The Psychology of Redemption 4

Dallas Willard Part 4 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.]


I want to make a few remarks before we get into the lesson. The first is in review of the word sin, and the second is in regards to the title of this series of talks.

Now briefly, the problem with our view of sin is that it is thought of as particular acts (sins) rather than the general condition it is. We are going to look at the prophets and how they struggled with the misconception and what the solution to it was. We will see that the witness of the whole Bible is that you cannot (can not) be right, un-wrung, just be doing certain specific things, no matter what they are. Ritual has been used to release people form guilt for specific acts of sin, but that does nothing to correct the condition. What is needed is a condition of the heart that naturally will produce right actions. This is what being a disciple of Christ will do in a person that turns to Him.

My second comment deals with this last statement. I have not been able to find a title for this series of classes because there is not a title readily available from the common language we use in our religious way in the Untied States, and in most other places and other times.

The them of the course, though, may be put: Suppose you were to meet a person who says to you, “I have just been converted, what may I expect as my salvation proceeds.”

What would you answer? The details are not so important as to say to the person, the process they are going to go through will involve changes they never would support. These changes are not present at a conscious level at all, and they are literally going to become a new person. When you are converted you are born again, and as much spiritually you have the same road ahead of you that a child does.

This being born again is to enter into a process of change, the outcome of which you don’t know. The scriptures speak of this in reference to the afterlife, Paul says, quoting from the Old Testament, “ . . . the things which come after are things that have not entered into the heart of man.” But the afterlife is not clearly divided from this life, and for those who go into the afterlife in a condition of falseness, that condition will remain. Those who go into it in a state of grace, you might say that that condition also will remain. Eternal life is not something, which comes with death. Eternal life is something which is open and available to you now.

Now it is because of this, that I have tried to spend these weeks talking about sin, and not in anywise  to be morbid, accusatory, or even to depress us, but so we can understand the condition from which we are being saved.

This morning I want to concentrate on the concepts of the flesh, but I want to build up to it. First, let us define flesh. Flesh is the main repository of sin in its manifold complexity, which we have been studying. The world is part of that word flesh. It manifests the corruption that is sin in the singular. That is it is not just a condition of an individual. It is a condition of families, and of communities, and of nations and of the entire world.

This world is in a condition which is bad. It is bad because it is essentially distorted, wrung, and contrary to God. The badness manifests itself essentially as an alienation from the rightness which is God.

The evil that happens in the world (particular acts) is simply the evidence of this general condition the world is in. This evil is often

confused with human nature itself, is “to err is human, but to forgive Devine.”

But we often take things which are not recognized as bad and set them up as good things; for example, acquisitiveness. It is never simple to say that is bad. The truth is not simple. One of the most damaging things done in churches is to stand up and say it (is) is all so simple. It is like the math teacher standing before an uncomprehending class of algebra and saying, “It’s all so simple.” It is simple to him! It is simple after you’ve been through it! The way of salvation is not simple. It is the work of God. Now, at any given point, our work, or part in that, may be simple. More on that later.

What can we do to open ourselves to the process of growth in grace, and the process of salvation? I am so anxious for us to understand that we are dealing with a kind of condition. The form this condition takes in the New and Old Testaments also is expressed in that little word, flesh.

Building up to what the fullness of the word flesh means are some other words that are important to look for: these are (that old English word) lust, or desire, and sometimes passion. In the verse that I asked you to memorize today, Romans 7:5, it speaks of the motions of sins, actually that is passions, which are the impact of sin on the flesh. We speak about a person’s heart being moved. That is the same sense of motion used in this verse. Passions are something that grabs us as lust or desire.

Now we will look at two passages, James 1:14-25, and also in 1 Timothy 4:15-16. First we will look in James. These verses give us the genealogy of death and corruption, or, if you will, its family tree. See where it comes from; where it starts, James 1:14:

“Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin.”

Saying that desire impregnates the soul, and it begets something. Now of course, it need not do that, but it does often. When it has conceived, there is something which grows in the person, and what is brought to birth is sin. Sin does not start to exist when it is born, any more than a baby starts to exist when it is born. As with a baby, sin has been there for some time. Sin is not some little chance event when it comes (come) to the act stage. It is something which is brought forth from a condition.

“ . . . and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.” (Verse 15)

You see James is using the whole process of human growth from conception to death. By use of this metaphor he is trying to show something.

“ . . . lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished . . . “

In a certain sense there is nothing wrong with lust. We could not live with out desire, passion and lust. People in any society have to have things that stir them up. It isn’t just our society or us of the NFL; you see the same thing in other societies. Any time you have large masses of people frustrated and bored, you have to have some outlet for their passions just to excite them. People desire to feel.

I have heard old people say at times, ”Oh, I would rather be hungry and not have anything to eat than to have food to eat and not be able to be hungry.” Have you ever heard that sort of thing? That is one form in which lust corrupts. It corrupts in the sense that when it is beaten out of a person that person dies.

Lust itself is a good thing. Now that is a hard thing for us to take in, and as a result of that, we find much religion which teaches us to squelch our lust. Don’t feel. Stop feeling. Don’t have any passion. It is the religion, as I have said before, of the great stiff upper lip. The idea of it is that you just don’t feel. Feeling is in itself bad, and we find a person excited over some natural desire such as food, sex, or adventure and we think that there must be something wrong in their hearts. That isn’t automatically so. However, if we see them possessed by that desire we know there is something wrong, but if they don’t have passion or lust, there is equally something wrong.

Our desire for intimacy is in itself good, but many people will gossip just to achieve intimacy, and that is bad. Intimacy is something for which the soul screams. It has to have some of the closeness it needs. The awful loneliness which you see in society and even in the churches, is nothing but the frustrated putting down of that natural God given desire. Lust and desire are not bad in themselves. They are God given. They are just like the law; it is also a good thing in itself. But when the lust and the law are put together in a certain way, it brings forth death. Therefore, in these good things which God has made, the secret of life is in learning how to live with them under God. See, now, James 1:16-18:

“Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begot He us with the word of truth . . . ”

We begin to see the role God has in bringing us out of that condition. He begot us with the word of truth. He did not beget us by making us feel. Here we see that in salvation we are moved beyond the level of feeling. The way, which again, we are begotten into the Kingdom of God, is by the word of truth; that is the apprehension and comprehension of truth.

“That we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

As we read on, now, we are going to see a contrast of flesh and spirit. This passage is important in allowing you to see, on the one hand, lust and how it can bring forth death, and on the other hand the comprehension of the truth, which is to life.

There are only two ways to stand up to a rampaging lust. One is to have an even greater lust; that is an explosive situation, and the other way is by understanding the truth.

I want to call attention to this: God of his own will begot he us. How? By the word of truth. Now verse 19-20:

“Wherefore my beloved brethren . . . “

What does that wherefore refer to? It refers back to the point that God is at work. It is he that is doing the good work.

“ . . . let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath. 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.”

No matter how right the project is, you feel, the righteousness of God cannot (can not) be worked in wrath. You cannot (can not) work God’s work in wrath, and if you are working in wrath, you automatically know you are not doing His work . Verse 21:

“Wherefore . . . “

This verse is beautiful! It tells us what to do. I do hope you will concentrate on this verse.

“ . . . lay aside all filthiness and . . . “

This Old English word is so full of meaning:

“ . . . all superfluity of naughtiness.”

Superfluity of naughtiness—actually that is a person who does not have anything to do. You can see that in the first part of the word there you find the word naught. Naught means nothing. This is talking about a person that is wasting his time. In other words, stop doing these idle mind wasting, time wasting things, and what are you to do instead?

“ . . . and receive with meekness the engrafted (ingrafted) word, which is able to save your souls.”

That is something you do. You do it by putting yourself before the word, and you let the Lord do a little cutting and grafting. Do you know what it is to graft something in? To graft something in, you must first cut something out. Now the bush or plant itself  doesn’t do the work. It doesn’t get up and whack off its branch or its top. It receives. This is such a beautiful passage ripe and strong with good teaching.

“Receive with meekness . . . “

Many of us never get passed that. We are not going to receive and that is basically because we are still of the opinion that we should run our lives. We know what is best, and how to go our way. If God won’t cooperate, well . . .

There is a song called “Alone Again,” and a line in it says: If God exists why didn’t He come and help me when I needed Him. That is a natural feeling, but the idea of God coming and helping me, must be very carefully handled. It may be seen as God coming to help me with my little projects, which I haven’t submitted to God in the first place, but God isn’t our helper in that sense. He is our helper, but not in that sense. It is precisely that kind of person (one who holds that attitude) who cannot receive with meekness, the engrafted word of God.

If you watch, you can see that many people, in the desperation of their souls will come to the church to get Him to help them with their projects. That’s a no go. Now there are cases where God will take that person in his hands, but the result is not what the person originally intended.

We come with meekness to receive the engrafted (ingrafted) word. That is the Spirit; that is the Truth of which He spoke earlier. It is that which is able to “save our souls.” That is how we are to be saved: by the engrafting (ingrafting) of the Word.

In 1 Timothy 4; 15, 16, Paul says:

“Meditate upon these things, give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear unto all.”

He is talking to a young minister. He is saying to him; you be someone in whom it is obvious that you are profiting. Let it be a clear thing that God is profiting you in the Word.

  1. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine, (teaching) continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear you.”

In John 17:14-17, Jesus is talking of his followers:

“I have given them Thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I pray not that thou should take them out of the world, but that thou should keep them from the evil (that is in the world)
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy word: thy word is truth.”

Note in that last sentence, the word “word” means LOGOS in the Greek. Also, note the “Thy” in front of the word. We are sanctified by God’s word as we receive it into ourselves.  Verse 18 & 19:

“As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” (repeated here for emphasis)

People come to church. They are genuinely interested. Maybe God has touched them, and really made a difference in their lives, still they spend so much time wondering around out in the wilderness because they will not come to the simple point that we are saved by the word.  How does faith come? That is the next stage: by the word of God.

John 6:61, this is the chapter in which Jesus is talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Note: Jesus, in order to get people’s attention, would twist the most tender thing on them spiritually. The most offensive thing you could say to a Jew was, “have some of my blood,” but it worked well to get their attention. Even today this is misinterpreted. There is a sect in the Midwest that teaches, that in the act of baptism the water becomes the literal blood of Jesus.

Watch this next verse, and remember that I said the word and the truth is spirit, verse 61:

“When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, (His saying) He said to them, does this offend you?”

Now he was not saying to them, “don’t you like blood?” That is not what he was saying. What he is saying is something like: don’t you understand what I am saying, or are you still so dense in your understanding that you don’t get my point. Verse 62:

“What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?”

That is really going to blunt your understanding isn’t it. They don’t have any idea that Jesus was going to do what he did. We often say the people who crucified Jesus didn’t understand Him, but the truth is that the people who didn’t want him crucified didn’t understand him either. They just loved him, that’s all and that is a lot. Verse 63:

“It is the spirit which quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak to you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

All right, do you begin to see the connection between the teaching of the word, and the way of salvation? The engrafting of the word, the reformation of the mind; the connection between that, and the condition we are in. The point is simply that as we come into the Kingdom of God, through an initial hearing and response to the word, we enter a process of growth in which the condition prevailing in our soul and around us is (in) gradually transformed by the influence of the Truth. The Truth enters, and it changes the condition. The truth is spirit, and the spirit wars with the flesh.

In II Peter 1:2-5, you see something of this process. I want to read this to you. This is one of the best portrayals of what is going on in the process of redemption that I know of, verse 2:

“Grace and peace be multiplies unto you (through what?)—through knowledge (of whom?) of God, and of Jesus our Lord?”

You want grace and peace multiplied in you? They are good aren’t they? Well then know God and Jesus. What is eternal life? It is the knowledge of God as in John 17:3, where Jesus prays that the disciples might know God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Verse 3:

“According as His divine power . . . (Watch this progression) . . . hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness. (Through what?)—through knowledge of His that hath called us to glory and virtue.”

He calls us to glory and virtue, not through ritual, not through immense strenuous effort, but through knowledge of Him. Where is the simplicity in that? It is the simplicity of riding a bicycle: once you know how to ride it, you know how to ride it.

Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. What did people have to do to be saved? They had to look at him. Isaiah says, speaking for God, “Look unto me all ye ends of the earth, for I am God.” Look and live. Look at Jesus now and live. It is that considering, that looking, that is a kind of knowing, and it is very important. When we take ourselves out of that posture of looking, this is when we become wrung. The truth has moved out of our members (memebers). Verse 4:

“Where by is given unto as exceeding great and precious promises: that by these things ye might be partakers of the divine (devine) nature . . . (The next clause is very good and sums up much of what comes in the way of grace.) . . . having escaped the corruption that is in the world through the lust.”

Now watch how it grows. Verse 5-7:

“And besides this, giving all diligence, add to you faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge” verse 6: “And to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness and to godliness, brother kindness . . . “

Isn’t it a sight when we get confused and think we can go right out and exercise brotherly kindness. Note where it shows up in this list. Brotherly kindness is not something you just go out and do one day. Brotherly kindness is not just wanting to b e friendly or helpful. It is also having the ability to do those things.

“ . . . and to brother kindness: divine love.” (Verse 7)

Notice how he culminates in the two great commandments. He is coming up the stairs backwards. The two great commandments being: “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, mind, soul and strength and the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. Now watch this next verse, verse 8:

“For if these things be in you and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But he that lacketh these things is blind and cannot see afar off, and he hath forgotten that he is purged from his old sins:

Wherefore the rather brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for it you do these things ye shall never fail.”

Let’s talk about desire, and about the flesh again. Desire always localizes itself in the body. Sometimes the location is more or less specific. If you are overweight, and trying to deal with the problem, you feel that desire in your body: in your tongue, in your stomach, perhaps after a while it pervades your whole body. You just want to eat. You feel it.

The Bible talks about the lust of the eye. The eye desires to see things. At a fire over on the hill there are so many people there looking that the firemen couldn’t’ get in. It is almost as if there was a hook in that eye drawing the people to the fire.

The most pervasive sense of desire localizing in the body is the use of the word bowels in the New Testament and also the word heart. Note, it does not refer to the physical organ. (At that time they didn’t know what did what, as organs went.) But when you feel most deeply, where do you feel it? You feel it in your stomach and that area. “Bowels of compassion,” is the expression used.

In my experience, the feeling starts in the stomach and spreads up over the shoulders, down the backs of the arms and back, and then down the legs to the feet. This feeling can take over until those parts of the body lead us around. This is what Paul meant in Philippians 3:19:

“Those whose God is their belly, whose glory is their shame.”

What is he saying? He is saying that their God is that localized pool of feeling, and that that governs them. That is what they are most concerned about: how they feel.

Why do people say, “How are you feeling today?” Where does that come from? It comes from the fundamental importance of feeling. But we want to develop the idea that although feeling is important, it is not all important: and how we are feeling is not to govern us. The person who is governed by their feeling is the person who’s (whose) God is their belly, not eating. He is talking about the person who is at the mercy of, and who worships this feeling zone. It is the person whose driving force is to manipulate that some till it feels just right. Why do people get addicted to things? It is because of their feelings. Kids that are having trouble with drugs, when they are talked to, indicated at base, it is fear of their feelings that cause them to use drugs.

However, being driven by feelings may not cause you to use drugs. It may cause you to do other things, such as involve yourself in those addictive human relationships, like work (people sometimes use work to control their feeling zone), it could be a fight, it could be sex, it could be any one of a number of different things. There is only one safe way, and that is losing oneself to God. In worshipping God, hymns, scripture, praise, and service to others all under the direction of the Word, the Holy Spirit.

The best way, again, to describe the process of redemption, is that we gradually are taken over by the Word. You see, not only is the flesh susceptible to desire, it is also susceptible to the Word.

Psalm 63:1 “O God, thou are my God: early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee . . . “

Psalm 84:2 “ . . . my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.”

When that stage is reached the flesh is subordinated to the Word. Until that stage is reached we have to say that the flesh has many problems Before the flesh is moved in upon and possessed by the Spirit of God, this very striking passage in Romans 8:3-9 is true.

“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, (the law was given to the flesh) God sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin condemned sin in the flesh.

That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (What spirit? Truth!)

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the Spirit, (the things of the Spirit. (What is the difference? The difference is where the mind is)

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Because a carnal mind is enmity against God: For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be . . . (The irony is that is precisely what the law is supposed to do.)

So that they are in the flesh can not please God.”

We must say that being in the flesh is not the same as being alive. You don’t get out of the flesh by dying. He is not talking about dying to get out of the flesh. Notice the next verse. Verse 9:

“You are not in the flesh . . . (He is talking to people who are alive) . . . but of the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in

you . . . “

Romans 7:5:

“For when we were in the flesh . . . “

Who is the person who is in the flesh?  He is the person whose mind is set upon things of the flesh. We can use the notion of flesh being, simply, the normal human powers outside of the governance of God. His mind is set on those things that can be brought about by normal human powers i.e. Abraham begat Ishmael on Hagar in the power of the Flesh.

“ . . . the motions of sins . . . (notice the plural, and tie that in with.) . . . which were by the law . . . “

The law does not deal with sin. It seals with sins, plural. That is the basic thing that is wrong with it. How he is describing our condition: the impact of sin, the motions, while we were in the flesh, which were by the law,

“ . . . and did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.”

The law killed us. When we realize that, we are on our way.



Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series