Letters on Spiritual Formation #4
Formation By Truth
This is article is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. To read the previous letter in the series, click here.
There exist beliefs that we hold at the core of our being, regardless of how true they are. These beliefs are shaped by our triumphs, failures, courageous moments, fears, successes, hurts, and many others moments in life. Each one of us holds these core beliefs, often without realizing that they are there. We simply respond to life without questioning why we respond the way we do. The responses that cause us to hurt others or bring pain into our life are typically generated from the areas that have more in common with darkness than with light. These beliefs either resonate with God’s truth, or they are untrue and devoid of God's truth. It is important to note that this doesn't mean we are evil people. It simple means there is an inconsistency between what we believe and what God says about us.
When Jesus said, “Man shall live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” he recognized this dynamic. Man's entire formation is to be according to who God said that man is. The way we see the world (truth) is primarily shaped by how we have experienced the world. Similarly, the way we see God is primarily through our experience of God (or lack thereof). The Bible says that God desires truth in the inward part (Psalm 51:6), that truth is shaped by what we discover in our moment by moment experience of life and God.
God's interaction with us is primarily formative in nature. God is not haphazard in how he relates to us, he is intentional. The types of things he does and the kinds of things he says are designed to form us. This is the basic concept of redemption, re-forming what has become malformed, or buying back what has been lost.
An incredibly pertinent example of the formation of truth within an individual can be found at the baptism of Jesus. The details of the baptism of Jesus are covered in three of the four gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke tells us directly what happened, the gospel of John simply has John the Baptist mentioning it. In two of those three, the statement that God the Father makes of Jesus is directed towards Jesus, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” Time and theology have taught us to see this statement as a doctrinal statement. While that is true, what we fail to realize is the singular impact this statement had upon Jesus.
In fact, in every other place in the Gospels that the audible voice of God spoke to or about Jesus, the bible explicitly tells us that those who were there heard it (Matthew 17:5-6, John 12:28). At Jesus' baptism, there is no record of anyone else having heard this statement. John the Baptist claims that he saw the dove, but does not mention the voice from heaven. Why would the writers of the Gospels so specifically tell us that people heard in the other two recorded instances, but fail to do that here? Maybe this was to be an intimate moment meant for a father and his son. And perhaps we have a snapshot of how God was going to speak to us, personally and phenomenally.
Regardless of who heard, this was to be a formative moment where Jesus encounters the truth of who he is and who his Father is. In this moment we see the fulfillment of the statement
“Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).
This is an intimate moment between a son and his father.
Picture yourself in that moment. Your father speaks over you a statement demonstrating his pleasure in you, “I love you and I’m proud of you.” For some, it is the kind of statement that would validate life purpose. The kind of impact that could have on anyone is tremendous. There is weight and force to words of that nature. Most of us would be in a puddle of tears if our fathers said those kinds of things about us. Imagine the impact this has on Jesus. This is an experience with truth.
Fast forward forty-ish days. Jesus is in the wilderness. He has been fasting for forty days. The Spirit has led him into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. Why? Well, testing has a funny way of revealing the kind of truth we hold deep inside, but we’ll get to that later.
The first thing Satan says to Jesus is, “If you are the Son of God turn these stones into bread.”
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
This statement has become an experiential reality in the life of Jesus. He has discovered thriving on the very things that God has said to him. His identity is dependent on what God has said about him.
When was the last time you heard God the Father define you?
Maybe we need moments like this in our life. Maybe, when Jesus went to pray (Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42, Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:23, etc...), he continued to hear these types of statements. Perhaps the core of Jesus' identity, the very thing that drove him, was how his Father defined him.
Today, many people read the bible and remain unchanged. Fewer meditate on scriptural truths and experience some transformation. Even fewer have heard their Father speak those same truths into their lives. Maybe, like Jesus, we need to retire to some quiet place to commune with God the Father regularly. We need to know what He is saying about us.