What is Christian Spiritual Formation?

Spiritual formation is the process through which Christ is formed in Christian believers for God’s glory, for our flourishing, and for the sake of others and God’s Kingdom. It is a witness to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform old lives into new ones of love, holiness, and intimacy with God.

Dallas Willard describes Christian spiritual formation as the reformation of the whole self in cooperation with God, and M. Robert Mulholland refers to it as a pilgrimage of responsiveness toward union with Christ. Invariably, the Christian pilgrim was born for spiritual formation.

Ruth Haley Barton writes, “The possibility that human beings can be transformed to such an extent that they image Christ is central to the message of the gospel and therefore it is central to the mission of the Church. Spiritual transformation in the lives of redeemed people is a testimony to the power of the Gospel and it results in an increasing capacity to discern and do the will of God.”


Spiritual formation takes place when the Christian believer cooperates with the movement, initiative, and power of the Holy Spirit. Formation asks: Who am I? Who is God? What does God desire uniquely for and of me? And when one considers these questions through faithful practices of discipleship, sacred relationships and community, and contemplative experiences, the mind is renewed and love and discernment abound. Through the call of Christ and practices of consecrated intentionality, we come to love what Christ loves and desire to love how He loves. With unveiled faces, we are being transformed into Christ’s image from glory to glory; this work is done by the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (CSB)

As we experience spiritual formation, Christ becomes more beautiful to the imagination and more attractive to the heart than anything else possibly could. We become acutely aware of the width, length, height, and depth of God’s love (Ephesians 3:18) and grow into a beautiful union with God. Though God is infinitely above us—infinitely “other”—He nevertheless lives within us, closer to us than we are, ourselves. We partake in the mysterious “life to the full” that Jesus came to share with those who love and follow Him.

So, this, then, is spiritual formation: our whole-hearted partnership with the Holy Spirit in being formed into greater Christlikeness for God’s eternal glory, for our flourishing in union with God, and for the sake of others and for His beautiful Kingdom. In this transformation, we witness the infinite grace of the Father, the eternal love of Christ Jesus, and the mighty power of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual direction is one tool that God has given us for the journey towards spiritual formation. To learn more about Christian spiritual direction, read more here.

To learn about some disciplines, practices, and resources for spiritual formation, please explore the rest of this site.

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