Storyline is in the midst of a series of conversations about living an “eternal kind of life,” to use Dallas Willard’s phrase. We’re examining texts out of Paul’s prison letters that relate to topics of spiritual formation: trust, purity, dependence, generosity, grace, collaboration, etc.
I’ve been thinking about the banner text of the series quite a bit lately, Colossians 3:1-4:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Paul follows this exhortation with counsel to put ungodly behavior to death and to put on their new selves that reflect God’s image.
I’m struck by Paul’s emphasis on the heart and mind. Before spiritual formation is about external actions, it’s about the heart and mind.
We can change our behaviors without ever changing our hearts or minds. Such behavior change is not spiritual formation, merely “sin management” (to steal another phrase from Dallas Willard).
Richard Foster addresses this very issue in a recent article in Christianity Today. There he lays out his three priorities in the church’s spiritual formation in the next thirty years, the first of which is “heart work.” He writes,
All real formation work is “heart work.” The heart is the wellspring of all human action….When we are dealing with heart work, external actions are never the center of our attention. Outward actions are a natural result of something far deeper, far more profound….This, of course, does not reduce good works to insignificance, but it does make them matters of secondary significance, effects rather than causes. Of primary significance is our vital union with God, our new creation in Christ, our immersion in the Holy Spirit. It is this life that purifies the heart; when the branch is truly united with the vine and receiving its life from the vine, spiritual fruit is a natural result.
Foster hammers it home by saying,
…Everyone thinks of changing the world, but where, oh where, are those who think of changing themselves? People may genuinely want to be good, but seldom are they prepared to do what it takes to produce the inward life of goodness that can form the soul. Personal formation into the likeness of Christ is arduous and lifelong.
The pathway to justice and restoration in the world is not public policy or a better system. Don’t get me wrong, a better system and better policies will certainly be helpful in curbing the injustice that stems from the evil of the human heart. And they are necessary in the time until God restores the world.
But the pathway to justice in the world is ultimately the formation of the human heart into the likeness of Jesus.
When God restores the world one day, drug policies will no longer be needed because people will trust the work of God in their lives for pleasure and provision. Prisons will no longer be needed because people will not have the hatred in their hearts that leads to murder and other crimes. Civil rights laws will no longer be needed because people will genuinely love those different than themselves. The human heart will experience radical transformation.
The good news of God’s kingdom is that God’s restoration has begun. It was ushered in by the resurrection of Jesus.
If that’s true, my first way of participating in God’s work of justice and restoration is by doing the hard work of heart work. How could I ever expect the world to change if I don’t expect myself to change?
We’re seeking for Storyline to be that kind of community — a community of grace; a community that cares first about what’s going on in people’s hearts rather than merely how they’re behaving.
That’s why we put on spiritual cleansing retreats like Marvelous Light. That’s why we participate in Formation Groups, where individuals confess their sins and listen to God’s voice in Scripture on a weekly basis. That’s why we’re committed to the values of life change and authenticity.
If I’m known for anything, I want people to know me as a person whose heart reflects the heart of God.
Man, I’ve got a long way to go.
May the Spirit of God be strong and alive within us all as we make ourselves available to him to form our hearts.
That was an awesome post! I am stealing a quote from Dallas Willard (of course, giving him credit!!) Thanks again for the reminder that spiritual formation starts with my heart and when that is transformed my actions will follow!
Amen, brother. There always seems to be one or the other. On the one hand we have those who proclaim Christ and what He will do inside of a person (saving of sins, creating a new heart and mind, etc) without preaching or teaching or acting on injustices of this world; either spiritual or physical. On the other hand you have the crew that proclaim Christ only to show an example of a life-well-lived and good teaching – preaching and teaching and acting on injustices in the world though only for the physical; while lacking the declaration of the Gospel; that Jesus is Lord; and that true and eternal regeneration and relationship with God the Father, with each other, and ultimately with creation will take place in Him and through Him only.
Isaiah 64 speaks to this well; quoting v. 6 “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” This does give us a first importance; that with our sin and our iniquities upon us; no manner of good deeds will suffice; they are but dirty rags. But with Jesus and the transformation of the heart via the iniquities being nailed to the Cross; our good deeds are purified through Him and are done for Him. Oh what the world should see in us through our Savior!
Good thoughts. Grace to you –