The Great Omission | Notes & Review

Posted on December 24, 2006


Dallas Willard. The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. (237 pages)

great omission


If […the walk with Christ] doesn’t work at all, or only in fits and starts, that is because we do not give ourselves to it in a way that allows our lives to be taken over by it. (x)

We need to emphasize that the Great Omission from the Great Commission is not obedience to Christ, but discipleship, apprenticeship, to him. (xiv)

So the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples — students, apprentices, practitioners — of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence. Will they break out of the churches to be his Church — to be, without human force or violence, his mighty force for good on earth, drawing the churches after them toward the eternal purposes of God? And, on its own scale, there is no greater issue facing the individual human being, Christian or not. (xv)

Apprenticed to Jesus

1. Discipleship: For Super Christians Only?

The new Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ. (3)

Undiscipled Disciples. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional. (4)

Great Omissions from the Great Commission. …in place of Christ’s plan, historical drift has substituted “Make converts (to a particular ‘faith and practice’) and baptize them into church membership.” (5)

Discipleship Then. So when Jesus observed that one must forsake the dearest things — family, “all that he hath,” and “his own life also” (Luke 14:26, 33) — insofar as that was necessary to accompany him, he stated a simple fact: it was the only possible doorway to discipleship. (7)

Discipleship Now. In the heart of a disciple there is a desire, and there is a decision or settled intent. Having come to some understanding of what it means, and thus having “counted up the costs,” the disciple of Christ desires above all else to be like him. Thus, “it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher” (Matthew 10:25). And moreover, “everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher” (Luke 6:40). (7)

…discipleship can be made concrete by actively learning how to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, walk the second mile with an oppressor — in general, living out the gracious inward transformations of faith, hope, and love. Such acts — carried out by the disciplined person with manifest grace, peace, and joy — make discipleship no less tangible and shocking today than were those desertions of long ago. Anyone who will enter into the Way can verify this, and he or she will at the same time prove that discipleship is far from dreadful. (8)

The Cost of Nondiscipleship. …the cost of nondiscipleship is far greater — even when this life alone is considered — than the price paid to walk with Jesus, constantly learning from him. (9)

In short, nondiscipleship costs you exactly that abundance of life Jesus said he came to bring (John 10:10). (9)

“Follow Me. I’m Found!”

Life’s Greatest Opportunity. The correct perspective is to see following Christ not only as the necessity it is, but as the fulfillment of the highest human possibilities and as life on the highest plane. (12)

2. Why Bother With Discipleship?

First, there is absolutely nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Jesus’s expense and have nothing more to do with him. (13)

salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures. – A.W. Tozer

“vampire Christian.” One in effect says to Jesus, “I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. (14)

You can’t trust him without believing that he was right about everything, and that he alone has the key to every aspect of our lives here on earth. (14)

Second, if we do not become his apprentices in Kingdom living, we remain locked in defeat so far as our moral intentions are concerned. (14)

Third, only avid discipleship to Christ through the Spirit brings the inward transformation of thought, feeling, and character that “cleans the inside of the cup” (Matthew 23:25) and “makes the tree good” (Matthew 12:33) (15)

Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. (16)

Human problems cannot be solved by human means. …But only constant students of Jesus will be given adequate power to fulfill their calling to be God’s person for their time and their place in this world. They are the only ones who develop the character which makes it safe to have such power. (17)

3. Who Is Your Teacher?

…there is a lot more information (and misinformation) available than every before, and a lot of people are trying to sell it to us. (18)

But can we seriously imagine that Jesus could be Lord if he were not smart? If he were divine, would he be dumb? Or uninformed? (19)

If we would live the life which God made us for, we must take our guiding information from Jesus in three respects:

First, we must learn from him the reason why we live and why we do the things we do. (20) Second, we must learn from Jesus, our “in-former,” a new internal character: new “bowels,” one old translation says. (21)

4. Looking Like Jesus: Divine Resources for a Changed Life Are Always Available

His Heart, Our Heart. Heaven is a deeply significant word. From Abraham (Genesis 24:7) onward, it signified to the people of Israel the direct availability of God to his children, as well as his supremacy over all that affects us. (24)

When he sent his twelve friends out on their first mission, he told them it was like sending “sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). it would be butterflies against machine guns. (24-25)

Avoid Dreary Substitutes. Living under the governance of heaven frees and empowers us to love as God loves. But outside the safety and sufficiency of heaven’s rule, we are too frightened and angry to really love others, or even ourselves, and so we arrange dreary substitutes in the form of pleasures of various kinds and “loves.” (25)

A much-used doormat says, “Welcome, friends!” Could yours also genuinely welcome enemies? (25)

A “Golden Triangle”. …the faithful acceptance of everyday problems. (26)

Opening Our Lives to the Spirit. The second side of our triangle is interaction with God’s Spirit in and around us. (27) As Paul points out, living in the Spirit allows us to “walk in” the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). (27)

The Disciplines of Christ-likeness. We should not only want to be merciful, kind, unassuming, and patient persons but also be making plans to become so. (29)

Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence of love. (29)

We will come to understand that for the most part our hurry is really based upon pride, self-importance, fear, and lack of faith, and rarely upon the production of anything of true value for anyone. (29)

Perhaps we will end up making plans to pray daily for the people with whom we deal regularly. (30)

The single most obvious trait of those who profess Christ but do not grow into Christ-likeness is their refusal to take the reasonable and time-tested measures for spiritual growth. (30)

Like Stars in a Dark World.

5. The Key to the Keys to the Kingdom

Keys do not first mean the right to control access, but the enjoyment of access. (33)

But if abundance is here, enough even to defeat the “Gates of Hell,” why are we not thriving in it? (33)

Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort. And it is well-directed, decisive, and sustained effort that is the key to the keys of the Kingdom and to the life of restful power in ministry and life that those keys open to us. (34)

Spiritual Formation and the Development of Character

6. Spiritual Formation in Christ Is for the Whole Life and the Whole Person

The missing note in evangelical life today is not in the first instance spirituality but rather obedience. (44)

…many of you will know that the “flesh” most often shows up in the scripture, not in association with “cigarettes and whiskey and wild, wild women,” but with religious activities. (46) … The flesh stands, basically, for the natural — the spiritually or divinely unassisted abilities of human beings. And it is possible in our religious activities to depend entirely upon the flesh in this sense. (46)

[re: Romans 8:1-2] …this is not a passage about the forgiveness of sins. And, indeed, I should just state at this point that we have a serious problem within our usual evangelical hermeneutic of reading passages that are not about forgiveness of sins as if they were, when they are really about new life (that is, foundational spirituality) in Christ. (47)

John 3 is not a forgiveness passages. It is about “life from above.” (47)

Spirit is unbodily personal reality and power. (47)

We have people today in “Christian” settings who believe in Jesus but not in God. (47)

Idolatry is marked by the will to use God for our purposes. (48)

But to make that spirituality my life — that’s the point at which I may begin to think that being a good Baptist is more important than being a good Christian, than being obedient with my whole person to Jesus Christ. At that point I am back in flesh and have become spiritually off balance. (51)

It is so important for us to remember that a culture can capture us and shut off our access to the supernatural spirituality of the Kingdom of God, as explained in John 3 and Romans 8, for example. (51)

I’m sorry to say this, but too much of what we call Christian is not a manifestation of the supernatural life of God in our souls. Too much of what we call Christian is really just human. And now I’m going to say something really terrible, so brace yourselves or stop your ears. The church of Jesus Christ is not necessarily present when there is a correct administration of the sacrament and faithful preaching of the Word of God. The church of God is present where people gather together in the power of the resurrected life of Jesus Christ. (51)

The will to obey is the engine that pulls the train of spirituality in Christ. (52)

Consumption of Christian services replaces obedience to Christ. And spirituality is one more thing to consume. (52)

…spiritual formation is the process whereby the inmost being of the individual takes on the quality or character of Jesus himself. (54)

…we are not only saved by grace, we are paralyzed by it. (58)

We really have a problem with activity and passivity in our theology. (58)

Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. (58)

When you hear stories about men and women who have, as we say, fallen, I hope you will realize that the sad thing is not just that they fell, but what has been in their mind all along — possibly for many years or even all their life. (59)

If you would really like to be into consuming grace, just lead a holy life. The true saint burns grace like a 747 burns fuel on takeoff. (62)

No matter how far we progress, there will always be in us a subdued, glowing coal o possibility that, if blown by the right wind, will burst into a flame of iniquity. (64)

we cannot have a gospel dealing only with sin. We have to have a gospel that leads to new life in Christ, and then spirituality can be presented as a natural development of such new life. But if we divide between justification and regeneration in such a way that the gospel is only “Believe Jesus died for your sins and you will go to heaven when you die,” we are stuck with a theology that is inherently resistant to a vital spirituality. (64)

Generally expressed, baptism in the Spirit, spiritual experiences, high acts of worship, and other experiences of worship do not transform character. (65)

…I can tell you that the transformation of character comes through learning how to act in concert with Jesus Christ. Character is formed through action, and it is transformed through action, including carefully planned and grace-sustained disciplines. (65)

What transforms us is the will to obey Jesus Christ from a life that is one with his resurrected reality day by day, learning obedience through inward transformation. (66)

7. Spiritual Formation in Christ: A Perspective on What It Is and How It Might Be Done

…we have not done well with the reality and the need. We have counted on preaching, teaching, and knowledge or information to form faith in the hearer and have counted on faith to form the inner life and outward behavior of the Christian. But, for whatever reason, this strategy has not turned out well. The result is that we have multitudes of professing Christians who well may be ready to die but obviously are not ready to live, and can hardly get along with themselves, much less with others. (69)

The processes of spiritual formation thus understood require precise, testable, thorough knowledge of the human self. Psychological and theological understanding of the spiritual life must go hand in hand. (74)

…the proof, if not the comfort, lies in the person we become and the deeds that flow from us. (75)

We must stop using the fact that we cannot earn grace as an excuse for not energetically seeking to receive grace. (76)

8. The Spirit Is Willing, But… The Body as a Tool for Spiritual Growth

Spiritual formation is the process through which those who love and trust Jesus Christ effectively take on his character. (80)

…nothing inspires and enhances effort like the experience of grace. (80)

The Body and the Spiritual Life.

Human Nature. Sinful practices become their habits, then their choice, and finally their character. (83)

Christ-likeness Must Be Planned For.

When Direct Effort Fails. It is not a law of nature that makes us assassinate the humanity of others. (87)

How We Can Change. …we begin by acknowledging the good of what we are going to do and asking God’s assistance. Second, we begin to practice controlling our tongue. (87)

In our fallen world this life is prepossessed by evil, so that we do not have to think to do what is wrong, but must think and plan and practice — and receive grace — if we are to succeed in doing what is right. (89)

9. Living in the Vision of God

…in religious matters, nothing fails like success. (93)

nothing conflicts with the love of Christ like service to Christ. – Henri Nouwen. (94)

The early Christians hold the record for sustaining inward fire of vision in the “founders.” (98)

It is a matter of identifying and sustaining the sense or vision of God, self, and world that pervaded and animated the originators. (99)

The first thing is to heartily acknowledge the practical inevitability of the loss of vision. (99)

Second, we must identify, understand, and adhere to the founding vision. … Often a commendable modesty and humility prevents them from inquiring very deeply into their own lives, and certainly from “imposing” what they find there upon others. But, while this attitude is commendable, it has the built-in handicap of making it very difficult to sustain the vision, in oneself and in others. So one must be honest, thorough, and explicit about what the vision was — and what it must now be. The focus must be on the vision, not upon the individuals who have it, even though it must be the individuals who bear the vision and carry out the mission. (99)

Third, steps must be taken to live in the central content of the vision. (99)

…the next step forward for those persons who have decided that they will love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength is to put in place those regular practices that will make it possible. (101)

Everything comes down to actually loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to making foremost in our plans those activities that will meet the active grace of God to let that love be our life. (102)

10. Idaho Springs Inquiries Concerning Spiritual Formation

Spiritual formation, without regard to any specifically religious context or tradition, is the process by which the human spirit or will is given a definitive form, or character. (104)

Christian spiritual formation, in contrast, is the redemptive process of forming the inner human world so that it takes on the character of the inner being of Christ himself. (105)

The overshadowing event of the past two centuries of Christian life has been the struggle between orthodoxy and modernism. In this struggle the primary issue has, as a matter of fact, not been discipleship to Christ and a transformation of soul that expresses itself in pervasive, routine obedience to his “all that I have commanded you.” Instead, both sides of the controversy have focused almost entirely upon what is to be explicitly asserted or rejected as essential Christian doctrine. In the process of battles over views of Christ the Savior, Christ the Teacher was lost on all sides. (109)

What has in other days been called “nominal” Christianity now becomes “normal” Christianity, even among those whose tradition had prided itself in not being just nominal Christians. (11)

…the human soul hungers for transformation, for wholeness and holiness, is sick and dying without it, and that it will seek it where it may — even if it destroys itself in the process. (110)

When “salvation” is spoken of today, where it is spoken of at all, what is almost always meant is entry into heaven when one dies. One is “saved” if one is now counted by God among those who will be admitted into His presence at death or some point thereafter. This usage of “salvation” and “saved” deprives the terminology of the general sense of deliverance that it bears in the Bible as a whole. (110)

Christian spiritual formation is simply indispensable. (121)

It is important that we not see in the current interest in spiritual formation merely an invitation to keep doing what we have been doing — except now to “really mean it.” (121)

11. Personal Soul Care: For Ministers…And Others

The Soul and the Great Commandment. “Soul” will be understood here in its common usage as referring to the hidden or spiritual side of the person. It thus includes an individual’s thoughts and feelings, along with heart, or will, with its intents and choices. It also includes an individual’s bodily life and social relations, which, in their inner meaning and nature, are just as hidden as the thoughts and feelings. (123)

The secret to a strong, healthy, and fruitful ministerial life lies in how we work with God in all of these hidden dimensions of the self. … Natural gifts, external circumstances, and special opportunites are of little significance. (123)

…the great biblical passages on love — those already cited and others, including 1 John 4 — do not tell us to act as if we loved God with our whole beings, and our neighbors as ourselves. (123)

Character and the “Fruit of the Spirit”. God is greatly concerned with the quality of character we are building. (124)

Practicing the Presence of God. The first and most basic thing we can and must do is to keep God before our minds. (125)

This practice of memorizing the scriptures is more important than a daily quiet time, for as we fill our minds with these great passages and have them available for our meditation, quiet time takes over the entirety of our lives. (126)

Love and Worship. As the Living Word occupy our minds we naturally — and supernaturally — come to love God more and more because we see, clearly and constantly, how lovely He is. (127)

Opening to the Fullness of Joy. Personal soul care also requires attending to our feelings. Emotions are a real component of life and of our lives in Christ. … | We do well to note, however, that love is the foundation of the spiritual life and joy is a key component in the Christ life. (128)

Our joy is complete when there is no room for more. (129)

Solitude and Silence. Allowing service for Christ to steal our devotion to him is a radical failure in personal soul care. (130)

Time Is Made, Not Found. A response to giving attention to personal soul care often is “I don’t have time for extensive solitude and silence. I have too much to do.” The truth is that we don’t have time not to practice solitude and silence. No time is more profitably spent than that used to heighten the quality of an intimate walk with God. If we think otherwise, we have been badly educated. The real question is, will we take time to do what is necessary for an abundant life and an abundant ministry, or will we try to get by without it? (131)

God never gives anyone too much to do. … Second, the exercise of God’s power in ministry never, by itself, amends character, and it rarely makes up for our own foolishness. (131)

Planning for Fullness of Life. As we seek to know Christ by incorporating appropriate disciplines into our lives, we must keep in mind that they are not ways of earning merit. They also are not paths of suffering or self-torment. They are not heroic. They are not righteousness. But they are indispensable wisdom. | Once we learn that grace is not opposed to effort (action) — though it is opposed to earning (attitude) — the way is open for us to “work out” all that is involved in our salvation, not only “with fear and trembling” but also with the calm assurance that it is God who is at work in us to accomplish all of His good will. (133)

Discipleship of the Soul and the Mind

12. Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, and the Restoration of the Soul

A Renewed interest in Spirituality.

Assumptions for This Discussion.

Descriptive Distinctions Within the Human Being.

Soul as Source and Coordinating Principle of Life. The most illuminating and rational way of thinking about the soul is to regard it as that component of the total person that coordinates all of the capacities and dimensions of the human being and leads to their interactive development to form an individual life. (142)

Sin as Psychological Reality. This is sin in the singular: not an act but a condition. it is not that we are wrong, but that our inner components are no longer hooked up correctly. (146)

This is the deeper source of the saying from ancient Greek culture that “whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” This self-justifying, rationalizing activity is a perverted expression of the natural role of mind int he human economy. Its natural role is to find the right way to act — the way that is just and right, and that leads to what is good. When the person as a whole is committed to doing what is wrong and evil, the mind turns from reason to rationalization. From establishing what is right in order to do it, it turns to establishing that whatever is done is “right” and “good,” or at least “necessary.” That is the madness. (147)

The aim of disciplines in the spiritual life — and, specifically, in the following of Christ — is the transformation of the total state of the soul. (151)

…solitude and silence are powerful means to grace. (153)

It is astonishing how little of the bible is known by heart by people who profess to honor it. If we do not know it, how can it help us? (155)

Spiritual Formation. Spiritual formation, as commonly referred to nowadays, is a matter of reforming the broken soul of man in a recovery from its alienation from God. really, it is soul reformation. (156)

13. Christ-Centered Piety: The Heart of the Evangelical

Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it. There is deep confusion. We find it hard to see that grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning. (166) …trying but not training… (167)

Ethics is certainly the study of how life may be full and rich, and not, as is often imagined, how it may be restrained and meager… – George Herbert Palmer

14. Why?

Why should we practice the disciplines? The short answer and the absolute truth is that without discipline nothing of any value can be accomplished. (171)

…there is no sense of fulfillment, dignity, and quality to life that we can have without discipline. (171-172)

Frequently, in the evangelical church, we’ve been taught that to be a disciple only requires us to read a portion of scripture daily and to pray. But those two activities easily become meaningless. There is absolutely no suggestion in the New Testament that being a disciple consists of reading your Bible and praying regularly. This really does bring us to the heart of the problem for the student today. There is a totally wrong conception of what disciples is.

My life will be be trouble-free… The problem is that they do not have their values in order, nor do they know how to order their lives around discipleship. (174)

Really, the question of motivation becomes the chief one in reference to practicing the disciplines. Motivation comes from vision, and vision should come from the preaching of the gospel of the Kingdom as an all-encompassing invitation to live life under the rule of God. (174)

15. Jesus the Logician

There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence, and I have actually heard Christians respond to my statement that Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived by saying that it is an oxymoron. (180)

The two primary logical relations are implication (logical entailment) and contradiction, and their role in standard forms of argument… (182)

To be logical no doubt does require an understanding of what implication and contradiction are, as well as the ability to recognize their presence or absence in obvious cases. But it also requires the will to be logical… (182)

Jesus’s aim in utilizing logic is not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in his hearers. …he presents matters in such a way that those who wish to know can find their way to, can come to, the appropriate conclusion as something they have discovered — whether or not it is something they particularly care for. (183)

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

Jesus is a thinker. … He constantly uses the power of logical insight to enable people to come to the truth about themselves and about God from the inside of their own heart and mind. (189)

An excellent way of teaching in Christian schools would therefore be to require all students to do extensive logical analyses of Jesus’s discourses. (192)

…in the very nature of the human mind, emotion does not reliably generate belief or faith, if it generates it at all. Not even “seeing” does, unless you know what you are seeing. It is understanding, insight, that generates belief. (194)

Books on Spiritual Living: Vision and Practices

16. Letters by a Modern Mystic by Frank C. Laubach

Laubach did not fall into the trap of merely trying to achieve his goal. Rather, he understood the necessity of learning how, of spiritual method. (201)

…feeling God in each movement by an act of will — willing that He shall direct these fingers that now strike this typewriter — willing that He shall pour through my steps as I walk.

17. The Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila

18. Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton

…all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room. – Blaise Pascal

…another secret instinct, a remnant of the greatness of our original nature, which teaches that happiness in reality consists only in rest, and not in being stirred up – Blaise Pascal, Pensees

This instinct conflicts with the drive to diversion, and we develop the confused idea that leads people to aim at rest through excitement, “and always to fancy that the satisfaction which they do not have will come to them, if, by surmounting whatever difficulties confront them, they can thereby open the door to rest.”

| Of course, it doesn’t come that way. That is the fallacy int he thinking that all one needs is more time. unless a deeper solution is found, “more time” will just fill up in the same way as the time we already have. The way to liberation and rest lies through a decision and a practice. (210-211)

19. When God Moves In: My Experience with Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians

20. A Room of Marvels by James B. Smith

Paradise is now in session. (224)

A Party Word: “As You Go…”

Our Maestro never told us to convert the world or to reform any religious organizations. He did tell us that, when filled with him, we would bear witness of him “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). (225)

Instead, the Master said to his disciples, “Make disciples.” We have no other God-appointed business but this, and we must allow all else to fall away if it will. (225)

My first step then, “as I go,” is to be his disciple, and constantly to be learning from him how to live my life in the Kingdom of God now — my real life, the one I am actually living. (226)

Well, but someone says, what about the church and the world? Don’t these need to be straightened out? No doubt about that! But it’s not your job or mine. And if we undertake on our own to straighten out the church and the world, we will hurt a lot of people and make ourselves miserable. It is God’s job, and He will do it, and in the way it should be done — of which we probably have little or no idea at all. (227)

…don’t allow your thoughts and efforts to change things to come before or take the place of your practice of discipleship, walking with Jesus. (227)

All that is needed from us to change things — whether in the church or in the world — is sustained apprenticeship of individuals to Jesus, the Savior of the world so loved by God. Our directions “as we go” are clear: to be disciples — apprentices — of Jesus in Kingdom living and by our life and words as his apprentices to wit-ness, to bring others to know and long for that life that is in us through confidence in him. it’s all true. It works. It is accessible to anyone. And there is nothing in the world to compare.

| That’s all. (229)

— VIA —

The back cover jacket reads “What the church forgot to teach you.” I would respectfully disagree, as Willard, very much a member of our church, has taught us really really well in this book.

At times, there is some redundancy which gives me the impression that this is a bit of a collection of sorts, though not explicitly stated. Regardless, the repetitions are helpful as they help the reader to highlight some of the most foundational ideas in Willard’s thinking.

Posted in: Religion, Theology