The Will: Our Choice, His Power
Natural or Spiritual
On September 5, 1974, the editorial page of the Review and Herald addressed one of the most important problems facing Christians in a secular world. Kenneth Woodís comments deserve our thoughtful attention.
"Perhaps the most serious danger that threatens the church is that it will lose its uniqueness, that it will become like the world around it, that its schools, its medical institutions, its methods of promotion, its literature, its standards of measuring success, will be scarcely distinguishable from those of the secular world.
"Yet few people in the church seem concerned about this danger. Too many measure success merely by gains in tithe and membership. They are confident that all is well with our educational institutions as long as enrollments are increasing and accrediting bodies are pleased. They seem satisfied with our hospitals so long as their bed-occupancy rate is high and their budgets are balanced. They are content with our literature so long as it sells well and is appreciated by readers.
"When anyone raises questions as to whether spiritual values are being given sufficient emphasis, whether our literature is distinctively Adventist, or whether an institution is being operated in harmony with Godís revealed will, often he is considered a gadfly, a negative influence, or a fanatic. Few people in the church welcome criticism, even though it be constructive. Most would rather be told that everything is going well, that conditions may not be perfect but they are the best they have ever been.
"How right the True Witness was when He charged Laodicea with feeling self-satisfied and in need of nothing.
"But it is important to keep in mind that the church may operate institutions that meet worldly standards but not Godís standards. The church may give the appearance of being enormously successful and still be a failure. Burgeoning financial and membership statistics may be accompanied by a sharp decline in spirituality. Employees in denominational institutions may be efficient but not spiritual.
"Some time ago we were startled by several passages in a book entitled Keys to the Deeper Life, by A. W. Tozer, a consecrated non-Adventist Christian. In the book the author declared, "The separating line between the church and the world has been all but obliterated. Aside from a few of the grosser sins, the sins of the unregenerated world are now approved by a shocking number of professedly Ďborn-againí Christians, and copied eagerly. Young Christians take as their models the rankest kind of worldlings and try to be as much like them as possible. Religious leaders have adopted the techniques of the advertisers; boasting, baiting and shameless exaggerating are now carried on as a normal procedure in church work. The moral climate is not that of the New Testament, but that of Hollywood and Broadway. Most evangelicals no longer initiate; they imitate, and the world is their model" (p. 16).
"Is this indictment too harsh? We think not. Too many Christians are [mimicking] . . . the world in appearance and conduct. They imitate rather than initiate. They bring secular techniques into the church to carry forward the work of God.
"Perhaps Mr. Tozer described Laodicea best when he said, "Religious work can be done by natural men without the gifts of the Spirit, and it can be done well and skillfully. But work designed for eternity can only be done by the eternal Spirit. No work has eternity in it unless it is done by the Spirit through gifts He has Himself implanted in the souls of redeemed men. ". . . Spiritually gifted persons are ominously few among us. When we so desperately need leaders with the gift of discernment, for instance, we do not have them and are compelled to fall back upon the techniques of the world. This frightening hour calls aloud for men with the gift of prophetic insight. Instead we have men who conduct surveys, polls, and panel discussions" (Ibid., pp. 40, 41).
"Can religious work be done skillfully and well by natural men? Yes. Physicians can treat diseases. Surgeons can perform operations. Teachers can teach. Promoters can promote. Pressmen can run presses. Nurses can care for the sick. Secretaries can manage offices. Editors can edit. Layout artists can create clever designs for magazines. Administrators can manage and direct. Treasurers can handle finances. And on, and on. All of these activities may be carried forward by natural men.
"The difference between a "natural" man and a "spiritual" man is made quite clear in 1 Corinthians 2:11-16 (also in Rom. 8:1-4). "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him" (1 Cor. 2:14).
"The natural man sees no necessity for yielding to and following implicitly the counsel from Godís Spirit as set forth in the Bible or in the writings of [the Spirit of Prophecy]. . . . The natural man sees no great danger in deviating slightly from the express will of God. By contrast, the spiritual man distrusts self, and seeks earnestly to do Godís work in Godís way. Thus, if natural men are in positions of leadership in Godís work, the church is in peril.
"What, then, is one need of Laodicea? That all leaders, all workers, all employees of the remnant church shall be spiritual men, not natural men. . . . What will be our response? Will we continue to excuse our deficiencies, and proclaim our lack of any need? Or will we repent?
"While we make up our minds, Jesus stands at the door and waits."
This editorial gets right to the heart of the spiritual problems we face as end-time Christians. We have become very adept at being natural men and women. We have learned how to get a job, how to pass tests, and how to get things done in a natural world using natural methods. I am afraid that we have also become quite proficient in being religious and running a church using natural methods. Today our desperate need is to know how to be spiritual men and women. Not only is this the key to the kingdom of heaven, but it is the key to success in Godís church on earth.
We are all born natural men and women. We must be reborn spiritual men and women. The only question that should matter to us is, How can we be spiritual men and women? We know what we should be, but our focus needs to be on the simple question, "How?"
There are three principles we must remember if we want to really become spiritual men and women.
Principle #1 - God Is on Our Side
The following story was told by Dick Winn in 1984 in a Weimar Institute newspaper.
"Even though we were all too young to drive, we found the car to be too enticing to leave alone. Tomís dad had gotten it for himóa 1930 Chevrolet Coupe with a Jackrabbit clutchóto keep him under the hood and out of mischief until he was legally licensed to drive it on the roads.
"But when my brother, Larry, and I got together with our boyhood buddy, Tom, there wasnít much that could keep us out of mischief. And although we hardly knew which end of the wrench to hold, we managed, one idle Sunday afternoon, to bring the old Chevy to life. That sturdy cast-iron ĎBlue Flame 6í snorted and popped, then settled into a smooth rumble that shot fire into our blood. We literally danced around the open hood, thumping each other on the back, and grinning an unspoken agreement that we would not shut it off until we felt its power from behind the wheel.
"We eyed Tomís long gravel driveway and the plan went into action. Tom, of course, had first dibs on the driverís seat. His neighbor jumped in next to him. Larry and I took up stations on the running boards. Tom found reverse, andóscattering gravel against the rear fendersóbolted down the driveway backwards.
"We took turns behind the wheel: one trip down the drive in reverse, then returning in low gear. As we became more bold, we graduated to second gear halfway up the drive.
"By late afternoon, this straight-line reciprocal travel was losing its thrill. And we concluded that, since Tom lived off a country road, it would be safe to back out onto the pavement and practice turning corners into the driveway. Each trip took us further down the road with faster turns into the driveway. And we found that the best passenger ride was enjoyed on the running boards.
"On the fateful last ride, Tomís neighbor was behind the wheel, determined to outdo the rest of us in negotiating a high-speed, 90-degree turn up the gravel drive. Tom and Larry rode the right running board, so they could catch the full thrill of a sharp left turn. I took the safest spot on the left running board.
"But Neighbor overdid it. As the Chevy careened around the corner, almost swiping the fence on the right side of the car, Tom and Larry leaped off the running board, over the fence, and rolled through the cow pasture. From my safe position on the inside of the curve, I roared with laughter at their plight.
"But only for a second. Neighbor overcorrected his turn, and plowed into the fence on my side of the car. My hip did contest with a large fence post; and though the post broke off at the ground, it knocked me off the running board and my ankle went under the rear wheel.
"As the dust began to settle, I noticed that everyone was running. Tomís dad was out of the house, across the porch, and headed down the steps. Tom, Neighbor and Larry got to me first. 'Pretend youíre not hurt,' they pleaded in loud whispers, 'or weíll really get in trouble!' Too stunned yet to know what was happening, I was eager to comply. 'Try to walk!' they urged. ĎTomís dad looks really mad.í
"I tried to get up and walk, but there was something about my left ankle that wouldnít support me. "Hurry up!' they pleaded, 'Heís almost here! Boy, weíre in trouble.'
"I finally got a look at my ankle. It was turned inward at a right angle. Because the pain hadnít yet hit me, I laughed. Here are these three fellows, worried about 'getting in trouble' with Tomís dad, when the trouble is with my ankle!
"The ludicrous humor of the situation has amused us all in the years since the event; but it is only recently that I have begun to see a broader insight. None of us needed to fear the anger of Tomís dad; we needed to fear the destructive results of our own stupidity. And Tomís dadówith his years of experience and mature judgmentócould have helped us avoid doing something so foolish!
"And my mind recalls the years I have spent worrying that, when I break Godís law, the problem is that Iím in trouble with the Lawgiver!' Our picture of God is still so much like what we thought of Tomís dad, leaping across the porch and down the steps. Ignoring the pain and grief we have brought upon ourselves, we tremble in fear at the anticipated anger we are sure He will unleash on us!
"We even try pretending, make-believing, bluffing that weíre not hurting, hoping that our bravado will diminish the wrath to come. But we are so sure that the problem with sin is that it upsets the Lawgiver, that we fail to see the pain it has caused us. We do not see that God is coming, not to get us in trouble, but because we are already in trouble. He comes, not to chastise, but to rescue. 'For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved' (John 3:17). And when He comes close to us, we fail to see the tears in His eyes."
The first thing we must be sure of in our quest to be spiritual men and women is our picture of God. God is not demanding victory over sin to see if we will measure up. He is enabling our victory so that we donít have to break our spiritual ankles so often. God is not waiting to condemn us, but He is coming to help usóto ease the pain. If we do not see God on our side in all of this, we will try harder and fail, try harder and fail until we get discouraged and quit. If we know that God really is on our side, sympathizing with us, enabling us, helping us, then weíve got a chance to experience real victory.
Principle #2 - Dangers of Drifting
In the September, 1986 issue of The Inside Report, published by Amazing Facts, was an article by an unknown author which illustrates this principle.
"Drifting off course is one of those great evil influences which affects the believer as much as the unbeliever . . . . We drift away softly and silently, like a ship floating down the tide. This process is so unconscious because weíre floating on such great currents. The currents are both within us and around us. The currents within are the drives of our natural desiresóour love of ease and comfort, our fleshly appetites, and our worldliness of spirit. Around us are other tides set in the same directionógreat drifts in life itself. The spirit of the age, social customs and habits, materialistic attitudes in business, literature, and entertainment. All these roll around us ceaselessly, touching us, nestling close to us, acting on us, and finding allies in the soul to which they are kin.
"It takes no output of energy to float down a stream, or to be carried forward on the crest of a running tide. All thatís necessary for a life of drift is to relax, to do nothing, to submit to the worldly influences within us and around us.
"Itís because the life of drift is so seductively easy to follow that every person who has followed Christ for some time feels the necessity to encourage himself to stand up to and firmly resist lifeís drifts. . . . Christ is always urging men to develop personal initiative and determination, and to cease being tossed to and fro like leaves on the stream of life. His condemnation of the men who lived in the days of Noah was not that they were men of violenceóbut that they lived unexamined lives, drifting on the surface of things, yielding weakly to the infection of social influences, eating and drinking in a day of Godís visitation.
"To be saved demands effort, thoughtfulness, and self-discipline. To be lost makes no such demands. All thatís needed is merely to follow the drift. . . . Even when we are conscious that weíre drifting from our charted course and that our spiritual senses are becoming duller, thereís always a false hope in our minds that a little energy and effort on our part can at any time turn the whole situation around. We underestimate the paralyzing influence of drift.
"One winter a bird was seen on a piece of wood floating down the river towards Niagara Falls. It was evidently enjoying the movement of the swiftly gliding stream. It had no sense of danger. Why should it be afraid? Didnít it have wings? Couldnít it just fly off when the point of danger was reached? So it thought, as it rested free from care on the piece of wood which carried it down near the dizzy edge.
"When it reached the point of danger it tried to soar, but alas! It could not. The riverís mist had frozen upon its wings, and so it miserably perished as the waters plunged over. Isnít there a serious danger that our habits fix us so immovably to the drift of our circumstances that we cannot free ourselves, even when we want to?
"What can we do to end the terrible consequences of drifting, and strip the influence of these currents in life that threaten to destroy us? The author of Hebrews gives this practical exhortation, 'We ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.' (Heb. 2:1). . . . 'What we have heard' are just the great Gospel facts, truths, values, and warnings, which make and keep us morally and spiritually healthy.
Read again the story of Christís life and reflect on the significance of His Cross which shows His militant protest against a life of drifting. Let the strong resistance of our Lord to all the drifts of His time lay hold upon our minds and saturate our innermost being, until it steels our wills to a similar endurance. . . . There is only one absolute refuge from drifting, and that is to be safely anchored. A ship securely anchored never drifts. And a life anchored to Christ by the four cables of faith, hope, love, and service, consciously made and continuously tested, will never drift."
The second principle is to actively fight against sleepiness. We canít just assume that weíre going to make it through the rivers or life without resisting the currents of the world and the currents of our own hearts, which are lazy and selfish by nature. If we hope to become spiritual men and women we must apply some initiative and effort to the process.
Principle #3 - Activating the Will
Writing in the Pacific Union College newspaper, Campus Chronicle, on May 24, 1984, Marlan Knittel told this story.
"A tall figure opens my door, walks in and plops himself in the yellow beanbag by the dorm window. 'How is it going for you?'
"'Fine.' His voice is uncertain.
"I lean back on my chair and tilt my head expecting him to continue. Instead, he picks at a patch on the beanbag. ĎYouíre not sureóare you?í My words come slowly.
"'So what do I do now?' He blurts it out. 'Thereís something in my life that I want to stop doing. I have asked God, but when the temptation comes, I just canít stop myself from doing it. Everything is fine until the temptation comes.'
"'Do you spend time with God in the morning?'
"'Yes,' he says hesitantly. "But that doesnít keep me from falling.'
"'You mean you pray and study your Bible and still have trouble with it?'
"What would you tell him? Obviously there is no lack of power on Godís part. God speaks and land erupts from water. He opens His mouth and stars flash into existence. One of His angelic force killed 185,000 men in one night, and all of Satanís army fled from one of His angels on resurrection morning.
"The obvious problem is me. Must I try harder? Not againónot more agony laced only with defeat. I canít bear the thought of exerting more of my own strength to try to resist temptation. But there is hope. That hope lies in a misunderstood word long kicked around by theologians. The will.
"Our will is like the final switch which ignites the space shuttle Challengerís three main engines. In seconds, nearly 1.1 million pounds of thrust is scorching the launch pad. The 18-story craft, 4.5 million pounds, breaks away from the launch tower and heaves itself into the sky. Two solid-fuel rockets ignite moments later with five times the power of the other engines. Within minutes the craft is traveling so fast it would take us from Angwin to L.A. in 106 seconds. Deadly, explosive power, all started by a human hand: a weak hand flipping an insignificant switch.
"Often we lock ourselves in castles built of old habits and fears. We dig a moat and make a drawbridge. Too often instead of letting go of the ropeóand lowering the bridge, we hang on for dear lifeóall the while saying, "Come in, Prince Jesusótake this castle!" But we havenít chosen to let the bridge down. We must choose to let go.
"Our lives at temptation often seem like a dark room with ogres of the past screaming from closets, doors just ajar. The darkness is as black as sin and thunders on the brain like waves on the shore. Everything seems lost and hopelessóthe dark power is winningóuntil we remember the Power. Though hidden from view, it snakes through the walls with spiderlike tendrils. Yet its nearness doesnít bring light. We must do a human action to join the globe on the ceiling with the power in the wall. We must flick the switch.
"Faith believes in the power: the will flips the switch; and the power in the walls causes light to flash from the globe. Closets close and ogres squelch their screams. Light and peace result.
"The battle is over.
"I shared what I had found out about the will with the figure slouched in the yellow beanbag. He hadnít tried that. Yes, that was it. Of course that was it. He knew that would work. 'Thanks,' he said as he left my room. I watched him walk down the hall. There was a spring in his step.
It is not overstating the case to say that everything about being a spiritual man or woman, about stopping the drift, about overcoming sin, centers in the will. Please note that we are not talking about willpower here. This is not about grit and determination. The will is the decision-making process. This is about how we make our choices. We want to choose to tap into a different power source than the natural man uses.
The Deciding Power
In the book, Messages to Young People, pages 151Ė154, we find some of the most important concepts relating to our personal salvation that have ever been written. "Pure religion has to do with the will. The will is the governing power in the nature of man, bringing all the other faculties under its sway. The will is not the taste or the inclination, but it is the deciding power, which works in the children of men unto obedience to God, or unto disobedience" (p. 151). Notice that the will is not our emotions or our fallen nature. It is the deciding power, the switch, that determines which way our thoughts will go.
The statement continues with a warning. "You will be in constant peril until you understand the true force of the will. You may believe and promise all things, but your promises or your faith are of no value until you put your will on the side of faith and action. . . . But you need not despair. You must be determined to believe. Believe, although nothing seems true or real to you" (pp. 151, 152).
This is precisely where the will is different than the emotions and feelings. When Jesus was dying on the cross, were His feelings positive or negative? One of the most amazing inspired statements I have ever read says, "Hope did not see through the portals of the tomb" (The Desire of Ages, p. 753). Christ felt like He was never going to live again. What did He have to do? He had to turn a switch on in His mindóthe switch of His willówhich said, I will believe although nothing seems true or real to me. Even though I feel like I will never see My Fatherís face again, I choose to trust Him to do the best thing.
Inspiration adds, "You cannot control your impulses, your emotions, as you may desire, but you can control the will" (Messages to Young People, p. 152). Until we understand this principle, we truly will be in constant danger, because we will keep hoping and promising and we will continue failing. When everything seems impossible and our feelings are out of control, what are we to do? When we wake up feeling discouraged and down, we must remember that emotions and moods are not reliable. Our business at that point is to turn on the switch of the will. Emotions may not be under control, but the will can be controlled. "By steadfastly keeping the will on the Lordís side, every emotion will be brought into captivity to the will of Jesus" (Ibid. p. 153)
Who can control the emotions and impulses? I simply donít have that much power. But God can help with both the willing and the doing. Before that can happen, however, Iíve got to decide that I want His power more than anything else. My willómy determined choiceóis the springboard for everything else. Even when I decide I wonít do anything, Iíll just do whatever comes naturally, that is a decision of the will which will direct what happens next. Everything we doópositive or negativeóresults from decisions of the will. This is why sinóthe sin for which we will be lostóis not just a state of being because of our birth inheritance. Sin is always an act of the will, and I am always responsible for my choices.
God promises, "By steadfastly keeping the will on the Lordís side, every emotion will be brought into captivity to the will of Jesus" (Ibid. p. 152). There is Godís promise to all of us who are hassled constantly by our emotions and impulses. If we surrender the will to Jesus, He will take care of our feelings. "You must remember that your will is the spring of all your actions" (Ibid. p. 153).
Jesus says, "Yield yourself up to Me; give Me that will; take it from the control of Satan, and I will take possession of it." Could it be that many of us are trying to give our will to Christ without realizing that since the fall of our first parents, the will is under the control of Satan? We want to think that we are in control, that we are the captains of our own ships. Do we stop to think that if our will is not in Christís hands, then Satan is controlling us? Since none of us can keep our hearts beating and our lungs breathing, then we must acknowledge that we are subject to higher powers. Our will of necessity will be controlled either by Christ or Satan, and our only choice is who will have it. We must first choose to take the will out of Satanís hands and give it to Christ. We must openly say, "I take this will that you have given me out of the hand of Satan. He has no more right to it. I choose to submit my will to the control of Jesus Christ."
Surrendering the Will
Exactly how do we go about activating the will so that it can be controlled by God alone? There is something very basic that must happen if we want God to work in our lives. "All should guard the senses, lest Satan gain victory over them; for these are the avenues of the soul. You will have to become a faithful sentinel over your eyes, ears, and all your senses if you would control your mind and prevent vain and corrupt thoughts from staining your soul. The power of grace alone can accomplish this most desirable work" (The Adventist Home, p. 401).
Our thoughts are largely the product of the information that enters the mind through our senses. The first and most basic task of the will is to decide what we will see and hear. God cannot make these decisions for us. Because of the inviolable principle of free choice, God will not make choices for beings created in His own image. But when we choose His way, He has permission to enter our lives with power, to do for us what we have no power to do. This is why it is so important for us to be faithful sentinels over our eyes and ears. If the will has any chance to operate correctly, it cannot be constantly bombarded with Satanís sensory inputs. We must absolutely refuse to allow Satan access to our minds. Of course Satan will be furious with this decision, and he will work doubly hard to break down our resolve. Here is where we need to pray without ceasing for grace and power from God to carry out our good intentions and choices.
In Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, we find some basic steps to follow if we desire to use the will correctly. "Our will is to be yielded to Him, that we may receive it again, purified and refined, and so linked in sympathy with the Divine that He can pour through us the tides of His love and power" (p. 62). First we must take the will from Satanís control, and consciously give it to Jesus. We can verbalize our decision by saying, "I give my will to You, Jesus. I choose to give my decision-making process into Your hands." Then Jesus has permission to do His purifying and refining work in us. When He is finished, He gives our will back to us, in much better shape than when we gave it to Him.
Here is where willpower enters the picture. We canít manufacture willpower out of our own grit and determination. When we give our weak will to Christ, He gives it back to us with His power. Our will + Christís power = Willpower. Now the will can be a faithful sentinel over the senses. The steps are basic and there are no shortcuts. 1) Take the will out of Satanís hands. 2) Give the will into Christís hands. 3) Christ gives our will back to us filled with power to carry out our good decisions.
"In order for us to reach this high ideal, that which causes the soul to stumble must be sacrificed" (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 61). Now weíre getting to the hardest part of the whole process. This is where self fights desperately and furiously to stay alive. "It is through the will that sin retains its hold upon us. The surrender of the will is represented as plucking out the eye or cutting off the hand. Often it seems to us that to surrender the will to God is to consent to go through life maimed or crippled" (Ibid. p. 61). Does this sound like the popular gospel of today which says, "All you have to do is to believe that Jesus died for you, and you are assured of a place in heaven"?
Right here is the heart of everything I want to share about the will. Here lies the secret of being a victorious Christian, of overcoming sin, of changing our lives from failure to victory. It is very simple, but very hard to put into practice. Since the will is naturally evil and inclined to follow Satanís suggestions, it is going to urge us to quibble, to doubt, to rationalize, to excuse, to blame, and to do anything in the world to avoid taking responsibility for our rebellious heart. If we do not see ourselves as rebellious and evil human beings, there is nothing that God can do for us. This is so hard for us to admit, because we spend most of our lives trying to project a good image of ourselves to others. After all, we donít do those awful things we hear about constantly on the news.
But just take away the veneer of societyís pressures and the need for job security and the approval of our peers, and I will be right there with the soldiers pounding those nails into the hands of Jesus. I must see myself as I really amóan evil, rebellious human being. I must see myself as totally out of harmony with heavenís way, totally unfitted to be happy in Godís presence. It is hard to see ourselves as we really are, to rip off the facades we use to fool people. The hand and the eye are both precious parts of our anatomy, arenít they? We will do almost anything to preserve them. Yet we are told that surrendering the will to God will feel just like cutting off the hand and plucking out the eye.
Are we really serious about surrendering the will? If we are, it will mean that we must go through the rest of life maimed and crippled. The eyes can no longer see what they want to see, and the hands can no longer do what they want to do. What fun will my life be? How can I ever enjoy life again? Iíll be a straight-laced fanatic. Iíll be an extremist, with no friends. I just canít live that way.
Until we come to grips with this fear of self-mutilation and loss, it will be totally impossible to surrender the will to Christ. We must realize how deep sin is within us; how much sin and selfishness and ugliness control us. And then we must ask for the surgeonís knife. To voluntarily ask for that knife to carve away on our minds and egos is not easy. But if we do not ask, the cancer of selfishness will destroy any chance we have for eternal life. Self must be cut away from the character, or it will take the soul itself to hell.
We have all built our bridges to Satanís world. We donít travel over them all the time, but it is comforting to self to know that they are there, and can be accessed when we feel the need to satisfy some impulse or need. Surrendering the will to God means that all of those bridges must be burned, with no possibility of rebuilding them again. And that looks like an awfully dismal future. How can we go on if these bridges no longer exist? All religion can do for us is to maim and cripple us.
Right here is where we need to agonize with God. I guarantee that it will be painful and difficult beyond anything we have ever attempted in life, because self dies very, very hard. The struggle over surrender will be intense, and it will seem like life itself is coming to an end. But when we are willing to give up the ugliness of selfishness, and are willing to let God burn all the bridges to Satanís world; when we are willing to abandon all those precious idols that made a humdrum life worth living, then the whole battle is over. Oh, there will be skirmishes to fight in the future, but this is the battle. The battle is not about Sabbathkeeping, it is not about dress, it is not about diet; the battle is about the will. When the will is surrendered to Christ, the other things can be managed in harmony with Godís will. God will show us how to obey. When we no longer quibble and question and rationalize, the battle is over.
This principle has a direct application to soulwinning. It does no good to present lifestyle changes to a person who is not converted. All we will hear is objectionsóreasons why change is not really necessary. We must be sure that people are genuinely converted before confronting them with testing truths. Conversion is the issue. When conversion is settled, all of the other lifestyle changes will come much more easily.
We have the same problem as individual Christians. Many of the issues that we debate about are not the real issue at all. The real issue is the heart and the will. Once the will is surrendered and the bridges are burned, then all of those "difficult" issues will be easily resolved. The Lord will guide us in knowing what is right and what is wrong, and we will eagerly follow His plan for us.
Breaking Satanís Power
Now we are ready to examine the results of surrendering the will to Christ. "Satan . . . knows better than we do the limit of his power and how easily he can be overcome if we resist and face him. Through divine strength the weakest saint is more than a match for him and all of his angels" (Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 293, 294) All victory over sin really demands is that we be willing to resist and face Satan. As long as we are compromising with Satan and tolerating his presence, we will continue to fail and be discouraged. How we need to treasure promises like this! We see Satan as more powerful than he really is. We think that his temptations are so overwhelming that we cannot resist them. We need to focus on what Godís power can do in the weakest of us, His children.
The climax of our study of the will is the classic statement in Steps to Christ, page 47:
Many are inquiring, "How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?" You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin. Your promises and resolutions are like ropes of sand. You cannot control your thoughts, your impulses, your affections. The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you; but you need not despair.
Isnít this exactly where we have all been? We promise, we resolve, and we fail. We think that we can work up enough willpower to control our thoughts and feelings. There is really no hope for us until we recognize our deep sinfulness. We have been born with fallen natures into a fallen world where Satan has dominion. When we fully face our helplessness and turn to Christ for help, the door to victory is opened.
If we are not to despair, what is the way out of continued failure?
"What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him."
Please notice how much depends on the right action of the will. Everythingóhappiness, peace, true success, eternal lifeówill be determined by how we use our will.
God originally created mankind in His own image. Six thousand years of sin have almost obliterated that divine image. Virtually the only part of the image of God that we still have is the power of choice. That is how we most resemble God in our natural condition. The power of choice was Godís gift to Adam and Eve, and He has not allowed Satan to take that away from the human race. And because we still have that gift, all eternity is open before us.
Please notice that we cannot give the affections of the natural heart to God. We do not naturally like doing things Godís way. We think it is demeaning and restrictive. Humility and modesty and submission are not desired by the natural heart. But although we do not like doing things Godís way, we can choose to serve Him. We can pray one prayer at any time: "Lord, make me willing to be willing. I donít really like what Iím doing, but Iím not able to let go of my old ways. Make me willing, Lord." We may have to pray this prayer many times, but let us persevere. Let us take the will away from Satan and give it to God.
Look at the incredible results of surrendering the will to God. "When we submit ourselves to Christ, the heart is united with His heart, the will is merged in His will, the mind becomes one with His mind, the thoughts are brought into captivity to Him; we live His life. This is what it means to be clothed with the garment of His righteousness." (Christís Object Lessons, p. 312). Our whole nature is brought under the control of Christ, and our affections and thoughts will be in harmony with His. I think that this is another way of saying "victory." Our twisted and deformed character is brought under Christís authority. We can love as Christ loves, because the will belongs to Him. Our attitudes and desires are the same as those of heavenly beings. When we actually walk on the streets of glass, we will find it natural to live like the angels because we have learned to think as they do.
The one thing that we must do now is to submit, and then everything follows like railroad cars follow the engine. God does the hard part. He transforms my old nature; He causes me to enjoy the things I once hated and hate the things I once enjoyed. My part is to give Him my will so that He can purify it. We can say, "Lord, I cannot keep from doing this thing, but I choose not to do it. I cannot keep myself from doing it, but I choose not to do it." The young man on the beanbag couldnít overcome sin because he was depending on his own willpower. His will had to be surrendered to God and empowered by God.
We must say, "Lord, I take my will from Satan and I give it to you. I am willing to let you burn all of my bridges to Satanís world. I am willing to reject the way I have been throughout most of my life. I want to be born from above. More than anything else in the world, I want You." Then it is our privilege to watch what God is able to do with almost worthless material. Besetting sins that have plagued us all our lives will be overcome; evil thoughts are not allowed in the mind; the hold of evil habits is broken. Wrong tendencies are turned in a right direction. Wrong feelings are changed, and there is born a new creature in Christ Jesus. As we continue to say "Yes" to God and "No" to self, an entire transformation of our character takes place. The Lord will cripple all our human efforts and make us totally dependent on Him, as He did to Jacob so long ago.
It is too late in time to keep running our lives and our church by natural methods. Let us be spiritual men and women. Natural can succeed in life and can operate a church, but it cannot go to heaven. Only spiritual gets to heaven.
Let us constantly remember that God is on our side. He is not counting up our sins to hold them against us. He is running down the path to meet us a long way off. He wants more than anything to welcome us back to His family.
We dare not drift with the current. We must take the initiative and make a choice, even when it goes against everything we want to do.
The whole secret to overcoming sin lies in one wordóthe will. What will we choose? Every choice we make is an act of the will. Let us consciously choose to take the will away from Satan and give it to Christ.
What a marvelous thing it is to watch God take a weak sinner, full of bad habits and destructive attitudes, and turn that person into a citadel which Satan is powerless to penetrate! God will take that weak, struggling will and turn it into a cleansed will, an empowered will, a will that will choose God throughout all eternity, a will that will choose death rather than dishonor God by sinning. To God be the glory! Great things He has done!
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