Resolution - The Idolatry of the Human Will

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Thursday, January 2, 2014 0 comments

Although it might be a little cheesy, I feel I have no choice but to be honest with the readers and share that my very first thought, when I realized the direction of this post, was the playing of the song “The Power” by the group Snap in my head. If you’re in your early 30s like me, you remember this song from your childhood, with the well-known lyrics “I’ve got the power” and “It’s gettin kinda hectic” running through your mind. With those lyrics as the main theme, the song champions a person’s control over things around him when circumstances “get hectic”. Now that I’ve got you humming the song in your mind, I want to tell you that we very seldom have the power that we think we do.

This is even more obvious this time of year with New Years resolutions. I understand now as an adult that exercise and healthy living are probably the most common goals of resolutions. But when I was a kid, it seemed like this time of year was when everyone tried to quit smoking. I remember going to hunting camp with my dad and brother year after year in November and December and all the smokers would talk about how they were going to quit on or around New Years Day. Some of them eventually did with God’s help, but they usually just found that their willpower wasn’t enough. My older brother finally figured that out as well. So, when my dad asked him when he was going to quit during a recent golf outing for the three of us, my brother, without missing a beat, said, “Probably around February 30th”! It took my dad and me a second to realize he had named a date that doesn’t exist!

When we rely on our own will or ability to accomplish something difficult, we set ourselves up to experience crushing defeats repetitively until we feel like giving up. Webster’s dictionary has many definitions for the word “resolution”, but the one that most signifies what people desire this time of year is “determination, firmness of mind or purpose”. We know its root is “resolve”, which can be defined as “a firm decision to do something”. What’s the difference between a decision and a “firm” decision? And what is within our power to DO? Well, Jesus answers that question for his disciples in John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can DO NOTHING” (caps mine). He’s not even trying to sugarcoat it. You may think that it’s ridiculous to think we can’t do anything apart from Christ because we make decisions every day that seemingly have nothing to do with him, like what to have for breakfast and what to wear to work or school. But if you believe that Jesus is God, that the breath of life humans have came directly from God as Genesis 2 tells us, and that humans need to breathe to do anything, then logically speaking we can’t do anything apart from Jesus!

If we really can’t do ANYTHING apart from Jesus, we certainly can’t overcome sin or begin to live righteously without him. The Apostle Paul explains this in the oft-quoted passage in Romans 7:14-25. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (v. 15). His words are the desperate and hopeless conclusion of someone who has tried to earn righteousness by willing it himself and failed. “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). Friends, this is the same Paul who several years later would write the very words that Katie quoted in Monday’s post from Philippians 4:8-9 about thinking about good things and putting them into practice. By that time, Paul had learned not to put the cart before the horse. Just a few verses after that, he declares, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). He had learned that Christ’s disciples must DO good things, but also that they are ONLY possible through Christ. It’s almost like he came to the realization during his conclusion in Romans 7. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)

I can remember one time in seminary, while talking about fasting and other spiritual disciplines, that somebody said, “If we’re not careful, we can very easily begin to make an idol out of the human will”. I don’t remember who said it to give the person credit, but it was a profound statement that stuck with me. If you get nothing else out of this post, I hope it sticks with you that Jesus said we can do NOTHING apart from him, and that Paul said we can do EVERYTHING through him. There really is no middle ground. Because our very breath depends on God, there’s nothing we can do without him. And since our God is capable of miracles, there is nothing you can’t do with his strength. I’m not sure what that means for you and any New Years resolution you might have. But for me, it means I might as well not even concern myself with specific changes that need to be made in my life if I’m not depending on Christ’s strength. And don’t be mistaken, God cares about everything in your life. He won’t love us any less no matter what we do, but it brings him joy when we live rightly just like it would for any parent of a child. As you enter into the unknowns of the fresh new year of 2014, I urge you to seek Christ and to stop making your life all about YOUR will.