So far, through our exercises in Sanctification, we have learned that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to restore our emotions through Prayer and our minds through the study and application of the Word of God—a ministry bringing our hearts into alignment with that of the Father and transforming our minds into ones more like Christ’s. But this only encompasses the restoration of two of the components of our souls—leaving the third one, our all-important and powerful wills, for the Spirit to deal with. And deal with them, He must; because unlike our emotions which are simply expressions of how we feel, and our minds which merely reveal what we think, our wills through their actions express what we want and who we really are.
Throughout these workout sessions, we have learned that it’s always been God’s will for us to be saved from our sins and be adopted into His family–becoming sons and daughters who have not only been redeemed by the blood of Christ but who have also been conformed or remolded into His image. This means that we are not only to become like Jesus in character, but we are also to share in His mission and ministry here on the earth—a ministry committed to carrying out the will of His Father…
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work;
I can do nothing on my own…because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me; and,
I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me (John 4:34, 5:30, and 6:38).
Since doing the will of the Father was at the heart of Jesus’ mission, and since becoming like Him is the goal of our Sanctification, it stands to reason that doing the will of the Father must become the mission in our lives as well–something that is a lot easier said than done!
That’s because, before coming to Christ, our wills and the actions they precipitated were dominated by our flesh—by how we felt and by what we thought. If our bodies hungered for or lusted after something—regardless of whether it was appropriate or beneficial; or, if our minds harbored certain thoughts about anyone or anything—regardless of whether they were true or not—our wills would initiate actions geared toward satisfying those feelings and vindicating those thoughts. In short, before our Salvation, with no access to Godly input through our dormant spirits, our wills were like puppets whose strings were being pulled by our baser human instincts–instincts solely concerned with satisfying our unregenerate and ego-dominated selves. However, the moment we said yes to Jesus and were Born Again, all this began to change.
Salvation and the Will of Man
The goal of and long-term impact of Salvation on our wills has been well described by Watchman Nee in his book The Spiritual Man…
What is salvation? It is none other than God saving man out of himself into Himself. Salvation has two facets: a cutting off and a uniting with. What is cut off is self; the uniting is with God.
What is self? …were we to say self is self-will we would not be too far from the mark… [because] man’s essence is in his volition…
Salvation, then, is to deliver man from his created, natural, animal, fleshly, and self-emanating will…
The gospel is to facilitate the union of our will with God. Anything short of this is failure of the mission. God aims his arrow of salvation not so much at our emotion or our mind, but at our will, for once the latter is saved, the rest are included.
[For] …God intends to destroy the life of the soul but not its function, so upon being joined with the Lord in life, He launches forth to renew our soul with its various parts in order that our soul may be one with our new life and consequently one with His will.
In the face of such a challenging, time-consuming, and (on our parts) painful prospect as the transformation of our self-absorbed wills into ones totally given over to the pursuit of God’s will, we might find ourselves wondering if it wouldn’t have been better for us, rather than being endowed with the capacity to choose, to have been pre-programmed for obedience by God. Surely, this would have been much easier on everyone involved. And yet, if God hadn’t designed us in this way, we wouldn’t have been made in His image and therefore not been eligible for adoption as His children. For us to be like God, it was essential that we be free to choose to act in ways that He would–such as…
- Choosing to do what’s right, rather than what’s expedient;
- Choosing to do what’s in the best interests of others, even at the expense of our own interests;
- Choosing to speak nothing but the truth, even if we are the only ones doing it; and,
- Choosing to believe God and take Him at His Word, even though we can see no evidence of His existence; and even when our thoughts and feelings do not concur.
The failure to make this last choice—which is really the first one we each need to make—is what caused our first parents, and eventually us, to be at odds with the will of God in the first place. As Genesis 3:6 relates it, in spite of the fact that Adam and Eve had been told not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil…
…when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
Sadly, when Adam and Eve were given an opportunity to prove that they would carry out the will of God, they failed. Rather than complying with His will, they allowed their own wills to be seduced by the promises of self-achieved divinity offered to them by Satan, the one whose will has always been in direct opposition to God’s.
On this, Watchman Nee comments again…
We may say that there are two massive contradictory wills throughout the universe. On one side stands the holy and perfect will of God; on the other is arrayed the defiled, defiling, and opposing will of Satan. In between subsists the sovereign, independent, free will of man.
The War of the Wills
While we are being overwhelmed by the countless mundane issues in life, it is very easy for us to lose sight of the fact behind everything taking place in our lives is this unseen, on-going conflict of wills between the one Righteous Ruler of the Universe and Lucifer, the evil imposter who is seeking to overthrow Him. Lucifer—aka Satan, is none other than “the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2),” and “the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44).” His bio, in Ezekiel 28: 12-17, reads like this…
You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, in the garden of God…an anointed cherub…blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you…
So I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God, and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor…
His arrogant ambition and the self-centered nature of his will are also noted for us in Isaiah 14:12-14…
How you are fallen from heaven, O Daystar, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart…
…I will ascend to heaven;
…above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
…I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the far reaches of the north;
…I will ascend above the height of the clouds;
…I will make myself like the Most High.
His opponent, of course, is God—the Sovereign, All Powerful, All-Knowing, Holy Being who not only…
…created the heavens…formed the earth and made it…[and] formed it to be inhabited;
…speak[s] the truth…[and] declare[s] what is right (Is. 45:18-19);
…gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist (Rom. 4:17);
…is light and in [whom] is no darkness at all (1 John 1:50;
…is love (1 John 4:10)….
…the One who could, at any time He chooses, destroy this impudent adversary with just one word from His mouth. Instead, in His wisdom, He has allowed him to “…prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).” Why? Because in this cosmic battle of wills, the decision as to which Will prevails on earth has been delegated by God to the will of each—relatively speaking—puny and seemingly insignificant human being who has ever lived on this planet.
In the classic apologetic novel, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis provides us with some insight into the nature of this war of wills through the instructional letters that seasoned demon, Screwtape, sends to his nephew, Wormwood, a lowly demon-in-training. Here, in a slightly abridged version of one such letter, we learn that in the view of Satan and his minions…
…Humans are amphibians– half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for as to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…As long as [they live] on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty…
…To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy [God] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us (demons) a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth.
He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because he has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy (God) wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy [God] does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation.
Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs– to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice.
He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys…
Worship and the Will of God
Although he didn’t refer to it as such, the act that Screwtape is describing when a child of God chooses to obey the will of His Father—even in the face of any thoughts, feelings, or circumstances to the contrary—is something that God looks upon as Worship. In spite of what we have been conditioned to believe, worship isn’t so much about what we do when we gather together in church on Sunday morning, it is more about what we do when we leave church and go back into the world. That’s when we come face to face with the people and situations that Satan typically uses when tempting us to abandon God’s will in favor of our own. But it is also then that, as we are strengthened by the Spirit and reminded that…
God is God, and we are not;
He created everything, He owns everything, and He established all the rules by which His creation operates;
He knows everything, is everywhere, and has all the power;
He is holy and always does what is right; and,
His thoughts or ideas, and His ways of doing things are better than ours; and,
He can always be trusted to do what is right, not only for us but for everyone else, as well…
…we can lay aside our will and what we want and choose to do what Jesus would do if He was there in our place. This, in fact, is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane when in the face of the Cross, He surrendered His will to that of His Father so that His Father’s could be carried out on the earth. What we learn from His example is that worshiping God simply means living surrendered to Him, in any and every circumstance in life, and that anything less is not true worship.
With that in mind, let’s be quick to submit to and embrace the work of the Holy Spirit as He continues the work of restoration in our souls, so that in every situation our attitude will be…
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand (Ps. 95:6).
 Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (Richmond, VA: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Incorporated, 1968), Book 3, 81-83.
 Nee, Spiritual Man, 77.
 C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), chapter 8.