Spiritual Formation Beyond Decency

We must stop using the fact that we cannot earn grace (whether for justification of for sanctification) as an excuse for not energetically seekng to receive grace.  Having been found by God, we then become seekers of ever-fuller life in him. Grace is opposes to earning, not effort.  The realities of Christian spiritual formation are that we will not be transformed “into his likeness” by more information, or by infusions, inspirations, or ministrations alone. Though all of these have an important place, they never suffice, and reliance upon them alone explains the now-common failure of committed Christians to rise much above a certain level of decency.

~ Dallas Willard, in The Great Omission

Christ-likeness: The Purpose of God for His People

by John R.W. Stott

I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words – love God, love your neighbour. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth and it is – God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.

So if that is true, I am proposing the following:

  • First to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christ-likeness;
  • Secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this;
  • Thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions.

And it all relates to becoming like Christ.

So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living:

Lets look at these three briefly.

Romans 8.29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much – though not all – of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.

My second text is 2 Corinthians 3.18: ‘And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.’ So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory – it is a magnificent vision.

In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.

That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3.2. ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, for ever.

Here are three perspectives – past, present and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatalogical purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical and the eschatalogical, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.


NOTE: The above address was the last message John Stott gave at the Keswick Convention. This address was given in Summer 2007

Drilling Down

I have greatly benefited from being introduced to Tri-Perspectivalism.   While it is an odd sounding word, as a concept Tri-Perpectivalism is reasonably easy to grasp.  It is a multi-facted perspective, or looking at things from three distinct perspectives, rooted in the personality and offices of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King.

John Frame was probably the first to touch upon this leadership-personality grid. Dick Kaufmann contributed significant practical insights and applications.  And David Fairchild has taken the whole thing a step further.

Speaking at a conference in Fall 2010, Fairchild explained that there are different types of prophets, priest, and kings. While each individual has a primary wiring (i.e. Prophet, or Priest, or King) each also has a secondary, or modifying, perspective.  Fairchild suggested:

In fact, the secondary perspective is sort of like their delivery method. In other words, you might be a priest and enjoy counseling, but your secondary is king. So you enjoy working with people that need pastoral care by applying wisdom to their particular situation like finances or work related counsel. This is effortless and easy for a kingly priest, but not so for a priestly priest.

Let’s explore some breakdowns:

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Worship God Seeks

I wonder what would become of the worship wars in our congregations if we recognized the truth in what worship leader/songwriter David Ruis expresses:

“The worship God is seeking relies completely on His initiative, knowing that the only true expression of worship is through the abandonment of all our agendas for His, as we trust in His sovereign power and unlimited grace. It is from this heart posture that true liturgy flows, that music and arts find their highest calling and that the light of a worshipping community shines as a beacon of hope to a suffering and searching world.”

The Original Missional Calvinist

John Calvin often gets a bad rap.  But David Mathis offers us another perspective.  In the Introduction to a book he co-edited with John Piper, With Calvin in the Theater of God, Mathis writes:

“Calvin so believed in the importance of the everyday activities of Christian life and mission that he had a strange but telling practice in Geneva. He was eager to see Jesus’ church gathered on Sundays, but he was not happy for his flock to retreat from everyday life and hide within the walls of the church during the week. So to prod his congregants to be fully engaged in their city of Geneva – in their families, in their jobs, with their neighbors and coworkers – he locked the church doors during the week. It must have been hard not to get the point. He knew the place of God’s people – gathered together to worship on Sunday, but during the week not hidden away behind thick walls of separation, but on mission together in God’s world, laboring to bring the gospel to metro Geneva in their words and actions, in all their roles and relationships.”

Critics who suggest Calvinism discourages evangelism and is inherently anti-mission might want to rethink their attitudes about the reformer.  Calvin’s outwardly focused missional mindset ought to be applauded, and in many cases even adopted.  While Mark Driscoll has popularized the term Reformissional, John Calvin was the original Reformission Rev.

NOTE: The entire book can be uploaded and read free.  Click: With Calvin in the Theater of God

100 Ways to Love Your Neighbor

It seems as if it ought to be simple enough: “Love your neighbor.”  But experience tells me it is not as easy as it might seem.  And, if we take seriously the parables of Jesus, we learn it is not as easy as some tend to think.  When we read what Jesus holds up as the standard of neighborliness we realize that to love our neighbor is not the same as the absence of hostilities or even just the presence of genuine affections.  To love our neighbors we need to be involved in one anothers lives to some degree.  Even one insurance company gets that: “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there…”

But this is easier said than done in our fast pace, busy, world.  And Frankly, even State Farm’s claim seems a little dubious to me.  When I think about it, they’re only there for me when I pay them to be. Try dropping your policy and see if they seem like such “Good Neighbors” then.  I have my doubts.

But who can blame them? Life is busy.  And my neighbors are as active as I am.  How are we supposed to engage them, even if we commit to carving out the time?

Josh Reeves offer us a few suggestions.  Here are Josh’s Top 25:

  1. Stay outside in the front yard longer while watering the yard
  2. Walk your dog regularly around the same time in your neighborhood
  3. Sit on the front porch and letting kids play in the front yard
  4. Pass out baked goods (fresh bread, cookies, brownies, etc.)
  5. Invite neighbors over for dinner
  6. Attend and participate in HOA functions
  7. Attend the parties invited to by neighbors
  8. Do a food drive or coat drive in winter and get neighbors involved
  9. Have a game night (yard games outside, or board games inside)
  10. Art swap night – bring out what you’re tired of and trade with neighbors
  11. Grow a garden and give out extra produce to neighbors
  12. Have an Easter egg hunt  on your block and invite neighbors use their front yards
  13. Start a weekly open meal night in your home
  14. Do a summer BBQ every Friday night and invite others to contribute
  15. Create a block/ street email and phone contact list for safety
  16. Host a sports game watching party
  17. Host a coffee and dessert night
  18. Organize and host a ladies artistic creation night
  19. Organize a tasting tour on your street (everyone sets up food and table on front porch)\
  20. Host a movie night and discussion afterwards
  21. Start a walking/running group in the neighborhood
  22. Start hosting a play date weekly for other stay at home parents
  23. Organize a carpool for your neighborhood to help save gas
  24. Volunteer to coach a local little league sports team
  25. Have a front yard ice cream party in the summer

To read the rest of Josh’s ideas click: 100Ways.  Josh has a link at the bottom of his Top 25 list.

H.T. to Jonathan Dodson @ Creation Project.

The Lord’s Day

by Archibald Alexander

Reason teaches that there is a God, and that he ought to be worshiped. Had man remained in his primeval state of integrity, social worship would have been an incumbent duty. But it is evident that continual worship, whatever may be the fact in heaven, would not have been required of him while on the earth. We know, from express revelation, that it was appointed unto him to keep the garden of Eden, and dress it; and this would have required much attention, and vigorous exertion. He was also constituted lord of the inferior animals; and the exercise of this dominion would of necessity occupy a portion of his time and attention. In order to perform the primary duty of worshiping his Creator in that manner which was becoming and proper, he must have had some portion of his time appropriated to that service.

The worship due to the great Creator requires time for the contemplation of his attributes, as revealed in his glorious works. It requires time, also, to recollect all the manifestations of his wisdom and goodness in the dispensations of his Providence, and to give vocal expression to feelings of gratitude for the benefits received, and the happiness bestowed. No doubt, devotional feelings were habitual in the hearts of our first parents. No doubt, they sent up, more formally, their morning and evening prayers; but more time is needed to draw off the thoughts from visible things, and to concentrate them on the great invisible Giver of existence. Short snatches of time are not sufficient to perform this noblest of all duties in a proper manner. A whole day, at certain periods, was needed, so that there might be time for the contemplation of divine things, and for the full and free exercises of devotion. And as man is a social being, and so constituted, that by uniting with others who have the same views and feelings, his own through sympathy are rendered more animating and pleasing, it is evident that it was intended that mankind should worship and praise God in a general and public, as well as in an individual and private capacity. What proportion of time should be consecrated to this service, the reason of man could not have determined. If it had been left free by the law of God, the obligation to set apart the due proportion of time would not have been so binding and sacred, as if the Almighty Creator should designate the day which should be employed in his service. And behold the amazing condescension of God! With some view to this very thing, He was pleased to perform the work of creation in six days, and to rest on the seventh; thus setting an example to his creature man; for He not only rested on the seventh day, but sanctified it; that is, set it apart to a holy use — to be employed, not in bodily labor or converse with the world, but in the contemplation of the works and attributes of God, and in holding delightful communion with his Maker. God could have commanded the world into existence, with all its species of living creatures, in a single moment; but for man’s sake, he created the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, the light, and the air, and vegetables, and animals, in six successive days, and then ceased to work; not that the Almighty could be weary and need rest; but for the purpose of teaching man that whilst he might lawfully spend six days in worldly employments, he must rest on the seventh day. This day, from the beginning, was a holy day.

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Prayer a Priority?

Sometimes the truth hurts, doesn’t it?  Such is the case in a recent article by Jonathan Graf for Prayer Connect.  In the article titled Living Up to a Core Value Graf writes:

I was recently at a denominational gathering for a group that I know values prayer tremendously. In one of its core values it states: “Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.” I have no doubt that this group believes that. But when I look at what is emphasized in the group’s magazine, website, and materials that come out of its national office to churches, prayer is not placed in a position to make one think it was as important as other things – certainly not enough emphasis to show they believed it was the primary work of God’s people.

One of the primary reasons prayer is so weak in churches and in believers lives these days has to do with this “lip service” given to the importance of prayer. It seems enough for a church to say “we believe in prayer,” or “we want to be a praying church.” Our actions don’t seem to matter as much as simply saying that. The Apostle James (who was affectionately known as “Camel Knees” because of the callouses on his knees from kneeling in prayer) says, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). If we apply that truth to prayer, he is saying, if you say you believe in prayer, but that belief is not accompanied by activity and actions that prove that, then you don’t really believe it!

What Graf is getting at could be – and should be – applied to any Core Value of a church or organization. After all, if something is not put into practice is it really a value at all?  And the same could probably be said regarding many of our supposed spiritual disciplines.  But about prayer many  especially seem to be prone to pontification without participation.

By the way, Prayer Connect is a new magazine and e-journal well worth reading.

Ordinary Saints

Jerry Bridges opens his book, Respectable Sins, with a reaffirmation and reminder that all who are in Christ are declared Saints.  While some may find this status difficult to believe, Bridges explains:

“We don’t become saints by our actions. We are made saints by the immediate supernatural action of the Holy Spirit alone who works this change deep within our inner being so that we do, in fact, become new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5.17).  This change of state is described prophetically in Ezekiel 36.26: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone [a dead, unresponsive heart] from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh [a living responsive heart].”

Bridges goes on to write:

“It would be nice if we could end the story here, because [this] might suggest a saint is someone who no longer sins.  Alas, we all know this is not true.  Rather, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that nearly every waking hour, we sin in thought, word, and deed. Even our best deeds are stained with impure (mixed) motives and imperfect performance…”

As Bridges points out, most of us never think of ourselves as saints and few of us think about the responsibility to live as saints.  And while we can easily identify sin in the actions and conduct of segments of our society, in most churches we fail to address how gossip, worry, etc. are also sins that tarnish and erode.


Steve Childers is Founder and President of Global Church Advancement. He is also professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary-Orlando.  In a former life Steve was an effective pastor and church planter.  A  number of years ago I had the privilege of taking a doctoral class in church planting under Steve’s tutelage.  I have appreciated him ever since.

Now Steve has done us the favor of, not only sharing his great insights about ministry and church planting but, chronicling his biggest ministry mistakes.  These mistakes are obviously beneficial for fellow pastors to aviod.  But I think that these short, insightful confessions can also profit others in church leadership, be it those holding official office or those with unofficial influence. In fact, some of Steve’s insights translate to the values we hold that shape our lives and congregations.

In no particular order:

  1. Failure to Understand the Importance of How I Define Ministry Success
  2. Managing My Time and NOT Managing My Life
  3. Not Understanding the Difference Between My Goals and My Desires
  4. Not Understanding the Difference Between Pursuing the Grace of God and the God of Grace
  5. Failure to Understand the Way Up is the Way Down
  6. Failure to Understand the Priority of People Over Programs
  7. Not Understanding Product Living vs. Process Living
  8. Failure to Initiate Supportive Relationships

Missional Shift

In his book The Present Future, Reggie McNeal reveals and contrasts different ways leaders can think about the church and its ministry. McNeal reflects upon the different paradigms that pastors can have as they lead and conduct ministry in the church.

Being missional is a shift in thinking about the nature of the church. Once a missional understanding is adopted, the way we do church begins to change.

A missional church stresses:

  • community transformation over growing the church
  • turning members into missionaries over turning members into ministers
  • and recovering Christian mission over doing church better.

My Spiritual EKG

“How are you doing, Spiritually?” That is an important question.

The Great Physician, by both direct and indirect statements in his Word, repeatedly encourages us to examine our hearts. But while many may be  aware that it ought to be our regular practice to take a Spiritual pulse, I suspect that relatively few know how to read the gauges even if they try. Consequently, if we are not certain what we are looking for, it follows that we are not always quite sure how to answer our opening question. So, it seems, the typical response we might give, even to those who may genuinely care, is an awful lot like the responses we give to the stranger on the street, or the hotel clerk we see each morning on vacation, when they ask “How are you today?” “Fine, thanks. And you?” But this is too important a question to simply perpetuate the standard reflex response.

I have benefited from regularly asking myself 10 Questions I learned from Don Whitney and his short but helpful book: 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Asking myself these questions, or considering observations people have offered about me as they relate to these questions, serves as a good spiritual check-up.

Each of the 10 Questions below is a link to an excerpt of respective chapters from Whitney’s book:

  1. Are you more thirsty for God than ever before?
  2. Are you more and more loving?
  3. Are you more sensitive to and aware of God than ever before?
  4. Are you governed more and more by God’s Word?
  5. Are you concerned more and more with the physical and spiritual needs of others?
  6. Are you more and more concerned with the Church and the Kingdom of God?
  7. Are the disciplines of the Christian life more and more important to you?
  8. Are you more and more aware of your sin?
  9. Are you more and more willing to forgive others?
  10. Are you thinking more and more of heaven and of being with the Lord Jesus?