Changing Character

When one is contemplating the changing of behavior from fleshly (or sinful) to godly there are a couple questions that naturally arise. Since we want to avoid legalism how does one change outward behavior while the inner man still wants to speak crossly, or let a discipline slide, or entertain a lustful thought?

We have on our hands a “which comes first the chicken or the egg” conundrum. Since we all ready discussed “Believe => Think => Feel => Do” it would seem natural that this process should have something to do with our solution.

A second question seems to beg an answer: what role does the Spirit of Messiah play?

I’ve been thinking about this for several weeks now, and it has been an interesting time to ponder because I’ve simultaneously been on the Maker’s Diet for a little over 40 days (and have lost 35 lbs to date). In the process I have noted that once one sets your will to do a thing, it becomes easy with practice. This seems so simplistic, yet it is the key.

Will => Do => Realize is the pattern of transformation. This is connected to our earlier formula in that the setting of one’s will happens as a result of something believed. The pattern of thinking is determined by that belief and the subsequent willing. That setting of one’s will and the thinking process that accompanies it creates a feeling of “wanting” to do whatever it is that needs to be done. In the case of my example, changing the content of what I eat.

Because I believed the contents of what I read in Jordan Rubin’s book, The Maker’s Diet, I determined to act on that belief, and then felt like eliminating sugar, grains and starches from my menu. The first week it was very difficult to stick by my newly diminished menu. In the moments where my feeling flagged it was my will which asserted itself. In fact, in order to accomplish it successfully I took a week of vacation from work so that I could spend extra amounts of time planning and then preparing my meals.

By the third week, it had become second nature to reach for a handful of almonds when I felt the urge to snack that habitually accompanies TV watching, for example. The aptly identified force of habit is a power that we must harness for positive effect. When one is in the habit of submitting momentary emotions to the dictates of your will (and it must be your will, by the way) transformation becomes the natural realization of your habitual practice.

This, of course, is all assuming that what you believe is sound. Since belief is the foundation, what you determine to do will be either beneficial or harmful as a result of whether you believe truth or a lie.

This, I suspect, is what Solomon had in mind when he penned:

“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” Proverbs 4:4-9 (ESV)

You might wonder where the Spirit of God is in all of this? Let’s discuss that in the next post.

A Poem

Sabbath

The mind that comes to rest is tended
In ways that it cannot intend:
Is borne, preserved, and comprehended
By what it cannot comprehend.

Your Sabbath, Lord, thus keeps us by
Your will, not ours. And it is fit
Our only choice should be to die
Into that rest, or out of it.

Wendell Berry

Berry, Wendell. A Timbered Choir (Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1998), p.7.

As quoted in Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson

Sharing Common Ground

I’ve been reading a lot of Dallas Willard lately.  One of the reasons is that his premise is the same as that I’ve been championing for several years, but some of the “therefore” thinking he has done from that premise is really putting some pieces of the puzzle into perspective for me.  So I started re-reading The Great Omission yesterday and here are some excerpts that pertain directly to the premise that Willard and I share.

Who, among Christians today, is a disciple of Jesus, in any substantive sense of the world “disciple”? A disciple is a learner, a student, an apprentice–a practitioner, even if only a beginner. The New Testament literature, which must be allowed to define our terms if we are ever to get our bearings in the Way with Christ, makes this clear. In that context, disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in the Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth.

In contrast, the governing assumption today, among professing Christians, is that we can be “Christians” forever and never become disciples….That is the accepted teaching now. Check it out wherever you are. And this (with its various consequences) is the Great Omission from the “Great Commission”….

For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship….So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.

…Obedience and training in obedience form no intelligible doctrinal or practical unity with the “salvation” presented in recent versions of the gospel.

The only thing I would change if it was me writing those paragraphs is that I would say, “The Scriptural literature, which must be allowed to define our terms….”  Man, I feel like cheering!

The next step is for someone to develop a “curriculum” from the Scriptures. A “since we can’t literally go walk with Jesus through the highways and byways of Galilee and Judea, this is how to become his apprentice today” manual.  I feel called to do this and I am currently petitioning God to make clear the practical details of how to make this possible.

To quote Willard again, I need to be “systematically and progressively rearranging my affairs to that end.”