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WilRevo 07-04-024


Discovering Christ’s Pattern for Spiritual Transformation

Adapted from Renovation of the Heart


Dallas Willard with Don Simpson

NavPress, 2005, 210 pp., ISBN 1-57683-957-9



Dallas Willard is a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California and the author of several highly recognized books on the spiritual life.  Don Simpson is a senior developmental editor for NavPress.  Simpson has simplified and adapted Willard’s work to make it more accessible and practical for application.  The aim of the book is spiritual change.  It includes meditation questions.


God desires to transform every aspect of your life.  All five elements of the person play a role as we subject them reflectively to God’s transforming work.


“We are called to live in the awareness of another world….”  “We wake each morning breathing the air of this new world…”  But we fail to enjoy the Christ life because we don’t approach and receive it in the right way. (9-11)


The work of Christ always begins in our heart and moves outward. The revolution of character changes people through an ongoing personal relationship with God and one another.  It changes people’s ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations.  (12,14)


“We usually know very little about the things that move in our own soul, the deepest level of our life.  Our ‘within’ is astonishingly complex and subtle—even devious.” (16)


“To the degree spiritual formation in Christ is successful, the outer life of the individual becomes a natural expression of the character and teachings of Jesus.” (16)


The six basic elements of human nature:

1.      Thoughts (images, concepts, judgments, inferences)

2.      Feelings (sensations, emotions)

3.      Heart, also called ‘spirit’ and ‘will’ (choice, decision; reflected as character)

4.      Body (action; interacts with the physical world)

5.      Social context (personal and structural relations with others)

6.      Soul (the factor that integrates all of the above to form one life) (25)


To mature in spiritual formation means to love God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” (26)


Feelings and thoughts always go together.  They are never independent. (27) 


“Life must be organized by the heart if it is to be organized at all.  It can be pulled together only from the inside.  That is the function of the heart, spirit, or will: to organize our life as a whole, and, indeed, to organize it around God.  A great part of the disaster of contemporary life lies in the fact that it is organized around our human feelings, not around God.” (29)


“The soul is that dimension of the person that connects all of the other dimensions so that they form one life.  It is a higher-level dimension because its direct field of play consists of the other dimensions (thoughts, body, and so on.).  “This is the biblical view, understanding that ‘soul’ refers to the whole person through its most profound dimension.” (32-3)


“Once our spirit comes alive in God, the lengthy process of subduing all aspects of the self under God can begin.  This is the process of spiritual formation viewed in its entirety.  Spiritual transformation happens only as each essential dimension of the human being is transformed to Christlikeness under the direction of a regenerate will interacting with constant overtures of grace from God.”  (37)


“Sin does not make a person worthless—only lost.  And in its lostness, the human soul is still capable of great strength, creativity, dignity, and heartbreaking beauty.” (40)


“‘Sin’ has left our language.” (40)  “The real source of our failures lies in our choices and the factors at work in them.  Choice is where the potential for sin dwells.” (41)


“We are like farmers who diligently plant crops but can’t admit the existence of weeds and insects and can only thin to pour on more fertilizer.  Similarly, the only solution we know to human problems today is ‘education.’” (41)


“Our initial move toward Christlikeness cannot be toward self-esteem.  Realistically, I’m not okay, and you’re not okay.  We’re all in serious trouble.  That must be our starting point.  Self-esteem in our situation will only breed self-deception and frustration.” (43)


“One begins to get smart when he or she fears being crosswise of God—fears not doing what he wants and not being as he requires.  Fear is the anticipation of harm.  God is not mean, but he is dangerous….” (45)


“Trust in God is precisely what is absent from the ruined heart.” (46) 


“Denial of reality accounts for our perpetual blindness to the obvious.”  “Denial of reality is inseparable from our fallen human heart, and its great power comes from not being recognized for what it is.  The fact is, in a world apart from God, the power of denial is absolutely essential if life is to proceed.  The human heart cannot—psychologically cannot—sustain itself for any length of time in the face of reality.  We can’t ponder our own death, we can’t examine the conflicted nature of our motives and actions, we can’t face our fears about other people—nor can we live with or own past or face our future—without profound denial.  When we eliminate the light of God from our heart, our mind becomes dysfunctional, trying to devise a ‘truth’ that will be compatible with the basic falsehood that man I god.  Then, our feelings (emotions, affections, sensations) soon follow along the path to chaos.  ‘They became futile in their speculations,’ Paul wrote, ‘and their foolish heart was darkened.  Professing to be wise, they became fools’ (Romans 1:21-22).” (48)


When people do not live interactively with God they choose pleasure.  God abandons them to their pursuit, primarily sexual sensation – the greatest “kick” – and then bodily violence – a close second.  “This is the spiritual root of obsession with ‘sex and violence’ in decadent societies.” (48)


“Hell is not an ‘oops!’ or a slip.  One does not miss heaven by a hair but by constant effort to avoid and escape God.” (52)


“Further, spiritual formation is not something that may be added to the gift of eternal life as an option.  Rather, it is the path that the eternal kind of life—the life given over to God’s kingdom—naturally takes.” (52)


“For as the surest source of destruction of men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads.” (55, quoting John Calvin)


“The self-denial Jesus speaks of is always the surrender of a lesser, dying self for a greater, eternal one—the person God intended when he created you.”  “Jesus does not deny us personal fulfillment but shows us the only true way to it.” (61)


“Spiritual formation is God’s grace-filled process by which a person moves from self-worship to Christ-centered self-denial as an increasingly steady disposition of the heart.” (70) 


God takes the initiative.  He already has.  The ball is in our court.  What will we do? (70)


Spiritual growth occurs like AA:

We envision what we want to be or do.  We actualize the intention to act.  We apply a specific means to move in that direction. (72)

Use the acronym “VIM:”  Vision, Intention, Means. (73)


“The vision of the kingdom is the place we must start.”  “The kingdom of God is the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done is done.” (74)  “What we are aiming for…is to live fully in the kingdom of God here and now….” (75)


“Concretely, we live in the kingdom of God by intending to obey the example and teachings of Jesus.  This is the form that trust in him takes.”  “Indeed, no one can actually believe the truth about him without intending to obey him.  It is a mental impossibility.”  This is a delusion that smothers spiritual formation among professing Christians.  (76)


“You can no more trust Jesus and not intend to obey him than you can trust your doctor and not intend to follow his or her advice.  If you don’t’ intend to follow the advice, you simply don’t trust the person.” (76)


“Our goal will be to progressively form our inner, hidden world so that ‘the tree is good’ to the farthest reaches of root and branch.” (81)


“Thoughts are where we can begin to truly change.” “A battle is raging for our mind.” (Eph 6:12) We are transformed by “the renewing of our mind.” (Rom 12:2) (83-5)  “And so we must inform our thinking with the Word of God.” (89) “The prospering of God’s cause on earth depends upon his people thinking well.” (90)


“To think of God as he is, we cannot help but lapse into worship; and worship is the single most powerful force in completing and sustaining restoration in the whole person.”  “‘Astonished reverence’ is a good paraphrase for worship.”  “To the extent that God is exalted in the minds of people and his very name is cherished with utmost respect, everything else goes right.” (92)


“Spiritual disciplines are activities that are in our power and that enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.” (93) 


“The most obvious thing we can do is draw certain key portions of Scripture into our mind and make them a part of the permanent fixtures there.  This is the primary discipline for the thought life.”  Ingest passages. (94)


Seek out others who are pursuing spiritual transformation.  Study the lives of other practitioners. (95)


“Feelings move our lives—for good or bad.” (100)  Feelings give us a sense of being alive.  To be like Christ we must manage our feelings.  They make up the tone of our lives.  (100, 103) 


A life transformed is dominated by feelings of love, joy and peace. (106)  Love means “willing the good.”  (108)  Joy is different from pleasure: it’s a “pervasive sense of well-being,” even in suffering and loss.  (109)  “Peace is the calm that results from assurance about how things will turn out.” (110)


“The revolution of character in the dimension of feeling is a matter of carefully cultivating love, joy, and peace, first by receiving them from God….  We must intend these feelings and decide they will be present in all we are and do.” (111)


“For many of us, just coming to honest terms with what our feelings really are will be huge task.” (111)


“Character is that internal, overall structure of our self that reveals our long-running patterns of behavior.” (115)  “Our character can change.”  “Will alone cannot carry us to change.  But will influenced through changing our thoughts and feelings can….  (116)


Single-minded and joyous devotion to God and his will—and to service to others because of him—is what the will transformed into Christlikeness looks like.” (117)


Character develops from our will as specific choices become habitual and, to some extent, automatic.” (118)


Spiritual disciplines help us surface and deal with the duplicity and malice buried in our will and character.  “Those feelings are normally clothed in layer upon layer of habitual self-deception and rationalization.  Typically, they have enslaved the will.  And the will, in turn, will have coerced the mind to conceal or rationalize what is really going on.” (126)


“We are to know now ‘the power of His resurrection’ (Philippians 3:10).  Our body is not just a physical system but is inhabited by the real presence of Christ.  Spiritual formation requires the transformation of the body.”  “As it matures, it increasingly takes on the quality of our ‘inner’ life.” (132)


“For most people today, our body runs our life.”  “It is this bodily orientation of the self that runs the human cosmos…. (I John 2:16).”  (136)    


“The body must be regarded as holy because it is owned and inhabited by God.”  “The practical center of proper care for the body is Sabbath.” (140)


“The body must be weaned away from its tendency to take control, to run the world, to achieve and produce, to attain gratification.  Progress in the opposite direction can only be made in solitude and silence.” (141)


“True spiritual formation happens in relation.” (145)  “Love is not a special way of feeling.  Instead, it is the divine way of relating to others….” (146) 


“The nature of personality is inherently communal….”  “Human beings are really together only in God….” (147)


Every contact with another human being should be one of goodwill and respect with a readiness to acknowledge, make room for, or assist the other in suitable ways.” (152)


“The dimension of you that is running your life is your soul.” “The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of your self.  It is the life center of the human being.”  And “it lies almost totally beyond conscious awareness.” (159)


“God’s great purpose for humanity, as set forth in the Bible, is to bring forth an immense community of people from ‘every nation and tribe and tongue and people’ to worship him (Revelation 14:6).” (173)


“Spiritual formation in Christlikeness during our life here on earth is … a process of character transformation toward complete trustworthiness before God.” (174) 


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