Spiritual (Character) Formation

One of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 5:17, which claims, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (NLT) But what does that mean in relation to who we are as a complete human being? Does it mean that everything about us–our whole spiritual AND moral substance along with our psychological components–is completely made new? Or is it talking only about our spiritual nature becoming new?

If what Christ is saying is true, that we can be “born again” (Jn 3:3-8), then how is it that we can remember things that happened before we became believers? Why is it that as “new people” in Christ, we still harbor past sinful inclinations and/or habitual patterns of self-destruction?

I believe we need to make room for experience because while we can be completely transformed in our spirit, our memories, emotions, and behaviors attest to the empirical evidence that we are not perfect. This imperfection is a psychological continuation of who we are, although we are spiritually born again.

Another biblical passage that seems to complement the view that our whole being is not transformed immediately upon spiritual regeneration is Romans 12:2, which says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It seems that our soul, not our spirit, is being transformed by the renewing of our mind. Spiritually, we are instantaneously transformed the moment the Holy Spirit resides in us, but psychologically and morally we are continuously being transformed into the image of Christ.

I’m reminded of what my friend, Joseph Komrosky, once said about Christ’s explanation of forgiveness and spiritual formation: “Jesus said to forgive not seven times but seventy times seven because we need to be merciful with people, whose formation of character takes time.

Chester Delagneau

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