The Divine Conspiracy
Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God
By Dallas Willard ©1997
Quotes and excerpts from the book interspersed with comments by Dan Kral
The really good news for humanity is that Jesus is now taking students in the master class of life.
Our human life, it turns out, is not destroyed by God’s life but is fulfilled in it and in it alone.
We were built to count, as water is made to run downhill. We are placed in a specific context to count in ways no one else does. That is our destiny.
When we see Jesus as he is, we must turn away or else shamelessly adore him.
Every last one of us has a “kingdom,” or a “queendom,” or a “government” – a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. Here is a truth that reaches into the deepest part of what it is to be a person.
We are, all of us, never-ceasing spiritual beings with a unique eternal calling to count for good in God’s great universe.
To be a Christian depends on certain inner relatedness to the living Christ. Through this relatedness all other relationships of a man – to God, to himself, to other people – are transformed.
Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.
Love always wants to be known.
The ability to see and the practice of seeing God and God’s world comes through a process of seeking and growing in intimacy with him.
The heavens progressively open to us as our character and understanding are increasingly attuned to the realities of God’s rule from the heavens.
Sometimes important things can be presented in literature or art that cannot be effectively conveyed in any other way.
“Spiritual” is not just something we ought to be. It is something we are and cannot escape, regardless of how we may think or feel about it. It is our nature and our destiny.
We are never-ceasing spiritual beings with an eternal destiny in the full world of God.
“The Lord is my Shepherd” is written on many more tombstones than lives.
How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church as it enters the twentieth century.
To be sure, law is not the source of rightness, but it is forever the course of rightness.
Actions do not emerge from nothing. They faithfully reveal what is in the heart, and we can know what is in the heart that they depend on.
We do not control outcomes and are not responsible for them, but only for our contribution to them.
Our contribution to the outcome is the process. We need to focus on the process and hold the outcomes lightly.
Standing in the kingdom, we make responsible decisions in love, with assurance that how things turn out for us does not really matter that much because, in any case, we are in the kingdom of the heavens. In the Kingdom nothing that can happen to us is “the end of the world.”
In charting one’s course in life, it is important never to forget that many things that cannot be called wrong or evil are nevertheless not good for us.
When we want human approval and esteem, and do what we do for the sake of it, God courteously stands aside because, by our wish, it does not concern him.
In apprenticeship to Jesus, this is one of the most important things we learn how to do. He teaches us how to be in prayer what we are in life and how to be in life what we are in prayer.
The effect of both action and non-action for human approval is to push the presence of God aside as irrelevant and to subject ourselves to the human kingdom.
When we enter the life of friendship with the Jesus who is now at work in our universe, we stand in a new reality where condemnation is simply irrelevant.
To a great extent, what matters in our approach to people is not just what we do, but how we do it, and when.
Our confidence in God is the only thing that makes it possible to treat others as they should be treated.
When our “spirituality” disconnects from the natural contexts and relationships that are always there nevertheless, one of the chief signs of what is happening is that we lose our ability to laugh.
Praise is the inevitable result in the heart of the person who thus understands God and is actually living interactively with him.
God is above all a God who speaks and listens.
Prayer is, above all, a means of forming character. It combines freedom and power with service and love. What God gets out of our lives – and, indeed, what we get out of our lives – is simply the person we become.
We always live in a larger context of activities we do not see.
Human life is not about human life.
Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.
Time runs its course within eternity.
There is, apparently, no real connection between being a Christian and being a disciple of Jesus.
God always sees clearly what is at issue. We rarely do.
The division of professing Christians into those for whom it is a matter of whole-life devotion to God and those who maintain a consumer, or client, relationship to the church has now been an accepted reality for over fifteen hundred years.
When we bring people to believe differently, they really do become different.
We always live up to our beliefs or down to them, as the case may be. Nothing else is possible. It is the nature of belief.
In a setting where a social premium has been placed upon believing certain things for the sake of group solidarity, we must face the fact that human beings can honestly profess to believe what they do not believe.
Your system is perfectly designed to produce the result you are getting.
We now live in the outcome of a largely unconscious historical drift over many years. Moreover, it is human nature to resist deep inward change, for such change threatens our sense of personal identity.
Love is born of an earnest consideration of the object loved.
Love follows knowledge.
The rose in a very special way – and more generally the flower, even in its most humble forms – is a fragile but irrepressible witness on earth to a “larger” world where good is somehow safe.
Of all the things we do, we have more freedom with respect to what we will think of, where we will place our mind, than anything else.
We are rarely thoughtful.
Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own.
Any one thing in the creation is sufficient to demonstrate a providence to a modest and grateful mind.
Put everything you have into the care of your heart for it determines what your life amounts to.
One of the greatest of spiritual attainments is the capacity to do nothing.
I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.
Those who have apprenticed themselves to Jesus learn an undying life with a future as good and as large as God himself.
The superficial view that dominates our culture holds reality to be limited to what can be discovered by scientific observation and explanation.
You are never going to cease existing, and there is nothing you can do about it.
There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end. For what other end do we propose to ourselves than to attain to the kingdom of which there is no end.
–Augustine of Hippo
Being and Doing
But the question is, how can one keep the law? Jesus well knew the answer to this question, and that is why he told those who wanted to know how to work the works of God to put their confidence in the one God has sent (John 6:29). He knew that we cannot keep the law by trying to keep the law. To succeed in keeping the law one must aim at something other and something more. One must aim to BECOME the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow. The apple tree naturally and easily produces apples because of its inner nature.
It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow.
So here as elsewhere in his lovely Discourse on the Hillside, we need to put the ideas of laws entirely out of our minds. Jesus is working, as already indicated, at the much deeper level of the source of actions, good and bad. He is taking us deeper into the kind of beings we are, the kind of love God has for us, and the kind of love that, as we share it, brings us into harmony with his life.
“If a law had been given capable of bringing people to life,” Paul said, “then righteousness would have come from that law.” (Galatians 3:21). But law, for all its magnificence, cannot do that. Graceful relationship sustained with the masterful Christ certainly can.
Jesus here gives us a second illustration, then, of how the kingdom heart will respond. He does not tell us what to do, but how to do it.
If we made laws of these illustrations and followed them, would that make us right toward our brother or sister? Not at all. We could do these things and yet find many other ways to hate and hurt our neighbor. We would miss the whole point.
For example, there have been men, even groups of men, who made it their goal not to look lustfully at a woman. (They thus made the typically pharisaical mistake of trying to control the act instead of changing the source.)
The deeper question always concerns who you are, not what you did do or can do. What would you do if you could? Eliminating bodily parts will not change that.
In every concrete situation we have to ask ourselves, not “Did I do the specific things in Jesus’ illustrations?” but “Am I being the kind of person Jesus’ illustrations are illustrations of?”
He calls us to him to impart to us. He does not call us to do what he did, but to be as he was, permeated with love. Then the doing of what he did and said becomes the natural expression of who we are in him.
The Pharisee takes as his aim keeping the law rather than becoming the kind of person whose deeds naturally conform to the law [DRK: Doing from Being rather than Doing for the sake of Doing]. Jesus knew the human heart better than Bertrand Russell did. Thus he concludes his exposition of the kingdom kind of goodness by contrasting the ordinary way human beings love, loving those who love them, with God’s agape love. This is a love that reaches the very core of what we are or can become in his fellowship, not something we do. Then the deeds of love, including loving our enemies, are what that agape love does in us and what we do as the new persons we have become.
Life in the kingdom of God is not something we do, like investing in the stock market or learning Spanish, that allows us to reserve dominion over our own life and use the kingdom for our purposes. We have to surrender the inmost reality of the self to God as expressed in Jesus and his kingdom. We cannot “use” it while holding our inmost self back from it.
In short, however, you lead people to become disciples of Jesus by ravishing them with a vision of life in the kingdom of the heavens in the fellowship of Jesus. And you do this by proclaiming, manifesting, and teaching the kingdom to them in the manner learned from Jesus himself. You thereby change the belief system that governs their lives.
One of the greatest weaknesses in our teaching and leadership today is that we spend so much time trying to get people to do things good people are supposed to do, without changing what they really believe.
It doesn’t succeed very well, and that is the open secret of church life. We frankly need to do much less of this managing of action, and especially with young people. We need to concentrate on changing the minds of those we would reach and serve. What they do will certainly follow, as Jesus well understood and taught.
But what we must never forget, in moving toward the faith “on the rock,” is that our “doing” comes – or fails to come – from what our beliefs actually are. Hence, if we would train people to do “all things,” we must change their beliefs. Only so we can change their loves. You cannot change character or behavior and leave beliefs intact. It is one of the major illusions of Western culture, deriving from a form of Christianity that is merely cultural, that you can do this. We cannot work around that illusion, but must dispel it.
Therefore it is primarily in the body and its social context that the work must be done to replace wrong habits with automatic responses that flow with the kingdom of Jesus and sustain themselves from its power. Certainly there must first come the profound inward turnings of repentance and faith. But the replacement of habits remains absolutely essential to anyone who is to “hear and do” and thus build his or her house on the rock. Without it, direct efforts in the moment of action to do what is right will seldom succeed.
And of course it is Jesus above all who shows us how to live in the kingdom. Genuine apostolic succession is a matter of being with him, learning to be like him, along with all those faithful ones who have gone before us.
What do you do in solitude or silence? Well, as far as things to “get done,” nothing at all. As long as you are doing “things to get done,” you have not broken human contact. So don’t go into solitude and silence with a list. Can we enjoy things in solitude and silence? Yes, but don’t try to. Just be there.
Tell Somebody Who Cares
The discipline of secrecy will help us break the grip of human opinion over our souls and our actions. A discipline is an activity in our power that we do to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort. Jesus is here leading us into the discipline of secrecy. We from time to time practice doing things approved of in our religious circles – giving, praying, fasting, attending services of the church, and so on – but in such a way that no one knows. Thus, our motivation and reward for doing these things cannot come from human beings. We are liberated from slavery to eyes, and then it does not matter whether people know or not. We learn to live constantly in this way.
Whatever our position in life, if our lives are works are to be of the kingdom of God, we must not have human approval as a primary or even major aim. We must lovingly allow people to think whatever they will. We may, if it seems right, occasionally try to help them understand us and appreciate what we are doing. That could be an act of love. But in any case we can only serve them by serving the Lord only.
Who am I?
It is interesting and important to observe that today the old phrase “hate the sin and love the sinner: no longer is accepted. If you disapprove of what I do or how I do it, it is generally thought you can only be condemning me and rejecting me. This is another evidence of the devastating effect of the loss to our culture of an idea of the self as a spiritual being that not only has but is an inner substance. “I am my actions,” it is thought, “and how then can you say you disapprove of my actions but love me?”
Although knowledge of God through his creation is fundamental to our love for him, it is not enough and was never meant to be. It does not begin to make clear the extent to which God loves, and loves human beings in particular. It cannot make clear, to humans as they are, the “Father heart” of God toward us. But the “faithful Creator” does not leave himself to be a topic of speculation. His love reaches out. From the very beginning of the biblical revelation, human beings are blessed by God personally and engaged by God in a face-to-face relationship renewed by periodic visits (Gen 1:27-31; 2:7 – 3:8).
This is such a striking arrangement that it poses a puzzle to the biblical writers about their own nature. “Compared to the cosmos, what are human beings,” the psalmist cries. “that you pay attention to them? Or human offspring that you care about them? You created them a little less than supernatural beings. But you let glory and majesty rest on them! You cause them to rule over works of your hands and put everything on earth under their feet!” (Psalm 8:4-8)
Not only is the outcome of our progression in the kingdom not under our control, but we are not told in any systematic way how to do our part in the process. Well, at least we are not told in precise terms – certainly not in formulas. This is because the process is to be a walk with a person. But it is also because what is needed is very much an individual matter, a response to the particular needs of individual disciples. Perfectly general instructions simply cannot be given. That is why we do not find them in the Bible. Its “wisdom” books, especially Psalms and Proverbs, come as close as possible.
In addition to implementing whatever is necessary to achieve the two primary objectives of the curriculum – enthralling the mind with God and breaking the power of evil in our bodies – individual disciples will, at least in some cases, require individualized direction and help to deal with particular teachings of Jesus. For example, suppose you are someone who is struggling with the command to lay aside anger or to stop being contemptuous of others.
The key in such cases is to aim at the heart and its transformation. We want to “make the tree good.” We do not aim just to control behavior, but to change the inner castle of the soul, that God may be worshipped “in spirit and truth” and right behavior cease to be a performance.
We want to become the kind of person who is not dominated by anger and who truly loves and respects others. And we want to assist others in that transition. This means, of course, that the teaching cannot be captured by rules: for example, “Never say someone is a fool,” “Always give in.” “Never go to court,” and so forth. You could follow such rules and still be filled with anger, or not follow them on appropriate occasions and be completely filled with .love.
It is crucial to understand that this point applies to all of Jesus’ teachings.
If we miss this point we cannot help but fall into the worst kind of dead legalism. We can be sure that trying to follow Jesus’ teachings will then ruin our lives. We have all experienced so much well intentioned meanness in our lives, by those who felt “responsible” and wanted us to be responsible, that Jesus, as the best-intended, will be experienced as the meanest in his “laws.” The root of true Christlikeness will then be destroyed.