Change is hard! How many times have you wanted to improve your life—started a new diet, exercise regimen, time management system—and found yourself unable to stick with it? How often have you tried to quit something harmful and ended up lapsing back into old habits?
Yes, change is hard—but we can’t take it lightly. The Bible tells us to become perfect, even as God the Father is perfect! (Matthew 5:48). We can’t settle for anything less in our lives. The ongoing process of conversion is a serious responsibility—becoming more and more like our heavenly Father.
Still, something in our human nature makes it very difficult to change what we need to change—and very easy to remain just as we are.
A Remarkable Quality of God
Perhaps the most remarkable quality about God that separates Him from us is the fact that He always follows through with His plans. When we make a resolution, we often break it; when God makes a resolution, He always keeps it. When we resolve to do something or change something, we often fail; when God resolves to do something, fulfill something, accomplish something, He always sees it through.
This is an amazing quality of God! He has a determined, uncompromising, unbending, unbreakable iron will. “The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isaiah 14:24).
Herbert W. Armstrong explained the essence of God’s righteousness this way: “Why is it impossible for God to sin? No greater power exists that will prevent Him—but God has simply by His own power—supreme and above all power—set Himself that He will not!” (The Incredible Human Potential, emphasis added throughout).
Because of this quality, we can trust God to see His master plan through. We can trust that He will never break His law of love. We can trust Him to keep every word He has uttered. We can stake our lives on His promises.
How strong is your will? Your willpower? When you decide to do something, do you have the will to see it through? Can people rely on you?
Developing godly character requires a certain stiffness of the spine. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The human man is made literally from clay. God is like the master potter forming and shaping a vessel out of clay. But if the clay is too hard, it will not bend into the form and shape he wants. If it is too soft and moist, it lacks firmness to ‘stay put’ where the potter bends it. …
“[T]he human clay must be pliable, must yield willingly. … [Yet] if he is so lacking in will, purpose and determination that he won’t ‘stay put’ when God molds him partly into what God wants him to be—too wishy-washy, weak, lacking root of character, he will never endure to the end. He will lose out” (ibid).
That is worth contemplating. You are one of God’s “clay projects.” When God shapes you, do you stay put?
In one sense, this is right at the core of what godly character is! Here is how Mr. Armstrong defined it: “Perfect, holy and righteous character is the ability … to come to discern the true and right way from the false, to make voluntarily a full and unconditional surrender to God and His perfect way—to yield to be conquered by God—to determine even against temptation or self-desire, to live and to do the right. And even then such holy character is the gift of God. It comes by yielding to God to instill His law (God’s right way of life) within the entity who so decides and wills” (ibid).
God has that character in full measure. When God decides to do something, He does it; when He decides not to do something, He doesn’t do it!
It seems so simple, but for us with human nature, it can be fiendishly difficult! How often do we complete the first step of character—“come to discern the true and right way from the false”—and say, Yes, I want to do this—it’s right, it will make God happy and me happy—but then fail to follow through? How often do we say, Yes, I want to avoid this—it’s wrong, it will hurt me, it will hurt my mind or my health—but then fail to follow through? How often—when temptation or self-desire arises—do we live and do the wrong? How much easier would our lives be if we could just set ourselves—that we will do this and won’t do that—and then follow through exactly, as God does?
To do that requires the godly characteristic of will.
The Romans 7 Battle
Romans 7 has the best description of the battle we all face in exercising the will to do the right.
God’s law is wonderful and good, but we are carnal (Romans 7:12, 14). This creates a tension in our lives. The Apostle Paul explains: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (verses 15, 18-19; Revised Standard Version). Paul was able to discern the true and right way from the false. He wanted to surrender to God and His perfect way. But the difficulty he found was in living and doing that way—even against temptation or self-desire.
But of course, that is the essential part of character!
That is why it is such a monumental challenge for God to re-create Himself: Because it means building within a human being the same strength of will He has!
God is building that strength of will in us while we yet have human nature—while we yet wrestle against Satan and his broadcasts.
“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (verses 22-23). What a contrast between God and man! What God decides to do, He does; what He decides not to do, He doesn’t. What we decide to do, we don’t; what we decide not to do, we end up doing anyway! And the degree to which we fail to overcome that weakness of will is the degree to which we continue to suffer the curses and troubles associated with sin.
But notice: The Apostle Paul knew that deliverance is available! “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. …” (verses 24-25).
This battle can be won—thanks to the God with the iron will dwelling in us through His Holy Spirit.
This same Apostle Paul—who was so frustrated with his inability to follow through with that final step of godly character—also said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me”! This same man ended his life saying, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness”!
There is no doubt that exercising and developing strength of will to live and do the right is a battle. It is a battle that we simply cannot win in and of ourselves. But there is also no doubt that it is a battle we can and must win with the power of God. If God is to re-create Himself in us, it is a battle we must win! We must exercise and grow in and develop God’s iron will.Then, when we come to discern the true and right way from the false—when we voluntarily make a full and unconditional surrender to God and His perfect way—and then determine even against temptation or self-desire to live and to do the right—we are exercising and growing in and developing God’s iron will.
That is what it means for God to re-create Himself in us. That is what will determine whether God can use us to fulfill His purpose for the universe.
Get God’s Help!
Consider applying these means of developing and strengthening your will.
First, make this a part of your prayers.
Begin your prayers with praise for God, and praise Him for this quality of His character. Meditate on all the things that are possible in your life, and in His master plan, because of it. Then ask God to show you where you fall short in this area. In Psalm 143:10, David prayed, “Teach me to do thy will.” Ask God to strengthen your will, making you more like Himself. And ask in faith, nothing wavering! (James 1:5-7). Be bold in claiming God’s promises—He is guaranteed to fulfill them.
This godly quality will come into our lives through God’s Spirit dwelling in us. The final fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:23 is temperance—self-control. That is essentially what is at issue. With God’s help, what we decide to do, we will do, and what we decide not to do, we won’t.
Pray also that God would keep you out of temptation. Christ instructed, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Our flesh will never be strong! We can’t ask God to strengthen our flesh.
The only way to fortify ourselves against temptation—whenever it may come—is to strengthen the spirit.
When Christ faced His worst temptations, He was most diligent about abasing His flesh—fasting for 40 days, praying through the night to the point of sweating blood.
Another point: There is no better way to strengthen your will than fasting. It shows our desire to put the spiritual first. Fasting in itself is a powerful act of will—of willpower, of denying our own desires—in order to draw close to God and to seek His will.
Fasting also demonstrates how this is a team effort. You have to discipline yourself to avoid food and water, and to spend extra time in prayer, study and meditation. Then God blesses that effort.
Train Your Will
Consider undertaking ways of training your will: deliberately forcing yourself to do the thing you don’t want to do—depriving yourself of something pleasant that you don’t need—doing something difficult. For example, force yourself out of bed 30 minutes earlier to do some extra Bible study—specifically to train your will, and to overcome the pull of the flesh in that specific way.
Also, realize the importance of a single act. It is easy to rationalize doing the easy thing when you’re in the moment: This isn’t a big deal—I’ve been doing so well and I’ve earned this indulgence. But the fact is, everything we do either builds character or breaks it down. Learn to evaluate what you are doing by asking, is this strengthening my will?
God commands us to become perfect even as He is perfect. He is working to re-create Himself in us. This demands that we be skilled at making changes in our lives—not just making resolutions and breaking them a few days later, but constantly gaining ground as we fight our way toward godly perfection!
We can have all the knowledge in the world about how to change, but until we employ God’s help in doing—in following through—in action—we will achieve nothing.
Jesus Christ said, “For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:50). Work hard to grow in and develop this invaluable spiritual trait: God’s iron will!