Editor's note:

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul offers the exhortation to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind,” as well as in the inverse instruction: “Do not be conformed to this world.” In a small group I attend, we have found that “conforming to the world” signifies more than just doing the bad things everyone else is doing. It is trying to live a life that does not work.

In this excerpt from Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines, we see that conformity to the world not only mires us in moral ambiguities, it strikes at the very heart of who we are and what we are called to be. It makes life a march instead of a dance, black and white instead of color, bound up instead of loosened. Discipleship is for life in all of its fullness, not just for church or charity

—Matt Filer

Excerpt from The Spirit of the Disciplines

The English philosopher and critic John Ruskin… said this of the human:  

His true life is like that of lower organic beings, the independent force by which he moulds and governs external things; it is a force of assimilation which converts everything around him into food, or into instruments; and which, however humbly or obediently it may listen to or follow the guidance of superior intelligence, never forfeits its own authority as a judging principle and as a will capable of either obeying or rebelling.  

Ruskin proceeds to contrast this “true” life with the “false” life that is possible, and too often reality, for human beings: a false life of custom and accident “in which we do what we have not purposed, and speak what we do not mean, and assent to what we do not understand; that life which is overlaid by the weight of things external to it, and is moulded by them instead of assimilating them.” How often do we feel like this in our day-to-day life, doing and saying things we don’t mean just to get along with the world around us?

Once I counseled a sensitive and intelligent young woman who was quite miserable in her job at a department store. She told me that on the weekends she felt as if she had been “dug up” from being “buried” during the week. This graphically expressed the sense that her activities at work were not really hers, that she therefore was dead (“buried”) during that time, only to come to life (be “dug up”) on the weekends when her activities originated from within herself.

What constitutes the individuality and uniqueness that make living things precious? It is their inner source of activity. One brick or board may be as good as another since it has no inner life. But to treat one person as replaceable by another is not to treat them as persons at all. It denies the inner source, the originative power that is a human life. And that is why doing so is regarded as dehumanizing.

Some persons may indeed try to abdicate their life, disown their spontaneity, seek security by “conforming” to what is outside of them. But they don’t actually escape life or their responsibility for it. They only succeed in appearing “wooden,” unlively. We may know what to expect from them, but we have as little delight in them as they do in themselves.

Ever wonder why we love the frankness, the audacity of the little child? It’s because a child presents life in an unblushing directness that permits no mistake about its originality and therefore its individuality.

It’s the same reason we delight in the frolics of a puppy or the lollings about of a panda. These are so utterly gratuitous that they could, we think, only be evidences of an inward life completely unrestrained. And we love them for it.

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PC: Ruud Morijn

(Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines (pp. 59-60). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)