One of the most concise and yet comprehensive statements in Scripture describing the dynamics of the spiritual life is Philippians 3:10-11. It is arguably the apostle Paul’s most transparent expression of His inward spiritual passion and pursuit. It is also a portion of Scripture that has spoken to my heart more than just about any other.
If we examine this Pauline expression closely, we see the whole of the spiritual life laid out according to five progressive dynamics. In practical experience, these are cyclical in nature, following one after another and then beginning their progressive sequence all over again. Each time, however, they work the nature of Christ slightly deeper within us and take us a little higher and further in our spiritual growth. If we, like Paul, press into and yield to this repeating spiritual progression, we will find ourselves on the most fruitful path of spiritual growth.
These five dynamics can be summed up with the following five words:
Let’s explore that a little further from Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10-11:
“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection,
and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death;
If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
“That I may know Him,”
Everything in the spiritual life begins with revelation. Day one of the old creation begins with God saying, “‘Let there be light’, and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) In the new creation, Scripture says: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Because God is Spirit, He can only be known by revelation within our spirit. The Holy Spirit within our spirit then illuminates our heart and mind with a true knowledge, or better, a true knowing of God. Every step of progression in the spiritual life springs from and facilitates a deeper revelation in this true knowing of God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
“…and the power of His resurrection,”
Revelation is the first step, but apart from an experiential knowing of “the power of His resurrection”, we are unable to rightly respond to and walk in the light we have been given. This power is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit who is “the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead…” (Romans 8:11) It is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus [that] has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2) God’s ultimate desire is that I would be united with Christ in the fullness of His resurrection life, be set free from the power of sin and death, and be transformed to be like Him in every way. Revelation must be followed by an experiential impartation of “the power of His resurrection” in order for us to go forward in our spiritual progress.
“…and the fellowship of His sufferings,”
The word “fellowship” used here indicates “a joint-participation.” God has joined us with His Son not only in His heavenly, spiritual life in and through our redeemed spirit, but also in His earthly, human life and mission in and through our redeemed humanity. Christ’s heavenly life and earthly mission, however, stand in direct opposition to the life and ways of the sinful flesh, the fallen world, and the powers of darkness. These three enemies of the kingdom of God are not only external to us, but also have their roots and tentacles within us. Consequently, there is a great disruption, turmoil, struggle, and battle both within and without as the kingdom of God advances forcibly within our lives and thorough us into the world. As we participate with Christ and the Holy Spirit in this heavenly, yet earthly calling, we share in the inward and outward sufferings that are inherent in this carnal, cosmic conflict.
“…being made conformable unto His death;”
When revelation combines with impartation and leads to participation, the natural result is that of conformation.
Conformity to Christ’s death has two sides, the negative and the (double-negative) positive. Because He became conformable unto our death, we are now called to be made conformable unto His death. This death is essentially an inward dying to self, which is the root of our fallen, sinful nature. Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.“ (Luke 9:23) This death to self is the negative side of the cross.
The positive side may be understood as arising from a double-negative. The death of the cross is, in essence, the death of death. Consider how powerful that double negative is! The death of death leaves behind only the life of Life. As we daily take up our cross, being made conformable unto His death, all that is non-living, non-life-giving within us is annihilated and eradicated. This leaves behind the emancipated, indwelling Light and Life of Christ. The more radical the death of death within, the more radiant the life of Life within. This emancipation of the Life of Christ within us is the positive side of the cross.
Both the negative and the positive sides of the cross are summed up in Galatians 2:20a:
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me;”
This then leads us to the final phase of this spiritual progression.
“If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
In the revelation and impartation phases, we come to experientially “know Christ and the power of HIS resurrection.” (emphasis added.) In this final phase, we come to experientially know what it is for “I” to attain unto “the resurrection”, as of one who was once “the dead.”
Even as our being “made conformable unto His death” is, in essence, a present, inward working, so our “attain(ing) unto the resurrection of the dead” is, in essence, a present, inward attainment. Through this progressive process we are becoming something altogether new, being transformed by the Life of Christ within resurrecting us out of the deadness of our former nature which lies smitten under the power of the cross. What we initially knew and were partaking of as an attainment belonging to HIM, we now know and are partaking of as an attainment belonging to US. The outcome of this entire process is that of present, inward transformation.
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Revelation leads to Impartation
Impartation leads to Participation
Participation leads to Conformation
Conformation leads to Transformation
Transformation leads to….
These five spiritual dynamics are what constitute our spiritual life and spiritual growth. They are progressive, and they are cyclical in nature. In experience, there may even be more than one of these cycles at work in various aspects of our life simultaneously, overlapping and intertwining, as the Lord works to transform us into His likeness. If we recognize the workings of the Lord in these spiritual dynamics and submit to His processings, we will find ourselves in the way of fruitful spiritual growth and maturity. As with Paul, this ought to be our most central spiritual passion and pursuit.