Dallas Willard, in Renovation of the Heart, noted that human character is both formed over time, but that it can also be transformed. These are very mundane observations (p 14). Mundane though they be, many people do not consider either fact. If you make a plan for improving your character, it is, at least, your plan. If you do not, then your character is being formed/transformed, but into what? I submit that Christian repentance is (though the Spirit of God enables it) a decision to plan one’s life based upon the gospel of Jesus rather than on whatever program you had previously been using. So, you character is formed (that’s how you got to be yourself) and it can be transformed. Willard goes on
And on these two points lies the inescapable relevance of Jesus to human life. About two thousand years ago he gathered his little group of friends and trainees on the Galilean hillsides and sent them out to “teach all nations” – that is, to make students (apprentices) to him from all ethnic groups. His objective is to eventually bring all of human life on earth under the direction of his wisdom, goodness, and power, as a part of God’s eternal plan for the universe.
We must make no mistake about it. In thus sending out his trainees, he set afoot a perpetual world revolution: one that is still in process and will continue until God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. As this revolution culminates, all the forces of evil known to mankind will be defeated and the goodness of God will be known, accepted, and joyously conformed to in every aspect of human life. He has chosen to accomplish this with and, in part, through his students. (p 14-15)
Christianity is more than a moral revolution for those who conform their lives to the teachings of Jesus in history, but it is not less. Christianity and the gospel thereof certainly includes the atonement, heaven, a future resurrection and judgement, etc. But it is also what Willard has described. For me that creates tremendous hope. When you invest time in somebody who really wants to change, but really doesn’t seem to make much progress you have to remember that Jesus’ revolution is in space time. It, therefore, takes time. We cannot control that time, we can only respond to his teachings and to his creation with care and attention. But, that was, as Willard notes, Jesus’ plan all along. He wants students, not simply people who sign dotted lines. He wants people who know, accept, and conform themselves to God’s goodness not simply people who talk about it. This is what the monks who basically invented the modern hospital believed as well as the martyrs, political revolutionaries, reformers of various stripes, and hopefully many Christians today believed and continue to believe.
This passage of Willard’s work summarizes important themes in the four gospels, 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 5-12, 1 Thessalonians 1, Isaiah 40-66, all of Ephesians, and Revelation 20-21. Caring for people can be tiresome, burdensome, and down right awful. In some cases it involves getting in the face of people who want you dead. Sometimes it means spending time with a boor. Sometimes it means going without. Sometimes it means going about business as usual. But, there is hope. Jesus is on the move.