The Psychology of Redemption 5

Dallas Willard Part 5 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.]


Next week we are getting on to silence and words—silence and words in relationship to grace. There is a connection, which I will try to bring out. Silence, the ability for silence is a principle discipline as well as one of the principle manifestations of the Spirit.

We were studying the relationship between flesh and law; and in the 7th chapter of Romans, we were reading these very important words. It is curious that the 7th chapter of Romans is put along with revelations and others as one of those chapters that nobody understands. The 7th chapter of Romans is regarded as a great mystery. The reason for that is because we simply don’t have clear teaching on law, flesh and grace. What that means is that we don’t know what salvation amount to, and how it works. This is why we constantly see in our churches a return to law or what we shall see in the book of Galatians, presently as the fall from grace. But in Romans 7, you have an analogy between marriage and salvation. Romans 7:2 says:

“For the woman which hath an husband in bound by law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband is dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.”

Now this is another attempt to say what was said in the 6th chapter 2nd verse.

“God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

Each verse is trying to make that same point. Both are trying to use death to indicate a great transition. In the first case the idea is that you are dead. The second one is that you are married to something which is now dead. What you were married to in the second case was the law. The law as a way of life enters into your personality very deeply, and forms you in your culture whatever that may be, in a certain way. You are formed by the law, but the law also kills you. We are going to talk about that some.

Now then when we come to the point of grace, you make a great transition. You are no longer married to the law. You are no longer alive to sin. In this particular connection those two mean the same thing. How could we put sin and the law together like that? That’s exactly where they go. The effectiveness of sin is through the law, and the effect of law, strangely enough, is sin. See it in Romans 7:5

“For when we were in the flesh . . .”

That is when we were living according to natural human abilities as they are primarily manifested in the physical body as that body is turned and shaped by the culture from the mothers womb and turns it into a full blown personality.

“ . . . the motions of sins which were by the law . . . “

It is the law which gives the sin in your members its power. The motions of sin by the law . . . It is the law which puts sin into motion. It doesn’t create sin. (Note sin in the singular) But when there are sins (plural) it is the law which gives them the steam.  Look at 1 Cor. 15:55, 56.

“O death, where is thy sting?”

What makes death sting? Sin!  What gives sin its strength? Law.

Back to Romans 7:6.  We are delivered from the law as a way of life, as that which defines us. We are delivered from law, and are married to something else:

“That being dead wherein we were held:”

See that, the metaphor of marriage. Married to the law: it was per husband and now it is dead.

“That we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

Let’s move down the chapter and see how Paul tries to make clear that the law is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Romans 7:10:

“The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”

Now the law is good, but there is something radically wrong with it. There is not contradiction in that. The law is a good thing.

There is something radically wrong with it, and we shall see what that is.

The commandment was unto life I found it to be unto death. What was wrong with it? Short answer: It was not suited to my condition. It does not bring life. The problem was I was dead. Now if (it) I had been alive and had all the ability to do these things and the law would tell me what to do, then it would be fine, but my condition it was like giving laws to a dead man. My condition was such as to not profit form this good thing.

Romans 7:11, “Sin (secular, this basic condition of mine) took occasion by the commandment . . . “

It took something good—it took it and drove it straight into my heart; it deceived me and led me into thinking something which was false, and I wound up with my throat cut. How did it work? Verse 13 shows how it works:

“Sin, (singular) that is might appear sin, worked death in me by that which is good . . . “

See the mark of sin is that it takes good things and kills people with them. By doing that it shows just what it is. It takes the beauty of youth, it takes intelligence, it takes all sorts of good things, and turns them into something terrible. It happens all the time.

“ . . . That sin, by the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.” (that is, sin really does its thing.)

  1. “For we know that the law is spiritual and I am carnal, sold under sin.” (singular).

I am sold into a kind of slavery because I am in that bondage., the law, it is not able, it is not sufficiently powerful to overcome that bondage. Rather, the bondage is so powerful that it takes the law and makes the bondage worse; the command, which was intended to bring life brings death.

We can continue this discussion in Galatians the fourth chapter. It is discussing a war are between those who are of the flesh and those who are of the spirit. This is an (a) analogy, a parable of history, supposedly, and used here illustratively. The parable has to do with these two main sons of Abraham. Gal. 4:21:

“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22. For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bonds maid, and the other by a free woman. 23. But he who as of the bondswoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman as born by promise.”

Now promise . . . we have a set of words like promise grace and spirit. They all go together. They all have one thing in common: they are waiting for something beyond human power. What is the promise? It is the promise of God. They are waiting on the promise God to graciously act beyond human desert. God is a spirit. These words go together in trying to understand this stuff. They give us a good characterization of just what the flesh is.

The flesh here is simply the natural human energies which Abraham and his bondswoman, Hagar, had. They didn’t need to pray about this. They needed to only carry through the eminently human action of sexual intercourse, and they had a child. There was no waiting on God for this. And what was the effect of this: see verse 29.

“But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.”

That is those that are basically oriented as to justification by doing the external deeds of the law oppose those who are not going to be justified that way. In this particular case it is clear what Paul was referring to was the Judaizers, those people who held that you should wash and eat and touch only in the certain ways as described in the law. These persons were very heard set against this thing which comes with the promise—freedom!

Remember last time how we associated the words spirit with truth and we said if the truth shall make you free, you shall be free indeed. All these words: freedom, truth, spirit, grace, and promise go together.  What is freedom? If I am free I am not manipulated. If I am manipulated I am not free. Now here we come to the truth about the law. It is an instrument where by people manipulate one another. It is an instrument whereby I put you down and tear you up and put you in your place. That is the deepest truth about the law, and that is why the flesh is able to take explicit commandments and use them to imprison other people. This just upset Paul’s former colleagues so desperately because he went around preaching that people did not have to do those kinds of things (externally) which showed they were the right kind of people. It is so important to be the right kind of people. In fact many people will sell their souls to be the right kind of people. This does not just have to do with religion. It has to do with the kind of car that they drive, the kinds of professions they force their children into. Being the right kind of person . . . little boxes, little boxes, all made out of sticky tacky, all just the same in looks. But since they look the same aren’t we safe with them? They are the right kind of people. What does the right kind of people mean? It means my kind of people: people like me. We can’t have any of these naked howling pigmies in the Kingdom of God down here. They don’t look like me.

The Law is captured by the flesh and turned against the purposes of God because it (if) is always used for purposes of manipulation. Now let me tell you the worse thing about it. It is not that the law attacks the poor individual and has him beaten down collapsed under the strain. It isn’t that at all. It is that the individual conspires with it. The person agrees to the terms. He is engaged in the manipulative game himself: imprisons himself. This is because he is concerned to get others to say, yes, he is the right sort of person. So he stuffs it all down, and controls himself to fit the image. If they say wash hands before eating, he washes his hands and if they say do it seven times, he does it seven times, and if they say do it seventy times seven, he does it seventy times seven. Thus the commandment of God is turned into the ordinance of men.

This is what Jesus saw. He saw people being ground to death under the ordinances of men. He said, “You lawyers, you will tie impossible burdens on the backs of people who can’t bear them and you yourself won’t move a finger to help them.” The law is captured by human culture, so Paul comes along and says in Gal. 4:31:

“So then brethren (brethren), we are not children of the bondswoman, but of the free. 5:1. Standfast therefore in the liberty where with Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage.”

What is this yoke of bondage? It is law, and the sin which has captured it.

5:2, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised Christ shall profit you nothing.”

Now that clearly says that anyone who is circumcised can’t go to heaven? Right? Tough Luck. NO!! It is saying that circumcision (which indicated the accepting of the way of law) will not save you. If you accept the way of the law; the way of externals; if you rely on that, you are under the bondage of the law, and Christ will profit you nothing. In that condition there is nothing He can do for you. He doesn’t work that way.

5:3. “For I testify again to every man that in circumcised that he is debtor to do the whole law.”

Why? Because the choice here is not between one little law and another. It is between a way of life which says: we will run by what we do externally by particular actions, manipulating and being manipulated (this commerce of human relations where we pay one another off, all according to a pre-established set of standards) or it is coming to the point where we do not and are not manipulated by one another. We are able to love and have hearts of compassion without doing the accepted things if they are in fact not necessary and not good, and still love.

  1. “Christ has become of no affect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.”

Now fallen from grace, that phrase, you will often hear people say that of another person when that person has whipped off a cuss word or something of that order. They think even, that that is what the Bible says. The Bible doesn’t say that! To fall from grace in Paul’s meaning here, is to try to be justified by the law: by respectability, by being the right kind of people. That’s falling from grace.

Gal. 5:5

  1. “For we, through the spirit, hope of the righteousness by faith.”

We have a hope of righteousness being removed from the position of sin, and this comes by promise. That is the point of the word hope, and the word hope refers back to the word promise in the 23rd verse of the fourth chapter of Galatians:

“ . . . but he of the freewoman was by promise.”

A promise is a basis for hope isn’t it? You give a promise and then there is hope. Hope is what saves us; hope as distinguished from doing all the right things.

Does this mean that we encourage people to go out and do all the wrong things? Not at all. Paul was not doing that at all. He wanted people to do the right things, but one of the right things to do, or to know, is that you are never going to be made right, to have our heart transformed and life renewed by doing right things. The hope of salvation is that God will invade ones’ life, and oneself as we simply sit and attend to the truth.

The story of Mary and Martha illustrates this somewhat. I am sure there was a bad name given to Martha because she was so busy. She was a good woman, but the important part of the story is Jesus’ statement to Martha, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things . . . “ That alone should convince us that she was the right kind of person. She was concerned; she was busy, and Jesus said, “But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good thing.” What was that good thing? It was simply settling herself before the Word! Do we hope to be changed? We hope men to be changed by God; we hope to be transformed by God. The way of human ritual always fails because it is, primarily a route of manipulation. The failure has been realized certainly in the Old Testament. Look at the passages I gave you last week to show what that failure was. The failure takes place because all of the rituals, ordinances, and commandments are captured by the power of the flesh. The flesh is able to grab those things and turn them for its own purposes. Consequently you have these people fasting, and coming to the Lord in Isaiah, and saying what do you want us to do? But they didn’t want to know what he had in mind. They were thinking of more laws, more rituals, and more fancy fandangos they could go through in order to impress Him even though He is saying all the while that what they are doing made Him sick. In Micah 6:8 is that beautiful passage, and one of the highest points of the whole Bible. What does the Lord want of you?

“The Lord wants you to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

A thousand barrels of oil? A thousand rams? The firstborn of

my flesh? No, NO, NO! If you do that you go out thoroughly impressed with your own self.

When you come to God under the law you want to know what God wants you to do so that you can count on Him to do what you want Him to do. There is something in that that is right, but only in so far that it allows for the fact that God’s intentions with us are far beyond anything we can think of. We cannot reform ourselves under our own will simply because our will is an expression of the self. What we will is determined by what we are. Consequently we can never take our will in our hand and change what we are radically. Try lifting yourself up by your bootstraps. It is the same thing. Spelt out, the downward pressure you put out in lifting is on the thing you are trying to lift. There is a bind there, and likewise when we try to reform ourselves by a plan of law under the action of our will we are brought to the point of putting pressure on the very thing we are trying to change. Paul has a name for this in Colossians 2:20.

“Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances?”

That by the way, is a good verse for defining the meaning of the term world. Living in the world . . . You see, he is not referring to the physical world. They are living in the world in that sense. Rather what Paul is saying is people who are living in the world live in the power of organized flesh. As I said before, the world is just organized flesh, organized human ability, primarily for the purpose of seeing who can manipulate whom for whose greatest advantage. Those living in the world in the above sense are subject to ordinances. What does it come to but . . .

  1. “(touch not, taste not, handle not. Which all are to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men.”

Mark this next verse!

  1. “Which things have a show of wisdom in will worship.”

What is will worship? We find a man who can fast 40 days and 40 nights, and some how they all (except for a very few) let the fact be known. In fact I have known some ministers that have put this out in their radio and newspapers. What is the effect of this? People say, Wow! What a show of wisdom in will. What a will he has got: He’s tremendous. Bologna!! All that is, is will worship.

When you read chapter 6 of Matthew for this coming week I hope you notice Jesus’ advice for fasting. You will see that this verse gets right at the heart of it. Those that excel in the way of the law impress others because of will worship. We think a man who can sit on a flagpole for 40 days is something to put in the newspapers. Mere endurance is considered a great big thing in the way of the world. Just endurance is will worship. What does it all come down to? Glorification of human ability: of flesh, that’s what will worship is—and as Paul admits, not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.

Now flesh here means meat, body, right? That’s flesh. It does not make it happy to torture it, sit on a flagpole or run a 20 miles race. Flesh screams out against that sort of thing. But we think; oh, what a tremendous person that can do that sort of thing, That is will worship, and so much of our religious excesses are nothing but will worship.

The law prescribes these kinds of thing. It prescribes amazing kinds of things for people to do. If you can but do them, people will think you are amazing and that will b your reward. That’s what Jesus said. You will be thought to be amazing. Now that is why the route of ritual and law always fails. It always leaves the individual and the society in a bad condition. And a good condition may be maintained for a while, but not long. At the cracks and crevices of life the true state of affairs will show up. In the large scale these cracks and crevices show up as the seamy side of social institutions, wars, all kinds of bad things that can happen, bad social conditions. I love Isaiah’s description of the conditions (though I don’t love the condition) see the 59th chapter of Isaiah at the 14th verse.

“Judgment is turned away backwards, and justice stands afar off: for truth is fallen in the streets and equity cannot enter. 15. Yea, truth fails and the person who departs from doing wrong makes himself a prey . . . “

That is he is a sucker. He’s going to get it in the neck as soon as he stops doing wrong.

“ . . . and the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment.”

Jesus words so often puzzle us. In Matthew 12:36, 37, I want to show you another way I which the true state of things breaks through in the best of law like lives, and the condition of the heart is revealed. Matthew 12:36,37:

“I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, for them they shall give account in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”

I used to think that the problem here was with the idleness of the words. God didn’t like idle words. Idleness is the devil’s workshop, and all that sort of thing. God doesn’t want people to be idle; you are supposed to be working. Are idle words bad just because they are idle? No, that is not true, especially if you put it I the context of the rest of the passage.

12:34. “O generation of vipers. How can you being evil speak good things? For out of the abundance of he heart, the mouth speaks.”

You see what happen is that your idle words betray you. My idle words betray me. The condition of my heart is revealed in those situations in which I am not on guard. It is the idle words which show the heart. The words spoken carefully calculated and trained to show what you want shown of your heart, but the idle word lets the bird out of the cage. The point about the words being idle is that at this point when and where your life does not coincide with the regulation of the law. It indeed, cannot coincide perfectly. You are so much more than anything that can be described by a set of laws or rules.

You calculate very carefully how to create the right impression and then all of a sudden your attention wanders and the bird is out. Now you are known; everyone in the room knows. The idle word judges us not because it is idle, but because it reveals the heart.

Let us look at another example, Hebrews 13:1. This is one of the most beautiful passages, and profound that I know of in the whole Bible. Again the stress is on the unconscious moment.

“Don’t be forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

How many angels have we missed? Not because we didn’t have a law which said “be on the look out for angels” but because our hearts did not extend beyond the boundaries of those explicit regulations and meet every person with generosity.

There is a story by Tolstoy called, “Where love is God is.” You, perhaps, have read it. It is a story about a shoemaker who after a very touching and hard life, losing his wife and child, becomes devoted to reading the New Testament. One evening as he is reading it he receives a message, which says: God, Jesus, will visit you tomorrow. And so all through the day he is looking for Him.  During the day however, as he is waiting he meets various people and he gives them things like a little warmth, a word of encouragement, a glass of tea. And as the sun sets he becomes embittered about it all. Then he gets another message that the Son of Man had indeed been there. He had come in the form of an old woman who needed help, and an old solider that needed warmth. Then the man remembered the words of scripture, “ In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these you have done it unto me.”

Love is not something we can capture in some rules of law. We have to remember that love is not subject to us. Love is God and God is love. Consequently we cannot make love serve our purposes. We can channel it and turn it on at the right times. If it is in our hearts it is in our hearts, and both our idle words and our actions will reveal it. If it is not in our hearts it is not in our hearts, and our idle words will betray that. Jesus said, “How can an evil tree bring forth good fruit?” He said those who follow the ordinances of men. You are like graves.  You are all polished and white on the outside, but inside is all this rot, and filth, and decay. You clean up the outside of the pot, but the inside is filthy. You see, that’s law. There is always the inside with the law, and the idle words and the chance encounters show what our heart is. That is why law always fails, and ritual always fails, and sacrifice always fails. It always fails because it is man’s work and not God’s. Man must work out of what he is, so he can never transcend it anymore than he can lift himself by his own bootstraps. Salvation is therefore of the Lord.

Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series