Much of what I’ve learned about spiritual formation in the way of Jesus has come from studying Dallas Willard’s teachings and having personal conversations with him.
As a psychologist and spiritual director, I’ve been especially interested in his methodology for life change.
In The Divine Conspiracy (pp. 367-368) Dallas identifies five specific stages or dimensions of “taking on the eternal kind of life of being in The Kingdom Among Us.”
He says we grow in this divine life through a “loving cooperation” or “shared endeavor” with Christ. This requires being “intelligently active” and engaging in “unrelenting study under Jesus, and in particular by following him into his practices and adapting them” for our own life.
To put it simply, loving and emulating Jesus Christ energizes our growth. He is the perfect human being and he teaches us to become more like him — and he enables us to do it!
Dallas Willard’s Stages of Eternal Living lay out a path, which correlates with our model of the CHRIST stages of faith in our new book, Journey of the Soul:
1. Confidence in Jesus
To grow spiritually you need hope that God will take care of you. Then hope can mature into faith-trust and love for others, yourself, and, God. Through Jesus we experience “life from above” (John 3:16).
Confidence in Christ is the C Stage in the CHRIST stages.
2. Desire to Be Jesus’ Apprentice
A hopeful vision and confident belief in Jesus moves our hearts to desire to be close to him and to become like him. We want to be his apprentice in learning how to live our daily life from the resources of the Kingdom of the Heavens.
We call this stage Help in Discipleship (the H Stage).
3. Obedience to God
The great commandment Jesus gave us is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:30-31). In this stage we offer our gifts and talents to help other people. We serve them with kindness, prayers, and the gospel of Christ.
Dallas’ 3rd stage correlates with our R Stage of Responsibilities in Ministry. After some years of serving God and people, we’re likely to encounter The Wall which the Holy Spirit uses to invite us into the next stage:
4. Inner Transformation
To progress in the way of Christ we need to keep turning inward. Our failures to obey God and love well, along with our hurts and unmet needs, can prompt growing deeper roots into the love of Christ.
We call this 4th stage the Inner Journey (the I Stage). For many it’s a season of renewal through increasing self-awareness and intimacy with God and others.
5. Power to Do God’s Works
At this stage we learn that in our own flesh we do not have the power to consistently love others well — we need God’s power. So we learn to rely on the Lord with us. We take on the fruit of the Spirit into our habitual modes of relating and working (Gal. 5:22-23).
In the CHRIST stages the 5th stage is Spirit-Led Ministry (the S Stage). We may experience a fresh anointing of God’s power and joy.
Dallas doesn’t actually identify a 6th stage, but he suggests that the ultimate stage of growth is to continually abide in the Spirit of Jesus.
The culminating CHRIST stage is Transforming Union (the T Stage) in which we’re fully identified with Christ, show compassion for all people, and “live and move and have our being” in God’s loving presence (Acts 17:28).
In Journey of the Soul, we lay out our researched and field-tested model of six CHRIST stages of faith — with a focus on how to progress in emotional and spiritual growth.
PS. Ann Voskamp shared with her readers an excerpt from, Journey of the Soul. She featured this in her blog which is in the Top Ten of Christian blogs on the web. You can read it here: “Tired? Weary? Let this prayer renew your soul.”
Listen to this week’s Soul Talks podcast: “Dallas Willard on the Journey of the Soul.” Dallas Willard inspired the model that Bill and Kristi write about in their book, Journey of the Soul. His writings in The Divine Conspiracy and his personal conversations with them offered a helpful and important framework for helping people journey with Christ. Bill and Kristi offer an overview of these CHRIST stages of faith featured in Journey of the Soul.