Biblical and Theological Foundations for Spiritual Formation in Christ 4

Dallas Willard Part 4 of 22

Dallas agreed to teach two separate weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Atlanta, a cohort of 40 students, mostly in ministry positions. He rehearses many of the themes from his speaking ministry elsewhere, so there is little new to be heard, but with more time with the group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Well, good morning [Good Morning] and it looks like the sunshine is going to shine. That’s a great thing, isn’t it? I’ve been singing yesterday all day, “Heavenly sunshine, heavenly sunshine, flooding my soul with glory divine” and it helped. [Laughter] “Hallelujah, I am rejoicing, praising my savior, Jesus is mine.”


Ok, now we want to review a bit. The most difficult material is in yesterday’s notes and discussion, and let’s just review a little bit here. People generally have a difficult time with “spirit.” What is spirit? Unless you are able to say something about that or articulate that, then the idea of spiritual transformation won’t make a lot of sense. So, you need to work on that. This says if you have numbered your pages and your copies of the transparencies and it has been a tremendous help, Pam and thank you so much for putting these in so you don’t have to scramble to get them down. This is on page 12 if you have numbered your pages and so, let’s just think about this now. [2:32]


What is “Spirit?” Your first thought on that probably is God is Spirit. God is the point of reference in understanding spirit and we have a couple of verses here that help you to see the heart of what spirit is—John 5:26—“…He has life in Himself.” He does not derive His life from anything else.

Jan led us through some thinking at the end of yesterday when you were given a whole lot of words and you need to sit with those words. You have to let them soak into you. When that was written in the 1800’s, people used big words and they had some understanding of them and words are like that. You more or less understand them and your understanding deepens as you live with the words. [3:53]


For the first time you come across words like that, it more or less, stuns your mind but the mind requires exercise. It’s like the body in that respect. It is a real thing. It has a structure. It has capabilities and we have to exercise those capabilities. That’s one of the things that words help us with is mental exercise. Now, here, I give you “the Father has life in itself;” nothing else does. Everything else gets its life from something else, but ultimately from Him, as Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6, and when you begin to try to understand God as spirit, and then you go back to your scriptures and you will constantly find statements about God. That’s where all those big words come from. Someone sitting down and thinking about that and thinking going on through the centuries and then you come up with that kind of description. You need it. You really do. [5:15]


Now, your old hymns sometimes will help you. The one we sang yesterday uses a lot of language about God and the older hymns tend to help you with language—the newer ones not so much. [Laughter] You know, the definition of a praise song is two notes, three words, fifteen minutes [Laughter] and sometimes the words are not big words. They are personal pronouns. There are good praise songs. I’ll give you a break here. [Laughter] But the Father has life in Himself. Now, when Moses encounters God in Exodus, Chapter 3, God is saying, “Now, you’ve got this job. I’m giving you a job, Moses. You go down there to Egypt and tell Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’” And Moses, like any sane person said, “Who are YOU? Who are you?” Who shall I tell them?” This language in verse 14, “I AM that I AM.” Now, your translations will struggle with that and they don’t really know what to do with it but sometimes they say things that when you think about isn’t very bright. Some of them say, “I AM what I AM.” Now, everything “Am what it AM.” [Laughter] Popeye—“I AM who I AM.” That’s not distinctive. Everything is what it is. So, now, older translations who thought they ought to just kind of say what they thought it said in literal terms will give you, “I AM that I AM.”—some of the new ones. [7:38]


What does that mean? I AM that I AM? What it means is my being is based entirely on myself.  Nothing else of nothing else is that true and those big words, they try to get your mind around that in various ways—independent, determined by nothing outside of itself and so forth. It’s all working on that same idea and that is the mark of spirit. It is independent and it is self-driven.


Now, all other spirits besides God are limited but in God self-determination is totally unrestricted. So, God is trying to reveal His nature. He’s a kind of thing that is not subject to anything else. Well, who sent you? The “I AM” sent me, right? Then you know how that language then catches on Biblically and the Gospel of John, for example, is almost technical language, “I AM” but that comes out of the history of the people of God with Jehovah. So, that’s a beginning. [9:27]


Now, I give you some language here that you can try on in Roman numeral II there—Spirit is un-bodily personal power—un-bodily personal power. Now, all of that is important. You are looking at something that can be associated with bodies, that produces bodies and be incarnated but it doesn’t derive from the body. The body derives from it and in God.


Then, in human beings where we have embodied personal power, the spiritual heart does not arise out of the physical heart. It’s un-bodily personal power and that is the basis of freedom in the human being. They have a small capacity of self-determination and that is focused in the will. The will is a power of self-determination, at least as long as it doesn’t give itself up to other stuff. Then, it can become enslaved and we talked about that some yesterday. It’s the kind of thing you need to keep thinking about what it actually consists in and we have more on there. It’s personal. [11:12]


One of the things that distinguishes Christian spirituality from the other spiritualties is, it is personal. It’s not a principle. It’s not a force. It is a person. Spirit is personal and “the force be with you” and all of that is simply another version of idolatry and the human drive to subject God to themselves. One form again that that takes is, “YOU are God.” You don’t know it perhaps but if you just follow the line of reason you will discover that you are God and you probably know what a big part of contemporary life that becomes. [12:07]


And then it is power. Power is the capacity to do work—your capacity to do work. That is, it makes things happen. You would have to combine all of these now. It’s very important to understand that this power is personal so when you are working with God and with your own spiritual side, you want to remember that it’s not just power, it is personal power. So, it is interaction of persons.


Now, we spent time on this last time. It’s made up of thoughts, desires, feelings, evaluations, and character and what more, I don’t want to suggest that you can fully understand the essence of God in those terms but that is where you and I encounter the spiritual. It is in our thoughts, desires, feelings, evaluations and character and that is the point of view that is preserved when you leave your body. Your personality is sustained. That’s what it consists in and that is where God is with you as you go through the valley of the shadow of death or wherever. [13:33]


God is with you in your spiritual side; now, that spills out into the physical side, right? But, that’s not where it is centered and the presence of God in the individual life is meant to be over everything and that arrangement has been made for that and there is a space in us for saying, “Yes” or “No” to that. You, as a human beings are positioned between two landscapes—one is the invisible landscape of the spirit and you are naturally a part of that because you are a spiritual being. Now, you have a choice and we are going to go back and spend some time on that now this morning. You have a choice as to where—which landscape you are going to choose—the visible one or the invisible one. Now, you will be present in both of them but what you make your life to consist in will be your choice. The one area is what is called flesh in The New Testament and that’s the natural abilities—socially organized, it becomes the world, historically developing socially that becomes the world as it is spoken of, for example in John 2 where it says the three things that are in the world are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. He’s looking at the organized reality of humanity and he is saying what makes that go—three things and you can check them out, see? Is that true? Well, watch the world and see what moves people. John’s analysis was based upon his knowledge of the temptations of Christ in Matthew 4 and the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3. So, you look at those and you can see those three things showing up. What did Eve think when she looked at the fruit—three things. What did Satan tempt Jesus with in Matthew 4—three things. So, that’s a kind of analysis of the world and the flesh. [16:19]


Now, as a spiritual being, you don’t have to live there. You can live in that without being of it and that is what we are given so let’s turn to the central Renovare verse for a moment which is in 2 Corinthians 4. Paul here is talking about his life and he had a very hard life and he was wearing down and he knew it and most of us can see we are wearing down at our age by looking in the mirror. In 2 Corinthians 4, he is talking about what he has gone through and he says in verse 16, “Therefore, we do not lose heart but though our outer man is decaying.” Now, the outer man is the one you can see in the mirror. It’s the visible person and no matter what else, your outer man is decaying. You can get a little help with that—plastic surgery may be something for you or taking your vitamins and there is a big battle about that in the world, isn’t’ there? Think of all the stuff that people try to sell you to help with your outer person and there is chronic dissatisfaction of human beings with their bodies. It is very rare that you find anyone that is satisfied with their body.  It’s too much or too little. It’s to low or too high. [Laughter] Well, that’s the old iron man—we don’t lose heart but though our outer man is decaying, our inner man—now, that’s you. If you haven’t let yourself go completely to the outer man, there is an inner person and that inner man for Paul is being renewed day by day. It’s not getting old. Your inner man does not get old. Your body gets old. The world gets old. The momentary light affliction, which is in the domain mainly of the outer man, is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. That’s a theme that Paul returns to back in Romans 8 and so on. The momentary light affliction is producing for us the eternal weight of glory is of course in the inner man and the inner person’s relationship to God and to other persons. [19:33]


Now, have we got something to do here? Yes! We have something to do.  While we look not at the things that are seen, the question is, What are you looking at? And when this laboring emerges, you can be puzzled. How can you not look at things that are seen and look at things that are unseen but the things, which are not seen. We look at the things that are not seen for the things that are seen are temporal but the things that are not seen are eternal. Two landscapes—your choice. What will you look at?


And you see here, Paul’s theme of the importance of the mind and we will go back to that in a moment looking at Romans 8 but this is the focus for Renovare. Renovare is a Latin word that is taken from the Latin Bible in verse 16—being renewed day by day—Renovare—and it still lives pretty close in some languages in Romania, Spanish—very close; renewal, renovation and so on.  Now, we are renewed by drawing from the invisible world of the spirit, and that brings into us more reality and we grow old and where our attachments are in that world and so, our momentary light affliction in the visible world translates into an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. You might note the world “glory” okay because what is in that real is glorious. It is energetic, good, right, and beautiful. That is what is in that realm and of course, God is the center of all that—the Trinitarian community. [22:13]


God is Father of Spirits—it is where the spirits that are human and whatever other spirits there may be that come from God is their Father. The God of the spirits of all flesh—I give you some verses there. I won’t chase them down right now. So, that’s the basic picture now of Spirit and you have to understand it if you are going to make any sense out of spiritual transformation.


Now, we have lots of dimensions of that that are very important that people think about death in that respect and what it means and we talked a little bit about that and if you observe you will see lots of interesting evidences like the gentlemen that brought me in from the airport—Dick Baxter—was talking about how after going through this course. He was in the first cohort and he began to notice things and he began to listen to things that he was told and he related a story about a woman who was caretaker of a woman who had had Alzheimer’s and she became convinced that this woman was pretty close to leaving and the woman hadn’t spoken for months and so the caretaker went in and just read aloud the 23rd Psalm to her and then she read it again and as she read it the second time the woman began to recite it with her and when she came to the last verse, she expired.  [24:18]


Now, I could tell you a lot of stories along those lines and in particular about our own will in relationship to dying, because how we approach that and how we understand it is a part of what makes it happen the way it does. If you understand it, then you are in a position to deal with it in a different way. I am tempted to go on with stories about that because they are so beautiful but I mustn’t linger over it because I’ve got to go over other stuff. See, that’s how, I mean it’s just remarkable how many people who have been in a state of a coma for a long while—as they pass, speak to those who remain. That’s because they are exiting the bondage of their body and they are able to function in that context because they are breaking free of their dependence on their body. Now, see if you think they are their body, then that won’t make any sense to you. You will just think something weird happened, I suppose. But, if you understand that you are a spiritual being, your integrity as a person is whole and complete without your body in the hands of God. Well, then, that helps us kind of fill out some of the blanks that might encourage us. [26:20]


Ok; that’s one of the real hard parts of the course and so I give you a little more there to think about in this area of what is spirit and in our world, we really need to have something to say about that because increasingly as what is taken for knowledge advances, the spirit becomes less and less—something that we can actually articulate. Say something! Articulating is extremely important because actually the Kingdom of God works by words. It works by words. That is why Jesus gave His teaching in John 6 about, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part with me.” And, of course everyone just freaked out on that and He explained later on “The flesh doesn’t profit anything. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit. They are life. Do you know that?” It’s the words of Jesus that conveys the Kingdom of Jesus and we partake of Him as a person through His words and so, Colossians 3 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom. teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart unto the Lord.” A major part of what we do and we will talk more about this tomorrow is to take in the word of Christ, fill our minds with it and that is a way of taking on the substance of it. So, it’s really important to understand what spirit is. The words that I speak to you, they are spirit. And everyone said, “Yes, spirit is un-bodily personal power.” Now then, we can take that in or we can ignore it and the effects will vary of course with that. OK; well, let me just see if you have any questions or comments just about this before we go on. [29:01]


Q: You really stress the importance of understanding this. Can you just give some examples of common mistakes of approaches to spiritual disciplines that are otherwise very sincere but because they miss this, what happens?


Dallas: Yes; the most common thing you actually see with them and this is not just in Christian teaching but in other forms of spirituality, is that spiritual disciplines and spiritual growth is just a matter of performing rituals. Many people blindly think, for example, that going to church will do it and so, they go to church. They don’t exactly know why they go to church or what is supposed to happen there but they kind of feel guilty if they don’t and so they just do that, right? That’s the most common problem with understanding how this works is they believe in rituals, but rituals are fleshly and unless they are tied in with the spiritual, they won’t be profitable. So, Jesus’ teachings bring this up over and over. When you pray, “Don’t repeat yourself over and over thinking you will be heard for your mustering.” It doesn’t work that way. What is prayer? It is a personal transaction. You are talking with someone. You are entering into a conversation and you wouldn’t repeat yourself over and over to another human being. You would just talk to them, because you are in an interactive relationship.


Maybe that will help and all of the things we will discuss briefly tomorrow under the heading of disciplines, they go and are even harmful if you have confidence in the disciplines themselves and don’t understand how they were meant to integrate us into the spiritual Kingdom of God and our walk with Christ and our interactions with the Holy Spirit. [31:12]


Q:  Just a question about the spirit as un-bodily. I have been reflecting on the question of, is the incarnation an eternal decision in the sense that Jesus, even after the resurrection was recognized by the scoffers and both space of having heavenly bodies. I am just interested in whether there will ever be a time when we don’t have a body; there is a wide view of the heavenly body and what does that mean?

Dallas:  There is going to be a time when you don’t have a physical body. Now, I believe that there will be a kind of personal unity continually and that in the domain of the spiritual; there is the interaction, which allows people to recognize, but there, it’s a matter of the person revealing themselves to others. They don’t have a body to hide in and they are no longer fearful and so they are able to immediately relate to others in a way that is recognizable. Now, I don’t know the details of that and you no doubt are aware of all the controversies about the resurrection body and so on.


What I am really concerned to say to you is physical bodies are not the only kinds of realities; that the person has a reality and that reality consists of their experiences and how those experiences are related to one another, how they develop and that we carry that forward as a part of our identity and a part of that for human beings is the body they had. So, I will forever be the son and daughter of Albert and Mamie Willard. That’s a part of my identity. That comes through my body and that is carried on in my experiences forever. So, once you get over the idea that the only kinds of real unities are physical and you can fill in something with the experiences as I tried to talk about. Then I think you can begin to think about the unity of the person and how did Peter, James and John recognize Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration. I think it’s because they were given direct access to the persons and that, I believe is how we know people now even if we can’t get to the person, the body will not carry us very far though it will carry us a long way—things like DNA, friends and I-friends and all of that stuff—it’s physical, but that isn’t the person. The person is not their fingerprints and they are not their DNA. They are their experiences and that is what I believe we see in God’s interaction with us bodily. It’s personal; so, that’s not a very satisfactory response to a very profound question but that is at least some of my thinking about it. [34:56]


Q: My question was his question [Well, say it again.] I feel stuck in this because I grew up in a brand of Christian spirituality that really felt very much like the agnostic-escape and there are parts of this—and I think some of what N.T. Wright says has been so profound for me in terms of the bodily resurrection and that physicality is not the end of the game but it matters a great deal because Jesus is the embodiment of Jesus and that there is a real –kind of like the four part story that you tell of good creation and the fall and redemption but then a renewal of all things and for me, that has always carried with it a notion of some serious physicality and that’s where I feel like I am 85% there and then I get stuck when we say things like the bondage of the body. I can’t reconcile that and I am sure it’s just because my brain is small [No, I am sure it’s not.] with what the resurrection means for me so I don’t know. [36:14]


Dallas: Well, physicality is not all it’s cracked up to be [Laughter] and you find that out if you try studying matter and you finally come down to a way that the elements parts and whatever down there is organized and matter, among others things is not very material. We think of matter in terms of independent impenetrability [?…think that’s the word] but x-rays will go right through you. So, penetrability is relative to what you are trying to penetrate and what you are trying to penetrate it with and so, I think we have this idea of matter that is something that is impenetrable and has weight and other properties of that sort and then we think, well, are your thoughts like that? Are your emotions like that and your choices and so on? Well, no they aren’t so then you can try to stuff them into matter and identify with something material and certain lines of thinking theologically, and Tom Wright is very helpful in all of this discussion, partly because he knows the history of the church and thought so well that he isn’t “boxed in” and I believe that if you simply take what you might learn from your own experience of yourself and others and reading the scripture and thinking about how matter shows up, then you see that there is not such a great gulf between matter and spirit. But from the fallen point of view, there is a terrible problem and that’s the one that causes people to think that the only realities are physical or material. [38:28]


That’s a part of the trap and I think I said yesterday and it needs to be repeated that the trap in the visible world is it presents itself as a place where we can be supreme. It’s an illusion of course. We are not supreme. We are not the head of the food chain even. So, but it presents itself as if this is a place where we can do this and we can do that and so on and of course it turns out it’s a place where we can kill others and steal from them and victimize them in many, many ways. There are some need to stretch my thinking about who we are and I published an article a year or so ago on the substance of the self and I think it’s on my web page. It’s just called Intentionality and the Substance of the Self. See, it’s the kind of thing you may never want to hear about because it’s philosophical but you might want to look at it because it’s an attempt to rethink this idea of the substance of the self in terms of the mind, the emotions, the thoughts, and so on; plans, and memories and things of that sort. OK, yes? [39:59]


Q: Could this be in some respect an area where words are insufficient? You are talking and you are saying about, we need to know the words and integrate them but I’ve found comfort in the not knowing in some respects because I don’t see clear answers and find that I run up on this too on this “inner man state” and all of that so I find more comfort in like Psalms 16 where David doesn’t know the answer but he just says, “I know Him,” and I know He is going to take me there one way or the other.


Dallas: Well, that’s good. Those are good words.


Comment: But they are not to somebody that wants an answer.


Dallas: They don’t explain how He does that, does it? [Right] So, you don’t have to have an explanation of a lot of things that are very important that you know anyway, right? Now then, you face a world where someone will say to you, “Well, if you can’t explain it, you don’t know it. [Right] So, you have to be prepared to deal with that, especially as everyone here as leaders and thinkers and teachers and writers and so on, so you need to have worked that through so that you know how to go on if a person is actually interested in knowing and sometimes they are. Sometimes they are using a defensive ploy. Yes, and then we will have to go on.


Q: How would you respond to the idea that is going around now that people’s personalities, part of who they are is determined by their DNA, their genetics that you could be born homosexual or just another word for things that are prominent..[42:03]


Dallas: Well, I don’t think that DNA determines anything in the personal realm. It doesn’t determine desire. It may give you inclinations but it does not make choices. Now, that’s a long discussion. I understand that but I think that’s a point you need to be ready to push because people now want to do what they want to do and they want to be able to say to them, “I have to do what I want to do.” No one has to do what they want to do. When someone says, “I can’t help it,” you know you have someone who is on a long train of rationalization and you need to give them little stories about how they could help it and you, in this particular case, you have to fight the battle of, “Well, but if I want it, shouldn’t I have it?” Well, maybe and maybe not. It depends on what it is. Your wants are not holy. No one’s wants are holy. They may be healthy. That depends. You see, we live in an age, which has brought a whole lot of the thinking of the devil, and a large part of that is “I can’t help it.” I think that people can help it; whatever IT is but of course, it’s going to be tough in some cases so now then, what else is new? We live in a struggle. That’s the nature our world. We don’t want to be unsympathetic to people but it’s not going to help them to tell them, “Yes, that’s right; you can’t help it.” Then where do you go from there and don’t say, “I’m sorry for you” because that will get you in trouble too. So, in a way, I hate to respond to a question like that but I need to respond to it and all I would say is DNA does not make choices. We make choices. People make choices. [44:43]


Now then, if you watch people when they are talking about the brain, they will actually talk about the brain as if it made choices. They treat the brain as if it were a person. Persons make choices. Brains don’t make choices. DNA doesn’t make choices. They provide a kind of foundation and a context within which we make choices and then of course, being spiritual beings, we are open to a larger spiritual realm and we also make choices about what we do in the physical world and so all of that begins to play a part. Of course, people do sometimes come to the place to where they can’t help it but that’s not in their DNA; that’s in their practices. Well, that, at least is how it seems to me. Did someone have a hand up over here for one last question? [45:49]


Q: I know you know this—there are functional brain scans now that can tell us what we are thinking. In other words, if we all thought of the word “hammer,” we could localize it in our brain and so I am wondering how to respond to people with the idea that we are not our brain and also the application of that too around the world of the spirit. What could we maybe discover in our brain if we are putting our mind on the things of the spirit?


Dallas: Well, in a friendly conversation with people, I will flat out tell them unless they were able to identify the thought of a hammer independently of their brain, they would never know that what is going on in their brain is associated with the thought of the hammer. No matter what method you use to look at the brain, you will never identify the thought of a hammer by looking at the brain. You look at the brain and you ask the person, “What are you thinking of?” And then you say, “Well that’s the thought of a hammer.” See? I mean, if one can’t see the fallacy in that then you kind of have to leave it with them to think about. No one has ever identified any act of experience by looking at the brain in any way. You have to establish the experience independently and then you can say, “That’s a thought from the brain.” So, to shorten it out, I mean, you ask yourself, “How do you know that’s the thought of a hammer?” And you would never know that except for the fact that someone has independently identified the thought of a hammer and then someone has said, “Well, when you have that thought of a hammer, then this is what is happening in your brain, so that’s the thought of a hammer and you kind of have to leave it with people to work on. I mean there is so much working here on both sides that isn’t looking at brains or not, they have all kinds of assumptions and we are progressing to a point where by looking at a brain, we can tell what people are thinking—still pretty crude but you know, inch by inch….so, that’s what I would say. [48:17]


Ok, well you know the reason why I go into this is because this is the world we live in and if we are going to talk about spiritual formation and transformation, we have to talk about it because on the scientific side, of course there is a constant pressure now to identify spiritual activities with brain processes and so, a few years ago, we had this whole thing about discovering God in the brain and He’s right there by the hammer. [Laughter] [49:07]


OK; now I do think we need to move on and I really need to spend a few moments at the bottom of your last day’s page where it says, Romans 8: An Exposition. I need to talk about that some as we go on to the studies about how we grow spiritually and what we are to do.


So, if you would, turn to Romans 8 and one of the first things we have to do is get rid of the chapter division. One of the curses of using the Bible is that people break it up into parts and ignore the context. So, the context here is one where Paul is struggling with his will that has become embedded in his body and he is talking about wanting to do things and not doing them, doing them and not wanting to and all of the confusion that comes with that. In verse 19, he capitulates the human condition apart from God. This is verse 19 of chapter 7—“The good that I would, I do not do but I practice the very evil that I do not do.” So, this is the human condition where the complexity of the self has taken on dynamics and tomorrow we have to land in the middle of that and the actions that come out of that do not agree with what the person knows to be good and right or what the person knows to be good and right, they intend that and they don’t do it. [51:31]


The word self control in English—interestingly in Greek it has ego government—self-government and it’s a very big factor in the spiritual life. Self-control is simply the power to do what you intend to do and to not do what you intend not to do. Paul is commenting on the fact that human beings—himself, of course, he is talking about primarily—are not able to do the things they intend to do and they are not able not to do the things they intend not to do and so he says, “If I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it.” Well, interesting, “but the sin which grows in me.” So now, there is something in me that is acting in some degree of variance from what I know to do and intend to do.  [52:51]


How are we to deal with this? Now, many people who are Christians, they want to stop right there. See, that’s where we live and when we die, we will get out of that. But until we die, we are going to be living in this position of continual defeat. What is good will be defeated by what is evil in me. And one of the things we want to take from this now for tomorrow is the complexity of the human self and especially the idea that our lives do not run from our intention. This of course is Peter’s mistake when he says, I won’t deny you.” He means it. He wasn’t lying but Jesus understood Peter and He knew that Peter would deny Him because He understood that what was working in Peter would far outrun his intentions.


So, now, the issue is how do we overcome that; and certainly that’s the issue for spiritual formation or transformation because that process is namely a process of plotting the point where you simply do what you intend to do and you don’t do what people want you to do. Of course, some people, they are not even to that point but ordinarily the Christian finds themselves in that position. They are having trouble doing the good they intend to do and usually they are defeated because they are relying upon some mysterious thing called willpower. That’s the sure road to take. You have to implement the willpower in a certain way and you can succeed and when we have that wonderful saying about the road to hell being “paved with good intentions,” you might want to remember the one that is “paved with bad intentions.” It’s a lot worse. It’s a lot worse, but we do need to learn the lesson that intention alone will not do it and we need to understand why. [55:23]


Now, in this passage, the reference is to “the coming of Christ into the life.” Paul asks the question, “Wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death?” And usually, again, that’s where we stop. Well when we die, we will be done with it because we will be done with the body. But, of course the body isn’t the problem. There are problems with the body and what is in the body and that of course Peter, for example illustrates this. What was in his body was what he didn’t know. See? Whenever the little girl came up to him and said, “Are you one of them?”—he didn’t send up a message that said, “Well, shall I deny the Lord?”  Shall I deny Him? No, he didn’t do that because the denial was already in his jaws and those jaws were key to a context and the social context and what is in the body led to the action and not only once but three times and again, you might think, well, Peter would say, “Oh, I remember what Jesus said.” No, he didn’t do that. [58:54]


Now, Peter’s body went through some training and he got better as a result of that but here, Paul is just saying “Well, he answers the question.” The last verse in Romans 7 answers the question, “Who shall deliver me? Thanks be to God through Jesus our Lord, I will be delivered.”


And then, even put chapter 8 in and he moves right into verse 4 in chapter 8, “There is now no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus.” OK what’s the condemnation? The condemnation is what he was talking about in Romans 7. What guilt? I am not talking about that. Chapter 8 is continuous with Chapter 7. You want to know what is the condemnation? That is not “in those who are in Christ Jesus” and you go back to chapter 7 where it tells you. The condemnation was the inability to do the things that Paul knew to be right and not do the things that he knew to be wrong.  [58:18]


Now, you say, well, but it’s got to be forgiveness and that is the road that comes down upon you and you have to integrate with that with the remainder of Romans 8 which is not about forgiveness. It’s about living in the spirit of Christ. And now that we have a new law—verse 2 in Romans 8—“the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” What was the condemnation? It was the law of sin and death. The law refers to the regularity of sin and death in the person apart from Christ.


Now then, you are going to be set free from that law by what?—By the law of the spirit of life that is in Christ Jesus. That is a regularity, also. It involves grace. It involves the assistance of God. Now, let’s see quickly how that unfolds—what the law could not do because it was weak for the flesh. Now then, the law there refers to the law of God as given or revealed to Israel through its history–basically the Ten Commandments. I think it’s very complicated about that but what the law could not do because it was weak in the flesh. The flesh in the natural abilities—the natural abilities cannot keep the law in a world where we live. It cannot do it. For one thing, it’s like Peter—it’s all messed up. The natural abilities are messed up and crossed out. They don’t work together. They are a conflict as James 4 tells us—“Where do wars and fighting come from among you?” [1:00:23]


We talked about desire. Desire is essentially conflictual. Peter had a conflict. He loved his Lord—sort of—he was impressed with Him but he also wanted to stay out of trouble—that’s the conflict. Now, his body had been trained to stay out of trouble for a long time. Jesus said to all of them, “You are going to run.” When the deal came down, their legs didn’t send the message to their head and say, “Shall we run?” No. That was already in their legs. Their legs had been trained to run. Running is a survival mechanism if you like that language. Peter had that working in his body and so, his natural abilities, he thought, could do that. They couldn’t do it. The law of sin and death was working in his body. He had internalized it.  It’s not a muscle. Your flesh is not meat so we have a long history that lies like a curse on teachings about disciplines that it’s the body itself that is sinful. It’s not. It’s how what has been trained into the body so that without thinking, it acts. It doesn’t need to think. It thinks because it already knows what to do and that’s a good thing. If your body did not know how to act without being told, you would be, shall we say, “confined to your bed.” All of our natural abilities—walking, talking, interacting and knowing how to respond to what we see visually –all of that is trained into our bodies and so, whether you are a surgeon or just driving an automobile around, you want to be able to act without thinking. Acting without thinking is essential to human life. [1:03:00]


A person who is playing a musical instrument is one of the best illustrations of this. They know how to use their fingers on the keys of the piano or on the guitar or something without thinking. If they have to think, then they won’t play, will they? So, they have to have trained into them what is good for that and of course, there are limits to that for a person who is well trained in music. It’s just astonishing to the person who doesn’t know how to do it.  They cannot do the things that need to be done when they need to be done. I could probably play all of the notes in the Moonlight Sonata but you wouldn’t want to hear it [Laughter] because they have to be played when they need to be played and in the manner they need to be played. See, our body is meant to serve in the mastery of life but it is unfortunately trained in the law of sin and death. [1:04:22]


Now here comes the law of the spirit applied in Christ Jesus and it sets me free from that because now, it gives me resources that enable me to do the things that are right and good and to not do the things that are bad. The law couldn’t do it but God did by sending His son in the flesh. Now, some of your translations—thought I would help you out by supplying a little language here because they don’t know what to do with this talk about His Own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. [1:05:09]


So, my version, which is heartily evangelical–American Standard—supplies a language there. I don’t know if your version does or not. Here is what it says, “Sending His own son, the likeness of simple flesh and as an offering”—that’s put in; that means, it’s not there but it doesn’t know what to do with the language and so it provides you with a little theological help. Now, think about that verse and “for sin”—“for sin” is what it says, it doesn’t say, “suffering for sin.” How did Jesus defeat sin in the flesh? How did He do that? How does that come to us? Well, I am not going to try to help you out with that very much because I want you to worry about it.


How did Jesus coming in the flesh defeat sin? See, the translators in this version are operating on the idea that all that Jesus did was come and suffer the consequences of our sin and that set us free but, it didn’t set us free from the law of sin and death. Just His death on our behalf as being said here, that doesn’t set us free because you see, all kinds of people who have supposedly benefited from that and they are still in bondage to the law of sin and death.  Sin and death is still running rampant in their lives. A nice verse there, isn’t it? [1:07:11]


What the law could not do and weak to the flesh, God did by sending His son in the flesh. What did Jesus do? Jesus showed sin up to be the fraud that it is. That’s what He did and He came into our lives that we might come into His life. A part of that was His death—no question about that—He died on our behalf but for many people, redemption stops at the cross. It didn’t do that for Paul. 1 Corinthians 15 where many people put the period in too early when they are trying to explain what the Gospel is—Paul says, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain. You are still in your sins.” It’s “Christ risen” that shows up sin for what it is and brings a different kind of life. He condemns sin in the flesh by revealing it for what it was but part of that revelation was His death for the best people on earth crucified the best man on earth. Jesus didn’t die by being eaten by animals in Polynesia. Jesus died by coming to human civilization at its highest and the Jews and the Romans and they killed Him on a trumped up charge. They judicially murdered Him and that revealed sin for what it is.


There are many things that are involved here that I could point out. He came into the flesh, brought Godly life—what human beings were meant to be and what they can be—to light by living and dying in the way that He did. Living and dying and living beyond. So, for example, 2 Corinthians 5:15—how would you finish this?—“He died for all,” that what? You finish the verse. “He died for all that they who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” [1:10:23]


So, you study the scripture; you watch how we might complete verses if we were running on how we’ve been trained to think and then we complete the verse. How would you complete this one? Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this. How do you complete that verse? [Caring for the widows and the orphans?] How do you complete this? The grace of God that brings salvation has a puritan for all men teaching us that? Titus 2:11—try that. How do you complete it? “Teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and Godly in this present world looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us that He might redeem Him unto Himself a peculiar people.” That’s what the grace of God that brings salvation taught us. [1:11:55]


Now, you see, spiritual transformation is right in place, isn’t it? I gave a lecture and published a paper some time back on spiritual transformation as a natural part of salvation—Spiritual Transformation as a Natural part of Salvation. I think that’s up on my web and I invite you to go there—everything is free there. It’s just and if you want help, just put Becky in front of this,  and if you want to, you can download it. Think about it. What does the scripture say that Jesus did? Hopefully, as you look at Romans 8, you will see the importance then of what we do because notice how it goes on “in order that the requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us” –and the normal reading in many circles today is yes, “He fulfilled the law by suffering what we deserved to suffer.” That’s how He fulfilled the law. But, now read the passage and look at the context and see if that’s what it’s talking about. See if you are obsessed with a certain view of what the good news is, you will twist the scripture to fit with that. I have ruined many sermons by telling people that John 3 isn’t about forgiveness. It isn’t about forgiveness. It’s about life in the Kingdom of God. That’s what the new birth is about. The new birth brings new life. Of that life, spiritual transformation into Christlikeness is a natural part if you don’t get “bonsai’d.” If you get “bonsia’d,” you’ll have to wait until you die. [Laughter] OK? [1:14:43]


So, and now what are we to do? Well, He talks about that. He says in verse 5 of Romans 8—“Those who live in terms of the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” They think entirely in terms of natural human abilities in short of physical reality because natural human abilities extend to what we can do in physical reality. We’ve learned lots of stuff. Now, we can blow large pieces of the earth up. That’s what we can do. Right? So, then we approach international relations simply in terms, for example of mutually assured destruction and then things develop to the point to where you can’t even do that. That’s where we are today. Who cares about mutually assured destruction. Now, you are dealing with someone who says, “Come on baby, destroy us!” So, mad doesn’t work anymore. That’s the human way. They think in terms of the flesh. “Those who according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, those who are according to the spirits on the things of the spirit.” What do you know? “While we look not at the things that are seen but at the things that are not seen.” That’s the spirit.


Verse 6—“For the mind set on the flesh is death but the mind set on the spirit is life and peace.” Don’t be deceived; God is not mocked. “Whatever you sow, you will reap. Sow to the flesh you will on the flesh reap corruption and sow to the spirit, you will of the spirit reap everlasting life.” Actually, that’s an interesting context because it’s talking about giving—again, so helpful to read verses in context—it’s talking about supporting if you wish, church work as sowing to the spirit and you all probably know how deplorably weak giving is among Christians. Why is it? Because they are sowing to the flesh. [1:17:35]


So, we have a part to do here and that is where we come to think tomorrow especially about disciplines and activities that we can do that will help us enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and lead an eternal kind of life.


All right, I want to break here for a time and when we come back, we want to talk about the Gospel…….. so Happy Day! [Applause] Thank you!

Listen to all parts in this Renovaré Institute: Atlanta Cohort series