A 3-step way of understanding Spiritual Formation

Every month my Spiritual Director gives me a passage of scripture to sit with throughout out the month.  For this month he gave me Galatians 6:14-18.  Just four small verses, but they are packed with content.  So, this morning I thought I would spend some time in prayer and reflection on this passage.  I went into the sanctuary of the church, sat with my bible open and my notebook in hand, and proceed to go through the movements of Lectio Divina on this passage.  I would love to say that I had some earth shattering revelations take place; that the heavens pealed back and the Spirit of God descended upon me in overly-charismatic way.

Nothing like that happened.  What I did experience was the gentle prodding of some important questions along with insight into a possible model of Spiritual Formation.  Could this passage speak to how we engage in formation as the body of Christ?  Could we look to this passage as a possible ‘three-step’ model of how we may grow into deeper Christ-likeness?  First, let’s look at the passage.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

As I said, this passage is filled with great content and there are many different places where one can sink into deep reflection.  How often do I boast in something other than the Cross of Jesus? What does it mean to ‘bear the marks of Jesus’ in my own body?’ These were some of the thoughts and questions that turned around in my mind and heart as I went through the Lectio movements.  Yet the majority of my inner reflections centred on the two ways Paul references himself in relations to crucifixion.  Paul seems to be suggesting that the cross of Jesus brings about a two-sided crucifixion for the Christian person.  Or, to put it another way, the cross has two cruciform effects.

  1. The world has been crucified to me.

Christian life often runs at odds with the systems and values of the world in which we live.  This is what Paul experienced in his own world, as the Christian Gospel was naturally at odds with both the political and various religious sensibilities of the Roman Empire.  To see the world as crucified was to see the world as having no power or pull upon the Christian life.  Thus, like Pilgrim in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, one can step away from practices contrary to the living out of Christian faith, because Christians belong to an alternative kingdom.

The obvious question is: How do we see the world as crucified to us?  How do we step away from the cultural messages of individualism, relativism, and moral obscurity?  What does it mean, for example, to refrain from boasting about our own status or earnings when we live in a culture of ’15 minute fame’? Christ calls us to interact with the world in a different way, from a different grounding.  We are not at home in the kingdom of the world.  To switch biblical authors, we are sojourners here.

  1. I have been crucified to the world.

When we see the world as crucified to us, we can easily develop a sense of smug self-righteousness.  If we are not careful we can begin to see ourselves as ‘better’ than those around us.  While others belong to such a flawed and faulty world, we are more evolved – more holy.  Yet the cross of Jesus is not a leans through which we see our own superiority over the world and its inhabitants.  We are crucified as well.

In reality, we can only see the world as crucified if we see ourselves as crucified as well.  Formation isn’t just about recognising the false narratives of the world around us, we also expose the false narratives that lie deep within.  Where do I lack humility?  Where do I boast in my own accomplishments or status?  Where have I acted in frustration, in anger, in selfishness?  The crucifixion of the self is an important step in this for it essentially is that which allows Jesus to become the still point of our lives.

I mentioned that I wondered if this passage could be used as a three-step model of Spiritual Formation.  We have just looked at the first two steps.  Step one: The crucifixion of the world to us.  Step Two: The Crucifixion of us to the world.  So what is the third step?

  1. The New Creation/Walking by this rule

Paul makes a point of saying that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision mean anything, but what matters is a new creation.  Circumcision – and by extension non-circumcision – indicated a certain status to be claimed.  It was a merit that could be held up and boasted in.  In this way, it could easily be seen as more important than one’s active participation in the kingdom of God.  We hear echoes of Jesus’ statements to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and his criticism of their hypocrisy.

The danger is that we merely replace circumcision with ‘the new creation’ thereby making it just another status symbol.  Yet the life of Faith is to be one of constant walking.  We live our lives in the very context of our relationship with Jesus.  Faith is not something to be held up and boasted about, because our faith is the very way that we live out our lives.  So we do not just claim the world is crucified to us, or that we ourselves have been crucified; we actively live out this reality in the world.

This means that our formation in Christian life is an ongoing process, and never one that we can claim for ourselves, or boast about.

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