October 2012


English: Monarch Butterfly Cocoon
English: Monarch Butterfly Cocoon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week I wrote about the salvation process—regenerative transformation that delivers us from evil, inner chaos, and slavery to sin’s control.

Scripture instructs us to continue working out our salvation (Phl. 2:12) and, as disciples, it is we who carry our crosses with God’s help (Luk. 14:7). To know that He gives each of us responsibility for our own part in His redemptive process is humbling, gratifying, and exhilarating at the same time.

I often mention practice, but it recently occurred to me, If you never knew what practice is or understood its importance before, what makes you think others do? God is speaking to me, so I plan to write several posts on this subject. It should help others and make good practice for me!

First: Why We Need It

A human being is divinely designed to function as an integrated whole. Individual components of personhood are like the engine in your car. There’s the cooling system, fuel system, electrical system, and so on. When we want to analyze or discuss the components, we can isolate them, but we know they work as an integrated unit known as “the engine.” If one or more component malfunctions, the engine doesn’t run well or maybe not at all.

It’s the same with “the person.” We can isolate individual aspects of a human soul to analyze and talk about them, which Scripture does, but they’re meant to work as an integrated unit. However, because we’ve been born into and trained by an un-Christ-like world, they don’t. As we get further from God, people splinter and don’t function well. Scripture variously calls this ruin, death, and lostness.

Far more than forgiveness for sin, Christ provides the way, as well as personal support and assistance, to re-integrate broken parts of personhood (heart/will/spirit, mind/thought/emotion, body, behavior/relationships) into a whole person like Christ. S/he is able to think and act in ways that are consistently good and right.

The biblical term for that is “perfect,” which means complete or mature (not flawless). In this, we see the passage from death to life, the resurrection and renewal that eventually culminates in a global bodily resurrection when the current age ends.

This is why it’s a mistake to reduce salvation (the common understanding) to an afterlife-only issue severed from biblical practices in ordinary Christian living.

Second: Surrender

Transformation to wholeness can only develop through discipleship, active pursuit, and practice. Surrender to God doesn’t mean you do nothing; it means you learn to do things differently. And you don’t do it alone; you do it with Jesus, for “I am with you to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:20)

To know that is to experience the presence of God (“have eternal life”) in ordinary life—in the land of the living. But we need to know what and how to practice. Therefore, while it may sound ridiculously unnecessary, the first thing you can and must practice is the presence of God. You practice knowing that He isn’t somewhere in outer space or a 5th dimension.

Amazingly, many Christians don’t believe that God is anywhere near or that He still interacts with people. Worse, many are told that His only method of communication today is through the Bible. Yet they talk about relationship and “walking with Jesus” while living with constant inner conflict and struggle, dead to God’s kingdom of peace and joy.

So don’t laugh it off; you can’t surrender or put your faith in a big blank. Everyone needs the solid experiential knowledge of God’s presence because it supports everything else in the reality of eternal life. You shouldn’t (and needn’t) rush this preliminary step. Just start from where you are.

Third: Preliminary Practice

There’s no right or wrong way to practice the presence of God, but exploring the following ideas is a good start. Your goal is to discover whether you actually believe them, and if not, why not. For example, what do they mean to you? Have you been told something different? Have you made certain assumptions?

Do some soul-searching just between you and God. Ask Him to bless and interact with you as you seek His nearness. It may take several attempts if you’re not used to hearing His voice or perceiving His touch. Hence the practice.

  • You can repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near—literally at hand. It isn’t far away or far future, leaving you cut off from God until you die. It’s fully available while you live to guide, support, and provide what you need to live a new kind of life. (Mat. 3:2, 4:17, 10:7)
  • Christ-like transformation and perfection (completion) are possible. You can be filled with the fullness of God and know the love of Christ that surpasses mere head-knowledge to become experience (Eph. 3:19). You not only receive it, you can learn to reproduce and give it. It becomes an all-pervasive presence.
  • “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence…” (1Jhn. 3:19)
  • “And lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”

The Psalms are wonderful reminders of the ever-present God among us. Here are two verses, but you can go to Biblestudytools.com (or any Scripture search engine) to find more. In fact, it’s more responsible and effective to find out for yourself.

  • “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.” (Psa. 89:15)
  • “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psa. 139:7)
Sparks (Photo credit: Gnal)

Unlike the early Church, today’s American concept of salvation is separated from transformation into Christ-likeness. It probably wouldn’t occur to most modern Christians that transformation is salvation.

Regarding transformation, there’s debate as to whether God automatically does that to you after you’re saved, or whether it’s something that only hard-core believers seek as a desirable, but non-essential dimension of Christian living. Either way, salvation is seen strictly as an afterlife issue; Christian living in ordinary life is seen as a separate issue.

In this view, the definition of salvation is forgiveness of sin so you get into heaven when you die. The only essential connection between salvation and ordinary life is that you must get on the heavenly reservation list before physical death.

Generally, you get on the list by 1.) admitting that you’ll never measure up to God’s flawlessness, and thus need a Savior; 2.) acknowledging that Jesus Christ is that Savior who saves you by simply forgiving sin; and 3.) asking him to “come into” your heart.

If you do that sincerely, you’re immediately placed on the list, and that’s that. You’re suddenly saved and right with God (justified). “I got saved” usually means the end of a sin or merit problem, not the beginning of a process.

Grace is seen as something that happens to you. You contribute nothing to the process but gratitude, and to suggest otherwise somehow steals God’s glory. Even your faith isn’t your own or anything you do, but something God just produces in you. “Transformation” then follows, if at all, as mere behavior modification (Bible study, praising God, etc.) and adherence to various statements of belief. This is considered Christian living, and it’s the extent of transformation for most.

Instead of generating a new kind of life in people, this model creates stone-like passivity that prevents discipleship and passage from “death” to life, the dominant issue in Scripture. American churches are thus full of converts to doctrines, but few disciples to Jesus. (more…)

Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on th...
Backhuysen, Ludolf – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee – 1695 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been writing lately about the spirit of things—the mind of the Spirit, the spirit of love, gaining a clean spirit that can love even enemies, what constitutes a toxic, adulterous spirit, etc.

This week, I stumbled upon a radio interview with my favorite Christian author, Dr. Dallas Willard, that puts it all together in a wonderfully practical, down-to-earth way. I’d love to share the audio with you.

The radio host is Frank Pastore of KKLA 99.5 in Southern CA. His show is “The Intersection of Faith and Reason.” The interview is from May 18, 2011, but the topic is timeless (although it begins briefly with the “messy situation” between Arnold Schwartzenegger and his estranged wife, Maria Shriver, over his affair).

That sets the stage for the topic of confusion over forgiveness and love in all sorts of messy situations and relationships. What does it look like and how do you apply it? What does it mean to love enemies? Love yourself? How do you fire someone in Christian love? How do you discipline kids in Christian love? What do we do with anger?

A ton of insight is packed into this 39-minute audio clip (edited to be commercial-free). If real-life Christ-like love confuses you, as it does most of us, you probably don’t want to miss this little gem. You may not be suddenly blessing those who curse you, but at least you’ll have an idea of what direction to face.

Note: for Windows/Internet Explorer users like me (I know, I know…I should upgrade my browser), I found that the link didn’t work initially. But I simply closed the dialog box after Windows “diagnosed” the problem (no answer found), and the media player launched as intended. I don’t know—I can fly airplanes, but I’m a techno-peasant with computers. I should also look into getting a WordPress theme that can embed a media player right into the blog, but, honestly, childbirth seems easier.


Frank Pastore interview with Dallas Willard

Crown clip artMaybe we should start with what God doesn’t require from you: flawlessness. The biblical word “perfect” (Greek, teleios) means complete, whole, mature, brought to a finished end or goal.

When Jesus said to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mat. 5:48), he didn’t mean flawless, absolutely sinless, and error-free. The sooner you divorce this mind-set and all that goes with it, the sooner you escape Babylon’s cup of toxic, spiritual adulteries.

God simply wants you to be like Him. Or, more accurately, more like Him than you already are. Even as a sinner, you’re created in His image, having more in common with Him than anything else in creation. The goal is to restore that to full completion.

So the first step to becoming more like God is to love, admire, and want His qualities. You can’t pursue what you don’t want, or what you don’t see as possible and worth pursuing. Therefore, “Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul” isn’t God’s demand to satisfy His ego or meet a divine need. It’s His visionary spark to jump-start meeting your needs.

God wants you mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sound, whole, complete, and mature. What does that mean? It means you can love yourself and others. Love your neighbors, including enemies, as yourself. That’s what a clean spirit, “cured” and healthy, looks like. (more…)

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Fa...

English: Indian Spectacled Cobra, Naja Naja Family, one of India’s venomous snakes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sixth and final universal habit common to man is judgment and hypocrisy. This is the most venomous one because it’s the cumulative effect of the five we sampled in Parts 1-5.

Those are anger and contempt, adultery and divorce from God, swearing, score-keeping and payback, and image.)


There are different kinds of judgment. Krisis is the Greek word for the kind that leads to a turning point. (In English, crisis.) When Scripture refers to God’s judgment of man, this is the word. The idea is to bring about a change, to restore and cure, even if by painful measures. The spirit and motive is love.

Then there’s the kind that’s simply analytical—to evaluate or assess differences. Biblically, that’s called discernment, good judgment. When Jesus says you can recognize a tree by its fruit, that’s discernment. When you weigh pros and cons without the will to do harm, that’s good judgment. So it’s no sin to make observations, form opinions, and make decisions based on them. In fact, we’re called to learn and practice this kind of judgment.

And then there’s the condemning, acidic kind: judgmentalism. The difference between judgmentalism and discernment boils down to motive. The spirit behind judgmentalism is scorn, ill will, and the wish to do damage.

For example, when my mechanic says that my car’s transmission is going bad, he doesn’t condemn me as a terrible car owner. His motive isn’t to accuse me of a crime or rake me over the coals, but to get maximum benefit out of my car. His attitude will reflect that, and I won’t react as if attacked. This kind of judgment doesn’t deny wrong, but neither does it spout off. It seeks no harm even if the message is unpleasant, for love does no harm to neighbors (Rom. 13:10).

But when you use criticism as a weapon to attack and condemn people, or deliberately use differences to stir up ill will, that’s the sinful kind of judgment Jesus refers to. It carries a mean-spiritedness that always escalates because the receiver, usually as poisoned as the next person, turns to tear you to pieces with payback. They can’t react any other way because they don’t know any other way. (more…)