|Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ|
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We aren't born to stay the way we are. But how many times have we looked around us in dismay at the lack of spiritual maturity in fellow believers? It is evident in the rising rate of divorces among Christian couples. We find it in the high percentages of Christians, even pastors, who regularly view pornography. And we face it each time a well-known leader in the Christian community is found in sexual sin or handling finances dishonestly. Perhaps you have struggled with your own character issues for years, even decades, to little avail. There is good news. In Renovation of the Heart best-selling author Dallas Willard calls it "the transformation of the spirit" - a divine process that "brings every element in our being, working from inside out, into harmony with the will of God or the kingdom of God." In the transformation of our spirits, we become apprentices of Jesus Christ.
Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never
again be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in
them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.
Jesus of Nazareth (John 4:14, PAR)
When we open ourselves to the writings of the New Testament, when we absorb our minds and hearts in one of the Gospels, for example, or in letters such as Ephesians or 1 Peter, the overwhelming impression that comes upon us is that we are looking into another world and another life.
It is a divine world and a divine life. It is life in the "kingdom of the heavens." Yet it is a world and a life that ordinary people have entered and are entering even now. It is a world that seems open to us and beckons us to enter. We feel its call.
The amazing promises to those who give their life to this new world through confidence in Jesus leap out at us from the page.
For example, we read Jesus' own words, that those who give themselves to him will receive a "living water," the Spirit of God Himself, that will keep them from ever again being thirsty - being driven and ruled by unsatisfied desires - and that this "water" will become a well or spring of such water "gushing up to eternal life" (John 4:14, PAR). Indeed, it will even become "rivers of living water" flowing from the center of the believer's life to a thirsty world (John 7:38).
|Or we read Paul's prayer that believers would "know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with the fullness of God...by the power at work within us, that is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:19-20, PAR).
Or Peter's words about how those who love and trust Jesus "rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:8, NRSV), with "genuine, mutual love" pouring from their hearts (1:22), ridding themselves of "all malice, and all guide, insincerity, envy, and all slander" (2:1, NRSV), silencing scoffers at the Way of Christ by simply doing what is right (2:15), and casting all their anxieties upon God because He cares for us (5:7).
The vision is clear, and no one open to it can mistake what it means. But while all is clear and desirable, we must admit that, in many historical periods as well as today, Christians generally only find their way into this divine life slowly and with great difficulty, it at all.
I believe one reason why so many people do in fact fail to immerse themselves in the words of the New Testament, and neglect or even avoid them, is that the life they see there is so unlike what they know from their own experience. This is true even though they may be quite faithful to their church in the ways prescribed and really do have Jesus Christ as their only hope. Therefore the clear New Testament presentation of the life we are unmistakenly offered in Christ only discourages them or makes them hopeless.
Why should this be so? Surely the life God holds out to us in Jesus was not meant to be an unsolvable puzzle! And that only leaves us with the explanation that, for all our good intentions and strenuous methods, we do not approach and receive that life in the right way. We do not comprehend and convey the wisdom of Jesus and the Bible about the human being and about its redemption by grace from the destructive powers that have come to occupy it in all of its primary dimensions.
|It really isn't true that where there is a will there is automatically a way, though of course will is crucial. There is also needed an understanding of exactly what needs to be done and how it can be accomplished: of the instruments for the realization of that life and the order of their use.
Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process. Although God can triumph in disorder, that is not his choice. And instead of focusing upon what God can do, we must humble ourselves to accept the ways he has chosen to work with us. These are clearly laid out in the Bible, and especially in the words and person of Jesus.
He invites us to leave our burdensome ways of heavy labor - especially the "religious" ones - and step into the yoke of training with him. This is a way of gentleness and lowliness, a way of soul rest. It is a way of inner transformation that proves pulling his load and carrying his burden with him to be a life that is easy and light (Matthew 11:28-30). The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that "the way in" is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.
This is a hopeful, life-saving insight. For the individual it means that all of the hinderances to our putting off the old person and putting on the new one can be removed or mastered. And that will enable us to walk increasingly in the wholeness, holiness, and power of the kingdom of the heavens. No one need live in spiritual and personal defeat. A life of victory over sin and circumstance is accessible to all.
For our Christian groups and their leaders, it means that there is a simple, straightforward way in which congregations of Jesus' people can, without exception, fulfill his call to be an ecclesia, his "called out" ones: a touchpoint between heaven and earth, where the healing of the Cross and the Resurrection can save the lost and grow the saved into the fullness of human beings in Christ. No special facilities, programs, talents, or techniques are required. It doesn't even require a budget. Just faithfulness to the process of spiritual formation in Christlikeness exposed in the Scriptures and in the lives of his "peculiar people" through the ages (Titus 2:14, KJV).
Excerpted from Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ, 2002 by Dallas Willard.
Used by permission of NavPress/Pinon Press.
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For copies of the book, call 800-366-7788.