Spiritual Formation


Theologian J.I. Packer began the first chapter of his classic book, Knowing God, with a portion of Charles Spurgeon’s sermon that he preached on January 7, 1855, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark:

He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…The most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.1

Following Spurgeon’s vision for knowing God, Packer warns:

Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.2

The importance of knowing God and having a personal relationship with His Son Jesus Christ cannot be overstated. Jesus himself prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (Jn. 17:3). “That I may know Him,” wrote the Apostle Paul, “and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10). In a series of pointed questions, Dr. Packer focuses our attention on one solitary answer: “What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the ‘eternal life’ that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God….What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God….What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of Himself.”3

Before they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve truly knew Him. Theologian Carl F.H. Henry offers a profound summary of their relationship with Him before the fall:

In his original condition of moral rectitude, man loved God in total self-devotion and gladly gave himself to all that God requires. He knew the truth and did it. His created dignity consisted in knowledgeable and responsible relationships to the supernatural world and to fellow humans. His life was intended to consist of intelligible and dutiful devotion to God who is himself the truth and the good, and of service to his earthly neighbor. His mental capacity transcended the changing sensory realm; it included general ideas conducive to intelligible conversation and fellowship with God.4

“Created man,” Henry elaborated, “knew God’s revealed truth and declared will, and loved, trusted and obeyed Him. His fellowship with God was unbroken; he lived a moral life in truth, a life consonant with God’s revelation pulsating through the imago Dei. To God he gave his whole heart, his undivided self; God’s light and law were his highest fealty and felicity.”5

Then, in an act of defiance against God’s command, Eve “took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen. 3:6). Henry, again, in the best description of the fall we have ever read:

The fall of man was a catastrophic personality shock; it fractured human existence with a devastating fault. Ever since, man’s worship and contemplation of the living God have been broken, his devotion to the divine will shattered. Man’s revolt against God therefore affects his entire being; he is now motivated by an inordinate will; he no longer loves God nor his neighbor; he devotes human reasoning to the cause of spiritual rebellion. He seeks escape from the claim of God upon his life and blames his fellow man for his own predicament. His revolt against God is at the same time a revolt against truth and the good; his rejection of truth is a rejection of God and the good, his defection from the good a repudiation of God and the truth.6

Thankfully, this is not the end of the story. By Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins, we are now offered the free gift of eternal life through repentance and faith and are given the grace to become more like Him, to grow in sanctification (holiness). Having been made in the image of God, we are exhorted to “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24). In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes: “And have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (3:10). In Christ – in Christ alone – real transformation is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This section on Spiritual Formation contains studies that will help you grow in your relationship with God. The Institute’s mission is “to contribute to the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual formation of individuals who are on a passionate quest to be welcomed, received, and acknowledged by God.” These last words are from C.S. Lewis – welcomed, received, and acknowledged. They are found in his renowned essay, The Weight of Glory. “We can be left utterly and absolutely outside – repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakable ignored. On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged….To be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”7 Our passionate quest to know God through Christ leads to life in His presence for all eternity.

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears” (Phil. 1:6, The Message).

1 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 13-14.

2 Ibid., pp. 14-15.

3 Ibid., p. 29.

4 Carl F.H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1976), Vol. 2, p. 125.

5 Ibid., p. 134.

6 Ibid., pp. 134-135.

7 C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: Touchstone, 1980), pp. 36-37.


Click on the chapters below to download.

Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality

The Story of the Ten Lepers: Surprised by Joy

Christianity and Culture

Preparation for the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper: Traits of the Self-Life