The Psychology of Redemption 8

Dallas Willard Part 8 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.]


Read: Luke 18:1-18

Daniel 9:1-23

Memorize: Luke 18:1

We are told by Paul to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. How does one do that? If someone tells you to grow, how do you do that?

We really don’t understand how that happens. We don’t know how to grow. We can stop growth, but we can’t make it happen. We can make up some of the conditions that promote growth, but we cannot make it happen.

In the realm of the spirit it is as with the farmer that wants to grow corn. The farmer can put the corn in the ground; he can add water with nutrients, and he can place the crop where there is proper sunlight, but he has no direct control over the corn growing. Much of what makes the corn become a lush crop or a scrawny one is beyond anything that the farmer can do, yet good crops of corn do come to the farmer that perseveres in doing the things that promote good crops. The disciplines of the spirit are the things we can do that promote growth in the spirit. Again we do not have direct control over that growth, but we will grow if we persevere in doing the things that promote growth.

But disciplines are not just little procedures which you can put down into some rote form and gain the benefit of. They are something like a prayer wheel. You may have heard the Tibetan parable: The monk had been turning the prayer wheel, and finally figured out that he could hook it up to an electric motor. At that point the universe just folded up and disappeared. It is not as if these disciplines can be reduced to some rote circular manipulation. It just does not work that way. That is very important to understand. The aim of the disciplines are to make us free. They are not to bring us into bondage. One reason why I spend as much time or more dwelling on these general matters is that I really do not want to bring anyone into bondage. Religion is very much like that story of Nomacum, the tailor, who lived in a large city in which there were many tailors. In this city there was a fine looking person who was well built and well set in every respect except that he was not well dressed. He heard of Nomacum and decided that he ought to also be well turned out. He went to Namacum and asked him to make a suit for him. He returned a little while later and the suit was ready. He tried to get into it, but encountered some difficulty. Nomacum helped him though. Between the two of them, they managed to get him into the suit, but in order to wear it, he had to hold one arm crookedly backward, and the other arm tightly against his chest. Also, he was forced to push his head forward and down to one side. So the man left Nomacum, the tailor, wearing the suit and boarded a bus. A man on the bus saw him and said, “What a beautiful suit you have there. I know you must have got that suit from Nomacum the tailor. Only he could make a suit to fit a body as deformed as yours.” That is a lot like our religion, I am afraid. We come to it to get us into shape, and it just puts us in a bind. That’s no good. Jesus saw to it that he didn’t do that. He said, “These lawyers, these Pharisees will tie burdens on your back which will break it and they won’t move a finger to help. Jesus’ main problem was with religion. Religion is what killed him. There is nothing which can bring us into bondage like religion. Political, economic conditions, poverty; nothing can bring us into bondage like religion. We therefore, must be very careful. The aim of the disciplines is to bring us into a place of freedom.

I wanted this morning to start out by reading a passage or two in which you see a picture of a disciplined group of people, or of a disciplined life. Let’s look at Romans 12:9. We are picking up this reading a little late in the chapter. What has gone before is the general request of the brothers and sisters to present their bodies to be a holy living sacrifice that is acceptable unto God as their reasonable service. That is a service which makes sense. Not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The mind is the most important thing about you. It isn’t that the rest of you isn’t important, but the mind is where the controls are. That you may prove that which is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Then he goes on to say: Romans 12:3

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

What Paul is saying there, is that every individual in the group has been given a measure of faith. See your faith is not the same as the person sitting next to you. He’s got one measure of faith, and she’s got another. We all have a different measures of faith. Each of us is to think of ourselves in the context of the church, in terms of the measure of our faith.

We tend to boil all these things down to the lowest common denominator so that we can join up on the basis of that. But the Bible doesn’t talk in those terms, since faith is a matter of one’s life and these elementary things which we often use as a basis for the membership in the group are so basic that they often amount to nothing. They are among those things, in Hebrews 6, where we are told, for goodness sake, let’s go on leaving these elementary things behind. Again, the measure of faith is different for every person. Paul goes on to discuss this, and you begin to see here a group of people who are functioning in ways which are reflective of a disciplined life. He first goes into a discussion of the gifts, but we won’t read these. I will say, though, that the exercise of the gifts is something that certainly requires a disciplined basis in the life of the person.

We see a lot of trouble around the gifts, because there is not the discipline there to bear the weight of them.

Romans 12:9:

“Let love be without dissimulation . . . “

faking – no fake love, friends. Let’s not have any of that.

“ . . . Abhor that which is evil: cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another: not slothful in business; fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation; continuing steadfast in prayer: distributing to the necessities of the saints . . . “

and look at this:

“ . . . given to hospitality. Bless them that persecute you: bless and curse not. Rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep.

Be of the same mind one toward others. Mind not high things, but condescend . . . “

We are not supposed to be condescending now, are we? That’s a bad word. Condescend means just to descend down there with them.

“ . . . condescend to men of low estate . . . “

He is talking about poor people. He means people who are in bad social personal circumstances. Be with them.

“Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”

That is like what Paul said elsewhere: “Let not your good be evil spoken of.” It is not enough just to be honest. Do it openly. Let it be the sort of thing which anyone can look at. Live in such a way that you would be willing for anyone to have your hone tapped. Verse 18:

“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.


Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath. “

That may sound funny. It just simply means don’t try to beat it down, don’t try to wipe it out. Give place to it; back off. Don’t hit it head on. Proverbs says, “a soft answer turneth away wrath.” That is a way of giving place to wrath.

Everyone learns on the school grounds that you are not supposed to do that. You are supposed to fight who ever wants to fight. We, having learned that well on the school grounds, have applied it on the national level. China says, “Russia, you want to fight, then cross over that line. I’ll bloody your nose.” At the base there is very little difference between nations and school boys fighting.

Give place to wrath. There is not a lot to be gained by returning wrath for wrath. Turn your back on it and walk off.

“for it is written vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.”

Many people have read this and felt that old Paul here really didn’t say, “Don’t avenge.” They say that he is just telling us a nice way to do it. That is not what he means.

“Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

That is the only way you can overcome evil: with good.

This is a picture of a group of disciplined people. It is not something you can foil down into simple words. But now this is the kind of people that can form a community.

People moan and groan in L.A. and at S.C. that there is no community. They blame it on the sprawling nature of L.A., or on something else, but they never think to look at the fact that all the time they are cutting each other with their tongues; lying to the others, trying to get the other person’s raises. And all the time saying, “Oh, we want community.” We wonder what is wrong and why we don’t have it. It makes one think sometimes that Ph.D.  must stand for phenomenally dumb when you hear that going on. There is so little sense in that. The students are the same way. It’s lonely. Nobody cares. And they are all doing the very things which insure that. If they want community let them look at the recipe we have just gone through: Romans 12:9-21.

Kay says: It says in Romans 12:3 “As God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” It seems to me that it takes phenomenal faith.

Faith won’t change us, not just faith. Faith will lead you into this if you grow in grace through a course of experiences and it will come to you.

I think that is an awfully important point, because this just gets at what is one of our main problems. It is very often we are told from the pulpit and elsewhere, that faith is the victory. Then that is identified with believing whatever the particular group says you must believe in order to be right, so we say, “All right, I believe that.” And we come in and where does that leave us. Not there yet, right? Not quite there. So it is very important to understand that there is a growth in faith, a growth in grace, and it comes through a course of experiences. The experience too often, to use a graphic phrase of Stephen Graves, is just a matter of being drug through various knotholes, one after another. That kind of random process. That is not the only way that it can be done. There is a way of conscious planning, growing, study, which goes along with being drawn through various knotholes. The trouble with the knothole method is that you can do that and it won’t help much. For a lot of people, suffering does not along bring growth. For many people, it just brings harshness, bitterness, disappointment, heartbreak and in the end — What? I don’t know, they just kind of disappear. So suffering alone won’t do it. The random method won’t work. Many people don’t know it, but they are suffering just as much from their prosperity, as they are from the knotholes. Many people just kind of live along in their Cadillacs, their fine homes and all that sort of thing and they never wake up. The point being that it is not enough to let this happen as kind of random occurrences but something which must be seen as a subject for conscious control. Then we come into this, for example, just loving one another, being kindly affectioned in honor preferring one another. Now that is not going to be poured on your head one day as you walk out of the church. That’s an ability. I think it is best to think of these things as abilities. Abilities are usually things which are obtained through a course of experiences. The ability to play a piano, the ability to speak, and so on, they are obtained through the course of experiences. We have some prospect of learning if we consciously undertake to learn. Now many of our problems today in both public and private schools, is that we think education is something that is going to happen to people as they walk in and out of buildings and perhaps stay in there a while. They will catch it somehow. But that is not the way. Gradually more and more, we are getting people who are able to read, and write somewhat, but they have no confidence in their own minds. They are not interested in anything that has to do with education, with thinking and thought, with all of that. They have degrees and certificates of various sorts, but there is not reality to it. Why? Because they have no abilities. They didn’t gain any abilities. It didn’t happen to them. Spiritual growth is much the same way. You don’t just catch it by being in church.

Back to your question, Yes it is a great faith in a sense, but not a great faith in the sense that there is not growth, no practice, no learning, no abilities. It is something that comes in the way of learning. Faith is not everything. That almost sounds blasphemous to say in our setting today, because it is so much taught that faith is everything. But faith is not everything. Faith will not take the place of prayer; faith will not take the place of study: faith will not take the place of serving: faith will not take the place of just trying to live with people and learning from it. What it can do is put you in the position where you can do these other things.

In a nutshell, faith is necessary, but it is not sufficient. That faith does grow, and as it grows our abilities grow with it.

Now there is confusion there. People will hear what I just said ands say, “Do you mean you can be justified by works?” I am not talking about being justified. I am talking about growing. That’s not the same thing. There are all kinds of people who are going to be justified and go to heaven. The classic case is the thief on the cross. But we are not on the cross right now. We are living here and now. In your circumstances you are most likely not going to die tomorrow. So in view of the fact that today you are not going to be with Jesus in Paradise: what are you going to do today?  You are going to live. How are you going to live (grow?) It is something which follows as a matter of course when the life is right with God in the here and now. Not being with Jesus in the here after. The point is, not to die in the faith, but to live in the faith and to grow in the faith. As Peter says, “To grow in grace.”

Now the life which you see in the Bible of the Kingdom of God, is a life of remarkable freedom. Let’s take the one we talked about last time: the tongue. Speaking, and silence is the discipline. Every discipline has its corresponding freedom. You know that lovely hymn: “Just as I Am Without One Plea.” It is a marvelous thing when a person gets to that position and escapes the burden of pleading, of justifying, of explaining and of forever lastingly making themselves out as right. “Just as I am without one plea;” not one—plea. “But that thy blood was shed for me.” You see, it is nothing that you have done. Note:  The freedom from the tongue. I don’t know if you ever get this way. I know I talk an awful lot. I am sure you may know it also. But I sometimes wish I could take out my tongue and put it in a glass of vinegar and leave it overnight. It gets heavy in my mouth. The burden of the tongue is an awful thing, and the discipline of silence teaches us how to let it rest. We no longer carry the burden of somehow managing and manipulating the world with our tongue; of arranging circumstances so they are right; so they go along as we think they ought to go along. That’s the big burden of the tongue.

Discipline really looks quite silly. I would like to say a little about that. Have you ever seen a person using bar bells or a person jogging down the road, shirttails flapping or perhaps their stomach also. How silly that looks. Demosthenes had an affliction of speech. You know what he did; you have heard the story. He went down to the seashore and put little pebbles in his mouth and forced himself to talk over the waves and the pebbles. How idiotic. Here you are, and you don’t know what he is about, and you come upon him doing that. It looks ridiculous. How silly silence is. When Jesus was before his judges, he would not speak. Oh! You are not eating? That’s silly. They all look silly. Remember that about disciplines. One reason why people don’t do them is because they feel silly doing them. Every discipline has its consequences and that consequence is freedom. Demosthenes underwent the disciplines of the stone and the disciplines of the waves and then when he stood up to speak he was free. If he had not undergone the disciplines of the stones and the waves, when he stood up to speak he would have been in bondage to his tongue, his untrained tongue, his sloth, his lack of drive to overcome. We are in bondage in our tongue in many ways.

I want to talk some about the second thing I listed as a spiritual discipline. That is the discipline of submission. There seems to be a contradiction with this discipline. How do you obtain freedom by submission? Look with me at 1 Peter for a moment, Chapter 2, verses 13-15. Here are some verses that get your revolutionary blood up, right off.

“Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lords sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme or unto governors as unto these that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoer, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God . . . “

Submit yourselves. Now further, verse 18:

“Servants, be subject . . .”

You will notice by that he is talking about something which one does. One might say, well how can a servant not be subject; after all he is a servant. Paul is not talking about a social arrangement. He is talking about a spirit of subjection.

“ . . . submit to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also the froward . . .”

Now in Chapter 3:1:

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your husbands . . .”

See in chapter 3:7, this is turned around.

“Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife . . .”

Ephesians 5:21:

“Submitting yourselves one to another.”

See here is the same theme of subjection by another author; and it also is played out with elaboration to husband—wife, master—servant, etc. Mark 8:34 says:

“Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself.”

That is the meaning of submission—self-denial.

Helen asks: “Does that mean that we are to lose our identity?”

No! Without your identity, you can’t even be subject.

Helen: It was preached at me that way. I must lose me, and become Christ.

Well, that is not what it means to be subject. Just look at the New Testament for spiritual men filled with Christ and see that they did not lose any of their identity. It is very strong personality you see in each case. Did Jesus lose his identity through subjection? No. Did Peter? No. Did Paul. No.

In every discipline you have to watch or it can turn into an instrument of self-hatred, self-contempt, and self-destruction. We are inclined to worry about ourselves—to despise ourselves, to pity ourselves. Then the disciplines come along and can be used as instruments of self torture as well as torture by others. You see there is a case where the disciplines have gone to see. People wound up flaying themselves with chains, throwing themselves into briar patches. Lying all night naked on cold stone floors—self-hatred and self-disgust. That is not subjection, submission, self-denial.

Self-denial is simply coming to an understanding that we don’t have to have our own way. Most people, even with their various subjections which they may accept in the spirit of martyrdom. The spirit of martyrdom is, by the way, a sure sign that the discipline has gone to pot. That is to say if a person makes a big deal out of this discipline of subjection or prayer or simplicity in that he appears to all to be so martyred, that is not what we are looking for.

But you say: some of them were martyrs. Indeed they were!  But they were not the kind you see living all around us: the latter martyrs are martyrs to self hate and self pity.

The point of submission is the learning that we do not have to have our own way. One of the greatest bondages in this world is having to have our own way. A person can spend his whole life getting his way.

Frank Sinatra’s song, “I did it My Way” isn’t too good, and the opposite of that is the self-pity that sets in when I don’t get it my way.

Just as we are taught to give place to wrath: why fight wrath and in the same vein, when we don’t get our way, why worry over it. There are a million other good things to have. Self- denial frees us from that terrible drive to have it my way. Sour grapes. My way, my way. When I see that, I am tempted to pronounce strong words against it. It is one of the most terrible things that seizes people.

We do Jesus a great injustice in Gethsemane, when we inject into our view of him on his knees that pale spirit of martyrdom. “Well, alright, Lord, have it your way if you must.” “Have it your way God. I sure don’t like this, but have it your way.” No! That is not the way of Jesus.

Submission means sure, I am glad for you to do it that way. My life is not hung on it. The pulpit can be wherever. The pews can be any direction; it does not matter. There are people who will spend weeks in a tizzy worrying that the pews aren’t right. They are caught in the spirit of non-submission; enslaved.

We must learn to drop it. No big deal. No whispering or long faces, just drop it and really accept that it is not going to be your way. The discipline of silence fits in here.

This can be the small thing like the pulpit or something big. If there is no reason why it can’t be the other person’s way, then submit to his desire. You didn’t get your way did you? Well, you can fuss over it, or drop it and be free.

The government says 55 MPH. I want to drive 60 MPH, but no big deal. Drop it. Nothing to it.

And when this discipline gets to the habit level, how easy and free you can be. Nothing to it.

Listen to all parts in this The Psychology of Redemption series