Pt 2: The Beatitudes Help Us to Understand Spiritual Formation

This is the second installment in a short series of articles about why every believer needs to study the Beatitudes.  Yesterday we saw how the Beatitudes help us to understand our salvation.  Today, I want to show you how the Beatitudes help us with our spiritual formation.  These articles are short excerpts from my book about the Beatitudes entitled “Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude,” which is available in paperback and for your Kindle.  If you are interested please click on the link below:

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The Beatitudes Help Us to Understand Spiritual FormationScreen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PM

The eight Beatitudes provide a list of the attitudes we must cultivate in the process of spiritual formation. Each of these attitudes can stand alone as a virtue, but together they form a comprehensive picture of the Christian life. Any attempt to develop Christian character without first cultivating these attitudes will prove fruitless. Having grown up in a rather legalistic church, I can speak firsthand about the difficulties produced by getting this process backwards. Our pastor was a well-intentioned man who loved Jesus, and I am sure he thought he was teaching us the truth, but nevertheless, the constant emphasis in his preaching was on keeping the rules. Sometimes these rules came directly from the Bible, but more often than not, they were based on his own understanding of how biblical Christianity should look. The net result was that we grew up believing we “became” mature followers of Christ by “doing” or “not doing” certain actions. This teaching produced a flawed and unbiblical view of the Christian life, which led a number of the kids I grew up with in church to eventually give up on the Christian faith.

The view of spiritual formation I inherited from this legalistic background basically taught that if you keep the rules, you will become pleasing to God. Sadly, this is apparently the prevailing view of spiritual formation among the majority of evangelical Christians today. In the early days of my ministry, I contributed to this understanding of the spiritual life by following the pattern of what some have called “principled preaching.” Basically, I treated the Bible as a rulebook for Christian living, and my goal as a pastor was to teach people the principles they needed to follow in order to be right with God. So every message that I preached followed the basic pattern of giving my congregation a list of principles they needed to follow in order to be pleasing to God. Over the course of time, a steady diet of this kind of preaching actually stunts spiritual growth. The reason is simple: when not preceded with a clear exposition of the gospel, “principled preaching” will lead to self-reliance rather than inner transformation. It focuses on “doing” rather than “being” and attempts to produce Christlike character before developing a gospel-shaped attitude.

By getting the order of spiritual formation backward, I was actually setting people up for failure. My goal in this book is to show you how to get this order correct in your life and make sure you cultivate a gospel-shaped attitude that will lead to Christ-honoring actions, which when exhibited over time will result in Christlike character.

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