The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought.” Steps to Christ, 43.
The further I have advanced in my Christian experience, the truer those words have become. We each have a battle to fight to gain the victory over self, and everything necessary to come off victorious has been provided through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
Faith determines either victory or defeat in our Christian walk, whether we stumble or fall, succeed or fail. If our faith fails, then we are going to fail. “Every failure on the part of the children of God is due to their lack of faith.” Conflict and Courage, 166.
However, there is another deciding factor. “The will is the governing power in the nature of man, bringing all the other faculties under its sway. … It is the deciding power, which works in the children of men unto obedience to God, or unto disobedience.” Child Guidance, 209. The power of choice that God has given to everyone depends upon the right action of the will. Before the fall, man’s will was naturally in harmony with God’s will. Man was made upright with noble traits of character without any inclination towards evil. But everything changed after the fall when man’s will was given into the control of Satan who ever since has been working in man to do his good pleasure.
“In transgression Adam became a law to himself. By disobedience he was brought under bondage. Thus a discordant element, born of selfishness, entered man’s life. Man’s will and God’s will no longer harmonized. Adam had united with the disloyal forces, and self-will took the field.” The Signs of the Times, June 13, 1900.
What Adam forfeited by his disobedience, Christ reclaimed by His sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. Now we have the freedom to choose on which side of the great controversy we are going to be, to continue in slavery to sin or day by day make decisions to walk in God’s ways. Though our soul, our body, and our spirit belong to Him who both created and redeemed us, we are given the privilege of freedom to choose one of the two forces contending for each one of us, one from above, or the other from beneath.
“Each human being is given the freedom of choice. It is his to decide whether he will stand under the black banner of rebellion or under the blood-stained banner of Prince Emmanuel.” In Heavenly Places, 361.
Choosing that blood-stained banner gives us the assurance that God hears and also responds to the cries of our heart when we cannot find the words to speak. “Every man is free to choose what power he will have to rule over him. None have fallen so low, none are so vile, but that they can find deliverance in Christ. The demoniac, in place of prayer, could utter only the words of Satan; yet the heart’s unspoken appeal was heard. No cry from a soul in need, though it fail of utterance in words, will be unheeded.” The Desire of Ages, 258.
As there are two opposing forces seeking supremacy, let us look at some things that influence our wills and our decisions. An internet article entitled, Touching the Prospect’s Emotions in Your Sales Letter by Joe Farinaccio, written to explain how to write a sales letter that will generate responses demonstrates this concept that certain things must already be in place to get the expected response. It says, “Your prospect has emotions and you must touch these emotions in your sales letter. Your copy has to excite, stir curiosity, generate fear and create deep desire. If it does not, your copy will fail.”www.businessknowhow.com/marketing/emotions.htm. October, 2010. The reason for this is very simple, because by and large it is emotion that moves us. Even a person who appears to be completely unmoved by anything but cold logic will not act until he is motivated to do so by his feelings.
One of the most powerful things that influences decisions is feelings—our emotions. People are primarily moved by emotions. As Christians, we are to be controlled by reason and to move from principle. The higher powers of the mind are to be in control of the lower powers, but this does not happen without a struggle. Naturally, in our sinful condition, our emotions have a powerful sway over us, causing a constant battle. Often, faith and emotions are completely contradictory to one another. Emotions can cause people to do tremendous feats of strength, acts of heroism and also cause people to do some barbaric things in violent rage that they would not otherwise do. We call these things crimes of passion. Emotion can cause someone to be totally unreasonable. Other emotions can cause thoughts of suicide. Never underestimate the power of emotion!
This same article continues: “You must inject emotions into your sales letter for him to want to become a buyer. You can do this by studying three things. (1) Your prospect. You need to determine what kind of person he/she is and what he/she really wants from your product. (2) You need to know all the benefits your product will provide them. And (3) you have to match those up, the most important want of the customer, or the person; whether it is a desire to have something or a problem to be corrected within your prospect determines a primary emotion your sales letter will target. Your goal is to link the product benefits to these emotions. Find out what the person wants and then give it to them.” Ibid.
That concept determines what makes people successful. They find out what people want and then make a product to fill that need. Satan understands these principles well, and he is a master marketer.
One of the most powerful emotions that marketers use today and which, incidentally, is also the one that caused Satan to fall in the beginning is the desire for gain. Isaiah 14:12–14 says, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.”
Lucifer’s fall was caused by a desire for gain. He wanted to be like God. Lucifer was a high and exalted angel next in honor to Christ, but he was not content and wanted more. He wanted to be in the position of Christ. A special light beamed in his countenance and shone around him brighter and more beautiful than all the other angels. Yet Christ, God’s dear Son, had preeminence over the entire angelic host. He was one with the Father before the angels were created. Lucifer was envious of Christ and gradually assumed command, which devolved on Christ alone. Satan wanted more than he had and that caused his fall.
The first successful sale that Satan made is found in Genesis 3:1–6. Here we see how powerful this emotion really is. Adam and Eve were created holy and happy with no inclination to sin, yet Satan was successful even though he was limited in his access to the holy pair. “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”
It was the desire for gain that caused the fall of Eve. She desired the knowledge that the serpent dangled in front of her. When Satan tempts us, he never gives us the whole picture. A good salesman always picks out the most positive benefits of whatever he is trying to sell.
“Satan desired to make it appear that this knowledge of good mingled with evil would be a blessing, and that in forbidding them to take of the fruit of the tree, God was withholding great good. He urged that it was because of its wonderful properties for imparting wisdom and power that God had forbidden them to taste it, that He was thus seeking to prevent them from reaching a nobler development and finding greater happiness. He declared that he himself had eaten of the forbidden fruit, and as a result had acquired the power of speech; and that if they also would eat of it, they would attain to a more exalted sphere of existence and enter a broader field of knowledge. …
“She coveted what God had forbidden; she distrusted His wisdom. She cast away faith, the key of knowledge.” Education, 24.
The desire for gain is a powerful emotion, and it is no different today. These same tactics work even more effectively today than they did then.
In Philippians 4:11, 12, it says, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Paul learned this lesson. He said, “Whatsoever things I have, I am content.”
In I Timothy 6:6–9, it says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.” Contentment is a gift God can give to us. It is not in us naturally to be content, but God can give us that contentment if we ask for it. Without that contentment we are an open target for Satan’s temptations.
Hebrews 13:5 says, “Let your conversation be without covetousness: and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” In Matthew 6:19–21 we read, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
We must continually examine ourselves to know where our hearts are, because Satan knows our every weakness and is always ready to attack at every opportunity.
Another powerful emotion that moves people is the fear of loss. That is the fear that caused Adam to fall. Adam understood that his companion had transgressed the command of God and could not bear the thought of being without her. “Adam understood that his companion had transgressed the command of God, disregarded the only prohibition laid upon them as a test of their fidelity and love. There was a terrible struggle in his mind. He mourned that he had permitted Eve to wander from his side. But now the deed was done; he must be separated from her whose society had been his joy. How could he have it thus? …
“He resolved to share her fate; if she must die, he would die with her. After all, he reasoned, might not the words of the wise serpent be true? Eve was before him, as beautiful and apparently as innocent as before this act of disobedience. She expressed greater love for him than before. No sign of death appeared in her, and he decided to brave the consequences. He seized the fruit and quickly ate.” Daughters of God, 24, 25.
Christ had to face these temptations in the wilderness—the desire for gain where Satan offered Him the whole world and in the garden of Gethsemane, the temptation of the fear of loss. The fear of loss was most powerful, because it involved eternal loss and eternal separation from His Father, making His struggle in Gethsemane almost unbearable. These tactics are still successful today. Satan has been studying human nature and perfecting his craft for 6,000 years. In The Great Controversy, 555, it says, “Satan studies every indication of the frailty of human nature, he marks the sins which each individual is inclined to commit, and then he takes care that opportunities shall not be wanting to gratify the tendency to evil.” Satan understands how it works.
Writing to the Philippians Paul said, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Philippians 3:7, 8. Though Paul suffered the loss of all things, he gained Christ and found contentment. Matthew 19:29 says, “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” It may appear in this world that we lose; but, in reality we gain everything. As well as gaining eternal life, God has promised to repay a hundred fold whatever is lost for His sake. This is just amazing!
The use of stimulants also affects the decision-making will. “Opium, tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor are rapidly extinguishing the spark of vitality still left in the race. …
“When the appetite for spiritous liquor is indulged, the man voluntarily places to his lips the draught which debases below the level of the brute, him who was made in the image of God. Reason is paralyzed, the intellect is benumbed, the animal passions are excited, and then follows crime of the most debasing character. How can the user of rum or tobacco give to God an undivided heart? It is impossible. Neither can he love his neighbor as himself. The darling indulgence engrosses all his affections. To gratify his craving for strong drink, he sells reason and self-control.” Christian Temperance and Bible Hygiene, 36, 37.
Today, there are many more things that stimulate the emotions, the imagination, weaken the mind, affect the nerves, weaken the body, cloud the judgment, and bring the person into bondage, weakening the power to resist. We live day by day on a battlefield.
“By indulgence, the reading of sensational or demoralizing literature becomes a habit, like the use of opium or other baleful drugs, and as a result, the minds of thousands are enfeebled, debased, and even crazed. Satan is doing more through the productions of the press to weaken the minds and corrupt the morals of the youth than by any other means.” Counsels to Writers and Editors, 133, 134.
When I was a young man I used to read books containing mysteries and fiction. These have a similar affect on you as drugs, taking control of your imagination and becoming a way of escape from reality. They warp your mind until the fiction appears as truth and the Bible seems like fiction.
Lack of faith in God’s power has a tremendous affect on the mind and will. “Our entire life is God’s and must be used to His glory. His grace will consecrate and improve every faculty. Let no one say, I cannot remedy my defects of character; for if you come to this decision, you will certainly fail to obtain everlasting life. The impossibility lies in your own will. If you will not, then you can not overcome. The real difficulty arises from the corruption of unsanctified hearts, and an unwillingness to submit to the control of God.” Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, 686. [Emphasis author’s.] If we do not believe that we can overcome and have victory, then we are not going to have it.
“Man does not build himself into a habitation for the Spirit, but unless there is a co-operation of man’s will with God’s will, the Lord can do nothing for him. The Lord is the great Master worker, and yet the human agent must co-operate with the divine worker, or the heavenly building cannot be completed. All the power is of God, and all the glory is to redound to God, and yet all the responsibility rests with the human agent; for God can do nothing without the co-operation of man.” The Review and Herald, October 25, 1892. Again, if we do not believe that we can do something, then we are not going to put forth an effort to do it. God can only operate when we cooperate with Him by submitting our will.
Overwork affects the ability to make good choices. “When the laborer has been under a pressure of work and care, and is overworked in mind and body, he should turn aside and rest awhile, not for selfish gratification, but that he may be better prepared for future duties. We have a vigilant foe, who is ever upon our track, to take advantage of every weakness that he may make his temptations effective for evil. When the mind is overstrained and the body enfeebled, he can take advantage, and press the soul with his fiercest temptations that he may cause the downfall of the child of God. Let the laborer for God carefully husband his strength, and when wearied with toil that must come upon him, let him turn aside and rest and commune with Jesus.” The Review and Herald, November 14, 1893.
We have an adversary. Satan is looking for every opportunity to ensnare us. He is ever upon our track and ready to take advantage of every weakness, of every opportunity that we give him, so we need to be diligent and make sure we do everything we can to not provide him with those opportunities. We must do everything we can to stand firm.
Intemperance weakens the faculties. “Satan has overcome his millions by tempting them to the indulgence of appetite. Through the gratification of the taste, the nervous system becomes excited and the brain power enfeebled, making it impossible to think calmly or rationally. The mind is unbalanced. Its higher, nobler faculties are perverted to serve animal lust, and the sacred, eternal interests are not regarded.” Counsels on Diet and Foods, 151.
Though we have a tendency to categorize and put things in an order of importance and see some of these things as trivial, the Bible says that if we are faithful in that which is least we will be faithful in that which is much (Luke 16:10). How much time do we set aside for personal Bible study? “The reason why the youth, and even those of mature years, are so easily led into temptation and sin, is that they do not study the Word of God and meditate upon it as they should. The lack of firm, decided will-power, which is manifest in life and character, results from their neglect of the sacred instruction of God’s Word. They do not by earnest effort direct the mind to that which would inspire pure, holy thought and divert it from that which is impure and untrue.” The Signs of the Times, October 10, 1906.
Feelings of guilt have a deleterious affect on the will. “This feeling of guiltiness must be laid at the foot of the cross of Calvary. The sense of sinfulness has poisoned the springs of life and of true happiness. Now Jesus says, ‘Lay it all on Me. I will take your sins. I will give you peace. Banish no longer your self-respect, for I have bought you with the price of My own blood. You are mine. Your weakened will I will strengthen; your remorse for sin I will remove.’ ” Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, 305.
“Some things that look impossible to you now will certainly change in appearance when your heart is changed by the grace of God. Your heart has become sad at times as you know you are in an unsaved state and that you are grieving the Saviour by your wrong doings. When you come to yourself you are amazed at the distance you have placed between yourself and your Saviour. You have again and again resolved to reform, but you have as often failed because you made these resolutions in your own strength. Your moral power has become weak. Your will power is strong enough, but it is not strong on the Lord’s side. You are not able to fix your mind upon the Word of God. You have talked enough, but it has only sunk you lower. Your heart does not feel when you try to pray.” Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, 66.
This is not an exhaustive list. Whatever we do that weakens the mind or the body affects our ability to exercise our will and it also creates an opening for Satan and temptation to enter in. God’s grace is sufficient to sustain us, but we have to do our part. We must do all to stand. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.
“Many have an idea that they must do some part of the work alone. They have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of sin, but now they seek by their own efforts to live aright. But every such effort must fail. Jesus says, ‘Without me ye can do nothing.’ Our growth in grace, our joy, our usefulness—all depend upon our union with Christ.” God’s Amazing Grace, 293.
Without Christ, our willpower is nothing. It is a power of choice, but it has to be linked up with Christ and with His strength to give us the strength to overcome. Through Christ we have all power available to us, but we have to put our wills on the right side, trusting in Him, not in ourselves. We must choose whom we are going to obey. The choice is ours.
May the Lord help each one of us to make the right choices and strengthen those areas of vulnerability. If we pray and ask the Lord to show us those areas, He will do it and give us the grace needed to do it. “As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 333.
This is the true force of the will when we ally ourselves with Christ, exercising our will to be overcomers in harmony with the will of God. Only then can we accomplish the Divine plan He has for each of our lives.
Jim Stoeckert is a staff member of Steps to Life, working in Faith Haven Christian School.