"Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process. Although God can triumph in disorder, that is not his choice. And instead of focusing upon what God can do, we must humble ourselves to accept the ways he has chosen to work with us. These are clearly laid out in the Bible, and especially in the words of and person of Jesus." ~ Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart (2002), p. 10
Life is so much easier when you go with the flow. It takes so little effort. The problem is that you are at the mercy of where the current takes you. So many Christians lack spiritual maturity because we simply went with the flow and never disciplined ourselves to truly becoming like Jesus.
God, in His graciousness, has still brought healing to our hearts and transformation to our lives. We should thank God for the work He has done in our lives, even when we have not lived up to our side of transformation.
The reality that confronts us as we talk about spiritual formation is an avoidance of any appearance of salvation by works. What is emphasized is faith, which usually gets boiled down to what we believe. When this happens the most important thing we can do is to believe the right things and let God take care of the rest. Then the issue becomes what are the "right" beliefs we are to have, and so fighting for "truth" and correct doctrine are among the most important things we can do.
The way I see it is that while truth is important, and we should always base our beliefs on what we know is true, that is not what Biblical faith is all about, nor is it the foundation for spiritual formation. Much more foundational to Biblical faith are the ideas of trust, commitment, and obedience. These ideas always come out in the way we live our lives, and thus always look like works.
Since spiritual formation is an orderly process then there must be a beginning. The beginning of spiritual formation is repentance. Repentance was central to the message Jesus preached; From then on Jesus began to preach, "Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near" (Matthew 4:17; NLT).
Repentance isn't just feeling sorry and confessing our sins, rather repentance is changing our loyalties. Sin is rebellion against God and His Kingdom, and therefore through our sin we have pledge our allegiance to Satan and his kingdom. Repentance is declaring that our loyalties are now changed, and we are now loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. This change of loyalty is absolutely crucial to spiritual formation.
There are other steps that we must go through in this process, and at times it will look different for each of us, but it always begins with repentance. Repentance, at is core, is an act of faith. It is through repentance that we declare our belief, trust, and commitment to God.