I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Rom 7:18)
For a believer, the first step toward the development of Christian character is to accept the responsibility for being what we are and doing what we do. We have to have the desire to grow – responding to what comes our way in such a manner as to allow growth to be produced instead of bondages to be formed. According to Paul’s statement, he desired to do what was right / good, but he struggled repeatedly with having the ability to carry it out. He knew the steps to take, but found he lacked something within that actually “made” him take the right steps.
We need to see the symbiotic relationship between our “will” and God’s ability. We do the “willing” (make the right choices) – God comes alongside to assist us in performing what we have willed. When we understand that the first step in any set of actions is the initial determination of the “will”, we rightly understand the impact that a wrong choice of “will” results in the wrong choice of actions. The opposite is also true – will chooses right actions. Our challenge comes in accepting the responsibility for our choices – what we determine in our heart or mind that we will act upon.
God wants to bring us to a place where we understand how to choose wisely – directing or “willing” our actions in a manner in keeping with his plan and purpose in our lives. God never looks for a bunch of humans he could use as puppets – he looks for people who choose to follow his leading, willingly laying down their own urges to follow the promptings of his Spirit. It is a process of being innervated from within by a power greater than our own. When we find ourselves moving on our own – we make mistakes, failures prevail, and there is confusion in our lives.
The attitude of heart and mind that God honors is one of cooperation – when we move in cooperation with God, instead of with dogged determination to do things our way, we realize victory in our circumstances. The process I am describing here is not one of fearful, intimidating submission to someone with more power. It is a willing aligning of our desires (our choices of will) with the heart of our God – bringing liberation to our spirit and security to our choices.
It was the work of the cross (the place of death) that Paul is trying to point us to in his teachings – bringing to death the desire to always be in control of your own life, always determining your own course by making choices out of sync with the choice God would have us to make. At the cross (the point of our salvation), the Holy Spirit entered into our choices – helping to align our will with the will of God – impacting the choices we make. Right choices were then confirmed by the Holy Spirit, acting as a guide in determining what choices to make again and again. That is how our will is transformed. We learn to live in a liberated state of response – choosing to do the right things more and more easily until they become the “norm” for us.
I once heard it said, “At the point where obedience begins, truth becomes real.” I do not know the originator of this statement, but the impact of these words has stuck with me through the years. The intent of our heart (the will) is impacted based on commitment – if we commit to do the will of God (regardless of the cost), we begin our journey of obedience. That journey is expanded before us each step, with new revelation of God’s continual guidance each step along the way. His guiding hand becomes our enabling to make the right choice, each and every time. The process of “change” in our character begins with the first step – it is a matter of choice. When we rightly align ourselves, choosing to follow God’s direction, we are setting ourselves up within our present circumstances to begin to function according to his plan.
Did you know that every living cell within our body has all the DNA make-up to be an independent cell – living and replicating on its own? If a cell chooses to live on its own, we call it cancer! When a cell chooses to live on its own, replicating like its own kind, surrendering to its independent capability of replicating ONLY its own kind, it deprives the other cells it is in association with of their ability to live and function as they should. A tumor is formed – and it feeds on what the healthy cells around it need – depriving the healthy and feeding the “unrelated” and “independent” cells of the tumor. In turn, the tumor causes death to the surrounding healthy cells.
Independent, willful choice is just like a cancer cell. In choosing our own way, without the submission of our will to the will of God, we are choosing to replicate cancerous cells within our spirit. Do this enough and you soon have a spiritual “tumor” make up of wrong choice after wrong choice, resulting in consequences we’d all rather avoid. I am not speaking of a literal “cancerous tumor” forming here – but a figurative, spiritual tumor. A tumor we call “self-centeredness” – independent and unrelated determination to live according to our own desires. Whenever we take God out of the center of our choice – we take the right “DNA” out of the choice!
I have also heard it said, “If we are seeking only to BE, we are making self the center.” We are acting as “independent cells” – focusing on what our DNA along can produce. Is it any wonder why the end results of those types of choices end in failure, confusion, and emotional chaos? Cells in our body work well (giving up their right to live independently) when they are in “symphony” with the other cells. We will do well to consider the determination of heart – are we choosing to make self the center, or are we choosing to relate self to the center of all things (God himself)? If we seek the latter, we will guard against “spiritual tumors” of self-centered choices.