Spiritual Formation as a Journey


Dr. Steve Clinton

The Orlando Institute

March 1, 2004


Metaphors of spiritual growth occur in the Bible as well as in literature throughout the ages.Jesus often used the metaphor of walking with Him.Paul talks about walking in the Spirit.Bunyan used the journey of a pilgrim.Other metaphors occur for becoming a Christian: taste and see, come to the water, the new birth, etc.In historical spiritual literature we find the nine level castle or the seven story mountain.For this paper I shall use the metaphor of a journey of six steps.I understand the term spiritual formation to include all the steps, from the human perspective, in moving toward faith in Christ, becoming a Christian, growing in Christ, and eventual transformation.


I.†† Step One - Being on the path toward Christ

Jim Engel outlined eleven steps in what he called the Spiritual Decision Process, or becoming a Christian believer.Included was a mix of what God does by the Holy Spirit and what we can do to help a person understand and respond to the gospel.I have not seen a better overview.In theological literature we seem to be afraid of acknowledging that from our perspective there are definite steps in becoming a Christian.It is true none of these steps would exist or be fruitful without God initiating and empowering at each step.But He does lead and empower.Luther treated preaching the gospel as one of the sacraments - it was used by God to make people believers.It bore fruit.


In essence, where ever a person is on their own path toward Jesus Christ, taking the next step is the key to moving forward.Helping a person find where they are and leading them to see and desire the next step is our part in helping each one grow.Moving a secular Hindu to a more responsible participation in a faith community moves him toward Christ.Personally, I never plan to take just one step.If the person is ready to make a deeper response I share the gospel with them in a way that seems, the best I can see, relevant to their situation and readiness.I trust the Spirit to work in their lives to make the message alive.


II.Step Two - Trusting and Walking with Jesus


True Christians have a common desire, at some level, to be spiritual men and women, whose intimate relationship with Jesus Christ actually affects their every day life.Spirituality has to do, not with one area of life, but with being an integrated person in the fullest sense.Perhaps the best description of the spiritual life is the responses which one makes to what is perceived as the inner call of God.When the individual has decided to respond to the call of God experienced within, and strives to make this call the center of activity and choice, he or she may be called a spiritual person. We start little, and we make the journey.


I find that five assumptions form the background for all orthodox teaching on spirituality:


††††††††††† 1.The world (including humanity) is Godís creation and is good

††††††††††† 2.The sinfulness of humanity before a holy God

††††††††††† 3.Jesus, the cross, faith, salvation; Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God

††††††††††† 4.The Scriptures are Godís revelation of truth

††††††††††† 5. The Holy Spirit enables Godís people to take each new step in grace.


We can be with God, be aware of His presence, at any and every moment of our day.Typically, such awareness of His presence is an outgrowth of a more disciplined setting of intimacy as a developed priority in our lives.Essentially the liturgy we see in the Psalms teaches us to link all the events and meanings of our lives to God.We bring ourselves totally to Him.When we focus on who God is we find our own experiences brought into a spiritual perspective.


Growth in Christian spirituality means learning to listen for, recognize, and obey the voice of Jesus as He directs our path.The essential element is to live in the awareness that Jesus is present, that Jesus is Lord, which means that we take each step and make each choice, relying on the divine presence.


Our experience of the presence of Christ in our life is contingent largely on our obedience by faith.†† Each person must have the freedom, and take the responsibility, of choosing as an act of faith to follow God.Also, we have no basis for judging someone else's servant.We can encourage each other.


Christ's lordship implies:


††††††††††† passing judgment on others is sin

††††††††††† we stop trying to persuade other Christians that our way is the only right way

††††††††††† we acknowledge the debt of love we owe others

††††††††††† we accept other Christians in disputable things


The believer must respond in faith to God's Word and must put Bible truths into practice.Only as we act in faith based on God's Word does spiritual growth take place.


III.Step Three: Dedication-the basic orientation to God which allows a deeper walk with Christ in the power of the Spirit.Dedication is the act of presenting myself fully to Jesus Christ, with a commitment to seek His will in every area of my life from now on.The biblical foundation for this is found in the use of the word paristeemi - a formal act of commitment.Just as faith is formally stated in baptism, so a deeper commitment to follow Christ is found in an act of dedication.


A.††††† Rom. 12:1(6:13, 19)[cf. Luke 2:22; Acts 23:33; II Tim 2:15]present your bodies - I am to live as a sacrifice (infinitive aorist active) and am called to not be conformed - [schematic](imperative present passive)but to be transformed-a way of life(imperative present passive) by the renewing of my mind(by the Holy Spirit working through the Word).We actively commit our total life to God and allow God to transform us.Our part is to not let ourselves be conformed to the world, but to allow our minds, our values and attitudes, to be changed by the Word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit.


B. ††††††† This dedication takes place when the Holy Spirit leads us to an act of presentation at some time, and then He leads us on from there to deeper maturity in Christ.For example, Billy Graham knelt by a tree stump and dedicated his life and ministry to the gospel.Bill Bright wrote out a will for his life and signed it over to Jesus Christ.


IV.Step Four: Living Out Our Union with Christ


This maturity of a dedicated disciple is the Christian life, the life of Jesus Christ, reproduced in the believer by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, invading every area of human life as a result of obedient faith.This prepares and empowers the Christian for fellowship, service and warfare.



A. Key terms related to the Christian life


††††††††††† 1.Spiritual-Hebrews 5:13,14Living based on our resources in Christ

††††††††††††††††††††††† 1).walking in the Spirit††† Rom. 8:4

††††††††††††††††††††††† 2).fulfilling the character and ministry of Christ†† (fruits and gifts of the Spirit)


††††††††††† 2.Carnal-living out of the resources of the old life

††††††††††††††††††††††† 1).fleshly in attitude and action††† I Cor. 3:13mere men

††††††††††††††††††††††† 2).worldly minded††† I Jn. 2:15-17"that ordered system headed by Satan that ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† leaves out God."


††††††††††† 3.Mature-possessing a growing conformity to Jesus Christ in attitude and action

††††††††††††††††††††††† 1).at home in the scripture†† Heb. 5:12

††††††††††††††††††††††† 2).trained to discern good and evil†† Heb. 5:14

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† therefore, able to make wise decisions


B.Being united with Christ by the baptism of the Holy SpiritI Cor. 12:13; Acts 26:18; Eph. 4:4-5

††††††††††† 1."In Christ"used 50 times in Ephesians alone


††††††††††† 2.the relationship of fellowship††† Jn. 14:20;I Jn. 1:1-7


C.Consistent plan of God-before the foundation of the world, based on the work on the cross, effected in history (Col. 1:16)


D.Results of union with Christ


††††††††††† substitutionary truths-co-crucifixion and co-resurrection; †††††† therefore, justification and adoption


††††††††††† regenerative truths-end of the old power source, beginning of a new source

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† therefore, new nature, holiness, power for ministry


†††† †††††††positional truths-new relationship in the risen Christ, leading to real union (theosis) and glorification, therefore, ††††††††††† victorious, complete, perfect, peace, joy, love

These truths lead to an attitude toward life and ministry.II Cor. 3 -We are ministers of the new covenant, finding our adequacy in Christ, and confidence as we see God use us to reach others.Patience and persistence will give peace as we wait upon God for direction, success, ministry fruitfulness, growth, and the final consummation of the promise.Fruitfulness, growth, maturity, sanctification, holiness, and love are primary pictures of spirituality, but they need one integrating image.


V. Step Five - Spiritual Exercises†††††††††


Spiritual exercises are things we can do with Godís help, with or without the assistance of a spiritual director, personally or corporately, to help develop our personal spiritual life.


1.Outward activities (outward disciplines)

††††††††††† the Bible (study, memorization, meditation)

††††††††††† fellowship\groups†††

††††††††††† worship\celebration†††

††††††††††† ministry\service\work†††

††††††††††† simplicity††† Ignatius

††††††††††† submission\confession†††


2.Inward activities

††††††††††† meditation/solitude†††

††††††††††† practicing the presence†††

††††††††††† prayer & fasting††††


3.Value of a spiritual director - someone who is ahead of me on the path to Christ. We may call this person a friend, a mentor, a trainer, a discipler.


4.Value of activities - to build spiritual habits of godliness.



Example - The Tabernacle(visual, verbal, relational, memorable)††††††††† Exodus 25-30 pattern

††††††††††††††††††††††† Ark - mercy seat25:17-22



††††††††††††††††††††††† Alter of Incense 30:1-10



††††††††††††††††††††††† Table of bread†† 25:23-30



††††††††††††††††††††††† Lamp stand†† 25:31-40



††††††††††††††††††††††† Curtains/Veils†† 26:1-14; 31-37



††††††††††††††††††††††† Laver 30:17-21



††††††††††††††††††††††† Altar†† 27:1-8







VI.Step Six:A Mature Philosophy of Spiritual Growth


1.We were created to be individuals who act with integrity as whole persons and who live and act in concert with God and other persons.We were to be in loving fellowship for all eternity.And we are created to be brothers and sisters with Christ.Thus, the aspects of life and growth need to be looked at from both personal and communal perspectives, and from the future as well as the present.The types of activities, the nature of the experience, the stimuli involved, the expected progress and outcomes will all vary in two dimensions: personal and communal.


2.The stimuli includes the incredible variety of experience which give rise to spiritual growth.These have varied much across the centuries and proponents of many major systems of stimulating spiritual growth tend to favor the stimuli which have worked best for their founders or their community.Anything in life, reflected about spiritually, can be a source of growth.All of life is ďpregnantĒ with meaning because it is created for us by God, and has sacramental meaning.


Common elements in these stimuli are external stimuli, internal stimuli, thesis statements and

the existence of paradoxes.External stimuli are: the Bible, fellowship groups, ministry opportunities.Internal stimuli are: meditation techniques, prayer strategies, visualization and other executive functions.Thesis statements are directive or instructive statements which help a person understand or make sense of spiritual truths.These function as stimuli to growth and often come from a spiritual director, counselor or Christian friend.Statements of paradox are also helpful to pull us away from the ordinary, the day to day.Statements such as "to live you must die,""to be born again you must die to self,""if you drink this water you shall never thirst again," cause a person to focus intellectually on spiritual truths and the spiritual realm.


3.Progress in spirituality is fostered by a correct use of relationships in time (chronos) and knowledge of critical times (kairos) and opportunities for spiritual growth, and is hindered by improper use of time and relationships.The ideas of growth, death, time and relationships are main variables in developing a biblical sense of personal and corporate progress.


4.Philosophical Issues


††††††††††† Incarnation/Logos: with the Father & the Spirit and with us

††††††††††††††††††††††† Model: the Trinity - Colo. 1:16: I John 1

††††††††††††††††††††††† Plan: relationships - John 17

††††††††††††††††††††††† Life: fellowship- I John 1:3-9

††††††††††††††††††††††† Warfare: relational - Ephes. 6:11-18


††††††††††† Priority of the spiritual - Col. 1.Our growth is always internal, specifically spiritual, then mental, emotion, volitional, then outward.


5.The Importance of Value Choices


††††††††††† The upper levels of the affective domain: growth in inner grace will show in character growth.


††††††††††† The will: submission to Christ and a daily choice to follow is at the heart of growth.





I.Biblical and historical models of spiritual growth:


††††††††††† 1.Paul (cognitive)


††††††††††† 2.John (affective)


††††††††††† 3.Peter (lifestyle)


††††††††††† 4.†† Monastic: apophatic absence of stimuli which distract one from God


††††††††††† 5.Charismatic: kataphatic presence of miraculous events which draw one to God


††††††††††† 6. Jesuit spiritual progress:the way of purgation; the way of illumination; the way of unity.††


†††††††††† 7.Reformed view:the Christian life is irresistible lifelong growth toward perfection which will only be realized in eternity.


††††††††††† 8. Wesleyan view:a perfect love for God and others now, second blessing.††


††††††††††† 9. Dispensational view:struggle of the two natures,living more and more in spirituality.††


Common elements:struggle, inner life, Holy Spirit, faith, obedienceHowever, none of these metaphors is complete in itself.Life is far richer than any of these allow.The fact that every tradition has produced truly spiritual men and women suggest that neither the theological explanations of primary spirituality nor the individual forms of spirituality are as important in themselves as we tend to view them.Their importance is in leading us to a deepening faith walk with Christ.



II.Major Contributors by type and history


††††††††††† Paul 66†††††††††††††††††††††††† John 96††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Peter †† 68


††††††††††† Ignatius 107††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Polycarp 155††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Clement R 100


††††††††††† Justin 165†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Athanagoras 177††††††††††††††††††††† Clement A†† 217


††††††††††† Theophilus †††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Irenaeus†††††††††† Victor†††††††††††††† Origen††††††††††††† Tertullian

††††††††††††††††††††††† Eusebius C†††††††††††††††††† Felix†††††††††††††††† Cyprian

††††††††††††††††††††††† Basil†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Hilary†††††††††††††† Athanasius†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††

††††††††††††††††††††††† Gregory††††††††††††††††††††††† Pachomius

††††††††††††††††††††††† Cyril†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Ambrose

††††††††††††††††††††††† Chrysostom††††††††††††††††† Jerome†††††††††††† Cyril†††††††††††††††† Augustine††††††††

††††††††††††††††††††††† Acacius††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Leo††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††† Athanasius†††† Philoxenus

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Gregory


Basil†††††††††††††† 185-254†††††††††† 374On the Holy Spirit - Chapter IX, p. 23; XVI, p. 38-40;

Chrysostom †††† 347-407†††††††††† 398

John Cassian††† 360-435†††††††††† 415

Augustine†††††† 354-430†† ††††††† Rule424†††††† The Spirit and the Letter412

Caesarius†††††††† 470-530†††††††††† Rule†† 503

Philoxenus††††††† 450-530†††††††††† 13 Discourses

Benedict†††††††††† 480-547†††††††††† The Rule†† 529repentance, commitment, transformation

Columba††††††† 521-597†††††††††† Rule†† 563

Gregory††††††††††† 540-604


Bernard††††††††††† 1090-1153†††††† Sermons on the Song of Solomon

Richard St. Victor††† -1173††††††

Francis†††††††††††† 1182-1226†††††† Rule1209†††††† The Admonitions††††††††† 1223†††

Dominic††††††††††† 1173-1221†††††† Rule 1215

Aquinas††††††††††† 1225-1274†††††† On Truth††††††††† 1256

Lull†††††††††††††††††† 1235-1315†††††† The Great Book of Contemplation †††††† 1277

Tauler†††††††††††††† 1300-1361†††††† Sermons1343

Catherine††††††††† 1347-1380†††††† Dialogo1377

Groote†††††††††††† 1340-1384†††††† The Brethren of the Common Life

a Kempis††††††††† 1377-1471†††††† The Imitation of Christ `1425†† renunciation, imitation, mysticism

Luther††††††††††††† 1482-1546†††††† The Freedom of the Christian††† 1520

Calvin†††††††††††††† 1509-1564†††††† Commentary on John 6; Romans 6; Ephesians 3; II Timothy 1

Ignatius ††††††††††† 1491-1556†††††† Spiritual Exercises1541 ††††††††† repentance, illumination, union



III. Modern Framers of Spirituality


Theresa††††††††††††††††††††††† 1515-1582†††††† The Interior Castle††††††† 1588

John of the Cross †††††††† 1542-1591 ††††† The Living Flame of Love1590

Lorenzo Scupoli ††††††††† 1530-1610†††††† The Spiritual Combat

de Sales†††††††††††††††††††††† 1567-1622†††††† The Love of God††††††††† 1616

John Arndt†††††††††††††††††† 1555-1621†††††† True Christianity

Thomas Goodwin†††††††† 1600-1680††††††

Pascal††††††††††††††††††††††††† 1623-1662†††††† Pensees

George Fox††††††††††††††† 1624-1691†††††† Journal1694

Richard Baxter ††††††††††† 1615-1691†††††† The Saint's Everlasting Rest†† 1650

Philip Spener††††††††††††††† 1635-1705†††††† Pious Thoughts 1675

Fenelon †††††††††††††††††††††† 1651-1715†††††† Explication of the Teaching of the Saints1697

Francke††††††††††††††††††††††† 1663-1727††††††

W. Law††††††††††††††††††††††† 1686-1761†††††† A Serious Call1728; The Spirit of Love1754

John Wesley†††††††††††††††† 1703-1791††††††

C. H. Spurgeon††††††††††† 1834-1892†††††† The Saint and His Savior1857

Andrew Murray††††††††††† 1828-1917


20th Century:

††††††††††† Moody

††††††††††† Bounds

††††††††††† Nee

††††††††††† Smith

††††††††††† Tozer

††††††††††† Orr

††††††††††† Thomas

††††††††††† Stanford

††††††††††† Trotman

††††††††††† Eims

††††††††††† Bright



††††††††††† Blackabee

††††††††††† Bridges

††††††††††† Eldredge

††††††††††† Foster

††††††††††† Gire

††††††††††† Haggard

††††††††††† Hayford

††††††††††† Hendricks

††††††††††† Lawless

††††††††††† Lawrenz

††††††††††† Lucado

††††††††††† Packer

††††††††††† Stafford



IV. Stages of Spiritual Growth


Assuming that there is in some sense a developmental model, what might be the stages of growth in spiritual life?


1.Other Stage models

††††††††††† A.Physical(Piaget)

††††††††††††††††††††††† sensorimotor

††††††††††††††††††††††† preoperational

††††††††††††††††††††††† concrete operation

††††††††††††††††††††††† formal operation


††††††††††† B.Moral(Kohlberg)six stages

††††††††††††††††††††††† obedience

††††††††††††††††††††††† concrete exchange

††††††††††††††††††††††† interpersonal expectation

††††††††††††††††††††††† social system

††††††††††††††††††††††† social contract

††††††††††††††††††††††† universal ethical principle


††††††††††† C.Social(Erickson) eight crises

††††††††††††††††††††††† trust

††††††††††††††††††††††† autonomy

††††††††††††††††††††††† identity

††††††††††††††††††††††† initiative

††††††††††††††††††††††† industry

††††††††††††††††††††††† intimacy

††††††††††††††††††††††† generativity

††††††††††††††††††††††† integrity


2.Spiritual Stages


††††††††††† A.deadness


††††††††††† B.basic awareness of spiritual realities


††††††††††† C.life and external growth (Paulís milk; Johnís children)

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† personal

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† corporate

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† multiplication


††††††††††† D.maturity and internal growth (Paulís meat; Johnís young men & fathers)

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† deeper awareness

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† deeper communication

††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† deeper fellowship




V.Matrix of Personal Development