The Gospel within Discipleship: Spiritual FormationBy Sara Singleton
June / July 2011
The cry of the global Church is for every believer to engage in a life of discipleship. Disciples are intentional, disciplined learners who apprentice themselves to the person and way of Jesus. Disciples are outposts of the Kingdom of God in every geographical location, every sphere of influence, and every strata of society.
But do intentionality and personal discipline result in a lightness of being—or a heaviness of performing?
As earnest disciples, we find that whenever we set our wills to do the will of God, we are liabilities of righteousness and libels of God’s love. Our desire for well-disciplined lives and the mandate for mission give way to discouragement from the competing coup within our hearts and inertia of behaviors that hold us back.
What can change us from within and sustain us in our discipleship? It is abiding in God’s intentional and engaged love for us that we are made into faithful and loving disciples. It takes God to make us God-like—restoring us into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). The Apostle Paul discovered this gospel when his own efforts failed him (Romans 7:7-24). Bursting with exuberance, Paul declares the good news of spiritual formation by abandoning self reliance and clinging in dependence on God’s ability to remake us from the inside out (Romans 7:25-8:30).
God’s Call to Spiritual Formation
What is meant by the term “spiritual formation,” and how do we cooperate with God’s intention to conform us to Christ? Spiritual formation refers to the Holy Spirit-driven process of refashioning the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes a reflection of the inner being of Christ himself.1
God intends for this “metamorphosis” to occur in every believer’s life.2 Since it is God’s intention, why do we not always experience ourselves or other Christians as “little Christs”?3
By faith, we are regenerated into a new birth, making us genuinely new, but not totally new.4 Why? Scripture reveals three dynamics of the progressive nature of spiritual formation.
- We are like infants who must eat in order to grow (1 Peter 2:2).
- We are insensitive to the presence of God and need continual awakening to his voice and initiatives (Hebrews 4:7-13; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
- We are deformed through the effects of sin in our identities and relationships and we need ongoing healing (Colossians 3:5-17; Romans 12:1-2).
Respectively, God calls us to learn, listen, and to live in the light.
Call to Learn
In discipleship, we grow into the full stature of Christ through feeding upon scripture as taught and modeled by people who are apprentices of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13-16). We learn who we are in Christ and our place in God’s redemptive history.
The goal of discipleship is maturity of obedience, love, and the reproduction of faith in the lives of others. As disciples, we desire to honor God as we hunger for greater knowledge and faithfulness. Even so, we may find ourselves panting for more than knowledge and ministry provides.
Call to Listen
The Holy Spirit whispers God’s invitation to know him intimately. It comes as a thirst or longing for the living God, and when he speaks, we are challenged to listen (Psalm 62 and 63).5 Our busyness and efforts as “agents for God” prevent us from listening to the still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12).
Rev. Dr. Sara Singleton now pastors at First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs after a 20-year career as a registered nurse. She earned a DMin in spiritual formation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is the editor of a 2-volume audio devotional series, Hearts On Pilgrimage. She is married with two adult children and a granddaughter.