Happy New Year! It’s a time to make new plans; a time to bend our wills toward diets, exercise, and better habits. Resolutions, we call them.
It’s also a good time to question the assumptions that assist this word “willpower” in transporting us into deeper bondage to the compulsions of the world.
We have been trapped into several assumptions by this thought process that gives us the word “willpower”. To disentangle it we need to seek biblical truth.
In 1883 Friedrich Nietzsche coined the term “will to power” defining perfectly the rebellion against God. Nietzsche defines willpower as an evolved driving force of personal self-perfecting ambition. Sounds like a killer diet to me!
Here’s the problem with it. If there were anything we could do to save ourselves, we would not need God’s ultimate sacrifice, but furthermore if he knew we could do it ourselves, why would he have sacrificed anything much less everything?
Oh, I agree that there are behaviors we can bring under our control for a season. We struggle and work to lose ten pounds or quit smoking. We discipline and fight for it, but what do we have at the end? We have to keep fighting and struggling. We often waive friendships, and become stridently self-righteous about our success. We judge others on their lack of intestinal fortitude. But let the flood of worldly fears overtake us, and see how quickly we turn to those fear-feeding activities again.
Paul clarifies this in Galatians 2:21 in a letter to a group of believers who were beginning to veer off-track with a doctrine of salvation through works, but Paul corrected their course: “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”
This is a comforting promise. God’s grace is enough. In our rebellious state we wish to be in control, and when we feel out of control we addict ourselves to things that create the illusion that we are in control. Unfortunately, those things eat us alive and increase our fear.
In an upside-down world it might make sense to do this, but there is nothing in nature that testifies to this working. In nature the weak submit to the strong. In the animal kingdom the strongest lead and protect. But when we see ourselves out of control—when we see that we do not have power over life and death; or job security; or marriage vows, rather than putting our hope in the only One who is bigger—waiting to embrace us, we respond to that apparent weakness in ourselves by reaching for something lesser—a bottle, or a credit card, or a donut. It becomes our instant salvation; it fills our empty space; it makes us feel safe and comforts us—momentarily.
Willpower may deliver for a day, or a week, or a year, but Deliverance belongs to God, by Grace, and it is always permanent. He seeks to be our deliverance, but there is a part we have to do. It seems anti-intuitive. We have to do the opposite of what the world promotes. We have to give up. Surrender. When we get to the end of ourselves for the last time; when we start that diet or put out that last cigarette for the fifteenth or twentieth time, and finally see that we cannot even try to do anything different, and we are not big enough to save ourselves; then God can deliver.
Before the New Year’s resolution, say this prayer: “God, by the blood of your sacrifice I am saved. I cannot even try to beat this weakness. Make me strong by your grace and do whatever you have to do to deliver me, yet not my will, but yours be done. Amen.“
And know when you say it that you share in the burden even Christ our Savior struggled with. Will. Jesus’ prayer in the garden was not unlike this prayer. He surrendered. For us. So that here, now you might be delivered by a merciful, surrendered God.