September 17, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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Think about the last time you received a gift. Receiving a gift involves accepting something we didn’t earn or buy for ourselves, yet it also involves making that gift our own. This is similar to what the Christian life entails. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8–9 (NIV), “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Salvation is a gift of God, not something we earn on our own. Nonetheless, in order to receive a gift, we must make the decision to actively accept and use it.
What most of us lack today is an understanding of what happens after we accept the gracious gift of Christ’s salvation! Part of God’s grace in saving us is that we are now free to undergo the process of becoming more like Jesus as His Holy Spirit now works to change us from within. A term used to describe this process is the word sanctification, which simply refers to the life-long journey of transformation to become more like Jesus. The vital process of sanctification can be rediscovered in our culture if we look at it through the lens of spiritual formation.
Humans are more than simply physical beings. Humans have an inner world that consists of the mind, where thoughts and feelings are, and the spirit, where decision-making habits and character are. According to Dallas Willard, renowned Christian scholar who wrote about spiritual formation, “Spiritual transformation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself” (Renovation of the Heart, page 15).
Think about a challenge you may have taken on in the past for the sake of the outcome. For example, starting a rigorous workout and dieting routine with the goal of losing weight and looking a certain way, or perhaps studying only to pass the test and get the best grade. Although these outcomes are valid and surely desirable, they don’t take into consideration what may be more important in these pursuits: the inward change one must undergo.
When we seek to lose weight by working out and creating better eating habits, our goal should be aimed towards overall growth in self-control and self-care. When we seek to study for a test, we should aim towards truly allowing the knowledge to change us instead of just memorizing it for a good grade. Our goal in spiritual formation should be the same—to be inwardly changed by God to conform more to His image. Like working out, it may not always feel good or be exciting, but consistency and perseverance despite those emotions are what grant someone results.
In Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, he writes, “God has given us the disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.” God’s grace is not solely the unmerited compassion and forgiveness shown to us in Jesus, it’s also the constant work of God in our lives. He’s active in our daily routines, our stress, our to-do lists, our relationships—even our ability to breathe! When we view God’s grace as His compassionate activity in our daily lives, then we can pursue spiritual disciplines with gratitude and excitement because we know they are the means God chose to give us to seek Him more and the means His Spirit uses to change us.
Below, we’ll focus on four inward spiritual disciplines that have been forgotten and misunderstood in our culture.
Meditation is a discipline that other religions practice, yet the majority of them use it to try and “empty the mind.” Within Christian tradition; however, meditation is focused on the opposite. It’s about filling the mind with Scripture, receiving the grace of God, and fixating on His truth. To practice meditation, simply set aside a few minutes in your day to sit in solitude and silence with a passage to focus on in your Bible. Imagine Jesus sitting with you because He is! Intentionally reflect, listen, and surrender as you take each of your anxious thoughts and give them to Christ in exchange for thoughts about who He is, who He has made us to be, and all He has done.
Though prayer is frequently practiced and talked about, it’s still a discipline we hold loosely in the church. Prayer is not just something to do before meals or before bed. Prayer is powerful because it connects us to the Creator of the universe. It’s about continual communion with Jesus in every moment of the day. In prayer, we can praise and show gratitude, ask questions, intercede on behalf of other people, and listen for the Holy Spirit as He speaks to our hearts. With this mindset, prayer can become a habit that guides us through our lives allowing us to speak frequently and sincerely with our Father and Savior!
This discipline is different from meditation, although the two go hand in hand. The study of Scripture is focused on analyzing and interpreting the text in order to find what the unchanging meaning of the text is and apply it to our lives. We can practice this discipline by allocating time each week to study a specific text and make basic observations by using a book or website with commentaries or a Bible study guide. Committing to study is difficult yet worthwhile because it transforms our minds with knowledge of God’s truth—and knowing the truth will set us free from the power of Satan’s deceitful schemes (John 8:32).
Fasting is practiced around the world in both religious and non-religious contexts. The example Jesus gave us in His teaching and practice of fasting; however, shows us that the purpose behind it is to focus on deeper worship and communion with God. To engage in fasting, we don’t need to do so with food. Instead, we can fast from other distractions in life such as social media, television, or too many social activities. Whatever we do, we also need to take some time to meditate, study, or pray. If fasting is approached for the sake of gaining something specific, it will not be as fruitful because our goal in all of these disciplines should be to know God more intimately and allow His hand to mold and change our inner selves.
Ultimately, our goal as believers should be to pursue the life-long journey of spiritual formation as guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit. This is what sanctification is all about! It’s not only about doing good works for God to share His love and good news with others, but allowing that same love and good news to actually change us from within!
Samy Rodriguez has been serving with the Calvary writing team since 2020 as a senior at Calvary Christian Academy. Before going to study communications, biblical studies, and intercultural studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, she interned with the Calvary Communications Team and was a student leader in HSM (High School Ministry). She is passionate about communicating God’s Word and looks forward to continuing to serve in ministry after college.