Want Healthier Politics in the World? Start With Your Own Spiritual Life.

Michael Wear

by Michael Wear


Politics in the United States, and in many other nations, are becoming increasingly noxious. For those who have the luxury, ignoring politics can seem desirable. Here is my advice for you: think about and approach your politics as full of opportunities for you to grow ever closer to Jesus, increasingly becoming more like him. If you take up this advice, it will not only serve you well, but it will transform our families, our churches, our communities and, yes, our politics. Spiritual formation is central to civic renewal.

What Kind of Person am I Becoming?

“Spiritual formation,” Dallas Willard wrote, “is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definite ‘form’ or character.” Spiritual formation is not a niche issue. It is not just relevant to those who are “into” spiritual formation. Everyone has a spiritual formation. 

Christian spiritual formation, then, is the “Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.” It is “focused entirely on Jesus” and its goal “is an obedience or conformity to Christ that arises out of an inner transformation accomplished through purposive interaction with the grace of God in Christ.” 

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It is not mere behavior modification, though the behavior of someone who has progressed in Christian spiritual formation will certainly be different from what would have been their behavior prior to such progression. The aim is also not to be seen as respectable. Instead, to apprentice oneself to Jesus, to follow him, means you are “with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God.” Christian spiritual formation is about living life with Jesus, and as we learn from him that will shape what we really want and the kind of person we are.

God’s Policy Agenda: The Kind of People We Are

What does this have to do with politics? C.S. Lewis summed it up well: “A Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ til I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out til I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself til I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters.”

Our politics desperately needs people who love their neighbor as themselves, and that requires putting on the character of Christ. Paul’s letters all envision communities of believers increasingly following Jesus’ way. Imagine how differently our politics would look if this could be said of us: “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:7-10).

We need to have this kind of vision in mind, and this vision must include the whole of our lives—including politics. We know we’re called to rid ourselves of malice, but when the subject of politics comes up, many give themselves a pass to spew all the malice they can muster. “Politics is secular anyways,” they might think, “not about my spiritual life or my faith.” But you do not have a spiritual life that is cordoned off from your political life. There is no “real you” separate from the “political you.” You’re just you! And you–all of you!–are who Jesus wants!

Do Jesus’ Values Really Work for Modern Politics?

Spiritual formation is for all of life. It is at the very points at which we lose confidence in the practical ways of Jesus that we must focus our attention. For some of us, that is our finances. For others, our relationships. For many of us, it's politics. We simply do not believe Jesus is up to the task. We do not find him credible when it comes to politics.

I want to encourage you to view your interactions with politics as opportunities for trusting Jesus. As I describe in my book, there are a range of disciplines and practices that can help us to do this, but it will all mean little unless we are captured by a vision of God’s kingdom and intend to entrust our lives to Jesus. Then, we can put on the things of Christ in ways that honor God and bless our households, our neighbors, and our politics.



Michael Wear is the President of the Center for Christianity and Public Life and the author of the new book, The Spirit of Our Politics: Spiritual Formation and the Renovation of Public Life.