The human response in the process of spiritual formation is twofold. One is the cognitive volitional action of assent to respond to God’s revelation. The second is a passive submission to allow the Holy Spirit to transform the inner person. The human response is important in the process of spiritual formation. Augustine is reported to have said, “God with us will not, as we without God cannot.”
Human beings are given the free will to make choices. Examples abound in the Bible. Joshua’s challenge to the ancient Israelites to choose, and his own choice to follow the Lord (Josh. 24:15) in the Old Testament indicate that human beings have the ability to make choices. This is supported by Paul’s letter to the Philippians where he shares his angst in having to choose between continuing to serve in his apostolic ministry and dying and being with Christ (Phil. 1:22). This implies that Paul is allowed his personal preference. Calvin in his anthropological understanding of man explains that no person has absolute autonomy or free will. Because of the effect of the original sin, a person’s ability to make choices is tainted. However, unlike Martin Luther, Calvin believes that fallen people still bear the imago Dei, though a deformed one. Thus all persons may make choices to restore this broken imago Dei in their spiritual formation.
The human response is to be willing and to allow the Holy Spirit to do his transforming work in the individual’s inner life. This is often not easy as Paul himself attests to in Romans 7. The means of spiritual formation offers some understanding and suggestions on how a matrix may be formed for the Holy Spirit to work in.
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul urges his readers, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Theologian John Coe points out that the words “to be filled with the Spirit” in the Greek have a verb-form that is a present passive imperative. This may be taken to mean that instead of actively doing something, a person is to passively allow something to be done to him or her. This highlights the passive submission of a person required in spiritual formation. Thus spiritual formation does not encourage work-righteousness but embraces effort to become like Christ. Dallas Willard affirms this by often repeating that “God is not opposed to effort but to earning”. The anthropological understanding of spiritual formation is paradoxical in that it is an active choice to seek shalom with God and yet it is also to passively allow God to create that shalom in the person.
All that implies that a person has to want to grow spiritually before Christian spiritual formation can take place.