Two Crucial Questions for Christian Formation
Mary is the model disciple in Luke’s Gospel. From the Annunciation and Magnificat (Luke 1:26–38, 46–56) to Jesus’ birth and childhood narratives (2:1–52) and beyond, Luke paints an intimate portrait of her unique role in history. As young as she was, Mary had a profound relationship with God. From this relationship, Jesus Christ entered the world.
As Genesis 1:26–28 indicates, men and women are created in God’s image. This is why we say that humans have independent wills and the capacity for relationship—because God does. Both Mary and God were full participants in this relationship.
Mary’s relationship with God illuminates Christian formation by showing that it involves both human faith and divine power. From beginning to end, faith and life itself are gifts from God, who awakens the fallen human will to exercise faith in the context of life.
As God’s representative, Gabriel told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Luke 1:35). Through faith Mary said, “Let it be done” (1:38). In this exchange, we see the interaction of divine power and human faith.
This interaction is actually normative of Christian formation in Luke’s Gospel and Acts. It can be expressed in two crucial questions: Have you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ? (the question of faith, Acts 11:17) and Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? (the question of power, 19:2; 10:34–48)
A mature Christian answers both questions in the affirmative. Why? Because Christianity involves not only our preferences and commitments but the work of God in our lives. Note the agency in the question, have you believed? This is something we do. Note the receptive posture of the question, have you received? Giving the Holy Spirit is something God does.
The Salvation Army teaches that humans are constantly receiving unmerited “prevenient” grace—that is, grace that “comes beforehand.” In other words, our faith does not generate God’s goodness but responds to it. Without the Holy Spirit’s regenerating action, salvation and Christian formation are impossible.
Jesus promised that God the Father would give the Holy Spirit to any who ask (Luke 11:13). This promise can lift even the most hopeless soul. You may give up on yourself, but God never gives up on you. We can’t pull ourselves up by our own boot straps; this grace must be received.
Uniquely, the Holy Spirit formed Christ “the Holy One” in Mary (Luke 1:35). Today, the Holy Spirit forms Christ in us in a different sense (Galatians 4:19). We become holy—that is, like Christ—as He works in our lives.
Now, what is more Christlike than denying oneself, dwelling among everyday people, and living for others? Any true definition of Christlikeness must include His self–denial, incarnation, and radical sacrifice. Becoming holy like Christ means following Him as disciples (Luke 9:23), and the Spirit empowers us to do so.
So, how do we receive the Holy Spirit? God alone has the prerogative to give, but Jesus promised that anyone who asked would receive the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). In Acts, we see this gift coming as small groups of people seek transformation together (Acts 2:1–4, 10:34–48, 19:1–7). So, our part appears to be authentic prayer and fervent community.
by Isaiah Allen