I want to share about moral formation versus spiritual transformation. Exhaustion and the path to slow burn out begins when we begin to live morally vs. spiritually.

Moral formation is any attempt to grow or fix yourself to rid yourself of guilt or shame, trying to be good and pleasing to God. It’s always behavioral. It’s a temptation to wrestle the wrestle.

Signs we might be living morally:

  • When convicted of sin, your first thought is, “I will do better.”
  • When we begin to operate out of a role or a persona vs. a son or daughter.
  • It shows up in behavioral adaptation in order to bring about growth, but more often than not is temporal, leading to exhaustion and more pressure to do better or try harder next time.
  • We make our plan and invite Jesus to join.
  • When awareness of sin, failure, and guilt results in an abiding and overwhelming feelings of frustration, sense of failure, self-rejection and you repress them – then you might be living in moral formation.
  • When we realize the pressure that is driving us to do the next thing is not Spirit.
  • There’s a scrambling to come up with a plan, solution or answer rather than a quiet waiting on the Lord.

The key here is paying attention to the energy that is driving us.  Is it pressure? Fear? Control? Or is it a relationship with Holy Spirit?

Paul knew we would struggle. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

Spiritual formation is the process of growth through the Holy Spirit – being formed into Christ likeness. It’s when we realize that no amount of effort can relieve us of the burden of shame or guilt – only Christ. We cannot fix ourselves. Spiritual formation is always relational. It’s an invitation to rest in the wrestle. 

Teresa of Avila said, “You know what we need to do, then, as believers? We need to learn to sit amongst our weeds.” We don’t know how to sit amongst our weeds – the things that trouble us. The Father is the keeper of the vineyard who does the pruning and our temptation is to pull the weed. It just grows back. What Teresa is saying is that we have an invitation from Spirit to be more open to what God has done for us. I am accepted. There is no condemnation. Spiritual formation is always relational. “God, I don’t want to run or start developing a plan.” “I don’t want to start coming up with a six point plan on how to keep myself from immorality.” Spiritual formation is God’s invitation to us to abide and respond, to realize we can’t fix ourselves, but Christ has taken care of it all on the cross.

  1. In what ways do you live in moral formation?
  2. What is the invitation for you to move from moral formation to embracing spiritual transformation?

If you want to read more about moral formation vs. spiritual formation, I invite you to learn from the teachings of John Coe https://www.biblicaltraining.org/resisting-temptation-moral-formation-pt/spiritual-formation-0.

2 thoughts on “Moral vs. Spiritual Formation”

  1. This article has been haunting me. As one who talks often about the Spirit filled life, I see how I’ve slipped into morality and it is exhausting. I so want to live out of knowing who’s I am rather than what I’ve done. Thanks for sharing. Love you!

    1. Thanks for sharing. I am with you. It’s been a game changer. YOu can read more about it if you look up John Coe from Biola. He has great teaching on the topic.

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