“Is Spiritual Transformation Really Possible? by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D. Min. (repentance, faith, redemption)

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Is Spiritual Transformation Really Possible?

by Thomas A. Tarrants, III, D.Min.
President Emeritus of the C.S. Lewis Institute

source: From the Fall 2019 issue of Knowing & Doing: C.S. Lewis Institute

My answer to the question above is an emphatic yes! Let me briefly tell you a story that illustrates why.

  In June of this year, I retired as vice president of the C.S. Lewis Institute and director of the Washington Area C.S. Lewis Fellows program, a role I had filled for nine years. Prior to that, I had served for twelve years as president. Before coming to the Institute, I was copastor of an interracial church and, even earlier, was in campus ministry. That profile sounds normal enough.
  But here’s the backstory. I was a white teenager in the deep South who came of age in the early 1960s, just as the civil rights movement was gathering momentum. Society was in turmoil as the federal government implemented court-ordered desegregation plans in the public schools. I became very angry about the changes in my high school and began to read racist, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in literature that was being circulated on campus. Soon I met those who were distributing the material. This led to a process of indoctrination into far-right ideology that would eventually have tragic consequences for me and others.

  My anger grew into hatred for black people, Jews, liberals, and communists — people I saw as enemies of God, America, and the southern way of life. By my early twenties, my hatred had led me to become involved with the most violent right-wing terrorist organization in America at the time, Mississippi’s White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. One night, an accomplice and I were ambushed by a police SWAT team as we attempted to bomb the home of a Jewish businessman. My accomplice was killed, and I was so badly wounded that doctors gave me only forty-five minutes to live.

  Miraculously I survived my injuries and was later tried and sentenced to thirty years in prison. But I had learned nothing from my experiences; about six months after entering prison, I escaped with two other inmates, intending to resume my activities. But a couple of days later, another SWAT team found me and my accomplices, one of whom was killed in the barrage of gunfire. Had the man who was killed not relieved me early from lookout duty, I would have been the one who died.

  Back in prison, I was confined to a six-by-nine-foot cell in the maximum security unit. To escape the boredom of being locked up alone twenty-four hours a day, I began to read almost continuously. At first, it was racist, anti-Semitic books, which reinforced my extremist beliefs. Then, unexpectedly, my interest shifted to classical philosophy — Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. This led to an intellectual awakening and a search for truth and self-understanding that eventually took me to the New Testament. Through reading the Gospels, I discovered the truth I was seeking in the person of Jesus Christ. I was particularly stuck when I read, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt.16:26).1 Under conviction of my sins, I was brought to repentance and faith and trusted my life to Christ in wholehearted surrender.

  The next morning, I awoke with three strong desires in my heart: to read the Bible, to pray, and to live for God. As the apostle Paul had said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). These desires were characteristic of that change. ( : LW )

And so was the love that replaced racial and ethnic hatred in my heart. Hours of daily Bible reading fed these changes and helped fuel the beginnings of spiritual transformation. It also stimulated the desire for a deeper understanding of the Christian faith and an interest in theology and apologetics. It was here that I first encountered the works of C.S. Lewis — books such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, The Problem of Pain, among others. The works of Lewis were formative in my thinking and would continue to be so for many years to come. Other writers also had a major impact on me — Louis Berkhof, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J.I. Packer, John Stott, Andrew Murray, Thomas à Kempis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, to name a few. Two years of extensive daily Bible reading and the study of Christian classics helped me develop a solid foundation in the faith.

  Fast forwarding a bit, after serving eight years in prison, a near miraculous set of circumstances opened the door for me to be released from prison to attend the University of Mississippi. At the age of twenty-nine, I was now eager to prepare myself to serve God in some way, and I gave myself to my studies with diligence. I also became part of a good church, where I could experience weekly worship, teaching, and fellowship. This helped accelerate my spiritual growth. Later I moved to the Washington, D.C., area and eventually went to seminary, earning a master’s degree and later a doctoral degree. Along the way, doors opened for me to serve God in campus ministry, then pastoral ministry, and finally at the C.S. Lewis Institute.

  It has been almost fifty years since I met Jesus in that prison cell. Over those years, God has been steadily working in my life, helping me to change — to become more like Jesus. It hasn’t been quick, and it hasn’t always been easy. There have been temptations, trials and tribulations, some of which I overcame and others I failed. There have been ups and downs, twists and turns along the way. And there have been painful sorrows to endure. But through it all, there have been many joys and blessings from God’s generous hand. His grace has truly been sufficient for me. And He has patiently, lovingly kept calling me to “come further up, come further in.” I still have a long way to go, for it is a lifelong journey, but I am thankful for the progress made thus far by God’s grace. That is why I can say without hesitation that spiritual transformation is certainly possible. Not only is it possible; it is unquestionably God’s agenda for each of His children, for He intends that we “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).
So in spite of the challenges and difficulties of the transformation process,

we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:17–18)

  Such transformation is not just for the few. It is for everyone who really wants it, even the worst of people, as I once was. History is full of examples of notorious sinners who have been transformed by Jesus Christ. Think of the apostle Paul, a violent religious extremist; Augustine, a pagan philosopher and sex addict; Francis of Assisi, a rich playboy. More recently, C.S. Lewis was a convinced atheist, and Chuck Colson was a ruthless political operative. It is also for ordinary people who have not been saved, including those church people who make professions of faith and believe they are Christians but whose lives have never changed. (This is a major reason throughout history why people don’t believe Christian faith changes people in a positive way.)

  If you long for this — if you really want to become more like Jesus — cry out to God with a sincere heart. He will help you. The first step for everyone is repentance and faith. That is, to recognize and turn from your sins to Jesus Christ and trust Him as your Savior and Lord. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). He is the only way to God: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
If you have been born again, your next step is clear: with gratitude to God for His grace and love, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). This means giving yourself to Him wholeheartedly, body and soul, holding back nothing. It is a surrender to God’s love and a commitment to pleasing Him through joyful obedience to His will. This launches the process of transformation, and you will need to reaffirm it daily. The process moves forward as we take the necessary initiative: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). This involves forsaking the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the fallen world and seeking the renewal of our minds through earnest engagement with the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the people of God. Our goal in doing so is to develop the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5–8), our Savior, Lord and great High Priest. And as we walk this path through life with our brothers and sisters in Christ, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). 



Notes:
1  Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are English Standard Version.

Tom Tarrants is President Emeritus of the C.S. Lewis Institute. After serving twelve years as president and nine years as vice President, he retired from his position as Vice President for Ministry and Director, Washington Area Fellows Program, with CSLI in June 2019.  Tom holds a Master of Divinity Degree, as well as a Doctor of Ministry Degree in Christian Spirituality. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Church Alliance and a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Going forward, Tom will be spending his time writing, mentoring, consulting and traveling. His life story is told in Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love, published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Recommended Reading:
Thomas A. Tarrants, Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

From L.Willows: I am so honored to have personally met Dr. Tarrants through his extensive ministry at the C.S. Lewis Institute and beyond. I have witnessed the strength of his faith, the expanse of its impact and the depth of his humility. I look forward to reading this book.

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“Seeking Peace and Trusting God” from L.Willows; Isaiah 26:3 and Prayer for Peace

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“Seeking Peace and Trusting God” from L.Willows; Isaiah 26:3

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3

Prayer for Daily Peace~

Father,

I praise you for your promise of perfect peace.
My heart and mind long to surrender to your peace,
to abide in you and with you
in this and every hour of the day and night.

Let every part of me bend gently like a new blade of grass
that trusts the sun.
Give me a thirst for the beauty of a refreshed and pure mind
that turns to you
like petals to Light, open with hope,
encouraged by your Love.

May this day bring me closer to you, 
and fulfill the path of deepening faith 
by the power of Your Spirit.
My gratitude and heart speak your name in love.

Lift me into your love, let your peace be the rule of me.
Pour it into the harvest of this day.

Keep me with you, Lord. Let this heart stay.
May your glory be seen today.

In Jesus Name,
Amen

© 2019 Linda Willows

“The Spiritual Disciplines from Dallas Willard” Introduction from The Beloved

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Insights From The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard teaches that discipline works by indirection. That means that it is something that we can do that enables us to do what we haven’t been able to do yet by our own direct effort. We train and enlist a new skill using a power greater than our own. In the disciplines we use the Spirit of God that raised Jesus Christ, to lift us to greater ability.

More importantly, he emphasizes that the greatest asset to discipline is a joyful attitude! Imagine that your heart is smiling through it. Your most true part longs to be where this is leading you. Right, connect to the perspective of love and joy. Why are you drawn to the disciplines? Because you love God and desire the intimacy of Spirit filled-living. You have been deeply faithfully loved by God.

As with all in the Christian walk we understand that by our own “muscle” and strength we falter and stumble. We get caught in ourselves and start controlling the outcome and numerous other mortal failings. But with the power of The Spirit, we surrender – we yield to what is Greater than ourselves (and die to self). The soul allows itself to be shepherded. With our hearts empty, we enter into true discipline and walk with The Spirit.

Discipline also works when developing new habits of body, mind, and heart. In daily living, we are faced with a multitude of choices at every turn. Developing a new habit means opposing a force that has “learned” to cope with these choices in one way and formed a set response.

A discipline asks that the pattern is broken. It asks that we “wake” from the habitual way of living long enough to purify and permit a new “aspect or perspective” to be born in its place. This will be by the power of Spirit, led by God. We joyfully walk in the discipline praying that we will re-form, emptied of what was needed to be left behind,  forward renewed by The Spirit of God. We pray that our new perspective bears the fruit of Spirit-directed living.

Here are some main disciplines of abstinence and engagement that have been helpful to Christ-followers over the centuries as offered by Dallas Willard.

This Spiritual Disciplines List features some main disciplines for life in Christ with concise definitions for each. You will notice disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement.

Disciplines of Abstinence (Self-Denial)
These are ways of denying ourselves something we want or need in order to make space to focus on and connect with God.

Solitude: Refraining from interacting with other people in order to be alone with God and be found by him. (Solitude is completed by silence.)

Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence. Also, not speaking so that we can listen to others and bless them.

Fasting: Going without food (or something else like media) for a period of intensive prayer — the fast may be complete or partial.

Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others. (God designed this for one day a week. We can practice it for shorter periods too.)

Secrecy: Not making our good deeds or qualities known to let God or others receive attention and to find our sufficiency in God alone (e.g., see Matthew 6).

Submission: Not asserting ourselves in order to come under the authority, wisdom, and power of Jesus Christ as our Lord, King, and Master. (If you think of this as submitting to a person as unto Christ then it’s a discipline of engagement.)

Disciplines of Engagement (Christ in Community)
These are ways of connecting with God and other people, conversing honestly with them in order to love and be loved.

Bible Reading: Trusting the Holy Spirit-inspired words of Scripture as our guide, wisdom, and strength for life. (Related disciplines include Bible study, Scripture meditation, and praying God’s Word.)

Worship: Praising God’s greatness, goodness, and beauty in words, music, ritual, or silence. (We can worship God privately or in community.)

Prayer: Conversing with God about what we’re experiencing and doing together. (As we see in the Lord’s Prayer the main thing we do in prayer is to make requests or intercessions to our Father for one another.)

Soul Friendship: Engaging fellow disciples of Jesus in prayerful conversation or other spiritual practices. (Related spiritual disciplines or practices include small groups, spiritual direction, and mentoring relationships.)

Personal Reflection: Paying attention to our inner self in order to grow in love for God, others, and self. (The Psalms in the Bible model this.)

Service: Humbly serving God by overflowing with his love and compassion to others, especially those in need. (Also tithing and giving.)

Dallas Willard – Wikipedia

“True Humility” Quotes from Martyn Lloyd Jones

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“Humility is one of the chief of all the Christian virtues; it is the hallmark of the child of God…The way to become poor in spirit is to look at God.”
-Martyn Lloyd Jones

“Whenever I see myself before God and realize something of what my blessed Lord has done for me at Calvary, I am ready to forgive anybody anything. I cannot withhold it. I do not even want to withhold it.”
-Martyn Lloyd Jones

“If our humility is not unconsciousness it is exhibitionism…I always think of a man whom I once met. I was due to preach for a weekend in a certain town and he met me at the station, and then, before I had had time to say almost anything to him, he said, “Well, of course, I am not one of the great people in this church, I am just, you know, a very ordinary, humble man. I am not a great theologian, I am not a great speaker. I do not take part in the prayer meeting, but you know I am just the man who carries the visiting preacher’s bag.” “Oh, what a humble man I am!” I thought.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says, “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.”
― Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself. He is not always watching himself and his own interests. He is not always on the defensive… To be truly meek means we no longer protect ourselves, because we see there is nothing worth defending… The man who is truly meek never pities himself, he is never sorry for himself. He never talks to himself and says, “You are having a hard time, how unkind these people are not to understand you.”
― Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“A Christian can generally be known by his very appearance. The man who really believes in the holiness of God, and who knows his own sinfulness and the blackness of his own heart, the man who believes in the judgment of God and the possibility of hell and torment, the man who really believes that he himself is so vile and helpless that nothing but the coming of the Son of God from heaven to earth, and His going to the bitter shame and agony and cruelty of the cross could ever save him, and reconcile him to God‑‑this man is going to show all that in his whole personality. He is a man who is bound to give the impression of meekness. He is bound to be humble. Our Lord reminds us here that if a man is not humble, we are to be very wary of him. He can put on a kind of sheep’s clothing, but that is not true humility, that is not true meekness. And if a man’s doctrine is wrong, it will generally show itself at this point. He will be affable and pleasant, he will appeal to the natural man, and to the things that are physical and carnal; but he will not give the impression of being a man who has seen himself as a hell‑bound sinner, and who has been saved by the grace of God alone”
– Martyn Lloyd Jones

It is grace at the beginning, and grace at the end. So that when you and I come to lie upon our death beds, the one thing that should comfort and help and strengthen us there is the thing that helped us in the beginning. Not what we have been, not what we have done, but the Grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. The Christian life starts with grace, it must continue with grace, it ends with grace. Grace wondrous grace. By the grace of God I am what I am. Yet not I, but the Grace of God which was with me.
-Martyn Lloyd Jones

Martyn Lloyd Jones / Wikipedia