Pt 2: The Beatitudes Help Us to Understand Spiritual Formation

This is the second installment in a short series of articles about why every believer needs to study the Beatitudes.  Yesterday we saw how the Beatitudes help us to understand our salvation.  Today, I want to show you how the Beatitudes help us with our spiritual formation.  These articles are short excerpts from my book about the Beatitudes entitled “Cultivating A Gospel-Shaped Attitude,” which is available in paperback and for your Kindle.  If you are interested please click on the link below:

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The Beatitudes Help Us to Understand Spiritual FormationScreen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PM

The eight Beatitudes provide a list of the attitudes we must cultivate in the process of spiritual formation. Each of these attitudes can stand alone as a virtue, but together they form a comprehensive picture of the Christian life. Any attempt to develop Christian character without first cultivating these attitudes will prove fruitless. Having grown up in a rather legalistic church, I can speak firsthand about the difficulties produced by getting this process backwards. Our pastor was a well-intentioned man who loved Jesus, and I am sure he thought he was teaching us the truth, but nevertheless, the constant emphasis in his preaching was on keeping the rules. Sometimes these rules came directly from the Bible, but more often than not, they were based on his own understanding of how biblical Christianity should look. The net result was that we grew up believing we “became” mature followers of Christ by “doing” or “not doing” certain actions. This teaching produced a flawed and unbiblical view of the Christian life, which led a number of the kids I grew up with in church to eventually give up on the Christian faith.

The view of spiritual formation I inherited from this legalistic background basically taught that if you keep the rules, you will become pleasing to God. Sadly, this is apparently the prevailing view of spiritual formation among the majority of evangelical Christians today. In the early days of my ministry, I contributed to this understanding of the spiritual life by following the pattern of what some have called “principled preaching.” Basically, I treated the Bible as a rulebook for Christian living, and my goal as a pastor was to teach people the principles they needed to follow in order to be right with God. So every message that I preached followed the basic pattern of giving my congregation a list of principles they needed to follow in order to be pleasing to God. Over the course of time, a steady diet of this kind of preaching actually stunts spiritual growth. The reason is simple: when not preceded with a clear exposition of the gospel, “principled preaching” will lead to self-reliance rather than inner transformation. It focuses on “doing” rather than “being” and attempts to produce Christlike character before developing a gospel-shaped attitude.

By getting the order of spiritual formation backward, I was actually setting people up for failure. My goal in this book is to show you how to get this order correct in your life and make sure you cultivate a gospel-shaped attitude that will lead to Christ-honoring actions, which when exhibited over time will result in Christlike character.

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Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude

Later this Spring I will be publishing my first book entitled “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude.”Joe BuchananBased on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11), this book offers insight into the relationship between our attitude and character.  Jerry Falwell Jr., the Chancellor and President of Liberty University  says:

“There is no shortage of books in this world based on the general premise that, if we adjust or eliminate our bad attitudes, our quality of life will improve.  In “Cultivating a Gospel-Shaped Attitude”, Dr. Buchanan moves beyond feel-good rhetoric to focus instead on the source of a healthy attitude  – in a heart aligned with the desires and teachings of Christ.”

What I propose in the book is that to develop a Christ-like character we must begin by cultivating what I have termed a “gospel-shaped attitude.”  Over the next several weeks I am going to share several excerpts from the book.  Below is a section from the introductory chapter explaining the basic premise of the book.   I hope that you enjoy it and would love to get your comments and thoughts in the comments section.  If you are interested in receiving updates and additional information about the book, please sign up to follow my blog by email.  Just clock on the box to the right labeled – Follow Blog Via Email.

Attitudes, Actions, and Character

” Several years ago, I had the privilege of working with a man a named David, who served as my associate pastor when I was pastoring a church in Richmond, Virginia. David is one of those people who everyone enjoys being around. He’s the kind of person who always has an encouraging and uplifting word to say, and every time I gave him a task to complete, he took it on without grumbling or complaining. It seemed that no matter what the situation was around him, David always had a pleasant attitude. Anyone who worked with or encountered David would agree that it was a joy to be around and serve with him. Do you know that kind of person? If you do, then you already know the importance of having a positive attitude. But my goal in this book is to go a step further, to go beyond merely having a good attitude.

What I want to show you is how to develop an attitude shaped by the gospel, which, when cultivated over time, will result in a Christlike character. What makes my friend David such a blessing to be around is that he exhibits the character of Jesus in so many ways. But he did not develop this kind of character overnight. Developing a Christlike character is the result of consistently allowing the gospel to shape the way you look at the world and conducts your life. In David’s life, years of cultivating a gospel-shaped attitude have resulted in people recognizing the character of Christ in his life. In this book, I want to show you how to develop an attitude shaped by the gospel so that, over time, other people will come to recognize the character of Christ in your life.

Simply put, our character is the sum of our attitudes and actions over time. In algebraic terms we could say, Attitude + Actions + Time = Character. The key to developing a Christlike character, therefore, is to cultivate a gospel-shaped attitude. Attempting to exhibit a Christlike character without first adjusting our attitudes would be like trying climb Mt. Everest without learning to tie ropes, use snow shoes, or climb smaller mountains. Sadly, most of our efforts in discipleship have focused on producing Christlike character without dealing with the more fundamental issue of our attitudes. There are no shortcuts in the process; there are no quick paths that will get us to Christlikeness. Character is the product of displaying the right attitudes and making the right decisions over a period of time. With this in mind, I would like to submit that our formula for developing a Christlike character should look like this:”

 A Gospel-Shaped          + Christ-Honoring          = Christlike
Attitude Actions Character
Cultivated over time Exhibited over time

“Our pathway for developing a gospel-shaped attitude is found in Matthew 5:1–11, or as this passage is more commonly called, the Beatitudes. These eight attitudes form the opening section of Jesus’ most famous sermon: the Sermon on the Mount. In the subsequent chapters, we will break down the individual beatitudes to discover how each of them is grounded in the character of Christ and the gospel, but for now I want to call your attention to the way in which these attitudes, when cultivated over time, will lead us to a Christlike character.”

From “Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude: Understanding and Living the Beatitudes” (Nashville: Crossbooks, 2013) Copyright 2013 Joseph Buchanan