Dallas Willard recently went home to be with the Lord. Below is one of his articles I found. I wanted to share this to honor his memory.
by Dallas Willard
If we are Christians simply by believing Jesus died for our sins and that all we need is to have our sins forgiven in order to go to heaven when we die, then why do some people keep insisting that something more than this is desirable? Lordship, discipleship, spiritual formation and the like? What more could one want than to be sure of their eternal destiny and enjoy life among others who profess the same faith as they do? Of course, everyone wants to be a good person. But that does not require that you actually do what Jesus himself said and did. Haven’t you heard? “Christians are not perfect. Just forgiven.” Now those who honestly find themselves concerned about such matters might find it helpful to consider four simple points.
First, there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him. Some years ago, A.W. Tozer expressed his “feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical circles — the widely accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to!” This “heresy” has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a “vampire Christian.” One, in effect, says to Jesus: “I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.” But is this really acceptable to Jesus? And when you stop to think of it, how could one actually trust him for forgiveness of sins while not trusting him for much more than that? You can’t trust him without believing that he was right about everything and that he alone has the key to every aspect of our lives here on earth.
Breaking Loose From Defeat
Second, if we do not become his apprentices in kingdom living, we remain locked in defeat as far as our moral intentions are concerned. This is where most professing Christians find themselves today. People, generally, choose to sin. And they are filled with explanations as to why it is understandable to do so. But, even so, no one chooses to be a sinner. It is amusing that people will admit to lying, for example, but stoutly deny they are liars. By contrast, apprenticing ourselves to Jesus and his word enables us to understand our lives and see how we can interact with God’s limitless redemptive resources. This in turn frees us from our failed intentions as we learn from him how to do what we know to be right. By abiding in his words, we come to know the truth and the truth does, sure enough, make us free (John 8:36).
The Way to Inward Transformation
Third, only avid discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling and character that “cleans the inside of the cup” (Matt. 23:25 NIV) and “makes the tree good” (Matt. 12:33 NIV). As we study with Jesus, we increasingly become on the inside exactly what we are on the outside. This requires learning from Jesus how to remove the duplicity in a society that feels we must hide what we really think, feel and desire to do. Thus, a part of Jesus’ teaching was to “be on your guard against the yeast [permeating spirit] of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1 NIV). The Pharisees were, in many respects, the very best people of Jesus’ day, but they mistakenly assumed goodness was located merely in their behavior. Rather, behavior is driven by the hidden dimension of human personality from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. Hence, they always failed at some point to do what was right and had to redefine, redescribe or explain it away — or simply hide it. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit does not consist in actions, but in attitudes that make up our “hidden” self. “Love” captures this fruit in one word, but in such a concentrated form that it needs to be spelled out. Thus, “the fruit [singular] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22 NIV). Spiritual formation in the Christian tradition is a process of increasingly being possessed and permeated by the fruit of the Spirit as we walk in the easy yoke of discipleship with Jesus as our teacher. From the inward character, the deeds of love then flow naturally and supernaturally. Of course, there will always be room for improvement, so we need not worry that we will become perfect — at least for a few weeks or months.
A Power Beyond Ourselves
Fourth, and finally, for the one who intentionally walks as close to Jesus as possible, there comes the reliable exercise of a power that is beyond them in dealing with the problems and evils that afflict earthly existence. Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. He knows that otherwise we remain largely helpless in the face of the evils around us and unable to promote his will for good in this world. However we may understand the details, there can be no doubt on the biblical picture of human life that we were meant to be inhabited by God and live by a power beyond ourselves. Human problems cannot be solved by human means. Human life can never flourish unless it pulses with “his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19 NIV). But only faithful students of Jesus will be empowered to fulfill their calling in this world. But someone will say, can’t I get into heaven when I die without any of this? Perhaps you can. God’s goodness is so great, I am sure that he will let you in if he can find any basis at all to do so. But you might consider whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of one whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of earthly existence.