I must confess that his question caught me off guard. He asked, “It sounds very spiritual to say that Christ is being formed in us, but what does that look like in everyday life? How can others tell that Christ is being formed in us?”
His question came as the Faith Formation Ministries team was leading a workshop, and the team had just reflected on Paul’s declaration that Christ being formed in us is central to the Christian life (see Gal. 4:19).
The team handled the question well, but I kept on reflecting on it after the workshop was done. It’s one of the central questions for all of us who follow Jesus: How do we embody Jesus in the nitty-gritty of our everyday life?
Describing How Christ Is Formed In Us
We can never fully express the wonder of “Christ formed in us, life to the full.” After all, Christ is
- the Word made flesh (John 1)
- the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1)
- the one “through whom all things were made” (John 1)
- the firstborn over all creation (Col.1)
- the one “before whom every knee will bow” (Phil. 2).
Such realities evoke only one response: utter adoration, as embodied by John on Patmos in Revelation 1 and by the whole of creation in Revelation 5.
The New Testament contains dozens of partial descriptions of how Christ is formed in us: the Beatitudes (Matt. 5), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5), metaphors for the church (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4, 1 Peter 2). Since there is no one Scripture passage that sets out all the various components of spiritual growth, we create models to describe it.
One such model that many Christian Reformed congregations are finding helpful was created by Laura Keeley and Robert J. Keeley, CRC members who are deeply involved in teaching and writing about faith formation in many different settings. They call their model The Building Blocks of Faith.
The Building Blocks of Faith
The Building Blocks of Faith are four spiritual needs everyone has that are met in Christ. They are:
- The need to belong
- The need to know and understand
- The need to have hope
- The need to be called and equipped
The Need to Belong
Have you ever pondered the power of the need to belong?
Jesus often spoke of the way we belong to him: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10); “I am the vine and you are the branches” (John 15); “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden” (Matt. 11); “And I am with you to the end of the age” (Matt. 28).
Paul builds on these declarations with phrases like, “I am privileged to proclaim the mystery of the gospel: Christ in you” (Col. 2), and “He is the head and we are the members” (1 Cor. 12 and Eph. 4).
And the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes these teachings in Q&A 1:
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
Belonging is such a critical dimension of Christ being formed in us. But following Jesus has often been experienced as legalistic. Some experience the Christian faith as a sequence of “behave, believe, belong.” In other words, do the right things, affirm the right doctrines, and then you will fit in.
However, the sequence we find in Scripture is “belong, believe, behave.” Or, let the Christian community welcome you and immerse you in the love of Jesus, surrender your life to him, and allow him to be formed in you as you “work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Phil. 2).
In what ways is Christ being formed in you as you belong? In what ways does your community embody Jesus as you invite others to belong?
The Need to Know and Understand
The second building block poses this question: How do I come to know God’s Story so that it shapes the ongoing process of Christ being formed in me?
Just as belonging addresses the loneliness and legalism of our context, knowing God’s Story speaks into the dominant stories of our culture:
- You must be successful and wealthy.
- You must learn to exercise power over others.
- Your opinions must be heard on social media.
- You must fit the culture’s narrow standards of physical beauty.
- You must be popular.
If we attempt to live out of both the story of Jesus AND the story of our culture, our Christ-following becomes fragmented and compartmentalized. Knowing and living out of our place in God’s Story frees us for whole-life discipleship.
The foundational question in Reformed biblical interpretation is this: How do we see the entire biblical story, from Genesis to Revelation, embodied in Jesus Christ?” Paul rhapsodically answers this question in Colossians 1:15-20:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Honoring this dimension of Christ’s formation in us leads to questions like these:
- How do we encourage biblical literacy that helps Jesus’ followers grasp how the entire biblical narrative is embodied in him?
- What Bible-reading tools will help us receive every passage as a contribution to the formation of Christ in us?
- What personal and communal practices encourage such Bible-shaped formation?
The Need to Have Hope
The Bible tells us we belong to Christ and are part of God’s story. It also declares to us how the story ends and how that ending includes us.
Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead” (Rev. 1), and those who live in him “have been raised with him” (Col. 3:1). This sharing in the resurrection of Christ is so central that Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:17, 19).
The journey from hopelessness to hope through the resurrection of Jesus is most beautifully expressed through story of the Emmaus walk (Luke 24:13-35). In this scene Jesus retells the biblical narrative in a way that incorporates the first three Building Blocks of Faith. He teaches the two disciples how God’s Story culminates in his death and resurrection (I Know and Understand), administers communion to embody the truth that the two despairing disciples belong to him (I Belong), and in so doing Jesus reveals himself to them and restores their hope (I Have Hope).
A central question facing the church of Jesus Christ today is this: “How might the hope that is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise that our Lord is making all things new shape all that we are and do?”
The Need to Be Called and Equipped
Another theme that reverberates throughout the entire biblical narrative is that God invites us into partnership with him to serve in his world.
From the invitation to “rule” as image-bearers (Gen. 1), to the declarations that in Christ we have become “a kingdom and priests to reign with him” (Rev. 1 and 5), we are called and equipped to serve with Christ and in his strength.
Jesus issues many calls to serve throughout the four gospels, as epitomized in the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28: 18-20).
The loneliness, compartmentalization and hopelessness described in the first three building blocks are often partnered with an experience of powerlessness. To be called and equipped is to exercise power through the presence of Jesus within us. Christ-formation redefines power: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12: 8).
This fourth Building Block also celebrates the gift of leadership in the church of Jesus, declaring that all who are in Christ are leaders in one way or another. This reality invites us to ask questions such as:
- In what specific ways am I called and equipped to lead?
- In what ways does our community support its members to discern their callings, receive equipping, and find healthy roles through which to exercise their calling?
The Building Blocks of Faith are a rich resource and a source of encouragement in our faith. As churches, families, small groups, and other communities grow in belonging, in knowledge and understanding, in hope, and in recognizing and living out God's call, we will all—from the youngest to the oldest among us—continue to become more and more like Jesus as "Christ is formed in us."
To learn more about how the Building Blocks of Faith can support and strengthen faith formation in your congregation, your family, or your own life, we invite you to visit the Building Blocks of Faith toolkit from Faith Formation Ministries.