One of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life is experiencing lasting transformation. As a college student who grew up in the Church, far too much of my Christian life consisted of living between “spiritual highs.” I sought to experience transformation and renewal through these biannual emotional experiences and I couldn’t imagine a daily or weekly transformative experience in the mundane, normalcy of ordinary life. As Christians, we need a plan. We need a way to move from a mindset of simply surviving from one summer to the next. We need to experience God’s transformative work and commit ourselves to the spiritual disciplines.
Understanding God’s Transformative Work
I believe that God brings spiritual transformation in two primary ways: regeneration and sanctification (Ephesians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 1:22). It is very important to understand the difference between God’s means of spiritual transformation. Regeneration is the instantaneous act in which God brings the spiritually dead to life. God’s initiated act of regeneration leads to faith and, therefore, justification where we are declared forever innocent in the eyes of God through the work of Christ on the cross (Titus 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our salvation and security is found in the work of Christ on the cross alone (John 10:28, Romans 8:38-39). Yet, though we are saved and secured, we are not yet sanctified.
Sanctification is the progressive act in which God makes us look more like His Son and less like our old selves over a long period of time (Philippians 1:6, 2 Peter 3:18). We can measure our growth, not over the course of days and weeks, but over the course of months and years.
While regeneration, and the related act of justification, are immediate and lead us to salvation, sanctification is a process and does not save us. Sanctification is a process where we are made holy, but we are ultimately declared holy before God on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross (Hebrews 10:14). Our assurance is rooted not in the progression of our works, but in the righteousness of Jesus.
What are Spiritual Disciplines?
A “spiritual discipline” is a practice that we commit to in order to grow spiritually as a Christian. These disciplines help us to seek God when we don’t feel like it, obey Him when we don’t want to, and lead us to joy when we need it most. While there are many spiritual disciplines, I have decided to focus on four spiritual disciplines that I believe are central to flourishing in community.
Scripture reading is some combination of studying, meditating, and memorizing the Bible, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament. While devotions, apocryphal books, sermons, and other resources may be helpful and supplemental in certain instances, these are not replacements to the Christian’s joyful duty to spend time in God’s Word. My hope is that every Christian would open their Bibles and read, growing in knowledge, humility, and affection (2 Timothy 3:16, Psalm 1:1, Matthew 4:4).
Prayer is not a time where we ask God to conform His will to ours, but an act where we ask God to conform our will to His. My desire is for each one of you to prioritize prayer in your personal life and cultivate a desire to spend time in the presence of God (1 Thessalonians 5:17, Matthew 6:6-7, Philippians 4:6).
Personal holiness is the desire to fight the sin in your lives. Sin is prevalent in all of our lives and we fight with full assurance that Christ has purchased our salvation. My desire is for each one of you to love Christ so much that your sin tastes bitter (2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Peter 1:16). Far too often, our focus in personal holiness is wrongly fixated on the external expressions of sin such as gossip, anger, pornography, or jealousy.
Rather, our aim is to grow in our love for Jesus. We avoid gossip because we love Jesus and seek to obey Him. We flee from lustful passions because we love Jesus and seek to obey Him. Victory in personal holiness is not merely avoiding sin, it is redirecting the desires of our heart towards God. If we avoid pornography only to idolize education, we miss the point. Personal holiness is about obeying God because we love God.
Evangelism is the verbal proclamation of the gospel with your friends, classmates, and professors. Paul tells us in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God to bring salvation to those who believe, therefore, we share it boldly believing that God will move in a powerful way. My desire is for each one of you to have the boldness to proclaim the gospel through your actions and words (Matthew 28:19, Psalm 107:2).
Spiritual Disciplines in Community
I strongly believe it is best to practice these spiritual disciplines in community. I suggest that you gather a group of 4-12 students and commit to practicing these together. These groups are designed to be a little gospel community on your campus. My hope is that these groups would exhort, correct, and teach one another. When you meet with a group of your friends, consider setting aside time for Bible study, accountability, and Scripture memory.
Accountability is a time to check-in with your group and discuss the spiritual disciplines. A time where each group member confesses their lows and celebrates their highs. As Christians, we are left with a perfect opportunity to comfort one another in times of defeat and challenge each other in times of victory.
This is a perfect time to ask one of the more committed group members to share the gospel as a reminder of God’s loving-kindness to save us despite our inability to follow him perfectly. This is the core of what the Christian life is about. My desire is that you and your friends would grow in humility, vulnerability, and encouragement.
Bible study does not have to be a sermon or prepared message. It can simply be a group of friends walking through a passage of Scripture and unpacking its meaning together. Typically, groups will walk through a book of the Bible or pick a topic and walk through passages related to the topic. Whichever method, my desire is that every one of you would leave feeling more confident in their ability to read, interpret, and apply the Scriptures.
This means that this time must be a Bible study where multiple people are contributing to the conversation as opposed to one leader dominating the time. I would challenge you to ask your friends challenging questions and implement helpful paradigms that will guide them grow in a greater confidence in God’s Word.
Lastly, I would challenge you to implement the practice of scripture memory. This is a time where each member recites the weekly memory passage. In order to unify these little gospel-communities across my college campus, all of our groups memorize the same passage of Scripture. At Samford, we have nearly a hundred college students memorizing a verse every single week.
This allows us to grow in unity, but also in our love for the Scriptures. I strongly believe that Scripture memory leads to more God-honoring Scripture reading, prayer, personal holiness, and evangelism because all of these things become centered around the truth of the Scriptures that we are thinking about. My desire is for you to memorize the passage together so that you might grow in godliness, strength, and unity.
Reminder of the Goal
In seeking the transformative work of God in our hearts, minds, and actions, we need to be careful not to miss the goal. The goal is not to read our Bibles every day, pray five times a day, live holy lives, and share the gospel with everyone we know and hope that God accepts us. The goal is to love Jesus more. These practices or “spiritual disciplines” are meant to redirect us towards the commands of God and stir our affections for Jesus.
If we obey God in all these areas but don’t love Jesus, we miss the point. These practices are meaningless if Christ is not at the center of them. The transformation will lead to growth in these disciplines, but the growth we are after is an increased desire and affection for the Lord.