Steps Forward With Grace & Into Real Progress In Christlikeness In Real Life

Dallas Willard Part 3 of 25

Dallas agreed to teach separate two weeks for the Renovaré Institute in Denver, 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 a “committed” group he is able to be more comprehensive than usual.


Now if you are looking at your outline, you will see that this session is titled, “Steps Forward With Grace And Into Real Progress In Christlikeness In Real Life.” Now, we concluded last session by talking about how the disciple takes the grace of God into ordinary life, and this is the primary place that we learn the answer to the fourth question: how do I become a really good person? And this is real life: learning to live in all circumstances of life in expectation that the God who is present will act with me to accomplish things that are far beyond anything I could do. So that fills out in some measure our idea of spiritual formation.


For the Christian, spiritual formation is the process of re-forming the inner world of the human self. Now the inner world is the part you can’t see. It’s your thoughts, it’s your emotions, it’s your dispositions, it’s the set of your will, it’s your intentions. [2:00] It’s actually the body itself becomes taken over by the character that has been communicated from your will and your choices, the retraining of your mind, so that your body as it was once ready to do what was wrong without thinking is now ready to do what is right without thinking. And the body is the primary vehicle of our life. We farm our character out to our body, and that is the secret of “routine, easy” obedience, is not having to think about it.


One of the few occasions where it says, basically, Jesus got mad was in a synagogue and there was a man with a withered hand, and he asked the group whether it was a good thing to heal on the Sabbath. And they had to think about it. It’s what you have to think about that shows where our character is. And then sometimes what you have to motivate; if you’re driving your automobile, normally you do what needs to be done without thinking about it. Hopefully you think sometimes, but you don’t have to think all the time, right? And if you’re driving, no one has to motivate you to turn the steering wheel or to put on the brakes. You don’t have to be motivated. Motivation stuff is really kind of funny, because it presupposes a condition that shouldn’t be there in the first place in most cases. So it’s reframing the way we think, the way we feel, what we’re set to do and so on. That is the process of Christian spiritual formation, and it’s reformed in such a way that it increasingly becomes like the inner being of Christ—his thoughts, his feelings, his dispositions.


Now that process takes place in those who are disciples. “Disciple” is a status. “Formation” is a process that occurs in the status. [4:43] And many people are trying to do formation and they’ve never become disciples, and it’s tough. It’s hard to do it that way. So we need to put some order in this. And this spiritual formation, now, thus described, is what Paul speaks of as putting off the old person and putting on the new. Put the old person off. It’s the cleansing of the inside of the cup that Jesus talks about, and the righteousness beyond the righteousness of the scribe and the Pharisee is what comes out at the end. That’s the end result of spiritual formation, is easily walking in the goodness and power of Christ. Now, though this is a grace, it will not just happen to anyone. It is not imposed. It requires sustained, intelligent effort on the part of the individual. And that is why Paul uses the imperative in speaking of it—“Put off the old person and put on the new.” And then he talks about the details of that in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 and 5. So, for example, “Now you also put off anger, malice, wrath, blasphemy, filthy communication. Don’t lie to one another, seeing you have put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new person that is renewed in knowledge after the likeness of him that created him, God.” And it’s very interesting that the first thing he now mentions is, “in which there is no Greek, no Jew, no circumcision, no uncircumcision, no Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” He goes right at the root of things; how people distinguish and discriminate on the basis of things that don’t matter. [7:30] And so, that’s the transformation.


I love a statement by Wesley. Wesley had someone come to him in the grip of skepticism and depression, and said to him, “All is dark; my thought is lost. But I hear you, Wesley, preach to a great number of people every night and morning. Pray, what would you do with them? Whether would you lead them? What religion do you preach? What’s it good for?” These are wonderful questions. And Wesley, who was ever ready, replied,


“You ask what I would do with them? I would make them virtuous and happy, easy in themselves and useful to others. Where would I lead them? To heaven: to God the judge, the lover of all, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant. What religion do I preach? The religion of love, the law of kindness brought to light by the gospel. What is it good for? To make all who receive it enjoy God and themselves, to make them like God, lovers of all, contented in their lives, and crying out at their death in calm assurance, ‘Oh grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who giveth me the victory through my Lord Jesus Christ.’”


So there are similar statements of course in Jesus and in Paul about the transformation. Paul in Titus 2 said, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared unto all men, teaching us…” Can you finish that? What did the grace of God that brings salvation teach us? …Good! It didn’t teach us about forgiveness….wow! It taught us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world, looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us”…that we might get to heaven when we die? You noticed something wrong there, didn’t you? “That he might redeem us from all unrighteousness and purify unto himself a people zealous of good works.” Wow! Is that it? Yeah, that’s it. [10:44] Forgiveness is necessary; it will take care of itself if you trust your life to Christ.


Salvation As Life


So those are important things to keep in mind now as we move onward in our quest, and the first thing I want to talk to you about now is about, you’ll see here, salvation as a life. And we start there by talking about life. Because I believe the preferred way of talking about the transformation that constitutes salvation is in terms of life. Those who have the Son have life, and this is what is meant when we talk of the new birth. That’s life. And in order to understand how that would be life, we have to think about life itself for a while. So I’ve put up over here, “Life is self-initiating, self-directing, self-sustaining activity.” That’s what distinguishes things that don’t have life—the mineral kingdom, if you wish—from those things that do have life, is that they have in some measure an activity in them that is self-initiating, self-directing, self-sustaining. Now, only in God is that absolute, and we talked a little bit about that this morning: “I am that I am.” No one else can say that. And every other thing, it is relative, and it is relative to God.


John 5:26 is a discussion about life and about how God has life in himself; that goes back to Exodus 3:14, I guess it is; he has life in himself, and he has given life to the Son, so that he has life in himself, and then the Son gives life to human beings. So that helps us understand that there are different kinds of life. And of course, a person who does not have life from above is still alive until they die. The thing that God said to Adam and Eve, “the day you eat of that you will die,” was obviously not biological life. If they died, it was because a different kind of life was cut off from them, and I think that that is the life from above, the life that God intended them to share with him.


So 1 Timothy 6:13, again, talks about the life that is in God and how he gives life to all living things. And then verse 19 there is talking about people who are well off, or “rich” as we say, and telling them to use that well and thereby to lay hold of the life that is life indeed, and not mistake the activities that they can have because of their favored position in this world as life indeed. But life indeed is what you get when you act with God; that’s eternal life, eternal living. [14:53] But it is a kind of activity, and it gives us a new dimension of self-initiating, self-directing and self-sustaining life. It comes from our involvement with God.


Now, it’s important to understand that there are different kinds of life, and these are manifested in terms of the different kinds of activity of which they are capable. The life that is in a turnip is different from the life that is in a mouse. The life that is in a cabbage is different from the life that is in a cat, a kitten. What does that mean? It just means that they do different things. The cabbage eats dirt and water and takes in photosynthesis and becomes bigger, and so forth. A kitten doesn’t do that. Each different thing does different things, and the charge upon humanity to be responsible for the earth that we have is not one that can be fulfilled in the animal life of the human being. That’s all you have; you can’t do it. And the expression of that is how human life apart from God is torn by conflicting desires.


And you watch that in individuals and in groups and in nations, and then as a result you see the terrible things that happen around the world. So we have this situation, where is it, in Hungary? That they had this poisonous sludge that broke out and now runs through the whole town, and why did that happen? Somebody was not ruling. Probably somebody knew that there was something wrong. Why did the British Petroleum platform blow up? People were doing what they knew to be wrong. Why were they doing what they knew to be wrong? To get what they wanted. The Challenger blew up because people did not do what they knew to be doing. They didn’t fix the O-rings; why didn’t they? Well, they wanted to do something else. See? That’s all the corruption that is in the world through lust, as Peter calls it in 2 Peter. “To escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.”


Life does not work if all we have to go on are our natural powers organized at a natural level. [18:00] So the gospel, the grace of God that brings salvation, comes in to bring a new life. And to counteract the corruption that is caused by the negative trio of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The flesh by itself is actuated by desire. The world is flesh-organized and historically developing at a social level; that’s the world. That’s what makes it run. And then there is a dark power that supervises all of this, mainly by working with ideas. Satan basically works with ideas. He doesn’t really do much at the level of bad habits. Bad habits usually are there because of ideas anyway; he knows that and he can get people’s ideas set in the wrong direction, and that primarily has to do with God, thinking wrongly about God; that’s what he works on full time. Then everything else will take care of itself for him. So the world and the flesh will take over and manage the rest of it.


The Kingdom Of God: Life In Action


So in comes this life, now. The life that was in Christ comes into the world, and it is a life that is derived from the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is God in action. So now we have a new principle, and now we have people initiating, directing, and sustaining activities that are new and different. So you know if you found a cat that could play chess, you would think something had been grafted on to the cat. And if you find people that can actually live a life of love, you have found something has been grafted on. And that graft is now union with God in a life that is progressively being taken over not by desire, but by will for what is good. Good will. “Peace to men on earth and good will,” the verse says. And that’s the only place that we can actually have peace. [20:50]


Now, that’s something then we grow in. We surrender our will; God begins to work with us, and then we make choices. God is with us, grace is operative, and we find the goodness of the things that God says to do and to be. We find how good that is, and then gradually the transformation of personality takes place, but you have to have heard that message. And there’s a real serious issue here of what is the message. What is the message? Now I’ve already tried you out on one verse; “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared unto us, teaching us” and so forth. Well, that’s a version of salvation; that’s what the grace of God does. James says, “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is…” Can you finish the verse? Well, basically it means to visit and care for widows and orphans and to keep yourself unspotted from the world. That is to say, you don’t live the usual routine of obeying the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. And that has caused a lot of trouble because keeping yourself unspotted from the world in our not-too-distant past has had a pretty bad record for what separation from the world means, and a lot of damage has been done to people because it has been interpreted in terms of legalism, of practices. You know the little jingle, “I don’t smoke, I don’t chew, and I don’t go with girls who do” and so forth, that kind of thing.


And so times and places and associations become the heart of holiness, and that’s the end of holiness right there. So the real problem is with interpreting that, and still strikes a proper note. So 2 Cor. 5, “Christ gave himself up, died for us, in order that…” What? “We might not live unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us.” Right? See that’s a bigger picture, and we really need to bear down on that now, because one of the main problems in working with this idea of spiritual formation and transformation is that it really has nothing to do with salvation. And salvation is the big deal, and so what really matters is not spiritual formation. And then we’re left just to stand helpless before 95% of what the scripture says about life and about God. Right?


We have to come back and spend a lot of time talking about this; we’re going to spend one whole session just talking about the Sermon on the Mount, but the Sermon on the Mount has in many people’s eyes no relevance to being a Christian, or at most you’re just supposed to feel guilty. But many people will tell you; you can’t do what Jesus said to do. Now you would never get that idea from reading the Sermon, because he has some pretty strong things to say at the end about people who hear and do not do, compared to the people who hear and do. [25:12] The foolish man built his house on the rock, and so forth. Well, who is that? That’s the one who heard and did not do. The wise man, he heard and did; but we have a whole culture of hearing and not doing now, that somehow it’s acceptable, maybe even necessary.


The Gospel In The Book Of Romans


So, I’d like to devote most of my time in this session to thinking about the gospel, and particularly I want to relate it to the book of Romans. Because the book of Romans is normally taken by people who are concerned with this question to be a story about how you get saved by grace without works, and being saved means having your sins forgiven, and consequently transformation isn’t a part of the package. So we want to just work through a few passages here in Romans, and first of all the very powerful statement in Romans 1:16-17 where Paul is saying, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” And see, one way of taking that is to say, “You get the gospel, it’ll blow you right into heaven.” Right? “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power…” Now what is the gospel of Christ? See, that’s the big question. And this is going to turn out to be that he took your beating so you don’t have to take a beating. That’s the gospel. And we’ll look at some other passages in a moment. But the whole gospel is that Jesus suffered what you need to suffer, so that you won’t have to suffer. And if you believe that, then you won’t have to suffer. Now that is a version of the gospel that is very common; and there are other versions. I mean, there’s a version that says basically that Jesus came into the world to care for the needy and you can join him in doing that. And that’s the good news. That’s often interpreted to be the gospel for the poor. Is that important? It’s absolutely important. Is that the message that Paul was talking about? “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth, for therein the righteousness of God is revealed.”


So for Paul’s thinking, the key, he says, “for;” the key is the revelation of the righteousness of God. Now, what is that? The revelation of the righteousness of God is the gospel. So how are we to understand that? Now Paul knew the power of the gospel, because if you watch Paul when he begins to do his most significant work, you will see that he did nothing but show up and talk. That’s all he did; just showed up and talked. But when he talked, something happened. [29:32] And he often refers to that, writing to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, for example in both cases he talks about how he came in weakness, not in strength. And Paul is like that; he didn’t come blazing to town in a stretch limousine. You hardly knew when he got there, and then you find that he was working down there someplace to feed himself and to give to other people.


You know, you want to think about his thorn. Everyone knows about Paul’s thorn, right? His thorn in the flesh. And you want to go back and look at that passage and try to figure out what was he talking about? And many people, because they think his flesh is his body, they think it’s some kind of physical illness. But Paul was very aware of his flesh, and he even would tell you that he had a lot of it, and that if you want to trust in the flesh, he’s got a lot to trust in. You remember Philippians 3—“you trust in the flesh? I got lots of it.” What does he begin listing? Human qualifications. The sort of thing I might put on my Vitae, or give to Gary to introduce me with. That’s flesh. He said, “I got it in oodles.”


But you know the thing that Paul didn’t get? He didn’t get respect. Now it was his choice, but you watch, you read him and you’ll see, he didn’t want respect. In that day it was common to put on great rhetorical ability; I don’t know if Paul could have, but I think he could have; he was a well-educated man and he certainly could write well. But in 2 Cor. 3 he says, “because we have confidence in the Spirit, we speak plainly.” Now speaking plainly is not a great recommendation for a speaker. You want to keep people back on their heels; you want to send them away thinking, “Wow, what a great speaker that guy is.” Of course it won’t do them any good, but it’ll do you some good maybe. And Paul worked that side of the street. In 2 Cor. 10:10 he says—this is where he’s giving the run-down on himself—he says, “You know, the rap on me is, here’s what they say about me.” His letters are really substantial. In person he’s not much, and his speech stinks. It’s despicable. Now I don’t know how you’d like to be a wandering speaker with that reputation. But of course this is continuous with the passage where he talks about the thorn in the flesh. [32:41] And you remember what he got back from God on that was, “My strength is perfected in your weakness.” So Paul took that. He said, “So I glory in insults and being set aside,” and all of that, “because I know that when I am weak, God is strong.”


Now he knew what it meant then to say “the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation. I am not ashamed of it”—because he had watched it work. He knew exactly what it was, and he knew he could count on it, and he had seen people transformed by hearing that word come, not with Paul’s power but with God’s power. That’s why he says in 1 Cor. 2, “When I came among you I did not come with wisdom of words, because I was concerned that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” Right? And he said, “ I was determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Weakness, crucifixion, power: Jesus working in people’s lives. That’s what he’s saying when he talked; the only thing he was looking for was Jesus over here, Jesus over there, Jesus over there. Seeing people transformed. That’s the power of God to salvation: the transformation of lives. [34:30] Not a little arrangement.


Now, in the book of Romans in chapter 3, the discussion picks up here because after he says that the gospel is the power of God, is the revelation of the righteousness of God, then he goes into a long discussion of the wrath of God being revealed from heaven. And I don’t want to go into that now, but basically it was that God leaves people to their own devices and that is the primary manifestation of his wrath. But in verse 21 of chapter 3 of Romans, we read, he returns to the theme, “Now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets. Even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all of those who believe, for there is no distinction”—everyone is on the same footing because all have sinned. So we’re not going to be saved on the basis of our righteousness. Verse 24: “Being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”


Now what was that, the redemption that was in Christ Jesus? It’s the availability of life in the Kingdom of God. You trust Christ and step into the kingdom of God, because then his action and his life begins to take over and you have new dimensions now of life that are coming from God. And that’s a gift, the gift of grace, and it redeems people. “Jesus Christ, whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith that was to demonstrate his righteousness because of the forbearance of God…” he passed over the sins previously committed. So because of what was in Christ and what he brought into the world, God pushes aside dealing with us in terms of wrongdoing and puts us on a basis of faith, and that faith throws our life into God’s life in the kingdom of God.


So watch how that goes on now. “For the demonstration I say of his righteousness at the present time”—remember that’s what we’re talking about, what makes God righteous, what makes him good—“that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ.” Now see, if you interpret that entirely as God making an arrangement where he did not have to punish people for what they had done, that’s true. If you put it in terms of that being the only thing at issue here, you miss the whole thing. [38:02] God’s righteousness makes it possible for him to set our relationship on a positive basis of trust in God and life coming out of the contact that is in that trust. He can be righteous and he can be just and justifier.


Ok, I have to hammer you a bit on that. He can be just and justifier. So the idea is that if he said people are ok, he wouldn’t be just. So how can he be just if he does that? Now here’s one answer: well, he got his anger out so that he didn’t have to be angry at us. How did he do that? By punishing Jesus for our sins. So since he has punished someone, he’s still just, if he doesn’t punish me. If he didn’t punish someone, he wouldn’t be just, because someone had to be punished. I’m wondering if you see that picture. And that’s how the gospel is often presented—“if you will believe this, then you will not be punished.” All of your sins will have been forgiven. And then you might say, “Forgiven? Doesn’t sound like forgiveness. Somebody got beat up.”


So now how are we to understand this—“just and justifier?” See now, the reason I’m talking to you about this is because if you get the wrong gospel, you won’t go on into spiritual transformation. So let me stick in here now again, you don’t have to believe anything I say. But I’m going to say some things to you that make a huge difference. And they break the grip of a discipleship-less Christianity. Because on the view we’re talking about here, you get it, and there’s nowhere else to go until you’re dead. Oh, you can if you like it, but the next stop on the heavenly train is the funeral parlor. So now let’s go very carefully. The problem is, how can he be just and justify people who are ungodly? How can he do that? We know it’s tied up in Jesus Christ; we know that. And we must never, I think, try to get around that. And a lot of people today are doing that, they’re trying to think that there’s some way around Christ. I don’t think so. I don’t know of any. Someone says to me, “Well how do you get right with God?” I point them to Jesus Christ. They say, “I’ve got another way,” well…don’t ask me for approval. You don’t need it anyway, so go on, do the best you can, but if you want to know what I think I know, trust Jesus Christ. There is one God and one mediator between God and man, The Man, Christ Jesus. Don’t go around him. That’s not in question here; it’s not in question he died because of our sins. No question. Please understand.


But forgiveness is not the gospel. It’s a part of it; it’s not the gospel. New life is the gospel, life in the Kingdom of God. That’s why Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and spent all of his time talking about it. What is the righteousness of God? It is his goodness in making life available to people in Jesus Christ. That’s his righteousness. [43:02] It isn’t just that he beats up those who need to be beat up, and when you stop to think about it you might think that that’s a pretty thin version of righteousness. I whop everyone who needs to be whopped! If someone told you that about some person, you probably wouldn’t think, “Wow, that’s righteous!” You probably wouldn’t know quite what to think. But the righteousness of God that makes him just and the justifier of those who put their faith in Christ is the goodness of God in making life from above available through Jesus Christ. Gary, do you think I said that clearly enough? [I’m having a hard time not cheering….]Ok, well, then it must be clear. See, you don’t dump Christ. He is the savior of the world, because in him life in God comes into the world in a way that’s available to everyone who hears.


Now, what about those who don’t hear? I knew some of you were thinking that thought, you see! And all we can say, I believe, is that he is the cosmic Christ. Whoever comes to God comes through him, and he did not say the historical person; he said, “I am.” Now, “I am the way.” You understand? “I am” is standard language for deity. And he is claiming to stand in that relationship. So it’s important I think to say all those things and draw us back to this idea that it is life from above that delivers us. Forgiveness, yes. That’s in the package. Unforgiveness is being ready to make people pay for what they’ve done. And we are taught that forgiveness is central to our faith in Christ. If you’re not on forgiveness ground, you’re not on praying ground. It’s the generosity of God that comes to us and enables us to be generous and to forgive those who have offended us. We’re going to forgive others as you have forgiven us. That’s living on forgiveness ground; it’s the generosity of God, and that is his righteousness.


So how is Abraham justified? Not by works of righteousness, but by faith. What was Abraham’s faith for? Do you know the story? What was at issue in that story? It was Abraham’s faith that God was going to give him an heir. That was the faith of Abraham. Now of course it was faith in God; it’s trusting God. [46:52] And God looked at Abraham and said, “I will take that in place of perfect obedience.” I would rather have your trust than your obedience. Now you need to straighten that out, because actually if he had trusted he would have obeyed. So those are the things that need to be worked out in the relationship, and there’s a lot to be done there. But my main task today is help us to see the focus on salvation as deliverance into the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ.


The Secret Of Deliverance


Ok, I got time to finish up here on Romans 8. Now we all know the problem as described in Romans 7, and this is the classic picture of the broken soul: “The things that I would, that I do not, the things that I would not, that I do.” And now tomorrow we have to get more into the complexities of human personality, but what you see in the human soul in its fallen-ness is inward war, parts going in different directions. Paul describes this as well as it has ever been described, but you can find it in a lot of other places. Unsuspecting places, like Jean Jacques Rousseau’s confessions. Augustine. Torn people—“the things that I would, that I do not, the things that I would not, that I do.” “I love the law, I want to do the law, but I find in myself another law going in the other direction.” [48:41]


And law here is being used simply with reference to the regularities of human life. There is a reference to the law of God; my conscience speaks that; I admire it, I love it. The law is good, Paul says; I can’t do it, because I’m broken. This is where deliverance comes in. You know, salvation is deliverance. That’s what salvation is, deliverance. That’s the biblical sense of salvation. Deliverance from what? Well, certainly deliverance from the weight of our guilt; no doubt about that. But there is the dimension of habit, continuing practice. He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoner free. You see; cancelled sin still has power. Forgiveness is not enough. You have to have a new life moving into you, and that life is the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Father. The Trinity moves in.


John 14 is about that. Jesus says, “Keep my commandments and I’ll send another Comforter, Strengthener. I’m leaving, but keep my commandments; I’ll send another strengthener, Paraclete. And you’ll keep my commandments, and I will come and move in with you, and I and my Father will come and move in.” The Trinity moves into the life. That’s deliverance, the Trinity moves in. Now, different principles are working gently. It’s not like reprogramming something, because now the transformation comes through our response. But the presence of God in the life is the key.


You remember Paul speaks in Colossians 2 about the mystery that has been hidden from the foundation of the world, and that mystery is Christ in you. Christ in you. And John 14 is about how God was in the Son, and the Son in the Father, and then how I’m going to be in you, and you in me. And that theme of “I in you and you in me”—now how is that to be understood? It’s to be understood in terms of action. It’s to be understood in terms of how when we act, God acts. [51:40] And that is the secret of deliverance from Paul’s dilemma in Romans 7. Paul did not live in Romans 7, and no one else needs to live in Romans 7. The chapter divisions are not inspired, so you don’t have a treatment of that and then you have a chapter break, and then you take up a different topic. So let’s work on Romans 8 now a little bit.


Joined Action


“There is therefore now no condemnation to those”…who have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their sins? A little bigger than that. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There’s that “in” again, and prepositions are so troubling. They are the unruly children in the grammatical family. You really have to work on them. In, in, in. What does that mean? I believe it means joined action. Now in order for that to happen there has to be a deeper kind of identity, but above all it means God acts with me; God is here. I act in reliance and expectation upon God.


That’s one of the things I don’t like about this place, they treat these big rocks as though they were gods. “The garden of the gods…those are the gods!” No! God is a God of action. He doesn’t just stand around. He acts, and that’s the revelation of all of the scripture, especially from the call of Abraham in Genesis, is God acting, God being with people, God talking with people of all things. You know, I think probably Moses had to have that burning bush or he would have never heard, because when things start coming to you out of thin air, you get worried about yourself. Right? But here’s a bush that’s burning, and it’s not consumed, so wow, maybe I’d better go over and have a look at this! And then when a voice comes out of it, it may be kind of suitable. But if it just comes out of the air, maybe not. God is acting. [54:21]


Now that’s what you and I learn to live with, is God acting. And I think all of us have had some experience with that. Very often when we make the turn and are converted and we have a marvelous experience in that area, and perhaps it certainly was in my case, and I never forgot it. But I didn’t stay there, and I had to learn how to go on from there. And that’s the progression that comes with the new life. Now Paul knew that. You know, Paul didn’t just jump into his work; it was years. This guy was already well educated, had a PhD or something equivalent to it, and now he’s got to get re-educated, and he spends years, much of it alone. And then finally he’s ready to begin his work.


“So now there is therefore now no condemnation…” What condemnation do you think he’s referring to? He’s referring to the condemnation that he’s describing in Romans 7, the condemnation of not being able to do the things that you want to do, intend to do—that’s condemnation. You know, not everything in the Bible is about going to heaven or going to hell. Not everything is about that. And you almost have to retrain yourself. For example, there’s a passage in which Paul is talking about young widows and Timothy, and said, “Don’t take them into the number of widows who are being supported because they’re going to go wacky, and they will not stay with their faith, and they will desert their vows, having damnation” (one of the old translations), “having condemnation.” It just means what they were doing was not good. It doesn’t mean they’re going to hell. “There is therefore now no condemnation”—what is he talking about? He’s talking about the condition described in Romans 7. “To them that are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” That just means I don’t have to do that stuff anymore. I’m free. I can choose to step out of it, because now he is trusting something different. In Christ Jesus, the spirit of life, there’s a good life moving, it’s affecting my thoughts, my feelings, my choices, my habits, how I use my body, all of those things, it’s affecting all of that, and I am finding that I have the power to do the things that I intend to do.


See, that’s self-control. You remember self-control is one element in the gifts of the spirit in Galatians 5, self-control. Egocratic. Self-government. Now it’s treated as a gift of the spirit because without that, you can’t do it. But with it you can. [58:06] You can do the things you intend to do and not do the things you intend not to do. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, the life that was in Christ has now come to possess me. And that would mean, among other things, that when I am tempted to do something, I know I’m not going to miss out if I don’t do it. Just that basic kind of thinking is a part of what’s going on here. I know that it’s good, I know that it’s right, and I’m able to do it. I learn things about dealing with it.


For example, one of the things I learn is temptation never hits me immediately. I like to use to illustrate the old song, “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain When She Comes.” That’s always true of temptation; you can see it coming around the mountain! And then you can do something about it; you can short-circuit it, get off the conveyor belt. Now when I get off the conveyor belt, “Oh no, I’m just going to miss out on something wonderful if I don’t do this!” No, you’re not going to miss out on something wonderful. You’ve already got something wonderful. There’s a better way. So now the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus teaches me that, because it brings before me life in the kingdom of God, good things that I have instead of my desires.


See, many people think, “Well, what am I going to do if I don’t just do what I want?” Well, do what’s good! Right? That’s what Paul says. You remember, he says, “Don’t worry about anything, but with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God that passes understanding will set a guard over your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” And then he goes on to talk about “whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are pure…” What do you spend your life doing if you don’t do what you want to? Doing what’s good. Who knows, you might get to where you want to do it! Wouldn’t that be wonderful? [1:00:31] That’s the transformation, now.


Grace: God Acting In Our Lives


So now let’s just finish up here on Romans 8 a bit. “For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do because it was weak through the flesh…” See, the law tells you to perform. Now how are you going to do it? “Grace says fly and gives me wings.” Grace is God acting in our lives to accomplish what we can’t accomplish on our own. That’s grace. We put forth an effort and find that what comes to pass is beyond our power. That’s grace. That’s always the nature of grace; Old Testament, New Testament. When we use that formula “Grace is unmerited favor,” it’s true, but it doesn’t help you much, because what is the favor? And if you aren’t careful, that will make you slip—favor is a quantity of merit transferred to my account from Christ’s account. So the change is in heaven, as I’ve heard preachers say. But grace is God acting in your life.


Now I don’t have time to do the full treatment on that scripture but if you take your Bibles and do inductive Bible study on grace you will find that that’s what it is. Is forgiveness grace? Of course. But it’s a thin meal for life. You’re going to need grace every day, and it is God acting in our life that then allows us to look at the law and say, well, what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his son right into the flesh, and showing up sin for what it was in the flesh. “You have to do that!” “No, I don’t have to do that. And, moreover, if I did that, it would ruin my life, because I would be trusting me and not trusting God.” [1:03:35] “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh God did by sending his son in the likeness of sinful flesh and showing up sin for what it was in the flesh that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh”—now remember that word “mind,” because we that we’ve got to come back to tomorrow, the role of the mind in this process is huge, just huge. “They that live in terms of the flesh”—you’ve got another preposition there, cata; I like “live in terms of.” Mind the things of the flesh. That’s why they’re living in terms of the flesh, because that’s where their mind is. They that live in terms of the spirit mind the things of the spirit. That’s why they live in terms of the spirit. So that inner transformation now that is taking place begins to take hold and allows me to integrate my life with the grace of God that brings salvation and gradually, progressively, my life is filled with the righteousness of Christ. [1:05:03]


God’s Provision


Now Romans 8 opens up as you go along, to that glorious ending where Paul is declaring that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Now let’s think a moment what that means; that’s verse 35 of Romans 8. “Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ; shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Now what Paul is doing here is actually a kind of set procedure for those who have learned to trust Christ. They have learned by experience that God is enough. Not to grit your teeth and just hang on, but to know God’s provision, whatever the situation may be. Here is Habakkuk. You know Habakkuk; hard times. This destroyed the nation of Israel; he sees it coming. No hope. Here’s what he says, verse 7 of chapter 3 of Habakkuk: “Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flocks should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls”—that’s very hard times, folks, like most of us in this country have never seen anything like this.


I know that a lot of people have suffered in recent years, but it’s hard to be terribly concerned if you drive the freeway and look at the cars that people drive, and think in terms of the kinds of houses they live in, and so on. We haven’t really suffered anything like this, though some individuals have suffered badly, and I know that’s true and it’s not a good thing. But listen to Habakkuk: there is no breakfast food on the shelves at the supermarket. Nothing in the freezer. All the canned goods are gone, and they haven’t seen fresh vegetables for months. “Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength and he has made my feet like hind’s feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” He’s talking about the security with which the hind walks in impossible places. These goats around here do a pretty good job, but the hinds were better. “Yet I will exult.”


See, that’s what Paul means—“Nothing can separate us.” Now what I’m concerned to emphasize is that this is not just “happy talk.” Sometimes we need to just happy talk, I guess, and happy talk is better than the other kind, but Paul is saying “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” That means the provision of Christ for us. Its not just saying that no matter what happens, Christ, way off over there somewhere, still loves us. He’s talking about provision. [1:09:10] He goes on to say, “For thy sake we are being put to death all day long, we are being considered as sheep to be slaughtered, but in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Now is that true or is that not? What about need? Am I provided for? And that saying that the old saints learned in the Old Testament, “The Lord is my portion.” You know that phrase? “The Lord is my portion.” That is provision. Now, we’re out of the physical, we’re into the full spiritual world of God including the physical when we say that. But in that context I can say “The Lord is my shepherd; I will not lack anything.” Now in that context then, of course I am able to deal with the Romans 7 issues or other issues that may come up, because I know where I stand, I know my identity, and I know the power that is working with me. The temptation in good times is that we come to trust the good times. But we don’t have to. We can thank God for the good times. One of the most amazing things that Paul ever said was, “I know how to abound.” And you learn how to abound by, “God is here.” And then you can put up with luxury, which otherwise might really trip you up.


Three Incomplete Gospels


So that’s the inner shifting now that comes around, and I’m out of time for this session, and we do have some time now for comments, but I think I really want to drive home this final thing about the gospel. It won’t take just a minute.


Practically speaking, three “gospels” are heard: “Your sins will be forgiven and you will be in heaven in the afterlife if you believe that Jesus suffered for your sins”—that’s the gospel, which essentially says a certain theory of the Atonement is the gospel and you should believe that. Another message you will hear: “Jesus died to liberate the oppressed and you can stand with him in that battle.” Is that good news? It is, it really is, and we want to stand with him in that battle. “Do what your church says and it will see to it that you are received by God.” Take care of your church and it will take care of you. That’s much more common than people normally think. I’m talking about what is heard, not what is said, because you know there is a difference, and that is often heard. Now you compare that finally to “Put your confidence in Jesus and live with him as his disciple now in the present kingdom of God.” That’s what Romans 8 is about, stepping into that. And then what is salvation or deliverance? It is participating now in the life, which Jesus is now living on earth. That takes care of all the others. [1:13:36]









Dallas, the second one about Jesus died to liberate the oppressed, and then what you say about put your confidence in Jesus, both have at least some idea to me of following Jesus as an example, which is a good thing. How do we differentiate between following Jesus as an example and the fact that he’s done something that we cannot do?


This is a very important question, because very often we think of following Jesus as doing what he did, and much of what he did we won’t do. So being a disciple isn’t doing what he did. We must talk about this more but I’m glad you brought it up now, because it’s extremely important. Many people think that doing #2 is being his disciple. One of the common misinterpretations of discipleship today is serving the poor. How could I possibly question that? Well, Jesus also served the rich. Wow! See, we’ve had a slant on this. So let me just say that being Jesus’ disciple I’m learning from him how to live my life, not how to live his life. I’m learning from him how to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.


Now, I happen to be a guy who spends a lot of time lecturing at a university and writing books and all that sort of thing. So what I need to know is how Jesus would do that. And that really comes home to me above all in trying to teach. So I think, and I pray, and I work at understanding how Jesus would teach a course on modern philosophy. Now, that’s a big switch. I have spoken at Christian colleges and have asked people on the faculties, “How would Jesus teach economics 101?” You can just see the look of disbelief spreading across their face, like he wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. Oh yeah, he could! He would do a great job at it.


Now what I want to know is how Jesus would do my job if he were I. Not how to do what he did. That is a mistaken view of discipleship, and it nearly always leads to deadening legalism. So I find a little something I think Jesus did, now I’ll do that. Well, ok, it might be ok. But that’s not discipleship. I am learning from him how to lead my life as he would lead my life in the kingdom of God if he were I. So that’s where I have to take him with me to school, and into committee meetings, and into decisions about books and articles and all kinds of things. And that would be true of you, too—whatever it is you do, Jesus could do that. And don’t worry if you’re a woman, he could do that too. That’s a disciple.


Now then, primarily of course we’re going to talk about the different things that fall in discipleship, but today we’ve been primarily been talking about the inner transformation that leads to doing the things he said. But he didn’t talk about a lot of things. He never talked about teaching Economics 101. So now how can I do all things in the name of Jesus if he didn’t do a lot of things I do? See, that’s the transfer. That’s why I have already tried to impress upon you that the really big place for discipleship is work. But of course the home, the community; if you’re going to love your neighbor as yourself, that has to touch all of those relationships, and that’s where I am his disciple. It took me a long time to figure that out. I hurt my children and my wife because I didn’t know that, and I didn’t realize they’re my closest neighbors. [1:19:41]


Can I just reflect back at you…? Just what I heard you say is that if we just try to follow his example, we fall into a legalism because we’re just trying to do what he does on the page, whereas the real power, the thing he does for us that we can’t do for ourselves, is that he walks with us each moment in each day in order for us to learn to be disciples in a very real way.


That’s right. A pastor here in another state says, “God does not give you a map, he gives you a guide.”


Can I ask a question based on what you said earlier, combined with what you’ve been talking about now? My mother-in-law said to me just two days ago that she’s going through the book of Joshua and maybe she realized for the first time there’s seeming genocide everywhere, where God commands the Israelites to kill people, women and children, innocent people, seemingly. And you said earlier in your lecture that God might have to be mean, or he looks mean. Could you please talk about that with God’s trinity of love, because that can often be a stumbling block for people.


It’s a terrible stumbling block. Well, you have to think about what the Bible is. It is a true record of what people did and thought. It doesn’t mean that everything that people did and thought was right. And sometimes you get corrections within. In the book of Joshua, you have the case of Achan. And Achan is a person who, when the walls of Jericho fell down, they were not supposed to take anything, and he took a piece of silver and a “goodly Babylonish garment.” And he took that, and they weren’t supposed to do that. And so the next battle they had they got whomped. Right? So they say, “Who’s responsible?” and they draw straws, and it settles gradually along the line, eliminating tribes and families and persons, and finally it came right on old Achan. And so they took him and his family, and apparently his dogs and cats if he had any, and they stoned them all to death. Was that God’s will? Now see, that’s where you have to be careful when you read the Bible, to understand that it’s a record of what people thought and did, not an endorsement of everything they thought and did as God’s will.


Now later on, in the book of Ezekiel, you find the principle of corporate guilt explicitly denounced. “Let it no longer be said that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” which is a beautiful illustration of, you know, a parent eating some sour fruit that the kid hates, and the kid’s sitting there and their mouth is all puckered up, watching this event. And that’s where the saying that gets put up on signposts, “The soul that sinneth it shall die” goes wrong. That was not intended to assert that if you sin you’ll die. That’s the message of the guy that puts it up on the post. The message of the passage is, “you will not die for someone else’s sins.” See, that was strictly forbidden. That’s progression within the understanding of the people of God.


So, when you’re reading your Bible, you want to go for the things that are clearly taught on the whole, not for what individual passages might teach. Now there’s a lot more to be said about this, because in the end you have to ask the question, “Was God willing to see innocent people suffer?” You have to ask who was innocent and who wasn’t; you have to ask what did God do for the people who got killed, and so forth. So you need a large framework to put that in.


See, you want to hold on to some basic things: don’t believe anything bad about God. Just don’t believe anything bad about God. If you find a story in the Bible that looks like that, just say, well, we’ll understand it better by and by. And so Jesus is quite living dangerously; that’s why he got killed. He told people, “Forget what you think you know about God. I will tell you what he’s like.” And so then that’s John 14 again, “He that has seen me has seen the Father,” and Phillip blurts out, “Well, great! Show us the Father, and that will be enough!” And Jesus says, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and still you have not known me? He that has seen me has seen the Father.” Now if that’s the Father…now go back to your Old Testament stories, and say there’s got to be some miscommunication here somewhere. [1:25:49]


So you reframed, I guess in some ways, the righteousness of God. And I get what you’re saying, it’s his goodness in making life available to people. The thing that I wrestle with coming out of my own theological background is that the cross is so central. So reframe the cross within this reframing of the righteousness of God that you’ve said.


[1:27: 01] The question is what happened at the cross. And the interpretation that gives you salvation without transformation says, “What you deserved was actually suffered by Jesus, and so you’re off the hook,” to put it bluntly. And the understanding of the necessity of the cross is what is at issue here. So let me just gently suggest, the cross could have been necessary without it had served the function of taking our beating, and I think that in fact that is it. Jesus chose the cross, and he indicated that he and his Father had had this little talk where they said this is the way to God, is the cross.


Why did he choose the cross? He said, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me.” That was his way of reaching out to the world on the cross, and that is probably still true that the most widely understood symbol other than Coca Cola is the cross. Now what did it mean? It had profound meanings essential to his project of giving his life to the world. It meant that he gave up his life to carry through with his mission. It meant a lot of other things, because he purposely chose this as a way of involving the responsible people, the Roman government on the one hand, and the Jewish authorities on the other. He wanted everyone to know what happened to him. That’s why—now I’m going to really twist your mind now—that’s why when he prayed in the garden he was not asking to be released from going to the cross, he was praying to get to the cross. And ask yourself what would it be like if you were to preach as savior someone who died of a heart attack in the garden. That was the issue in the garden, and that’s the way the early church generally understood it. And that’s why in Hebrews 5:7 it says he was “heard wherein he asked.”


Now if he was praying to get off the cross, he wasn’t heard. If he was praying to get to the cross, he was heard. What was happening in the garden was this was Satan’s last chance to stop him from the cross, and he had been trying to do that ever since he was born. Tried to kill him as a baby, over and over and over, the same story, tried to kill him. Last chance, because the next station is the cross. And Jesus is saying, “Look, Father, if this is what you want, you want me to die here, that’s ok; I’ll take it.” See, the battle in this context is not between Jesus and God, it’s between Satan and Jesus. And that was the first understanding of the cross. And it still lives on in some of the hymns we sing. Like on Easter we all sing, “Up from the grave he arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose the victor from the dark domain and lives forever with the saints to reign.” That is familiarly known to many of you as “Christus Victor.” But that is the oldest understanding of what happened at the cross.


So it’s really important for us to think this through now. And now the cross becomes a revelation of the love of God, which is his righteousness; the righteousness of God is the love of God, not his holding sternly to the law. See, that’s how it’s presented, as if God would not be righteous if he did not see to it that people who needed to be punished got punished. His righteousness is his love, and that’s why Romans 5:8 says, “God commends his love towards us.” That’s what the cross did. It recommends God’s love. It says, “Hey, guys, want to see something different? Here it is.” That’s the message of the cross. I like it. I think it’s so powerful. That’s what Paul was saying when he said the gospel is the power of God for salvation. Once you see this, then it changes everything. So now I know that this is a wrenching twist, and I really do assume that you will follow what you believe God would have you to accept about this. [1:32:37]

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