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June 21, 2010

Spiritual Formation vs. Conversion

In certain circles I continue to read/hear some things that disturb me. The way and tone and directness with which it is expressed is almost Pharisaical or Gnostical and neither of those approaches are a good marriage with the Way of Christ.

When I read/hear comments like:

“I’d rather have 500 sold out deeply spiritual people worshipping on the weekend than 5000 that are skin deep.”

“We need to focus on growing the one’s we have before we can go out and get more.”

“Knowing the Bible should be the priority right now.”

I cringe and in all honesty I tend to boil over with anger and passion.

If every church had focused upon “growing deeper” would any of the folks who make these kinds of comments have even come to a life saving relationship with Jesus?

We often forget that while people are lambs, most of the ones we are frustrated with from a spiritual growth standpoint  are also adults. They have every right to exercise free will if only for the reason that this is the way that God wants it. They are not children who can be made to read their Bible, internalize the scripture, and be transformed by the knowledge. They can, and often do, choose not to.

None of us want a spiritually immature congregation. It sucks trying to lead people who choose to know very little, and obey even less. However, at the end of the day the Bible makes it very clear that the one responsible for the growth that we complain about, that we judge, that we often condemn is God.

God is responsible for the growth. The only thing we laborers are responsible for is planting and watering, but even then growth is God’s responsibility.

I’m thankful for the disunity in the Corinthian Church because if it were not for the problems that they faced we wouldn’t have what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, “6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.8 The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.”

It may seem like semantics because now you can just complain that not enough watering is going on, but even so God is still responsible for the growth. In fact, just because we plant and water there is no guarantee growth will happen. Sometimes it could take several seasons of sewing and watering before the first sprout springs forth from the ground of the heart.

In reality conversion is spiritual formation. At conversion the Spirit is formed in us. I would argue that the most significant and abundant growth happens at this moment. All growth that follows will pale in comparison to what happens at the moment someone is transformed by the Word of God. It is a death to life experience, and as an embryonic growth happens a rates unparalleled in the rest of a humans life so it is with our rebirth.

Conversion is Spiritual Formation. It isn’t an either/or proposition. It should be a both/and proposition.

We cannot forsake being a light to the world for the sake of focusing upon the sheep we already have in the pen. We must find a way to water and not compromise the sewing of the seed. Too many people will die and go to Hell if we don’t find a way.

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