“Consumer Christianity” does not offer deep answers to deep problems. Fast food offers a quick fill up of the belly with little to no nutritional value. In fact, eat fast food with regularity and you will find that your health will fail. The same is true with our spiritual life. Having a life of transformation and growth takes time and it takes deep, demanding work. It takes times of reflection, regular practicing of the spiritual disciplines, failure (yes, that is essential), and recovery. The “Osteenification” (sorry if that offends, but truth is sometimes that way) of American Christianity is a cancer – it offers trite answers to questions that require deep and thoughtful responses. The Fast Food version of American Christianity will not develop life transformed disciples. It will only disappoint as its devotees long for the next spiritual and emotional fix. That next Holy Spirit Big Mac. The ongoing transformed life by the power of the Holy Spirit will take work and time. It is not a desire for an emotional experience, but a lifelong journey of exploration of God’s life altering grace.
So, what is the difference between a convert to Christianity and a disciple of Christ? Conversion is the beginning. When one puts his or her full faith, hope, and trust in Jesus as their Savior, it is just the beginning of their spiritual walk. Our American version of Christianity, complete with a “drive through” mentality, crave the quick and the instant. Conversion is oftentimes seen as the end all and be all of the Christian life. But the New Testament begs to differ. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the writers of the Epistles concentrated on much more that conversion. They concentrated on Discipleship.
Spiritual formation is the ongoing transformation of a person’s life. It is a lifelong pursuit that involves personal as well as corporate factors. Spiritual formation stems from conversion. Conversion is the starting point. In NASCAR, if a driver considers their performance on the first lap of the race to be sufficient, he wouldn’t have a job for very long. He needs to run the whole race. See 1 Cor. 9:23-25 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8. The same is true with the Christian life. Conversion is the first lap. Spiritual formation is the whole race.
Spiritual Formation is a lifelong process. First, we go through many changes through our lifespan. The needs I had when I was a child are different form the needs I had in my 20’s. The spiritual needs I had in my 20’s were very different from the needs I have now in my 50’s. I expect they will change again as I get older. Because life changes with experience and age, my spiritual formation will address those changes. I will never, on this side of eternity, come into the fullness of spiritual development. It is a lifelong process that changes with each change in my life journey.
The second reason is the rapid pace our culture is changing and the short attention span our culture has for formation and growth. Our consumer based culture, focused on comfort, constantly demands immediacy. We want drive-through solutions to every problem, even (maybe especially?) lifelong deep question of life. Spiritual formation cannot speed up. Speeding up the formation process only leads to another failed answer. By resisting the demand of the consumer driven comfort culture, we engage a spiritual growth that is lasting, sustaining, and life changing.