How do we as Christians overcome the justified hurt feelings, the anger, the bitterness, the resentment, the fear, the unforgiveness, the insecurity, the guilt and the memories that consume us daily?
Is it really possible to make choices to follow God when we really don't feel like it? Will God honor something we choose simply by faith, but don't feel?
This is the subject we have been exploring over the past few months - faith choices. What are they? How do we make them? And, why are they so important? God has given man a free will, much like His own. Our free will is the most important element of our make-up, because within that will lies the power to choose: to choose by faith to follow what God desires or choose by emotion to follow what our own desires are telling us. Our will is the master of all of our faculties and upon it everything else depends. It controls our reason, our intelligence, our emotions and all our abilities. In other words, our will is the "gateway" through which all things must pass and the bridge over which our faith must travel.
Life, therefore, is really just a series of ongoing choices. For the non-believer, it's a daily choice between good and evil; for the believer, it's a moment-by-moment choice either to follow our own will and desires, or to say, like Jesus, "Not my will, but Thine." (Matthew 26:39)
Our Choice Is Where Sin Begins
Thus for the Christian, the battle between the flesh and Spirit is either won or lost in the area of our willpower. In other words, our choice is where sin begins. Our choice to follow our own thoughts and emotions over what God has prompted is where the Spirit gets quenched and sin results. (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30)
Romans 14:23 expresses it perfectly: "Whatsoever [choice] is not of faith is sin." Also, James 4:17: "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not [chooses not to do it], to him it is sin."
Consequently, any choice or any willingness to disobey God causes the door of our hearts to slam on Him - and that's sin. Now, having the original, ungodly or negative thought is not sin. We're all human, and we're all going to have bad thoughts until we see Jesus. The sin enters when we choose to follow what those negative thoughts are prompting us to do over what God is telling us to do! The Spirit gets quenched even when we simply entertain, mull over or bury those thoughts rather than giving them to Him. This is where sin enters and self life takes over.
Here's an example of both emotional choices and faith choices.
"I Thought He Was Divorced!"
Debbie began a relationship with Richard thinking that he was divorced. After all, that's what he had told her and she had no reason to doubt him. She fell hard for Richard and when he told her that he "loved her" and "wanted to marry her," she was absolutely thrilled.
The truth was, however, that Richard's divorce was not yet complete. (He still needed a final decree from his church to make it legal.) When Richard's wife found out about Debbie, she backed off of the divorce and began to take actions towards a reconciliation. Richard, by this time, had lost all feelings for his wife, so he was a bit taken back when she began to change her mind. He felt it was too late for them to work things out and besides, he was emotionally involved with Debbie, and truly wanted to marry her.
So, in spite of his wife's advances, Richard continued to pursue Debbie saying, "My feelings for you have not changed. I think about you every day. You make me feel valued and appreciated and I feel my life, at last, has some direction. I want to marry you."
Debbie was devastated when she found out that Richard had been lying to her - that he wasn't really divorced yet. Her decision became clear, even though it was the hardest one she'd ever had to make. She loved Richard passionately and truly wanted to become his wife, but after praying extensively about it, she knew exactly what she had to do. Here's her letter to Richard:
"Dearest Richard, the content of this letter is not the response that you are hoping for, but I pray that you will understand why my decision is what it is... While I sympathize with you in a worldly way, I must stress that to be born again Christians, we live in the world, but we should not be of the world. Decisions we feel and often make as Christians are not always in the direction that the Lord wants us to go. We have a free will. We constantly come across situations that cause us to make choices. We can choose the easy, emotional and worldly way, or we can choose the sometimes harder way: to follow God.
"I have learned that when I make a faith choice (a non-feeling choice) based on Scriptural references, and not on my emotional and heart's desires, it brings about a much closer relationship with the Lord.
"We should look at each situation we encounter as a chance to strengthen our faith. For example, how much time did you spend in prayer requesting your wife's change of heart? A lot, I assume. Yet, when she did change her mind, you did not believe for one minute that it could be of God... She wanted you back and you flatly refused without giving her - the wife you once chose - a second chance. No one would have expected you to jump right back in full on, but given time and prayer, you might, at least, have had the chance to show God that you were willing to put Him before your own wants and desires. Then, He would have given you the Love you needed and once had. Unfortunately, the bitterness, the anger and the hurt you feel towards your wife and the self-pity you express, seem to have hardened your heart against everything that is not your own will!
"My feelings for you are very deep and I was so looking forward to becoming your wife, but I had to make a choice between you and God (between my feelings and doing the right thing). The only choice I can make is to follow the Lord.
"My prayer is that you will bury the feelings you still have for me and turn to the Lord with an open heart, confess and repent of the sin we both have committed and then, perhaps, you can think about rebuilding your family. May the Lord lead and guide you..."
What an incredibly hard choice Debbie had to make, the ultimate choice - between what she yearned for more than anything else in the world and what she knew to be God's will. But she made the right choice - she chose to follow God over and above her own feelings, and I know that the Lord will restore to her a hundred-fold all that she chose to give up.
God's Will or Self Will: That's the Question
All of us are constantly faced with two choices. We can make a "faith choice," regardless of how we feel or what we think, and choose to follow what God desires by saying, "Not my will, but thine." Then, we can trust Him to accomplish that choice in our lives. (Matthew 26:39) Or we can make an "emotional choice," to follow our own thoughts and emotions over what God has asked and rely in our own ability to perform it in our life.
God's will or self will, that's the question. Either we allow God to will His will through us - that which is pleasing to Him, or we will our own will - that which is pleasing to us. Are you willing to lay down all you want, think, and feel (like Debbie did), so that God's will can be performed through you? Or are you like Richard, unable to go against the tide and hardened against everything that is not your own will?
Loving God with all our willpower is the key to walking by the Spirit. It's binding our wills with His and becoming one will, regardless of what is going on in our lives. It's saying, "I don't feel like it, I don't understand it and I don't want to do it, but nevertheless, not my will, but Thine. I know I have Your authority to make this kind of non-feeling choice and I know You will give me the power to perform it in my life."
It's interesting because the word humility actually means putting God and what He wants above our own needs. In other words, humility says, "not my will, but Thine." Whereas, the essence of pride is "I will." "I want my will, not Yours!" The Greek word for humility comes from the root phren which means "to rein in or to overcome." Overcoming simply means making faith choices or non-feeling choices that prevail over what our own thoughts, emotions and desires are urging us to do. It's making a will choice, knowing that God will eventually align our emotions with our choice. Overcoming is allowing God's Spirit to control us instead of our own wishes. It's noteworthy that 1 John 5:4 tells us that faith (which is simply a series of choices) is the "victory that overcomes the world."
May God give us the humility to bring into captivity our own sin and self, so that Christ can be formed in us and passed on through us.
Romans 6:12-13 instructs us, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."
And verse 16 tells us, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" And finally, verse 19, "... for as ye have [in the past] yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness."
This Scripture confirms that we do have a constant choice as to whom we will yield our members. Will we yield them to God to do His will, or will we yield them to "self" (our own emotions) to do our own will?
This is the choice we will face a hundred times a day, every day, for the rest of our Christian life. And, these choices are what determine whose life will be lived in our soul: God's or our own. God has all the Love, all the Wisdom and all the Power we need. The choice, however, to be a cleansed vessel through which He can pour these things, is always ours.
Therefore, the war that goes on within us between the Power of God and the power of sin is not in our hearts, as I used to believe and teach, but in our souls and bodies; i.e., the flesh. Romans 7:23 validates this, "But I see another law in my members [body], warring against the law of my mind [Law of the Spirit] and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin [power of sin] in my members." Recognizing this and bringing the flesh into captivity by choosing to put off the "old man" so that God's Life can come forth, is what the sanctification process is all about.
Paul tells us clearly in Romans 6:6-7 that since our old, evil heart life (our old man) has been done away with at our new birth, the power of sin's hold on the flesh has already been destroyed and we have already been freed from sin. In other words, Christ in our heart is now the overcoming power to free us from this struggle. And if we choose to surrender ourselves to Him, then we can, in His Strength, overcome whatever the "flesh" is urging us to do, and choose instead, by faith, to be filled with His Spirit.
Are you willing to set aside what you think, what you want, and what you feel in order to do what God wants? Or will you yield to your own hurts, emotions and desires to direct your way?
Jeremiah 21:8 asks this same question only in another way, "Behold, I set before you the way of life [by making faith choices], and the way of death [by making emotional choices]."
Which way will you choose: power of life or death?
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To be continued next month: Our New Supernatural Willpower. This article has been excerpted, in part, from our book,Against the Tide.