I’m currently reading “Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice” by Dallas Willard and Jan Johnson. It’s a devotional book based on Dallas Willard’s “Renovation of the Heart“. As I’ve stated before Dallas Willard has had a significant influence on my faith. With a history of legalism my soul soars with the idea that Jesus is offering something more than a list of rules for me to conform to but instead a different way to live entirely.
I recently read this portion and it resonates with me on so many levels.
The external manifestation of Christlikeness is not the focus of Christian spiritual formation. When outward forms or behaviors are made the main emphasis, the process will be defeated, falling into deading legalisms. This has happened in the past, and it is a major barrier to wholeheartedly embracing spiritual formation in the present. Peculiar modes of dress, behavior, and organization are just not the point [emphasis mine].
Externalism as we might call it, was a danger in New Testament times. But “that Christ be formed within you” is the eternal watch word for Christian spiritual formation. (Galatians 4:19, paraphrase). This word is fortified by the deep moral and spiritual insight that while “the letter of the law kills, the spirit give life” (2 Corinthians 3:6, paraphrase).
To illustrate briefly, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7) refer to various wrong behaviors: acting out anger, looking to lust, heartless divorce, verbal manipulation, returning evil for evil, and so forth. To strive merely to act in conformity with Jesus’ expressions of what living from the heart in the kingdom of God is like is to attempt the impossible.
The outward interpretation of spiritual formation (emphasizing specific acts) aims to increase “the righteousness of the scribe and Pharisee,” but this will not “go beyond” (Matthew 5:20, paraphrase) to achieve genuine transformation of who I am through and through — that is, Christ’s man or woman, living richly in his kingdom.
But Christlikeness in the inner being is not a human attainment. It is, finally, a gift of grace. Spiritual formation is the way of rest for the weary and overloaded, of the easy yoke and light burden (see Matthew 11:28-30), of cleaning the inside of the cup and dish (see Matthew 23:26), of the good tree that cannot bear bad fruit (see Luke 6:43). And it is the path along which God’s commandments are found not to be heavy or burdensome (see I John 5:3)