Introductory Note:

Good writers are able to make deep observations about the cultures and historical contexts from which they write. Great writers, however, are able to somehow transcend their own cultures in making valid and relevant commentary about societies far into the future. CS Lewis was such a writer. I believe Dallas Willard was another.

“Prophetic” may be too strong a word to describe these writers’ vision, but sound and rigorous thinking allows them to consider human character and systems not only as they are, but also in terms of how they will unfold given their current trajectory. The thoughts expressed in great writing somehow pick up steam and become more relevant and more fitting in subsequent years, decades, and centuries. I will wager that in the years to come the excerpt below from the beginning of chapter 9 of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy will have exactly that type of ever-increasing relevance.

The first time I read these words, they fell on me with such force that my heart rate began to increase. I realized the possibilities of a new way of living. It was as if I had drawn the first breath of a new life; I had reawakened to Christianity.

Avo Adourian
Renovaré Institute Alumnus

Excerpt from The Divine Conspiracy
So those who hear me and do what I say are like those intelligent people who build their homes on solid rock, where rain and floods and winds cannot shake them.
— Matthew 7:24 – 25
Train them to do everything I have told you.
— Matthew 28:20

The Course of Studies in the Master Class

These words from Jesus show that it must be possible to hear and do what he said. It also must be possible to train his apprentices in such a way that they routinely do everything he said was best. 

That may seem a dream to us today, or it may even be perceived as a threat to our current vision of the Christian hope — indeed, of our personal hope. But that is only because we now live in a time when consumer Christianity has become the accepted norm, and all-out engagement with and in Jesus’ kingdom among us is regarded as just one option people may take if it suits them — but probably as somewhat overdoing it.” By contrast, the biblical pattern is, from beginning to end, Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.” 

Because that is so, and we have insisted upon it, we now must deal with the question of ways and means. What could we teach apprentices to Jesus, and how could we train them in such a way that they would routinely do the things he said were right? Indeed, what can we do to put ourselves in position actually to do what he has said?

Obedience and Abundance: Inseparable Aspects of the Same Life

Certainly life on the rock” must be a good way to live. Wouldn’t you like to be one of those intelligent people who know how to live a rich and unshakable life? One free from loneliness, fear, and anxiety and filled with constant peace and joy? Would you like to love your neighbors as you do yourself and be free of anger, envy, lust, and covetousness? Would you like to have no need for others to praise you, and would you like to not be paralyzed and humiliated by their dislike and condemnation? Would you like to have the inspiration and strength to lead a constant life of creative goodness? It sounds pretty good thus far, doesn’t it?

Wouldn’t you also like to have a strength and understanding that enables you genuinely and naturally to bless those who are cursing you — or cheating you, beating you out on the job, spitting on you in a confrontation, laughing at your religion or culture, even killing you? Or the strength and understanding merely to give further needed assistance to someone who has forced you to drop what you are doing and help out? To offer the other cheek to someone who has slapped you? Clearly, our entire inner reality of thought and feeling would have to be transformed to bring us to such a place.

And if you are the usual person reading this list, you are by now beginning to experience some hesitation and some doubt. Yes, a part of this sounds very like abundance of life: a very desirable condition to be in that immediately recommends itself to everyone. But other parts seem like obedience: something that well might spoil our plans or ruin our life. And so I may be asking myself along about now whether I really want to give up all the behavioral options” that would disappear from my repertoire if I became the person described — that intelligent person who builds his or her house upon the rock.

But the truth about obedience in the kingdom of Jesus, as should be clear by now, is that it really is abundance. Kingdom obedience is kingdom abundance. They are not two separate things. The inner condition of the soul from which strength and love and peace flow is the very same condition that generously blesses the oppressor and lovingly offers the other cheek. These Christlike behaviors are expressions of a pervasive personal strength and its joy, not of weakness, morbidity, sorrow — or raw exertion of will — as is so often assumed. And all those old options” that we might think should be kept in reserve, just in case they turn out to be necessary,” will not even be missed.

However, this truth about obedience seems a secret very well kept today. And the correlation between faith in Christ and the obedience/abundance of life in Christ has now become, apparently, something of a mystery. Yes, it is a relationship that has functioned well in many periods of Christian history. The cultural and literary record is there for all to see. And there still are those today for whom faith in Christ progressively modulates into both obedience and abundance. I meet such people. But, not very many. The usual Christian experience does not progress in that way. And it is mainly because individuals are rarely offered any effective guidance into the inner substance of the path laid down by Jesus in his teachings and example. 

Excerpted from The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard (Harpercollins, 1998).

Photo by Giordano Rossoni on Unsplash

Text First Published March 1998 · Last Featured on March 2023