23 Mar 2015
When asking the question, what is spiritual formation, there can be great difficulty in recognizing the specific area of focus. This would be due to the great amount of variety within the sphere of such a topic regarding the presuppositions many people can bring to it. However there is a consistent undercurrent that ties the definitions together into a relative coherent understanding. According to Dallas Willard, spiritual formation is the process where one moves and is moved from self-worship to Christ-centered self-denial as a general condition of life in God's present and eternal kingdom.  In this, there is a more detailed analysis in describing its meaning. Spiritual formation begins with God and the relationship with him and fellow brethren. It is by virtue of the Holy Spirit's work in regeneration and conforming the believer into the image of Christ through his indwelling, guiding, gifting, filling, and empowering those saved for God's glory. The foundation of such a formation is found through the Scripture as the only and primary source of all truth. The responsibility of the Christian is a relentless pursuit in being Christ-like in all facets of life through a new nature. Such formation is the fruit of what one has already become, an adopted child of God, and not works alone to achieve an imaginary level of spiritual attainment. The methodology of such an endeavor is not prescribed as a checklist for every believer, but rather differentiates for each person as God sees fit for them.
As stated in the introduction there is a number of reference points pertaining to Biblical instruction regarding spiritual formation. Although such terminology is not specifically found in every instance, the idea in what it represents is plentiful. The primary area many refer to is the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. With this area of Scripture, the results are listed from leading a life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It would be considered a measure of progress in some ways to see how one is coming through the sanctification process. It should be noted, however, that there would be an ebb and flow to such a device in that some seasons may be more fruitful in patience and love as opposed joy and peace introspectively. In order to attain such fruits however, one must be diligent to know the One in whom he is following. A thorough study of His attributes that which makes up His character, is imperative in attaining any growth whatsoever. Through such knowledge is a child of God to begin the process in a more fruitful way than foregoing it. Without this concrete foundation, much of the growth will be experience alone, which is not biblical. Knowing who Christ is through his attributes is the only way one can attain the spiritual growth as guided by the Holy Spirit.
From this one should then go to the Sermon on the Mount in helping to determine what a Christian should look like. The descriptive values in what and how the Christian should be would more readily translate into the fruits seen previously. Christ teaches what the believer must be like as a standard of behavior and life within the heart in accordance with the holiness of God. Being separate from the world and unto Him is a fundamental truth that without, one cannot attain the fruit of the Spirit. The division of what should be done and what should be avoided, in essence, what delineates the world from those chosen of God instills the rock of truth to rely upon
In reflecting upon one's own experience in relation to spiritual formation, a great number of those who call themselves Christian can only describe such a term as prayer time and possibly praise and worship in certain circles. For the most part it is classified as an emotional experience one has with the work of the Spirit. The form that it arrives is through clearing the mind or through music in service. These functions among others are more related to tradition than Scripture. In personal experience, it becomes a more concrete arena. What Scripture says to do, do. What Scripture says not to do, do not do. In this there is a certain requirement to know the difference and that itself can only be accomplished through much work and study in Scriptures. Most who identify as being Christians who want a greater awareness of God actually looks for and attains a easier yet non-Biblical methodology of self-interpretation apart from Scripture. There is no work in exegetical discernment and simple prayer in acquiring a greater knowledge of God which, then, leads to the greater awareness of Him. One cannot occur apart from the other, no matter how trivial the spiritual exercises may be.
Coincidentally, it is in Westerhoff's work that sees both sides of the coin blended into one unifying theme. In his chapter discussing the development of spiritual discipline, there are areas that are beneficial to the Christian and areas that are not. Coincidentally, those that do help deal more with the external as opposed to the internal. Finding a time and place that is consistent in reading Scripture helps to develop a consistency which coincides with repetition in going back to the Bible daily. Journaling helps in recalling areas one believes the Spirit is taking him in relation to any given question or issue currently being dealt with. It also provides a timeline of posterity for future generations to read through. A spiritual friend which is a fancy way of saying Christian Brother is good for edification and encouragement through prayer and study time. Coupled with these areas are exercises that dwell on the internal of the person involved. Picturing, pondering, and praying of the Lectio Divina borders on the Eastern Mysticism and Catholic heritage of attempting to draw closer to God through works. In clearing the mind of no thought, breathing exercises, good posture, and repeating a mantra to better focus on Scripture only clears the way for self-reflection unto sanctification. 
The entire effort of Spiritual Formation as a whole combines the Biblical with the non-Biblical under the contemplative ministry. It is rooted in Catholic pietistic mysticism with its emphasis on discipleship. It is espoused of righteousness by works by attempting to reach God by its own strength. Many Christians, who do not study as they should, take for granted what is spoken to them by leaders in the church in whom they trust, and assume it is true. It has been attributed to CH Spurgeon of the saying, "Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right." It is in this piece of wisdom the Christian should reflect upon when determining whether they should follow to the letter that which is summarily grouped under Spiritual Formation.
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