I preface this post with a very strong disclaimer. As you read this, you must understand that the following attributes of an apprentice of Jesus are a result of transformation of the heart. You cannot seek simply to change your behavior to adhere to these character traits. That is called legalism, and it will destroy you.
You can ONLY approach this by aiming at transformation of the inner character…the behavior will follow. For further reading on how to aim at that inner transformation, check out these posts: The Transformation Triangle, Kingdom Priorities, Enough With the Sin Talk, What Is Discipleship?
The reason for this post is that we need to set a higher expectation for the Church today. Have you ever wondered why so many Christians can be so mean? Why the inner thought life, emotions, and even life inside the family home for most Christians doesn’t look much different than that of a nonbeliever?
Dallas Willard makes the very bold claim that the only thing the Church needs today is the quality of life that Jesus makes real in his disciples. He explains that the natural process for the spread of the gospel and bringing people into the body of Christ is 1:1 contact with individuals who have in them something so strong and so powerful that other people will naturally want it.
We teach people how to know Jesus Christ, how to become like him and to do the things he said to do.
Wait, what? Teach them to do the things Jesus said to do?
Well, yes, actually. If you read Matthew 28:18-20 in its entirety you’ll find that after Jesus says to make disciples wherever you go, he says, “And teach them to faithfully follow all that I’ve commanded you.”
So…what exactly did he teach us to do?
Well, there’s the three Kingdom Priorities I detail here (love God with all, stay in union with God, seek His Kingdom first).
And then there’s the Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew chapters five through seven. Willard’s explanation of this teaching is so helpful. He explains once again, that this is a life that transpires when a heart has been changed by Jesus. (Again, we’re focusing on behavior change by way of heart transformation, not a legalistic checklist of rules! I cannot overemphasize this.)
The heart that Jesus gives…
Lives free from anger and contempt (Matt. 5:21-26)
Lives free from domination by sexual sin and disgust (Matt. 5:27-32)
Lives free from (specifically, verbal) manipulation of others (Matt. 5:33-37)
Lives free from grudges, fairness issues and paying back (Matt. 5:38-42)
Is able to love his enemies and bless those who curse him (Matt. 5:43-48)
Side note: most of us don’t think of someone cursing us in everyday life, right? Willard suggests the idea of instead, blessing those who bug you!
Doesn’t perform for human credit (Matt. 6:1-18)
Is free from trust in physical means (Matt. 6:19-33)
Doesn’t manage others by condemnation engineering (Matt. 7:1-12)
Actually does the things Jesus teaches (Matt. 7:13-27)
And since we’re on the topic of the Sermon on the Mount, just for mind-bending fun, chew on this: the first part of Matthew chapter 5, where Jesus gives what we call the “Beatitudes….” that’s not a checklist of things we should be striving for, or, even, a description of what life in the Kingdom looks like. Instead, it’s a list of examples of people to whom the Kingdom is now available and accessible…despite their condition. I’ll say it again so you really get it: they are not blessed because of their condition; they’re blessed in spite of it. The blessing isn’t found in the condition; the blessing is in the immediate accessibility of God’s Kingdom. It’s a topic for an another conversation but to dive into it further, pick up Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, or watch his teaching on it.
Back to the Description of the Life of an Apprentice of Jesus
Rather than listing the various attributes here, I encourage you to study the following Scripture passages for yourself and see the descriptions straight from God's Word. Remember once again, we get at this change in behavior by aiming at the inner transformation of the heart, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
Now with this composite picture of the inner person of the children of light before us, let us return to some of the New Testament descriptions of what the apprentices of Jesus are to be like. We are now in a position to understand them in a new and, I believe, very encouraging way….I urge the reader to plan a full day in silent retreat to read and reread these passages meditatively. - Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard
1 Corinthians 13
2 Corinthians 3:12-7:1
Philippians 2:3-16 and 4:4-9
1 Peter 2:1-3:16
2 Peter 1:2-10
1 John 4:7-21
And in the Old Testament: Psalm 1, Psalm 23, Joshua 1:8-9, Deuteronomy 10:12-21, Micah 6:8
These passages portraying the children of light are given additional force by contrasting passages on the “unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11, NSRV)…see also Galatians 5:19-21, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, Colossians 3:5-9.
Remember, once again, all of these actions come from the heart. Jesus says it quite clearly in Luke 6:43-45:
“You’ll never find choice fruit hanging on a bad, unhealthy tree. And rotten fruit doesn’t hang on a good, healthy tree. Every tree will be revealed by the quality of fruit that it produces. Figs or grapes will never be picked off thorn trees. People are known in this same way. Out of the virtue stored in their hearts, good and upright people will produce good fruit. But out of the evil hidden in their hearts, evil ones will produce what is evil. For the overflow of what has been stored in your heart will be seen by your fruit and will be heard in your words.
As you go, I pray that you will indeed study and meditate on the hope for and freedom found in the genuine transformation of the heart towards Christlikeness, and do your part in partnership with Jesus to bring about that change.
Resources for Diving Deeper:
Related Books by Dr. Dallas Willard:
Renovation of the Heart
The Divine Conspiracy
Spirit of the Disciplines
The Great Ommission
Dr. Willard's teaching on this topic (transformation -hope and how)