Written by: MIKE JOHNSON 2/27/2011 7:13 PM (from a blog on the Renovare website).
Here is another question from a young seminarian, whose questions I am answering.
YS: How do you differentiate between Spiritual Formation and Sanctification?
Mike: Sanctification is the process whereby we grow more Christ-like in our attitudes and actions. It is the process of becoming spiritually more mature. It is a work of the Holy Spirit that begins at conversion and continues on until the day when we get to go home where there is no pain or suffering or tears. "Become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:16
A couple studies in the last decade (Michael Zigarelli's study in 2000 and the Reveal study in 2007) have shown that the spiritual disciplines are a key instigator of sanctification in people's lives. Already in the 80's authors like Dallas Willard in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines were claiming that the spiritual disciplines is what helped people to become the kind of Christians we wanted to be and needed. The spiritual disciplines help shape and form people. They contribute to spiritual formation.
Possibly we could say that spiritual formation is the act of becoming sanctified (set apart, like Jesus).
Another side of spiritual formation is that it is the process of growing more in love with God. It builds intimacy with Him. It encourages the remaining in Jesus.
There is a distinction there that people often miss.
Does one involve themselves in the practices of spiritual formation first of all for union with Christ or for change of behavior. Really the two are tightly woven together, but if we are not careful we can think of spiritual formation as only the growth of character which means relating to others differently.
I began digging deeper into spiritual formation at a time in my life when so much seemed to be not working. I was frustrated and bewildered. I listened to people like Dallas Willard and turned toward solitary retreats and spiritual direction to address these issues. In the midst of trying to find a solution I did grow more tightly connected to Christ and slowly the attitude and behavioral changes came as a result.
Today I often have to check myself. Am I doing spiritual formation activities in order first of all to grow closer to God or is it merely a tool I am trying to use to get a job done-to build my life more like Christ's (sanctify it) and get it working better? I too easily slip by the former and fall into the latter. When I do, I am in trouble, because spiritual formation is not simply a gimmick.
Spiritual formation needs to be at its heart about the formation of one's life with God. Sanctification comes as a bi-product of ongoing spiritual formation, but is not the core purpose of spiritual formation. Stronger union with Christ is what spiritual formation at its core is about.
Copyright ©2011 MIKE JOHNSON