The Journey of Spiritual Formation: Seeking the Kingdom of God
We all yearn for a sense of purpose and belonging as Christians. This innate desire has led many on a journey. This journey has been described as spiritual formation, seeking a deeper connection and relationship with Jesus, and the Kingdom of God.
Spiritual formation is a process of intentionally growing in relationship with God through various spiritual practices such as prayer, silence, meditation, Bible study, worship, and service. It is a transformational journey that draws us closer to God and helps us understand our identity and purpose in Christ.
God invites us to participate in His divine plan of bringing wholeness and healing to the world. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, to seek peace and pursue justice, and to be agents of hope and reconciliation.
This journey is not always easy. We may face moments of doubt, fear, or uncertainty. Sometimes we will have setbacks. But we can take comfort in knowing that God is with us every step of the way, guiding us through the ups and downs of life.
I want to invite you to embark on this journey of spiritual formation with humility, grace, and a hunger for more of God. May we be transformed into the likeness of Christ and become agents of change in the world.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matthew 6:33
Paul talked about not laying again the foundations of repentance and faith in Hebrews 6. Salvation is the foundation. But what comes next? How does spiritual formation fit into the Kingdom of God? Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God and invited us to become part of it. Mark 1:14-15 (ESV) says, “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
The Kingdom of God could be defined as the realm of God’s activity, the reality of the resurrection of Christ, and God’s mission for the world. We are invited to become disciples, and followers of Jesus, and to live continuously, right now, in the Kingdom of God. As we follow Jesus, and conform our lives to his, we are spiritually formed into his image. We become more and more like Jesus.
Dallas Willard wrote about the Kingdom of God in his book called, “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” Great book by the way. Anyway, He wrote, “There is a deep longing among Christians and non-Christians alike for the personal purity and power to live as our hearts tell us we should. What we need is a deeper insight into our practical relationship with God in redemption. We need an understanding that can guide us into constant interaction with the Kingdom of God as a real part of our daily lives.”
When we become Christians, we are brought in to the Kingdom of God. Paul describes it in Colossians 1:13 “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
When we enter the Kingdom of God, we are like babes in Christ and have yet to grow and be spiritually transformed. In John chapter 3, a story is told of a man who came to Jesus at night asking how to be saved. Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus he had to be born again. He had to become a brand-new life. This interaction is found in John 3:3-8, “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born againhe cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
We are born of water at our physical birth. When a pregnant woman’s water breaks, we know that a newborn baby is coming.
Let’s read on. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
So what happens to a newborn baby? My wife and I were recently blessed with a new grandbaby. She is spending a couple of weeks with my daughter and son-in-law as they adjust to having a new baby in the home. Babies must eat, drink, and be taken care of. They begin to grow and learn. They don’t just stay babies. As they grow, they begin to push themselves to crawl, walk, and run. They are active!
We are called to spiritual growth. Growth is healthy. When something stops growing, it begins to die. It’s the same in the Kingdom of God. We should never stop growing in Christ as long as we live. Spiritual formation is not something that happens instantly but rather is something that occurs over the lifetime of the believer.
When we see Jesus in the Gospels, he is taking the Kingdom of God to the regular people. We constantly see him ministering not to the Scribes and Pharisees, not to the religious leaders, but rather to those whom the religious leaders considered unfit for the Kingdom of God. He went especially to those who were thought hopeless. Jesus often ate with publicans and sinners. The doors of the Kingdom of Heaven were swung open wide to them.
Jesus gave a beautiful description of the Kingdom of God in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 6, 7. It is a Gospel presentation combined with the blessings of the Kingdom of God.
Remember, Jesus, is talking to the common people. He was not talking to the religious elite. Matthew 5:3-12 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus wasn’t saying you must become poor to be blessed. He was speaking to those who were already poor. He was telling them, you are blessed!
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus wasn’t saying you have to mourn to be blessed. He was talking to people who were already mourning. He was telling them they were blessed.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Jesus was telling these people, the meek and gentle of the world, you are blessed! You are hearing the Gospel! You are being visited by your Messiah!
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”Jesus made it clear that we are to seek to serve the Lord. We don’t just get Saved, and then sit back on our hands and do nothing. Again, Matthew 6:33 tells us to Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. We are to seek and continue seeking the Lord.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus talks about how blessed the poor in spirit are, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and so on. He was not talking to the Pharisees or the religious leaders of his time. His audience was basically rejected by the religious leaders and were not people they would have considered blessed. They were frowned upon. Jesus was telling them they were blessed because he was opening the door of the Kingdom of God to all of them. He was telling them they can be blessed by becoming part of the Kingdom of God. Jesus irritated the religious elite of his time who thought those in this state were under the curse of God.
Jesus gave the good news to the poor in spirit for a change. Rather than telling them they were under God’s curse, Jesus tells them they are blessed. It really hit the Jews hard in their theology. This is not what they thought.
Matthew 11:12 is an interesting passage. It says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.“ At first glance, some people even today think this means Christians stealing the wealth of non-Christians. There is an old saying, “Name it and claim it in Jesus’ name.” It’s the idea from the Prosperity Gospel that God is going to take away the wealth of non-Christians and give it to Christians who have enough faith. This is not at all what this passage is talking about.
Many years ago I heard the story about a man who went to one of “those” kinds of churches. One day he went to a car lot in Sacramento. The owner of this car lot was a very well-known celebrity in the area at that time. He owned car lots in Sacramento and several nearby cities, and was on television all the time with his commercials. This man walked onto this car lot, walked all around it and when he was asked what he was doing, he said he was claiming the car lot in Jesus name. He said the owner was a sinner, and that God was going to take it away from the owner and give it to him. This got back to the owner of the car lot. He was disgusted. He talked about this publicly and said he had been considering the claims of Christ, and was near to becoming a Christian prior to this event. He was so disgusted by what this man did, that he said if this is what Christianity is about, he wants nothing to do with it.
This passage is not talking about being an obnoxious or arrogant Christian. It is talking about something that is repeated over and over in the Gospels. It is talking about access to the Kingdom of God for individuals who would not be the first ones chosen in a school yard pick. These are people who the religious leaders of the day would say are disqualified. They don’t do the right things all the time.
This passage is talking about a leper who came to Jesus for healing. Lepers had a horrible disease that would cause rot in their flesh. It was worse than Covid. They were considered very contagious and not supposed to come anywhere near other people. As a matter of fact they were supposed to yell, “Unclean” anytime they saw someone approaching them. This little leper had probably heard Jesus speak, and had at least heard of the miracles that followed him. He got his nerve up and asked Jesus to heal him. He said “Lord if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus said, “I am willing.” Jesus not only spoke to this man, he reached out and touched him, which was absolutely forbidden by the ruling religious leaders. The Kingdom of God became very real to this man in that moment. The people who witnessed this would have a good idea of what was meant by violence.
This passage means not just standing on the religious norms of who should be in, and who should be out. You don’t have to try to clean yourself up you just come to Jesus. Jesus brings the Kingdom of God to bear on you whether you are an unclean leper, or an unclean Gentile. Whether you are a tax collector, a prostitute, a Roman Centurion, it didn’t matter to Jesus. These are the people of violence described in this passage. They didn’t take the “proper” path to a relationship with God. They were not raised in a religious home, sent to the right schools, and faithful to attend worship every time the doors were opened. They came to Jesus just as they were. This is how we need to come to Jesus. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 4:20 “The Kingdom of God does not consist in mere words, but in power.” The Jewish leaders of the time of Jesus didn’t see the mission of God, they were only out for themselves. Jesus was trying to reach the entire world with the Gospel, not just those who were already religious.
The Apostle Paul was able to reveal more about the Kingdom of God. He says something interesting In Colossians 1:13-14, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Paul is talking about people being transferred from one kingdom into another. When we become Christians, we are taken from a kingdom of darkness and despair to a kingdom of light, hope, and joy.
There are three basic things you can do that will help you grow. First, get ahold of a Bible and start reading it. This Bible is not just one book, but actually 66 books all in one volume. Start reading the Gospel of John first. The book of John is specifically written to Christians. It will help you understand your role in the Kingdom of God. Second, spend time in prayer. If you have a best friend, you want to talk to them. You want to spend time with them. If you never talk, your friendship will become stale. Make sure you are talking to the Lord. You don’t have to use fancy language to do this. Just talk to Him like you are talking to a best friend. The third thing is to get involved in a good church that teaches the Bible. When you take a hot coal out of a fire and set it by itself, you will notice that coal will go from glowing red, to not glowing at all, and even turning gray. If you put that coal back in the fire it will start glowing again. It’s the same with us. Christians need fellowship with other Christians. Fellowship means having something in common. If you are a Christian, you have Jesus and you have Him in common with other Christians.
So those basic three things will help you grow in the Lord. Let me add one other thing to those three things. Tell others about Jesus and what he has done for you. Jesus was trying to reach the whole world with the Gospel. He wants to use you to help him do that. So there you have the three basic things to grow in Christ + 1.
Salvation from God’s point of view is new life. It’s being born again. We are regenerated. We have a new resurrection life, and God is an active God, and he expects us to be active as well.
1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” This theme of becoming like Christ is what God expects from us. John is saying that in this life we become more and more like Jesus Christ. When we become Christians, God takes us as we are, but he doesn’t leave us there.
Paul taught us not to relay the foundation of salvation. That foundation is vital, but once that foundation is put down, we need to start building. God is an active in his Kingdom, and as members of that Kingdom he expects us to be active in spiritual formation as well.