Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines

As I continue to reflect on the influence of Dallas Willard, I am turning back to some previous posts on his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. Here is one post from two years ago:

I re-read Dallas Willard‘s book The Spirit of the Disciplines. It’s a great book on entering into the deep life with God. Willard is never an easy read, but this book is well worth sustained attention.

Willard challenges the typical approach to the spiritual life for most evangelical Christians. Before I jump into some reflections about individual disciplines in the days to come, I thought I’d offer a few key ideas from the book.

One of the key emphases within Willard’s thinking is that the spiritual life does not consist merely of things we do and do not do. It is not simply about action, but about transformation. Thus, he says, we need to be transformed in our entirety from the inside-out.

Such transformation does not come merely through mental assent to a system of belief, but by ordering our entire lives around the life of Christ. We must enter the ‘easy yoke’ that Jesus referred to when he said: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly of heart; and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

Willard astutely writes: “The ease, lightness, and power of his Way we rarely enjoy, much less see, as the pervasive and enduring quality of our street-level human existence” (2).

Why is that? It is because we have shunned his Way for a misdirected sidestepping of true spiritual transformation. We have settled for religious activity without submitting to the metamorphic process by which we become altogether new creations (2 Cor 5:17).

If Jesus, Paul and all those great saints of the history of Christianity had to enter into a life of preparation outside the public eye to become the great saints that they were, must we not also do so? That is the secret of the easy yoke: “living as he [Jesus] lived in the entirety of his life – adopting his overall life-style” (5).

The disciplines of the Christian life help us here. Jesus spent time in solitude, and so must we. Jesus spent time in prayer, and so must we. Jesus spent time fasting, and so must we. Obviously, the list could go on.

Spiritual disciplines are activities “undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and His Kingdom” (156). They are the same means that Jesus utilized to be only about His Father’s business. They are the same means that enabled Peter and Paul to be attentive to God’s guidance in life.

The pathway for true spiritual transformation is not just asking ‘what would Jesus do?’ but entering into the entire way, truth, and life of Jesus. Only then can we be changed.

[Read related posts on the spiritual disciplines from Dallas Willard’s work here: “Disciplines of Abstinence and Engagement,” “Solitude and Silence,” and “Study and Worship.”]

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