Conversatio Divina

Grace for Transformation

A Gem with Many Facets

Ken Boa

The mysterious triunity of God is the ontological foundation for unity and diversity, mutual communication, and loving interpersonal communion. As God’s image bearers, we are fundamentally relational beings who were created for the summum bonum of an intimate relationship with the living and personal Lord of all visible and invisible things. No other person, possession, or position could ever satisfy the longings of the human heart, since God implanted eternity within the inner fabric of our being (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

In the plenitude of his grace, God invites us to the glorious coinherence of “you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20, NRSVScripture quotations marked (NRSV) are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.). The fundamental dynamic of the spiritual journey is the divine-human synergy in which we respond to his gracious initiatives. We are shaped and defined by that to which we aspire, and we do well to pray for the grace of holy intention. The men and women of living faith who have preceded us to the Celestial City have discerned and explored a variety of means to grace. These manifold means are facets of the glory of the lovingkindness and benevolence of God, and they resonate in different combinations that correspond to the uniqueness of each human personality. In my book Conformed to His Image,Kenneth Boa, Conformed to His Image Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) I presented twelve facets of grace at length, and this article is an adaptation of the introductory chapter.

01.  A Journey and a Pilgrimage

The spiritual life is an all-encompassing, lifelong response to God’s gracious initiatives in the lives of those whose trust is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Biblical spirituality is a Christ-centered orientation to every component of life through the mediating power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a journey of the spirit that begins with the gift of forgiveness and life in Christ and progresses through faith and obedience. Since it is based on a present relationship, it is a journey with Christ rather than a journey to Christ. As long as we are on this earth, we never arrive; the journey is not complete until the day of our resurrection when the Lord brings us into complete conformity with himself.

This journey with Jesus is really a spiritual pilgrimage, in that we have confessed that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13, NASBScripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.). Once we are in Christ, we become sojourners and aliens on this planet; our citizenship has been changed from earth to heaven (Philippians 3:20), and we must grow in the realization that no earthbound felicity can fully satisfy the deepest God-given longings of our hearts.

During this brief pilgrimage, the terrain we encounter varies from grassy meadows to arid deserts and treacherous mountains. This pilgrim-life is filled with joy and travail, with pleasures and afflictions, with clarity and confusion, with assurance and doubt, with comfort and pain, with relationships and alienation, with hope and despair, with obedience and disbelief, with confidence and uncertainty. But there are two critical truths to bear in mind when our surroundings become precarious: (1) others have preceded us in this journey, and some have left maps along the way to guide us through the territory ahead; and (2) God has equipped us with the spiritual resources he knows we will need throughout the journey.

02.  Twelve Facets of Spirituality

There are various approaches to the spiritual life, but these are really facets of a larger gem that is greater than the sum of its parts. The spiritual paths taken by godly pilgrims of previous centuries are rich and impressive in their diversity and complexity. Some of these paths were blazed through courage and suffering and through reciprocity with complex historical, social, and cultural rhythms. Unfortunately, most followers of the Way have ignored the topographical maps left behind or have torn off all the parts that are unfamiliar to them. The most common stumbling stone is to mistake a part for the whole. Like the blind men who feel different parts of an elephant, one assumes that the spiritual life is a trunk, another takes it to be a tail, and a third concludes that it is a leg.

Anyone who studies the four Gospels should be suspicious of an approach that reduces the nuances of the spiritual life into a single formula or method. The Gospels are not biographies, but highly selective thematic portraits revealing different aspects of the life of Christ that should stand in dynamic tension with one another. The synergism of this tensioned interplay resists neat categorization, and so it is with the dynamics of a Spirit-led journey with Christ. In contrast to the conceit of those who seek to quantify and control, the humility of wisdom always whispers that there is more, much more. When we approach the spiritual journey with an open and teachable spirit, we will continue to gain fresh insights from the Word of God, the people we meet, and the books we digest.

In these postmodern times, there is a growing desire for an authentic spirituality that will touch our lives in a meaningful and practical way. The biblical vision of the spiritual life as a redemptive relationship with the living and personal Creator of all things can satisfy this deep desire, but most accounts of this vision are fragmentary or one-sided. In this brief essay it is my intent to mention not one or two but a variety of pathways in the spiritual life and show how each of these pathways can contribute to the dynamic process of spiritual growth and serve as an avenue of grace.

I do not claim that the twelve facets presented here are exhaustive, but they do cover a substantial part of the terrain. I created these categories in an attempt to reflect the various dimensions of biblical truth as they relate to practical experience on a personal and corporate level. Because of this, some of them are rooted in historical traditions (e.g., disciplined and devotional spirituality); some are linked to more recent movements (e.g., exchanged life and Spirit-filled spirituality); and others simply portray hands-on applications of Christian principles (e.g., paradigm, holistic, and process spirituality).

The Twelve Facets

The following is a survey of the twelve facets that are developed in Conformed to His Image.While the limited discussion of each of these facets in this book is fragmentary and sketchy, I have tried to distill the essence of each of these diverse but beneficial approaches. (There are many other ways to explore the vast territory of spiritual formation, and here are a few from the wide range of helpful resources: Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology; Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water; Alister E. McGrath, Christian Spirituality; Michael Downey, Understanding Christian Spirituality; Rowan Williams, Christian Spirituality; Allan H. Sager, Gospel-Centered Spirituality; Benedict J. Groeschel, Spiritual Passages; M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., Invitation to a Journey; Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways; Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul; James Houston, The Transforming Power of Prayer; Kenneth Leech, Experiencing God.)

1. Relational Spirituality: Loving God Completely, Ourselves Correctly, and Others Compassionately

Persons, God is a relational being. He is the originator of a personal relationship with us, and our high and holy calling is to respond to his loving initiatives. By loving God completely, we discover who and whose we are as we come to see ourselves as God sees us. In this way, we become secure enough to become other-centered rather than self-centered, and this change enables us to become givers rather than grabbers.

Lord, may I love you from the inside out, embrace the truths of my new being in Christ, and love and serve others out of the overflow of your indwelling grace.

2. Paradigm Spirituality: Cultivating an Eternal vs. a Temporal Perspective

This approach to spirituality centers on the radical contrasts between the temporal and eternal value systems and emphasizes the need for a paradigm shift from a cultural to a biblical way of seeing life. The experience of our mortality can help us transfer our hope from the seen to the unseen and realize the preciousness of present opportunities. Our presuppositions shape our perspective, our perspective shapes our priorities, and our priorities shape our practice.

Lord, may I treasure and aspire to the riches of your surpassing grace and resist the seductive lure of what the world declares to be important.

3. Disciplined Spirituality: Engaging in the Historical Disciplines

There has been a resurgence of interest in the classical disciplines of the spiritual life, and this approach stresses the benefits of these varied disciplines. At the same time, it recognizes the needed balance between radical dependence on God and personal discipline as an expression of obedience and application.

Lord, transform me as I learn the wisdom of embracing the time-tested spiritual disciplines as means of transforming grace, rather than as ends in themselves.

4. Exchanged Life Spirituality: Grasping Our True Identity in Christ

The last century has seen the growth of an experiential approach to the spiritual life based on the believer’s new identity in Christ. Identification with Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection (Romans 6; Galatians 2:20) means that our old life has been exchanged for the life of Christ. This approach to spirituality moves from a works to a grace orientation and from legalism to liberty because it centers on our acknowledgment that Christ’s life is our life.

Lord, I pray for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the real knowledge of you, so that I discover my true life in the life of Christ.

5. Motivated Spirituality: A Set of Biblical Incentives

People are motivated to satisfy their needs for security, significance, and fulfillment, but they turn to the wrong places to get their needs met. This approach emphasizes the option of looking to Christ rather than the world to meet our needs. A study of Scripture reveals a number of biblical motivators: these include fear, love and gratitude, rewards, identity, purpose and hope, and longing for God. Our task is to be more motivated by the things God declares to be important than by the things the world says are important.

Lord, grant that I may desire what you promise and love what you command.

6. Devotional Spirituality: Falling in Love with God

What are the keys to loving God, and how can we cultivate a growing intimacy with him? This approach explores what it means to enjoy God and to trust in him. We gradually become conformed to what we most love and admire, and we are most satisfied when we seek God’s pleasure above our own.

Lord, may you be the supreme object of my love so that I will treasure intimacy with you rather than the false promises of a fleeting world.

7. Holistic Spirituality: Every Component of Life under the Lordship of Christ

There is a general tendency to treat Christianity as a component of life along with other components such as family, work, and finances. This compartmentalization fosters a dichotomy between the secular and the spiritual. The biblical alternative is to understand the implications of Christ’s lordship over every aspect of life in such a way that even the most mundane components of life can become expressions of the life of Christ in us.

Lord, I want to live out of the center of the Christ-life with every component of my life under his dominion.

8. Process Spirituality: Being vs. Doing; Process vs. Product

In our culture, we increasingly tend to be human doings rather than human beings. The world tells us that what we achieve and accomplish determines who we are, but the Scriptures teach that who we are in Christ should be the basis for what we do. The dynamics of growth are inside out rather than outside in. This approach considers what it means to be faithful to the process of life rather than living from one product to the next. It also focuses on the expressions of abiding in Christ and practicing his presence.

Lord, make me alive to the grace of inviting you to live your life through me rather than trying to do things for you.

 9. Spirit-Filled Spirituality: Walking in the Power of the Spirit

Although there are divergent views of spiritual gifts, charismatics and non-charismatics are agreed that until recently, the role of the Holy Spirit has been somewhat neglected as a central dynamic of the spiritual life. This approach considers how to appropriate the love, wisdom, and power of the Spirit and stresses the biblical implications of the Holy Spirit as a personal presence rather than a mere force.

Lord, may I set my mind on the Spirit and walk in fellowship and dependence on him.

10. Warfare Spirituality: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

Spiritual warfare is not optional for believers in Christ. Scripture clearly teaches and illustrates the realities of this warfare on the three battlefronts of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The worldly and demonic systems are external to the believer, but they entice and provide opportunities for the flesh, which is the capacity for sin within the believer. This approach develops a biblical strategy for dealing with each of these barriers to spiritual growth.

Lord, by your grace I lay hold of the spiritual armor you have given me so that I will wage war in your power against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

11. Nurturing Spirituality: A Lifestyle of Evangelism and Discipleship

The believer’s highest call in ministry is to reproduce the life of Christ in others. Reproduction takes the form of evangelism for those who do not know Christ, and edification for those who do. It is important to develop a philosophy of discipleship and evangelism and view edification and evangelism as a way of life; lifestyle discipleship and evangelism are the most effective and realistic approaches to unbelievers and believers within our sphere of influence.

Lord, I look to you to empower me to become more like Christ and to reproduce his life in others.

12. Corporate Spirituality: Encouragement, Accountability, and Worship

We come to faith as individuals, but we grow in community. A meaningful context of encouragement, accountability, and worship is essential to spiritual maturity, since this involves the other-centered use of spiritual gifts for mutual edification. This approach stresses the need for community, the challenges and creators of community, the nature and purpose of the church, soul care, servant leadership, accountability, and renewal.

Lord, as a living member of the body of Christ, I ask for the transforming grace of the communion of the saints.

03.  Unity in Diversity

A quick look at these twelve approaches underscores how truly different we are from one another. As you read them, you were undoubtedly attracted more to some of these approaches than to others. You probably thought some of them would be very hard for you, but easier for some of your friends to pursue. Some of them may be unfamiliar, and you may not have encountered people who have taught or practiced them.

As Paul puts it so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12–14, the body of Christ is a diverse and composite unity in which the members exhibit different gifts and different ministries. It is good that we are different and that we need one another to grow into fully functioning maturity, because no component in the body can be complete without the others.

It can be liberating to discover that because of our unique temperaments and circumstances, we are free not to be drawn to some approaches to spirituality. This is the purpose of Appendix A, “The Need for Diversity,” in Conformed to His Image, where these differences are discussed in detail. As this article shows, some of us are extraverts and can never be alone, while others are consistently drawn to solitude. Some of us base our decisions on detailed investigation, and others play it by ear and can move quickly, almost instinctively, through life. Some of our friends say we place too much emphasis on thinking and not enough on feeling, or vice versa. Our many temperamental differences are reflected in the way we practice the different facets of spirituality.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of our differences. We can see how God has used dissimilar people throughout the history of the ancient, medieval, and modern church, and this is the focus of Appendix B, “The Richness of Our Heritage,” in Conformed to His Image. C.S. Lewis said he preferred theological reading to devotional books, and great intellectuals from John Calvin to Thomas Aquinas have always been numbered among God’s people. Martin Luther’s approach was balanced by his friend and coworker Philipp Melanchthon. Francis of Assisi called the church to change in very different ways than did John Chrysostom.

One of the many unique truths of Christianity is the dynamic of the grace of God that overcomes the spiritual and moral alienation between God and man. Just as salvation in Christ is by grace through faith, so the gradual transforming process of sanctification is also by grace through faith. In His loving overtures, God has equipped us with a multiplicity of resources we need to lay hold of His transforming grace.

Footnotes

Ken Boa holds a BS from Case Institute of Technology, a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, a PhD from New York University, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford in England. He is the president of Reflections Ministries. www.reflectionsministries.org