Dallas Willard — author of seminal works such as The Divine Conspiracy and Renovation of the Heart — died today.
Although I did not know Dr. Willard in a personal sense, the impact of his work changed the direction of my life and ministry in ways that continue to reverberate today. Clearly, based on the outpouring of love & sorrow I’ve seen via social media streams today, many feel the same way.
My friend Steve sums this up beautifully:
Dr. Willard opened my eyes to the ways in which we so easily distort the beautiful, wild, incredible life of loving & following Jesus Christ to become a gospel of sin management. If I just avoid drinking/dancing/etc., then I will have fulfilled my Christian duty.
From The Great Omission:
Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action. Grace, you know, does not just have to do with forgiveness of sins alone.
Willard’s call to live today in Christ, becoming an apprentice of His way, transformed how I viewed my everyday life. Grace is not a static theological trophy gathering dust on the shelf or a paperweight with which we can club others over the head.
Grace compels us to live.
Today, we are not only saved by grace, we are paralyzed by it. We will preach to you for an hour that you can do nothing to be saved, and then sing to you for forty-five minutes trying to get you to do something to be saved. That is confusing, to say the least.
Grace calls us to a life infused with Christ’s resurrection life — His joy, peace, purpose, and strength:
Spiritual formation does not aim at controlling action. It is a matter of reworking all aspects of the self. It is a process that involves the transformation of the whole person, and that the whole person must be active with Christ in the work of spiritual formation.
This vision of life in Christ renewed my understanding of spiritual disciplines. We don’t pray or read our Bibles or fast to prove how “spiritual” or “mature” we are; we don’t fast as some kind of divine punishment. Rather, we are retraining our souls for a new way of life:
Spiritual disciplines are activities in our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.
A couple of years back, I had the chance to hear Dr. Willard speak live. It would have been easy for his words about discipleship, sin, and transformation to be heavy or burdensome. Instead, because of his winsome approach, I found his words to be freeing and pointing toward joy. One thing he said, in particular, has stayed with me (and I hear it echo in my mind today as I think of Dr. Willard fully entering into the presence of our beloved Savior):
Followers of Christ are people who live and live and keep on living such that, when we die, we won’t even realize it. Rather, we will continue living our lives in Christ.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ save us in every way, and bring you the fullness of God’s shalom peace today.
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All of the above quotes (except for the final one) are from The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teaching on Discipleship. I would highly recommend this book for those who are interested in engaging Willard’s writing. I found The Divine Conspiracy to be kind of intimidating (and heavy) at first – The Great Omission is very approachable and is overflowing with wisdom.