Have you ever considered that even un-regenerated people are made in God’s image? Everyone is born with the capacity to create and originate things and events, and the freedom to choose.
That’s an extraordinary thing when you consider what power that is. And when you consider man’s fall, it’s an almost unthinkable power because it means we can choose evil or good. We can also reject either one.
Which brings us to the will. To me, this is the most God-like aspect of His image that you and I are endowed with. I often say that even the nastiest person to walk this earth is more like God, in this respect, than anything else on the planet.
Will is the same as heart or spirit. It’s the core of personhood, the center of the soul. The sort of person you are and the way you speak and behave emanate from here. The heart is the wellspring of life (Pro. 4:23). It’s also wicked and beyond its own cure (Jer. 17:9), but not incurable.
As central as it is, will/heart/spirit can’t be separated from the other elements of the self (soul)—mind, body, behavior, and social relationships. You can single it out when you want to discuss it, as Scripture does, but the will doesn’t operate independently. It’s profoundly shaped by thought, feeling, physical bodily systems, environment, routines and habits, and other people.
Spiritual ruin and death is when the individual elements of the soul don’t integrate as a whole. Instead, it’s torn and jumbled. You say one thing but do another. You fly off the handle one minute, then can’t figure out “what got into you” the next. Sometimes you can be Christ-like, others times like the devil himself. Life is a roller-coaster and sh_t just happens.
This is exactly what needs to be remedied before God can trust us to safely rule and serve (share dominion) with Him.
It Doesn’t Just Happen
The role of the will is to organize our lives into a whole, and to organize that around God. This is where the power to do good or evil comes in. Choice is an exercise of will, but it also involves the mind where thoughts and feelings reside. You can’t make a choice without an idea in mind and some feeling one way or another about it.
Every act of sin or rightness comes from and through this process; and trying to separate thought and feeling, as many people do, simply worsens, rather than cures, the jumbled mess. By contrast, a properly organized will or heart is prepared to consistently react as Christ reacts. It is a Christ-like spirit “in step with the Spirit,” as Paul put it (Gal. 5:25). It’s a new life.
That’s why not even God can legislate morality, and merely obeying rules causes burn-out. Just because I give to the poor and avoid murder doesn’t mean I’m a righteous person. At the same time, it doesn’t mean that rules are bad or that obedience (behavior) doesn’t shape character. It’s why Christian practice that Jesus offers is key to building new life. “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you.” (Mrk. 4:11)
His secret to changing behavior isn’t to change behavior; it’s to change the heart. The rest of the person will follow—without having to pretend or keep a lid on things—as reliably as fruit on a healthy tree. Genuine transformation and well-being always flow from the inside out.
Suggested Practice For An Undivided Heart
Contemplate what sort of Person God must be to give you the power and freedom to choose even if that means moving further and further away from His ideals. Might it be His extraordinary manifestation of selfless love?
Ponder who suffers the most if you consistently choose evil, or don’t become prepared to consistently choose good? Is He tearing His hair out, or are you?
Try David’s method of soul searching and inviting God to join him. He spoke to the various elements of his soul—not once or twice, but as a life-style. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.” (Psa. 42:5)
Have inner conversations with your mind and feelings, and ask Jesus to bless them with wisdom.
Speak to your will/heart/spirit and ask it to speak to you as you fall asleep or first wake up. Tell your heart to celebrate that the Lord is always with you, always loves you regardless of faults, and always wants to teach you.
If life isn’t going well for you, be honest and say so. Invite the Lord into your suffering, too. Many Christians believe that brining problems to God amounts to thankless complaining, so they try to “deny” themselves. But self-denial isn’t fact-denial. David complained a lot, yet he’s famous for being a man after God’s own heart. The book of Job consists of over forty chapters of complaint, yet God declared Job righteous.
If you like to write, jot the replies and impressions down when they begin to flow. For me, and apparently for David, this proved invaluable, and still does. You’ll get epiphanies seemingly out of nowhere, almost too many to handle. Putting them to paper (or screen) helps organize them and clear the mind to make room for more. This is the budding fruit of a shared, practiced partnership with God.
“For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11) Then let your soul be energized yet strangely at peace in God’s intent to lead you out of slavery.
May His countenance shine upon you, and may you have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!