Monday, April 17, 2023

Beyond Feelings and Intentions

In his book The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote:

One of the greatest deceptions in the practice of the Christian religion is the idea that all that really matters is our internal feelings, ideas, beliefs, and intentions. It is this mistake about the psychology of the human being that more than anything else divorces salvation from life, leaving us a headful of vital truths about God and a body unable to fend off sin. (p. 152)
This quote highlights a common mistake among Christians: the belief that our internal feelings, ideas, beliefs, and intentions are all that matter in our relationship with God. This idea leads to a twisted view of salvation, one that emphasizes knowledge and feeling over action and change, which leaves us stunted in our spiritual formation.

To truly live as disciples of Jesus, we need a discipleship that integrates our thoughts, emotions, and actions. The spiritual formation that is to happen in our minds and hearts must be reflected in the way we live and interact with the world around us.

I think it is crucial to remember that ongoing spiritual formation requires both a change of mind and a change of behavior. Repentance leads to a change of mind which motivates a change of behavior which leads to a renewed repentance that flows into a changed mind which results in a change of behavior. And this cycle keeps us moving forward in our spiritual formation.

One crucial part in this process is the practice of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are intentional habits and practices that help us align our minds and hearts with God's will. Disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, fasting, and solitude, allow us to train our minds to focus on God's truth and our hearts to respond in obedience.

However, spiritual disciplines alone are not enough. We also need to cultivate a lifestyle of service and selflessness. As Jesus himself said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; NLT)

To deny ourselves means that we put aside our own desires and preferences so we can love God and love our neighbor. We know that we maturing in our discipleship as it becomes second nature for us to love.

Ultimately, our salvation is not just a matter of intellectual understanding or emotional experience; it is a transformation of our whole being. As Willard writes, "Salvation is not just a matter of being saved from our sins; it is a matter of being saved to be the kind of person who naturally does the good and right thing" (p. 153).

We need to reject the belief that our feelings and intentions are all that matter in our spiritual formation. Instead, let us embrace a discipleship that integrates our thoughts, emotions, and actions in pursuit of God's will. This is how we become the people God created us to be.

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