A summary of the second chapter of Willard’s book, written in 2001.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.
Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him,
“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this:

˜Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.

The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:29-31

Care Requires Understanding

What you would take care of you must understand – be it a petunia or a nation. This task is made difficult because the nature of the person is a battleground of conflicting views. In part this is due to the rebellion of western culture: if we assume a certain nature then perhaps we are not free. We want to avoid all restrictions. Willard then summarizes:

“When we set aside contemporary prejudices and carefully examine the [Judeo-Christian and the Greek, the biblical and the classical] sources, it will become clear that “heart,” “spirit,” and “will” are words that refer to one and the same thing, the same fundamental component of the person. But they do so under different aspects. “Will” refers to that component’s power to initiate, to create, to bring about what did not exist before. “Spirit” refers to its fundamental nature as distinct and independent from physical reality. And “heart” refers to its position in the human being, as the center or core to which every other component of the self owes its proper functioning. But it is the same dimension of the human being that has all these features. The human heart, will, or spirit is the executive center of a human life..”

The Six Basic Aspects of a Human Life

These aspects together and in interplay make up “human nature”

1. Thought (images, concepts, judgments, inferences)
2. Feeling (sensation, emotion)
3. Choice (will, decision, character)
4. Body (action, interaction with physical world)
5. Social context (personal and structural relations to others)
6. Soul (the integrating factor that makes one life)

“Spiritual formation in Christ is the process leading to that ideal end, and its result is love of God with all of the heart, soul, mind and strength, and of the neighbour as oneself. The human self is then fully integrated under God.” (31)

“Each aspect or dimension of the person will be a source of weakness or strength to the whole person, depending upon the condition it is in, and the condition it is in will depend, finally, upon the heart [will]. A person who is prepared and capable of responding to the situations of life in ways that are “good and right” is a person whose woul is in order, under the direction of a well-kept heart, in turn under the direction of God.” (32)

A Survey of the Six Dimensions


Thought is that which enables our will (or spirit) to range fare beyond the immediate boundaries of our environment and the perceptions of our senses. Also the realm of imagination.


Feeling and thought always go together. There is no feeling without something being before the mind in thought, and no thought without some positive or negative feeling toward what is contemplated.

Will (Spirit, Heart)

Volition, or choice, is the exercise of will, the capacity of the person to originate things and events that would not otherwise be or occur. To ‘originate” is thus to be free to create. We have power to do the good or to do evil. The capacity for volition, and the acts of willing in which it ix exercised, form the spirit in man. In this narrow and focused sense, the “spiritual” is not just the nonphysical but is the central core of the nonphysical part in man.

Human beings have at their center unbodily, personal power. It is, above all, this spirit that must be reached, cared for, and transformed in spiritual formation. The human will is primarily what must be given a godly nature and must then proceed to expand its godly governance over the entire personality.

Human life as a whole does not run by will alone. Far from it. Nevertheless, life must be organized by the will if it is to be organized at all. It an only be pulled together “from the inside.”


The body is the focal point of our presence in the physical and social world. In union with it we come into existence, and we become the person we shall forever be. It is our primary energy source or “strength” — our personalized “power pack” — a place where we can even stand in defiance of God, at least for a while.

Human relations cannot be separated from the body.. it is essentially social. Equally important, it is the body from which we live. Our choices, as they settle into character, are farmed out or “outsourced” to our body in its social context, where they then occur more or less “automatically,” without our having to think about what we are doing. It has a knowledge of its own. Of course this capacity is also a major problem for, and a primary area of, spiritual formation. Trained in wrongness and evil, the body comes to act wrongly “before we think,”and has “motions of sin in its members,” as Paul said. [But] the body is not essentially evil and, while infected.. can be delivered.

Social Context

The human self requires rootedness in others. This is primarily an ontological matter – a matter of being what we are. It is not just a moral matter, thought the moral aspect grows out of the being aspect.

The most fundamental “other” for the human is God himself. God is the ultimate social fact for the human being. We only live as we should when we are in right relation to God and to other human beings – thus the two greatest commandments (noted here back at the start).


The soul is that dimension of the person that interrelates all of the other dimensions so that they form one life. It is like a meta-dimension or higher level dimension because its direct field of play consists of the other dimensions, and through them it reaches ever deeper into the person’s vast environment of God and his creation.

Because the soul encompasses and “organizes” the whole person, it is frequently taken to BE the whole person. We naturally treat persons as “souls.” Biblical and poetic language often addresses it in the third person. The psalmist asked, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (Ps. 42:5. See also the rich fool in Luke 12).

For all the soul’s vastness and independence, the tiny executive center of the person – the spirit or will – can redirect and re-form the soul, with God’s cooperation. It mainly does this by redirecting the body in spiritual disciplines and toward various other types of experiences under God.

Influence on Action

Our actions always arise out of the interplay of the universal factors in human life: spirit, mind, body, social context, and soul. Action never comes from the movement of the will alone. Often – perhaps usually – what we do is not an outcome of deliberate choice and a mere act of will, but is more of a relenting to pressure on the will from one or more of the dimensions of the self.

The inadequacy of good intentions alone to ensure proper action is marked by Jesus’ words: “The spirit is will but the flesh is weak.” If the six dimensions are properly aligned with God and what is good – and therefore with each other – that “mere relenting” will be good, and our actions will be the good fruit of the good tree.

We must understand that there is a rigorous consistency in the human self and its actions. This is one area where we like to deceive ourselves. If I do evil, I am the kind of person who does evil. If I do good, I am the kind of person who does good (1 John 3:7-10).

Whatever my action is comes out of my whole person.

In life away from God, the order of dominance in the person is:

Mind (thought/Feeling)

This is the order in all kinds of idolatry.

In the life under God, by contrast, the order of dominance is:


Here the life “from above” flow s from God through the whole person, including the body and its social context.

The former order is characteristic of what Paul described as “the mind set on the flesh,” which is “death (Romans 8:6). The latter expresses “the mind set on the Spirit,” which is “life and peace.”

When the proper ordering of the human self under God is complete (never fully in this life) – then we have people who “love God with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength, and with all their mind; and their neighbour as themselves (Mark 12:30-33). When we are like this, our whole life is an eternal one.

But NOT a passive one. Passivity was for the Israelites, and for us, one of the greatest dangers of spiritual existence. The land promised to them was one of incredible goodness – “flowing with milk and honey,” as it is described. But it still had to be conquered by careful, persistent, and intelligent human action, over a long period of time.

Note:  An Interactive Student Edition of Renovation of the Heart, by pastor and author Randy Frazee, is available in bookstores

2 Comments on Renovation of the Heart

  1. mick says:

    Great summation of Willard’s work in this book. Tho, I’ve found it difficult to get others to wade thru his writing style, he has a great grasp on the way of spiritual transformation in Christ from both a psycho/social, and theological perspective.

  2. len says:

    Chapter 6 forward looks great.. I suspect the interactive edition will be well worth a look for some who find his style cumbersome..