Russell and Duenes

Our Cowlike Confidence in Banal Decency

with 4 comments

E11496.jpgJohn the Baptist said: “For the One whom God sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34). What is John saying here about Jesus? The first sentence is pretty straightforward: God sent Jesus, and Jesus speaks God’s words in the world. But the intriguing question, I think, is the nature of the connection between Jesus speaking God’s words and the giving of the Spirit without measure. First, who is it that “gives the Spirit without measure?” Is it God or Jesus? One’s first thought is that, of course, it’s talking about God giving the Spirit. Jesus can speak God’s words because of the unfettered and limitless way in which God gives Jesus the Spirit. And this seems most likely what John means here, and I’m attracted to this view. However, another view is that John is saying that the proof or evidence that Jesus is speaking God’s words is that Jesus gives the Spirit without measure. Indeed, in John 6:63, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life . . . the words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.” The Word of God is called the “sword of the Spirit” by the apostle Paul. So maybe, in speaking the words of God, Jesus is giving the Spirit without measure. Having said that, I think D.A. Carson gets it right when he says that this second view causes the verse to lose “the close connection with v. 35,” where John says that “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand,” even the Spirit without measure. See D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 213. Carson also notes a rabbinical view that “the Holy Spirit who rested on the prophets did so according to the measure of each prophet’s assignment.” However, it was “[n]ot so to Jesus: to him God gives the Spirit without limit.” What a powerful truth!

Right in the second chapter of the Bible, before mankind fell into sin, we see economics coming into play. In Genesis 2:15, the Scripture says that “the Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” I have to think that, even had man not fallen into sin, there would have been industry and trade eventually carried on between Adam and Eve’s offspring who would populate the earth. If Adam was commanded to “work and watch over” the garden, wouldn’t that work have led to produce, vast amounts of produce? And what would Adam have done with it all? I imagine trading and buying and selling would have gone on. Man was created to work, and I venture he was created to do something with that work that would benefit others and spread the image and glory of God. There would seem to be nothing evil about trade freely carried on, value for value. Sin only introduced fraud, deception, laziness and painful, drudging labor into an otherwise godly enterprise.

The final chapter in Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, entitled, “The Disciplines and the Power Structures of This World,” ranks in my mind as one of the greatest chapters I have ever read in any Christian book. Virtually every paragraph has a quote worth pondering, stated with a power to impress itself upon one’s soul. To take but one example, Dallas writes: “What is it about our lives that always leaves us astonished and wondering at the evils people do? Indeed, at the evils we do? What makes us expect any better, given a track record like the one just cited? There is something very deep here to be explored, for it is closely tied to our cowlike confidence in banal decency and to our corresponding failure to take appropriately strong measures against evil as it rests in our own personalities and in our world.” Yes, we have this “cowlike confidence in banal decency,” and we have a vested interest in keeping it. To have it exposed and pulled up as error is not just frightening, but morally convicting. It’s this conviction under which we cannot stand. As Willard says, “the full horror of actual human behavior is like the face of Medusa in Greek mythology. We sense that if we look squarely at it we will be turned to stone.” If you do nothing else, get Willard’s book for this chapter alone. Perhaps more to come in future posts to whet your appetite.



Written by Michael Duenes

February 5, 2015 at 7:57 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I agree decency isn’t enough. But then what is? I suppose Willard’s answer is right there in the title: The Spirit and the disciplines. Both together. I wouldn’t disagree with Willard on that either, except to qualify that I think the “disciplines” flow from affection for the Father, not from effort. I remember how disciplined I was about exercise when I was dating Hitomi. Love – knowing God’s love – is the secret to being disciplined. I actually think Willard would agree with that, but I haven’t read him carefully enough (or remembered clearly enough) to say clearly.

    But to talk about real change, I think you’ve got to go a step further. “Given our track record” what is going to break us free? I think this goes to the Cross, but in a different way than I understood before.

    Here I’d like to invite you to read a book: The Jesus Driven Life, by Michael Hardin. You may hate it, but I won’t presume and say more about that. Heck, you might like it. It’s the work of a intensely dedicated theologian who knows the Bible as well as anyone I’ve read, but he isn’t afraid to challenge existing orthodoxy. The reason I bring it up is because in this book I see a biblical, Jesus-centered perspective that can stand unblinking in the face of “our track record” and offer hope at the crux of the matter.

    It’s a thick book but pretty accessible. If you decide to check it out, it’s no use starting if you aren’t willing to bring your paradigms to the table. And then at least read through chapter five. I love to write back and forth with you about it if you do that.

    Andy Gray

    February 5, 2015 at 9:06 pm

    • Willard would agree with what you are saying about the disciplines. They are to be an expression of love and loyalty to Jesus, and a love for His ways. They are not opposed to effort, but to earning. I will see if I can secure a copy of Hardin’s book. I’d be happy to read it and discuss.


      russell and duenes

      February 6, 2015 at 6:04 pm

  2. It would have been better to say “not from effort ALONE.” I don’t think there is anything wrong with effort (not much happens without it), but I think it’s far from enough. Love/affection is a much stronger motivation for effort that will lead to genuine change or transformation. Guilt, obligation, shame, and fear don’t cut it.

    Andy Gray

    February 5, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    • Willard would certainly agree that guilt, shame and fear don’t work. I suppose if “obligation” is defined a certain way, he’d agree with that too. Certainly Jesus’ commands are obligatory. They are not suggestions. I “obligation” gets a bad rap because it is automatically equated with “just going through the motions.” But that need not be the case at all. I am obligated to do competent work at my job, and I’m glad that I am. I attend to my obligation with a sincere heart and a desire to meet my obligations.


      russell and duenes

      February 6, 2015 at 6:06 pm

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