In The Divine Conspiracy Willard finds that it is important to know what Jesus thought of the world if we intend to discover what his words about the world, God, salvation, and the divine life mean.
In short, Jesus found God to be a joyous and good being, the world is a place where we are safe and can experience the full life. Reflecting upon Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount, Willard suggests that we will have our needs taken care of (Mt. 6) and that when Matthew mentions “heaven” he is simply referring to God’s space, which Jewish cosmology would suggest interacts with creation playfully and literally.
Willard uses plenty of space to illustrate how God is “spirit” (John 4:23) yet interacts within the natural world. In the same way, humans are “spiritual” yet interacting both with God and the natural world. Being spiritual is something that we naturally are. As Willard has written about in greater length in The Renovation of the Heart, humans are always acting “spiritually” even if they have not officially enrolled in religious practice. We give ourselves over to either the mind of the flesh (which Willard suggests that we all know full well; that we all live lives of “quiet desperation”) or the mind of the spirit. (see Romans 8:6) As we begin to follow Jesus, the process is a “renovation” because something has already gone on before we started following Jesus.
The life of the mind of the spirit is what we were created to enjoy. Willard says,
“The mind or the minding of the spirit is life and peace precisely because it locates us in a world adequate to our nature as ceaselessly creative beings under God.” (83)
In regards to what “eternal life” (the life of the Spirit) Willard says,
“Jesus… brings us into a world without fear. In his world, astonishingly, there is nothing evil we must do in order to thrive. He lived, and invites us to live, in an undying world where it is safe to do and be good. He was understood by his first friends to have ‘abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’ (2 Tim. 1:10). Thus our posture of confident reliance upon him in all we do allows us to make our life undying, of eternal worth, integrated into the eternal vistas and movements of the Spirit.” (84)
Embodying this existence is a process of becoming real, again. Willard uses a fun metaphor of a child, who is unable to hide their expressions, what they are feeling, who they are. Indeed, our culture would say that part of “growing up” is the ability to hide, to deflect, to obscure who we are in order to control a situation. That is “part of growing up.” It is interesting how spiritual growth can be seen as becoming “child-like” again. The process of shedding our false self and being re-awakened to who we were always intended to be.