Friday, June 12, 2009

Breathe

Two days ago, stillhaventfound posted an excellent article, "Thoughts on New Creation Church - About Discipleship - Part 2" which highlighted "the importance of making grace and the gospel of Jesus Christ the focus of our sanctification or the Christian life". I totally agree with him on that point but I put in a comment in his blog to say I disagree with the following point which he made:

"Now, unlike many pro-New Creation bloggers who tend to baulk at any hint of willpower being involved in change, I do think there’s a certain element of truth in the above and a certain role that the will and our efforts play in our transformation. I don’t think it’s true to say we just have to let go and let God. At least, not all the time. That’s because I clearly see in Scriptures Paul’s exhortation to do this or that. He does tell believers to stop doing this and start doing that. That is, I see Paul talking about behaviour modification and using one’s willpower and efforts - for how else are we to do this or stop doing that but through our willpower and efforts and changing our behaviour?"


My comment is as follows:

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.

When we think that our OWN willpower and efforts are involved, we are setting ourselves up for failure because our focus will be unconsciously shifted from the power of the gospel onto our OWN power, which is no power at all.

In Romans 7, Paul tells us clearly that our own willpower will fail for “I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (v15, NLT)

We should always be Christ-conscious and not self-conscious. Yes, we should work hard to show the results of our salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear but it is so important to always remember that this is because God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Phi 2:12-13)


stillhaventfound's response:

I believe that God does not control our will such that we have no responsibility whatsoever. Nor does He will for us. We control our will and thus it’s our willpower, not God’s. Whatever actions we do is us exercising our will. If not, we can claim that we’re not responsible for anything. Believing that our will and willpower is involved, of course, doesn’t mean that everything is dependent upon us and our will.

In a sense, it’s our doing. But seen from another perspective, it’s God giving us the power to do so. God is both sovereign, yet we also have responsibility. How it can be so, I don’t know, for this is a mystery.

When an unbeliever is called to believe in Christ to be saved, he’s exhorted to use his will to believe. He has the responsibility to do so. Yet, the Bible also says that faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). Even though we know that the very ability to have faith is actually a gift of God and not due to his will or efforts, we still tell the believer that it’s his decision and choice. It’s his responsibility.

We don’t tell him, “Oh, you don’t want to believe in Christ? That’s OK. It’s not your willpower involved after all. Just wait for God to give you the power to believe.” No, the call is to believe now and they are exhorted to believe as though they can do so.

In my opinion, there’s no contradiction between telling a person that he has to believe and acknowledging that even his faith is a gift of God. In the same way, there’s no contradiction between telling a person to change and acknowledging that the power of change comes from God.

I think the more we focus on Christ and behold Him, the more there will be that power over sin and breakthrough in one’s life. Surely, it’s not in focusing on our our efforts or strength or will that will give us the power. But to say that the will or our willpower has no place whatsoever in victory over sin is, in my opinion, over-reacting against a Christianity that lacks that focus on Christ and instead going to the opposite extreme of the spectrum.

Regarding Philippians 2:13, I think this proves my point that the will involved is ours. God works in us to will. He works in our lives by giving us the power and desire to do this or that. But it’s our will performing the action because we’re not puppets. It’s just like if my friend gives me money to buy an ice-cream. The money to buy the ice-cream belongs to my friend, but I am the one who bought it. In the same way, God gives us the power to live for Him. But we use our will (which is empowered by God) to live for Him. Our will definitely has a part to play. But it is not the be all and end all of godliness. To say so is to boast in buying the ice-cream when it was my friend who actually gave me the money to do so. But on the other hand, to say that my will has no part to play at all in godliness is to say that having the money is as good as having the ice-cream and there’s no need to buy the ice-cream. If so, then any sinner who continues sinning can claim that it’s not really their fault because their will has no part to play because God didn’t give them the strength in the first place. Of course, that’s faulty thinking.

Ultimately, I think we agree more with each other than not if you believe, as you have written, that “we should work hard to show the results of our salvation”. Maybe we’re just disagreeing over semantics - the definition of will and willpower. At least, your admission that “we should work hard” contradicts a “let go and let God” view that change always comes through us not trying at all.


I think that when we say "let go and let God", there are many people like stillhaventfound who mistakenly think that what we mean is that we have no will or willpower of our own, and we are just like puppets being controlled by God which as stillhaventfound rightly says so, we are not.

My personal point of view is that when we make the gospel of Jesus Christ the focus of our Christian walk, then we live out Phil 2:12--13 ie. we will
work hard to show the results of our salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear for God is working in us, giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Yes, I agree with stillhaventfound that while God is working in us, He does not force us to do but we have to respond to Him giving us the desire and power, and then we do. However, my comment was really about cautioning against being self-conscious ie. there is a danger that pride will set in when we think that we control our will and thus it is our will performing the action. Yes, our will is involved but its involvement, in reality, is passive because we did not generate the desire and power to do but God did. The role of our will is akin to that of a valve in a blood vessel, opening up to let the blood flow through. Our will doesn't generate the flow but it can sure block it.

I have been thinking over the past two days about how to explain clearly the role of our will when the word "Breathe" kept rising in my spirit.

While you were reading this post up till this very moment, have you noticed that you were and still are breathing? Were you consciously commanding yourself to breathe or were you just breathing without really thinking about the fact you were breathing?

I don't know about you but most of the time, I am not even conscious of the fact that I am breathing! I only notice my breathing when I am NOT AT REST or doing something strenuous.

Similarly, that is how Phil 2:12-13 works. When we are resting in the grace of God, our will and God's will become one; and we do, without being conscious of the fact that we are doing!

But what about the part of "working hard"? Interestingly, Paul also talked about working hard in Hebrews 4:11 - "
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest". When you see the word "therefore", you have to check out the preceding verses to find out why we have to "therefore":

Hebrews 4:9-10 (NKJV)
9There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Why do we have to work hard to enter His rest? Because when we enter His rest, we cease from our own works; "
I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal 2:20). Therefore, we should work hard to let go and let God.


3 comments:

Kat said...

Hi Stan,
Your post is really spot on about the Christian walk, I call it grace walk. I like the analogy of breathing very much...it is so true that when we are stressed or working hard as in exercising very hard, our breathing becomes laboured. That's why when women go into labour to give birth, the doctor will advise her to relax and breathe in the correct manner. Similarly in our Christian walk, our breathing must not be laboured, if it is, it means we are very stressed. We should not focus on it(our walk) but rather go with the flow of the Holy Spirit and focus on Christ and His finished work.
The story of Mary and Martha is a case in point. Mary sat at Jesus' feet, she was not conscious of her breathing, but Martha was stressed out and "hyperventilating"...blaming everyone around her for not caring that she was working so hard. Jesus said Mary has chosen the good part and it shall not be taken away from her.

Derrick said...

Hi Stanley,

gamine, (from NCC?) wrote in stillhaventfound's blog:

"I fully agree with you that some of the more immature NCC-ers ‘balk’ at words that speak of ‘effort’ or ‘work’. Actually it’s only wrong if we think that these effort or work will earn us credit with God. But some form of initiative and decision and action is definitely indicated in our realizing the full implications of our salvation in the here and now. If a NCC-er actually reads through the epistles, he’ll see it very clearly for himself."

This is what I have been trying to say all along. Working (not in the sinful sense you always talk about) is required in our present sanctification. God bless.

The apostles' commandments to holy living are almost always in the active form. I can't agree with your analogy of passive breathing.

Angie said...

Derrick,

I think Stan's "When we think that our own willpower and efforts are involved, we are setting ourselves up for failure because our focus will unconsciously shift from the power of the gospel onto our own power, which is no power at all" says it all.

This is coming from someone who used to have the same mindset as you.

And I also think sometimes it does take a revelation to understand certain things? :p i'm not demeaning you here but like you, I once stumble over this issue. I even felt like a hypocrite at times while fellowshipping with Stan & gang cos there was this issue of uncertainty that i couldn't articulate so didn't voice out. I continued to blog hoping one day someone could tell me where my misunderstanding lies. In the end, it was through those 'efforts' that i caved in and saw the pride & self-righteousness in it. It's truly the grace of God that i now have some light of it. :)

If you can, join us for fellowship one of these days. We meet at Stan's shop at least once a month now i think. It's easier to talk in person and we can learn from each other :) Btw, Geri & I are having lunch at Stan' place this coming monday. ;)

shalom!