The Appearance of Godliness

Recently in my devotions, I was reading the verses below and for the first time realized that Paul was talking about people in the Church – people who would call themselves Christians.

2 Timothy 3:1-9 (ESV) **

1 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

Later in the day, I was listening to the audio book The Great Omission (by Dallas Willard) and the same passage of scripture was referenced.

Does Christian spiritual formation really matter? Can’t we get along quite well without it? The response to the question must be, first of all, that we are not getting along quite well without it.  We are largely without it, to be sure, but we are not doing well. The life of quiet desperation that most people have always lived, according to Henry David Thoreau, is at present becoming noticeably more desperate and less quiet. The sad litany of misdeeds and depraved characters that Paul listed in such places as Romans chapters 1 and 3, Galatians 5:19-21, and 2 Timothy 3:2-7 is as up to date as the latest edition of the newspapers and weekly magazines or the evening news. Education, government, business, the professions, art and entertainment, as well as the private lives of multitudes of people, stagger under the burdens of human wickedness and failure caused by others and brought on by ourselves. All of this is so common and pervasive that the normal person is almost blind to it, accepting it as just the way things are. The processes of the formation of spirit that dominate the contemporary world are a disaster when viewed in terms of their outcome, a running sore, an unhealing wound (Isaiah 1:2-9).  In addition, those who know something of the goodness and beauty of Jesus yearn to be like Him or at least feel a responsibility to be like Him, but they are left helpless unless they can find a path of inward transformation. Who can show them the way if the people identified with the cause of Christ in this world are not prepared to teach and exemplify a process of spiritual formation that will result in an outflow of Christ from their deepest heart and character, from their very identity, from who they are.  And from the viewpoint of those responsible to lead in Christ’s program of making students from all ethnic groupings, immersing them in the reality of the triune name and teaching them to do all things He has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20), Christian spiritual formation is simply indispensable.  The lack of an understanding and implementation of it is why there is in general so little real difference between professing Christian and non-Christian today. Where can one find today any group of Christians with an actual plan to teach the people of their group to do everything Jesus said? Indeed, who is sure of the possibility of such a plan? It makes a huge difference whether spiritual formation in Christ-likeness is available to the church and to the world.  As Christian people, we stand today in a moment of great opportunity, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians, a wide door for effective work has opened to me and there are many adversaries (1 Corinthians 16:9). Many blind allies beckon and there is much misinformation about as well as deep antagonisms to the way Christ calls us to go.  It is important that we not see in the current interest in spiritual formation merely an invitation to keep doing what we have been doing, except now to really mean it.  The standard advice routinely given to ordinary Christians and even to the more enthusiastic among us is hopelessly inadequate to the needs of the heart, soul and body.  Now we must find ways that in our current context can succeed in honestly and thoroughly renovating the inner person so that it bears the identical vision, feelings and character of Jesus Christ.  Go ye therefore.

In the quote above, spiritual formation is the process of maturing spiritually in Christ-likeness. Spiritual disciplines are a key part of spiritual formation. Disciplines are habits that require effort. I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing in “cheap grace” that promises that if I merely repeat the sinner’s prayer I secure my place in Heaven and I can relax and wait to be showered in prosperity.

When Jesus preached, He told people to repent. Repentance involves change and change requires effort. The effort will not earn me salvation, but it will speed the renewal of my mind.  When I read the verses from 2 Timothy above, I cringe when I recognize character traits that hit too close to home.  I do not want to be dominated by the same impulses and desires that ruled my life prior to Christ.  My goal is to know God, love God, and walk with God so closely that the natural outcome is that my life is changed from the heart outward.

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