Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christby Dallas Willard
A high school student reared in a Christian home turns to drugs and alcohol. A woman tries to stop criticizing others—for ten years. A father knows he needs more patience with his children, but his efforts seem in vain. What do these people have in common? They are all in desperate need of further Renovation of the Heart, of transformation of/b>/i>… See more details below
A high school student reared in a Christian home turns to drugs and alcohol. A woman tries to stop criticizing others—for ten years. A father knows he needs more patience with his children, but his efforts seem in vain. What do these people have in common? They are all in desperate need of further Renovation of the Heart, of transformation of the spirit. But just what is this transformation? Author Dallas Willard explains that its ideal end is when "all of the essential parts of the human self are effectively organized around God, as they are restored and sustained by Him. Spiritual transformation in Christ is the process leading to that ideal end, and its result is love of God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and of the neighbor as oneself."
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The "Beyond Within" and The Way of Jesus
Watch over your heart with all diligence,
for from it flow the springs of life.
We live from our heart.
The part of us that drives and organizes our life is not the physical.
This remains true even if we deny it. You have a spirit within you and it has been formed. It has taken on a specific character. I have a spirit and it has been formed. This is true of everyone.
The human spirit is an inescapable, fundamental aspect of every human being; and it takes on whichever character it has from the experiences and the choices that we have lived through or made in our past. That is what it means for it to be "formed."
Our life and how we find the world now and in the future is, almost totally, a simple result of what we have become in the depths of our beingin our spirit, will, or heart. From there we see our world and interpret reality From there we make our choices, break forth into action, try to change our world. We live from our depthsmost of which we do not understand.
"Do you mean," some will say, "that the individual and collective disasters that fill the human scene are not imposed upon us from without? That they do not just happen to us?"
Yes. That is what I mean. In today's world, famine, war, and epidemic are almost totally the outcome of human choices, which areexpressions of the human spirit. Though various qualifications and explanations are appropriate, that is in general true.
Individual disasters, too, very largely follow upon human choices, our own or those of others. And whether or not they do in a particular case, the situations in which we find ourselves are never as important as our responses to them, which come from our "spiritual" side. A carefully cultivated heart will, assisted by the grace of God, foresee, forestall, or transform most of the painful situations before which others stand like helpless children saying "Why?"
The Bible is full of wisdom on these matters. That is why we call major books of the Old Testament "wisdom literature." Jesus sums it all up in his teachings. He is the power and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). For example, he tells us, "Seek first the kingdom and God's righteousness, and all else shall be provided to you" (Matthew 6:33, PAR). And "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house upon rock. The rain fell and the streams rose and the winds blew and beat upon the house. But it did not collapse, for it was built on rock" (Matthew 7:24-25, PAR).
Accordingly, the greatest need you and I havethe greatest need of collective humanityis renovation of our heart. That spiritual place within us from which outlook, choices, and actions come has been formed by a world away from God. Now it must be transformed.
Indeed, the only hope of humanity lies in the fact that, as our spiritual dimension has been formed, so it also can be transformed. Now and throughout the ages this has been acknowledged by everyone who has thought deeply about our conditionfrom Moses, Solomon, Socrates, and Spinoza, to Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Oprah, and current feminists and environmentalists. We, very rightly, continually preach this possibility and necessity from our pulpits. Disagreements have only to do with what in our spirit needs to be changed and how that change can be brought about.
* The Revolution of Jesus *
And on these two points lies the inescapable relevance of Jesus to human life. About two thousand years ago he gathered his little group of friends and trainees on the Galilean hillsides and sent them out to "teach all nations"that is, to make students (apprentices) to him from all ethnic groups. His objective is eventually to bring all of human life on earth under the direction of his wisdom, goodness, and power, as part of God's eternal plan for the universe.
We must make no mistake about it. In thus sending out his trainees, he set afoot a perpetual world revolution: one that is still in process and will continue until God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. As this revolution culminates, all the forces of evil known to mankind will be defeated and the goodness of God will be known, accepted, and joyously conformed to in every aspect of human life. He has chosen to accomplish this with and, in part, through his students.
It is even now true, as angelic seraphim proclaimed to Isaiah in his vision, that "the whole earth is full of His glory," the glory of the holy Lord of hosts (Isaiah 6:3). But the day is yet to come when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14, emphasis added).
The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul. External, social arrangements may be useful to this end, but they are not the end, nor are they a fundamental part of the means.
On the other hand, from those divinely renovated depths of the person, social structures will naturally be transformed so that "justice roil[s] down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24). Such streams cannot flow through corrupted souls. Conversely, a renovated "within" will not cooperate with public streams of unrighteousness. It will block themor die trying. It is the only thing that can do so.
T. S. Eliot once described the current human endeavor as that of finding a system of order so perfect that we will not have to be good. The Way of Jesus tells us, by contrast, that any number of systemsnot all, to be surewill work well if we are genuinely good. And we are then free to seek the better and the best.
This impotence of "systems" is a main reason why Jesus did not send his students out to start governments or even churches as we know them today, which always strongly convey some elements of a human system. They were, instead, to establish beachheads of his person, word, and power in the midst of a failing and futile humanity. They were to bring the presence of the kingdom and its King into every corner of human life simply by fully living in the kingdom with him.
Those who received him as their living Lord and constant instructor would be "God's chosen ones, holy and beloved" (Colossians 3:12, NRSV) and would learn how to "be blameless and harmless, children of God, faultless in the midst of a twisted and misguided generation, from within which they shine as lights in the world, lifting up a word of life" (Philippians 2:15-16, PAR).
Churchesthinking now of local assemblies of such peoplewould naturally be the result. Churches are not the kingdom of God, but are primary and inevitable expressions, outposts, and instrumentalities of the presence of the kingdom among us. They are "societies" of Jesus, springing up in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the furthest points on earth (Acts 1:8), as the reality of Christ is brought to bear on ordinary human life. This is an ongoing process, not yet completed today: "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all nations, and then the end shall come" (Matthew 24:14).
* The Human "Within" *
Through the presence of his kingdom, Jesus answers the deepest needs of human personality for righteousness, provision, and purpose. If we set him aside, we still face the unavoidable questions: What makes our lives go as they do? What could make them go as they ought? Inability to find adequate answers leaves us rudderless in the flood of events around us and at the mercy of whatever ideas and forces come to bear upon us. And that, basically, is the human situation. You can see it day by day all around you.
However, thoughtful people through the ages have tried to answer these questions, and they have with one accord found, as already stated, that what matters most for how life goes and ought to go is what we are on the "inside." Things good and bad will happen to us, of course. But what our life amounts to, at least for those who reach full age, is largely, if not entirely, a matter of what we become within. This "within" is the arena of spiritual formation and, later, transformation.
Within are our thoughts, feelings, intentionsand their deeper sources, whatever those may be. The life we live out in our moments, hours, days, and years wells up from a hidden depth. What is in our "heart" matters more than anything else for who we become and what becomes of us. "You're here in my arms," the old song says, "but where is your heart?" That is what really matters, not just for individual relationships, but also for life as a whole.
The author Oscar Wilde once remarked that by the age of forty everyone has the face they deserve. This is a truly profound, if painful, truth. But it really applies to the "within" expressed by the faceto the heart and also the soul, and not to the face merely as one surface area of the body. Otherwise it would not much matter.
Now, right on the conscious surface of our "world within" lie some of our thoughts, feelings, intentions, and plans. These are the ones we are aware of. They may be fairly obvious to others as well as to ourselves. In terms of them we consciously approach our world and our actions within it.
But these surface aspects are also a good indication of the general nature of the unconscious "spiritual depth within," of what sorts of things make it up. But the thoughts, feelings, and intentions we are aware of are, after all, only a small part of the ones that are really there in our depths; and they often are not the ones most revealing of who we actually are and why we do what we do.
What we really think, how we really feel, and what we really would do in circumstances foreseen and unforeseen may be totally unknown to ourselves or to others familiar with us. We may pass one anothereven pass ourselves, if you can imagine thatlike "ships in the night." We do it all the time.
The hidden dimension of each human life is not visible to others, nor is it fully graspable even by ourselves. We usually know very little about the things that move in our own soul, the deepest level of our life, or what is driving it. Our "within" is astonishingly complex and subtleeven devious. It takes on a life of its own. Only God knows our depths, who we are, and what we would do.
Thus the psalmist cries out for God's help in dealing withhimself! "Search me, O God." "Let the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you." "Renew in me a right spirit." At a certain point my own "beyond that is within" (my heart) has been formed and I am then at its mercy. Only God can save me.
* The "Spiritual" Aspect of Man *
I have already spoken of the hidden world of the self as our spiritual side. The language of "spiritual," "spirit," and "spirituality" has become increasingly common today, and it cannot be avoided. But it is often unclear in meaning, and this can be dangerous. It can lead us down paths of confusion and destruction. "Spiritual" is not automatically "good." We must be very careful with this language. Nevertheless, in the sense of "spiritual," which means only "nonphysical," the hidden or inner world of the human self is indeed spiritual.
Interestingly, for all our fine advances in scientific knowledge, the proud product of human thought, they tell us nothing about the inner life of the human being. The same is true for all the fields of study that try to base themselves upon such knowledge. At most the sciences can indicate some fascinating and important correlations between our inner life and events in the physical and social world running alongside it.
This is because the subject matter of the sciences is, precisely, the outer, physical, measurable, publicly perceptible world: roughly, the world of "the five senses," as we often say. In its nature the physical is a totally different type of reality from the spiritual side of the human being, which remains "hidden" in a way the physical world never can be. This is by now an old story, but often repressed or forgotten. Science misses the heart.
Paradoxically, the "spiritual" side of usthough it is not perceivable by the senses and though we can never fully grasp it in any wayis never entirely out of our mind. It always stands in the margin of our consciousness, if not the center. It is really the only thing that is celebrated (or degraded) in the arts, in biography and history, and in most of our popular writings in magazines and the like. Their emphasis is continually upon what people think and feel, on what they might or should do and why, and on what kind of character they have. Human beings "gossip" about nothing else, and now much of what is called "news" is really just gossip.
But that only emphasizes how we are constantly aware of the spiritual side of life. We know immediately that it is what really matters. We pay more attention to itin ourselves and othersthan to anything else. And there is a deep, if often perverted, wisdom in this. For the spiritual simply is our life, no matter what grand theories we may hold or what we may say when trying to be "intellectual," "well informed," and "up-to-date."
This insuppressible interest explains why, in recent decades and in many ways, the spiritual, in the inclusive human sense, has repeatedly thrust itself to the forefront of our awareness. From the cultural and artistic uprisings of the sixties to the environmentalisms and countless "spiritualities" of the ninetiesfrom pop-culture new age to the postmodernisms of the academythe swelling protest from the human depths has recently been shouting at us that the physical and public side of the human universe cannot sustain our existence. "Man shall not live by bread alone." We would do well to listen, no matter who is talking.
Those are, of course, words from Jesus. And his way is truly the way of the heart, or spirit. If we would walk with him, we must walk with him at that interior level. There are very few who really do not understand this about him. He saves us by realistic restoration of our heart to God and then by dwelling there with his Father through the distinctively divine Spirit. The heart thus renovated and inhabited is the only real hope of humanity on earth.
The statement that "Man shall not live by bread alone" was adapted by Jesus from the history of the Jewish experience with God. Jesus was, among other things, the most profound and powerful expression of that experience. But it was also given new and profound meaning by his death and resurrection. Through them he established a radically new order of life on earth within the kingdom of God. It was free of any specific ethnic or cultural form. All human beings can now live the life of the renovated heart by nourishing ourselves constantly on his personal presencenow here in our world, beyond his death and ours.
Contrary to what many say today, our deliverance (salvation) does not arise out of the murky human depths from which our natural life springswhether that includes an "oversoul" or "collective unconsciousness" or not. But Jesus moves into and through those very depths, whatever they contain, to bring us home to God. There, too, he is Master. The spiritual renovation and the "spirituality" that comes from Jesus is nothing less than an invasion of natural human reality by a supernatural life "from above."
Excerpted from RENOVATION OF THE HEART by Dallas Willard. Copyright © 2002 by Dallas Willard. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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