Have you ever wondered why churches keep trying to organize people into smaller groups? One of the reasons: spiritual formation is always profoundly social. Ok, don’t take my word for it. Here’s an article from Dallas Willard.
Spiritual Formation is Necessarily Social
Spiritual formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social. You cannot keep it to yourself. Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it. Anyone who says, “It’s just between me and God,” or “What I do is my own business,” has misunderstood God as well as “me.” Strictly speaking there is nothing “just between me and God.” For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me. My relationship to others also modifies me and deeply affects my relationship to God. Hence those relationships must be transformed if I am to be transformed.
Therefore Jesus gave a sure mark of the outcome of spiritual formation under his guidance: we become people who love one another (John 13:35). And he does not leave “love,” that “many splendored thing,” unspecified. Instead he gives “a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also hold love one another” (verse 34 NRSV, emphasis added). The age-old command to love is transformed, made a new command, by identification of the love in question with that of Jesus for us (see 1 John 2:7-8).
Love of “the brethren” in this supernatural way allows us to know that “we have passed out of death into life” (1 John 3:14) We simply can’t love in that way unless we have a different kind of life in us. And the “love” here in question is identified as that which in isn Christ because it one that makes us ready to “lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16).
Failure to love others as Jesus loves us, on the other hand, chokes off the flow of the eternal kind of life that our whole human system cries out for. The old apostle minces no words: “he who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Notice that he did not say, “he who hates,” but simply, “he who does not love.” The mere absence of love is deadly. It is withdrawal.
Notice also that he did not say, “he who is not loved,” though that also is true. That too is death, but our purpose cannot be to get others to love. Love comes to us from God. That must be our unshakable circle of sufficiency. Our purpose must then be to become one who loves others with Christ’s agape. That purpose, when developed, will transform the social dimension of the human self and all of our relationships to others. Love is not a feeling, or a special way of feeling, but the divine way of relating to others and oneself that moves through every dimension of our being and restructures our world for good.
Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard, p. 182-183