Spiritual Formation – Part 2

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

September 25th, 2022

            Last week we started a series called spiritual formation: how God transforms us. I am assuming that since you are here, you are interested in discovering who Jesus wants you to be. Most of you are interested in becoming who Jesus wants you to be. That process of becoming is called spiritual formation.

 Last week we looked at how everyone, both Christians and not, are in the process of spiritual formation. The television you watch, the books you read, the news you consume, the social media you scroll through are spiritually forming you. Our decision to pray and read scripture or not to pray and read scripture our spiritual formation choices. We can be spiritually formed into something whole, and good or our souls can become deformed.

            Whether or not you are a follower of Jesus, you are on this journey of spiritual formation. But if you are a follower of Christ, then your spiritual formation has a distinct goal. Last week we started to work through this definition of Christian spiritual formation.

“Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for our sake and the sake of others.”

            We talked about Christian spiritual formation being a process. Although there are times when God miraculously touches us by his spirit, the normal way we develop is through ongoing growth. It is a process.

            it is the process of “being conformed.” We would probably be more comfortable if we were in control of the process. But we are not. As followers of Jesus, it is God who spiritually forms us.

            This week I want to continue on with our definition of spiritual formation. But before we get there, I want to help you envision what God wants for your life.

            When I was growing up, my vision of what a Christian should look like was shallow. A Christian was someone who, after inviting Jesus into their hearts, read their bible and prayed and attended church and was kind to their neighbours.

            That might be a good Sunday School definition, but it misses the mark of what God really wants for us.

            As I grew a little older, there was a disconnect between what the Bible said my heart should be and what I could see. I knew I was to be loving and peaceful and joyful, patient and kind, but it wasn’t always there. I knew God was living in me, but my heart did not reflect it the way I thought it should.

            Maybe you have seen that in your own heart as well. What is going on?

            If you know the big story of Scripture, you know that God created humans in His own image. As God was love, we reflected his love. As God was good, we reflected his goodness. But that image was shattered by sin. While you might see glimpses of the image of God in people, we certainly don’t reflect him the way we were created to.

            But God sent his son Jesus to die for our sins. When Jesus deals with our sin, it is not only about being forgiven for the wrong we have done. It is about restoring the image of God which we have lost. We were created to reflect the character of God.

            Here is part of what we have in Christ.  

Ephesians 1:3–5 (NRSV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

            I don’t have time to unpack all of this. But as a follower of Jesus, you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. You were chosen before the world began. God created you to be holy and blameless before him because of what he has done for us. We are adopted as children of God.

            God has a plan for your life. It is good. Here is how the book of Romans puts it,

Romans 8:29 (NRSV)

29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.

            You were made to conform to the image of his son. You were made to have the image of God restored in you. Remember the definition of spiritual formation. It is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ. That was God’s plan for you from the very beginning.

            That is really good news. Robert Mulholland puts it this way. “The image of Christ is that which brings cleansing, healing, restoration, renewal, transformation and wholeness into the unclean, diseased, broken, imprisoned, dead incompleteness of our lives. It brings compassion in place of indifference, forgiveness in place of resentment, kindness in place of coldness, openness in place of protective defensiveness or manipulation, a life lived for God and not self.[1]

            That is part of what it means to be made in the image of Christ. This is what you were made for. If the image of Christ was fully restored in you, then you would totally be the person you were created to be. Your hurts from the past, your insecurities in the present, and your fears about the future would be gone.

            Your true personality, your redeemed personality, would be on display. You would be uniquely you, with your particular giftings, desires and passions – and yet you would reflect the image of Christ. Our salvation goes so much deeper than just being forgiven and being nice to our neighbours. It goes to the very core of who we are.


            Now you may notice that although God’s plan is to “conform you to the image of his son,” it seems like something has gone wrong with the plan. For those of you who are followers of Jesus, here is what scripture says,

Ephesians 1:5–7 (NRSV)

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

            You are forgiven. You have been adopted into the family of God. It was God’s good pleasure to do all of this. But what about this plan to be conformed to his image. I can be forgiven but still be broken on the inside. I can be adopted as God’s child and yet still feel fearful and insecure. But God doesn’t want to leave us there.

            He will do what he needs to do to conform you to the image of his son. The process of being conformed to his image takes place at the places where we don’t look anything like Christ.

            This is about who Jesus is. He is emotionally whole. He is spiritually whole. He is relationally whole. Think about who you are. Are you emotionally whole? Are you spiritually whole? Are you relationally whole? The place where we are broken or warped or misguided or rebellious or unloving, or imprisoned or deformed are the exact places where God is going to meet us to change us.


            So, here is what you need to know about spiritual formation. One of its primary dynamics is loving confrontation. Through some channel of grace, whether it be worship, or the word, or a brother or sister in Christ or even an unbeliever, the Spirit of God is going to probe some area where we are not conformed to his image.

            He is going to challenge us to come out of our brokenness into the wholeness that is found in Christ. But coming out of that brokenness is costly – because our brokenness is who we are.

            Those things in us which are broken and warped and deformed are part of us. Getting rid of them is not like shedding a coat. It is often more like surgery on an inflamed appendix. We know we need to deal with it, but the process of dealing with it is no fun.

That is what Jesus says

Matthew 16:25 (NRSV)

25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

            Our brokenness feels like an essential part of who we are. God meets us in our brokenness and offers us wholeness. But we need to die to those things that are not like Jesus.

            Have you ever been around someone who is trying to quit smoking? They want to quit, but cigarettes have become part of who they are. It has become what they go to in stress. Their brain craves nicotine, but it is more than that. Even the motion of smoking, or what goes along with smoking, like morning coffee, all makes a person feel like it is part of them. It is hard to quit.

            You will find that some of the distortions that sin brings to you go deeper than a smoking habit. It becomes part of us. When God confronts us over things that need to change – it is sometimes a battle.


            Another dynamic of spiritual formation is consecration, or surrender, or lordship, or “saying yes to Jesus.” We must come to the point where we are willing to say yes to God at each point where we are unlike Christ.

            This is not only about dealing with the issues that we see, but the issues that undergird the issues that we see. God may have confronted me on the lack of joy in my life. I see it. I want more joy in my life. But before God can change us, he needs our permission. More than that, he needs our cooperation. We need to say yes to Jesus; yes, to being changed.

But here is the challenge. I am happy to say yes to Jesus to make me more joyful. But am I willing to say yes to Jesus about dealing with the things that steal my joy? That is consecration. It is saying the “big yes.” Yes, you have permission to deal with whatever is holding me back from joy.

             I may see the issue of not being joyful. I may know that God wants to meet me in my brokenness. But the big question is, am I willing to let him deal with the stuff that I have been hanging onto that steals my joy.

            Am I willing to deal with unforgiveness or bitterness? Am I willing to let go of what I want the significant other in my life, like my parents or my spouse – am I willing to let go of what I want them to give to me, but they are not? Am I willing to let God fill that hole? I am willing to deal with what I am feeding my mind. Consecrating your life to Christ means saying the big yes, but it means saying yes to all those little things that he shows you.

            I have been a pastor for a long time and have talked to a lot of people about the things that are broken on the inside. More often than not, the place where people feel broken is only a symptom of what is really broken. Often times want God to deal with the symptom, but God wants to deal with the full reality of what is going on.

            This is where I need to remind you that spiritual formation is a process. It takes time as God works with you so that you become more like him. It is a process of him confronting us and our willingness to say yes to him.

            Back to our definition,

“Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for our sake and the sake of others.”

For our sake

            God has us in this process for our sake. God has your best interests in mind both for this life and the life to come.

            God does not promise you an easy life. God does not promise you a trouble-free life. God doesn’t promise you that life will be fair. We live in a world that is broken and messed up. We live amongst people who are broken and messed up. We are broken ourselves.

            God does not promise to change the people around you. You pray for your spouse, or your kids, your parents, or your boss or your friends, and unless you get a special word from the Lord, God does not promise that they will change. You may never get what you want from them.

            But God does promise to bring wholeness and healing in you if you let him. God is in the business of producing love and peace and joy and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and self-control. He is in the business of healing hurts and hearts. He is in the business of setting the captive free. He is in the business of setting hearts free. He is in the business of making you like Jesus.

            The question is, “Will you let him?” It may mean humbling yourself to receive prayer ministry. It may mean dealing with hidden stuff in your heart. It may mean walking in a meaningful way with others and admitting that you can’t do this by yourself. I will tell you this after seeing my own heart and working with others – I think pride is the primary thing that gets in the way of healing and wholeness.

            But God has so much for us if we let him work where he wants to work. He wants to conform you into his image because that is the very best thing that could happen to you.

For the Sake of others.

“Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for our sake and the sake of others.”

            For the sake of others. It is important to note that our life in Christ is not all about us. The second most important commandment next to loving God is loving others. If we are being conformed to the image of Christ, who gave his life for others, we will find that our life is not all about us.

            If you want a good test of your spiritual growth, look at the nature and quality of your relationship with others. If you are growing in compassion and grace and patience and kindness – then your spiritual life is growing. If you are not, then it probably isn’t either.

            As Robert Mulholland put it

Our relationships with others are not only the testing grounds of our spiritual life but also the places where our growth toward wholeness in Christ happens. There is a temptation to think that our spiritual growth takes place in the privacy of our personal relationship with God and then, once it is sufficiently developed, we can export it into our relationships with others and “be Christian” with them. But holistic spirituality, the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, takes place in the midst of our relationships with others, not apart from them.[2]

            In other words, it is through our relationships with others that God causes us to grow. You don’t become spiritual and then enter into relationships. You enter into relationships with others to become spiritually formed in the image of Christ.

            There are two ways that this works. If you have people around you who are following Jesus and being transformed by him – they can call out the best in you. They ask you questions like, “How is it with your soul?” They tell you what Jesus is doing in you. They listen to Jesus on your behalf and they listen to you as you are listening to Jesus and they give feedback.

            They don’t give empty platitudes, but they do give real encouragement. They let you be you and speak into the areas where you have given them permission to speak into. These kinds of spiritual friends are worth so much in your spiritual journey.

            There is another way in which relationships work to transform us. I like this way far less. But those people in our life who irritate us, who rub us the wrong way, who say things that are less than helpful and sometimes hurtful – are people that God uses to transform us.

            You will find that people are different than you. The things that irritate us, are the things that show what is going on in our hearts. Challenging relationships work like sandpaper on our souls. The process of smoothing out our rough edges may not be pleasant, but it is effective.

“Spiritual formation is a process of being conformed to the image of Christ for our sake and the sake of others.”

            What about you? Are you willing to engage in this process of transformation or Christian spiritual formation? You are being formed all the time, but you are not always being formed into the image of Christ. The question is will you let God do what he wants to do in your life. Will you give your big yes to God?

            God loves you just as you are. But he doesn’t want to leave you as you are. He has something better in store for you.

[1] M. Robert Mulholland Jr.. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Kindle Locations 246-248). Kindle Edition

[2] M. Robert Mulholland Jr.. Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Kindle Locations 335-338). Kindle Edition.