What is Spiritual Formation?

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Spiritual formation is the lifelong journey of being transformed by the love of the Father into the image of Jesus by the gracious movement of God’s Spirit, in order to live an abundant life of trust, rest, hope, and joy, accompanied by suffering and sorrow, for the sake of God’s kingdom and glory and the fulfillment of his mission of grace, justice, mercy, and peace for all.

Stephen Macchia, The Discerning Life: An Invitation to Notice God in Everything, p. 127

I serve as the Associate Director of Spiritual Formation at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. When I tell people my job title, I get a lot of confused looks and comments like “Cool” or “That’s interesting.”

Most people aren’t familiar with the term “spiritual formation.” They are much more familiar with the term discipleship.

When I’m asked what Christian spiritual formation is, I tell people it is the process by which we become like Jesus. I add that the goal of spiritual formation is to grow to maturity, becoming the person who God in Christ designed, redeemed, and now calls you to be.

I like Dallas Willard’s explanation too, which says that spiritual formation “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.”

Stephen Macchia’s definition is a mouthful. But that’s because there are worlds contained within the statement, “Discipleship is how we grow to become like Jesus.” He tries to relay the Trinitarian nature of Christian spiritual formation, the fruit of life with God, the acknowledgement that the path is, at times, difficult, and that the process is not only for the individual, but is part of God’s program for redeeming and renewing all things.

We’re all receiving a formation. It’s only a question of what kind of formation we are receiving.