“I’m in over my head again.” I thought this several times as I taught a Discipleship Institute class at my home church on the book, Renovation of the Heart-Putting on the Character of Christ by Dr. Dallas Willard. Thinking this book would be better suited to a class of seminary students, I normally would never have picked it up, but my class members and I accepted the challenge. As a result, we were introduced to a deeper level of thinking; we were also challenged with a deeper level of commitment in our individual Christian walks.
Dallas Willard, a humble American philosopher, professor and author specializing in Christian spiritual formation, wrote The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, Hearing God and others. He has earned the title “America’s Answer to C.S. Lewis.” Renovation of the Heart won Christianity Today’s 2003 Book Award for books on Spirituality.
The book is a theoretical and practical guide to discipleship and Christian transformation in more ways than one. Willard describes Christian transformation as a Spirit-driven 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 this transformation, we become apprentices of Jesus.
Often times, people are confused in understanding the difference between the heart, will, spirit and soul. Willard describes in great detail the six basic aspects in our lives as human beings: thought, feeling, choice, body, social context and soul. A chapter is dedicated to understanding the transformation of each aspect.
Dr. Willard explains that the ideal end of transformation is when “all of the essential parts of the human self are effectively organized around God, as they are restored and sustained by him.” And the “Spiritual transformation in Christ is the process leading to that ideal end, and its result is to love God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and of the neighbor as oneself.” Willard explains the general pattern of personal transformation as a systematic process that we have responsibility for as intentional apprentices of Jesus.
One of my favorite chapters in the book was the last chapter on “Spiritual Formation in the Local Congregation.” He believes that spiritual formation should be “the exclusive primary goal of the local congregation.” Churches should be functioning as spiritual hospitals with people in various stages of recovery. Unfortunately, what characterizes many of our congregations are distractions and issues not even addressed in the New Testament. This is a strategy of Satan. Willard states very clearly that God’s plan for the local congregation is to make disciples – apprentices of Jesus.
Come to be known as “Dallas-isms”, here are a few of my favorite sayings of his:
“Those with a well-kept heart are persons who are prepared for and capable of responding to the situations in life in ways that are good and right.”
“The mature children of light are like their master. They know God and his Word, they think straight, and they live in truth, because every essential dimension of their being has been transformed to serve God: heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
“Discipleship is learning from Him how to lead my life as He were to lead my life if He were I.”
For all those who desire to be apprentices of Jesus, Renovation of the Heart will help you find spiritual treasures which will help you live fully in the kingdom of God. And in those times when we think we may be in over our heads, it may be our biggest opportunity for growth.