When my hairdo will not cooperate, I usually call it a “hair don’t” which is something like my description of the opposite of willpower – I call it “won’t power.”
Some say that the human will is God’s avenue into the soul. While He can touch our emotions and wants to reform our thinking (see Romans 12:2), He must first find a surrendered heart and life. Of course, Jesus is the perfect example. He came to do the will of God. He gave up His life from the time He was born and did as God asked right through to being crucified for the sins of mankind.
He speaks of His surrendered will when talking with a woman at a well. The disciples had gone to buy lunch and when they returned, the woman had put her faith in Christ. As she left to bring others who hear Jesus, the disciples returned. Seemingly oblivious to the spiritual significance of what was happening, their focus was on lunch.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:31–34)
This is total surrender, yet when Jesus identified with humanity in becoming one of us, He was sinless. No part of Him resisted the will of God in a selfish way. That is why I need Him to conquer sin. My will is too often ‘won’t’ and cannot trusted.
Watchman Nee, a Chinese martyr, separated the soul into those three parts: intellect, emotions, and volition. He said that none of these connect with God. That connection happens when the Spirit of God speaks to our spirit and transforms it from a dead and silent part of our being to a living, God-fearing force. His Spirit unites with our spirit to make a new creation, and out of a new inner life our soul begins to function as God intended.
The intellect or mind cannot understand the things of God apart from the Spirit. They are hidden to even the most wise on this earth, but “…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit…” (1 Corinthians 2:10)
Emotions are universally known to be unreliable also. Consider those with a crush on a movie star, or fury at a child for spilling its milk. Consider the feeling of loneliness in a room full of people, or sudden overwhelming grief when you thought grief was finished. While emotions have great purpose, their whimsy means I cannot plan or rule my life by them alone.
My will is tainted by sin as much as every other part of me. I have those days when my will power is ‘won’t’ power and days when my will to do right battles with what seems a stronger desire to do the opposite. While God wants a surrendered will, that too must be touched by His Spirit. As hard as I try, I cannot make it happen by the powers of my own soul. Even if I want to do right, and my brain tells me it is right, and my emotions are on the same team, sin can stir the pot so that I still don’t do what I want to do.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15–20)
Paul wrote this. Many argue that he was not saved at the time, but if Christians are honest, all of us struggle with this perplexity. Paul’s solution to the problem is my solution too… recognizing first that this is sin in my flesh that causes all the trouble and second, that the only way to battle it is in the power of the Holy Spirit given through faith in Jesus Christ.
Not only that, this battle would not exist apart from Jesus for I would just do whatever I wanted. It is because of Him that I am aware of sin and that old nature that still wants to take over and rule my life. So much for my willpower. It cannot rescue me, just as logic or even a strong hatred for sin are not enough to deliver me from its power.
The pat answer in Sunday School class is Jesus Christ, and despite our chuckles about that, the pat answer for life’s moral and daily choices is also Jesus Christ. I can want to do the will of God, but without Him supplying the power, my will is useless.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)