene, out of whom he cast seven demons.

So again, we see how things come full circle by way of explanation, the material support comes because of the spiritual power and not the other way around.  Our religious institutions are often designed to provide the finances for ministry when the model of Christ is that the supernatural existence draws to it the things needful for the body.

Another way that Jesus sought to please God and qualify himself to receive miracles was rejecting man-made teaching and tradition in exchange for what Scripture actually says.  Consider this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, noting toward the end, again, the place of money:

                The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

                “‘This people honors me with their lips,

                                but their heart is far from me;

                in vain do they worship me,

                                teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

                You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

                And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:5-13 ESV)

In conclusion, Peter and John had achieved a level of spiritual formation to make their existence among the people miraculous.  They did what Jesus did, and became like Jesus as true servants and ministers in Jerusalem.  They went to the temple one day and encountered a man that was lame, begging for money.  Peter answered him, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”  He went walking and leaping and praising God.

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