The Refiner's Fire: "Struggling With All Energy"
The focus of this week’s lesson is summed up in the question, “What is the role of our wills, and willpower, in the battle with self and sin?” We could also add, what motivates our will and from where do we obtain willpower? How are will and willpower related to faith?
As we begin our study, our memory verse deserves consideration. For many the word “striving” [“struggling,” NIV] would seem to be the focal point of the verse and thus the entire lesson. The Greek word literally means agonizing (Gr. agonizomai); utmost zeal and earnestness toward that object of our interest.
Full consideration of this verse must include the entire sentence in which the memory verse phrase appears. That means going all the way back to verse 21, which is the beginning of Paul’s thought. The sentence begins by stating that at one time we were alienated and enemies in our mind, and through the wicked works which arise from this disaffection. From whom are we alienated and what caused the estrangement?
Obviously we were alienated from God. The good news is that “yet now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” This phrase reveals both elements of the gospel’s message. The first is God’s work through Christ in “reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19). This is what is sometimes referred to as “legal justification.” Through the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8), the just demands of the violated Law have been satisfied. God looks upon every sinner as His friend (Rom. 5:8, 10). On Calvary’s cross Christ lay down His precious, sinless life for His friends (John 15:13).
Then Paul adds the corollary truth of justification by faith when he stated that after hearing the good news, we’re to remain “in the faith” grounded and settled and not moved away through temptation to commit “wicked works.” It’s our free choice to remain steadfastly believing in God’s deliverance from sin, or to remain in a state of unbelief which arises from an unconverted mind. We may choose to remain “enemies in our mind” toward God, but that is not how God looks at us. What causes our estrangement from God is persistent unbelief in the power of the reconciling work of God for the whole human race.
Paul speaks twice in this sentence of a “mystery.” First he says that the mystery had been hidden, but then states that the glory of the mystery has now been made manifest (vss. 26-27). The mystery concerns how the gospel transforms our character through the transforming of our mind, and the surrendering of our will to Him (Phil. 2:5; Rom. 12:3; The Desire of Ages, p. 668). Paul then concludes his thought by declaring that this glorious truth of Christ crucified for the sins of the world is what he has been compelled to preach: “whereunto I also labor, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily.”
What causes the evangelistic zeal and earnestness Paul speaks about here?—seeing the Cross for what it really is, a revelation of the love of God for lost mankind. Christ is the Saviour of the world, and that includes every sinner who was ever born on this planet (1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Cor. 5:14-15). Are you a sinner?—then Christ died for you. When you realize that Christ died for you as though you were the only person on earth, a new motivation activates your life. A true appreciation of the death of Jesus gives us the power to choose to say No to all Satan’s temptations. It teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
Now that we have a fuller picture of the context of the memory verse, let’s return to the original question: “what is the role of our will” in the process of salvation? How are will and willpower related to faith? Is there a danger of self being manifested in the action of the will and willpower, even when seemingly “doing the right thing”?
Self dies hard. It will permit the professing believer to do just about anything including submission of pride and acceptance of poverty; it will endure insults and menial labor, just so long as it is allowed to live. In contrast, the crucified self takes no pride in good deeds or superior behavior. Every manifestation of self, including self-motivated will, must die.
In the 1893 General Conference Bulletin we find this discussion of faith: “A person may believe in the existence and power of God; he may believe the truth of the Bible; he may believe and say that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Holy One of God, and yet be a devil; but that is not faith. There is no power in that kind of belief to help anybody” (A. T. Jones; sermon No. 13; p. 95). Simply acquiescing to the truth about Jesus is not synonymous with the saving faith of Jesus. Something more than opinion is needed to convert our character.
In true faith “there is not only a belief in God’s word, but a submission of the will to Him; where the heart is yielded to Him, the affections fixed upon Him there is faith,—faith that works by love, and purifies the soul” (Review and Herald, Nov. 11, 1915, “Victory Over Sin Through Faith in Christ”). A. T. Jones exclaims, “Now these are weighty expressions, they are worth considering. ... Is your will submitted to Him never to be taken back, or exercised in your own way or for yourself?” “Is your will submitted to God for Him to use as He pleases and you have no objections to raise at all; you have no thought or inclination to use it your way; you want Him to do His way, and that is all you care for?” (Jones, ibid.).
The danger is in reserving some of our will to do our own thing. If I do this “I will go my way in spite of myself. ... Christ can not come in fully, unless there is a full submission to Him.” Jones concludes: “Let there be some dying here. Let there be some actual dying to self. That is what it means; it means death: and of course people never struggle to die; they struggle to stay alive, if there are any struggles” (Jones, Ibid.).
How then do we “struggle with all energy”? By dying to self. It might sound like an oxymoronic concept, but this is what true conversion is all about. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.” (Rom. 6:6-7). What more glorious good news could there be?
(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this Robert J. Wieland is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.) Listen to the audio recording for Lesson 6 now in MP3 format.To listen as a pod cast go to http://wolfsoathaudio.blogspot.com/. To stream the audio, go to http://www.pluggd.com/audio/channels/wolf_s_oath_audio