Thrive in 5 – Spiritual

Dallas Willard’s writings are among the most significant in recent years for helping us learn about the transformational process of becoming more like Christ. As pastors who are leading others, we need to be intentional about engaging the various means of grace to continue our transformation into the image of Christ. What follows is a distilled version of Willard’s main points of the spiritual transformation process from his excellent book, Renovation of the Heart.

What is Christian spiritual formation?

According to Willard, Christian spiritual formation “refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” In addition, “the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression or outflow of the character and teachings of Jesus” (Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 22).

What does this process look like?

The following five points help us understand our part in the spiritual formation process. The first three points are Willard’s model of VIM: Vision, Intention and Means.

1. Vision:

  • To change we must have a vision of what life with Christ can be. Christian spiritual formation is not a program or a goal to reach; it is the lifelong process of being increasingly transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of the world (2 Corinthians 3:18; 1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • The key is to constantly place the vision before us.
  • Intimacy and union with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the goal.
  • We want to keep before us the incredible richness of God, his kingdom and life with him.

Do you have the vision to see what is possible in Christ through the Holy Spirit?

2. Intention:

  • To change we must intend to do so.
  • The invitation is to intentionally enter into the process of being formed by the Spirit into the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28-29; Philippians 4:9).
  • We cultivate the desire for a deeper relationship with God and make a conscious choice to pursue intimacy with him (John 15:1-17).
  • We choose to trust and obey by placing our confidence in Jesus for everything and by being his constant students precisely because we have confidence in him.

Do you have the intention to be transformed into the image of Christ?

3. Means:

  • To change we must engage in the various grace-filled means of transformation means of grace that God has provided.
  • By intentionally engaging with the means of grace, we create space for God the Spirit to enter into these events and practices to do the work of transformation in us that we cannot do for ourselves.
  • God is inviting us into the work that he is already doing (Philippians 1:6 and 2:12-13).

Are you intentionally engaging in the means of grace so God can transform you?

4. Various means of transformation (or means of grace):

  • Sacraments: Scripture, baptism, holy communion, laying on of hands, etc.
  • Life circumstances: work, pain and suffering, inner movement of the Spirit, relationships, etc.
  • Spiritual direction or counseling.
  • Spiritual disciplines (more about these next time).

What specific means of grace are most meaningful to you?

5. Practice: Taking to Heart Colossians 3:1-17

Colossians 3:1-17 is a foundational passage about transformation. Let the ideas from this passage settles within you as great wisdom (vision), something you want to (intention) and invite God to let these ideas be enacted in your life (means).

Choose one of the following ways to let the ideas from this passage soak into your heart:

  • Experience the passage through lectio divina. You may want to break the passage in two sections —taking two days for each full pass through the verses.
  • Study the passage in one of these ways: try outlining it; notice how the sentences are related to each other; do a word study on the key words that stand out to you; notice repetitive words and ideas; look up passages related to this one.
  • Pray the passage. Do it orally or write it out. Either way, paraphrase the words adding personalization and maybe even specific names or pronouns — making it first person.
  • Meditate “on the run” with it. Print out the passage in large type and take it with you wherever you go.
  • Memorize it, in one session if you can, or one verse per day for 17 days.
  • Examine key phrases or passages. Ask yourself, “What would it look like it if I…?”

(Ideas taken from Jan Johnson)

To explore more about Christian spiritual formation, see the following:

Andrews, Alan. (2010). The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Foster, Richard. (2003). Article: “Becoming Like Christ.” Knowing and Doing (A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind). Springfield, VA: C.S. Lewis Institute.

Moon, Gary. (2009). Apprenticeship with Jesus: Learning to Live Like the Master. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Willard, Dallas. (1998). The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Willard, Dallas. (2002). Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Spiritual contributor and curator: Linda Gist is a spiritual formation director in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of the Renovare© Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and regularly leads retreats for pastors.
To contact Linda, email
Linda’s website:  Rhythms of Grace
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle