The Heart of Celebration of Discipline and Renovation of the Heart
DALLAS: Richard, if you had to tell someone what was the heart of Celebration of Discipline, how would you put it?
RICHARD: Celebration is a primer on the spiritual life. It’s an attempt to open the door for people and give them the latchkey so they can get started with some of the most basic disciplines of life, where they are able to bring their bodies, their minds, who they are, and place all of who they are before God, and then watch the work of God and the interaction that comes from that.
I think that was a big shift in my thinking and for those folks in our little church. We began to realize that there really are some things you can do. Until that shift occurred for me, the idea that you can actually grow in grace didn’t mean that much. We were trying to go beyond the notion that you came to Christ, got it, and then you just hung around until you died.
That ties in with what you’ve done in Renovation of the Heart. Here’s a book that works on the whole self and how all of the self works.
DALLAS: I think the emphasis on experiencing is something the two books share, and what I really wanted to bring out in Renovation was that, well, spiritual growth not only involves effort, but it is actually easy.
DALLAS: The way it is easy is that when you work on the appropriate parts and don’t just put pressure on the will—that is, if you take care of your mind and thoughts and feelings and the other parts, instead of just trying really hard—you will find it is an easy path. That’s what Jesus said. But most of us have had to find that out the hard way because we haven’t been told the secret of the easy yoke.
RICHARD: I always had what I called the “white-knuckle club”: folks who believed you could be like Jesus by screwing down the willpower and focusing on the try, try, try.
DALLAS: And there is effort, as you well know. But while we are saved by grace, grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically infused into our being in the moment of need. You made the team, but you still have to work. But the work, I like to point out, is easy.
The secret of the easy yoke involves living as Jesus lived in the entirety of his life—adopting his overall lifestyle and not just trying to imitate his highlight reels.
And it’s interesting that though we emphasize grace so much, we are so desperately afraid of failure that we often won’t even try, so we don’t form the intention to do the things Jesus said by becoming the person he was. From that perspective—not making an intentional effort to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest our time and energies—the yoke of becoming like Jesus is not easy; in fact, it is impossible.
In Renovation of the Heart, I really wanted to help individuals just to begin to change the things that can be changed and see the consequences of that for all of life.
RICHARD: Now, that’s how those two books work together, isn’t it? Your Renovation of the Heart shows how to work on forming our lives, trying to use the Disciplines as a means of being with God and inviting him to live his life thorough us. That’s when the yoke becomes easy, Christ in us and living through us.
Grace and Works
RICHARD: You know, I think it would be helpful to people if we deal head-on with the issue of grace and works. I’ve heard you say sometimes that people are not only saved by grace, but they also get paralyzed by grace.
DALLAS: Well, some of our denominations are especially prone to that. Actually, it has become almost an American heresy. You see that in the way that people use the song “Amazing Grace”—like in a recent Olympics, the [U.S.A.] girls’ gymnastics team won the gold medal, and as they were walking off, the network started playing “Amazing Grace.” You often wonder if there is a brain in the room or what’s going on. We’ve just taken grace to be a kind of smarm that covers everything.
Grace does free us from the bondage of Pharisaical righteousness; it says you can stop that because we’ve got something else here for you. But what grace is, is God acting in your life. It’s the action of God in your life.
RICHARD: So, the opposite of grace is works, but not effort . . .
DALLAS: That’s right, grace is opposed to earning (or works righteousness), but grace is not opposed to effort.
RICHARD: You can’t will or work your way into the kingdom, but living in contact with God does take effort. I think it was Augustine who cut a path between unaided human initiative and total passivity when he said, “Without God, we cannot; without us, he will not.”
DALLAS: That’s right. Effort is completely at home with grace. In fact, you have greater effort and greater results because grace is present in your life. Paul beautifully illustrates that in many of his statements, like in Ephesians 3:8, where he says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ” (NASBScripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. (www.lockman.org)).
Now, that wasn’t forgiveness. That wasn’t transferred righteousness. That was power. And when you read Paul, you see that this man is a power-mad individual. But the power he desires is grace.
RICHARD: And you grow in that through participation with God.
DALLAS: That’s right. And you can grow in that. To grow in grace just means there is more of God’s action in your life, so you can grow more and more. Grace is as old as the Bible. If we had never sinned, we would still need grace because we would still need God acting in our lives. That’s what we are built for.
There is a wonderful phrase in Isaiah 63, where the prophet is reminiscing about how God acted in the earlier days with Israel. One of the phrases used there refers to how he sent the Holy Spirit in their midst. But he uses a phrase in verse 12 that is so beautiful; it says, “Who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand” (NIVScripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™). That’s grace!
RICHARD: In that passage where Zerubbabel says, “Grace, grace . . .”
DALLAS: Indeed, and now, that’s a building program we’re talking about!
RICHARD: (Laughs) Yes, it is, isn’t it?
DALLAS: Zerubbabel is up against it. And the prophet says you are going to bring forth the capstone to that building shouting, “Grace! Grace to it!” (Zechariah 4:7, NASB). That’s what grace is—acting with God.
RICHARD: Now, that’s the kind of building program you should have.
DALLAS: That’s what you want. You want one where God does it, and you don’t do it. That’s one of the traps for many people [thinking you have to do it yourself].
RICHARD: And it’s not a monument to you.
DALLAS: It’s not a monument to yourself, and you don’t even have to get your way—which is a big load off.
RICHARD: You don’t even need your color on the walls.
DALLAS: Absolutely not. When grace moves into our lives, we can put things in proper perspective. We understand that great truth that is worth repeating: grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning—which is an attitude, and it does indeed rule that out. And Paul is quite right when he says in Romans 3:27, “Where then is boasting?” (NASB). It’s excluded.
RICHARD: It’s gone.
DALLAS: Boy, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get rid of that! I wish we could get a movement on that somewhere. I think our society could use it tremendously, and maybe it could start with our churches.
RICHARD: People constantly feel this is something I have to earn—I have to push myself up a hill—and when we give them clarity that grace simply eliminates that, people come alive. We were together in Cleveland just a few months ago, and wasn’t there someone who got this?
DALLAS: Yes, you know that in the regional conferences on the Friday evening, I usually talk about grace, and I explain especially how grace is not just for guilt. And we have ministers of national repute who say that sort of thing in their programs—that grace is for guilt removal. But I tell them that grace is for life, and here is what it is and what it does for you; and this is how it puts you in a position where you stop striving for Pharisaical righteousness.
A man came up afterwards and with a great sense of relief said, “I got it tonight for the first time.” He got that grace is for life and not just for sin. This helps us avoid getting stuck in gospels of sin management. Because salvation, you know, is a life; it’s not just dealing with sin.
A sinner needs grace, but a saint goes through it like a jet goes through jet fuel taking off from a runway.
RICHARD: (Laughing) And when we see that it’s a whole life, and this life continues on, that’s why we can sing “Amazing Grace.”
DALLAS: Indeed, indeed we can. And, as it turns out, that’s the only way to overcome sin as action.
RICHARD: Exactly. So many people—the way they end up working with grace, maybe we should sing “nice grace” or “pretty good grace,” instead of realizing this is amazing grace.
DALLAS: If we just get the right take on grace, discipline comes back into focus, and you see it’s a good thing; it’s indispensable, and it’s not something to make you miserable; it’s the doorway to life. That’s why, in the introduction to The Spirit of the Disciplines, I present the Disciplines as a part of the gospel, a part of the good news.
RICHARD: That’s why that book is so valuable. It gives a whole picture of how these Disciplines fit in a theological, philosophical, psychological framework for life, for living life connected to God.
DALLAS: I think once people begin to see that, they can hope for the broader human scene. What if you have leaders who are living in this grace, and they never say things like “Business is business”?
RICHARD: Or “I’m not a liar, but I have to lie”?
DALLAS: (Laughs) Yes, and it’s touching to see people do this, because they are conceding that they have to do something wrong. Now, they don’t, but that shows where they are. But suppose you had people who knew you didn’t [have to do wrong], because when you act in faith and out of a character of grace, God is actually there. So you don’t have to make everything come out right. And that is the profound and broad meaning of grace.