Spiritual Formation

Alec Hill
December 24, 2002

InterVarsity's fourth Core Commitment: Spiritual Formation – We cultivate intimacy with God and growth in Christ-like character through personal and corporate spiritual disciplines, empowered by the Spirit.

Last year, nearly 1,800 students met Jesus through InterVarsity chapters. While we rejoice in these new believers, our concern for them does not end with that first step of faith – not by a long shot. Conversion is but the first step on a wonderful journey of faith.

Intimacy with God

What is the primary purpose of our lives? What should motivate us each morning? While we rightly scoff at the world’s emphasis upon material success and self-actualization, we run the risk of falling into another, more subtle error – that of focusing our efforts on doing great things for God. While noble, this goal, by itself, likewise misses the mark.

To the question about the primary purpose of life, the Westminster Catechism wisely responds, “To glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Our ultimate desire should be intimacy with the Lord.

At its core, true spirituality is a matter of developing patterns of lifelong fellowship. True Spirituality is not doing things for God but of being with him. It is aligning ourselves with his will, listening to his voice, being beneficiaries of his grace. In eulogizing Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, a fellow Jesuit observed: “The aim of life is not to gain a place in the sun, nor to achieve fame or success, but to lose ourselves in the glory of God.”

Christ-like Character

In 1897, a young minister from Kansas, Charles Sheldon, penned a short book entitled In His Steps. In little more than a century, over thirty million people have read the novel, making it, after the Bible, the best-selling Christian book ever written. The story begins with a pastor speaking to his congregation: “Ask yourselves, ‘what would Jesus do?’ – then be guided, for this next year, by your best answer to that question.” The remainder of the book focuses upon the responses of various congregants – a newspaper editor, a novelist, a business leader and a wealthy matron. The theme – now widely popularized through the “What Would Jesus Do” movement – resounds with all serious Christian disciples.

As we cultivate intimacy with the Father, we seek to develop Christ-like qualities and to live as he would. Our goal of becoming “conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29) leads to wholeness and integrity in our own lives.

Spiritual Disciplines

By what means do we grow close to God and become more like Jesus? What set of personal and corporate spiritual disciplines further our spiritual formation?

In his classic book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster describes three categories of disciplines:

  • Inward – meditation, prayer, fasting and study
  • Outward – simplicity, solitude, submission and service
  • Corporate – confession, worship, guidance and celebration

Dallas Willard, a frequent InterVarsity speaker, organizes the disciplines in a slightly different manner. In his work, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he articulates two groupings:

  • Abstinence – solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy and sacrifice
  • Engagement – study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession and submission

Whatever list characterizes our particular journeys, the message is that spiritual maturity does not simply happen to us or to the students we serve. To grow in intimacy with God and to develop Christ-like qualities requires our active participation. Our role in this divine-human dance is to place ourselves – with intentionality and regularity – in the loving arms of our Lord. He has promised to do the rest.