“We intend what is right, but we avoid the life that would make it reality.”
I have met very few “bad” people in my ministry though defining “bad” with any precision is a slippery slope. Most people I know, and have known, are basically good and decent people. They have been people who belong to churches and people who don’t. Membership in a church is a weak benchmark for identifying the character of people. That conviction has continued to be strengthened by people I meet who demonstrate considerable generosity, both financially and with volunteer time to nonprofits, and have a grace about them that simply blesses all who know them – yet they personally appear to have no interest in the church.
Many of those good and decent people have also shared with me that they intend much more with their lives, greater generosity, greater demonstration of love for others and greater movement toward some identified set of aspirations, core values or moral standard. They want to be so much more than they are now. The difficulty is that identifying a pathway “from here to there” isn’t done. What they “intend” for their life is rarely realized by the lack of a purposeful approach.
For Christians, the primary “intention” for life is to grow in the character of Christ. This isn’t one choice among several. Christlikeness is the intention, it is what “Christian” literally means: to become a little Christ. Naturally, this intention will rarely be realized without a purposeful approach. What is unfortunate is that for some who take a purposeful approach to growing in the character of Christ, they take the wrong road. That road may be marked by profession of perfectly correct beliefs, more study of the Bible or greater participation in the activities of the church. These are certainly good activities but each are insufficient for realizing our intention to be Christlike.
Dallas Willard, perhaps the most influential thinker in spiritual formation today, argues that there are two primary objectives for realizing authentic character development in the likeness of Christ: falling dearly in love with our Heavenly Father, constantly delighting in Him and realizing that there is no condition to His love for us and disrupting habitual patterns of thought, feeling and action that diminish Christ in us. The first is developed through the regular reading of scripture, not for more information but to experience the presence of God and regular worship, private and corporate. The latter is accomplished by developing intentional practices that, over time< become formative of our nature such as the practice of solitude and prayer, expressing gratitude regularly and financial generosity. The life that is pattern by these two objectives will find its way into the embrace of Christ.