(This is the second half of the talk. The first half of this talk is also available.)
Talk 3 of 6 at a Renovare conference on "Living in the Kingdom of God" by Dallas Willard. April 2003, Oak Hills Church, Folsom, California. Transcript by Ray Cowan, December 11, 2008. This is the second 30 minutes of an hour-long talk. This conference is available on CD from www.renovare.org. Editorial comments are in "[…]".
See, flesh is not bad. Flesh is good. And, indeed in this matter of what we're going to trust, what we have to be wary of above all, is "nice" flesh. Nice flesh. "Qualified" flesh. Human abilities that are good. Really being smart. Being good-looking. Having good, natural health and strength. See, the problem, the problem is not just the bad stuff. Paul goes over this in Philippians 3 if you remember. He talks about what he was after the flesh. And he lists his birth (the tribe of Benjamin). He lists his education—he had one of the best for his day. I mean, what he went to was like going to Harvard, or like Jim [James Bryan Smith] here going to Yale. No, the best schools: Berkeley, Stanford, the ones that are on the top. Paul had that.
And you know what he called it? Dung. Now, we can't say that other word in church. So, "dung". Said he counts it as dung that he might obtain Christ. Now that means that he might step out of his kingdom and move over into that other one.
See, when we put the flesh first (see, at the bottom of page 9 [of the conference handout]), things line up: body first, will next, mind next, social relations next, soul next, and God last. See, that's the form of idolatry. Idolatry always takes whatever that God is, and tries to use it for my purposes. And that's the order of life when we live in a fallen world.
There's a wonderful statement by John Calvin that I wanted to read to you. Calvin says, "The surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves." He says, "So blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love that everyone thinks that he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison.
Bonhoeffer captures this same thought. He says, "Whereas the primal relationship of man to man is a giving one, in the state of sin, it is a purely demanding one. Every man exists in a state of complete, voluntary isolation. Each man lives his own life, instead of all living the same God-life." Well, you see, that's the way it has to be when each of us is a god to him- or herself. That is to say, we put ourselves as the point of ultimate reference for our whole lives.
See, that's what the flesh does. And the corporate flesh is, of course, how we all come together, and that's how we build our Babels. If you want to go on to your next page there, you'll see why is sex and violence such a big thing in our lives, our media, our entertainment. I often, I can't, I can't sympathetically watch most of what is made as movies, because of the emptiness that's involved in it. I can't see why I should drag myself through that one more time. 'Cause I know how it's going to go anyway. See, they're all scripted, in little things of ups and downs, and you're supposed to say "Ooh" and "Aah" and then it's all over, and you go out of the movie house. And so what have you got?
See, it's, I certainly don't mean to downplay valid art, because that's one of the great areas of creativity. And a good script or a good movie, whatever. See, we don't normally get that; we just get a play of the flesh. And when you've lived through that enough times, you say, "What's the point?" Right?
But the point is that we have to feel. That's one of the dimensions of our being. It's essential. And that's why I've described peace the way I did last night: restful fruitfulness. See, the opposite of peace is not war; it's really deadness. It's deadness. It's not having a drama in which we're living. And the goodness of life coming to us through the kingdom.
And that's why sex and violence is such a big thing in entertainment, and of course news now is 90% entertainment. If you ask yourself why they bring the stories on they do, and especially the ones they bring on first, in the newspaper or the news programs, you'll see that it's basically to grab unfeeling people and make them feel. They'll go for the thing that makes us feel.
'Cause you see, feeling is when we know we're alive. And I'm not downplaying this; feeling is extremely important. Our feeling should be at its height in worship. See. And in love. Loving others. And in creating, by using the world that God has made. Creativity. I was in a meeting sometime back with a group of men, and one of them, after listening to me talk, said "Is it a sin to love wood?" Now I think some of you will know what he was talking about. Because truthfully, wood is such a wonderful thing. You can come to adore it. I mean, all of the material things that God has made like that, they're just so beautiful and so wonderful, that, that you feel deeply as you engage with them. Dirt, flowers, music, paint. The texture of a family relationship. See, you can just praise God in that.
Feeling is so wonderful, so important. And when it goes dead because we have cut ourselves off from the drama of God's kingdom and living in it, and engaging with good and evil in our world from the depth of the kingdom. And watching the power of God move. And celebrating what he's done in the past, and what he's going to do in the future. See, that's when we have to go back to something that will give us a kick, because we need it. And that's what drives.
Now, I've referred here [in the conference handout] to Romans 1. And I think I'm talking to a group that basically knows what Romans 1 is about: it's the declension of human beings into a condition of almost unmitigated evil. And if you'll look at that passage, you're going to see that it comes from turning to the body. Turning to the body. First, turning to the body, away from God, to worship idols. To worship things that look like animals, or human beings, or some mixture of them, see.
But then, that's not enough. It always degenerates into sex and violence. See, Paul knew this. He saw it around him. And he had a very analytic mind and eye. And so he goes just right down the line and analyzes it. See, that all comes from turning in on our kingdom, and when we turn to our kingdom, the body becomes the focus.
And the flesh, then, as the natural powers of the body becomes everything that we have. So now, our kingdoms are no longer in cooperation. Our kingdoms are in opposition. And the way that primarily affects us is we are not able to love and know one another. We're defensive. We distance ourselves. We isolate ourselves. And then we become hungry, and we have to do things to bring us back to life. And make us, assure us, that we are alive. Because the normal relationships which we should have with human beings around us—under God—are not there.
And thank God some redemptive elements nearly always remain, and we can be very thankful to that. And again, children are a primary way of renewing a jaded, old world. And animals, also, did you ever notice? Dogs are the same in every culture. Chickens are the same in every culture. You know? You go to Indonesia and look at a chicken, a chicken is a chicken, you know. A dog is a dog. Thank God! There are some things that we can't override. These little creatures that come into our midst, young people, children.
Now I'm old enough that where my students at USC walk in the room, they look like children to me. And actually, that's a great blessing, because I see the renewal. But even in their lives, though unfortunately sometimes they're pretty jaded by the time they get there.
So now, on page 10 there, talking about the mind of the flesh and the mind of the spirit. See, Paul says that they that are according to the flesh ("kata", the Greek term is I think best translated as "according to" the flesh). They live in terms of the flesh. See, they "mind" the things of the flesh. In other words, their mind is set on those things; that's where their expectation is, that's where their thought is. They that are according to the spirit do "mind" the things of the spirit. God, his kingdom, the Holy Spirit, the power of the Word. The power of a godly life.
When we sing our songs, often I wonder (like last night we sang "Holiness Is What I Long For"). I wonder how that would cash out, see? What do we think of as "holiness" that we]re longing for? Well really, holiness is fullness of life. It is fullness of life. See, obedience always comes out of abundance.
Now, the mind of the flesh is headed for starvation and death. That's what happens with the flesh. The mind of the spirit is life, because it ties us into that life we talked about—that is in God—last night. See, God has life in himself. Everything that is living receives its life from him.
And spiritual life comes when the word comes under the anointing of the Spirit, into the heart, and ignites confidence in God. I've tried to depict that in the little diagram on page 7 [of the conference handout], you'll see. See, the word and Spirit of Christ enters, see, from the left here, it enters, and then out of that, faith in Christ, which re-establishes communion with God.
See, the fundamental function of the human spirit is to trust God. And the way the human spirit does that is by turning the mind back to God, giving the mind up to God. They that are in terms of (those that live in terms of) the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit. And that is how you sow to the Spirit. I've also referenced here Galations 6:7–10. It talks about sowing to the flesh, and sowing to the spirit.
Think of sowing here as investing, giving. You give your time, you give your energy, to what is merely in the domain of natural abilities. Now, you know, that can be a hauntingly beautiful thing. I want to say again, the flesh is good. God made it. It is not safe unless it is harbored in the spirit. And then it's perfectly safe, and perfectly wonderful.
That's the way God meant it to be. Our bodies are meant primarily to be a spiritual expression of God, and of our soul, and of the kingdom. I would like you to think perhaps that the highest manifestation of the nature of the body was the body of Christ on the mount of transfiguration. Right. And then, of course, in resurrection we see that same thing. But you'll remember that Jesus, on the mount of transfiguration, it says, "As he prayed, his face and his clothing became white as lightning."
You know the Biblical name for that is "glory"? Glory. See, glory is always a manifestation of energy, of power and goodness. Some people wonder why Adam and Eve didn't wear clothes before they sinned. Have you ever laid awake at night wondering about that? They didn't wear clothes because they glowed. They didn't need clothing. When you look at a light bulb that's turned on, you can't see the light bulb, can you, for the light? Why were they ashamed? They lost their glow. It wasn't just, "Yeck, you're naked!", you know. It was they had lost the natural—see, that's the way we should be, like this. That's what God intends for us. And you've seen that on some people; I'm sure you have. Not necessarily bright enough that they didn't need clothing. Alright. But you have seen the presence of that glow in people. People saw it in Jesus Christ. And so when we take our kingom into God's kingdom, and find his goodness, then we understand the power of God in our lives.
Well, there's much more that we could talk about here, and I hope you will have time to sort of go through the remaining part of the outline, but we'll just conclude with a thought and then Jim's going to come up, and we're going to have a little time of questions, I think.
Where do we start? And, the answer is, we really start with where we are. You can just think of it this way: it is impossible to begin anything otherwise than where you are. God has yet to bless anyone in a place where they aren't. And that's one of the distinctiveness of human existence, is it is specific as to time and to place. And so what we want to do, if we can just use the notes at the bottom of 11 there, is to understand the pattern of change, the universal pattern of change.
Now what Jim and I have sort of been trying to give to you in these first meetings is the "V". The "V" is the vision. And we have that wonderful song that George led us in, "Be Thou My Vision". See? The vision is the controlling thing. The vision of the kingdom of God. The vision of you as having a kingdom, intended by God from the foundation of the world. The capacity to see your situation, to see who you are, a man, a woman, a child, black, white, wherever you're from. To see that as God's place to know his kingdom. And to then say, "It's good that I am who I am."
Now let me tell you, probably of all the things one might…that's one of the biggest challenges to your vision. Is to say, "It is good that I am who I am." And usually that goes to the whole life, but for example if you're becoming older, and perhaps you're becoming infirm. Is that good? The real point of the Beatitudes of Jesus is to say that there is no situation that is not blessed for those who are in the kingdom of God.
Now see, you can ask yourself, why is there such a thing as aging anyway? What does that mean in kingdom terms? I don't think I'm going to say anything about that, but I'd like you to think about it. I mean, God could have arranged it where you didn't age, couldn't he? How does that fit in? Now no matter what it may be, see, to be able to say blessed is to have the vision of the kingdom. And if you can go to the person, especially those who in human terms are thought to be beyond blessing, and put them in the context of the kingdom, and say blessed, then you've got the vision.
And perhaps you can put yourself in that. A real test is, can you say—stand before the mirror and look at yourself and say—it is good that I am who I am. Can you say that? See, that will depend on your vision. And there's nothing that glows like a person who is approaching death in the glory of God. And that's the way it's meant to be. A person who's growing old in the glory of God. I used to hear a preacher who said, "The devil has no happy old people." See, the vision of the kingdom is one that enables us to take all of the things that come to us, and say, "Everything that comes to me will be turned to good because I am alive in God's kingdom as a friend of Jesus Christ."
So when we say all things work together for good—not for everyone—a publishing house in Holland that I have to do with has this slogan "Alles komt zu recht." Not on your life! Not on your life, unless you are called into the purposes of God, and you love God. All things work together for good to those who love God and are called into his purposes, see. [Romans 8:28] That's true! And you and I can rejoice in that. And we're perfectly safe, that's the vision, see.
Now the intention here is, "I'm going to do that, I'm going to live in that." I'm going to live in that kingdom. I'm going to take everything that I have and I'm going to live in that kingdom." Now that's where it's important for us to understand that it is about all of life and not about a few little religious things. The intention is to take my whole life. So when I'm standing in line to go through the airport with 85,000 other people trying to get through the security check, see, that, that's that too. So I take that. So instead of fretting, I begin to look at the people around me. I begin to pray blessing upon them. Right? I begin to see if there's some way I could be helpful. Not to be officious, and nosy, but just sensible. But see, now I'm in a different kingdom. I have to intend that. You do not drift into this. You choose it. You choose it. You don't drift into discipleship. You choose it, see.
But see your vision is what supports you in that. The vision supports you. And you can now intend, if you have the vision, you can intend to live in it. "Fear not, little flock. It is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." So, turn loose! Is what the rest of that—turn loose! Nothing wrong with having a purse and some money in it, unless you're hanging on to it. See? Then you're in the kingdom of your money, and all you can say is lotsa luck. There're not an awful lot of people in that kingdom that are blessed. And that's why Jesus said, "Cursed are you rich." Not because of the money, but because of what you're trusting, see.
And you trust doctors, that's—doctors are wonderful. But you'd better have your health in God's hands. And that's true of everything, so intention—
Now then, see finally, is means. And this we'll talk a little more later on today. But the means are primarily any of the things that would help you fulfil the intention to realize the vision. And means are the area of wisdom. They're not the area of righteousness. That's going back to some of the things that Jim so effectively talked on last night, see. I mean, if you're coming to church to do righteous, stay away! It'll be a blessing to everyone. You don't come to church to do righteous stuff. You come to church to do good stuff. Right?
And so, again, we're going to talk about church this afternoon, what we can do in the way of spiritual formation, and realization of the kingdom. You, you do things that are wise, to help you, like Scripture memorization. You don't do Scripture memorization to be righteous. You do it because it's good for you. "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." [Psalms 119:11] See, that's means. You see the connection in that verse? "That I might not sin against thee." Now see, if you have the vision and the intention, but you don't implement the means, it'll come to nothing.
But in the area of means, there's great freedom, because it is the area of interaction with the Spirit. Right. So now, if Kent and Mike show up here to preach Sunday, and there's three people here, that's a stage you have to go through. They'll be back. And when they come back, they'll be here, because they think it's wonderful to be here. And they love the people. So that's, that's the kind of shift that we're talking about here, see. We're, we're talking about things that we do if we don't have to do them. And that especially applies in the area of means, so that would cover church attendance, because church is good for you. That's why you should come. And, then everyone who's arranging the services, and serving the Lord as leaders, they want to approach it in the same way: doing what is good for people, and not what is merely ritualistically righteous. Because that will bring you back into bondage, the deadness of the law.
So, with that kind of pattern, then you take the, the small things ("Faithful in little, faithful in much" [Luke 16:10]), that, the last section here, section 11 on page 12. I give the verse from Colossians, because this is often thought to be so little: "Letting your speech always be with grace." Oh, what a wonderful thing that is. Now, what does that mean? "Let your speech be with grace." Well, it means, now go back to what we said about grace last night, when you speak, you're always looking to God to intervene. See, remember, I said grace is God intervening in our lives to accomplish what we cannot do on our own. Ever have someone go at you with their words, trying to manage you? You like that? No, you don't. Why? Because they are violating God's appointed kingdom for you. That's why Jesus said, "Let your 'yes' be a yes, and your 'no' be a no, because more that this comes from evil." [Matt. 5:37]
The function of words is not to manipulate people. The function of words is to be a site, a repository, of grace. So when you speak, now you have the mind of the Spirit, and you're expecting grace to come into that relationship. So then that, that takes you out of control, you know, you—ever watch someone bowl? And they turn the ball loose, and then they stand there and go, "Unhh…Uunnhh…Unnhh", right? It's body English. See, a lot of—if we're in the business of controlling things, that's what we do when we talk. Instead of it being freeing, and loving, and grace-filled, seasoned with salt, it'll just be us trying to make something happen again. "…that you may know how you should respond to each person." [Col. 4:6]
And then, see, in these lowly places, that's where—now go back to this verse, which I quoted to you earlier, "Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God" [1 Peter 5:6] What does that mean? That means assume that God is in action. When you humble yourself in the hand of God, you acknowledge God. You acknowledge God's presence in what you're doing. Now, you take that and any area of your life, and you will begin to see God's kingdom working with your kingdom. And you'll see it. And see I can tell you that, because I know that if you do it, you will find God there. It always works.
It's just like old Abraham when he sent his son, his servant up to Syria to get a wife for his son Isaac. [Genesis 24] Now this guy had been hanging around Abraham for years, and didn't believe a bit of it, you know, he just said, "Well, you know that's just how Abraham is, he talks a lot about God." Like the man who ripped off a curse in front of his preacher, and caught himself, and said, "Oh, it's ok preacher, I curse a little, and you pray a little bit, but neither one of us means anything by it." And that's the way this guy felt about Abraham, now, he does his religious things, goes over in a tent and does that stuff. But he doesn't mean anything." And Abraham just said, "Yeah, go!" And the guy was standing there saying, "But…but…but…but…but…but…but…" and Abraham said, "Just go. God's angel will be with you. And he'll guide you." And you remember what happened? This old guy got up there in Syria and said, "How am I going to do this?" And so he made up this little routine: "Oh, well I'll try this. I'll say, 'Give me to drink.' And if she says, 'Sure, I'll give you to drink, and I'll water your camels also.', then that's the one." He just cooked that up. You see, the important thing was, he put himself on the line. And when you put yourself on the line, with God, he'll be there. He'll be there. We'll learn a lot as we go along, but he'll be there. You see, I know that this will happen with you. I know that if you do this, you will find God in everything you do. "Faithful in little, faithful in much."
Ok, Jim, come and answer the people's questions. Now, I think we have people running about with mics, and here's a hand up here, so let's just start with whatever comes to mind. [Jim:] "All the hard ones you get to answer." [Dallas:] "No, no, no."
Questioner: I have a question for Dallas Willard.
Q: In what ways does your and God's cooperative kingdoms interact in the world of a secular university, and I have sort of a second part, which is as we make decisions about our kids and our grandkids going to a Christian college vs. a secular college, do you have any wisdom that might shed light on that decision from your experience there?
DW: Boy, that's a long talk, but let me try to be very brief. It interacts in that context just like it would anywhere. You are someone who is a disciple of Jesus, of course that's open and obvious. You don't have to rub people's face in it. If it's not open and obvious, you shouldn't rub their face in it. So, this is the kind of area where we want to realize that, for a lot of things, if they have to be spoken, shouldn't be. So, now then, in my work as researching, writing, setting up courses, dealing with students, dealing with colleagues, then that's where I simply count on the presence of Christ in the midst. And I don't assume that he has nothing to do with unbelievers. Because I take them, I take him in their presence with me. And so I count on that. I do it very explicitly. Committee meetings are among the greatest challenges of the academic life. And sometimes life-and-death matters are decided in committee meetings. So, you know when you go into a committee meeting, now, if there's ever any place that you need to expect to see the glory of God, it's a committee meeting. But that's the way I approach it, and I just say, I look for the hand of God, is the way I often put it to others and to myself.
The other issue is really very complicated, and I have to be careful here, but I want to be frank, and to say you cannot count on a Christian college to save your grandson or your son or your daughter. Basically, the Christian schools are fighting much the same battles as the so-called non-Christian schools. A hundred and, a hundred years ago, actually much less than that, if you were to try to talk about secular universities, no one would understand it. There weren't any secular universities. Now you go back and look at the founding language of land-grant universities in this country, you will be impressed with how much God is in it. And, so, it's the kind of thing where you have to recognize that what is going to make a difference for a young person is what's on the ground when they get there. And the course content in Christian universities does not differ from the course content in so-called secular schools. In that sense, all learning today is secular. It is assumed that you can be the best-educated person in any field without any knowledge of God at all. That assumption is still true on the Christian university campuses. This is a part of a larger battle in which we have been losing for a hundred years, and we need to come back.
One of the things that is important for you to know, if you're sending your child to a university, is what is the religious life like on the campus? And sometimes its better at a secular school than it is at a Christian school. It depends on what's happening. So I guess what I would say is, look at the details."
(End of talk.)