Introductory Note:

“Sometimes it’s not enough just to read a book,” Jan Johnson writes, matter-of-factly. We need to “soak our souls in them.” This truth inspired Jan to create a practical companion guide to Dallas Willard’s weighty and wonderful book Renovation of the Heart. Jan worked with Dallas to develop Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice so that readers could intentionally slow down and digest the ideas from Renovation in conversation with God. Her guidance includes spiritual “experiments” that readers can use or adapt as ways to interact with the Spirit as they read. We share here a chapter about inward spiritual formation from which true goodness flows.

Renovaré Team

Excerpt from Renovation of the Heart in Daily Practice

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 dead­en­ing 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.

Exter­nal­ism, as we might call it, was a dan­ger in New Tes­ta­ment times. But that Christ be formed with­in you” is the eter­nal watch­word of Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion (Gala­tians 4:19).1 This word is for­ti­fied by the deep moral and spir­i­tu­al insight that while the let­ter of the law kills, the spir­it gives life” (2 Corinthi­ans 3:6).

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) 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 1 John 5:3).

For some peo­ple, com­ing to faith has felt a bit like a bait-and-switch oper­a­tion. At first, we hear most­ly about grace. We hear we are saved by grace and that sal­va­tion is a free gift. But after a while, we are encour­aged to try to be good. Yet it is exhaust­ing to try to be good. We think, This so-called free gift costs more than my puny self can buy. I’ll nev­er make it. Con­sid­er the dis­as­trous results of try­ing to be good. When we seem to be suc­cess­ful at growth, our spir­i­tu­al­i­ty becomes about us, not about the pow­er of God in our lives. When we try hard and fail, we berate our­selves and spend tremen­dous ener­gy on guilt and hope­less­ness instead of let­ting our­selves be drawn into the divine life by becom­ing fas­ci­nat­ed with the great exam­ple of Jesus in the Gospels.

This weight of try­ing to be good is an unnec­es­sary load because the way to God is the way of all-encom­pass­ing inner trans­for­ma­tion. God will work in us (see Philip­pi­ans 1:6). We have a part in coop­er­at­ing with God, which is what we’ll explore in this book. But even then, we must not make it our project. We need to ask God to show us what the next small steps are and how to take them.

Sug­gest­ed Experiment

Con­fess any attempts to become like Jesus sim­ply by try­ing hard to do so. Reflect on the results (or lack of, espe­cial­ly sins that nev­er seem to go away). Con­sid­er the ener­gy you have used and the results you’ve experienced.

Then, feast for a moment on this idea: Christ in you, the hope of glo­ry” (Colos­sians 1:27, NIV). Dwell on that thought. If you wish, ask God to do this work with­in you. 

Then ask him to show you the next small step (or two or three) you need to make to coop­er­ate in bring­ing this about in your life. If you’re not yet con­vinced he’ll show you, ask him for that faith.

Pray also for Chris­t­ian groups and their lead­ers to long for this inner trans­for­ma­tion so that Chris­tians can become a touch­point between heav­en and earth.

  1. Bible vers­es are para­phrased by they author. ↩︎

Tak­en from Ren­o­va­tion of the Heart in Dai­ly Prac­tice by Jan John­son and Dal­las Willard. Copy­right © 2002, 2006. Used by per­mis­sion of Nav­Press, rep­re­sent­ed by Tyn­dale House Pub­lish­ers. All rights reserved.

Pho­to by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

Text First Published September 2006 · Last Featured on March 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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