The Psychology of Redemption 6

Dallas Willard Part 6 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 review now some of the things that I was saying about the spirit. Let us look at John 6:63. I want to try to fix in our minds as clearly as possible what the spirit is. I’m afraid that often, we, as church people, and as followers of Christ, think of the spirit very much in a ghostly fashion. As if it were some sort of spooky thing. We have to purify our minds of a lot of imagery in order just to appreciate what is being said when the spirit is spoken of.

Let me remind you first of all, what Jesus said to the woman at the well. John 4:24:

“God is a spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Now what is spirit? I want to lead this discussion over to the matter of the disciplines which formed community, and I need to review one or two concepts to do that. In John 6:63:

“It is the spirit that quickeneth . . . “

Prior to this, Jesus has told the disciples that they must eat him, and they must drink him. This offended them., because they understood it to mean that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, which is indeed exactly what he said. But now He says it is the spirit that quickeneth. What does “quickeneth” mean? It means, gives life. It does not mean that it makes you a little faster. It means, gives you life. “You who were,” as Paul said, “dead in trespasses and in sins, you hath he quickened. What quickens? The spirit does. Flesh profiteth nothing. Even if you eat it in this context, it won’t do you any good. Even if you had the literal body of Jesus Christ here and you ate the flesh, it would not do you any good, or if you had the literal blood of Jesus Christ and drank it, it wouldn’t do you any good. That is what Jesus is saying. Flesh does profit nothing. Now he continues:

“ . . . the words I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

The words are spirit. We need to understand that. We must make this concept clear in our minds because words, as are spoken here, are not just sounds that come out of people’s mouths. There is something much stronger and much more profound in the concept of a word. Jesus spoke the word of the Kingdom of God. The word of the Kingdom of God grew and flourished in the land, the New Testament tells us. We preach the word. We proclaim the word. The word gives life. In Isaiah 55: 8&9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Watch that because he is telling us something that is going to follow. He is telling us, among other things, I have a way of working which is not the human way of working. If we want to straighten someone out, what do we do? We go and lay some heavy words on them. We jab them with our words. We push them with our words, we pull them, we manipulate them, if we can. That’s not God’s way. How is God’s way? God’s way is like the rain.

“As the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not hither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud . . . “ (Verse 10)

God’s way is like the rain. It comes forth and brings things out of their own power. The presence of God’s word is freedom. It doesn’t force! It brings forth what is there as does nature in seeds: one becomes a watermelon and the other a tomato. Verse 10 & 11:

“ . . . that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. So shall my word be.”

This is the way that God’s word works.

That goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

That is a heavily qualified verse here. Notice that this is a word that cannot be captured by Dallas Willard. It doesn’t say that when a word goes forth out of Dallas Willard’s mouth it will not be void, but shall accomplish what God pleases. God shall prosper in the thing whereto Dallas Willard sends it. It doesn’t say that, and yet many people will take this verse and try to apply it directly to their jammering. Maybe they do that because they are spouting scripture verses. Though a scripture verse is a good thing, it can also be used to kill people. What is spoken here as the word, is something on a more profound level than of human working. It is so vital and important to realize that you can have all this jammering going on and no word of God.

Turn with me to Amos 8. This is a statement of a man who saw the distinction we have just been talking about. He lived in a time in which there was no talking the word of God, but only certain perversions of it, and he says in Amos 8:11&12:

“Behold the days comes, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor thirst of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:

And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord . . . “

There is a deep hunger in the heart of man to hear God speak, to hear his word, and without it we die. As an illustration, in the Ozarks we had cows that would get mineral hungry. The cow that got mineral hungry would eat rusty nails, old dry cell batteries, pieces of plastic, etc. until she ground up her insides and died. She didn’t know what she was hungry for, and she couldn’t go to the farmer and say, “Hey, how about some minerals here in my salt.” She just had to have something. This is one of the basic features that we have spoken of earlier as the condition of sin; that is a blind drive-ness. I’ve got to have something. That is why, when a person in that condition is spoken to by God, peace comes into the heart. Verse 12&13:

“ . . . They shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord and shall not find it.
In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst . . . “

A famine of our hearing the word of the Lord.

Now, all of that to get you to Romans 8:3 where we were talking about what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh. I want to go on from that now to the positive side and look at what the Spirit could accomplish that the Law could not.

“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin,”

Notice the singular sin.

“condemned sin in the flesh”

Sin in the singular is, again, the condition of sin.

By his example, Jesus showed that sin in the flesh was not a necessity, and that it was not good. He came right into the same arena, where the law had failed because of the weakness of the flesh, took on the flesh, that same flesh, and showed that it could be done. It would have been no great thing if Jesus had stayed in heaven or if He had been some sort appearance as some people have thought he was in later years. He was flesh, and that is how he condemned sin in the flesh. He showed that it was not necessary, and he showed that it wasn’t good. He showed it up to be just what it was, and that’s how he condemned it. He didn’t come and stand around saying, “Sin is condemned, sin is condemned, sin is condemned!” That’s not what he did. He came and showed what life under God could be in the flesh. So that everyone who looked at sin after that would say, “That’s bad, that’s not the way it ought to be, there ought to be another way of going.” There is another way of going, and he shows what it is. He gave us a different way of life, and He gave His life to help us.

So sin was condemned in the flesh, but notice that in order for that to happen there had to be a new principle. That is the significance of the Sonship of Jesus to God. Jesus’ Sonship means that he is uniquely a new thing. He isn’t just human in the sense of having only that which the ordinary human being raised in the condition of sin would have. He was different; he had something new in him. What was it? It was the truth. He had the truth. He had it in his heart; not just in his head,, or in a book he carried in his hip pocket. He had it in his heart. He had the Law where the Prophets had promised it would come. Notice Romans 8:4:

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.”

The righteousness of the law is not bypassed. It is fulfilled. It is brought to completeness.

“Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

The word “after” is bad in this translation, because it gives the idea that the flesh is out there and people are following it, or that the Spirit is out there and people follow it, or even the Spirit is kind of an ideal out there that we are striving for. That’s not what it is talking about. I believe the word in the Greek is the word “Kata” which means according to or in conformity with. It is hard to express just what it does mean, but it does not mean that it is something out ahead which is leaving us to follow along. Rather it is something that is in us. It is like saying that an automobile engine works after the principle of internal combustion. Do you get the idea? It is something which is in a person that makes the difference. Again.

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.”

You see the prophets fully realized how inadequate the law was as something in our minds, in our churches, or wherever it may be.

Lets look at Ezekiel 11:19. I will gather the people said the Lord:

“And I will give them one heart . . . and I will put a new spirit within you.”

There again is that word spirit.

“and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh.”

Or, and I will give them a soft heart, a tender heart.

20 “That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do then; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

New heart, a heart that has the law in it as a natural function. That’s absolutely necessary, because until there comes that new heart, that new thing in us, we only have the option of minding the flesh. Now, back at Romans 8:5 we see:

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh.”

That is, it is the only thing they can think of. There isn’t anything else they can think of. To them things were according to the natural powers, plans, organizing’s, pushes, pulls, and purposes and all the sort of thing. If you go into many churches, what do you find? You find people who when they think of how the church should run, they think in terms of what can we organize and revitalize and generate, regenerate. In short what we can get going just out of the natural strength of human efforts. They mind the things of the flesh. That’s where their mind is. Now Romans 8:5:

“They that are after the spirit mind the things of the spirit.”

Those who are after the spirit have something else to think about. They have another place to look to expect something from. That’s where this business of Promise and Grace comes in. This refers back to the other lesson where I discussed how Grace and Promise are something we must expect to come outside human power; specifically from God.

Grace and Promise are uniquely in these respects matters of the spirit, Grace and Promise. Abraham waited. He got a little out of line, or his wife did; I guess both of them did to some extent, and stopped waiting. That didn’t work out so well, so he went back to waiting, and that worked out very nicely. It would have worked anyway if he had just stuck with it. You see he was struggling with the mind of the flesh. Now don’t be misled at all by the fact that this had to do with sexual relations and procreation, and all of that. That’s not the important thing about the flesh. The important thing about the flesh is that it

is organized natural human energy.

Abraham’s mind, though it was divided at times, was basically a mind of the spirit. And he minded . . . What does that mean, to mind? Have you ever said to your kids, “Will you mind me?” What is mean is, pay attention, head, or let what I say guide you, and that’s what it means here.

“They that are of the spirit mind the things of the spirit.”

They have that in their minds. That’s what they think about. Remember that fellow in the first Psalm. It says blessed is the man who does not – does not – does not. Now what about this man? Psalm 1:2:

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night,”

He is minding the truth; He is minding the Spirit, and the result Psalm 1:3

“he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water.”

His roots go down deep, and tap the water sources which, if you were to look at superficially you would say, “How can that thing be out there in this dryness and all this heat?” Down in the Grand Canyon there is a bush that has a root 60 feet long. It needs roots like that. When I was there I wished I had a root or something to quench my thirst>

“That bringeth forth his fruit in his season.”

It doesn’t matter what happens. It just goes right about its business.

“His leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

Now watch in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit: for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

He that is spiritual is able to understand all things. That is to say, he can see spiritual things as well as the fleshly things. This is because he has been in the flesh and now look to the spirit.

15 “But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged by no man.”

That is the people of the flesh don’t understand him. They don’t understand what makes him bring forth fruit in his season, or what makes his leaves not wither. Well the answer is: He minds the spirit.

Now because of that, there is a great contrast. Romans 8:6:

“For to be carnally minded in death”

It leads to corruption. It leads to dispersal.

“But to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”

You see, the person who is in that kind of setting is ready to receive the kind of community which God has for them. That is why the church is mainly built around, made fruitful by, and made stable by this kind of person. It is the person who has sources. People say, “Where does that person get that?” Well, he gets it from God. He has a relationship to God, and when everyone else doesn’t know what to do, this lady, this man, or this child, has a source. They are able to live in a community and be a blessing. They are able to help because they are rooted in God. Now on the other hand, the person who looks to the natural organized energies of the flesh is set against God. He can’t be subject to the law of God. He doesn’t have in him the corresponding abilities which allow him to walk in peace, and joy, and love, in conformity with the Kingdom of God.

Paul says in Romans 14:17

“for the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink”

That is just typical. He is saying it is not all of these externalities. It is not meat and drink; that is the things which fall under human power.

“But it is righteousness peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

So then Romans 8:8

“they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

That is not a way of saying: If you are going around doing these naughty things, you cannot please God. That is true, undoubtedly, but that is not what it is saying. That is saying the person who is penned into only his natural human abilities and does not have the word spoken in his heart to give him the new vision and way, the he can’t please God. It isn’t that they could do something they are not doing which would then make them please God. It is that they don’t have the ability to do the things that would please Him. It is a matter of the condition of the heart. Pleasing God is not something that one goes out and does one day. Pleasing God is a matter of being more than doing.

I would like to continue on here in Romans 8, and enjoy the view of man under the direction of the spirit growing into the philial relations as in Romans 8:15, or how the spirit in Romans 8:26 helps our infirmities, but we must get on to the disciplines of the spiritual life.

I will say further though about Romans 8:26 we all do have these infirmities, don’t we?

“We don’t know what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

That is we are caught up in the sense of something much larger than ourselves which we find inexpressible, but we know that that prayer is going on. We know that something which is bigger than even we could call prayer is going on. It goes beyond prayer and even beyond an action, a state. It is a way of living which is just a continual prayer, unutterable.

Well, we must leave that now. It is good to study, but I want us to turn now to this very point, that I’ve just been mentioning of a disciplined life. Let’s put it this way: If a person is going to come to that stage where being in conformity with God, being in conformity with the spirit is something which is deeper than their conscious actions and their thoughts the disciplines are part of the key. Maybe I ought to stop and stress that that is what I have been talking about all along.  Something deeper than conscious actions or thoughts is needed. As long as our religion is a matter of effort alone we are caught up in what Paul called will worship. We are amazed at such holy people who can stand on their heads and recite the Lord’s Prayer 25 times backwards, or perhaps do things much more meaningful than that. We are amazed that they can hang in there, stick it out or whatever. The point is that if a person’s religion is all effort, if it is all consciousness, if it is all explicit action it is a religion of the law, because that is the realm of the law. The law says explicit things and it commands explicit things. Conformity to the law in that sense is not the fulfilling of the law. The fulfilling of the law comes when the principles of the law naturally guides the heart.

Let’s look at Matthew 6. Now as I have said in this place and others over and over, the number one problem with reading the Sermon on the Mount, is trying to turn it into a set of laws. There is no other way people can interpret the verses except the creative word enters into them and helps them change and see that law is not what is being talked about. That creative word is the responsibility of God and his minsters. It is theirs to speak. However, when I say ministers, I am not talking necessarily about someone who has been ordained and appointed, or someone who has their jacket on backwards. I am talking about a person who when he speaks there is a working of God. The creative word goes forth in his presence. It may be you, it might be a little boy and it might be a little girl, it might be anyone.

God sends preachers, you know. “How can they preach except they be sent?” They can’t! They have to be sent. That’s why when Jesus lifted up his eyes and said that the field was white with the harvest, “get out there and gather in the harvest” . . . NO! That’s not what he said. He said:

“Pray ye, that the Lord of the harvest would send laborers into the harvest.”

So a creative word must be spoken of God, so that when people come to things like the 6th chapter of Matthew they will see that we are not dealing with a set of laws. We are dealing with a form of life that is much deeper than law. He said in Matthew 6:1:

“Take heed that you do not your alms before men to be seen of them.”

Sounds like a law, doesn’t it? Don’t do you alms before men to be seen before them. He recognized that that is what is commonly done.

“Otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites . . .”

This refers to certain procedures which actually were in use then.

“As the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men. Verily I say unto you they have their reward.”

That is what they wanted and that is what they got. They wanted men to say, “Wow, isn’t he great,” or “Did you see what she did?”

“But when thou doest thy alms . . . “

Now, here we see that he is not talking about the law.

“Let not thy left hand know what thy right doeth.”

What in the world does that mean? How could you possibly do that? Of course it is not literally intended, because your left hand doesn’t know anything and neither does your right. It is intended to express a point of simple nonconsciousness. The alms, the doing of good, which is according to the spirit is the kind that happens so naturally that the people who do it have little consciousness of it being done. Of course, they are conscious, but they don’t see it as any kind of big deal. It is normal, no big deal, just something that is done.

“That thine alms may be in secret.”

Even from you yourself. You will not be conscious of any great thing you’ve done.

“ . . . and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. And when you prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are; for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you they have their reward.

But, when you prayest, enter into thy closet . . .”

We have to stop praying in church because it is not a closet. We must not let people see us pray. No, no, He is not giving us a law. He is teaching a principle. He is speaking of prayer as a performance which naturally flows, and which others may not even know is happening.

“and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret will reward thee openly.”

Then He tells us,, in beautiful simplicity, how to pray. But I am not going to go into that. I leave that to you. Matthew 6:16:

“Moreover when you fast, be not as the hypocrite.”

He really gets to it here.

“Of a sad countenance.”

Oh I’m fasting today! Oh my!

“For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.”

Man do I feel bad; don’t I look like I feel bad?

“But when thou fast, comb your hair and wash your face.”

“That you appear not unto men to fast.”

Now in all of these cases he is not giving us a law. He is telling us what it is like to live with the law as an inner principle which informs our actions.

Jesus is against the religion of the big deal. The big deal is always the work of the law. Now there are big deals, but they are to glorify God. The show is His. Fasting, praying, whatever it may be, we just do it. God is the one who takes care of the effect, for good or for bad or whatever. We are to leave it to Him.

When we leave it to God, we are in a condition where we can bless others simply because we don’t get in God’s way. We are as the song says: “a channel.” We are still there, we’re very much alive, we’re flesh and blood, we’re vibrant, and unique, and very impressive and all that sort of thing, but it is God who does the real work through us, and it is His work. However being spiritually minded is active as compared with a channels passiveness. Spiritually minded people are turned towards God. They hear and are guided by the spirit. They have the truth in their hearts, and because of that then they are spiritually minded, and all of the things which we have seen in Romans 8 follows. So, if we want to be as they are, our question is, how can we sow to the spirit?

“Be not deceived, God is not mocked, as a man sows, so shall he reap. He that soweth to the flesh, shall from the flesh reap corruption. He that soweth to the spirit shall reap eternal life.”

Peter says, “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Then Paul says, “He that sows to the spirit shall have everlasting life.” How do we sow to the spirit? That is where the disciplines of the Christian way come in. In general you can say that the disciplines of the Christian way are simply putting ourselves in a position to receive.

That’s what a farmer does when he sows grain. He doesn’t grow the grain. He just arranges things so that he can receive the grain at a certain point. He doesn’t grow it. You say, “Farmers grow something” and the farmer says, “I can’t grow it. I just put the seed in the ground and things take over from there. Then later I go out in the field and there is all that grain, so I gather it in.”

The disciplines of the Christian life are nothing more than putting ourselves in the way to receive the grace of God. That’s what it is to sow to the spirit. When we sow to the spirit in this way we receive the truth. When we have received the truth, then we both consciously and unconsciously have the principles of God in our heart. (Note that the former is necessary for the latter to take place, and as the latter happens in us, then God can work His work better through us.) We can fast, we can pray, we can shout, or do whatever we need to do to get caught up in our activities, and we may still be the mind of the flesh, but if we do those things with our heart turned toward God, then He can come into our lives. We have opened ourselves to receive the truth. Now, once we begin this process, the biggest problem that we have is our old habits. The disciplines which I have listed on the sheet here, silence, submission, fasting, poverty, prayer, simplicity, study, service and celebration are to become new habits that free us. We are going to spend the next little while talking about these things.

Let’s look a bit at this list. Look for examples at silence. Did that surprise any of you to see that on there? Silence? That’s a Christian disciple. Now when we say that, we must hasten to clarify what a disciple is. You say you disciplined your child; that means you whipped him, right? In our culture, discipline is often read to mean punishment. Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is teaching. It is bringing people in to a different place. Silence is a discipline in that sense. It is a teaching device. All these things are teaching devices. They are devices by which we come to the state where in we have the mind of the spirit. These are ways of putting ourselves in a position to receive the fruit of the spirit. Just as a farmer, when he puts the seed in the ground, is putting himself in the position to receive the fruit of the earth. Silence is one of these.

I think I will read the passage out of Ecclesiastes today. I just want to get into this topic. Turn to Ecclesiastes 5:1

“Keep thy foot when thou goest into the house of God.”

That is, watch what you do. To keep your foot means to have it under your direction.

“and be ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools.”

Oh, there is so much involved with that. But the most important is:

“for they consider not that they do evil.”

That is because they talk an awful lot, religious talk without any real content behind it. Do you remember the Pharisee who in the 18th chapter of Luke, said, “I thank the Lord that I am not as other men.” I don’t do all these bad things and I do all these good things, etc. This is the same guy who, when he got up in the morning, thanked God that he was not a Gentile and that he was not a woman. This was contrasted with the man who stood afar off and said, “God is merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus said the latter man went down to his house justified. You see the sacrifice of fools is what was being offered by the Pharisees.

Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration (a very lovely passage in which it said that Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah) says in the next verse, (I love the old English because it fits in so beautifully). “And Peter answered them and said, ‘Why don’t we make some buildings here.’ ” I love the word answered. No one was even talking to Peter. They were talking to one another. Still Peter answered and said, “Hey, hey, you guys, hey, let’s do something, let’s build some buildings.” That’s the sacrifice of fools.

The sacrifice of fools coms in the form of words that try to assure everyone around them that someone somewhere is on top of it, and everything is going to be all right, or if not, they will soon be.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.”

He doesn’t say, “Don’t utter,” he says, “Don’t be hasty to utter before God.”

“ . . . for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
For a dream cometh through a multitude of business and a fools voice is known by a multitude of words.
Suffer not thy mouth to cause thee to sin; neither say before the angels it was an error.”

That is don’t promise God, and then say you didn’t make the vow.

The angel heard it clearly. Don’t claim it was a slip of the lip.

“Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?

For in the multitude of dreams and many words here are also diverse vanities.”

Much emptiness

“But fear thou God.”

Now this is mainly about religious talking; not just talking.

Now for next week I want all of us to take words like tongue, and Word, and speak and follow them through the Bible by the use of a concordance. I have been talking an awful lot on these things and what I think I would like to do for next time is to work on this as a group. So, look up these words ands see what you come up with.

Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series