This rare, important series from Dallas Willard is on how sin came into the world and how sinful people change through the action of the Holy Spirit and a practice of the disciplines. In the middle, it focuses on Romans 5-8 and one can see that it is the raw material for Dallas’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. But in early form it is a Sunday school class for Woodlake Avenue Friends Church with his pastor, Richard Foster, in the audience. [Editor’s note: The audio is missing, though we’d love to find the cassettes. This is a transcript which somebody did of those cassettes long ago.]
Rather than give you the assignment for the whole series, I will give it to you a week at a time. This should be easier on both of us. The reading assignment for next week is Proverbs chapters 10-15, Isaiah 59:1-15, and most importantly, read Romans chapters 5-7. Memorize Romans 7:21-25. I also want you to study the word corrupt by use of a dictionary, and by following it’s usage through the Bible. Use a good concordance to do the latter. Find out its meaning for our lives today, as we live in this world under God, or apart from God, though no one can succeed at this entirely. Does it mean decay? Can you be corrupt before you die? What is corruption?
I was teaching at a place the other day, and after I was done a woman came up to me and said, “I am not as bad as you said I was.” I knew I had struck fire with her. But beyond that, the point being that the Biblical picture of the state of the human soul is not a pretty one. We sometimes object to that picture, but it is because sin takes the beauty and goodness of God’s creation in human nature and twists it, that sin is such a bad thing. So as you read these discussions of sin, and what it means to be wicked, don’t be lead into the feeling that people are worthless, because they are not. They are precious even though they are corrupt, even thought they are wrung.
Have you ever noticed the difference between wrung and wrong? It’s just one little letter. The word wicked as it shows up in many places in the Bible, simply means twisted, or wrung and out of place. The old English word wrong comes from wrung. It means something distorted, ineffective or causing harm.
The above is to prepare for next week. To prepare for today, let us begin the time with prayer. Almighty God you know how completely incapable we are of speaking or hearing what we need to hear and speak. None of us are here to ask anything this morning because of our worth, because of our excellence, our beauty, our intelligence, or any thing else. We ask because of our need, because of your goodness, and because you love us. We ask for light this morning, for understanding, we ask to know better what your will is for us. We are painfully conscious that so many times in the past we have chosen what was wrong. We know many times we suffer not because of bad intentions, but because we don’t understand. We are in the dark. We are glad that you sent your Son to be the light of the world. Let Him shine today for this class, for your glory. Amen.
I would like to begin by presenting some of the passage that I have asked you to study. We will spend about half the lesson in these passages with only a few comments on them; then I will sum up the essence that they bring forth, especially with regard to point number one on the topic sheet*: What life should be under God – How He intended it to be.
There are many passages which one could take to illustrate this topic. I have simply selected a few, not necessarily the best ones, but ones that emphasize a spectrum of possibilities for our lives under God. We will look first at Deuteronomy 8:1. Deuteronomy means the second law: Deuteronomy: second law, this is the second giving of the law. Undoubtedly (Undoubtably) this was quite some time after it was originally, and you will find certain marked advances in what is said in this book over what is said in Leviticus, or Exodus. These first verses do not look like law; they look like grace. Deuteronomy 8:1-20:
“All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live . . .”
We are going to run into the phrase, that ye may live, again and again, and I want to say something about it. It isn’t as if God was saying he was going to wipe them out if they didn’t do these things; it is rather than life consists in doing the commandments. The word of God is life because it is God’s word; the word of God is a creative word. It is not as if we were saying son, or daughter, speaking to your child: “Now if you don’t do this, I am going to wipe you out.” The connection that the child makes between the parent’s command, and the parent’s hand is not the main connection that we should make here. The commandments of God contribute life.
“That ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord swore unto your fathers, And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness . . .”
Now I am going to skip some. See the middle of verse three.
“ . . .that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.”
Man lives by words: by God’s words. God’s word is creative. By everything that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord does man lives. Are we fully understanding what that is saying? It is talking of a very intimate kind of attitude of the relationship between God and human beings. It is saying that they cannot live without Him. That refers back to commandments mentioned in the opening verse: the commandments are “that ye may live.” God’s word is nutrition; it comes to us as something to eat. The heavy symbolism of the sixth, seventh and eighth chapters of John, where Jesus presents Himself as something to eat and drink, “I am the bread of life . . . the water of life . . .unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not enter the Kingdom,” also shows this same thought. (By the way the disciples were terribly offended by this kind of talk because no matter what else they did do they would never drink blood. The Old Testament forbad it.) Then, having shocked the sensibilities of the disciples to get their attention, Jesus goes on to say: “ . . . the flesh profiteth nothing, but it is the spirit that gives life.” He made it very clear that this was the word which He was speaking which was to be the nutriment of their souls. Man does not live by bread only, but by the words that come from God.
Now in the next few verses we see the amazing provision for the children of Israel in the wilderness, where their shoes didn’t wear out, and their feet didn’t grow, but I want to skip that for now and focus on the seventh verse, where they are brought into the good land.
“For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills,”
You have to have been in the desert for a long time, as they had to appreciate how wonderful this was to them. Water is precious. Many times today people, who have been in the desert, will be bought to a place where there is plenty of water, and they will see it being thrown away as we do here, and they can’t understand it—to them water is precious. You don’t see it running around like that, and you certainly don’t waste it. This promised land was to have not only running springs of water, but was also a fertile land having wheat and barley, figs and pomegranates, and vines of grapes, and oil olives. See in verses 7-9:
“For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring up out of valleys and hills;
A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of all olives, and honey;
A land wherein thou shalt set bread without scarceness,
The shalt not lack anything in it . . . “
Again you will have to understand the fruitfulness of the land that is set before thee. It is a land that is rich in every way, even in mineral resources. See the following part of verse 9.
“ . . . whose stones are iron, and whose hills thou mayest dig brass,”
These stones could be used as tools. They didn’t have the means to produce iron as we have today. This was a precious thing. Also brass is mentioned. This was an age when brass was so important. It was used much as we use steel today. So you see the kind of provision that God had made for these people. He called a special people out of special circumstances, and this is the provision that He has made for them. Verse 10-14
“When thou hast eaten and are full, then thou shall bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I commanded thee this day.
Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out (our) of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,”
Now notice the progression in the 17-18 verses.
“And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth.
But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God; for it is He that giveth thee . . .”
Let us skip on to the passages in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, where I want to put some emphasis too. I am just going to talk over this briefly. This stresses much the same as that we just read.
“And it shall come to pass, if ye harken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season,
The first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.”
The first rain is the rain that starts the growth, and the latter rain is the rain which finishes the corn to its fullest growth, a lush ear. Verse 15
“I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full.”
The people are warned to remember where they receive the good things in their lives that it all comes from God. See in verses 19-20.
“And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them on the door posts of thine house and upon thy gates.”
You see this is the means to secure the blessedness of God. The means is a consciousness of the word. I want to be clear when I speak of consciousness of the word I am not talking of a person who has memorized the Bible. A person can memorize the Bible and not be conscious of the word. Many people have. It is rather a study of the bible and of life, and of all things which are instructive with an attitude of hearing God’s word, of listening to God speak and of getting correction from God. God does not just speak when we think He might. For example many people might think that God speaks only when the people gather in the church house. The Quakers have had a very good witness to the fact that that isn’t it. We know that there is no particular place or time in which God will speak, and in which He must not speak. We are to be open to the speaking of God, but the words of God are not then some magic device used to keep away evil. Frankly, many people use his words as good luck charms. Just like some people will use a cross, or a statue of the virgin, or of Jesus as a good luck charm. I don’t necessarily knock that as a psychological device because it does help many people. It is just that that is not the kind of thing which the scripture intends to show as (is) a right understanding of he way things are between God and man, and it points to the living in the light of that.
Let us look at a different part now. We have been dwelling on the kinds of good provision, which are a part of the life that God intends for us. God intends a life in which we don’t lack for physical provision. “Man does not live by bread alone,” God says on the one hand, and on the other hand He just pours bread out. Man needs bread. Man needs houses. Man needs good things, which are good enough to make him celebrate the goodness of God. Have you ever praised God for your stomach? Some time ask the blessings after you are done eating; after you have had an especially good meal. It will make a difference. The Old Testament religion is a religion in which you praise God with everything in your heart, but you can’t do that unless everything in your heart feels good; unless it is good. The Old Testament religion is a religion of the body. God is a God of the body. We have fallen into an error of trying to turn it into something so everlastingly spiritual, and painful, and dreary. The religion of the New Testament is supposed to be the same thing. I hope that some of you are wondering why I put celebration under “I” on the handout sheet. Can you believe that celebration is a discipline of the spiritual life, that without it you are not getting your spiritual vitamins? We can look at Deuteronomy 15:1-18 to see how God makes provision in this area.
“At the end of every seven year thou shalt make a release.” That is everything, every debt which has been incurred, every obligation which has been made, is to simply be released. This was not only for that one year, it was permanently, but after that year one could enter into further debts again. For example, if I were poor, and you were a rich person, I might sell myself to you as a slave, but under this law you would have to turn me loose at the end of seven years. Threw were ways that a person could become a servant permanently, but unless they were initiated, the servitude had to be entered into again every seven years. This same thing was true in the sale of land. No Hebrew could sell his land. Did you pick up why he couldn’t sell his land? The reason was that it was not their land. It belonged to God, and that’s why they couldn’t sell it. It did not belong to the people.
If you think about that, when we talk about tithing, and stewardship as we sometimes do you begin to get a sense that we are not even in the same ballpark with these people. They didn’t own their land. They couldn’t sell it. When you begin to wonder at what goes on in our culture, you might think in terms of that. For example, suppose people in our culture could not buy and sell land, or suppose at the end of every seven years it had to revert to the hands of the original owner. Now when you start in talking about what happens to the San Fernando Valley, or California, or the United States, you have to think in terms of these fundamental arrangements, and these fundamental relationships between God and people. How would things be different if we lived that way now?
Well, this passage goes on to discuss the year of release. We don’t have time to read it all right now, but the reason I wanted to mention it is because it b rings out the tender relationship between the people in this society – between the poor, between the widow, between the stranger. I can’t leave it entirely; it is so beautiful. Let me read the 12th verse and follow a bit.
“And if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee.
And when thou sendest him out free from thee, though shalt not let him go away empty:
Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of they flock, and out of thy floor . . .”
What does that mean? It means out of the storehouse, or out of the thrashing floor, or out of the places where your goods are deposited. You are to furnish him liberally, verse 14 and 15
“ . . . and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the Lord thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the Land of Egypt, and the Lord they God redeemed thee: Therefore I command thee this thing today.”
Then he goes on to talk about what shall be if a person doesn’t want to leave, and makes arrangement for the bondsman or bondswoman that doesn’t want to leave. I will leave that for you to read on your own and go on to the 16th Chapter of Deuteronomy. Here we come into the celebration of the feasts. There are three feasts discussed in the 16th chapter, the feast of the Passover and of unleavened bread, and the feast of the weeks (verses 9, 10 and following), and the feast of the tabernacles. Now the feast of the weeks and the feast of the tabernacles were essentially harvest festivals. They were celebrations of the harvest, but they were religious times because they were celebrations of God’s goodness as manifested in the harvest.
I have never sat down and figured out how much time the Jews would have spent on vacation that follow these ordinances, that is if they did exactly what God told them. These feasts were essentially paid vacations. They were times in which they traveled, first to Jerusalem though at the point of the writing of this Jerusalem had not yet been specified as the place where in God chose to set His name. At this time the place was not always the same. God chose different locations for celebration. The idea was that God would appoint a place, and all of you would take your goods and you would go, and you would have a feast of celebration. Unfortunately, not everyone went. The men at least were required to go. See Deuteronomy 16:16.
“Three times a year shall all the males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose . . .”
All the men went, and in many cases they took their relatives with them. It wasn’t that the women could not go but that the men were required to go. Now notice what they did, especially in the feast of the weeks and the feast of the tabernacles. Read verses 10 and following.
“And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the Lord they God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the Lord thy God, according as the Lord thy God hath blessed thee:
And thou shalt rejoice before the Lord thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow that are among you. In the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondsman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.”
The same thing is repeated in the 14th verse. The stranger, the fatherless, and the widow are again mentioned. This feast lasts seven days; see verse 15.
“Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the Lord thy God in the place which the Lord shall choose: because the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.”
And so in the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy we hear him saying in the 47th verse:
“Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things.”
Because you servedst not the Lord . . . (how?) with joyfulness, and with gladness . . . (why?) for the abundance of all things. What was the primary cause for the gladness and joyfulness? It was the abundance of all things. Now because they don’t do it what happens? Verse 48
“Therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against the . . .”
How shall they serve their enemies?
“ . . . in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things. . .”
Notice how ‘all things’ turns up again. We move from abundance of all things to want of all things.
“ . . . until he . . .”
I believe that part of verse 48 should read ‘until the enemy.’
“ . . .until he (the enemy) have destroyed thee.”
Ah! But let us step back again to the celebration, and in order to impress us with how profound this motif is, I want to turn to Leviticus 25:1-2 for a moment. We are talking about what life should be under God: how he intended it. We are hitting upon one of the central problems of man. Have you ever wondered why God put the keeping of the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments? He put it right up there with not stealing. A lot of people have tried to get you to come to church by using that verse, but it didn’t say anything about coming to church. In many cases, coming to church would be a clear violation of the Sabbath as they understood it. The Sabbath was a time of rest and celebration. Why did he put it in the Ten Commandments? The Sabbath is absolutely essential to the understanding of the religion, which God has ordained as a way of life. It did not go out when Jesus came in. “The Sabbath was made for man . . .” Jesus said, didn’t he. This was not just for the Jew. Look at what he says there in those first two verses.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses in Mount Sinai, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a Sabbath unto the Lord.”
The land shall keep a Sabbath unto the Lord. It didn’t say, you shall. This is characteristic of God in all the provisions of the law. It treats the land in a personal way. It treats the whole order of animals, plants, land and man together, as God’s work as something which has attitudes toward God. Verse 3:
“Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard and gather in the fruit thereof;”
There you have the sowing, cultivation and reaping. Verse 4:
“But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the Lord . . .”
Now notice this next part.
“ . . .thou shalt neither sow the field, nor prune thy vineyard.
That which growth of its own accord thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressen: for it is a year of rest unto the land.” (Verse 5)
Now what is he talking about? How are we going to eat? He is not saying that you are not to go fix food for supper. He is saying you will not reap and store up. You are not to can that year, and you will not fill your freezer. You will not make any of the moves to store up goods for the next year. Now you have to remember the kind of land they lived in. They lived in a land in which the milk and honey flowed pretty well the year around. You must always remember that we are not speaking of Eskimos here. The land was provided: a certain type of land was there. This land was abundant in goods. And God says that you don’t sow, you don’t cultivate, and you don’t reap. Now then we can take it a step further in the 8th verse and following.
“And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.
Then thou shalt cause the trumpet of jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.
And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty thoughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his family.
A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which growth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed.
For it is the year of jubilee, it shall be holy unto you.”
Now the obvious objection comes up in verse 20 of this chapter.
“And if you shall say what shall you eat the seventh year? Behold we shall not reap nor gather in our increase . . .”
Watch the provision of God. Verse 21:
“Then I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.”
There will be provision in the storehouse sufficient to last for three years. This next verse is stated nicely. Verse 22-23:
“And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store.
The land shall not be sold forever for the land is mine: for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.”
What does the word Hebrew mean? It means wanderer.
“And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.” (Verse 24)
Now in the remaining verses, which I asked you to study: that is Deuteronomy, Chapter 24, 25, 26, and 28, you will find these same themes played out. Then finally, I want to look at Isaiah and Micah. You see this dream of God’s goodness did not come to pass. It failed. So through a process, if you will, of purification, until the people could receive this kind goodness, the Jewish nation was persecuted and driven apart. We know the story pretty well I think. It was a preparation for the time when one would come out from the Jews that would be a light unto the Gentiles. He would preach the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom would be preached unto the ends of the earth. This same dream, this message that was extended to the Jews, and through them to the world, would be extended then directly to all the whole world. In the 65th chapter of Isaiah, you have one of the most beautiful statements of this in the 17-18th verses.
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come to mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.”
Notice the stress on joy through all of this. Verse 19-20:
“And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.
There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.”
There is a balance there. The idea there is of just recompence.
There will be no more a feeling that justice has not been done.
“And they shall build houses, and inhabit (in habit) them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.
They shall not build, and another inhabit: they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble: for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them.
And it shall come to pass, that before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.” (Verses 22-25)
This is the culmination of the vision of what life is to be like under God.
I want us to do some reflecting on this. What are the constituents of a life under God? I want to highlight three words. I have chosen words that are easy to remember together. These are: Provision, Place and Personality. Place here, and I will explain further in a moment, is much more than a physical sort of thing.
Human life is such that, the goodness in it consists of a combination of these three things. Abundance provision—I am speaking of such things as houses, food, clothing, etc. That is all of the resources that are necessary for a person to live physically. Place, by place I am referring (refering) to the set of personal relationships with others which give identity and signification in the life. Now the old statements in the law amply provided for this. The place, the widow, for example had a place, and so did the child, the wife, and the husband. There was a place that gave them identity and signification, and without that there is not goodness. So if you want to know why there are so many unhappy people in this world, you can sum it up in one simple word: Today the conditions of life make place almost impossible. It begins with children, and it carries on through life. There are many elements to that we will want to talk about later.
Finally, personality means that inward self which expresses itself in action in certain determined ways like loving, or to take the negative side, hating, or creating, obsequious, obedient, disobedient. In short all of these outward expressions of the inward self. These three factors constitute the goodness of the badness of life. God gives us direction as to how these are to be.
Another thing that must be said is these things come in cycles, and if these cycles are broken misery is the result. I am talking about cycles like sleeping and eating. These are your cycles. You have a particular way of eating a meal, and it is a cycle. Did you know that? Shaving, putting your makeup on, all of these things are cyclical. Some (So) of it is just mere habit, and we could do it equally well by another method. But there is built into human life cycles that have to do with provision, and place. These show up in the most elementary ways. The cycles of the seasons, the cycles of your body are examples. In your body’s regard, you hear about biological clocks. God’s creation works in cycles. Eccles. 3:1-8
“There is a season for everything under heaven,”
Isn’t that what the Word says? The other side of that is, if you do it out of season you are in trouble. It is the cycles of life that bring refreshment and vitality, cycles affect place, personality and provision. It is in seeing these, and accepting them and getting them in the right order that the goodness under God is found. This is why when things get wrong (wring), it is bad because then things are out of cycle. Did you ever try to work with a washing machine that is out of cycle? The main expression of man’s arrogance and pride is his willingness to accept the cycles of finitude. He wants to have anything in any way he wants it, in season or not. He rejects his finitude in that way more than any other. Rejection of place is a manifestation of that, or rejection of one’s own personality in cycles, or the rejection of set ways of provision. The latter shows up in the seeking of luxury.
Think on these things. You will see later on how they tie in with the spiritual disciplines: silence, submission, fasting, poverty, prayer, simplicity, study, service and celebration. Cycles—perhaps the best definition of sin, is the rejection of cycles.