Early on in my journey into Orthodoxy I read a book by an American philosopher named Dallas Willard. The book was “The Spirit of the Disciplines.” This was really my first exposure to the wisdom that how you are formed inside, how you are shaped, and what you allow to shape you, has a profound effect on how you act. Willard goes on to say “Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”
This is WHY normal Orthodox practice has always insisted on the spiritual disciplines AND the power of both habit and community to shape a follower of Jesus MUST be consistent and faithful. This is eventually the wisdom that made me hungry for a Way of living and not merely a religious philosophy.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 19:1-8:
In those days, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all. And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God.
St. Luke is travelling with St. Paul and recording the events of Paul’s missionary efforts and practice and Paul comes across some followers of St. John the Baptist. These men were doing the best they could with what they knew. They weren’t doing wrong. They just didn’t have a complete formation. What they didn’t know was costing them and Paul wanted to fix their formation!
So, what does Paul do? He fills these precious people in on “the rest of the story!” Everything St. John had taught them was meant to bring them and prepare them for Jesus, but these men didn’t know that what St. John prepared them for had come. And the sign that someone had been formed and brought to the Fullness of the faith was the intimate Presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
And that’s what let Paul know these men needed a better formation. They hadn’t heard that God had fulfilled the deepest desire and need all humanity craved – an intimate and dynamic relationship and connection to God through Christ! Paul had this and he wanted these men to have it too. So, he finished their formation and baptized them into the Church!
Your own formation in the Faith is so very important. Is your formation “full?” Do you have the whole story? If not, uncertainty can feed unfaithfulness or, worse yet, a slavery to error and a deficient connection to healing wisdom. Of course, if you truly hunger for God, He won’t disappoint you. God loves you and wants to make His home in your life so that you will be truly alive and truly human like Jesus Christ.
There is no secret to the fullness of the formation of a follower of Jesus. It’s been going on for over 20 centuries and has been happening in countless cultures, languages, and situations. And this full formation has been making saints out of people for that whole time. These saints exude the Presence of the Holy Spirit and show us, by their lives, what a human looks like when God lives inside them and forms them into imitations of Jesus Christ! Of course, this is the purpose of this Orthodox Christian formation for you and me as well.
But, just like anything in our lives that is truly meaningful, it’s not going to happen by accident. You have to be in active pursuit of this relationship with God, and you have to ask God to keep on forming you and leading you to the fullness of formation so that you are free from any inner delusions that might con you into believing you’re finished when you aren’t!
So, today, how was the Faith formed inside you? To be sure, we all struggle to embrace then fullness of the Christian wisdom for our whole lives. But there is a time-tested and proven path to spiritual formation that makes you Orthodox on Purpose, and that’s what this life is all about!
P.S. Dear Lord, form me and make me a fitting habitation for Your Holy Spirit, so that I might most be at home in Your Presence forever. Make me willing to hear Timeless Wisdom and abandon the “do-it-yourself” spirituality that never quite reaches the Fullness of the Faith. Give me the grace of humility and love and a life of repentance that creates a home for You in my heart! Amen.