Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spiritual Formation and the Kingdom of God


Jesus’ teachings revolve around the kingdom of God. This is synonymous with the kingdom of heaven. Robert Stein noted “the expression is found in sixty-one separate sayings in the Synoptic Gospels. Counting parallels to these passages, the expression occurs over eighty-one times.” The numbers emphasis how central the kingdom of God is to Jesus’ teaching. The kingdom of God is not a political kingdom nor is it an ideological one. The kingdom is about rule of God in the world today. And this has an influence on spiritual formation.

First, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God is the process of submission to the Kingship of Christ. Jesus Christ is the king of this kingdom. An important aspect of spiritual formation is to recognise that Jesus Christ is King, Lord, and Master over our lives. Spiritual formation is the process of gradually learning to give up control and ownership of our own lives and submit it under the kingship of Jesus. This act of submission is sometimes called, “taking up the cross.” The cross in the New Testament times was a punishment designed to humiliate and give a painful death. Dying to our ego is both humiliating and painful. This will mean submitting every aspects of our life under his kingship; relationships, work, and our belongings. Kenneth Boa describes a holistic spirituality when “believers for whom Christ is pre-eminent as the focus of their being and pursuits. These people acknowledge his sufficiency and supremacy by relegating all areas to his rule and authority.” It is in surrender to Christ that we become more like Christ.

Second, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God involves spiritual warfare. Ladd writes, “The kingdom is not an abstract principle; the kingdom comes. It is God’s rule actively invading the kingdom of Satan.” This kingdom is a one that will come at the end of the age and it is already here. It arrived when God came into history as Jesus Christ. Hence the kingdom has an ‘already-not yet’ component. Spiritual formation also means being involved in spiritual warfare. Paul warned the Ephesians that “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph.6:12). Spiritual formation equips us to put on the full armour of God for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:13-18). It is in spiritual warfare that spiritual formation engages culture and the world.

Third, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God means living in the presence of God now. Dallas Willard reminds us that the spiritual disciplines are to help us slow down so that we can hear God. Like Brother Lawrence, spiritual formation will help us to discern the presence of God in the mundane, routine of our daily life.

Finally, spiritual formation in the kingdom of God gives us the opportunity to partake of the nature of God (2 Peter 1:4; 1 Jn 3:12). In the end times when the kingdom of God comes again, we shall be like Christ in our whole being. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, we shall be receiving the deification of theosis. In all instances, we shall achieve our goal be become prefect like Christ when we receive our gloried bodies when Christ comes again.

The kingdom of God allows us another perspective in understanding spiritual formation. It includes the process of submitting to the Lordship of Christ, practicing the presence of God, involvement in spiritual warfare and being part of God’s timing when the kingdom comes in the future.

1 comment:

alwyn said...

thanks for the post, Alex.

it's interesting to see spiritual warfare mentioned in so close connection (almost identification) with spiritual formation...i never saw it that way b4, always thought one had to be 'spiritually formed' (to some degree) before taking on the spiritual powers and princs.

you write that it's in spiritual warefare that we 'engage' culture and the world - could u elaborate on this? granted we face resistance and oppression from demonic forces everywhere, yet i trust you didn't mean to say that all things culturally and/or worldly are 'hostile' such that we need to 'wage war' on them most of the time?

my own take on spiritual formation is: replicating Calvary day by day, moment by moment. The Cross is the supreme moment of 'spiritual perfection', also ironically the occasion when God 'became sin' for us. i shudder.