I’m reading (actually re-reading) a book by Dallas Willard called Renovation of the Heart. In it, Willard describes the process of transformation that God brings about in the life of the believer, and he says that this process must begin with the recognition of our sinful depravity (what he calls “radical evil in the ruined soul”).
The only path of spiritual transformation today still lies through this illumination [of the lostness of our soul]…. When the prophet Jeremiah, for example, says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick: Who can understand it?” we have to recognize from our heart that we are the ones spoken of, that, indeed, I am the one described. Only then is a foundation laid for spiritual formation into Christlikeness.
I was very intrigued by what Willard goes on to say about this necessity of recognizing our lostness and depravity, because his perspective certainly flies in the face of a value our culture holds tightly:
The initial move toward Christlikeness cannot be toward self-esteem, because of confusion about what self-esteem means, and because, 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 such a situation will only breed self-deception and frustration–as is now increasingly recognized, by the way. For the realities of our soul will still be what they are and will still have the consequences for evil that they naturally do–regardless of what we or others may say to “pump ourselves up” and really, to conceal and deny who we are. A high opinion of ourselves will only make those consequences more difficult to deal with.
It certainly seems counterintuitive to say that the starting point for transformation–which is to say the starting point for deep and abiding JOY–is actually in recognizing our sinfulness and in acknowledging our total inability to please God. But if we do indeed start at this place, we find that the more that we acknowledge the depth of our sin, the more that Christ’s Gospel becomes really good news. And the more that we understand of the Gospel, the more we come to realize what incredible worth we have in the sight of God. So Willard is not proposing a stoic, strict rule of no self-esteem. Rather, he is attempting to loosen the hold of self-focused-esteem and point our attention to the greater esteem that comes from being fully known and fully loved by God.
Being in a beach town on the East Coast (Virginia Beach) felt very different than beach towns on the West Coast, especially Southern California. The beach was pretty much empty–with the exception of occasional walkers or joggers or couples. The town didn’t have the laid-back, stroll-and-shop-and-eat feel like so many SoCal beach towns; instead there was a convention center a few blocks from the beach (which is why we were there). But one of the most unique sights was this sign, which was posted on more than one street. Maybe the trouble is too many loud-mouthed tourists from Southern California?!
I’m greatly enjoying “Side by Side”, the CCEF National Conference in Virginia Beach! Along with some excellent teaching and wonderful times of singing together with a couple thousand other worshippers, I get the opportunity to see the sun RISE out of the Atlantic Ocean instead of SET into the Pacific Ocean.
The focus of this conference is twofold: that we are both needy and needed. In order for the church to truly be a place where deep change and maturity toward Godliness happens, we as God’s people must embrace both of those realities. If we emphasize one without the other, we will get stuck. If we focus only on our neediness–without realizing that in our neediness we have significant ministry to offer to other needy people–we will get stuck in a “victim” mentality and go down the dead-end road of self-pity and resentment. But on the other hand, if we focus only on the fact that we are needed–without seeing the true state of our own souls that are sinful and weak apart from God’s sovereign grace and healing–we will get stuck in a “messiah complex” and go down the dead-end road of self-righteousness and pride.
But…if we can embrace the humbling reality of our own sin and suffering, knowing that we are no better off than the person God may be calling us to minister to, and at the same time embrace the equally humbling reality that our greatest place of ministry to others often comes out of our greatest weakness and need, then together we can walk side by side carrying out the “one anothers” of Scripture. And in that place, we will grow through the ministry of others around us, and God will use us to help others grow as well. That is how He designed the Body to function!
Fall colors like this rarely come to Southern California. In fact, even in Oregon where I grew up, there were more fir trees than deciduous trees. So the leisurely drive and the vibrant patchwork of colors along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park today was refreshing and beautiful. I’m so thankful for the chance to get away with my wife and enjoy not just the beauty of God’s creation but also some history of our country and then a weekend conference on discipleship! (see the livestream here)
I have a pile of thick books on my desk (and another pile of thinner books) that are the required texts for my seminary courses this fall. My son, who is no stranger to thick books, (having read the Lord of the Rings trilogy with no problem) was checking out my books and commiserating with me on how much I have to read. He noticed the 563-page hermeneutics tome, called Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, and after looking at it for a few seconds, exclaimed “Wait a minute–this is just the introduction?!”
The other day I listened to a very insightful message about discipleship, from Trevin Wax at The Gospel Coalition National Conference. The question he was addressing is this:
What kind of discipleship is necessary to fortify the faith of believers so that we understand what “time” it is–that we rightly interpret our cultural moment–so that we can see through the false and damaging views of history and the future that are in our world, which are vying for our attention and acceptance?
Romans 13:11 tells us that we are to “know the time” we are in, not the chronological hour and minute on the clock, but the place we are at in the sweep of Biblical history. We need to understand who we are because of our past and our future in Christ. As Trevin says in his message: “What you think about where you’ve come from and where you’re going will have massive implications for the decisions you make in your daily life.”
So what are the false views that are inherent in our culture now, which have significant–but often unseen–impact on the way we do discipleship? According to Trevin, it’s the Enlightenment view of progress, combined with the drive for authenticity and self-expression of the Sexual Revolution, and carried out in rampant consumerism.
I won’t steal his thunder but just encourage you to listen to the whole message here: Discipleship in the Age of Richard Dawkins, Lady Gaga and amazon.com