Dallas Willard on Discipleship

Dallas Willard… Looks like a nice guy.Great article by Dallas Willard called “Why Bother With Discipleship?” Peeps, this dude’s the bi-zomb! Here are some salient quotes that I’ve compiled to give you a 4-5 minutes snapshot of his points (along with my comments [in brackets] along the way):

If we are Christians simply by believing that Jesus died for our sins, then that is all it takes to have sins forgiven and go to heaven when we die. Why, then, do some people keep insisting that something more than this is desirable? Lordship, discipleship, spiritual formation, and the like?

[E]veryone wants to be a good person. But that does not require that you actually do what Jesus himself said and did. Haven’t you heard? “Christians aren’t perfect. Just forgiven.” [How did we get to the place where we thought it’s a good idea respond to the world’s accusation of self-righteousness with bumper stickers instead of our lives? There is now a whole generation of Christian kids who think “standing up for one’s faith” starts at stickers and t-shirts instead of, for example, knowing and loving God’s Word?!]

Now those who honestly find themselves concerned about such matters might find it helpful to consider four simple points:

First, there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’ expense and have nothing more to do with him. [Boy that’s good. Bring it, Willard.]

Some years ago A. W. Tozer expressed his “feeling that a notable heresy has come into being throughout evangelical Christian circles–the widely-accepted concept that we humans can choose to accept Christ only because we need him as Savior and that we have the right to postpone our obedience to him as Lord as long as we want to!” (I Call It Heresy, Harrisburg, PA. [Willard, I don’t think you need a period after “PA”]: Christian Publications, 1974, p. 5f). [But you do after the parantheses. But not these self-contained sentences.] He then goes on to state “that salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures.” [Heresy might not be a bad word for it as easy discipleship creates flimsy Christians.]

This ‘heresy’ has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a “vampire Christian.” One in effect says to Jesus: “I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.” But can we really imagine that this is an approach that Jesus finds acceptable? … [Umm, no, I can’t imagine that. The cross was costlier than that.]

Secondly, if we do not become his apprentices in kingdom living we remain locked in defeat so far as our moral intentions are concerned. This is where most professing Christians find themselves today. Statistical studies prove it. People, generally, choose to sin. And they are filled with explanations as to why, everything considered, it understandable to do so. But, even so, no one chooses to be a sinner. It is amusing that people will admit to lying, for example, but stoutly deny that they are liars.

We want to be good, but we are prepared, ready, to do evil–should circumstances require it. And of course they do ‘require’ it, with deadening regularity. [It’s the same mechanism that makes sayings like “those who work hard seem to get luckier more often” true. The circumstances seem to change with our assumptions, and governing conditions, the preparedness to do evil in this case.] As Jesus himself indicated, those who practice sin actually are slaves of it. (John 8:34) Ordinary life confirms it. How consistently do you find people able to do good and avoid evil as they intend? …

Thirdly, only avid discipleship to Christ through the spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling and character that “cleans the inside of the cup” (Matt. 23:25) and “makes the tree good” (Matt. 12:33). As we study with Jesus we increasingly become on the inside–with “the Father who is in secret” (Matt 6:6)–exactly what we are on the outside, where actions and moods and attitudes visibly play over our body alive in its social context. [This previous sentence alone is worth the price of admission of 3-4 minutes of reading.] An amazing simplicity will take over our lives–a simplicity that is really just transparency. …

The Pharisees were in many respects the very best people of Jesus’ day. But they located goodness in behavior and tried to secure themselves by careful management at the behavioral level. However, that simply cannot be done. Behavior is driven by the hidden or secret dimension of human personality, from the depths of the soul and body, and what is present there will escape. … [Which is, of course, scary.]

Finally, for the one who makes sure to walk as close to Jesus as possible there comes the reliable exercise of a power that is beyond them in dealing with the problems and evils that afflict earthly existence. Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. He knows that otherwise we remain largely helpless in the face of the organized and disorganized evils around us and unable to promote his will for good in this world with adequate power. …

But, someone will say, can I not be saved–get into heaven when I die–without any of this? Perhaps you can. God’s goodness is so great, I am sure, that He will let you in if He can find any basis at all to do so. [Some will have issues with his last statement, as it sounds like less than a complete view of justification, as if we’re judged by our works. His basic point, though, is still clear. That is, in matters of eternal consequence, we don’t have the slightest reason to play around with being immature and depending on “God’s grace alone” to the exclusion of a life that produces fruit in keeping with repentance.] But you might wish to think about what your life amounts to before you die, about what kind of person you are becoming, and whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of one whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of earthly existence. And he is, after all, One who says to you now, “Follow me!”

Bring it, Dallas. Bring it.


Thanks, Dallas.


2 Responses

  1. I just finished Willard’s book “The Great Omission” as part of my prep for a series called “A Disciple’s Life”. I think this essay makes up one of his chapters. In my mind, he is one of the premier writers for those longing to walk the Way. I’m assuming you’ve already read “The Divine Conspiracy”. It should be required material for every Follower to digest, IMHO.

  2. Yeah, I’ve read most of TGO. I read TDC as soon as it first came out, some ten(ish) years ago, maybe. I’ve often thought, “Man this needs to become a sermon series!” I think I’m gonna get around to that in the next year or two. Yeah, Willard’s pretty much the best there is, I think. I’m gonna have to go back and reread TDC again.

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