Dallas Willard on “What a Disciple Is”

Dallas Willard is without a doubt one of the most important thinkers and writers of recent time on the Sermon on the Mount and the nature of discipleship. When working on my most recent message, “Real Response: receiving the invitation of Jesus,” as well as the entire series, “Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount,” Willard’s writing was incredibly helpful.

His book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God is in my top ten books of all time on the Christian life. The following excerpt from that book is taken from chapter 8, “On Being a Disciple, or Student, of Jesus.”

Here, Willard summarizes what a disciple is.

Following up on what has already been said, then, a disciple, or apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what that person does or to become what that person is.

How does this apply to discipleship to Jesus? What is it, exactly, that he, the incarnate Lord, does? What, if you wish, is he “good at”? The answer is found in the Gospels: he lives in the kingdom of God, and he applies that kingdom for the good of others and even makes it possible for them to enter it for themselves. The deeper theological truths about his person and his work do not detract from this simple point. It is what he calls us to be saying, “Follow me.”

The description Peter gives in the first “official” presentation of the Gospel to the gentiles provides a sharp picture of the Master under whom we serve as apprentices. “You know,” he says to Cornelius, “of Jesus, the one from Nazareth. And you know how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and curing all those under oppression by the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38).

And as a disciple of Jesus I am with him, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. This is the crucial idea. That means, we recall, how I live within the range of God’s effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another important way of putting this is to say that I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I. I am not necessarily learning to do everything he did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did.

My main role in life, for example, is that of a professor in what is called a “research” university. As Jesus’ apprentice, then, I constantly have before me the question of how he would deal with students and colleagues in the specific connections involved in such a role. How would he design a course, and why? How would he compose a test, administer it, and grade it? What would his research projects be, and why? How would he teach this course or that?

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1998), 282-283.

Bibliography for Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount

When I conclude a sermon series, I usually share resources I utilized in my study and preparation for sermons. Here is the bibliography for our recent series, “Becoming Real,” which is the third part of an extended walk through the Gospel of Matthew, focusing on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7.

Bibliography for “Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount” [Gospel of Matthew, part 3]

Dale C. J. Allison. The Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination. New York: Herder, 1999.

Augustine of Hippo. Augustine: Sermon on the Mount. NPNF, series 1, vol. 6. Ed. by Philip Schaff. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.

Kenneth E. Bailey. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.

Jeannine K. Brown and Kyle Roberts. Matthew. The Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2018.

Michael Joseph Brown. “The Gospel of Matthew.” In True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, edited by Brian K. Blount, 85-120. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2007.

John Calvin. A Harmony of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke, Volume 1. Trans. By A. W. Morrison. Calvin’s Commentaries. Ed. by David W. Torrance and Thomas F. Torrance. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972.

John Chrysostom. Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. NPNF, series 1, vol. 10. Ed. by Philip Schaff. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994.

R. T. France. The Gospel of Matthew. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007.

Jeffrey P. Greenman, Timothy Larsen, and Stephen R. Spencer, eds. The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries: From the Early Church to John Paul II. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2007.

Romano Guardini. The Lord. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954.

Robert A. Guelich. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Waco, TX: Word, 1982.

Craig S. Keener. Matthew. IVPNTC. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Strength to Love. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010.

Amy-Jill Levine. The Sermon on the Mount: A Beginner’s Guide to the Kingdom of Heaven. Nashville: Abingdon, 2019.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1960.

Martin Luther. The Place of Trust: Martin Luther on the Sermon on the Mount. Ed. by Martin E. Marty. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1983.

Scot McKnight. “Matthew, Gospel of.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 526-541. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

________. Sermon on the Mount. The Story of God Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.

F. B. Meyer. Blessed Are Ye: Talks on the Beatitudes. New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1898.

Jonathan T. Pennington. The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2018.

Manlio Simonetti, editor. Matthew 1-13. ACCS. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001.

G. N. Stanton. ”Sermon on the Mount/Plain.” In Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, 735-744. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992.

John R. W. Stott. The Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Charles H. Talbert. Reading the Sermon on the Mount: Character Formation and Decision Making in Matthew 5-7. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004.

Helmut Thielicke. Life Can Begin Again: Sermons on the Sermon on the Mount. Trans. By John W. Doberstein. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963.

Burton H. Throckmorton, Jr. Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, 5th edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992.

Miroslav Volf. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1996.

Dallas Willard. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1998.

The Weekend Wanderer: 10 April 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


040721ugwu-church“Christian clergy are being kidnapped and killed in Nigeria” – Patrick Egwu in The Christian Century: “On April 24, 2018, Joseph Gor and Felix Tyola­ha were presiding over an early morning mass for about 50 parishioners at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in a village in north central Nigeria. About 20 minutes into the service, gunmen, suspected to be from the largely Muslim Fulani ethnic group, stormed the parish and opened fire on the congregation. Nineteen people were killed, including both priests. The gunmen also razed houses, destroyed crops, and left the community in a state of chaos. After the attack, bishops, priests, and thousands of residents demonstrated to protest the killings. The protesters called on the Nigerian government to arrest and prosecute the killers. Three years later, no one has been arrested or prosecuted.”


“What Is the Good Life and How Do We Find It? A Forum with Dr. Jonathan Pennington” – As I have steadily been working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in a preaching series entitled “Becoming Real” at Eastbrook Church, I have benefited from many works on that part of Matthew’s Gospel. From Augustine to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from R. T. France to Dallas Willard, many voices have helped me. One new voice that has been particularly helpful this go round with Jesus’ most famous sermon is Jonathan T. Pennington. In this lecture for the Center for Public Christianity, Pennington draws upon his work in two books, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing and Jesus the Great Philosopher, to speak about the good life from a Christian perspective.


Matthew D Kim“Addressing Racism in Light of the Image of God” – This article by Matthew D. Kim is adapted from “Preaching on Race in View of the Image of God” by Matthew D. Kim in Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel edited by Daniel Darling (Lexham Press, 2021). He writes: “Race and ethnicity are taboo subjects in many pulpits across the United States. Knowing that some of their congregation will see it as “liberal” talk, a social gospel incongruous with the true gospel, or a ploy of the political left’s agenda, many pastors shy away from teaching and preaching on the issues of race and racism—regardless of their rationale for such avoidance. Two camps emerge out of this salient concern. The first camp wonders why we are still needing to talk about race, while the second camp is exhausted by having to explain to the other why discussions on race and racism are essential.”


08.10-On-Correcting-Children“On Correction and Children” – As I was preparing my message on Matthew 7:1-6 for this coming weekend at Eastbrook as part of our series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Becoming Real,” I came across this article by Dallas Willard on the passage. This is really an excerpt from Willard’s fantastic book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, which is an extended exposition on discipleship through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount. I also consider that book as one of my must-read books on living with God through Jesus Christ.


“On ‘getting’ poetry” – Both during Lent and now during Easter I have posted a poetry series (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter”). I know that many people find poetry hard to understand or enjoy. Here is Adam Kirsch in The New Criterion addressing that very challenge. “I hear the same thing regularly from people who love to read novels and biographies, who are undaunted by string quartets and abstract paintings, but find poetry a closed door. No one is more aware of this disconnect between poetry and the reading public than poets themselves. The debate over why poetry moved from the center of literary culture to the outskirts of the academy, and how it can regain its place in the sun, has been going on at least since Dana Gioia’s landmark essay “Can Poetry Matter?” appeared in The Atlantic in 1991.”


“InterVarsity Wins Suit Against Wayne State” – Kate Shellnutt in Christianity Today: “The fight for campus access for faith-based student groups scored another legal victory this week. A district court judge ruled on Monday that Wayne State University violated the First Amendment with a 2017 decision that temporarily denied InterVarsity Christian Fellowship its status as a student group over the chapter’s requirement that its leaders be Christian. Wayne State’s nondiscrimination policy, according the 83-page opinion by Robert Cleland, ‘violated plaintiffs” rights to internal management, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and free exercise as a matter of law.’  The judge ruled that the First Amendment protects religious organizations’ rights to select their own ministers, and that the InterVarsity chapter’s student leaders qualified as ministers. While InterVarsity is open to all students, it asks leaders to sign a statement of faith.”


Music: Jpk. (featuring Nemetz), “Patience

The Weekend Wanderer: 6 March 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


26librescoembed“Dependence: Toward an Illiberalism of the Weak” – Leah Libresco Sargeant in Plough Quarterly: “Our physical weakness is a training ground for our struggles with moral weakness. There is no physical infirmity we can endure that is more humiliating than our susceptibility to sin. The elderly woman with tremors that leave her unable to lift her cup to her lip is not, in the final sense, weaker than any vigorous young man who finds he must echo Paul and admit, ‘For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do’ (Rom. 7:19). There is a blessing in the inescapability of physical weakness that breaks our pride. Sister Teresa de Cartagena, a fifteenth-century Cistercian nun from Spain, wrote; Arboleda de los enfermos (Grove of the Infirm) as a spiritual reflection on her own deafness. Sister Teresa writes: ‘Divine generosity invites all to this blessed feast, but suffering grabs the infirm by their cloak and makes them enter by force.'”


iraq christian pope“Pope’s risky Iraq trip aims to boost Christians” – Nicole Winfield in AP News: “Pope Francis is pushing ahead with the first papal trip to Iraq despite rising coronavirus infections, hoping to encourage the country’s dwindling number of Christians who were violently persecuted during the Islamic State’s insurgency while seeking to boost ties with the Shiite Muslim world. Security is a concern for the March 5-8 visit, given the continued presence of rogue Shiite militias and fresh rocket attacks. Francis, who relishes plunging into crowds and zipping around in his popemobile, is expected to travel in an armored car with a sizeable security detail. The Vatican hopes the measures will have the dual effect of protecting the pope while discouraging contagion-inducing crowds.”


AND Campaign“And Campaign to Add 13 New Chapters During Pandemic” – Jacqueline J. Holness in Christianity Today: “The And Campaign—the organization rallying urban Christians to ‘faithful civic engagement’—is on track to quadruple its size in the span of a year, with chapters launching in three Southern cities in 2020 and scheduled to launch in another 10 cities in the first half of 2021. Last year’s convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and political and racial unrest in the United States catapulted organizations like the And Campaign, which were already addressing these complex issues, to a new level of prominence.”


Gentle and Lowly“What the Success of Gentle and Lowly Reveals About Our View of God’s Love” – Samuel Jones at The Gospel Coalition: “I’ve had numerous conversations about Gentle and Lowly, often with friends and family members who have a similar heritage within evangelicalism. We all read Ortlund’s case that our sins and struggles, far from repelling Jesus, draw him closer to us. We realized this was not our predominant conception of Jesus. Yet few books are as packed with Scripture or as conversant with great saints as Gentle and Lowly. This is not innovative theology or a feel-good devotional. While reading the book I repeatedly thought, This can’t be right; this has to be a postmodern view of Jesus. Then I’d realize the statement was a passage from Scripture or a Puritan such as Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, or John Bunyan. The Bible teaches that this is really how Jesus relates to those he has redeemed. Our Christian forebears believed it and taught it.”


head in hands“Beyond Pornography: Spiritual Formation Studied in a Particular Case” – One of the most pervasive temptations I encounter in my ministry as a pastor is pornography. The accessibility of pornography has led many people into the imprisonment of this temptation. While many think this is only a problem for men, studies have shown this is not true. I have seen many attempts to deal with pornography not really bring freedom in peoples’ lives, but actually lead to increased guilt and sometimes increased hiding. Dallas Willard offers one of the most fruitful approaches to spiritual growth, outlined very clearly in his book Renovation of the Heart, and here applied to the temptation of pornography. I heartily recommend reading and re-reading this one, or even sharing it with someone who you know struggles in this way.


WV Gaza“A World Vision Employee Is Still Awaiting Fair Trial in Israel” – Ken Chitwood in Christianity Today: “Every day, at least once and sometimes more, Khalil el-Halabi logs on to Twitter and posts pictures, videos, and appeals on behalf of his son Mohammad. Tagging people he believes might come to his aid—human rights lawyers, politicians, and journalists—he calls for justice and mercy. On January 4, he posted, ‘To our Israeli neighbours. My son will be brought to court for the 154th time Tuesday facing a charge he has not committed without any credible evidence.’ He closed the tweet with a quote from Amos 5:24: ‘Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.'”


Music: Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet,” from Time Out of Mind.