The Psychology of Redemption 7

Dallas Willard Part 7 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.]


Memorize Matthew 6:24-33

I would like to summarize where we have been in the study thus far briefly. You’ll recall, we began talking about this matter of what life is like under God. That is, we say God is good, but what does that mean as far as our lives are concerned? It means among other things that our lives under God should be good. But, we asked, what does that amount to, what are the parts of it?

I distinguished three parts: Provision, Place, and Personality, and I said these three aspects have to be right to receive abundance. We studied them at some length. We also looked at the world and asked: what has gone wrong? Because obviously things are not as they should be. There is a problem that is making things go wrong. It is at this point that we studied the word sin—in the singular: not sins please, but sin, or iniquity. Paul speaks of the “the mystery of iniquity that works.” Now a puzzling fact:  People spend a great deal of time wondering what has gone wrong: What is God doing? If there is a God, why doesn’t such and such? Why all these bad happenings? There is a mystery in iniquity. That just means that people find it very difficult to understand, if not impossible to understand why things are as they are. We spent some time studying this: and we found that the main problem lay in the personality.  Now not in individual lives are we talking about the problem of personality, because really there isn’t such a thing. We are persons only as we are related to other people. This begins with a little baby. The baby becomes the person that he is in that relationship. Many times parents who are Christians, have children who, as they say, go wrong. Many times they think this must be “my fault,” and sometimes it is. But many times, it is just an expression of a misunderstanding, because a child is not just related to its parents. It is related very vitally to all of the other children it plays with, and very quickly, as the child grows up, the most important relationships it has are to other children. Of course the parent relationships are very necessary in the background, but very quickly the child’s relationships spread away from the home.

What does Paul say, “No man is an island.” That’s true. And John Dunn says, “When the death bell sound, don’t ask for whom does the bell toll. It tolls for thee.”

One of the things we will have to come to an understanding of is why things are the way they are. We must understand that, if we are to understand why redemption is what it is. You see, redemption is not just an individualistic matter. That is why there is a church; that is why there is a body of Christ. God has come to dwell in a redeemed person. No! Rather He comes to dwell in a redeemed people. Taken alone we are like tongues lying on the sidewalk, or fingers which we might find in the middle of the road. Yet, one of the deepest parts of this mystery of iniquity is that drive towards individualism which makes us out ourselves off from others. We say, we are sufficient; not just from God, but from our neighbors, and the people with whom we live. We say: “I am an island!” and the results of that have to be over come in the work of redemption.

We studied some in various portions of scripture in which we talked about the flesh, and the spirit. We studied what the spirit is, and how the spirit works to bring redemption, and we came to he point where we saw that there is such a thing as sowing to the spirit. We learned that sowing to the spirit is the way to life everlasting, a life beyond corruption. A good life, a life in which God lives, not just in the hereafter, but in this life also.

In the 8th chapter of Romans, there is a lovely passage which I want to begin our meditation with here today. After we do that, I want to come back to this theme of sowing to the spirit, and look at it in connection with some of these classical disciplines which I have asked you to study. I especially want to look at the discipline of silence. But now look in Romans 8:15 and see two kinds of spirits: The first is “the Spirit of Bondage.” George Fox spoke often of the spirit of bondage, and how the world lay in that spirit. He often indicated that that spirit of bondage was of a subservience of man to other men. Those of you who have read his journal will note how often he mentions bringing people off of men, away from that spirit of bondage, through law, to other men. That’s the way it works—and into what? Into the “Spirit of Adoption” which is the second spirit. What is the spirit of adoption?

A person is adopted when all the natural methods by which you become a member of a family are disregarded and transcended and you are brought into a family in spite of those relationships. How are you brought into a family? What takes place in those relationships? Attitudes of love and acceptance and understanding, are gracefully extended, and one is made a part of a family. Now the attitudes are not enough because in addition to love and acceptance, and understanding there is required shared experiences which make the people one. If you have known of cases in which a child has been taken into a family you know that for the first days and weeks there are times when all there is to run on is that spirit of acceptance and love. But then as the days and weeks go by and turn into years, there is that huge fund of experience that bonds them together and makes them one. As this process takes place, after a time, it is no longer a matter of the will, it is a matter of fact. It has been made so by the experiences through which the people have lived. That same kind of thing works for a group like ours. We see a person come in. Do you, like me, enjoy thinking back on how strange it was: the first time I walked in: or how strange it was the first time I saw Steve Graves. How weird! In those first meetings there is a strangeness, and the union is held only by an act of will. It takes an act of conscious outgoing, or a willingness to put yourself out. But after a while, the spirit of adoption turns into a fact. How you are no longer my brother and my sister because I go out to you, you are my brother or my sister because we have entered into one another. That’s the spirit of adoption. The spirit of adoption which creates a bond above and beyond any natural conventional humanly accepted fleshly relationship. The spirit of adoption is contrasted with the spirit of bondage.

Now watch how this spirit grows because that spirit is not just the spirit of adoption. You know the Bible often uses a peculiar context to give a new name to God. This spirit is just the spirit of God. In this particular context, Paul is using the “spirit of adoption” to characterize the spirit of God in a peculiar way. The Old Testament is full of new names for God, given by persons who have found God real in a certain relationship. Romans 8:16:

“The spirit of adoption beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”

How does it do that? When we come to the spirit, or rather when the spirit comes to us, we are not the children of God. How does it bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God? By going out, and bringing out within us a spirit which corresponds to Him. How does it bear witness that we are the children of God? By creating within us a spirit which is godly. Once we are there, we are past the point of will and effort. We are resting upon a created fact. We have now a reality, a godly spirit within. That is how it bears witness to us. People pervert this verse. They turn it into a feeling and say “the spirit bears witness in my spirit.” To them it comes to mean I really feel like it. No! It is not talking about a feeling. It is talking about an agreement, an identity. It bears witness with our spirit, it agrees with our spirit. That’s how we know we are children of God. That goes back to Romans 8:9.

“If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

It is a matter of identity. That’s the way the witness is born. We find a new life! To go back to the analogy of the child in the family: the child itself says, “Yes, I am a member of this family.” It no longer acts, feels, and behaves as an outsider on probation. “Yes,” it says, “this is my family” and shows the attitudes of the family as well as the thoughts and the habits of the family, and thereby it is a member of the family. The spirit bears witness that he is a member of the family.

Now quickly, Romans 8:17:

“And if children, then heirs: heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;”

So much are we members of that family by the spirit of adoption that we are joint-heirs.

“ . . . if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.”

Romans 8:18:

“For I reckon that the sufferings of to this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

There is something glorious going on. This glory is going to be revealed in us: not to us, but in us! Romans 8:19:

“For the earnest expectations of the creature waiteth for the manifestations of the sons of God.”

Now we are coming into something here he is saying that is going to be very hard to believe. What he is going to say refers to the subjugation of creation, to man in the first chapters of the book of Genesis. Remember that God placed man over all creation. Now another manifestation of the mystery of iniquity is though we would like to dominate nature, we can’t. Things have gotten so wrong that our efforts to tinker with nature usually leads to some sort of problem. Verse 19 again:

“But the creature waiteth for the manifestations of the sons of God.”

What is that talking about? That is referring back to the glory which shall be revealed in us. Who is us? You! Are you ready for that? You say, “but I am so insignificant, so sinful so perverse,” He knows all that. You see we have to rethink the whole meaning of grace, because God’s work is not done on the basis of desert, or worthiness, or natural power. When the angel told Abraham he was going to have a son, Sarah, who was eavesdropping in the kitchen, dropped the cookie board and laughed, “Who me? We have a child, ha! At my age?” Yes, you!

“For the earnest expectation of the creature waits for the manifestation of “you.”

I want to stop on that and just look at you and think about that. The creature waits for the manifestation of you. Who are you? How do you identify yourself? Is it in terms of relationship, as I am so and so’s son or daughter, or do you say “I’m a person who eats too much, or talks too much. I’m a person who can’t control my money or my time.” That is to say, do you identify yourself in terms of your problems? Perhaps you use body type. I’m an ectomorph or an endomorph or whatever. You might give a psychological classification: “I am basically a neurotic person, or I’m teetering on the edge of psychosis.” Who are you? You don’t know.

What was the first question which God asked Adam? Where are thou? Where are we? Who are we? You are much more than you have ever dreamed. Not because you have it all packed away in you somewhere: some jewel of personality which only needs to be furbished and refurbished a little, but because we are meant to live in a relationship to God. Romans 8:19

“ . . . for the manifestations of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity . . .”

Emptiness, that’s what vanity means. Nothing. Naughtiness. The creature was made subject to falderal. Verse 20:

“ . . . not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope.”

Who is the “him” there? That’s God. He subjected “the same,” that is creation “to the creature,” to man, in the hope of something great which God has not yet given up on.

Verse 21:

“ . . . because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption . . .”

There’s that word, corruption, which we talked about earlier.

“into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

I wish that you would mark that phrase and think about it.

Verse 22:

“For the whole creation groaneth and travaileth . . . “

Travail means work: to work in a grinding situation. It groans and labors.

“ . . . in pain together until now.”

And they are not the only ones that are groaning. Note the next verse. Verse 23:

“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruit of the Spirit.”

He is talking a bout people here, who have begun to experience the fruits of redemption. And he repeats “even we” that is even Paul, even those who had begun to experience the liberty, the coming of the liberty and the first fruits of that spirit. What’s he doing? He is groaning; groaning. So a few moanings occasionally are quite appropriate. Not to be played down, and not to indicate necessarily that a person is in a backslidden condition. Paul says,

“Ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption.”

Oh! Now wait. He had already talked about adoption, and he spells it out, “to wit, the redemption of our body.” The adoption is a continuing process. It is not something which is completed when you sign the card for membership or when you do whatever you did to join, ah, whatever you joined. It is rather something which begins and continues: the spirit of adoption. The child that is adopted into a family does not understand fully what that is without living out the life as a son or a daughter in that family experiencing sonhood or daughterhood all the way along. That spirit of adoption in something which grows, verse 24:

“for we are saved by hope.”

Now what do we do? We are hoping, we are waiting, we are experiencing redemption, and we are experiencing adoption. What do we do? Is there nothing that we do? Yes there is something we do. This is where we get into the discussion of the disciplines, which I have said is but a way of sowing to the Spirit. It is a way of openness. It is a way of receiving. I’ve listed a number of these on the blue sheet which I have handed out, and I asked you to study some of them. In particular, I asked you to study for today silence, or the opposite of silence—talking.

A discipline is something one does. One reason why I go around and around before I come to these things is simply that I want us to understand fully that these do not make us righteous in the sense of justifying us before anyone. They are simply ways of receiving. In them we learn things. We become transformed. They nearly all have to do with modes of  power. This is very true of the first one: silence.

The tongue, the power of the tongue is what we study in the discipline of silence. The tongue is a thermometer, because it gives your spiritual temperature. It is a thermostat: it controls your spiritual temperature. It is a weapon as in the verse I asked you to memorize last time. Proverbs 18:21:

“The power of life and death are in the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruits thereof.”

That is: if they have a life-giving tongue, they will eat the fruits of life: if they have a death-dealing tongue, they will eat the fruits of death. The tongue is a guide. It controls us. I am not going to refer to these passages because we study them a lot in the church, but if you remember the discussion in the book of James about the tongue, it is compared to a rudder, or a bridle, but I wonder if you noticed the analogy is not only to do with control, but also with guidance. Our tongue sets our course. Our pen, because that is an extension of the tongue also sets our course. The things you allow yourself to be committed to by your tongue and your pen determines how you spend your time. These things tie together. For example, if you have signed enough things your life cannot be simple enough for you to have anytime for anything that matters except getting enough money to pay for all those things you signed for.

The tongue guides our course in many ways. We tell a lie, and then we must spend a good deal of our time telling more lies to over up or behaving in some way to lend that lie credence. What can happen? Some one says, “Do you love me?” and we say, “Yes, I love you” when we don’t. It may be a child or a neighbor, it may be anyone: then we have to behave lovingly. Our tongue guides our actions. The bridle guides the horse; the rudder guides the ship. That little red thing in your mouth guides your whole life. That’s why James said, “if any man can control his tongue he is perfect.” Very much of what is involved in becoming a disciplined person is controlling ones tongue, instead of letting it control you.  Someone says, “Will you come to my party?” and you respond, “I’d be glad to come to your party.” I’d really not be any such thing, but what could I say? Then I am in a fuss as to what I am going to get them as a gift. And you didn’t really want to. The tongue put you on the line, and now you have to.  You couldn’t go back and say, “You know, I didn’t really want to come.” You could have said that much easier in the first place. But of course, you probably would not have said exactly that either, and there are reasons. My only point being, simply, that the tongue is a control.

The tongue is a weapon. In Psalms 31:19, you can see this. In fact the Psalms and Proverbs are full of the recognition of this fact: the tongue is a weapon. I love this verse, Psalms 31:19:

“Oh! How great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that trust in thee before the sons of men.”

Not just privately but before the sons of men. Verse 20:

“Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man; thou shalt keep them secretly in from the strife of tongues.”

The strife of tongues—the Jerusalem Bible says, “the warfare of tongues.” You see the tongue is a weapon. It deals life and it deals death. The tongue is many things. It’s powerful, and that is the man thing I wanted to say. Consequently, because it is powerful, it has to be one of those major points of discipline.

Now, this discipline is the discipline of silence, but the object of silence is not no noise:  it is rather control of the tongue. In general, you can say the discipline person is the person who can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. A person who is disciplined at the piano can play the difficult passages in Beethoven’s sonata when he comes to them. Now I could do it, but I could not do it when it needs to be done. This applies to the person who is disciplined in any connection of his life. You can see it in sports also.

Eunice Colomy asks: Does it work the other way: that a person may keep silent when they should speak?

Oh yes! That’s right. That is why I wanted to stress that the object is control, not just silence. The act, or the discipline is silence, but it isn’t just to avoid noise. It is to learn control. The person who is practicing dribbling his basketball is not practicing for any reason except to have control. All that control is aimed at a point where you indeed do not want to dribble (the act of shooting at the basket.) The object is control. There is a time to speak. For example there is a time for confession. There is a time for rebuke. There is a time for pleasantries.

The pleasantries are very important. They are the idle words we talked about earlier. The pleasantries are very important. Don’t ever knock this business of “how are you” and “how’s the weather” and that sort of thing. That’s a basic part of human life, and in so far as we can manage that in the spirit of love we are going to be a blessing to one another. If we can’t manage the superficial then we can’t manage the profound. A lot of people purport to despise the superficial aspects of human relationships, but they are very vital, very important. We have lost the art of saying “good day,” to one another.

Steve Graves says: It seems to me that what you are saying is like the passage in John 3, where Jesus says to Nicodemus, “How can you expect to understand spiritual things when you don’t understand when I talk to you about the things of the world.”

That is exactly right. So, our simplest words are important. Speaking is important. We need ways of reassuring one another, for example. The common superficialities are the most basic way of reassuring one another that the continuity is there, the connection is there. We don’t have to make any big deal out of it. It’s important to understand that there are times to talk, but the person who takes the discipline as a law is the person who turns it into an absurdity. He is the one who says, “Now for the next 40 days I am not going to speak.” Well it will save him a lot of trouble; I’m sure of that, but after all that isn’t the aim.

Jane Willard says: You said that the tongue can be used as a weapon, but it is also true that silence can be used as a weapon.

Yes it can, it sure can.

Jane continues: In Proverbs 13, it says a word spoken in due season, how good it is, (and another one) He that hath knowledge spareth his words.

The word aptly spoken, the soft word that turneth away wrath: the Proverbs are full of instruction with just the right nuance,

and over and over you will see sayings like: “the mouth of the wise is a well of life.” How that words are able to bless. Control is the aim. It is important to understand, having said it is a matter of control, what kind of control? The control is not conscious control for the most part. There is an element of consciousness in it, but if it is simply an expression of the active will and consciousness, it will always go wrong.

Steve Graves: Is it not the control that stems from virtue?

It is the control that stems from virtue; the control that comes from imbedded habits which are put there, through the disciplines and the exercise of the disciplines. This is the work of God that comes as you sow to the Spirit. The person who must think consciously about dribbling as he is charging down the court is going to wind up with the basketball kicked out into the audience somewhere.

This unconscious effort is what we are speaking of when we talk about the glorious liberty of the sons of God. There is a conscious effort, yes. People don’t play basketball unconsciously: they don’t speak wisely unconsciously; they don’t do any of the things that need to be done unconsciously, but the element of consciousness has to be very carefully handled. This is the general point which Jesus was getting at when he said: “don’t let your left hand know what your right hand doeth.” What we are aiming at is a state which is aiming at a state in which these things are done without effort. They are not the result of conscious will. If they are, you get into that will worship which I have spoken of.

Beth: It is like sin is done without senseless effort, and we are aiming at the other side of that.

Exactly right. There is to be an encompassing sort of spirit in which we live which guides our actions. We live in the spirit of truth. We have the spirit of adoption when that happens. The child who always has to consciously set as if he were a member of the family, isn’t yet.

Louis Armstrong when asked what Jazz was said, “If it has to be explained to you, you’ll never know.” What he is saying, again, is that there is in human life a dimension in which a liberty takes over. It can’t be liberty if it is all conscious effort.

Human growth really takes us through three stages. One is what we might call the first child. What you have there is spontaneity. Our little girlfriend in the back (indicating a child in the back of the church which has been talking and playing through the lectures) she’s spontaneous. She is not bothered by all this jazz. Now, if Beth here, were acting like that we would say, “Now Beth, grow up!” That’s the stage where you become like grown ups. That’s the second stage. That’s where you move at the right time, or stand still, this or that. One thing, very common in grown ups, is that they don’t want their children to have childhoods like they had. They long to go back to the spontaneity and freedom of childhood, and consequently when some of them get a little older, they do. They enter what is called “second childhood.” They do things like pour gravy on the floor. Talk when they shouldn’t and all those kinds of things. Still there is a problem there.

Now the mature person is one that combines both the spontaneity of the child and the discipline of the grown up, and so enters into a freedom which is neither the blind freedom of the child, joyous as it may be, not the nearsighted imprisonment of the grown up. Instead, it is a combination of knowing when the laws and rules should be obeyed and what they are, but not even thinking about these too much. In this sense, as Jesus said, ”Unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, then you shall in no way enter the kingdom of heaven.” This is the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees: They are the grown ups of the grown ups.

Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series