Spiritual Disciplines and “Putting off the Old Man” (Col. 3:5-11, 1 Peter 2:1, Matt. 5:21-44)

Dallas Willard Part 18 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.


Dallas: I would like to turn you to Romans 12 to start with this morning and get a picture of what community might look like for people who are walking in the conversation and character of Christ. [00:32]

Paul, as you know, starts out where this chapter—what we now have as a chapter starts out with the very well known statement by Paul about “offering your bodies as living sacrifices” and about the transformation that occurs through the mind being renewed.  I hope you have reflected with the practical question, “Well, how do you do that?”

So often, we are just used to reading something, and isn’t that wonderful? Right?  But Paul is giving here direction as to how we are to move into the work of God, which is described in verse 36 of chapter 11—“From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” That’s what the “therefore” refers back to, right? So then when he starts, “I urge you therefore in the light of this, to present your bodies a living sacrifice.” [2:26]

Now, I would just like to go read over what it looks like to Paul to have a community. This is certainly a statement of an ideal vision but something that he had seen implemented in some degree and had found to be real for himself. After talking about how things work in the community in the body of Christ in Chapter 5 and verse 9. At verse 8, he begins to describe various dimensions of the life of the transformed people in community. It’s just—Paul, you know he just piles stuff up until your mind kind of staggers under the weight of it. It’s like a cake—you may see this chocolate and it has one kind of chocolate icing—then some kind of chocolate on top of that. Notice what he says….. [3:49]

Q: Are we in chapter 5?

Dallas: We are in chapter 12! After describing how some of the leadership would work, he says in verse 8, “Let the one who shows mercy do it with cheerfulness.” That’s a fascinating combination of words and actually, I guess that’s where Calvin got his idea where he talks about being cheerful when you do acts of charity and let love be without hypocrisy. I’m tempted almost to just stop on one of these and go into it but I am not going to do that this morning but you think about hypocrisy and love in our churches and in our groups and you think, how would we avoid that?

Well, probably we would avoid a special place in the service where we turn to the person next to us and say, “I love you or God loves you and so do I.” So probably if there were—you were going to get out of hypocrisy and love, you would have to be much more thoughtful and you would have to give more time to it. You would have to think about it—“How am I with people in love?”

“Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Give preference to one another in honor, not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer—it’s like standing under a waterfall coming down—contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitably. Bless those who persecute you. Bless and curse not. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind with one another. Do not be haughty in mind but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. Be possible so far as it depends on you to be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge. Leave room for the wrath of God for it is written, “Vengeance is mind. I will repay.,” says the Lord.  If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him to drink or in so doing, you will heap blessing—burning coals….. [Laughter] My blessing better?  You will heap burning coals on his head. If you don’t understand how that works, you might think you’re supposed to put the coals on there but if you put it in the context of the previous verse, you would realize that God is the one that is taking care of that. “Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” [7:53]

So, I thought that might be a kind of summary of a lot of the things we are talking about and we are particularly interested in how you do that and today we will be going further into that. Today, we want to spend our time on spiritual disciplines and how they fit into the project; first of putting off the old person and then of putting on the new person and we want to try to do this in such a way that it will make practical sense—something you can actually do and again, get out of the thing where we just read, putting off the old and putting on the new—“oh yeah that’s a good idea.” Well, how do you do that?

How do you put on a character of love, joy, peace and so forth? So, that’s what we are going to be working on and the conclusion of our course here for this week, we will turn to the issue of knowledge in the field of spiritual formation and we may get to that by the end of the day but in any case, in the morning that will be our primary focus because we want to understand the gospel and the teaching of the people of God to be knowledge that is communicable to a world in a reliable way that they can put it to the test and especially they can have it stand over against the message they are getting from the world. We want to contrast what we have to teach with what the ordinary person will pick up living through our society and our educational system and all the stuff that buzzes around us through the media and what is present in our churches? So, that’s what we will be doing as we finish up.  [10:15]

Now—just a comment on Calvin. I hope you recognized as you read him that he was talking about how you become a holy person and the things that we very briefly covered; first of all, self-denial. I think the teaching is not clear and that is sometimes thought of as something you just do but actually it is an attainment. It’s something that involves a gift and a discipline—he doesn’t say much about this and indeed, in the tradition that he established, the tendency was to turn to acts of will and effort and the consequence in that not peculiar to them the outcome was as many people would say, “a kind of even harshly judgmental legalism.” [11:39]

Now, he doesn’t have a corner on that because if you watch the Wesleyan tradition, you will see it developing in the same thing and that is actually more or less what killed that movement as a movement and it was a movement. There were people that actually believed that Methodism was going to take over the world because it was so powerful and signs of that still remain though they ordinarily are not recognized. If you just list well-known universities around the Untied States, many of them were Methodist.

The first time USC and Northwestern played, it was the Wesleyans against the fighting Methodists. [Laughter] See, you think well that wasn’t thought odd. Now, I think its Wildcats against Trojans. It’s very fascinating just to study the symbolism in how we think about our institutions and how we name our automobiles. There is no automobile that is name sheep. We have a Ram pickup but rams, of course are noteworthy for not being sheepish. [Laughter] [13:27]

So now, Calvin is actually laying down a path of development and discipline and so self-denial and then in taking up the cross, and then what the cross does in the way of liberating us and giving us hope and all of that and very importantly for the reformed tradition at the end, he talks about having our place and dwelling in that place with God and it’s just wonderful, wonderful teachings in all of that.

So, I wanted you to be sure to look at that book and to get some sense of where on Calvin’s view you are headed, which is holiness; same place you are headed with Wesley. This is simply a reflection of how these people studied their scriptures and how they came to know the past of the church because both of them were profoundly informed by it and indeed, a good bit of that history comes through in the twelve step programs.

Twelve step programs came out of knowledge of the monastic orders and how sin and righteousness was handled effectively and I don’t know if you have read things like The Rule of St. Augustine or St. Benedict and so on but when you read them and look at the Twelve Step Program, you will see the influence that has come down through the ages because of traditions of the church. [15:21] Dallas?

So now, we had come to a place where we were talking about choosing the fruit of the spirit. Yes?

Q: Yesterday you mentioned a definition of holiness that I think differs from what we most commonly think of in—if you could speak of that maybe a little bit more—you talked about holiness, I think being more living into the power of the Kingdom and into a new way of life rather than just about moral behavior and that sort of thing.

Dallas: That’s true. Holiness in the scriptures and in the tradition that comes out of it, holiness is a matter of being of another realm and if you watch it in the Old Testament, you say it has the element of being set aside into a different realm. That comes through in the Christian tradition of being not of this world—not of this world. So you look at the person who is holy and you realize that they are traveling in a different circuit. Okay, they are here in the world—that’s the visible order but they are living from the invisible order ant that makes them a different kind of being and then the difference in behavior comes out of that and the unfortunate tendency is to begin to identify holiness with behavior and you wind up with people dressing in funny ways and doing strange stuff but when you get to know them, then you need exactly what Jesus was saying to the people of His day with very colorful phrases like “you are like graves; on the outside, you are all polished and but inside there is  just rot.” [17:42]

The inside is the place of holiness. The inside is the hidden world of the human spirit because we are, by our nature members of the invisible world and our lost-ness comes out of identifying ourselves with the outward world. And so then we are polishing the tombs of a prophet. But Jesus’ devastating reading was, “In your nature, you are the same as the people who killed the prophets.”

So, holiness is a matter of separateness. Separation from the world is ontologically what holiness is and then of course, we get ahold of it in groups and we begin to develop it so that now separation from the world is, “I don’t smoke. I don’t chew. I don’t go with girls that do.” [Laughter] Now I am separate. Not really! Not really! I am just the “same ole same ole” because I am operating from human abilities, and then drawing lines and classifying people in terms of those outward lines. And that always leads to tremendous problems in personal relationships, even with people of the same kind because we don’t take care of what really runs our life and that is in these dimensions that we talked about the will.  [18:38]

Where is your will? What is your will selling?  Well, that’s where Calvin comes in very wisely and takes his little scissors and snips self-denial and self-affirmation. He snips it. Now, we are at a different posture now because we are not obsessed with ourselves and how we are doing and what we can do and so forth. Our confidence is not in ourselves so we have movement into a different realm and that’s the—you may not do it—I mean, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition spells it out in one way but it can be spelled out in other ways but of course if we don’t make that the shift, we will think that our way is the only way.

So, right at the top of the line when Paul and Colossians 3 says, “Put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new man that is renewed in knowledge, like the knowledge of Him who created.” Then he’s taught immediately where it pick up, “in which there is no grief.” Choose! No circumstance! No un-circumcision and so forth all the way down to the Barbarians and the Scythians and so on. [21:15]

How does that work? When you put on the new person, everything looks different now and the differences between the Greek and the Jew that are outward don’t matter and all the human differences that cause so much problems in the outward world are set aside and you are dealing with a Scythian which was the bottom of the human barrel in those days and you just seem as one of the elect of God. That changes all of human relationships because of the shift and then as that goes on, what we read from Romans 12 is an actual expression of the change that comes. [22:09]

Holiness means living from a separate world—not—we don’t go out of our world; that’s another way that we can go wrong with holiness is to try to pretend to escape the actual world and that doesn’t help you with holiness. You just have another version of self-affirmation and ideas and so forth. Yes?

Q: I guess as a man, one of the things I think about a lot is the relation of the Christian to the state, the nation—the old separation of church and state? OK?

Dallas: That’s not a Biblical concept by the way……

Comment:  Well, within our tradition—but, so based on what you are saying now and the reading in Romans 12, and I never really thought of it and looked at it before but I am wondering if verses 17 through 21 are a lead in to Paul’s discussion about submission to the government authorities and I am wondering if we are living from a different world, and like you were saying, the people that we see, we see them as children of God or the elect of God? Then, what becomes our relation to the world that we are living in and the governmental authorities that surround them and the governments—what’s our role in changing those or are we just to focus on bringing the Kingdom of God into the lives of people and the government to fix them? [23:58]

Dallas: We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Among our neighbors are people in government. We may be in government and we are to live as children of the Kingdom in every context including our relationship to the state.

Now, if you are concerned about the quality of the state and you want to change it, the way you would normally do that is through the transformation of the people who live under the state. Now, you may be in special circumstances where you would even run for office and be a member of the government and that’s fine. You just act as if you are a member of the Kingdom of God.

Again, I want to emphasize, you may be in a special position where you would be active as a member of the government. In a democracy, one thing is voting. All of those things you do as a child of the Kingdom and that would mean, among other things that you do not idolize the state and you don’t put it in the position of God. When you say, “God Bless America, you mean something very specific that could be read out of the New Testament. How would God bless America? What do you have in mind when you say, “God Bless America?” And can you say, “God Bless Brazil?”

Comment: One of the things I was going to follow up with on that is, one of the things I struggle with is the idea that as Christians we should be trying to—to me, it almost looks like—trying to force the Kingdom of God on people to make our laws so that they reflect what we believe in scripture whether people want it or not. [26:25]

Dallas: See, that’s the nature of law—to be whether people want it or not.

Comment: I guess I am thinking in terms of going beyond just the civil law into the moral law and trying to impose….

Dallas: Well, you should be very concerned. We have this saying, “you can’t legislate morality.” We don’t legislate anything but morality. [Laughter] Now, there is a truth here that you cannot use legislation to change people’s hearts because that is only a half-truth at best because good legislation will form the character of the people under it. Again, that’s not a secret, I mean that’s—if you know the history of humanity, you understand how that has been—I mean, what do you need for a good society? You need good people. How do you get good people? Now, that’s the question from the first thinking in the western world as well as in the eastern but we don’t know much about that in the western world. The first thinking is you want good people. How do you get good people? Read Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Politics and Ethics and you will see that’s the heart of it. Aristotle lines up his most well known discussion of ethics by trying to figure out how you can get a constitution that would frame society in such a way that the people who grew up in it were good people. [28:16]

So, you are going to do morality one way or another when you come to legislation because it’s really the only thing that matters very much. It’s nice to have good curves on your sidewalk and all of that but even that is done because it’s a good thing and that’s the only basis anyone ever presents for legislation. But of course there are limits as to what it can do and there is supposed to be something besides the government—something called the church in our case and it is supposed to produce the people that would make good government possible. Do you want to go on with this, Paul?

Comment: Yeah, I was having another thought and I was trying to get that comment down. Let me write that down real quick.

Dallas: See, we want to come back to this tomorrow at the end where we are talking about what we are doing in the Renovare Institute—what you are doing is crucial to the well being of society and the government because you are talking about the transformation of people from darkness to light and if you have people who are living in the light with one another, much of what is called government would go out of business. It wouldn’t have anything to do and if you are not doing that, then government is facing an insolvable problem. [30:12]

Comment: I guess the place that I really struggle is with laws that seem to be for—the idea that we need to focus on some laws that need to be concerned—situations where it’s just that that person doesn’t affect other people quite as much. I guess I see the world of government is to protect people from other people—bad people—I don’t know. And so, one example that has come to mind is the whole thing of gay marriage and that we need to prevent it because it’s a threat to marriage. [31:00]

Dallas: Well, if you were in a position to prevent it, that might be a good thing but you are in a system where you aren’t going to go out and prevent it. You have to work within the system that is here so what can you do? And, gay marriage is a part of a larger picture of marriage and that larger picture is in real trouble. Why is it in real trouble? Well, basically because people are trying to conduct their relationships to one another as if they were the ultimate point of reference. You can’t do that.

So, until you begin to attack the basic problem. I mean, suppose straight marriage were such a beautiful and strong thing that no one would ever think of anything else. Imagine that? And when people of the same sex, say, “well we can get married.” Well, what can they do? Is there something that they cant’ do that heterosexual marriage can do? See, basically the argument now is—no. I don’t’ want to go into the details of that. I would imagine you know what I think about it. But see, you would have to find out where the problems are and the basic problems are, we now live in a culture that started out very much along the lines of Calvin and the Puritans and so on and they had different ideas about things and now we are a culture of desire. So, desire is holy in our culture. If someone wants to do it, well, they have a right. So, this whole issue is argued in terms of rights and rights as given by civil authority. See, that’s the way it’s argued in the courts. [33:16]

So, you have to back off from many of these issues and many people think, “No, we just ought to use government force or whatever we can to stop people from doing things that are wrong.” No! Not so! YOU have to work at a different level. That’s the level that we are trying to deal with in our studies and in our sessions.  When things begin to go wrong, you get crazy thinking like who would have dared dream that the right to an abortion would be based on the right to privacy? Screwy thinking! And, of course a law system that is oriented towards humanity is bound to get into that kind of crazy thinking. There is an old saying, “Among the Greeks whom the God’s will destroy, they first make mad.” The process of making mad is what we are observing and have been observing for some time in this country and it’s just crazy reasoning is the reason it doesn’t make any sense. [34:44]

See, two so called gay people, say, “We can be married. We are just the same as heterosexuals.” Well, of course if they were the same as heterosexuals, there wouldn’t be an issue.  The point is, they are not. But when you say, “A” is the same as “B,” then everything that is true of “B” gets transferred to “A” and then “A” gets transferred to “B.” So, the quality becomes the basic argument and so forth. OK? I’d like to go back to page 16 in the notes.  [35:28]

We will have to pay a little attention to the remaining elements in the fruit of the spirit because they don’t get much attention. Verse 22 and following in Galatians 5—“The fruit of the spirit is—notice it’s one fruit—“love, joy, peace”—normally, we kind of stop there.  But the next thing on the list is “patience”—or I like the old translation—long suffering; long suffering is a part of the fruit of the spirit. “Kindness, goodness, faithfulness” or loyalty—the capacity to be loyal, “gentleness, self control” and Paul humorously adds, “against such things, there is not law.” And that’s a good observation.

You will not find much legislation against patience or kindness and each of these emphasize a nuance in the life of the person who has the character of Christ and in every case, each part of the fruit is something that is your habits. It lies in your habits. It’s not an action. You can act kindly and not be kind. You can act patiently and not be patient. That’s true of all of these if you stay at the level of action but it is talking about a transformation of all of these dimensions of personality that is deeper than action and then the action comes naturally. A person is kind. Well, that means they act kindly. It’s a part of their identity. They don’t think, “Now, I must act kindly” and all of these aspects of the fruit of the spirit come to be who you are. They become your identity and the gap between performance and reality is closed. What you are doing, that’s who you are and it would be surprisingly to people who know you if you acted un-kindly.

Now, given the way life works, we have this phrase, “Well, she acted out of character.” That’s an interesting phrase and it happens you see because even though we have identified with a pattern of character, being finite and living in a world which tears at us and having minds that are not very strong, we can be directed in action in a way that it’s not our character. So, that phrase, “Well, he/she acted out of character.”—Well, that’s a very appropriate phrase but it reflects the difference between character and action and what we are looking at here is character. We are choosing to be a person of a certain kind.  [40:01]

So, I don’t think that that concludes the list or the dimensions of the work of the spirit—the fruit of the spirit—there is a lovely passage in Ephesians 5: 8 & 9—“You were formally darkness but now you are light in the Lord and the children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth.” See? You have to have different ways of talking and thinking about the basic reality we are addressing here and this talking to one another on occasion puts it in the terms of light—children of light—and the fruit of light.

That’s okay because you know in the New Testament; you are not giving laws so you don’t have to always say them the same way. One of the things of law is you have to make very carefully wording that is exactly right and you stick to the wording but of course, if you are dealing with life, you are working with something that you can’t put in precise words and just stick to the wording. So, you need different ways of putting it and light is one of the main themes of the gospel of Jesus and His teachings about light. He says to those who are living in the Kingdom of God, “You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.” [41:50]

And this of course is what we are given to be as we live in the world from the Kingdom of God and from Jesus and from the Holy Spirit and all of the factors that are working in that Kingdom. [42:08]

So, we need to have an eye to these things. I was saying at the end of yesterday that the fruit of the spirit was to look at these dimensions and say, “Yes, I choose to be a person of peace.” So from the viewpoint of our engagement with this now, we are not passive. We just don’t say, “Well, the spirit is producing the fruit.” It will not happen if we do that. We must choose it. We must choose to be kind—people who are kind. We want to choose to be a kind person.

Choose to be a person of self-control. The frequent term that goes with self-control is interesting. It’s basically egocratic. That is to say the self actually rules. Now you have to divorce that from the self as Calvin says, “denied,” and understand that there is a center of you that proposes what you will do and you live toward that. And if you are messed up, you will be in the position of Paul’s statement, “The things that I would that I do not. The things I would not that I do.” That’s a person whose ego is not governing and Paul in that passage says, “You know, it is not I, but the sin that dwelleth in me” and if you have the appropriate understanding of the complexity of the self, you can handle that very well. If you don’t, you will just say, “Well, what’s he doing? Is he trying to dodge responsibility for his actions?” No, he’s referring to the divided self that has no self-control. [44:07]

The person with self-control is basically a person who does what they intend to do and does not do what they intend not to do. That’s the person of self-control. To get to the spirit, yes, but you have to choose it. Now, you may chafe against that and say, “No I want to be free. I want to be spontaneous and so forth.” That’s America, isn’t it? If you decide you want to be that way, you will not have self-control because this is something that comes as a result of a development out of a decision and you can turn it into a legalism and make it look bad if you wish to and some people do that because they wish to avoid it, but self-control is something that we can choose to be and still be free because we are living with Christ in His Kingdom but that doesn’t mean that we are free to just do whatever comes by and especially to do what our feelings dictate. So, we have to have a vision of what is good and have decided to live for that vision. Learn how to defeat the factors that would mess us up. This is especially true in areas of sexuality and so on because you can learn if you decide you want to be pure in that area, you can learn how to do it and a large part of learning is being able to notice when things “start” and “get off of the conveyor belt” then. Don’t lie there just, “Well, maybe something will happen.” Something will happen all right but if you have self-control, you look at what is good and you decide on that and then you are able to do it. You know how plagued our churches are with people who do not do what they say they intend to do. They do what they say they intend not to do. So, that’s just a kind of basic problem. Self-control is very important and we can choose that as the other elements of the fruit. [46:49]

Now, the fruit is a matter of degree—always—every one of these—love, peace, joy, self-control, kindness and so on. It isn’t like you either have it or you don’t. You need to decide to have it. You need to enter into the process of claiming it and allowing it to be a part of your identity but that will be a process and the fruit will be a matter of degree as it grows and it doesn’t grow evenly and of course, its presence and growth is an expression of grace interacting with us and not just of our mighty efforts.

Grace as I say is God acting in our lives and it is most commonly seen in the rearview mirror but we can also see growth in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. [47:57]

I want to move on if we are okay to page 17 and now we need to take up this issue of the disciplines for spiritual living and we need to talk about that. We talked about it last fall and you have stuff in your notebook on that but we need to review this idea of discipline. We won’t spend so much time on particular disciplines but we want to understand what they are and how they fit into the process of putting off the old person and putting on the new person and then the next hour and the afternoon we want to look at putting off the old person in some detail and how that works and then putting on the new person. We will want to approach this in terms of knowledgeable practice that we can engage in with assurance that it will bring the result that we can present to others if they want to change. There is a way they can do that. God has made that available and our part in it is something that we can understand. [49:20]

So, on page 17, the human side of becoming holy or Christ like—the renewal of the inner person, the one that is in the spiritual landscape. In Jesus’ words, “the cleaning of the inside of the cup.” Holiness, abundance of eternal living comes from intelligent engagement with our lives and our circumstances. We use them to change. We take advantage of what happens by living a life of planned disciplines. Now, last time and in your notes from last time in The Divine Conspiracy, you have what I call, the triangle—The Golden Triangle—you have to call it something. [Laughter]

You will recall that that has the three elements of the work of the spirit and I place that at the apex of the top of the triangle. That comes as the new birth and the ministry of the word; then gifts and fruit and anointing and so the spirit now—what is the sprit? Spirit is un-bodily personal power. You are a spirit and the Holy Spirit comes to you and works with you and it is at that level that God is always with us. Christ is always with us. [51:26]

The major difficulty in our theology and our church life that prevents people from growing is this idea that you don’t have to do anything and it’s a terrible mistake. It’s hardly based on misunderstandings of what your action would mean and I have given you these praises to try to help capture crucial aspects of the misunderstanding, like grace is not opposed to effort. It’s opposed to earning. Earning is attitude. Effort is action.  Grace requires action on our part but Satan has so devised the thinking—the theological thinking that comes out of centuries past down to the present so that people have come to think of grace as something which does not involve any action on their part. [52:40]

Q: Dallas? [Yes] I faced a thing with one of the members of our church and he would totally disagree with that statement. His view was that if effort was required then God would give him whatever—give him the desire to go do something and so he’s in the process of almost like waiting for the effort to come upon him…… [Laughter]

Dallas: Then, you see, if God gives you the desire, you still have to act and people who take this line of thought, you have to challenge them to live by it and not make any effort at all.

Comment: Can you rephrase that please?

Dallas: I say, people who take this mind of action, you have to challenge them just to live by it. [I don’t understand. In other areas of life?] Don’t put forth effort with anything. [Oh, okay] [See where that gets you.]

Now, if you are dealing with a rabid determinist, they will just say, “Sure, that’s fine.” You take then to the restaurant and say, “Now, don’t order. See what God will do.” [Laughter] It’s a fantasy!  There is a wonderful statement from Thoreau, “Men will lie on their back talking of the fall of man and never make an effort to get up.” [Laughter] It’s simply a fantasy that is based on misunderstanding and the misunderstanding is the difference between earning something and achieving something and logical confusions really require a great price from life. [55:09]

So, you tried to help them think what grace is and you do justice to things like without God’s help, there is nothing that we can accomplish of much value but then you go ahead and add, God’s help is available. We are not waiting on God. We are waiting on us. The effect of grace in the life is to make people active in a way they have never been active before.

So, now, Satan has conspired with the idea system to make us passive and so that we look at something like the list of the fruit of the spirit and say, “Well that’s the fruit of the spirit so I don’t have to do anything.” As far as the result is then the fruit doesn’t show up. If you want to be loving, you have to decide to be loving and then you have to do the things that will help you to do that. Sometimes those are very ordinary sorts of things like learning how to live without hurry. If you have tried to love in a hurry, you know it doesn’t happen and it’s like sleeping in a hurry. [Laughter]

You have to learn how to love and that means you are going to have to rearrange your life and God is not going to rearrange it for you. This is a real problem and thank you for speaking up about it because it’s just epidemic and we have to work this through so that we can come to the scripture and where it says, “put off the old man,” the obvious thing might strike you, “hey, there is something here for me to do.” If you hadn’t had your mind put through a theological sieve, you would read that and you would say, “Well, yeah, I’m supposed to do this.”  [57:34]

Then someone comes along and says, “Well, you can’t do that without the spirit.” And then you say, “Well, that may be true. I can’t walk without gravity but if I don’t do something, I won’t walk.” Gravity is there. It’s doing its job—now, my job. It sounds almost childlike to go through things like this but you have to understand the grip that is on the minds of people and it isn’t just in the religious area, by the way, you know?

Most of us will have had opportunities to become musicians or various other kinds of things and it won’t happen to you unless you engage with it. You listen to some person—a singer running scales—and you think what kind of idiocy is this? Right? It’s discipline and disciplines are things you CAN DO that enable you to do what you CAN’T DO by trying. You watch someone playing the Trout Quintet or something of that sort or a piece of music on the piano or violin and so on and you say, “How do you do that?” Well, you do it by doing silly things if you just look at them—running scales or if you are really going to be good at it, organizing your whole life around it. [59:12]

So, informed, intelligent action is required and I have underlined that there on page 17 because it is so important to get that point –informed, intelligent action is required. You don’t practice disciplines stupidly or blindly. People who do that are treating them as if they were righteous in themselves and so by doing a discipline of some sort, you are supposedly being righteous.  Disciplines are not righteous—not everything that we need to do is in the category of righteousness and not everything that we shouldn’t do is in the category of sin. Some things are just stupid. [Laughter] If you expect attainment in any field of complexity in human life without exercise and practice, that’s stupid. Now, maybe backed up by some high sounding theological phrases; it doesn’t make any difference. It’s still the same. [1:00:35]

Maybe I can just push that a little deeper by asking you to think about why are human beings built in such a way that discipline is a possibility for them and a good thing?

The structure of discipline in human life is there by God’s order to allow us to determine what kind of person we become. Disciplines are there in the human order to allow us to determine in a significant degree what kind of persons we become. Right? So, for example, you wish to be able to converse in French. Well, you may not be that kind of person at this point. Would you like to become that kind of person? Ok, you can. You can do that. And that’s true across a broad range for human beings; we can achieve character abilities and so on that are good if we will do the things in our power that bring that about. So then now, that’s our choice.

So, back up a moment. I said you look at the fruit of the spirit and you have to choose it. Well, all right, let’s suppose that you choose to be a person who is joyless. Paul, in the Bible generally talks about if you should be joy—a very famous verse in Nehemiah says, “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Well, okay. How do you become joyous? There are a bunch of dead ends here. You can’t just will yourself into it. If you try certain ways, you will wind up pretending you are joyous when you are not. That goes into the learning and among other things, you’ll need to think about what joy isn’t. Is it slaphappy or something else? [1:03:19]

So, you work your way through that. Hopefully, you will have some help from those around you. What makes you joyful? That’s where things like,
“Rejoice in the Lord!”—aha—a hint! A hint! There is something here I might be able to do that would enable me to be a joyous person. The obvious thing for us here is of course to keep the Lord present in our lives, before our mind, learning to act with Him and Him accompanying us through our life including our tribulations. It’s paradoxical statements like in one of Paul’s lists of how things have gone with him, he has the phrase, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” Hmmm—now, how does that work?

So, we learn from Paul and by experimentation and we may be tempted to give up and this is where one of our great enemies called self-pity comes in. It says, “Well, I just have such a hard time, I can’t be joyful.” And, of course, depending on what you are suffering, that can be a very serious issue. So, the decision to be a joyful person has to be carried out through a process of learning—of changing the elements in the diagram of the person–primarily working with the mind, but if you are going to work with the mind you may have to work with the body and that again is right there in Paul’s statement in the opening of Romans 12, “You submit your body a living sacrifice.”

Now, in all of these things, you have to learn how to do that and if you are not set to achieve the goal of being a joyous person for whatever reason, you’ll give up. In most of these cases, it’s the old story of three steps forward and two back; at some point you lose ground. That’s just a part of the challenge of who we are to become and how we will accept that challenge and find the way to do it. And, of course you always have to understand that you can’t do it on your own but then you need almost to add, “Well, I don’t have to do it on my own.” [1:06:40]

The conditions that would lead to that are available and we have to learn them. Now, ideally we would live among people who are living that, learning that, finding out how things go wrong, correcting them, moving on, and that’s the journey through life and our churches should be engaged in that and if you had come from Alpha Centauri and landed on earth, and the first thing you picked up was a New Testament and you read it and then you heard about churches and you went to one, you would probably expect them to be engaged in this process. You would probably expect them to be centered on helping, becoming people of love, joy, peace, and all the way down to self-control. [1:07:52]

So, is that what you find? I don’t mean to be in any way negative about this. I’m in church when I am not sailing around somewhere else. My wife and I love to be at church. We love the people in our assembly. They love us and pray for us. I can’t think of a better place to be, but they don’t do this. Now, because I am there as it were hollering at them, they know about it and some are very interested in it and are making an effort but talking about the point of the local congregation and it isn’t this. Could it be this? Yeah, it could be. I mean, you’d have to have some teaching and decisions and so on but basically if you look at a local congregation, the thing that characterizes them is distraction. They’ve just got all sorts of things to do. Many of them feel like their task is to get people to church and involved in the activities. That can be a good thing. There is certainly a lot of worse things they could be doing but it isn’t focused is what I am saying. And the standard advice as I call it at the bottom of 17 in your notes—I mean you think of what is the standard advice given to serious Christians today? Well, attend church, give, read your Bible, pray, bear witness; those are good things—why?

One of the things that are most difficult for young people growing up in church to get is why go to church? Now, if they have a “zeen” youth program or something that will hold them for a while but they will graduate from church usually when they graduate from high school. [1:10:17]

Q: Dallas, it seems like that part of the problem is not just this passiveness in the church—is that people don’t think they have to do anything—but when you think about toward the end of your book, Divine Conspiracy and Richard Foster also does this, he divides the spiritual disciplines into disciplines of engagement and abstinence and it seems like we focus more on the disciplines of engagement to the point where we get people practicing some of those disciplines but those aren’t the disciplines that really transform us inwardly and maybe a real lack is a deeper understanding, as you said, an informed and intelligent understanding of the disciplines of abstinence and how they transform character so that when we do “do” something, we are doing it with a right, healthy motivation. [1:11:14]

Dallas: Yes, and with enough strength to do it. [Right! And in a different power!]

Q: Dallas, you ask the question about what is your experience show at this point? I was just thinking about well, in my career life, it means that I need to be proactive. I need to review my notes before I go into a lecture. When it comes to my family life, I need to think about how I am treating my wife. Am I spending enough time with her and how do I be more patient with my children? When it comes to my physical life, it means that I shouldn’t eat everything that’s on the buffet because it wouldn’t be healthy for me and I need to be exercising, doing stretching exercises. I mean, I treat my life in every other way in a proactive way so why would I think that my spiritual life would be a passive thing. So, I was just trying to respond to your question about that.

Dallas: You know, that’s very sensible and the question is just right and I think if you pursue the question, you are lead to something very powerful that is working against holiness. [1:12:17]

One dimension of that is the emphasis upon engagement. The emphasis on engagement is too often an emphasis on what I can do and not an emphasis on interacting with Christ and if you want to turn your engagements into disciplines, you’ve got to have the disciplines of abstinence to break you free so that when you go about engagement, you can actually depend upon God and avoid things like hurry and riding “rough shod” over opposition and so forth because you are—you have emptied the part of you that is given over to self will by things like solitude and silence and so on—fasting; those break the grip of the relentless onward drive that engagement does not. Engagement, if you do that without learning abstinence, they will just probably burn you out pretty fast because you will run on your own steam and that won’t have a good outcome. What time are we supposed to stop? [10:15) 10:15? OK, thank you. Yes? And then back here. [1:13:58]

Q: It seems like in all of this, will power is really important in keeping the vision because if you don’t have the vision, we may start trying to keep the intention and not even the means but then there is failure along the way and unless there is vision there, or we are somehow will that…..

Dallas: Will is essential. Will power will not help you. You engage the will with the mind and direct it in certain ways and you engage the will with your body and you take it out into the woods in GA. Your will works with the other parts and the submitting of your body as a living sacrifice that is an act of will but when you do that, then you gain the benefit of other factors that are at work.

Just looking in nature brings into play different sorts of factors in your mind and in your body and things like resting—getting enough rest. That’s a spiritual discipline. [1:15:28]

Psalms 127—if you don’t know that, you might want to look at it. It talks about “it is vain to rise up early and set up late and eat the bread of sorrow. He gives his beloved sleep.” This is hard for evangelicals to take. I use the New American Standard and it’s funny to watch how they will twist a verse when it gets in their way.  You learn to recognize it.  Psalms 127 in the New American Standard cannot translate “He gives his beloved sleep.” It can’t translate it. Now, listen to how they do it and I think you will see immediately what’s at work here when you read it. Here’s how they do it. “It is vain for you to rise up early and to retire late and to eat the bread of sorrow, painful labors for He gives to His beloved even in His sleep.” [Laughter] So, while you sleep, you are still gaining. God is working on you while you sleep. [I sorta liked it that way—passive, you know?] That’s a good idea! He just gives you sleep. [1:17:02]

Q: The dilemma that I have is—people have such an activist view of holiness that they start accusing me of mysticism when I talk about contemplation or sitting quietly, even in a class on prayer. [Laughter] Why are you being with God 10 minutes every morning and to journal about it and come back. They were all about praying out loud, you know and doing the big eloquent prayers and I mean, I’ve had some people really accuse me of you know, preaching some erroneous gospel.

Dallas: I understand fully. [Laughter] Yes? Of course, the word mysticism is the magical term.

Comment: I was gonna say that one of the things that I’ve learned as an administrator of pastors in churches is that no matter how much you believe in this stuff, you can’t just lay it out there and say, “This is what we are going to do now. We’ve been wrong” because people have tried that and it doesn’t work and from the highest levels. I mean, right now, our denomination has all these things we are supposed to be doing and you take most of the churches and so what I have seen work though is when a Pastor or a lay person in the church comes to see that this is the way to live and people watch their lives change and then they share why and then they invite people to share that with them and so it’s sort of that subversive thing. It has to come from changed lives sharing their changed lives with others and actually inviting them into that process. [1:19:20]

Dallas: That’s right. That’s absolutely right and I encourage people not to announce the revolution. [Laughter] My point of contact is in obedience and if you can get people to take obedience seriously, then you can begin to help them see what you do in order to do that. The activist idea that ironically, perhaps most afflicts churches that talk the most about grace can be undermined if you help deal with that. Then of course the life begins to change and then people see that but this is where the vision thing comes back in. What is your vision of life with Christ?

That predominate vision in many of our churches is, “Well, it’s getting people ready to die.” That’s the main vision and that’s what we work hard for and eternal life is something that happens after you are dead and so that’s where the preaching—the pulpit is the source of the problem and could be the source of the solution. [1:21:02]

So, I think last time I talked to you about “does your gospel have a natural tendency to produce disciples?” If you can start there and have disciples, then the path is open towards learning to obey and doing whatever is required to do that. Glenda, did you have your hand up?

Glenda: Well, is that the reason it’s the standard advice? [Right.] But it’s taken me a lot of years to figure this out but when people hear that advice—I’ve realized we have to accept how formed our people are by what they believe. It’s a very success, achievement, doing oriented culture so that reality of what is their natural pathway so even though I’ve been with many people who just sort of transferred their way of living to the spiritual realm. They haven’t realty transformed to the spiritual realm but now they are doing it with spiritual activities and so it’s not making a difference in their lives. It’s another thing they have to do. [1:22:15]

Dallas: It’s more work. Right, so that’s where it’s important for us to instruct them about what things can help and what things cannot. We run into the barriers when we do that because one of the things we are going to have to tell them is, “Go some place where it’s quiet, sit down and shut up for an hour and don’t think about what’s happening. Just be there.” That’s about the only thing that can break the activists habits and of course it’s like torture and I constantly deal with this in retreats and groups and actually the more successful people are, the greater torture it is but that’s the only thing that will break the grip of the activism in which they are engaged and unwittingly, they are living lives of flesh. That is, their natural abilities are what are carrying them and frankly, natural abilities can go a long way in religious…..

Glenda: I was just going to say that they are getting people ready to die but ironically, they don’t know anything about it—what’s going to be there after death—because they are not teaching them to know Christ now so that that transition is seamless. So, what I am saying is that it’s just nonsensical. [1:23:55]

Dallas: Yes, that’s right and so after death is just a kind of a blank. [Yeah!] The only thing that they perhaps are sure of is they won’t go to the other place but whether or not they would actually like Heaven, they don’t think about that.

So, we need to teach a vision of eternal life that is now as well as later and give a picture of the Kingdom of God that covers the person wherever they are. It is a meaningful activity with God and with others. You say, “Now, that’s it.” Well, you look at what Paul says here about living and the church and all of that. “Well,” you say, “That’s eternal living. That’s what that is.”  Help people get past the idea that they can’t do it, which is another—I mean these barriers that come up when you start talking about this. It’s almost like when you turn your computer on and you go online and all the little ads for this, that and the other are stuck around.

Gary: I know that we are about out of time but would you mind saying just a little bit more about how it is that the will is so central and yet the will has no power….even to initiate the practice of the disciplines seems to involve the will—just an explanation about the no power of the will. [1:25:38]

Dallas: Well, the will has some power but very little and the main function of the will in us is to trust God. That is like plugging in to the source of power and that is what you see in Adam and Eve and apparently he didn’t sweat because he didn’t work in his own images. After the fall, they did sweat and that’s because he has to drag out of the ground by his own efforts what will sustain his life.

Will is very powerful if it is rightly organized into reality. Now, we are so used to that in terms of technology that we don’t think about it but the ability to go to some thing made out of metal and plastic and put in a key or push a button and the engine roars and all of that. See, that isn’t will power but it is a response to will and then the will works with the mind and the mind will limit what the will can will and if the mind has a mistaken view about God, it will not will to trust Him. The offshoot of that would be one kind or another of idolatry, which gets us, back again to the first commandments because that’s so fundamental. If you don’t get God right, your “will” will not function because it will have bad information or NO information. The will has to work from the information it has. The will works from two things—desire and ideas. [1:27:51]

The desires are mainly present in the body in its social context and then the ideas are what directs the will. It says to go this way if you want that. It says to go this way if you want that! And the will is so blinded in the natural condition of humanity and you look at what people do and that’s why. It’s because their wills are blinded. They are nearly always trying to put themselves first and that’s about the worst advice you could possibly have but of course standing in your world in isolation, you say, “Well, I have to do. Who’s going to do it if I don’t?” And, so the battle. The battle breaks out and the works of the flesh that we’ve looked at and we are going to look at more in the next session take over. [1:29:02]

Now, I’m hoping that all of that just makes clear sense to you and that you can begin to think of understanding human reality by looking at these ideas about what are the part of the self, what occupies them, how do they function and of course, human beings are concerned with this because they are concerned with all the things that happen to human beings and psychology tries to find ways of coping with it. You are presenting an alternative system for understanding the human self and the will is central to that of limited significance but it does not figure into Centro logical and psychological explanations.

The will is not recognized as a factor that produces things and if you go down to the liquor store and see the people sitting around in one stage or another of intoxication and bring in a social scientist, the one thing he or she will never say is, “this happens because of choices” but of course if you pull choice out, you have turned loose of any understanding of human will, of human life. It’s the choices that people make but that is in the spiritual realm and that’s out now. [1:30:40]

What the Biblical teaching presents is an intellectual system for understanding why life goes like it does and that has to be understood precisely in terms of the set of the will and how that is embedded in the rest of the personality and social reality of course, and God’s reality.

So, those are two different systems now and the place of discipline in those systems again. It isn’t something that is just religious but you have to carry that understanding of discipline over into your interpretation of how people do or do not develop and it’s really important to have concepts like everyone has a spiritual formation, everyone gets one, at least one and that’s what runs their life and if you want to change things you have to change that formation and the things that look like they make sense from the viewpoint of the flesh. When you view them from the viewpoint of the spirit, you realize they don’t make sense. They are just there. And people don’t know about it and so they are in bondage to that.

Well, we need to take a break, so take one!

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