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World Gone Crazy: The Character Cycle – part 4

December 18, 2015

Tom Elenbaas

Dallas Willard, one of my favorite writers in Christian spirituality, says this in Renovation of the Heart:

The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul.

Dallas is known to describe Christian spiritual formation as being transformed “until Christ is formed in us.” [Galatians 4:19] God’s vision for you and I is that we “grow up in all things,” that we “become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” [Ephesians 4:13] that we become more like Jesus, more like the person he created us to be.

the beaten pathNow, we have talked about the proverb that “There is a way that seems right to a man but leads to death.” But the scriptures say that there is another way. This is literally shown through the metaphor of a path, a way of walking, a direction. There is a direction that leads to death. And there is a direction that leads to life. God says, “Today I set before you life and death; now choose life.” And then Jesus fulfills that promise and shows us a new way by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is showing us a more excellent way. Jesus is showing us the narrow path, the way to the abundant life.

As I mentioned in the previous post, we all are created with longings. Those longings produce in us cravings – which are short-cuts to a less-than-fulfilling, short-lived and temporary answer to the longing. When we give in and respond when these cravings are triggered, we experience a quick reward, a kind of high that temporarily assuages the longing. The adrenaline. The drink. The french fries. The pill. The orgasm. The purchase. The buzz of the inhale. The kill. The win. The accolades. The sugar rush. Whatever it is, we find that a certain practice gives us temporary numbing of the deep longing, and that numbing becomes addictive. We form habits, and those habits form vices, and those practices, habits and vices make us into new people with a new character.

But there is another way. That is the promise of Jesus. Hear it: you no longer need to walk in that way. You no longer need to be a slave to your addictions and habitual behaviors. You can break the cycle. You can take a different path. You can eat differently. You can stop smoking. You can put the bottle down. You can say “no” to her or it. You can stay away from that website. And Jesus says that he is the way, the truth, and the life and true liberation and true satisfaction to your deepest longings come through real fulfillment in and through him and his ways.

So the alternative is this: Jesus doesn’t ask you to be perfect. Instead, he says these simple words: “Follow me.” Follow me. Jesus doesn’t ask you over night to have a new character. He doesn’t demand that you change everything on a dime. Instead, he says, instead of choosing the path that leads to death, what would happen if you chose to follow his footsteps just this once? What if, you chose new practices in response to your cravings?

I was just talking to a friend who lost about 40 pounds in just over a month. After talking to a nutritionist and being confronting with his sugar and processed food intake, he simply started eating differently. It started one day. He practiced something different. And it took practice. It wasn’t easy. He shopped at a different store and he asked his wife to hold him accountable. Instead of fries and processed food, he chose an apple or a banana. He chose a new path, and new practices. Soon, he was losing a pound a day until he finalled settled in at a normal, healthy weight. Today, he eats totally differently. Interestingly, before doing this, the nutritionist showed him the health problems he would likely develop if he continued on this path for the next 10 years. It was literally a path towards death. “There is a way that appears right but in the end leads to death.” He was confronted with the reality that he was regularly giving into his cravings with simple daily practices that had become habitual vices. And it was literally killing him. Today, he has developed new eating practices which have now become habits and his health is a virtue in his life. He’s proud of his body, his eating habits, and he has new energy and is likely to live a lot longer – which is great for not only his children and grandchildren, but also for the mission he is engaged in. And he has developed a new character. Sure, the choices are still daily and their still hard. Being a person of virtue and character is not easy, but once you develop and forge new paths and new neural pathways, it’s much easier to say no to the things that lead to death.

Character Cycle

Jesus invites you and I into the abundant life, a life full of rich and deep satisfaction to our greatest human longings. Jesus promises things like life, peace, joy, hope, love, intimacy, and goodness. But it doesn’t just come to us. Jesus invites us into a new way of living. In fact, we don’t even have to forge the new pathways on our own – he has forged them ahead of us. Jesus is our guide through new pathways into life everlasting. Jesus doesn’t require or demand perfection. He invites us. He invites us to follow him into rich, beautiful, abundant life.

So… your character matters. The way in which you walk matters. The path you tread matters. Jesus invites you to follow him and get out of the negative character cycle and join in a character cycle that is truly transformative. So, today, just as God placed life and death before the Israelites, he places life and death before you and says, “Now choose life.”

“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6