Our Part in Spiritual Formation

Here are several ways we develop our own character:

1. Take Responsibility for Our Own Spiritual Formation:

  • Philippians 2:12, So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.
    • You “work out” your salvation, you don’t “work for it.”
    • We must work out our salvation with fear & trembling. (see Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • Once we experience salvation through Christ’s substitutionary death we are responsible to work out this new relationship/position in Christ with “fear & trembling.”  As we face new challenges, problems or temptations we are not to haphazardly devise a solution with little reflection on what God would want us to do. We are to approach this new life in Christ with “a healthy fear of offending God and a righteous awe and respect for Him (cf. Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; Isaiah66:1-2).” MacArthur Study Bible

2. Start From the Outside In:

  • Matthew 23:25-26, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
  • Legalism – is an External Make-Over

3. Practice the Spiritual Disciplines:

  • 1 Tim.4:7b-8, On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
  • Spiritual disciplines (practices, habits) interrupt the flow of normal life in order to be open to God’s work in our lives. Disciplines of the Spirit:
    • Study of the Scriptures – reading, observing, interpreting, applying, meditating
    • Fasting
    • Solitude
    • Praying
    • Silence

4. Cultivate a Hunger for God’s Word:

  • 1 Peter 2:1, Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.
  • Why do some people grow when in the Word and others don’t grow as much?
    • Matthew 13:8 says –”And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” cp. Mark 4:8; Luke 8:8.
    • The answer to this question is found in Luke 8:15 “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
  • Luke provides the explanation for the different levels of growth and fruitfulness. Luke records Christ giving four steps to being good listeners that maximizes their time in the Word.
    • Step 1 is to have an honest heart. This word “honest” [Gr. kalos ] is the opposite of false-hearted, dishonest about self.
    • Step 2 is to make sure we have a good heart. The word “good” [Gr. agathos] Thayer’s Lexicon says – it means good in the sense of fertile soil, it denotes a soul inclined to goodness and accordingly eager to learn.
    • Step 3 is to “hold it fast” [Gr. katechousin – “cling to” the truths learned]. We are all prone to hear something and then forget it. Jesus is saying we need to hold on to it. For me this requires taking notes if I’m listening to a message, going over those notes during the week, memorizing a key verse from the passage.
    • Step 4 involves bearing “fruit with perseverance.” Fruit bearing takes time and perseverance [Gr. hupomone]. This requires life application, action steps, accountability, prayer and a lot of patience. The degree to which we apply these four steps will determine our fruitfulness.

5. Repent Over Your Sin:

The word repentance [Gr. metanoia] means “a change of mind.” An unbeliever must have a change of mind about their:

  1. “Sin” – Revelation 9:20, 21
  2. “God” – Acts 20:21
  3. “Dead works” – Hebrews 6:1

The biblical concept of repentance involves far more than merely a casual change of thinking. True repentance is always a turning from sin (1 Thessalonians 1:9), and it always results in changed behavior.

  • 2 Corinthians 12:20-21, For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances; 21 I am afraid that when I come again my God may humiliate me before you, and I may mourn over many of those who have sinned in the past and not repented of the impurity, immorality and sensuality which they have practiced. cf. 2 Corinthians 13:1-5
  • 2 Corinthians 7:9-11, I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter.

There are seven marks of a believer that is truly repentant over their sin.

  1. “What earnestness” [Gr. spoude] denotes haste, diligence to try to change things in contrast to previous indifference.
  2. “What vindication of yourselves” [Gr. apologian] denotes an eagerness to clear oneself.
  3. “What indignation” [Gr. aganaktesin] denotes vexation or anger that they have troubled others with their sin
  4. “What fear” [Gr. phobon] denotes fear over God’s displeasure
  5. “What longing” [Gr. epipothesin] denotes yearning to see the matter rectified and relationships restored. Describes a person that will accept all the help he can get.
  6. “What zeal” [Gr. zelos] denotes a fervency or enthusiasm to do what is right.
  7. “What avenging of wrong” [Gr. ekdikesin] denotes a readiness to turn against oneself.

How does godly sorrow differ from worldly sorrow (2 Cor.7:10; Matt.27:3; 26:75)?

  • Judas had worldly sorrow; he felt remorse but it only led to his own suicide (Acts 1:18-20).
  • Peter wept bitterly after he denied the Lord and became extremely vocal about his faith to a lost and dying world.

6. Confess Your Sin & Seek God’s Parental Forgiveness:

  • 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

7. Obey God’s Word as You Learn It:

  • Philippians 2:12, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
  • Luke 6:46, Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
  • Luke 8:19-21, Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you… 21 But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

8. Replace Old Habits with New Ones:

  • Ephesians 4:22, “…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”


  • Ephesians 4:25, Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.
  • Ephesians 4:28, He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
  • Ephesians 4:29, Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

9. Place Yourself Under the Authority of a Local Church and Soul-Care of a Small Group Leader:

  • Heb.13:17, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:10, as we night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face, and may complete what is lacking in your faith?

Place ourselves in a “face to face” environment where people are honest about our need to change.

  • Matthew 18:15-20, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. 19 “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”

You need the “teeth of accountability”

10. Get an Accountability Partner:

  • Hebrews 3:13, But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
  • 2 Timothy 2:22, Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

Write out your spiritual growth plan

11. Apply All Diligence in Developing Your Character:

2 Peter 1:5-7, Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love Diligence involves seeing the task of character development as a special assignment from the Lord and using all of your energy to accomplish it. (IBLP adapted)

Spiritual formation is a lifetime task

  • Philippians 3:12-16, Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, ” I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
  • It’s a lifetime of work. The Apostle Paul was always pursuing this goal but was very conscious of the fact that he hadn’t arrived.

12. Our Progress Should be Measurable:

  • Ephesians 4:11-13, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
    • Measurable Outcomes – Is formation occurring? What is your next step?
    • What bench marks have you set to measure your progress?
    • Marked by Love – Love for God & a Love for People
  • 2 Timothy 4:15-16, Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]