So, what do you do when you look into the Scriptures and see the vision of the kingdom of God on display in Jesus and his church and compare it with your daily experience? For example, when we read a text on love (e.g., 1 Cor. 13), and we realize how poorly we love, what do we do to close that gap? Many of us, I believe, convince ourselves of one of two things: 1) We'll just try harder! Surely we're not that bad - at least we're better at it than _____ (fill in the blank); or, 2) I need more knowledge, or I need to better rehearse the knowledge that I know! As good and biblical as it is, often "preaching the gospel to yourself" masks the moralism of this option. In other words, we can easily convince ourselves that we're closing the gap simply by rehearsing the gospel. That is a good starting place, but unless our "rehearsal" goes a lot deeper than believing certain truths, the gap remains, now with a religious veneer.
I think Dallas Willard is on to something as to how to address this gap. He says that we need three elements:
Willard calls this VIM for short, and he goes into it in detail in his book Renovation of the Heart. It is also available in one of his articles here. Recognizing the need for grace throughout, we begin with nurturing the vision that Jesus brought, the vision of the Kingdom of God. Then, we have to actually intend to become a kingdom person, an apprentice of Jesus. Finally, we implement means toward becoming that kind of person (here is where the spiritual disciplines fit in). Here are some summary quotes from the article linked above:
As a genuine disciple or apprentice of Jesus, I am caught up in his vision of the goodness and greatness of God and of life in His kingdom. On that basis I am with Jesus, by choice and by grace, learning from him how to live in the kingdom of God. To live in the kingdom means, we recall, to live within the range of God's effective will, his life flowing through mine. Another good way of putting this is to say that as a disciple 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, of course; but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner and from the source from which he did all that he did.
A clear vision of God and of the place he has made for us in him enables us to form a strong and clear intention to live in that vision.
That is, they [spiritual disciplines] are activities which open our lives to the action of God in our heart, mind, body and soul, to progressively remake our whole personality. Another name for them—more ancient, and also more in use recently—is "spiritual disciplines," or "disciplines for the spiritual life." They train us for leading the life which God intended for us: one which has the power and character to fulfill our calling. They are methods by which we obey the command to "put off" the old person and to "put on" the new person who is in the likeness of Christ. (Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-24) They are "exercises unto godliness." (I Tim. 4:7-8) Through them we become capable of doing, with God, all the wonderful things commanded in the Bible, which we know are impossible in our own strength and wisdom. In general, a "discipline" is any activity within our power that we engage in to enable us to do what we cannot do by direct effort.
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