I finished my sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount yesterday. One resource that informed my preaching was Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy. I’d recommend this book to anyone who seeks to live out Jesus’ great sermon.
One of Willard’s goals for the book, after all, is to convince us that living it out is a live option for his disciples. It’s possible. It’s attainable. It’s what Jesus intends for us to do.
Does this seem incredibly obvious to you? Then you didn’t grow up in my church. You weren’t influenced by my preachers, teachers, or professors. I grew up loving the Sermon on the Mount as a beautiful but impossible ideal not meant for the real world. Of course Jesus is describing the way we ought to be, but we can’t really achieve it on this side of heaven, can we?
Willard wants us to know that we can—not perfectly, of course, but let’s not make perfect the enemy of the good, as they say.
One important obstacle we have to overcome, Willard says, is our skepticism that Jesus knows what he’s talking about, that his way really is best. We Christians profess to believe his words, of course, but our actual beliefs are betrayed by our actions. To enable people to become disciples, Willard writes, “we must change whatever it is in their actual belief system that bars confidence in Jesus as Master of the Universe” [emphasis his].
We often speak of people not living up to their faith. But the cases in which we say this are not really cases of people behaving otherwise than they believe. They are cases in which genuine beliefs are made obvious by what people do. 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. And the reason why clergy and others have to invest so much effort into getting people to do things is that they are working against the actual beliefs of the people they are trying to lead.
I once heard a pastor explaining to his congregation how it caused his stomach to hurt when people did not come to the evening service on which he had worked so hard. I have been a pastor, and I can understand how he felt. But he would have been more effective had he simply dealt with the beliefs of his people that kept them home on Sunday evening.
The challenge of training disciples, Willard emphasizes, isn’t, as we usually think, a matter of imparting more information.
So, to drive home the crucial point, a great deal of what goes into [discipleship] consists simply in bringing people to believe with their whole being the information they already have as a result of the initial confidence in Jesus—even if that initial confidence was only the confidence of desperation.
1. Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: HarperOne, 1997), 307.
3. Ibid., 318.