Seven Indicators for Spiritual Formation

Within a broad picture of spiritual life, there seem to be seven dimensions. Each is biblical and valuable, and all are indicators, but they do not stand alone. Nor do they represent a comprehensive definition of Christlikeness. When taken as a whole, these seven categories give us some insight into what it means to live like and to be like Jesus:

The Devotional – acts of piety that indicate our devotion and are meant to bring us into a closer relationship with the Lord. These include, but are not limited to, prayer, Scripture reading, corporate worship, fasting, giving, and serving…

The Intellectual – stretching our minds to increase our understanding of theology, Scripture, and the nature of God. This also includes the knowledge of how to apply what we are learning to our everyday lives and our interactions with others… 

The Behavioral – obedience to God’s commands, leadings, moral precepts, and will. Some behaviors are sinful and need to be avoided; others are righteous and need to be practiced. Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey Him, and so our actions reflect our hearts and our faith (John 14:15)…

The Missional – engaging in issues of justice, serving the poor, and sharing our faith. This is joining God in His redemptive work to model and proclaim the eternal gospel message to a lost, dying, and hurting world…

The Experiential – the subjective, and even mystical, aspects of our faith that are seen, experienced, and lived through the Holy Spirit. This can be described as experiencing God’s presence, hearing His voice, or sensing His leading…

The Relational – living out the richness of what God is doing in our lives, based on how we love, forgive, and relate to others. This is the most ignored and undervalued dimension because it is the hardest to measure; it’s impossible to master, and it’s frustrating because we can’t control other people. Trying to love like Jesus makes us vulnerable, exposes our insecurities, reveals our self-obsession, and still may result in nails and a cross…

The Internal – the aspect of our faith that speaks to our inner world—where God is attempting to mold our thoughts, attitudes, values, will, and emotions to reflect Christ…

All seven of these dimensions are taught in Scripture and were modeled by Jesus. Each is a challenge. Combined, they seem over the top.

Once after I preached on these seven dimensions, a guy in my church said, “Jim, this is overwhelming. There is no way I can do all of that. I think I’m failing in each of those seven areas, and the thought of trying to live out all of them is just too much for me.” I told him, “That’s the point. Being like Jesus is overwhelming, and we will never fully achieve perfection in this lifetime. But in our failures we come to see the richness of God’s grace, forgiveness, and love.”

Having a wide, deep, and complex vision for Christlikeness keeps us humble and reminds us we need God desperately. Instead of causing pressure and bondage, a pursuit of Christlikeness leads to freedom. Because when we run to Jesus, acknowledging how much we fall short, we find once again that by His grace, He loves us, forgives us, and accepts us. This cycle of repentance and grace moves us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him more humbly.

--from Chapter 9 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will continue to offer insights from Chapter 9, specifically how we mess up a healthy view of spirituality and discipleship.