The Psychology of Redemption 3

Dallas Willard Part 3 of 12

This rare, important series from Dallas Willard is on how sin came into the world and how sinful people change through the action of the Holy Spirit and a practice of the disciplines. In the middle, it focuses on Romans 5-8 and one can see that it is the raw material for Dallas’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. But in early form it is a Sunday school class for Woodlake Avenue Friends Church with his pastor, Richard Foster, in the audience. [Editor’s note: The audio is missing, though we’d love to find the cassettes. This is a transcript which somebody did of those cassettes long ago.]


Study Galatians: 1-6. Concentrate on the word flesh, and what that means. Follow the word flesh throughout the bible by use of the concordance.

One of the things you will find out is that flesh is not necessarily bad. Flesh, you will also see, is not always to be thought of as meat. In the next lesson, we will go into the meaning of the word flesh in depth. So before the next lesson please study the word flesh to be ready.

Now last time we were concentrating on this distinction of sin as an act and sin as a condition. I want to say that the number one problem with this kind of thing is that we do tend to think of sin as an act, and primarily that isn’t it at all. The human way of thinking of sin, is as an act, and the human way of dealing with sin as an act is ritual. Both sacrifice and law fall under the category of ritual. Sacrifice is oriented with the church, but law is more general. I will spend some time in the fifth lesson dealing with that human way of handling sin. Again that is sin as an act.

But sin is not primarily an act.  I hope your studies show that to you. If you will look at Romans 3:9-18, you will see here the surface expression of sin.

I want us to try and study these passages as if we were sociologists or psychologists, but not some how as if we were all very religious. We will learn more by just looking at the human condition as it expresses itself in society, and wanting to know now what goes on there, than if we try to make this a devotional reading.

You know the healing work of redemption is done by truth; by the understanding of truth. When we understand things, when we finally get them through our heads, we don’t have to stand around preaching sermons to ourselves about them. At this point understanding informs our actions and our feelings and governs our lives.

Jesus made it very plain that his work of redemption was done through his words. His words brought truth into the mind. If you want to understand the key to redemption, the verse to look at is: “The truth shall make you free.” Nothing else will make you free. That’s why so many of our churches and ministers are severely misled. Instead of proclaiming the truth they try to manage people, and possibly manage themselves. The work of the ministry is not managing: it is speaking of what is true.

As we come not to look at these passages, let us approach them in the attitude that Paul certainly wrote them. Paul believed that he was simply telling how you would find things in society. Not let’s (lets) look at this awful list, which is directed primarily at Jews, and not so much at Gentiles. He is discussing the Jews, but if you wish, you can think of the Jews as people who have a knowledge of the Bible, and who have some indication that they have a vocation or calling under God. Romans 3:1

“What advantage hath the Jew; or what profit is there in circumcision?”

Circumcision being the summary mark of those who are in opposed to those who are out; then again at verse 9.

“What then? Are Jews better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin;”

Notice Sin is singular. He doesn’t say they all go around sinning, he says they are under sin. They are in a state; they are in a condition. They are under the blanket of sin. Verse 10:

“As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one. There is none that understandeth.”

Is that sin – not understanding? When you understand what sin is, that is sin! Remember that sin is basically a condition. Verse 12 and 13.

“There is none that seek after God . . . There is none that doeth good. Their throat is an open grave.”

He is beginning to express, now, sin as an action in verse 13. He is not (not is) talking about halitosis here. He is talking about how all the corruption, which is inside, comes out at the mouth.

“With their tongue they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips.”

Is there any reality to that? Yes, when you go beneath the surface veneer, you find that humanity is a running sore of sin. The stories, which come out of your ordinary nice families, and your ordinary nice communities show this. People often wonder why murders are committed. They wonder why bad things get into the newspapers. The answer is that there is a condition man is under: that condition is sin. Romans 3:14-16

“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways.”

Psychologists speak now of destructive personalities. You’ll find where Paul puts it together just like it is “destruction and misery are in their ways.” That is, it is along the road they travel. Verse 17:

“And the way of peace have they not known. There is no frame of God before their eyes.”

That last verse returns to the condition. It is the person simply, who does not fear and respect God.

Fear as it refers to God in passage such as this does not mean fear as we often understand it. It means respect, and reverence. It means awe of God. Many people are frightened of God, who do not fear Him in this sense. Just like many children are frightened of other children who they do not respect. Another example oft his is that many people are frightened of a judge, a policeman or a teacher, but do not respect them. The fear of God, which is spoken of here is respect: that attentiveness and kind of awe before God. The reason why it is mentioned here in Paul’s writing is that without reverence for God in the soul of the person, everything is under sin. This is the case where there is no fear of God.

Now in these passages you have a statement of condition and its manifestation. In Romans 5, which I want to show you briefly, you have a return to the use of the word sin as it was used in the verse in Romans 3:9, which we just went over. That is where it says, “all are under sin.” Now look at Romans 5:12-14.

“Wherefore (Wherefor) as by one man sin entered the world.”

When the American Indians were discovered, there were many diseases which they did not know of, or had not experienced. They had no immunity. Whole tribes were wiped out. They received the condition, basically, by one man. Because of that one person, there was virulent infection among the Indians. You can say that by one man Diphtheria entered America. Then there was a new condition. By one man, sin entered.

You see you have to understand that sin here is not an act. It is a state of soul. Just like Diphtheria is a condition of the body. It has its cause, and in a large measure it is transferable from soul to soul just like Diphtheria is. You can catch sin and all of us have. We caught the condition from those around us who had it. When we sin, we sinned because we had already become sinners, and then w sinned further and complicated our condition.

The truth of the matter is when you start in talking about sin, there is an awful lot of confusion about it, and about moral matters in general in the popular mind. What constitutes our life consists of sets of habits and feelings, which we pick up basically from our parents and those around us. We pick them up from our playmate’s parents as well. We pick them up from people who we live with, and there is no way of escaping that. It would be much easier to prevent a child from catching mumps or measles than to prevent him from “catching” sin from those around him as we have described it here.

Romans 5:12 “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin.”

Death is the corruption which results. Death is a separation from God, and separation from those we love around us. It is separation from those who love us most.  Notice, in verse 13, that the law wasn’t give until after the law of sin was already in the world.

“Romans 5:13 “For until the law, sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.”

Sin was in the world. That is its presence was there, but it was not imputed. Notice now the next verse.

“Nevertheless death reigned.” (Verse 14)

When he is talking about sin he is not talking about something that is a legal moral thing. He is talking about, as I said last time, a psycho-social reality. It’s here. Just as with reference to the diseases, you hear that they are in the community, and it does not matter whether there are laws for it or against it or anything else. It’s here, and we’ve got it, and it has its effect. Thus Paul says in Romans 5:14:

“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses  . . . “

What does from Adam to Moses mean? It means from creation till the time of the law was given.

“ . . . even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.”

That is even for those who didn’t sin the real big sins in the way that Adam did. Death still reigned over them.

So, now, where is the repository of this sin?  It doesn’t float in the air like smog, though you would almost think it did the way it gets around. Where is the repository? It is in the human heart, and the human heart is manifest in the personality and in social organizations. It is the way we naturally interact with one another which is the repository of sin.

Let’s look at this verse Isaiah 57:20. This is a concise and precise metaphor of the way sin functions.

“But the wicked are like a troubled sea . . . “

The wicked here are those who we have talked about previously, the wrung, the distorted, the crooked and the twisted.

“ . . . like a troubled sea.”

What does a troubled sea consist of? A troubled sea is a body of water, and it behaves in a certain way. Its natural motion does something. It casts up mire and dirt. Now the sea in its natural motion, as troubled, does not have to go to any special pains to bring up mire and dirt. Now the sea in its natural motion, as troubled, does not have to go to any special pains to bring up mire and dirt. It just throws it up. The natural motion of the sea brings up all these bad things; ugly unpleasant things. When the sea is calm, there is a return to clearness. Things settle to the bottom, but when the sea is going, it brings up the filth.

Now this is exactly the way of humanity, and the things you read in the newspaper which get the attention, the things you see on the evening news shows it. For example last week we were treated to the picture of a bank robber who was shot to death in Germany. There you are, mire and dirt. Why did that happen? It happened because of the natural structure of the human mind, and human society which involve certain basic structures as pride, envy, vanity, lust, etc., and it leads naturally to what we say.

Why was Patricia Hearst kidnapped? That’s the natural action of the condition in which mankind lives.

We can also see this in Bible stories. Last week Dick went over the story of the crucifixion, and we saw Peter and his friend, and we saw them all saying “Lord! We will die with you!” That was beautiful, that was nice, but then we saw something happening. He went out to pray and they went with Him. What did Jesus say? Well, the most striking thing He said was “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Now you might think about that use of the word flesh as you study for next week. That was not a way of tearing Peter up. That was merely diagnosing the condition. Undoubtedly, Jesus marveled at it. Now there could be these excellent intentions, these fine resolves and then be completely overpowered by this thing called flesh?

What is the flesh? The flesh is just the habitual learned patterns of action, and Peter was over-powered by them. Everyone knows that prayer is sleepy-time. We learn that as children. We pray a little bit, and then we go to sleep. Peter prayed and then went to sleep. This was an established pattern.

These are natural patterns, and we see nothing wrong with them. There is nothing wrong with getting ahead is there? Shouldn’t everyone get ahead? What is the upshot of that? Not everyone gets ahead. I heard a poetic phrase: “Being a loser is a one man race.” The problem is most people can’t get ahead. There are many people so obsessed with getting ahead, that every book that comes out on how to make a million on the stock market they buy. The way to make a million is to write a book on how to make a million and there will be a million people who will be fools enough to buy it and spend their time reading it.

What is the manifestation of getting ahead? Why are there social problems of all sorts? Why do people kidnap and kill? The problem of crime, for example, isn’t just a matter of hunger or not having the necessities of life. In fact, historically we see that most troubles come when people have something. They have enough to where they look around to see what the other person has that they do not. People in these situations are relatively well off. They are well off to the point where they look around and see others and want to know why they are not also as well off. Then the envy wells up.

The natural condition of man is like the troubled sea and the natural effect of that is to cast up dirt and mire. Some expressions of this are in the memorizations for this lesson. Proverbs 6:15-19. This gives you a list of some of the things that express the natural condition of man. It isn’t any kind of conclusive or definitive list at all.  It is just the sort of list that was devised by some chap who was sitting down thinking wise and profound sayings, and they were good enough to be included in our Bible. You’ll notice the list, where he starts. He starts with something which is accepted as natural and even good: pride. But let’s not confuse pride in this sense, with pride in the basic sense, which is desire to be decent. That’s not what we are talking about. In fact some of the versions instead of translating that as “a proud look” translate it as “haughty eyes” and that is a better translation.

Notice the first five are given as, or listed as parts of the body:

Proverbs 6:16-18, “These six things does the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him. Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief.”

Notice how this has started at the head and covered the body down to the feet. He is saying from head to foot the condition extends. This condition takes over the body. The passage in Romans speaks about our members being servants of unrighteousness. God has so made us that our spirit expresses itself in our body. Psychologists and sociologists know more and more about this. It has come now to their attention, but they could have found out about it by reading the bible. We express ourselves quite infallibly through our bodies. If we are proud, if our tongues are untrustworthy, if we are swift to run to mischief, and our feet get us where the trouble is, it is an expression of the spirit.

Now the last two are not put forth in terms of a bodily part, but in terms of the social setting. One of the most abominable things for the people of the Old Testament was the false witness. The false witness who speaks lies. He is talking about a court situation, a situation of trial. Where witnesses are called. Then finally he lists a person who splits up brother or sows discord among those who are close together. Those seven things the Lord hates.

You might compare the above with the fifteenth Psalm. Notice how all of those are conditions. Not a one of those we have discussed as far is an act. The fifteenth Psalm gives you a different kind of list, with some interesting overlaps.

Psalm 15:1-2 “Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy Holy hill? He that walketh uprightly and worketh righteousness and speaketh the truth in his heart.”

Notice the truth is in his heart, and not just on the tongue.

“He that backbiteth not with his tongue.”

How can you bite with your tongue? If you know anything about the tongue, you know that it can really leave a mark, especially in the back. The back is especially sensitive to the tongue.

“ . . . nor doeth evil to his neighbors . . . “ (verse 3)

This is the person who lives nigh him. A person would not be safe in his neighborhood.

“ . . . nor taketh up reproach against his neighbor.” (verse 3)

That is, when there is a reproach going around, he does not pick it up and pass it along. Taking up the reproach is contrasted with producing it. Verse 4 continues:

“In whose eyes a vile person is condemned, but he honoreth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changest not.”

That is, he makes a vow, a promise, and he does not consult his own pleasure in keeping that promise. Again I want to stress how all these things go so deeply. They are not just matters of singular acts. They are matters of deep-set dispositions and habits. And finally, this last one may strike you as odd. Verse 5:

“He puteth not out his money for interest, nor taketh reward against the innocent.”

He does not charge interest, and he doesn’t tell lies in court for money. Now notice how he describes this person.

“He that doeth these things shall never be moved.”

That is one of the traits of the righteous, as opposed to the restless tossing of the wicked, “ . . . never be moved.” The “Rock” is associated with that.

There is another list that can be given. Let’s look at pride, envy, avarice (averice), gluttony and sloth. These are the traditional deadly or mortal sins. They can be seen in the plays and literature from the time when the church controlled the entertainment. What is a deadly sin? It is not really a sin that you immediately die from if you do it. Deadly sin is contrasted with a venial sin; that is a sin that is some how permissible in a way which these sins are not. Venial sin, for example is a sin of ignorance.

This list begins similarly to the list in Proverbs 6: pride, envy, and wrath . . . (Wrath here is not simply anger. It is something much deeper than anger. It is a kind of possession in which a person loses control of their consciousness. It is not just being mad.) . . . lechery, avarice, gluttony, and sloth. As these were presented, they show conditions of soul which possessed the people. Here he is not talking about people with a weight problem when he talks about gluttony. He is talking about a person who lives to eat, who derives their spiritual peace and satisfaction from eating, and indeed doesn’t feel the need to say no.

The same way with sloth—you may not believe this, but the truth is that a very high percentage of the trouble that a person gets into is due to nothing more than to sloth. Laziness is an awful thing. It is a condition of soul, which brings no (so) end to distress. One of the most remarkable things about sloth is in the victimized position it puts one in. The problem is that a person afflicted with this condition is very subject to some of the other sins.

Of course it is not fashionable to talk about this sort of thing, indeed it is not fashionable to talk much about sin at all. That’s too bad, because many of the churches have gotten to a position where they really don’t have anything to be saved from! They don’t believe in hell and they don’t believe in sin. Salvation is primarily from sin; it is being saved from a condition. The awareness of this condition is something which is hard to come by really. Very often, when we find ourselves unhappy, as sinners, it is not because of condition, but because we’re in trouble. We don’t like the consequences. We would very much like to get out of the consequences and still go on being proud (proun?), slothful, full of envy and avarice (averice). This is like saying that we want the sea to be roaring along with 30 foot waves, but we would like all that mire and dirt to stay on the bottom. We don’t like all that mire and dirt, but it doesn’t work that way. A consciousness of the condition has to come.

There are various placed in the bible where you will find an expression of the condition, or rather an awareness of the condition: as in Isaiah 6. This was Isaiah’s great experience after King Uzziah died. His hopes were pretty low: he was in the temple. He had an amazing encounter with the awesomeness of God and the temple almost fell down on him in the course of it. The post of the door moved and the whole temple began to shake and tremble. See in verse 5, his consciousness of god lead him to say:

“Woe is me for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”

Now, what made him aware of that is shown in the next clause.

“ . . . for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”

You will find a similar expression by Peter in Luke 5. This is the case where Peter and his friends had been fishing all evening and caught nothing, and the Lord, “cast your net on the other side.” When they did, there were so many fish in it, that the net broke in places. They pulled it into the boat, and the boat almost sank. At this point Peter said, “Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Are you able to say, “I am sinful.”

Does that mean anything to you? I am sinful. I’m in a bad condition. I need help. Many people who are trying to be Christians have never come to the place of just saying: I’m undone: I am not fit to be in the presence of God.

The person that doesn’t know the above will never know what grace means. Their minds will never be ravished with the sense of forgiveness and acceptance because they never knew what it was to be undone. So much of what we see, under the name of repentance, is not that kind of sense, that kind of awareness that leads to turning. It isn’t just an understanding of what the condition is that is redemptive. We say, “Oh Lord, I’m in a mess. Get me out! But what we mean is, Oh Lord, I’m in a mess, get me out, but leave my pride, my envy, and avarice. It boils down to: save me from the consequences. As Augustine prayed, “O Lord make me chaste, but not yet.” Do it eventually, but clean up the mess now. We have this feeling, but it is not the realization that I am undone.

Our final point: see Romans 6:1. Many people have puzzled over this passage because they did not understand the distinction between sin as an act and sin as a condition. It’s very important to realize that when one has gone through this state of being undone, with a full awareness, they can see that what is being talked about here is a condition: Woe is me, for I am unclean, and without that sense the passage makes little sense. Paul constantly had trouble with the people to whom he spoke because they kept trying to interpret what he said about law and sin in terms of actions. We would preach grace (You see grace is a condition too, and also faith) and they would say, “Ah! You mean we can do anything we want to!” Paul’s answer is that you can and will do anything you want to, but the point is that when you are in one condition, you want to do one thing, and when you are in the other condition you want to do something else. When one has had his belly full of the condition of being eaten up with envy and pride and lechery and avarice and sloth, he is not going to come along and want more of it. So Paul says in Romans 6:1:

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?”

Note he does not say in sins.

“God forbid!” (Verse 2)

Now see the question that follows. Paul doesn’t say don’t do it, rather he says:

“How shall we . . .?”

How shall we that are so sick of sin and understand that we are undone in our condition . . .? How can we turn back to sin? I’m sure that those of you, who know what it is to be in that condition and to get beyond it, are not severely tempted to return to it. You may be tempted to commit some act, but the condition is not attractive. It is not speaking here of committing an act. It is talking of living in sin, and living by it.

“How can we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

A person who does not know what it means to God and to know that “I am undone,” I’m not fit to live, he does not understand the condition of sin as compared with the consequences of sinning. That person will not understand this passage. It won’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense when sin is thought of as particular acts. That viewpoint is all wrong.

The religious leaders of Paul’s day never had the sense of being undone. They had it all cut and dry. They had it made. But Paul knew what was going on, with that system: it didn’t work. That is why he says in Philippians 3:8:

“What things were gain to me I now count as loss for Jesus Christ. I count them but dung.

Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series