Spiritual Formation in 7 Words

Have you heard the term “spiritual formation?” It’s all the buzz so most of us have. But do you know what it is? Come join me as we examine it using 7 words.

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Deborah Haddix

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Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of teaching various audiences about soul care. And one of the things I discovered early on was that while the word soul is quite common in Christian circles, many of those attending my sessions had no idea in the least how to define it.

Recently, I’ve come to believe the same holds true for the term spiritual formation. A term which has recently become all the buzz. By this point, many have heard the term. However, as I talk more in depth with individuals, I’m learning that most people, when asked to define it, simply cannot.

So, why don’t we start there? As we turn our focus toward this thing termed spiritual formation, let’s explore 7 words that will help us better understand and define it.

7 Words

WORD #1: UNIVERSAL

The answer to our question, “What is spiritual formation?” begins with the understanding that each of us is a spiritual being. Author and teacher, Dallas Willard, used to say that every human is “an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”

Therefore, one of the first things we need to understand is that spiritual formation is experienced by everyone – whether we realize it or not.

We each have a spirit, and that spirit gets formed – for good or for “not good.” Even if we are unaware of it, our spirits are being formed. We are all developing into people of some type of character.

WORD #2: PASSIVE

The next two words are tied tightly together. Bear with me as we work through them. Spiritual formation is both a passive and an active work. It is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two and come to see how they work in tandem.

First, spiritual formation is a passive work on our part. Consider Jesus’ words in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.” We know that His initiative and His presence are necessary for life and breath and absolutely everything, including spiritual formation.

Spiritual formation, then, is God’s work.

WORD #3: ACTIVE

However, before we are lulled into thinking all the work of spiritual transformation is up to God, let’s remember that Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

Keep your heart…” Do those words sound passive? On the contrary. They inform us that there is something for us to do! We are to keep our heart. The responsibility is ours.

Just as there is a passive element to spiritual formation, there is an active element. We have work to do. Do we do this work alone? Absolutely not!

Herein lies the tension. If we do nothing, assuming all the work is God’s, nothing will happen. On the other hand, if we try to do all the work alone, we’ll end up in a mess.

In the work of spiritual formation, God has a part, and we have a part. We would do best to understand and carry out our part so that God can do His.

WORD #4: CHRISTIAN

As I mentioned before, spiritual formation is all the buzz right now – both in Christian circles and in the world. Therefore, we need to make some clarification as to our approach to the topic.

What we are concerned with here is Christian spiritual formation which has a clear and specific purpose. The aim of Christian spiritual formation is that our spirits are formed into Christlikeness.

According to Willard in Renovation of the Heart, “Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ Himself.”

WORD #5: TRANSFORMATION

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

What we’ve been talking about and what we see in 2 Corinthians 3:18 is transformation. Spiritual formation in Christ transforms us!

Our transformation into Christlikeness is the work of God. A possible work!

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

By the grace of God, it is possible to become more like Christ. He invites us to live in His grace and to allow the transformation of our character to take place.

Perhaps the term might more accurately be called spiritual transformation.

WORD #6: PROCESS

One of the most important things for us to understand about Christian spiritual formation is that it is a process:

  • The process by which those who are God’s children come more easily to do all the things He has commanded us (Matthew 28:20).
  • The process in which believers in Christ cooperate with God and with one another so that their souls are nourished, and their characters are transformed into Christlikeness (2 Corinthians 3:18).
  • The process through which Christ is formed in us (Galatians 4:19).

These things certainly do not happen overnight, no matter how great our desire. The redemptive process of forming the inner human world so that it takes on the character of the inner being of Christ takes time.

WORD #7: PLAN

We stated in the point above that one of the outcomes of Christian spiritual formation is that we come more and more to do all the things that God has commanded us. I don’t know about you, but what I’ve come to realize over years in the church is that most Christians don’t have a plan for learning, or teaching others for that matter, how to get there.

A plan is needed! A plan that develops from this solid trifecta – vision, intention, method. First, we need a vision of our transformed life. Then we must decide (intention) that this is the kind of life we desire to live. And finally, we must put forth the effort to actually follow through. This requires method.

The method is all the ways through which we can build our confidence in God’s goodness and break the power of habit in ourselves. In other words, it’s the spiritual disciplines. Both the ones we are familiar and comfortable with (Bible reading, prayer, gathering for corporate worship), and the ones we are not (solitude and silence, fasting, service, practicing the presence of God).

Our method is the ways we discover of fulfilling the vision that our intention has set before us.


This is my prayer as we move forward. May we grasp the vision of a life transformed and pursue it with unfettered intention. And as we fulfill the vision that our intention sets before us, may we discover a multitude of effective, soul nourishing, life transforming ways to grow more and more like our precious Savior.

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About the Author

Deborah Haddix

I am a child of God, wife, mom, grandma, daughter, sister, niece, and friend who loves nothing better than spending time with those I love.

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