How Important Is Your Willpower?
Good News Magazine
April-June 1973
Volume: Vol XXII, No. 2
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How Important Is Your Willpower?
Stephen Martin  

Just how much should YOU do, and what part does GOD play in overcoming your human nature? What is the role of self-discipline and determination in a Christian's life? This article will show you how important your willpower is in overcoming sin.

   Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong has said many times, "God will not do for you what you can do for yourself." Do you really comprehend that statement?
   Let's examine a biblical example to see this principle illustrated and proved.
   Of himself, Noah had no way of knowing that the world of man was soon to be destroyed by a flood. So God had to reveal this to Noah and instruct him to build an ark in which to escape.
   But God didn't build the ark. God could have created an ark just as He prepared a great fish for Jonah — but as Noah could do that for himself, God put him to the test. Even though God assisted by giving measurements and other advice, Noah had to go about the physical task.
   If Noah had not put his heart into building the ark, if he had been sloppy in his work and in supervising the entire project, do you think God would have saved him? Of course, if circumstances beyond Noah's control threatened to destroy the ark, God would certainly have intervened to save it and Noah.
   The experience of Noah illustrates the point: God will not do for you what you can do for yourself What you cannot do yourself, God will do for you (IF you have done your part), but your part must be done by YOU if you would have His assistance.
   Not realizing and acting on this basic principle is a reason many in God's Church are not as successful in overcoming their human nature as they could be. Waiting for God to overcome their problems for them, they fail to realize what their part is, and thus fail to put forth the effort required to overcome.

The Role of Your Willpower

   What then is your part in overcoming human nature? Just this: you have to put forth the effort, the determination to overcome your human nature. In this, as in every part of the Christian life, you must know and have faith that success is all dependent on GOD, but you must work and strive at it as if it all depends on you.
   The effort and self-discipline to do this is called WILLPOWER. And this ingredient is sadly lacking in today's society, and thus also in many of God's people.
   All too many of us give in to the baser drives of human nature. Why? Because determination (willpower) to stop sin, to resist the pull of the flesh, is lacking.
   For example, television takes up far too much time in the average church member's life, while prayer and Bible study are all too often lacking. Why? Because television takes no effort to watch, requires no willpower to view, while prayer and study take effort and determination to accomplish. Many just give in without even attempting to fight laziness. They do not exert the effort to make themselves do what they know they should do.
   What is your biggest problem? What one sin have you babied and pampered? If you analyze your problem you will probably find you have not overcome it because you have not put forth the self-discipline necessary to conquer it. You probably have not been willing to face that enemy and do your part in defeating it.
   It is true that you need God's help and strength to overcome problems, but if you lack the self-discipline to DILIGENTLY seek God's help, you will not receive that help.

Why Willpower Is Weakened

   The Bible warns in Proverbs 25:28, "He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." Just as a city without protection will finally fall, so, too, will the Christian who does not "rule over his own spirit," or in our modern terminology, does not have self-discipline!
   What weakens willpower? What are the factors that tear down, debilitate, dilute our self-determination? There are several factors in today's society that have contributed to the weakening of our willpower. We need to recognize these factors and FIGHT them!
   Laziness — It is normal to follow the line of least resistance, to do the easy thing. It is human, but it is not Christian. Christ warns us against the broad, easy way, and commands us to take the narrow, difficult, hard path (Matt. 7:13).
   Human beings tend to seek the avenue of quick success, failing to realize true success comes only through hard effort. Consistent hard work finally gets the job done, and nothing else really works. Since it is normal to lack willpower, we must learn to fight what comes naturally. You should realize that laziness is inherent and fight it with dogged determination!
   Lack of Willpower Training — Most of us were never made to complete our projects when we were children. Many of us were allowed to take food on our plates and then not eat all of it, to get out our toys and leave them scattered about, to start a project and never complete it. Most of our parents didn't teach us we should "never give in." And so most of us are suffering from a lack of determination to complete a task, to see a project through to the end, because as children we were allowed to drop a task when only half way through.
   Now that you are an adult, you must belatedly begin training yourself in the areas where you are deficient. You can also determine to train your children differently. You can begin by teaching your child the importance of completing what he begins.
   Society's Influence — We live in an age where work is commonly shunned and leisure is glorified. Our industrial society has provided us with so many modern gadgets that we have lost the pioneering spirit.
   This is the age of instant coffee, instant tea, instant potatoes and, some would like to believe, instant character. (The latter, of course, is not possible.) It is not wrong to use modern conveniences, but don't allow them to foster a "lazy" spirit.
   Modern conveniences have added to our society's character of laziness. In the beginning years of our nation, our forefathers were not as plagued with habitual laziness as the 20th century seems to be. They had to work hard to exist, and hard work didn't frighten them. It is a tragic memorial to the 20th century that too many are afraid to work. This attitude has fostered varying degrees of weakened willpower in all of us which we need to fight!
   Discouragement — Though you fight a particular weakness, you are almost bound to suffer occasional setbacks. It's what you do then that's most important. You can give up and say, "Oh, what's the use, I'll never lick this problem." Or you can repent and determine never to fail again.
   Remember the old, but very true saying, "Quitters never win, and winners never quit." Never allow discouragement to weaken your determination. As Winston Churchill told the English nation during World War II: "Never give in, never give in, never, never, NEVER!"
   So don't let discouragement weaken your will to fight your particular problems!
   Delay of Punishment — Ecclesiastes 8:11 states, "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
   Because God doesn't immediately strike you dead when you sin, your human tendency is to assume or act as if you assume that you have gotten away with the crime, and so you fail to see the need to really fight the problem(s) that led you to sin. Actually, it is not your getting away with it, but God's mercy and His hope you will eventually repent that keeps Him from meting out immediate punishment (Rom. 2:4).
   Don't misconstrue God's mercy and forbearance. Don't weaken your own willpower by thinking you got away with a particular sin.
   The Habit of Procrastination — Procrastination is delaying what must be done, putting it off, just hoping that somehow the tasks will mysteriously get done by themselves. Procrastination weakens willpower, destroys self-discipline, and leaves you a slave to laziness. It is the grandfather of many spiritual diseases.
   So fight procrastination by setting your will not to put things off if you can help it. Accomplish them when they should be done. You will find a great deal of satisfaction in so doing, and you'll be building spiritual character.
   The Wrong Kind of Meditation — Have you ever noticed that if instead of instantly obeying God, you hesitate in order to weigh up the pros and cons of a particular act, trying to decide whether or not it is really a sin; that you will invariably finally perform that action?
   Of course it may be permissible in the sight of God to do what you have wondered about, but when in doubt the best advice is — DON'T. This is the meaning of Romans 14:23: "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eats not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is SIN."
   Don't toy around with thoughts of sinful actions, because if you do, the thoughts will eventually lead to the acts; Immediately reject what you know to be wrong. Don't allow your mind to weigh up the "pleasure" of the sin against the penalty, because this type of meditation weakens and destroys willpower.
   A Vague Conception of Our Goal — Proverbs 29:18 tells us: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Lack of vision is perhaps the greatest reason for lack of growth in Christians. In I Corinthians 13:12, Paul wrote: "For now we see through a glass, darkly." But many don't see through the glass at all. Having a goal is the first of the seven laws of success. If our goal is unreal to us we will not be motivated to change. We will lack the willpower and self-discipline a Christian must have to overcome the human nature within us. Study your Bible and sharpen up the goal of a Christian in your own mind's eye.

How to Strengthen Your Willpower

   Now that we have examined the factors that weaken willpower, we need to learn the practices that strengthen and build up willpower. Avoid the weakening factors, and make the positive factors a way of life. This way you BUILD rather than destroy your willpower.
   Resolve to Overcome — The first key to strengthening willpower is a firm resolute decision to mount a crusade against our problems. A Christian has to determine with a positive attitude that he will overcome sin. Rather than saying, "I'll TRY to defeat my weakness," we must affirm, "I SHALL overcome."
   Don't give occasion for further sin by making a mental retreat plan just in case you don't overcome. Such a contingency plan will sabotage your willpower. "Burn your bridges behind you" has its application in this kind of situation. Do, in this case, "put all your eggs in one basket." Destroy all contingency plans. The Christian must aim for success without making provision for the possibility of failure.
   Avoid Dangerous Situations — The second factor that must be employed to strengthen willpower is to avoid the situations that would normally destroy it. If your problem is alcohol, don't hang around bars; if you have a weakness for sex, don't go to movies that flaunt sexual transgressions and perversions; if you have a weakness being overweight, don't stock your closets with "goodies" you have difficulty resisting.
   I have known alcoholics who keep alcohol in their home just to prove they can lick the problem. That is foolish because it can be a constant temptation. We are told in I Corinthians 6:18 to "flee fornication"! It doesn't say to stay around the temptation to develop strength of character by resisting. Joseph didn't stay around Potiphar's wife; he fled lest he be tempted to give in to her desires. The principle of fleeing applies to all forms of temptation.
   In Matthew 5:27-30, we are told to "cut off" the members of our body that would cause us to sin. This does not mean you should literally cut off your hand if you are a thief, but it might be a good idea to tie your hands together when you enter a store, if stealing is a temptation. If you have a problem with lust, don't literally cut out your eye. But it would be good to force your head in the opposite direction to avoid seeing the object that tempts you to think or do evil.
   The lesson Christ wants us to learn in these verses is to avoid and stay clear of temptation — don't snuggle up close to it to prove you can resist. That is taking fire into your bosom, and as Proverbs 6:27 explains, you are certain to get burned if you do!
   Build Good Habits — To get air out of a bottle, you put liquid in. So too with a Christian's life. To destroy the bad habits, you must replace them with good habits. This is "overcoming evil with good" (Rom. 12:21). Good habits you should develop include regular prayer and Bible study, fasting more often than just on the Day of Atonement, serving other brethren and generally living a life of outgoing love. When you are spending more time doing what is correct, you obviously will have less time to do what is wrong.
   Catch the Vision — As mentioned before, lack of vision destroys willpower, so a strong goal and resulting high motivation will help tremendously in developing willpower. We read in I John 3:3 that "every man that hath this hope in him [the hope of the resurrection from the dead — verses 1-2] purifieth himself [overcomes, conquers evil], even as he [Christ] is pure."
   Again, in Hebrews 6:19, we learn that hope anchors the soul, makes a good steady dependable Christian, one not blown about by every wind of doctrine.
   Matthew 13:44-46 shows that the Kingdom of God is like a hidden treasure and a pearl of great price, which when once a man finds he will do anything to obtain that treasure for his own. The trouble with many Christians is that they are like the South African natives of the 19th century who exchanged diamonds for trinkets because they were ignorant of the value of diamonds. Unless you truly recognize the value of the Kingdom of God, you will not be motivated to "sell" all you have — give your all — to obtain this pearl of great price.
   If, as Christians, we have the hope of salvation burning in our minds, then we will be motivated and will exercise the willpower necessary to overcome.
   Seek God's Help — What should you do if you don't truly see the value of your calling? How can you recognize the " pearl of great price") God shows that you must seek His help, and have your eyes opened.
   In Ephesians 1:15-18, Paul states that he prayed continually that the Ephesian church would see the real goal set before all Christians. "The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." In Philippians 2:12-13, we find the key to this entire subject of willpower. Paul exhorted God's people at Philippi: "... Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling [that's your part]. For it is God which worketh in you both TO WILL and to DO of his good pleasure." God promises to give you the WILL, the self-determination, the mental determination you need to overcome your nature and receive salvation — if you will ask Him for it!
   Receiving salvation and overcoming our faults and problems could be likened to moving the Empire State Building by tying a rope around it and pulling with all your strength.
   As you pull, striving against all odds, suddenly you notice the building begin to move. But you really haven't moved the building — GOD did. But God didn't move it until He saw you put the rope around the building. Then he waited to see you put forth all your human effort. And after you have put forth all you had to give, GOD moves the building.
   So go to God and ask for His power and the WILL to do what you know is right. Remember, "For it is God which worketh in you both to WILL and to DO of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13).

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Good News MagazineApril-June 1973Vol XXII, No. 2