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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Working Definition of Spiritual Formation


Michael DeShane Hinton, M.Div.



Spiritual formation, also known as faith development, is defined in terms of 1) its basis in Biblical theology, 2) its goals, and 3) its methods of achieving those goals.   Spiritual formation is rooted in these Biblical concepts:

  • To be fully informed of the truth of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4, Ephesians 4:11-21, & Jude 1:3-5)
  • To be transformed from sinners to saints (Romans 12:1-2)
  • To be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29 and I Peter 1:14-15)
                I would, therefore, offer this working definition of spiritual formation: In order to be conformed to the image of Christ, one must be transformed by grace (defined as divine activity) through the renewal of the mind as we are inwardly formed by word and sacrament, which yields good doctrine and morals, and the application thereof to everyday life and situations in such a way that we are benefitted, others are redeemed, and God is glorified.  In linear fashion it can be expressed this way: informed → transformed → conformed.
                Conformity is not what it seems.  It is not a rigid, straightjacket of behavior or expectation but rather a flowering of each individual to his full potential in Christ, who said to Peter, for instance, when comparing himself to John, “What is that to you?  Come follow me.”  While we may never play the “your truth/my truth” game of personal relativism, it is clear from Scripture the we each have our own gifts, callings, and ministries that God knits together into a beautiful tapestry of accomplishing his purposes through us, his body, the Church.
    The goals of spiritual formation are very specific, even if varied from one individual to another.  It occurs in all the areas of human personality identified by Christ when he commanded us to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength (Mark 12:30).

  • Heart – spiritual formation helps us to develop natural affection and attraction, loyalty to tasks and persons, empathy, filial love, joy in the simple pleasures of life, and compassion for those that hurt and are in need.
  • Mind – spiritual formation helps us to know God’s word, think rationally according to said word, understand sound doctrine, and in wisdom apply the truth of God to everyday life and decisions.
  • Soul (synonymous with spirit) – spiritual formation helps us to walk in the Spirit, that is, experience the leading, guidance, power, and direction of God, for whoever is led by the Spirit is the child of God (Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18); it is to have a sense of God’s presence and to commune with him daily; and it is to bear the fruit of virtue and exercise the charismatic gifts.
  • Strength – spiritual formation helps us patiently and consistently to do God’s will, accomplishing his purposes in practical and observable ways.
    Spiritual formation occurs, also, in interpersonal relationships, for as John Wesley said, refuting the mystics, “There is no holiness but social holiness.”  It fulfills the second great commandment, to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.  Spiritual formation helps us to maximize spiritual benefit in concentrically larger circles of social relationships:

  • To ourselves as the first objects of love, meaning rational self-interest, pursuing our own salvation and relationship with God in Christ, and rejecting irrational, self-defeating, self-destructive, and carnal self-indulgence,
  • To our own family and friends, and especially our church friends and associates (Galatians 6:10),
  • Toward anyone else with whom we come into personal and direct contact (Luke 10:25-37), either in daily activity or by special calling.
    The methods of achieving these goals in spiritual formation have been named, known, and practiced since ancient times.  They exist in the fullness of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.  Their exercise is a life-long commitment.  It is essential to have a theology that supports personal spiritual growth.  We are not justified by faith alone but by works (James 2:24).  Generally speaking, we have set before us works of piety and works of charity, and from these two fountains flow the succor of our life in Jesus.
    In spiritual formation we remain who we are yet we change.  We reject the fear of annihilation.  By faith in the power of God to preserve us and to bless us, we willingly die to sin and self in order for God to raise us up in Christ.  We conquer the fear of death that keeps people in bondage (Hebrews 2:15).  We embrace the Way of the Cross as our deliverance and freedom in Christ.  Walking in the light as he is in the light, we “endure all” and commit ourselves to love one another and forgive one another as we have been loved and forgiven.  We change from glory to glory, faith to faith, and strength to strength.  We must realize that change is painful but, counting the cost, we accept it in order to achieve the desired result, the fruit of discipline, which is true happiness and fulfillment in Christ, the author and finisher of our faith.

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