The NT emphasises the use of the will. It uses military or athletic phrases to describe the Christian life.
We are to stand firmin faith (1 Cor 16:13; 2 Cor 1:24), in Christ (2 Cor 1:21; Phil 4:1), in the armour of God (Eph 6:4) against the devil (1 Peter 5:9) “contending as one man for the faith of the gospel” (Phil 1:27)
We are to run the Christian race“in such a way as to get the prize.” going into “strict training” (1 Cor 9:24-25). We must strain towards what is ahead, pressing on towards the goal to win the prize (Phil 3:13-14). We must “ throw off everything that hinders” and “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)
We must “fight the good fight” of faith(1 Tim 1:18; 6:12)
1. The NT teaches that love is primarily an act of the will
Jesus commands us to love God and our neighbour (Matt 22:37-40). Love for Christ means obedience (John 14:23). Paul commands husbands to love their wives (Eph 5:25) and calls on the older women to “ train the younger women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:4).
Clearly this is not referring to the emotions associated with love: you can’t command someone to feel love or to fall in love!
The main Greek word the NT uses for love is “agape”. Listen to how some scholars define it:
“Agape entirely unselfish, seeking only the good of others – a love ‘uncaused’ by any existing goodness in its object. Christian love, which does not choose its object but goes out to the neighbour who is everyman, is secure from change just because it is accepted as a duty, as obedience to a ‘you shall’.”
“… it is primarily a love of the will rather than the emotions. The New Testament never speaks of God loving unbelieving human beings with emotional love or a love which expects something in return. But He loves with His will … The reason for this is that God can find nothing enjoyable about a sinner on whom His wrath still abides. So He loves by His will; it is His nature to love.”
“…agape [embraces] especially the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety”
“Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all…”
So, in the NT, love for wife, family, friends, neighbour is primarily an act of the will not feelings. If people manifested this love we wouldn’t have the highest divorce rate in Europe, or family breakdown or compromise of biblical truth because of sloppy sympathy
2. The NT teaches that we understand the truth if we will to obey
Jesus said: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John 7:17). It’s good to ask questions about Christianity.
But people who have always got loads of questions about the faith which seem to hinder their spiritual progress or have always got major doubts or have continuing difficulty receiving guidance have a problem with their wills, not their minds. If they are willing to obey God their questions will largely evaporate!
3. The NT teaches that the Christian life means co-operation with God through acts of the will
So Paul writes to the Philippians “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence– continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13)
This is illustrated by Jesus’ healing of the man with withered hand. The man could not stretch out his hand: it was impossible. But Jesus told him to do the impossible – to stretch it out. When the man used his will to do what he couldn’t do – he did it. At the point where he exercised his will in obedience to Jesus the power of God enabled him to do the impossible. If he hadn’t exercised his will he would have gone to his grave with an withered hand!
So we need to live the Christian life using acts of the will, even willing to do the impossible, and he will enable us to succeed. If we don’t make such acts of the will we shall fail.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction