The spiritual formation movement is very popular today. It is, however, in many ways a move away from the truth of God’s Word to a mystical form of Christianity, and it has infiltrated, to some degree, nearly all evangelical denominations. This idea of spiritual formation is based on the premise that if we do certain practices, we can be more like Jesus. Proponents of spiritual formation erroneously teach that anyone can practice these mystical rituals and find God within themselves.
Too often, adherents of the current spiritual formation movement believe the spiritual disciplines transform the seeker by his or her entering an altered realm of consciousness. The spiritual formation movement is characterized by such things as contemplative prayer, contemplative spirituality, and Christian mysticism.
True biblical spiritual formation, or spiritual transformation, begins with the understanding that we are sinners living apart from God. Our faculties have been corrupted by sin so that we cannot please God. True spiritual transformation occurs as we yield ourselves to God so that He may transform us by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. At least half of every New Testament epistle is geared toward how to live a life well pleasing to God—by obedience and submission to the Holy Spirit in all things. Scripture does not only call us the redeemed, saved, saints, sheep, soldiers, and servants, but teaches us that only through the power of the Spirit we can live up to what the names mean.
The following passages address various aspects of spiritual formation, the work of God in the life of the believer.
"For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29). Here is the aim of transformation: that we may be like Christ.
"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is part of a passage that teaches that we are changed into the image of Christ not by following rules and laws, but by following the leading of the Spirit by faith.
"At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:3-7).
Here, Paul reminds us of our before-and-after life. We have responded to the "kindness and love of God" shown to us by the death of Christ for our sins, repented of our sins, and now respond to the Spirit’s continual prompting and empowerment to live differently as God’s children. As a result, we have been transformed by the "rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit" (v. 5). This, then, is true spiritual formation—the reforming of our spirits by His Spirit into the image of Christ.