I posted my "Breathe" article as a comment in stillhaventfound's article "Thoughts on New Creation Church - About Discipleship - Part 2" and here is his response:
Good you replied here coz I can’t comment on your website without using a google account.
You wrote, “there are many people who mistakenly think that what we mean is that we have no will or willpower of our own”. Actually, the implication in your response when you responded above “Yes, Paul does exhort us Christians to do this or that BUT he did not say do this or that by using one’s own willpower and efforts” made me wonder if you think we don’t have a will of our own. After all, you seem to deny that we use our will / willpower / efforts to fulfill the exhortations of Paul in this sentence. My point is that if we don’t use our will / willpower / efforts, then what exactly do we use?
I totally agree with you that the gospel has to be central. That’s the main point in my whole post. I disagree with placing the emphasis on what we do. But I will not deny that there’s a place for exhorting Christians to do this or that. To say there’s a role in Scripture for preachers to tell us to do this or that, is not to say that it has a central role. It’s simply to say that there is a role. The central role has to be focusing on the gospel of what Jesus did for us in His death and resurrection, not what we ought to do for Him.
And of course there’s no denying that the power to live for Him comes through Him and comes through focusing on what He did for us.
I disagree that our will is passive. It is very active. But does it mean that anyone who believes that the will is actively involved in doing God’s work or resisting sin - that such a person thinks that the power to do God’s work and resist sin comes from himself and not God and that such a person is thus proud and overly self-conscious? I think that’s going a bit too far and an unfair accusation.
I’m big on preaching that focuses on the gospel of Jesus, rather than preaching that focuses on what we’re exhorted to do for God. However, occasional focus on the exhortations of Scripture is not wrong. I will not criticize such exhortations as promoting self-consciousness or pride or as implying that we’re in control of our own lives. Of course, if the preaching always focuses on what we have to do for God then I think the preacher or church has missed the centrality of the gospel in all of Scripture and the Christian life.
While I’m also against preachers constantly emphasizing that we have to be more Christlike, I think there’s a place for that - not a central place, of course. I would like to see preachers focusing more on how Jesus took our place and how in Him we’re perfect and righteous. But I cannot over-react and say there’s no place for preaching that we need to be more Christlike in our character. In the very passage that we’ve been discussing - Philippians 2 - Paul talks about us imitating Christ!
I also disagree with your “breathing” metaphor. You asked, “Were you consciously commanding yourself to breathe or were you just breathing without really thinking about the fact you were breathing?”
The reason why I disagree with the metaphor is because breathing comes naturally, as you hinted. You’re right to say that we didn’t command ourselves to breath. If we have to command ourselves to breath, then there’s something wrong. We have to be constantly alert all the time and probably will not be able to sleep!
But aren’t Scriptures full of exhortations and commands? If good works flow automatically or unconsciously as Christians focus on Christ, there would be no need for exhortations in the New Covenant. Unlike breathing, Paul actually has to command us to be like this or like that!
I agree with you that there are times (maybe most of the time, who knows?) when we behave most like Christ when we’re totally unconscious of doing so and only conscious of Christ. And there are times when the more we focus on living for Him and trying to do better, the more frustrated we get. In these times, I accept the breathing analogy. However, I think it’s extremely reductionistic to view the whole of the Christian life like that and to say that it always works just one way. To me, Scripture is more nuanced than that.
My reply is as follows:
You said "But aren’t Scriptures full of exhortations and commands? If good works flow automatically or unconsciously as Christians focus on Christ, there would be no need for exhortations in the New Covenant. Unlike breathing, Paul actually has to command us to be like this or like that!"
Paul did exhort us to do this or do that but I think the key is in HOW we do the this and that. Continuing with my breathing metaphor, it's like Paul exhorts us to breathe and we can breathe naturally, totally unconscious of the fact we are breathing or we can consciously will ourselves to breathe.
Actually, you hit the nail on the head when you said "there are times (maybe most of the time, who knows?) when we behave most like Christ when we’re totally unconscious of doing so and only conscious of Christ. And there are times when the more we focus on living for Him and trying to do better, the more frustrated we get."
This is exactly my point that ideally our Christian life should be in the "zone" where "we behave most like Christ when we’re totally unconscious of doing so and only conscious of Christ", although the reality is that "there are times when the more we focus on living for Him and trying to do better, the more frustrated we get."
This is like what I have read in newspapers interviews in which top athletes (like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan) talked about a certain exceptional performance of theirs and they describe it as being "in the zone" where they are not really conscious of what they were doing, they simply just did, and all the putts drop into the hole and every shot swishes through the net.
Of course, they don't operate like that most of the time but I'm sure they wish they do! Similarly, in terms of my Christian life, I wish that I am always in the zone of only being conscious of Christ although the reality is that I'm not.