dry canyon with narrow path in antelope valley

Leaning into Freedom in Christ

For the last two weeks, I have been thinking about how to grow closer to God in my walk with him. I have thought about learning to change behaviors or habits which impeded my walk with Christ. Then I wrote how easy it is to think we are more spiritual because we do or don’t do certain things, which causes us to be condescending toward others. So how do we find balance in our walk between developing healthy disciplines and yet being free in our life in Christ?

I would like to share a quote that comes directly from the Introduction to the book, The Good and Beautiful You, by James Bryan Smith, which is part of the Good and Beautiful four-book series. He writes:

Before my mentor, Dallas Willard, passed over to Glory, I asked him what he thought about the rapid rise of the Christian spiritual formation movement. He said, “It is a wonderful thing, but my fear is the Christian spiritual movement will continue to grow so rapidly that the difficult work of establishing an anthropological foundation will not happen.” By “anthropological foundation,” Dallas was referring to a clear sense of the nature of the human person.

I asked, “Without an anthropological foundation, what will happen as a result?”

Dallas said, “The spiritual formation movement will degenerate into technique. It will focus on practices and not on the soul.”

My sense is that Dallas’s prophecy has come true. Much of the teaching and writing on Christian spiritual formation focuses primarily on the disciplines—on the practices. And, of course, the spiritual disciplines are wonderful tools in our formation. But why do we need a solid understanding of who we are in the process of spiritual formation? We need this foundation because Christian spiritual formation is not primarily about practices or the feelings they might engender. It is about becoming who you are in Christ. Walking a labyrinth or engaging in lectio divina can be powerful practices, but the practices themselves are not the point.

Christian spiritual formation is not primarily about helping you feel more spiritual, but it is about forming you in Christ.

The Christian faith is not primarily about belief and practices; it is primarily about what kind of people Christians become.

In short, the Christian faith is not primarily about belief and practices; it is primarily about what kind of people Christians become. And who we are, who we become, is a deep longing in our embodied souls. God designed us with a deep longing in our souls to be wanted, loved, alive, and connected to God. In Christ, we are all of these and more. And when we live into this reality, we become the unique person God created us to be.

A writer who greatly influenced this book, Fr. Adrian van Kaam, once wrote,

I must become the unique person I am meant to be. The more I become what my Creator called me to be originally, the more I will be united with my divine origin. I must find my original self as hidden in God. The original life of a Christian, as St. Paul says, is hidden in Christ.

Our true self—our original self—the one created by and for Christ, the one made in the image of Christ, is hidden in Christ. Christian spiritual formation, then, is the process of allowing that original Christ-created Christ image to emerge. I have discovered that inviting the Spirit to help me become more like Jesus produces much better results than trying to be “the best version of myself.” The practices we engage in are important in that they are the means God uses, through the Spirit, to shape and form us. But we must never mistake the means for the ends.

Nothing more needs to be said.






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