Have you ever wondered how to progress to the next level of your spiritual development?
Often spiritual development is presented as doing more spiritual activities. Yet, empirical research[i] and anecdotal evidence affirm that participation in church activities does not predict or drive long-term spiritual growth. So, what does it take for us to develop and reach our full potential in God?
Growing up in Egypt, I did not enjoy my educational experience. The weekly English dictation test was my highlight of the week. I excelled. I had the highest marks… of misspelt words, weekly. As you would imagine, excellence came at a cost.
The Egyptian schooling system back in the early 1980s had no qualms with corporal punishment, and there was a rule that every spelling error incurred two smacks on the hand with a wooden rod. Upon the correction of my weekly dictation tests, I was the first to be called up to the front of the class to be acknowledged and rewarded. I cannot articulate into words the sheer dread that consumed my little heart as I walked through the proverbial "death row" to my teacher's desk. My hand would double in size by the time my teacher had kindly finished with my discipline!
You might ask me, “Peter, why didn't you study harder, did you not make out the correlation between studying and rod marks on your palms?” I don't know why I wasn’t a diligent student. Regardless of what was going on in my little head back then, the one thing I recall is that I perceived myself as an academic Loser (capital L) who will never excel. My view of my academic future-self determined my study effort.
Similarly, how you see your future-self determines what you do in the present. This may ring true spiritually as well.
Paul described the process of spiritual transformation to the Corinthians, stating, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV). Paul mentioned three dimensions of the life-long process of our transformation towards Jesus-likeness. Theologians call this life-long process: sanctification, whereby we are being saved from the power of sin and are gradually made more and more like Jesus. Our sanctification unfolds supernaturally, gradually and conditionally as we collaborate with the Spirit of God.
Paul clearly communicated the enduring goal of our spiritual journey as, “being transformed into the same image” of Christ. The whole purpose of Christianity is to be Jesus-like. Our singular purpose on earth is to live as a specific type of person; a Jesus-like person (Roman 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Galatians 4:19). The globally renowned British writer and the most influential Christian apologist of his time, C. S. Lewis (1898–1963), declared that “every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else”[ii]
This mind-blowing epitome for our development can only be believed and achieved supernaturally. Thankfully, the agent of this extraordinary transformation is the Spirit Himself. The Holy Spirit Himself transforms us into the very image of Jesus from glory to glory. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to “transform [our lives] little by little so that they increasingly resemble the moral and spiritual character of the Lord Jesus.”[iii]
Paul affirmed that our transformation into Jesus-likeness is gradual. His use of the word, transformed in 2 Corinthians 3:18, encapsulates the process of metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is all about a transformation from the inside out. Most people generally think of caterpillars, cocoons and butterflies when they think of metamorphosis. Correct. It’s a radical transformation where a caterpillar is no longer remotely what it used to be. Like caterpillars, we too exist in a constant process of divine metamorphosis towards Jesus-likeness, as we collaborate with the Holy Spirit.
Paul affirmed that living out our Jesus-likeness is not only supernatural and gradual, but it is also conditional. He highlighted the profound and catalytic role that we must play in triggering the supernatural process of transformation. He confirmed that as we see the glory of the Lord in a mirror, we are transformed by the Spirit's power. When we look in the mirror of God's Word, we come to see and recognize who we really are. Gazing into a mirror is significantly different from gazing through a window. A window unveils the outside, whilst a mirror reflects what’s on the inside. As we gaze into the mirror of God’s Word, we see our potentiality; our dormant Jesus-like qualities and capacities. As we see our divine potentiality, we become mobilized to collaborate with the Holy Spirit in the process of our transformation (James 1:23-25).
When we look in the mirror, we see our divine potentiality, what we can be; our future-self. If we treasure this future-self as our life’s project and desired mission, we become motivated to invest the effort into actualizing it. Accordingly, we begin to live out aspects of our future-self in the present because of our potentiality. That’s the secret of spiritual development!
About the author:
Peter Botross is currently enrolled in the DMin with Alphacrucis College and is
researching: "How Victorian Baptist churches equip their disciplers to support
their adult members spiritual development." Parts of this article are
extracted from a publication "GenJ: Your Practical Guide to Spiritual
Development" (Botross, 2020).