LET us spend a little time with our hypothetical church member, John, once more. In chapter six we found him in a situation of conflict. There, following an experience that awakened him to his spiritual needs, the Holy Spirit was able to convict him of sin, and he began to put specific sins out of his life. Then, at a certain point, we suggested that he was faced with a sinful practice that had a very strong hold on him. Self began to stiffen its resistance, and as a result, a strong battle began in John's heart.
Right here, let us stop to analyze the faculties involved in this battle.
1. Intellect, by which we mean that faculty that perceives, understands, judges, and reasons.
2. Sensibilities, by which we mean the desires, feelings, emotions, impulses, and others.
3. Will, the faculty of decision, of choice.
Let us see how these faculties are involved in the struggle going on in John's heart.
Let us assume that the process begins with the faculty of intellect. As the Holy Spirit works with John, He brings to his attention, to his faculty of perception, the certain sin around which the battle rages. When John understands the situation, reason tells him that he ought to rid himself of the sin.
But already his sensibilities faculty-his desires, emotions, impulses-has reacted. In no uncertain manner it gives notice that it is utterly against surrendering the practice, and that it will fight the idea to the bitter end.
Reason says, That habit is a barrier between you and Jesus.
Unless you are willing to give it up you can never be born again. You can never see heaven unless it is surrendered.
But desire argues, Why should you be so foolish as to throw away a practice you enjoy so much? That is one of the things you get the most satisfaction from. If you keep on giving up all those things to Jesus as you have, pretty soon your life will be about as bleak and empty as a barren island.
So reason and logic urge John in one direction, and feelings and desires in another.
Resolving the Battle
How is the battle to be resolved? In one way only; by the will. The will must go into action and make a decision. 51
In every action of our lives, a hundred times a day, this process goes on, in moral and nonmoral situations. Many times the process is so brief, so automatic, so unimportant, that we do not recognize it. Sometimes it is fraught with eternal consequences, such as that which we have projected for our imaginary John.
There is another important factor that must be recognized here: The human will is free, but weak, limited, and sin-infected. 52 Consequently, a man cannot save himself from sin, for in order to do this he must use his will. But his will is the very seat of the deadly infection. It is naturally directed toward evil rather than good. As Paul observed, the unregenerate, unconsecrated man is "taken captive by ... [Satan] at his will" (2 Tim. 2:26). "If we were left to follow our own inclinations, to go just where our will would lead us, we should fall into Satan's ranks and become possessors of his attributes." -The Desire of Ages, p. 329. "It is through the will that sin retains its hold upon us." -With God at Dawn, p. 251.
At this point we are in a quandary. It is the will that decides whether we are going to hold on to sin or expel it from the soul. But the natural will is inclined to do Satan's will. Moreover, it is too weak to do good, even when we desire to turn it in that direction. "For to will is present with me," Paul exclaimed, "but how to perform that which is good I find not" (Rom. 7: 18). Thus, to try to do good on our own is contrary to nature. It is self-destructing. It is a grinding machine wearing itself away.
The counteraction of such a situation is illustrated by the lively little girl who frequently got into mischief. Mother, as often as she felt it imperative, would discipline her daughter. But it seemed to do little good.
On one occasion, after little Patsy had been especially annoying, mother gave her a severe lecture. Patsy began to realize the nature of her misconduct, became repentant, and promised to be a good girl..
For a time everything went well. Then mother began to notice Patsy slipping back to her old ways again.
Hoping that a reminder of her promise would be enough to keep Patsy in line, mother said, "Patsy, you have been a good girl for a while. Why don't you stay that way?"
"Oh, Mother," was the response, "I can't, because it makes me so tired."
This is the way it is when we try to overcome our sins on our own. We become weary of the tension, of the constant battle that we don't particularly desire to fight. We become tired and, after a time, we quit.
Nevertheless, it is possible for a person to obey God without tension, without a feeling that he must obey, rather than wanting to obey.
A Pivotal Area
Right here is a vitally important, indeed, a pivotal, area in our answer to the question we asked in the previous chapter, How am I to surrender self to God?
Many are inquiring, "How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?" You desire to give yourself to Him, but you are weak in moral power, in slavery to doubt, and controlled by the habits of your life of sin .... The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you; but you need not despair. What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. --Steps to Christ, p. 47.
Then Ellen White makes this exceedingly significant statement: "Everything depends on the right action of the will."-Ibid.
Elsewhere, she writes:
The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ; your affections will be centered upon Him, your thoughts will be in harmony with Him. -Ibid.
Picture a giant electromagnetic crane, designed to lift scrap iron. The operator swings the crane around and drops the head upon the metal. But nothing happens. Or perhaps two or three pounds of metal are attracted to it.
Then the operator throws a switch that permits electricity to flow to the device. Now when he manipulates his levers and lifts the electromagnet hundreds of pounds of iron are held by it.
The vast difference between the head that had no power and the one that could lift hundreds of pounds was in the electric current. Flowing through the wire around the core of the device, the current created a powerful magnet.
Energizing the Will
So with the human will. Of itself it has little or no power to deal effectively with sin, or to do God's will. But when the Holy Spirit flows into the life the divine will energizes the human. Then the individual can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. "As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent." -Christ's Object Lessons, p. 333.
Man, then, cannot of himself will to spurn evil and do right. He cannot do this any more than the Ethiopian can change his skin or the leopard his spots. But he can will to place his will under the control of God.
In the work of redemption there is no compulsion. No external force is employed. Under the influence of the Spirit of God, man is left free to choose whom,he will serve. In the change that takes place when the soul surrenders to Christ, there is the highest sense of freedom. The expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself. True we have no power to free ourselves from Satan's control; but when we desire to be set free from sin, and in our great need cry out for a power out of and above ourselves, the powers of the soul are imbued with the divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and they obey the dictates of the will in fulfilling the will of God. -The Desire of Ages, p.466.
We take a moment to note an essential thought in this quotation: "When we desire to be set free from sin," and cry out for deliverance, then the power comes to energize the will. If we do not really desire, if we have reservations and do not genuinely want to surrender, our wills will not be strengthened to expel sin from the soul. A great many people want to have a victorious relationship with Christ, but they do not will to have one. "Until we are willing, the transforming grace of God cannot be manifest upon us. "Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 143." 53
Christ is ready to set us free from sin, but He does not force the will; and if by persistent transgression the will itself is wholly bent on evil, and we do not desire to be set free, if we will not accept His grace, what more can He do? We have destroyed ourselves by our determined rejection of His love. -Steps to Christ, p. 34.
Let a solemn, unalterable purpose take possession of you, and resolve in the strength and grace of God, that henceforth you will live for Him, and that no earthly consideration shall persuade you to disown the divine law of ten commandments. -The Faith I Live By, p. 82.
This transaction, then, is not a passive one on our part. It is not simply "God, You take my will. I merely allow You to do so." It is an active transaction: "God, here is my will, I hand it to You. Please take it and do what needs to be done. I will that Your will be done in me. I will surrender to You, to cooperate fully with You."
When this decision is made the soul has found the answer to the question How do I surrender self to God?