Spiritual Formation Part 4: Inside Out Living

Ezekiel 11:17-20

17 “Therefore say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’ 18 “They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.”

4. The Goal of Spiritual Formation: Inside-Out Living

In our last post, we said that the goal of Spiritual Formation is renovation: The careful removal of everything that is not of God, and the slow and steady journey of letting God transform our hearts so that they become more like Jesus. 

In his book on Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen tells a story about a sculpture who was hard at work chipping away at a solid block of marble. A young child watched closely as the master went to work with their hammer and chisel. After several weeks, the child came back to discover a sculpture of a mighty lion. “Sir,” the child asked, “How did you know there was a lion inside the stone?”

This little story says a lot about God’s relationship with us. He is a master sculpture, chipping away at all the things in our hearts that are not in step with the Spirit. In fact, Nouwen draws on this story when he offers us this succinct definition of spiritual formation: “Spiritual formation is the careful attentiveness to the work of God, our master sculptor, as we submit to the gradual chipping away of all that is not of God.” Elsewhere, Nouwen gives us this short-and-sweet definition: “The ever-increasing capacity to live a spiritual life from the heart.” 

Finally, Dallas Willard calls it “the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.”

Spiritual Formation is rooted in the truth of Proverbs 4:23 and Luke 6:43-45 (see pg. 4)—that what we do flows from who we are. This principle is something we might call inside-out living.

In his book Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard describes the principle of inside-out living this way:

“Our life and how we find the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our being—in our spirit, will, or heart. From there we see our world and interpret reality. From there we make our choices, break for into action, try to change our world. We live from our depths—most of which we do not understand.” (p. 13)

The heart is like a deep well that we draw from as we go throughout our lives. You can only draw out of the well whatever is already inside of it. If a well is poisoned or polluted, you’ll never draw out clean water. That’s why it’s so important to focus on the spiritual condition of our hearts. 

And that leads us to the fourth principle of Spiritual Formation: Following Jesus means learning to live from the inside out.