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Biblical, battle-tested, real-life help for "living by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20). — Steve Fuller

Is Your Obedience By Will-Power Or Spirit-Power? Four Clues

Will-power or Spirit-power?

Big difference.

God has not just given us commands He wants us to WILL ourselves to obey.

He’s also given us promises by which the Holy Spirit will EMPOWER us to obey.

An example from Paul

Notice how Paul calls us to keep doing good —

And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not grow weary.  Galatians 6:9

Paul gives a command — Let us not grow weary in doing good.

But he also gives a promise — For in due season we will reap, if we do not grow weary.

What will we reap?  The previous verse (Gal 6:8) says we will reap eternal life.

Not that doing good earns eternal life.  But when those who are saved by faith in Christ persevere in doing good, they will be graciously rewarded with even more joy in God forever.

So how should we do good?

Paul doesn’t want us gritting our teeth and doing good just because we’re supposed to — that’s will-power.

He wants us to trust the promise of joy in God so much that we want to — that’s Spirit-power.

But I don’t want to overstate this — Spirit-power does take some will-power.

We need to will ourselves to pray over the promise until the Spirit helps us feel the all-satisfying joy of knowing God in Christ.

When that happens — and we understand that doing good will bring us more joy in God — we will want to do good.

But habits are hard to break

They are.  And I have a habit of obeying just by will-power —

  • obeying just because I’m supposed to
  • obeying just because others expect me to
  • obeying without any promise motivating me
  • obeying without asking the Spirit to change my heart

So to work on breaking this habit, I thought of clues which help me see when my obedience is just will-power.

Here they are —

If I’m not consciously motivated by a promise — it’s just will-power.

Like I said — God has not just given us commands which He wants us to will ourselves to obey.

He’s also given us promises by which the Spirit will empower us to obey.

And the fact that He connects commands to promises shows that He wants our obedience to be motivated by the promises.

So if I’m obeying without thinking of a promise — then I’m not being empowered by the Spirit.  Which means it’s just will-power.

If I’m not praying for the Spirit to help me want to obey — it’s just will-power.

Sometimes I don’t have time to pray over a promise before I need to obey.

Sometimes I just need to obey immediately.

But even then, while I am obeying I can set my heart on a promise and trust the Spirit to change my heart as I am obeying.

But if I ignore my lack of motivation — and focus just on obeying — then my obedience is just will-power.

If I’m more excited about getting the task done than about joy in God — it’s just will-power.

Ouch.  So often this is what I do.

I am doing what I’m supposed to — but my joy is in finishing the task more than gaining more of God.

When that’s going on — my obedience is just will-power.

If my focus is on having others notice me rather than on joy in God — it’s just will-power.

Another ouch.

I’ve shared about my struggle with pride and wanting to impress people.

So if I’m obeying — but focusing on who’s noticing me instead of on gaining joy in God — then my obedience is just will-power.

So how can we grow in obeying by Spirit-power?

Here are steps I’m taking —

  • I’m observing — using these clues to show when my obedience is just will-power.
  • I’m praying — asking God to break my bad habit, and make me more conscious of His promises while I am obeying.
  • I’m memorizing — learning promises that the Spirit can use to empower my obedience — like John 14:21; John 14:23; Gal 6:8-9; Col 3:23-24.
  • I’m trusting — setting my heart on God as the reward of my obedience.

Join me in this — and let me know what difference Spirit-empowering makes.

Comments?  Feedback?

I’d love to hear — leave a reply below.  Thanks.

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(Picture on everystockphoto by ugaldew.)

Category: Motivation for Obedience

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2 Responses

  1. learning every day says:

    hmm, interesting, that makes sense to me. Ego and wisdom are like neighbours and its constant battle between them who can play their music louder.

    What if obedience was an act of giving back to God?
    I often do that. I dont consider any promises or receiving anything in return from God, I just want to give him or do something for him. I guess that would be will power? What do you think?

    • Steve Fuller says:

      Good to hear from you, learning every day —

      And good question about obedience being an act of giving back to God.

      My thinking has been deeply impacted by Acts 17:25, which says that God is not served by us as though He needed anything, since He gives to us everything we have. So while obedience is an expression of devotion to God — it’s even more a statement of our desire for Him, and a way of receiving more of Him.

      He is always the gracious and glorious giver, and we are always the needy and unworthy receivers.

      I hope helps some. May the Lord richly bless you!

      In Christ,

      Steve Fuller

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