Do you believe willpower (as tradtionally understood) is an important part of living the Christian life?

Yes (obviously not the whole)
38% (5 votes)
Somewhat
31% (4 votes)
No
15% (2 votes)
Other
15% (2 votes)
Total votes: 13
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There are 10 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Where does willpower fit in within the Christian life, or does it?  Related to self-discipline, willpower is that ability to think of long term consequences as opposed to immediate gratification.

Is this willpower strictly Spirit-generated, or does human nature (even unregenerate human nature) come into play, and if so, how.

 

Looking forward to some lively discussion.

 

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

This certainly is going to be a lively discussion. We should all put our body armor on now. 

Basic Point:

Man has a will and is called to exercise it to (1) believe in Christ and (2) grow in knowledge of the truth. God is sovereign over all and works all things according to the council of His will (Eph 1:11); this includes salvation and sanctification. Man's will, in every respect, is always subservient to God's sovereign decree and only operates inside His sovereign will - in a way we cannot understand, or will ever understand (Deut 29:29). It is un-Biblical to use this as an excuse to degrade the omniscience of God by elevating man's free will on a pedestal. 

Implications:

We can spend endless hours waxing eloquent about the interaction between man's will and God's sovereignty - to no real avail. Our responsibility is to remain faithful and be living sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2) for the God who, by His grace alone, saves men from their sins. The grace of God teaches us to renounce worldly lusts and live godly lives as we look forward to Christ's return. He is purifying His saints as a people zealous for good works in this  present age (Titus 2:11-14). 

Confession:

Some people will accuse me of talking out of both sides of my mouth on this issue. My position doesn't satisfy either full Arminians or 5-pt Calvinists. Both would say I'm compromising. That is fine with me. I will resort to a quote from Spurgeon that makes my point on the larger man's will/God's sovereignty issue:

 

We are bound to believe both sides of the truth revealed in the Scriptures, so I admit that, when a Calvinist says that all things happen according to the predestination of God, he speaks the truth, and I am willing to be called a Calvinist; but when an Arminian says that, when a man sins, the sin is his own, and that, if he continues in sin, and perishes, his eternal damnation will lie entirely at his own door, I believe that he also speaks the truth, though I am not willing to be called an Arminian. The fact is, there is some truth in both these systems of theology; the mischief is that, in order to make a human system appear to be complete, men ignore a certain truth, which they do not know how to put into the scheme which they have formed; and, very often, that very truth, which they ignore, proves to be, like the stone which the builders rejected, one of the headstones of the corner, and their building suffers serious damage through its omission.

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

TylerR said:

Some people will accuse me of talking out of both sides of my mouth on this issue. My position doesn't satisfy either full Arminians or 5-pt Calvinists. Both would say I'm compromising. That is fine with me.

 

Well, I hear you.  But this poll is not so much about freewill and salvation, but, rather, our responsibility to grow AFTER regeneration.  For example, I have been saved since 1974, but do I need willpower to walk with the Lord or do the right thing -- or not?

 

Obviously the Holy Spirit is involved in this equation, but to the elimination of personal will power?  Does resisting temptation take willpower, or something else?  Does self-control come as a fruit of the Spirit with very little determination on my part?   These are the sorts of questions I would love to hear discussed.

"The Midrash Detective"

TylerR's picture

Editor

I would say the practical outworking of true faith in Christ will produce a desire to grow, which takes willpower to achieve. Nobody ever said growing in Christ was easy. It is obviously a two-part equation. The Holy Spirit changes our hearts so we want to be conformed to the image of Christ, and also works in sanctification to teach us to grow in knowledge of the truth. Man obviously has a part to play; Paul likened it to a race (Heb 12). 

I know you were going for something more specific in your question above, but my point was that I'm not sure what benefit there is in theorizing about what role the Spirit and willpower each play in sanctification.

Growth in Christ is spiritual work - hard work. The desire for growth is the practical result of real saving faith in Christ. The Spirit is a helper (Jn 14:6; 16:1-14) sent by God the Father to believers. Man's willpower and the Holy Spirit work together in sanctification in a manner we won't be able to fully grasp. That is why I'm not sure what profit the question has for a believer. I suppose the old adage, "Believe it all depends on God and work like it all depends on you" would sum up the Christian's responsibility on sanctification.   

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

Here is something interesting;

"For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor," (1 Thess 4:3-4). 

Paul says each Christian must "know" how to control his body in holiness and honor. This implies that personal willpower plays a significant part in sanctification, in this case from sexual immorality. There seem to be several ways to combat sexual immorality in our lives, but whichever way is appropriate for each person, it must be done in holiness and honor. 

The Holy Spirit and the Christian work together to accomplish sanctification. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I think the example of Daniel provides some insight into this question. We can, IMO, make a conscious determination to remain steadfast in our faith and practice. We are enabled to do so, however, by the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit. 

josh p's picture

Hello. New here though I have been lurking for a couple of years. I think that in the op the phrase "as traditionally understood" has bearing on the discussion. "Will-power" is an autonomous and man centered pursuit of ones own goals or desires. For me that is an important distinction. As regenerate believers, indwelt by God we are responsible to fervently pursue a life that pleases God with all our strength (Phil. 3) and yet even that is really God at work in us. My favorite verse on this subject is 1 Corinthians 15:10. Paul apparently outworked all the other apostles but in the end it was God working through him. I think Augustine said something along the lines of (paraphrased extremely) "when I sin, I am to blame. When I do good it is God working through me'' 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Thanks for posting, Josh!

Tend to agree... much hinges on definition. There's not really any power in will, but the NT (and Old even more so, really) is full of appeals to the will. So, if "willpower" means "trying hard is required," yes. If it means "the power actually comes from our will," no.

For that reason, I'd never use the term "will power" to describe any part of growth in grace.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Aaron said:

 

If it means "the power actually comes from our will," no.

 

Aaron, I hear you, but then let me ask this:  "Does self-control come from the self?"  Or is the English an unfortunate translation and would be better translated by the the older translation, "temperance."  In other words, does the Spirit HELP us control ourselves, something we have always done at times even in our unregenerate state (but he helps us do it better) or does He originate all the control?

 

The same sort of question could be asked of love, which is common in every human being.  Many lost people exemplify practical love in ways that many Christians do not. Yet the Spirit helps us love in greater ways than we would without Him, and in ways that please God (they that are in the flesh cannot please God).

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ed,

Just stumbled onto this one I'd overlooked.

Interesting question.  I think I have to go with self and say that the Spirit's role does not replace the role of self. 

Some reasons why:

  1. The Spirit indwells the Christian (e.g., Rom. 8 somewhere). I think it would be accurate to say that what is indwelled is the "self."
  2. If the self remains, it continues to have a purpose.
  3. Probably the "self" in "self control" is really a reference to the will. Nothing replaces the believer's will. It is regenerated, transformed, but not erased.
  4. Though the lost have self control and believers also have self control, they are fundamentally different because the former is unregenerate and operates via common grace and the latter is regenerate and empowered by special/redemptive grace.

So, to summarize, I think the right model is "we make real choices--acts of the will and self--but we do so as people with a new nature, a new relationship with God, and having new power."