Revolution of Character by Dallas Willard & Donald Simpson

Was Jesus revolutionary? Probably, but His revolution was not political, but of character. Once Christian, our being starts to grow into His likeness. The purpose of Revolution of Character: Discovering Christ’s Pattern for Spiritual Transformation is to articulate how this transformation happens and to encourage us to embrace it.

The initial phase of this process is to understand our current situation: who we are and where we start. The author sees six elements to human beings:

  • Thoughts
  • Feelings
  • Heart or Will
  • Body
  • Social context
  • Soul

All we are before coming to Christ is described as a “magnificent ruin” by the author (chp 3). Sin has invaded our whole being and we consequently act selfishly. We follow our own will instead of God’s.

However, we still have great value even we are corrupted because “sin does not make a person worthless-only lost.” (chap 3). Unfortunately, Christians fail to grow because they tend to address what is outward rather than what is inward.

“[Christians] are inwardly is left substantially as it was, as it is in nonChristians, and they are left constantly to battle with it.” (p. 85)

Transformation starts when we acknowledge it, surrender (or in other words, die to ourselves) and truly repent. The pattern the author gives and which can be applied to each part of our being is Vision, Intention and Means (VIM). The Vision of the kingdom is given by God so that we know who we are supposed to be like.

“The kingdom of God is the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done is done” (p. 86)

The Kingdom of God is the Good News Jesus came to proclaim (Lk 4:43). God is redeeming creation. We are “partaking” the divine nature, and “participating” to God’s work on earth by our deeds.

What the Vision does is to lead us into Intention. We intend (and necessarily decide) to obey the teachings of Jesus because obedience is the demonstration of our trust in God.

“Perhaps the hardest thing for sincere Christians to come to grips with is the level of real unbelief in their own life: the unformulated skepticism about Jesus that permeates all dimensions of their being and undermines what efforts they do make toward Christlikeness.” (p. 88)

With Vision and Intention, we will find the Means to obey Jesus. It is “[retraining] my thinking by study and meditation on Christ himself and on the teachings of Scripture about God, his world and my life.” (p. 89).

“In the spiritual life it is actually true that ‘where there is a will there is a way.’ This is true here because God is involved and makes his help available to those who seek it.” (p. 91)

Spiritual transformation is necessary but our participation to this revolution of character has a greater purpose than ourselves. The growing light of Christ in us shines in the midst of a “crooked and twisted generation” (Phil 2:15) so that the world may also be drawn to Christ.

I appreciate the author’s attempt to explore the different facets of man within the context of sanctification. It helps to assess each element of our being in the light of what the Bible teaches concerning purity. I generally find interesting how authors try to analyze human beings. However, I found Dallas Willard’s structure a bit confusing, particularly concerning the soul. According to him, the soul represents the whole person. If it is an aggregation of the other dimensions, then its transformation should be the sum of the transformation of each dimension. So it was difficult for me to understand how chap 11 “transforming the Soul” fits in his structure. I had the feeling of “déjà vu” with chap 4 “Restoration of the Soul”.

Another strength and weakness is the mix between theoretical and practical aspects for each chapter. Considering the number of chapters due to the different aspects of man, the practical aspect was a bit neglected while the theology was well explained, which seems to be a weakness in my opinion regarding the aim of the book which is spiritual transformation. For example, the M of VIM does not have enough concrete examples.

Lastly, the author finishes with a remarkable missional chapter. I found it so relevant. Sanctification is not so just about our own perfection, but it is a way God has to spread the Gospel. By demonstrating a resemblance to Christ, we become a mean to show His loving and transforming grace.

I believe this book can help younger Christians who wonder what sanctification is about, while reminding confirmed Christians that our spiritual transformation is not just the efforts we make, but also the grace of God that once justified us.

Something new I got from this book is a better understanding of what surrender practically means:

surrender = abandonment of our selfish desires + the contentment of what we have + our participation to the will of God.

I often saw the cost of surrendering (abandonment) but I now want to focus on the benefits of surrendering. I find satisfaction in my current situation (contentment) and the joy to do what God wants (participation). There is a great price to pay to follow Jesus (Lk 14) and I often concentrated my effort on calculating the cost so that I can finish what I started, but I missed the greater reward of discipleship. We lose to get more!

This book also reminded me that sanctification is our personal “effort” in God’s gracious work. I have felt irritated and frustrated in the past because I tried to be like Jesus only by my strength. I believed God justified me, but I still had to please Him on my own. I had to pay back.

On the contrary, spiritual formation is still the work of God in the grace of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit combined with my new will to please God. I have to die myself and conform my will to His. How difficult it is to try hard to die to myself when in reality I unconsciously entertain the possibility of proving my own righteousness to God. In Christ, we are guaranteed of God’s grace instead of condemnation for our failures. Love drives sanctification just as Dallas Willard says:

“To mature in spiritual formation means to love God with all of the heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” (Kindle Locations 165-166).

I have also been reflecting on what it means to love God, and I was confirmed by this book:

“Love is willing the good.” (Kindle Location 827)

There is an essential volitional component to love. I may feel down because a bad day “made” me sin. For example, pressure at work triggers irritation. The last thing I feel doing is to come in prayer and repentance, but deep inside, I still do it because I love God. What He wants is what I want.

Sanctification is a process that never ends as long as we are here on earth.

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