The Fruit of the Spirit as Foundation and Framework of Eternal Living: Five Major Elements

Dallas Willard Part 16 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: A couple things before passing from the last session to this session. On page 203-205 of this book, I talk about what happens when you ask for guidance or ask God to speak to you and He doesn’t speak to you because this troubles people and they often might interpret it in terms of what are they doing wrong? And that can be a quite troubling sort of thing and so I discuss that here and give a little practical advice that I believe can help us deal with that kind of situation. [1:17]

If we ask God for direction, then we should listen and observe. We should not forget our request but we should, at least I would say for a few days be especially alert in everything that you do. I mean, your sitting in a waiting room or something looking at magazines. Did anything unusual happen while you were doing that?—if you are listening and overhearing conversations or whatever maybe. You just want to observe; does that special quality of communication come in some way to you?

Now, if I were not able to discern something, I would ask the Lord, “Is there something that I need to do that I am not doing?” And I would wait to hear about that and if I didn’t hear about it, I would assume that there was nothing that He had to say to me on those points and indeed probably He wants me to decide on my own what to do.

Now, that is the part that troubles many people and they have a view of God that really is harmful and they think of the person as a kind of grumbling robot if were God and it doesn’t go with a model of child of God that we are lived to by Jesus. And you recall, he said to His apostles before He left them, “I no longer call you my servants. You are my friends.” And we need to think about that word “friend” and he explains in that passage, “A servant doesn’t know what His master is doing.” What that means is that, He can only follow words. He can only follow words but a friend knows and understands what the Master is doing or the friend is doing and so engages in the work and that is a big shift when you have a new person join you in your job.  For awhile, they can only stand around and ask what to do but hopefully, in a few days they will know what to do and they won’t have to be told. If they keep asking, “What do you want me to do now?” you know there is something that is not quite right. [4:32]

We want to carry that over to this business of asking God for directions and understand that it is not necessary to have directions to be in the will of God. If we are engaged in His work and we know what to do, we don’t need to hear and I have to say that very purposefully and strongly because it kind of shakes people a bit because that model of always being told what to do is so strong in people’s theology. Often unarticulated, it’s just there and it keeps working but to recognize that you step forward to do the will of God, always understanding that He can correct you if you need correction and listening and all of that.  Then, we are using rightly the idea of a conversational relationship. [5:46]

So, if I am troubled about something and I want to know, I will ask. If I don’t hear, I will ask if there is some reason that I am not hearing or God is not speaking and if I do that and I wait and observe, then I am sure that God is saying to me without saying anything, He is saying, “You decide. You decide.” In order to deal with that, you have to confront this idea that many people have that there is only one will of God for you and that if you miss that, you are out of the will of God. And you will find people today who have spent their whole life thinking that they missed the will of God and there is no will of God for them so they are second-class citizens at best in the Kingdom of the Heavens. So, I discuss that in length here in the book and I do hope that if that is a topic that you are interested in, that you will follow up on that and I gather you have already read this material, but I wanted to emphasize that particular point because it does prove to be a trap of trouble for so many people. [7:18]

Well, I have already mentioned but I perhaps can just emphasize hearing from God does not mean that everything will go as we had hoped it will. It does not mean we will not suffer. There will be misunderstandings and sometimes you will understand something that God has said and perhaps plan on it but you are not the only one involved.

A dear sweet friend in the Lord in South Africa years ago—she and her husband were thinking of going to another church to minister and she had it in her mind that they would go to Port Elizabeth and she thought that God had said that was where they were supposed to go now. If you know Port Elizabeth, you might be suspicious already because it’s one of the most beautiful, lovely places on the face of the earth but that church did not call them and she was quite troubled about that because she was sure that God had said you were going there.  Well, you know, in a situation like that, other people are involved and even if it was God’s intent to put them there, that doesn’t mean that—if others do not cooperate with His plans—it will happen. So, one wants to keep in mind—that’s one reason why, often in prayer it takes awhile for things to work out because rarely ever do we pray for anything that doesn’t involve other people and God is not just overriding and shifting things around like you might shift around chess pieces on a board. It isn’t that kind of relationship. [9:39]

So, you have to understand that there are a lot of factors there and that not everyone cooperates with what God intends and so you hold your plans even if you believe that God has confirmed them to you. You hold them loosely and you remember that God has made ways of working with people and there are many things that could be in the will of God that maybe won’t happen.  So, part of what we pray is, “Your will be done as it is in done in Heaven,” but it is not always done and this affects our lives as believers and in communities of believers. [10:33]

Now, I have only one other thing I want to talk about here before moving on to the next session and it’s right at the bottom of page 12. Love and joy are made powerful in conversational fellowship—fellowship—it is communal and this is something that we, I believe should think about in connection with God speaking and us speaking to God.

When Paul is done praising love in 1 Corinthians 13, he moves on with the admonition—“Pursue love.” That’s a good thing to think about and we can come back to it later but it is something that you pursue. So, try to catch it! Pursue love! And yet, desire earnestly spiritual gifts, “spirituals” really but especially that you may prophesy.

Now, prophesying has a really important role in fellowship in the community, both with reference to inside and outside as Paul goes on to explain in this chapter. He says, “One who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men, but to God for no one understands but in His spirit, He speaks mysteries. The one who prophesies speaks to men for edification—build them up, exhortation—call them out, and consolation. Now, that is the ministry of prophecy in the local group—the congregation. [12:40]

Now, he’s telling us that the most important thing that we should have, among in the spirituals is prophesy and what is prophecy? Well, first of all, you understand it is a gift. In other words, it is something that comes to us and it is for the purpose of building people up and calling them out and consoling them. So, these are words that come to us from God for the purpose of building up the community. Well, how does that work?

It works by a thought of a certain kind coming to you as something addressed to you for the benefit of your ministry in relationship to others. You have to be very careful with it because it is often I think abused and yet on the other hand, you will find in many cases, it is a tremendous blessing. Someone who is filled with love and wishes to help and God sends a word to them that would build you up, call you out and console you. [14:15]

The gifts are designed to weld the body together. The fruit is not designed for that purpose. Everyone is to have the same fruit. It is not true that everyone is to have the same gifts because the function of the gift is precisely to allow people to supplement one another and so, for a person who is living with peace and love and joy, that person receives—as we say, a “word” from God—and they are able to benefit others. Now, that might be speaking to the group. It needn’t be for an individual but it could be for an individual and so, obviously the gift of prophecy is extremely important.

I move on for a moment to verse 24, “If all prophesy and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all. He is called to account by all.” How is that? Well, the secrets of his heart are disclosed and he has spoken to in a way that he realizes, “Wow, something is going on here. This gal has been reading my mail or something,” right? “Those things that I thought no one knew. And so, he will fall on his face and worship God declaring that God is certainly among you.” See how that works? So, this is also a, as a function as we say—of outreach—it reaches out and speaks to people and you don’t have to convince them or argue with them or anything of that sort. They say, “God is here,” and that’s a crucial part of the speaking that goes on. [16:55]

Now, I believe that the gifts are only safe in the context of the fruit and all of the gifts are things that can’t be mis-used and it’s only when you are dealing with people in the context of the fruit of the spirit that you can be comfortable watching the gifts of the spirit at work and you know how hard that is on churches?

Often, the gifts lead to fights and battles and senses of superiority. Peter Wagner wrote a book that initially had the title, How to Have a Healing Ministry in Your Church Without Making it Sick.” Great title! Where the fruit is not strong, the gifts will often do more harm than good. So, often you have churches divided, “Well, we don’t do gifts, we just do fruit.” Or, “well, we do gifts and the fruit takes care of itself.” It doesn’t work that way. If you have a church that has only fruit, it won’t be worth eating and forgive me if that offends but it is simply true. The thing about the fruit is you can kind of act like you have it when you don’t have it. And if you have a church with gifts without the fruit, you are going to have a situation of the Corinthians church where you may recall in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul says to them, “you do not fall behind any church in terms of spiritual gifts” and the letter is mainly about moral issues. Right? [19:14]

So, there is a balance to be had here and we need to have the gift of prophecy especially because it leads—it helps with the revelation of hearts and it especially enables people who are really kind of not being truthful with themselves or with others to come to grips with the reality of their lives. So, I wanted to make sure that we said something about that—the gift of prophecy in the context of God speaking because very often He speaks to those who are able to bear the gift of prophecy in a way that has a public dimension and much of the conversation is private. It’s for us and it isn’t necessarily about what we are supposed to do. It’s just keeping the relationship alive and that’s good, but when we come to look at our communities, we’ve realized that we need to have God speaking constantly in our communities as well as in ourselves. Ok, yes? [20:47]

Q: Dallas, how would this look practically?

Dallas: Prophecy? [Yes] Well, it would look practically like this that you would realize that in your fellowship there are people who are very thoughtful and considerate of one another, as love might expect to be the case and you would have a sense that they are tied into something beyond the normal human interactions in a fellowship and that would manifest itself in their occasionally saying things that have this supernatural ring to it and the effects would be correspondingly powerful and your congregation would have a number of these people.

Paul talks about that in other contexts, talking about “how to control the prophets” because the gifts are like that. They always pose problems of control and so that important line, “the Sprit of the prophets is subject to the prophets” and that means among other things that they can correct one another and that’s very necessary, because again, this gift doesn’t make you infallible. So, it would be a situation where in your congregation you would have these kinds of people distributed through that and they would be carrying out that kind of function. [22:42]

Now, a lot of our services don’t leave room for that and so we maybe appoint one person or a few people to talk and no one else is able to do that. Now, of course, you have other types of meetings. One would hope that small groups would have these people functioning in them and so that’s basically how it would work. The dimension that I described that I read about in verse 24, people coming in form the outside and realizing there is something going on here that touches me and must be of God. See, that’s primary to outreaches and the same. So, that’s how it would look.

Q: Is prophecy another word in some places that has been denoted of its true meaning? I am thinking of, you know, the way I grew up, it all had to do with predicting end times. [Right] Sometimes that can be an uncomfortable word. [24:05]

Dallas: Well, it is and it actually is only one aspect and not the major aspect of prophecy even in the Old Testament. The main function of the prophet in the Old Testament is to address the current situation in a way that evidences supernatural insight and instruction.

So Paul’s description of it here in terms of edification, exhortation and comfort is actually the real substantial meaning of prophecy all along and it is in the course of that that because of the special needs of the nation of Israel and it’s international relations, that you have these same people talking about the future but it’s not primarily about the future, it’s about the present. Prophecy is about insight into the present and speaking to it in a way that it couldn’t possibly be just a human insight. That’s not as entertaining as the other. [Laughter]

I often think, to paraphrase Churchill, when I watch or hear so much stuff that is out there that “never before have so many people said so much about so many things of which they new absolutely nothing about.” [Laughter] Well, we’ll see. Yes? [25:47]

Q: At some point and this may not be the right time, would you help us envision what a gathering of people might look like that are coming together to exercise the gifts in the group? And I guess what I am thinking is even understanding how the shift from conversational relationship with God to a prayer meeting situation or a small group situation where we are going to pray together because does the conversation leave me at that point?

Dallas: Oh, no! Absolutely ….I hope not! [Yeah!] No! The conversation needs to continue; that should be uninterrupted wherever you are.

Q: You are always listening?

Dallas: You are listening and you are talking—talking to God. When Paul says, “Pray without ceasing!” he’s not making something up. He is describing a condition, which I like to try to help people get into by having them read Laubach because Laubach was a very intelligent man who knew the Lord and loved him and said, “I can do that.” [26:58]

Now, he wasn’t’ the first. As you know, but you probably know a little book of Russian Orthodox spirituality, The Way of the Pilgrim, and the pilgrim heard the scripture read about praying without ceasing and wanted to know how to do that and what comes out of it, I think it not what was meant to come out of it but it’s an attempt to solve that problem which is The Jesus Prayer which comes to be known as The Breath Prayer, because you train yourself so that it goes with your body.

So now, I think actually Laubach’s way is better, though you know, if you are like the guy in The Way of The Pilgrim, probably, maybe The Jesus Prayer, “Jesus, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner” may well be as good as it gets for some people but I think we can bury that and help ourselves. Like, for example, I like to just do “Hallowed be Thy name” or one of the phrases in The Lord’s Prayer and keep it alive in me. You can also take particular things that you are burdened about and request and you can keep that alive. The important thing to learn from Laubach is your mind is capable of doing a lot of things at the same time and we need to capitalize on that. [28:47]

Now then when you come into church, if you want to do it Bonheoffer’s way, you may find The Jesus prayer or something like that very helpful and it can transform how you relate to other people. You will remember Bonheoffer’s vice, when you meet another person, always meet them in the presence of God. How do you do that? Well, praying without ceasing could be helpful.

Now, that prophecy could be a part of that for a person who is bearing that gift. Not everyone will be able to do that. But, I think the gifts—you have to understand that while people or individuals are especially gifted in particular respects, anything that falls under a gift may be done by any individual in appropriate circumstances. But, the gifts are recognition of the natural differences in people and as I mention, they are designed to pull the body together by mutual service. [30:06]

Q: Can you explain what Paul meant by “seeking the greater gifts?”

Dallas: I think he just meant that. Seek them! We are going to talk about fruit in that regard. See, you have to seek all of this and you should seek the “greater gifts” because the “greater gifts” are more useful.

Comment: That doesn’t always mean for yourself, but perhaps for someone else?

Dallas: I would say that it never means for yourself in the sense that you want them for yourself. [Okay.] That’s where the ego is apt to get in the way and you want to stay away from that. But you need to say to the Lord, “I’m willing to bear the gift of prophecy or teaching or whatever the gift may be.

There is no complete list of gifts, you know. You have a particular activity that is useful in the community; that could be a gift. The gift doesn’t refer just to the function but how the function is carried out and how effective it is. That’s where the gift shows up. It’s a special kind of an effect and you may be aware of that and others may be aware of it.

I am not really into the business of identifying your gift and there are various programs about that. My own view is that what your gift is will be manifest and if you seek a gift, it will be manifest if you come to have it because the extraordinary effect of your activities in that regard will be optimous.  Also, it doesn’t mean if you get one gift, you are stuck with it and you will never get another gift. [Laughter] Did anyone else have a hand up? OK? Alright. Let’s move on to page 13. [32:29]

So we are shifting a bit away from the fine texture now of the relationship and we are now going to look more at the character—the conversation and the character of the life that we are living. Remember the title for this whole session is Living in the Divine Conversation and Character.

Character refers to the overall quality of your life and we want a word for that and a word for it is holiness. This afternoon we will pursue that further with reference to Calvin. Holiness basically means you are living from another source, another world, if you wish and the idea that we are “in the world but not of the world” stands out in John 17 and Paul’s letters. “We are in the world but we are not of it.” That means that our character comes from a source other than the world. [34:12]

Now, the world is basically organized flesh. In the world, you see historically developed patterns of natural energies of human beings and you can get some impression of that by taking your Atlanta Journal—is that the newspaper or wherever you are located and there is a major newspaper—and just look at the sections. See, you will have sections on style, sections on sports, sections on business; these are aspects of the world and as you look into them, you will see how they are organized around the natural principles and abilities of human beings. That is NOT a bad thing unless that’s all there is to it and then it goes bad, sooner or later, in one direction or another. [35:17]

Those aspects of the world now—we live in them—one of them is religion, right? We have a section in the paper on that, maybe once a week on religion. Now, you look in there and you will not find a report that might have used as the Holy Spirit to reveal the heart of a CEO. You will not read that because it’s of the world. Of course, that probably would be the most important news for business that you could record. {Laugher]

Business is God’s idea! Business is God’s idea of how to live together in community, loving and serving one another. That’s what business is for in case anyone asks. People often say, “Well, is God in business?” Well, yes, it was His idea and He has set all of humanity up on the principle of division of labor, which is a fundamental idea for human society and you find discussions on it very early. Plato discusses it in The Republic. “Why do we live in cities?” he says. Well, not to have neighbors to rob. [Laughter] He doesn’t say that. Well, because individuals are insufficient on their own and we live together and we divide the labor so I don’t have to make my shoes and my shirts and I don’t’ have to cook my meals and I don’t have to build my automobiles and so on. I do some things and others do other things and low and behold, we have a wonderful, cooperative community and that’s God’s idea. [37:39]

Now, the Spirit can come there and wants to come there in the lives of people who are both gifted and manifesting in their character the fruits of the spirit. If that were to happen, business would of course change a lot and things would go out of business. Locksmiths would have to give up or perhaps in our days, computer experts on security, right. See, the world would be very, very different if people were very, very different and in the effort to deal with that, you find serious human beings teeter tottering, to do you change society or do you change people? Well, you change both. The question is how you change it, and I think God’s way is; you change people. Now, then you do that, you are going to change society also and that will make a difference in the people but until it’s all incorporated under the Kingdom of God, no significant difference will happen. OK? It’s when people are alive in the Kingdom of God that they are capable of changing things in the larger order. [39:26]

Now, in our churches for example, we often run up against ironclad systems that are frustrating the intention of transforming people. That’s a serious thing to think about and you can get mad about it and you can get people mad at you about it and that actually is what often happens.  We have a bunch of mad people in church; not the best way to proceed. And nearly everything that you find wrong in church is to be explained on one principle. They are not disciples and they haven’t learned how to step out of that and so they are busily trying to run the thing and because of that, their church is simply an extension of the world. [40:29]

That’s just to recognize. There is no point in being mad about that. It won’t help so we try to find a place to love people and bear witness and manifest the gifts of the spirit and the fruit of the spirit and hopefully there will be others that will be drawn to that and actually sometimes you see churches just doing wonderfully in the Kingdom of God and that of course is the intent. Once Christ is truly made the head of a church, and then everything will straighten out more or less quickly. OK!

So, now, we want to just think about these elements of character that I have listed here on page 13 and most of them are in the fruit of the spirit and the others are in there whether they are mentioned or not. You have in Galatians 5, nine elements listed as aspects of THE fruit—ONE fruit, many parts of the Spirit. And this contrast that is set up here and I looked at it earlier but we now need to go back to it between the deeds of the flesh in verse 19 in Galatians 5 and the fruit of the spirit in verse 22 and following in Galatians 5 is something that we need to really keep before us. And we need to recognize what is at work in the world around us. Often in our families and in our church and learn how to choose the fruit of the spirit and it is something we have to choose. We choose peace. We choose joy. We choose love. We don’t choose to be loving. You choose to love and then you are loved and to understand where the choice enters is really crucial to our operation here. [43:14]

Gary has done a wonderful job of leading the Renovaré Institute and framing it in such a way as to make its uniqueness appear. The Renovaré Institute is designed to bring a body of knowledge into the world to compete with the systems of knowledge that are already here.

Talking about hearing God—see, what we are trying to do is to bring that down to a level of practical knowledge that you can operate in and share with others and make it a part of human life. What is taught in our “best” institutions of learning actually turns out to be the source of our problems. When you think about what people think of as the best universities and so on, you will want to remember that what they teach is the basis of the world’s problems because they teach a system of reality and knowledge and character that does not, except sporadically address the deeper problems of human life. Now, that hasn’t always been true. [44:53]

Up until a century or so ago, Harvard and the other schools that think that they are solving the problems of the world could write on the front words like, Veritas et Christo, or God in the church or something of that sort. The place where I teach was built by Methodists and they still have John Wesley standing with his arm and hand outstretched in benediction. What about Tommy Trojan in central campus and they have Matthew Simpson up there on another corner—a bunch of good men—not all of them Christians, I think but good men—Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln and people like that. Cicero and Plato on one side of the central tower but no one has any idea of what’s up there. It’s like people walking among the ruins of Luxor or some place like that and they look at the stones and all of that but it doesn’t mean anything to them.

See, that’s the shift that has happened and that’s what we, as preachers, teachers, writers, and people come against and we are bringing knowledge of character of life to the world that cries out for it because it has been pulled up from the Kingdom of God and said, “Now, you human beings, you have to make it work.” And it doesn’t work and so that’s where you get the deeds of the flesh. A pretty grim list, you know. [47:00]

It always starts with immorality, sexual stuff, and sensuality; that’s what is closest at hand when people turn away from God. They turn to their bodies because that’s what’s closest to hand now. Sex and violence is bodily stuff and so, that very quickly leads to things like strife, enmities, sorcery, jealously, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissension. Well, I won’t go on with the list. You know it. It’s the sad picture of events in human life and frankly, no one wants it but they are stuck with it.

You ask someone, would you enjoy a little envying? [Laughter] Well, no I don’t want that. But if they are on their own, that will be a natural expression of it. Of course, when love comes in, one of the first things that goes is envy. Love envies not. Well, what kind of a world is that? That’s God’s world. When instead of envying people, you thank God for their blessings. Now, that has to come out of a different world. A world in which people are not just contesting with one another for various goods of life and the natural character there is spelled out by these words like peace and joy and hope and faith and love. [48:53]

Gary: Dallas, a quick question? [Yes!] I need a little clarity on something. I think from you it’s appropriate to think about the fruit of the spirit as the character of Christ? And I get in your model of the person and the beings of life entering the center with God and the spiritual disciplines as things we do with the various aspects of our self that make the heart, the will more available—permeable by Christ living within.

Dallas: That’s right. So this fruit then is actually an expression of the whole person. [49:41]

Gary: Right. So when you talk about specifically asking for a specific aspect of the fruit, like peace or joy, that just confused me a little bit as opposed to and kind of maybe raises the potential of separating that from the Christ within—that simply being various aspects of Christ’s character within you. So, you might say a little bit more about asking for a specific aspect of the fruit of the spirit, such as peace as opposed to, may I be more surrendered to the life and power of Christ within, which brings with it that character. [50:18]

Dallas: Yeah, well, I mean that’s a nice thing to ask for but what does it mean? See? The life and character of Christ—to go back to this framework from last time.

Let’s suppose that I choose peace; that’s going to involve every aspect of Him that is up here. The will is central to it. If I am going to choose peace, I am going to need to be peaceable and that is a way of approaching life as a whole. If I have an angry body, I will not have a peaceable life and depending on how I approach my relationships to others—the social dimension and so on, all of those—I am going to be asking and seeking. I choose that and I will ask for help but then I will act for the sake of peace.

What can you do to bring peace into your life? Well, understanding is the first thing you have to work on—your understanding of peace. What is peace? How does it relate to other things like joy? And like love, because you can’t do one of these without doing the others. You don’t want a loveless peace or a joyless peace. It is hard to imagine what it would look like and so, as you choose peace, you begin to understand it and you begin to see how it fits into your life as a whole. So, for example, your mind is going to be very important in peace. You will run into today things like people who are trying to do spirituality so that they can have peace but peace doesn’t just come from pursuing it. [53:06]

Gary: And that’s just what I was trying to get at is that when you go for or focus on an aspect without focusing first on Christ within, it seems like it opens some possibilities that are less than aggressively Christ living likeness.

Dallas: That’s right and so Christ comes to us and helps us understand what’s involved in this. See, you have a lot of the big business of spirituality today as it affects Christians especially is they run into various ways of approaching—peace is the big deal in spirituality, right? Joy? Well, not so much! Hope again, there is very little understanding and so what happens is you are apt to be directed to some exercises which if you engage in; especially if you come to a lovely place like this, you may have a feeling of peace and so you need that whole picture. When we begin to pursue peace honestly and realize its overall implications that is where we realize we have to have hope and help from Christ. Jesus says, “My peace I give to you.” Right? “I give you joy, peace,” and we begin to learn how to make the pieces fit together. Right? [54:58]

Christian character then emerges as these dimensions of the person are increasingly taken over by what was in Christ’s character and His will and His mind and so on. And, or course the center of it—this is the Executive Center of the Self and really, everything has to be key to a change there first—the surrender of the will to God turning our Kingdom over to God’s Kingdom and so on. That’s the point at which things begin to move and as we do that, we learn more and more about what goes into the other dimensions of the self.

We haven’t’ talked about faith but faith is one of the big components here and the fact that it winds up at the end of the chapter on love is an indication that you would have to have that in order to have love. And, of course hope, so it begins to fit together but you have to decide, I want to be like that.

Now a person outside of Christ might decide they want to be like that just because of the suffering that they have had from being otherwise. Certainly that’s not a bad place to start but Christ draws us to Him and Dr. Jesus tells us about our parts and He says “Well, there is the heart, there is the soul, there is the mind, there is the body and the social relations and if you take care of those, everything will fit together.” Someone had a hand up? Yes? [56:51]

Q: For me, just trying to put it all together, it’s really more I think, I just look at the life of Christ or try to particularly John’s presentation in the early chapters. It’s just this incredible submission of the Word of God—“whatever I see the Father do, I do and whatever I hear the Father saying, that is what I say,” but then it culminates in John 17 and it comes out of a relationship. This love relationship just brings on this submission so for me, it helps me if I see a model and I think the model, and I know this, it’s simplification but it flows out of a life relationship with Christ and the more I want to be with Him and the more I tend to reflect those fruitful things that are part of His essence.

Dallas: Right! So, if someone says I would like to know how to do this? Well, trust Christ. Devote yourself to Christ. And if someone says, “Well, I like Buddha.” Well, do what you can. Christians don’t want to deny anything that is good and true. Do what you can. Just be honest with them and deal with what can come out of practices and beliefs of various kinds. They are all around us competing and that’s one reason why it’s so important for us to say, “Look, here is knowledge of reality. Put your weight on it. Trust Christ. Act on it and things will come together.” And you say, “Now you know this isn’t just dogma. You don’t get a grade for believing right things.” That isn’t the function of faith. The function of faith is to integrate you with reality and it will only do that if in fact what you believe is true. If what you believe isn’t true, it won’t integrate you with reality; it will integrate you with unreality and so you need to understand that we are talking about knowledge of reality. Christ is a specific object of that knowledge. That’s why we are called Christians, not God-ians. [59:52]

So, now peace, joy, hope, faith, love—we choose these. We decide we want to live there. That’s not all that’s involved because after all this is the fruit of the Spirit. It isn’t the fruit of me, or my decisions.

That’s one of the things that happens when people read the love chapter, 1 Corinthians is they say, “Well, I ought to do that.” And no, you oughtn’t to do that. You ought to welcome love. You should pursue love as the fourteenth chapter says. Don’t pursue doing what love does. If you do that, you will turn into a high browed legalist of some sort and it will kill you. So you welcome love. [1:00:35]

Now then, you have to understand love like you have to understand peace and you have to understand joy. That takes some instruction and help. If we start just from human love, then it won’t carry us very far. We have to understand love in the sense that Jesus makes it present in life from God. His instruction to His people was learning to love one another as He loved them; not just love of any type but as He loved them. He sets the pattern for love and that pattern is one which you can only get into as you understand that God is love and then there is a lot to that because the hopeless misunderstandings of love in the human life will keep you from coming to understand that it’s safe to love. What kind of a universe is it that it is safe to love as Christ loved? After all, He got killed. So, you have to confront those kinds of issues and then learn how it works in a very confident love with other people. [1:02:12]

What is love? Love is intention of good. OK? You love something if you intend what is good for it and that’s true if it’s your geranium or anything. To love another person is to intend what is good for them. Now, when you begin to move into that, then you begin to understand other things like how would you love your enemy? Could you love your enemy? Now then as you start trying to move into that, then you confront the reality of things like anger and contempt so this is a part of what you are choosing when you choose love. You choose to do those things that will lift you out of the works of the flesh and as you do that, then of course other issues like peace, joy and faith flourish in that context but your love will depend on peace and joy. Joyless love is a terrible thing to confront and most of human love has no peace in it and so you see you are learning about these things as you go and what you are learning is how they fit together.

So, as I say here on the middle of 13 in the notes, they do not function on their own independently of the others” and I discuss how that goes in The Renovation of the Heart which I think you have read and you just have to stop and think about what they are if you have them alone. You see a lot of people who say they have faith but no love, no hope, and no joy or at best hope for something in another world. [1:04:30]

We have to choose and try to take ahold of it where we can and that isn’t the same for everyone. If we present Christ and His Kingdom and through that, God and His people, then we have something to point to and to build on but, for those who may have despaired of the life in the flesh. Life in the flesh runs on desire. Desire is essentially disruptive, conflictual, disintegrative, and chaotic because desire doesn’t look at the larger picture. Desire says, “I want that. I want that.” That’s desire.

Now, your will is designed to help direct your life, including desire but the will is always considering alternatives. That’s the difference between will and desire. Desire says, “I want that.” It doesn’t say, “Well, what about that?” It simply says, “I want that.” Now, you’ve seen that and what it does to people and it tears human life to shreds. That is why the scripture warns us constantly about epithumia—intense desire.  [1:06:21]

This wonderful statement in 1 Peter—“As strangers and pilgrims,” Peter says. Let me get the right reference here for you. This is a really important statement for us. This is 1 Peter 2:11. “Beloved, I urge you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, natural desires which wage war against the soul.” I wonder if you have ever heard a sermon on that about the idea of desire waging war on the soul? [Laughter] See, the soul is integrative. That’s the part of you and me that integrates everything else to turn it into one life. Desire is disintegrating and it will tear your soul apart and the broken souls that are so common among us as human beings are generally due to somebody’s desire—maybe our own or maybe someone else’s.

Now, the deeds of the flesh all come out of unsubordinated desire. You can go back and look at that list and you can think about where that comes from. Malice is an interesting term for some of them. Obviously, sensuality and so on, more obvious desire but they all come out of…. Where does sorcery come from? Yes? [1:08:35]

Q: But the whole idea of desire as a negative entity? Isn’t it true then when Paul says, “Desire…..” There are desires that are spiritually based or in terms of……

Dallas: If they are subordinated to what is good……

Comment: …and desires of the flesh. So, it’s not always a negative?

Dallas: It isn’t a negative at all. Desire is essential. Little children would never live if they didn’t follow their desires.

Comment: So, to say that desire is disintegrative?

Dallas: In its nature, it’s disintegrative and that’s why you have to subordinate it to what is good.  See, that’s the key. Desire is disintegrative in its nature because it’s always focused on that. “I want that.” But you also want other things and that’s why you have to have something that integrates desire. That’s the good and the will does that. That’s why the word, “deliberative” which goes with the will. That’s why it has liberative in it. Deliberation will free you from being destroyed by your desires. [1:10:04]

James 4 is an expression of the nature of desire. James 4:1, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust (that’s desire) and you do not have, so you commit murder.” You see how all that fits together? See the connections there? Where does murder come from? It doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from the frustration of desire. Why did Cain kill Abel? He wanted something and he didn’t get it, right? That’s desire.

Now, desire is not inherently bad. That’s what the Stoic and the Buddhists will teach you, that desire is bad. No. It is not bad. It’s bad when it tries to rule us and the way you avoid being ruled by desire is subordinating it to what is good and that is love. Love seeks what is good. [1:11:28]

So very often when we say we love something, we don’t mean we love it. We are not seeking what’s good. I would love to have that Maserati. No, you don’t care anything about the well being of that Maserati. You want to drive it. Whooooo! I’m something! [Laughter] This is a really important point, Joanne. Desire is not bad. I go mad and bad when it is left to rule our lives. That’s why the cross is so important because the cross stands for the end of your desires and the fulfillment of your life and a life of the Kingdom of God.

Comment: The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and I will give you the desires of your heart.” I heard someone say, “Don’t delight yourself in your desires but delight yourself in the Lord” and that subordinates your desires.

Dallas: Yes, and of course if you delight yourself in the Lord, you’ve got things in the proper perspective. Right? Another way of turning that passage is to say, “He will determine what desires you have” and actually that’s the way it works because you will, like weeding your garden, you will go through pulling out this desire and throwing it away and pulling out that one and so no.

You do want to understand now for the Christian, desire is not bad and this goes along with views according to which suffering is good. It’s not good and it can have very bad effects and if it’s not received in the right way, it will have very bad affects. Ok, someone else have their hand up I think. Did I miss you? [1:13:52]

Q: I was just gonna add when you were talking about we don’t love, we don’t’ wish the wellbeing of the Maserati but we do become attached to things in the physical realm [WE do!] and we love and move to worship them and then we do serve them.

Dallas: Yeah, and you can imagine someone who was a servant of a Maserati and you think now, that’s some life. That’s some life. Serving Maserati…serving ice cream….

Comment: Serving alcohol. [Yes, well…..] [1:14:30] Yes?

Q: I am wondering—a side of desire—do you think all of the distorted desires—disintegrated, are because of the fall because I am thinking of, I was—obviously, [……can’t hear what is being said here…..]. Our ultimate desire is God so it’s every other desire is not ordered but that desire is ordered and other desires can be of the flesh then of giving that one desire?

Dallas: I think that that is the ideal and that is how we are meant to live with our desires is in the realization of that one desire but we often don’t understand our desires and that is a part of the confusion of the fall and because of that we seek to fulfill our desires in the wrong place.

There is kind of an analog for my impoverished background. We had in Missouri where I was raised—the land was poor in minerals and so animals—cows and sheep and so on would eat rusty nails or old dry cell batteries. Now, you say, “Mrs. Moo, you don’t want to eat that dry celled battery.” Well, it’s true, she wasn’t thinking about dry cell batteries but when she knew there were chemical elements in that and that’s what she was looking for but the way she tried to do it would kill her. The animal doesn’t know what they want. They know they want something and they know that that might hold a promise for them but it kills them. And that’s human life, but that restlessness is still there and that’s what St. Augustine was talking about. Well, let’s talk a little bit about hope before we split for the day or the morning! [1:16:55]

We are on page 15 and hope is fundamental anticipating of goodness. It is confidence about the future and you watch little children, they are naturally hopeful and it’s a beautiful thing to see. It doesn’t occur to them that what they want would not be possible for them and so they hope and they move out and this is often in the form of the desires and that’s good; we can’t live without hope. [1:17:41]

Fear is an anticipation of evil and it squelches hope. It’s interesting that in the book of Revelation where towards the end; I think it’s the 21st chapter, they are describing “those who have place in the lake of fire.” The first on the list is the fearful. That’s always—I don’t like that—but there it is. Don’t ask me about it. Why would being fearful be so bad? Shouldn’t we just feel sorry for people who are fearful? Well, possibly but you know, if you had someone living in your hour who lived in fear, that would be an indictment I would think of you. Hear you are living in God’s universe and you are fearful. Well, I don’t know how to put all that together exactly but fear is an incredible power for evil and dealing with fear is a primary part of the Gospel.

Repeatedly in the scripture, you know, when something shows up, “Fear not. Don’t be afraid.” Fear becomes a natural response when we don’t know what’s happening and we turn to it–anticipation of evil. In a world like this with a God like this, fear should go. But of course if you don’t know the God like this and if you are not—in fact you’ve never even heard of Him—which is true for many, many millions of people in the world, well then fear seems like the only sensible thing or attitude to have but it does great harm and one of the main things it does is to squelch hope. [1:20:15]

So, we need to fit into that picture the teaching about death that is present in the scripture because that is sort of like the main fear of so many people is death. I think that the reason Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus was because he heard all the screeching and carrying on that the people were making and he wept for their fear and their grief and what a terrible thing it is for human life to contemplate death.

Now, one of the major elements in Christian hope is “victory over death” and this is not something we deal with much around church but it is one of the things that should be right up front in everything we teach. Jesus’s teaching in John and what the apostles picked up is crucial to having hope. Hope requires a future. Now, if you take a certain view of life, your hope is, “There will be no future.” Many of my acquaintances around the university that think Buddhism are a good idea. You ask them the question, “What’s the best thing that can happen to you on the Buddhist teaching?” What is the best thing that can happen?—That you would cease to exist. [1:22:13]

Q: Is that a moral issue?

Dallas: Well, it amounts to that and it gets presented in various ways and you have some teachings that have responded to, I think actually Christian teachings by saying, “Well you still exist in Nirvana. It’s just you don’t have a separate existence” and the difference between that and existing not at all is rather difficult to make plain. Separation, individuation is the bad thing and you get rid of that in their mind if you exist in some other form but that’s a consolation of despair and actually if the universe is bad enough, it would be a hopeful thing to believe that you would stop existing.

Now, the teaching of Jesus, and I believe of the Old Testament and the Psalms and all of that—and I know in the scholarly circles, there is great debate about this—but I think the teaching is that with that you pass through the event which is the death of your body and if you understand the words of Jesus in John 8 in a certain way, you will not experience that and maybe you will figure out later that that happened but the continuity of your experience will be such that you will not experience death. That’s what he says, in John 8:51-53. [1:24:00]

So, now then, that is an important part of what we take into our understanding of life, both for ourselves and others and we re-involve saying, “I am thinking about whether I should go on or stay here.” It would be great to go on. It would be far better. You say, “Well, He’s just whistling Dixie. You don’t really mean it—trying to pump himself up.” He had actually been given some experiences of this that helped him with it and we need to think about hope deeply to tie into the statements about God being a God of hope.

Romans 15:13 is a beautiful statement of this. Hope that comes from the support of the Holy Spirit and there are dimension of it that simply have to be spiritually inspired and upheld and taught because frankly from the human point of view, there is not much to be hopeful about. It’s a sad thing to see how hope is lost by disappointments of various kinds, by the process of aging—some people lose hope because of that. If you can put that in the context of love, that will help and then hope will help love and joy can be a part of the configuration there. [1:26:01]

Peace, joy, hope, faith—faith meets hope. To go on, faith is ready to act as if the goodness presupposed in hope is real and reliable. Faith we are told works by love—faith, which worketh by love. So, the connection here is very strong and if you have a faith that doesn’t work by love, you will run from that because it will turn pretty grim and harsh so it has to be informed by love and to work by love if I have faith and put that into action in love. [1:27:00]

Now, if I don’t have hope, I may not be able to do that and they say, “Well, everything is in vain.” So we need to hold these together now and we need to choose them. We have to choose them and for each of us, the question comes, “Have I chosen hope?—to be a hopeful person?” Have I chosen to be a hopeful person? Have I chosen to be a joyful person? Have I chosen to be a person of love? And I welcome these; not deeds of hope that come out but hope. We have to think about our attitudes towards hope and joy and love, and on the basis of that open ourselves to welcome them into our lives.

Now then, of course the spirit is working on that. We don’t make that happen and grace teaches us that God acts in our lives to accomplish what we can’t act or accomplish on our own. That’s what grace does. So I open myself to love, joy, peace and so on. I open myself to that. I am ready to receive it. That’s a big bridge to cross for many people. Have I crossed that bridge? Or have I still in my dimensions here some point that says, “No, not hope. Not joy.” And so that’s a choice that we need to make. [1:29:08]

Now, we will keep working on that when we come back. We are going to start talking about disciplines because disciplines are steps that we can take toward love, joy, peace and so forth and then that leads to actions that come out of those attitudes. [1:29:30]

OK, please bring the Calvin with you this afternoon. I want to tie in on this now. Gary do you have a word for us?

Gary: Only that—Mike and Robin would have more to say about this but— what you said about fear and love is fascinating that fear and love are physiological opposites but…..

Dallas: That’s true too! So, our body is “in the game.”

Gary: Yes, John, if you would send us off with a blessing?

John: Sure! Loving God, we thank you for this morning and for all that you are teaching us and the ways that you are shaping us and Lord, we thank you for your provision in that every day and Lord, we thank you for the food that we are about to enjoy and we pray that your spirit would continue to bind us together as community and as fellowship and we pray this in Jesus name. Amen!

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