Exploring the Bible's Role in Spiritual Formation

Uncover the foundational role of the Bible in fostering a deep love for God and others.

Spiritual Formation is the process by which one is conformed into the image of God (2 Cor. 3:17-18). The spiritual formation process starts as we respond to the Spirit’s invitation to be formed into the type of person who readily reflects God to the world. It looks like learning to be with Jesus, be transformed by Jesus, and then do what Jesus teaches us to do. The ultimate result of a life formed by God is a life that produces the fruit of the Spirit, a deep love for God and the world around us.

Spiritual director Ruth Haly Barton describes Christian spiritual formation process as the process where “Christ is formed in us for the glory of God, for the abundance of our own lives, and for the sake of others” If we want to fully live that out, the role of the Bible is foundational. Here are three reasons the Bible is crucial in spiritual formation:

The Bible: A Mirror Reflecting Christ in Us

The Bible is the way to know Christ as the Living Word who impacts our daily lives.

The Bible Project describes it as a library of scriptures, with a unifying story that points to Jesus. If we desire to become people whose lives produce the fruit of the Spirit and reflect Christ to the world around us, then the person and life of Christ must have the greatest influence in our lives. In fact, John describes Jesus as the Word of God who was with God and was God…who put on flesh and dwelled among us (John 1:1, 14). If the story of scripture points us to Jesus, who is the Word, then the Bible must play a significant role in our spiritual formation.

Furthermore, when writing to Timothy, Paul says All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). The scriptures are sacred texts meant to be experienced, put into practice in our daily lives, for they help us to be equipped for every good work.

The Narrative of Transformation

The Bible is where we see the narrative of God’s heart for transformation.

From the first pages of scripture, we see God’s desire for humanity to be image bearers of God, for God creates humanity in His image (Genesis 1:26-31). In the story of creation, men and women were created as very good, to multiply and fill the world, and to reflect the nature and character of God throughout the world. When Adam and Eve distrust God in Genesis 3 and choose to go their own way, the image becomes distorted. Fear, shame, guilt, and separation enter the picture - breaking our relationship with God, with each other, and with the world. The rest of the story of the Bible is all about God pursuing humanity with the invitation to be transformed and, ultimately, restored back to a right relationship with Him through Jesus’s death and resurrection, where we are given a new life marked by love.

It is important to note that this pathway for spiritual transformation doesn’t come by our own effort or accomplishment. In fact, the story of the Bible is about how people aren’t able to fix themselves on their own. Moses needed God’s help to overcome his fears in order to lead the Israelites out of freedom. Mary Magdalene needed Jesus to set her free from her bondage. Peter needed Jesus’s restoration in order to step back into his calling after his denial. Paul says anyone who is in Christ is a new creation; the old life is gone (2 Cor. 5:17). It is Jesus who does the transforming work. The scriptures are crucial for spiritual formation because that is where we see the story of God’s own desire to get rid of what distorts us as image bearers, and transform us back into who He created us to be.  

Practices for Spiritual Formation

The Bible is where we see practices that open us up to be formed into the image of God.

It is clear that only Christ through his Spirit does the transforming work. As Peter says, it is Christ’s divine power that gives us everything we need for a godly life (2 Peter 1:3). In order for the transforming work to happen in us, we need practices or habits that help us become aware and recognize God’s movement in our heart and in our lives around us. Oftentimes, we think becoming like Jesus means to stop doing things: stop sinning, stop being angry, stop hurting others. However in Scripture, spiritual growth is also about what we get to start doing. For example, when people encounter Jesus in the Gospels and experience miraculous healing, he often tells them to go and sin no more (John 8:11). But that isn’t all he talks about or practices. We see Jesus talk about and practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, solitude and silence, generosity, hospitality, discipleship, and gospel sharing. All are ways to open ourselves up to God’s work in our hearts and lives.

Becoming like Jesus isn’t just about not following the patterns of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind, then we will know God’s good and pleasing will (Romans 12:2). Most of Paul’s letters to churches in the testament talk about how to walk in this new life, by walking in love, repentance, hospitality, compassion, and the fruits of the Spirit. The Bible helps us learn to live out this new life in Christ so that others might see and desire to be changed as well. Spiritual Formation is rooted in the Bible, for it is the way we know Christ, the way we see God’s heart for transformation, and where we find how it impacts our daily lives and relationships.

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