|HOLINESS AND OUR WILLS
HIS GLORY REIGNS
Jun 12 2009 08:00AM
"For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
In all that has been said so far about our responsibility for holiness - the necessity of conviction and commitment,
perseverance and discipline, and of holiness in body and in spirit - the activity of our wills is always implied. It is the will
that ultimately makes each individual choice of whether we will sin or obey. It is the will that chooses to yield to
temptation or to say no. Our wills, then, ultimately determine our moral destiny - whether we will be holy or unholy in our
character and conduct.
This being true, it is critically important that we understand how our wills function - what causes them to turn in one
direction or the other, why they make the choices they do. Above all else, we must learn how to bring our wills into
submission and obedience to the will of God on a practical, daily, hour-by-hour basis.
To help us understand how our wills function, let us review the definition of the heart. The word heart in Scripture is
used in various ways. Sometimes it means our reason or understanding, sometimes our affections and emotions, and
sometimes our will. Generally it denotes the whole soul of man and all its faculties (the mind, the emotions, the
conscience, and the will), not individually, but as they all work together in doing good or evil - according to the Puritan
These faculties were all implanted in man's soul by God, but were all corrupted through man's fall in the Garden of
Eden. Our reason (or understanding) was darkened (Ephesians 4:18), our desires were entangled (Ephesians 2:3),
and our wills perverted (John 5:40). With new birth our reason is again enlightened, our affections and desires
redirected, and our wills subdued. But though this is true, it is not true all at once. In actual experience it is a growing
process. We are told to renew our minds (Romans 12:2), to set our affections on things above (Colossians 3:1), and to
submit our wills to God (James 4:7).
Moreover, when God originally created man, the reason, the emotions, and the will all worked in perfect harmony.
Reason led the way in understanding the will of God, the will consented to God's will, and the emotions delighted in
doing it. But with the entrance of sin into man's soul, these three faculties began to work at cross-purposes to one
another and to God. The will has become stubborn and rebellious and will not consent to that which reason knows to
be the will of God. Or, more commonly, the emotions get the upper hand and draw away both reason and will from
obedience to God.
The point of all this is to emphasize and enable us to understand the interrelation of the mind, emotions, and will. While
the will is the ultimate determiner of all choices, it is influenced in its choices by the strongest forces brought to bear
These compelling forces come from a variety of sources. It may be the subtle suggestions of Satan and his world
system (Ephesians 2:2) or the evil enticements of our own sinful nature (James 1:14). It may be the urgent voice of
conscience, the earnest reasoning of a loving friend, or the quiet prompting of the Holy Spirit. But from whatever source
these compelling forces come, they reach our wills through either our reason or our emotions.
Therefore we must guard what enters our minds and what influences our emotions. Solomon said, "Keep thy heart with
all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23). If we diligently guard our minds and emotions, we will
see the Holy Spirit working in us to conform our wills to His own (Philippians 2:12-13). How then do we guard our minds
David said, "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word." (Psalm
119:9). David guarded his way with the Word of God. The Bible speaks to us primarily through our reason, and this is
why it is so vitally important for our minds to be constantly brought under its influence. There is absolutely no shortcut
to holiness that bypasses or gives little priority to a consistent intake of the Bible.
Solomon told us that wisdom, understanding, and discretion will guard us from the evil way (Proverbs 2:10-12). These
are qualities of our minds. How do we acquire these qualities? "For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh
knowledge and understanding." (Proverbs 2:6). But to whom does the Lord give these qualities? He gives them to the
one who receives His sayings, who inwardly treasures His commandments, who makes his ear alert to wisdom and his
heart ready for understanding, who prays for discernment and understanding, and who seeks understanding as if it
were hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-5).
It is obvious from even a casual reading of Proverbs 2:1-12 that the protective influence of the Word of God comes as a
result of diligent, prayerful, and purposeful intake of Scripture. To guard our minds, we must give priority to the Bible in
our lives - not just for the spiritual information it gives but also for the daily application of it in our workaday lives.
Not only must we guard our minds, we must also guard our emotions. To do this, it is helpful first to realize that while
God most often appeals to our wills through our reason, sin and Satan usually appeal to us through our desires. It is
true Satan will attack our reason to confuse and cloud the issues, but that is only to enable him to conquer us through
our desires. This is the strategy he employed with Eve (Genesis 3:1-6). He attacked her reason by questioning God's
integrity, but this primary temptation was to her desire. We read that Eve saw that the tree was good for food, it was a
delight to the eyes, and desirable for making one wise (Genesis 3:6).
Knowing that Satan attacks primarily through our desires, we should watch over them diligently and bring the Word of
God to bear on them constantly. This is not asceticism; it is spiritual prudence. Each of us should seek to be aware of
how sin attacks us through our desires and take preventive actions. This is what Paul urged Timothy to do when he
instructed him to "Flee also youthful lusts.." (II Timothy 2:22).
But the guarding of our desires is more than fighting a rear-guard defensive action against temptations from the world,
the flesh, and the devil. We must take the offensive. Paul directs us to set our hearts on things above, that is, on
spiritual values (Colossians 3:1). The psalmist encourages us to delight ourselves in the law of God (Psalm 1:2), and it
was said prophetically of Jesus, "I delight to do thy will, O my God." (Psalm 40:8). So we see that we are to set our
desires on spiritual things and delight ourselves in the law and will of God.
So we have come full circle to discipline - to a structured plan. Normally our reason, wills, and emotions should work in
that order, but since we so often reverse the order, giving attention to our desires, we must work at directing those
desires toward God's will.
When I (Jerry Bridges) first began jogging as an exercise, I was unmotivated and therefore inconsistent in doing it. I
knew I should jog, that my body needed the physical conditioning, and that I would probably be more healthy as a
result. But I was out of condition, it required time I didn't think I had, and above all it was painful. So I started, stopped,
started, and stopped, never making consistent progress. What I needed was motivation. Reading and rereading
"success stories" motivated me to go out and jog on a consistent basis. I influenced my will through my emotions (by
motivation) when I could not through my reason (by understanding the importance of jogging).
Now in addition to giving us instructions and guidelines for living, the Bible is filled with "success" stories of real people
who trusted God and obeyed Him and whose lives were changed dramatically or who significantly influenced the course
of history. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews gives us a brief and partial index of some of these stories. But there are
many more not mentioned (as the writer of Hebrews himself acknowledges in Hebrews 11:32). The exploits of men such
as Daniel, Nehemiah, and Elijah, as well as Abraham, Noah, and David can motivate us to go and do likewise. So we
would do well to constantly include the accounts of some of these men in our Bible reading to motivate us in areas of
In addition to the Scriptures, we can be alert for the few classic books that really motivate us to a holy and godly life.
The number will probably not exceed a half dozen that uniquely meet our needs. These books should be reread
frequently just as I (Jerry Bridges) reread Aerobics. The basic idea is to have a plan - a disciplined approach - that will
enable us to stay motivated to holiness.
In the final analysis it is God who works in us to will and to act according to His good purpose. But we are expressly told
by Paul to work at this ourselves (Philippians 2:12). Our responsibility regarding our wills is to guard our minds and
emotions, being aware of what influences our minds and stimulates our desires. As we do our part, we will see the Spirit
of God do His part in making us more holy.
The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges, Copyright 2006, NAVPRESS.
|LIFE IN JESUS-MINISTRIES