Spiritual Bulldogs: How Willpower Squares with the Gospel

How do you summit a mountain? How do you run a marathon? How do you take those surplus pounds off? How do you finish a degree? How do you graduate from rehab? How do you keep your vows in a relationship? How do you complete a challenging project?

Say it with me, determination.

When it comes down to it, in order to do anything difficult, one must be determined.  Challenging things never happen as a result of good intentions alone. If it’s going to happen, you must be resolved in your inner person that it’s going to happen and you give yourself no backdoor.

But do you ever wonder how determination fits into the Christian life? Personally, I think the importance of willpower gets overlooked. For some reason, it just doesn’t sound very spiritual. Maybe we avoid it because it sounds too self-helpish.

We understand that it is not possible to simply will ourselves into better standing with God. Human willpower has no part in God’s plan of salvation. We are saved only by His grace. If we could be reconciled with God by sheer determination, then Christ died for no reason. Truth is, it was the determination of Jesus that changed the game. It was His unflinching sacrifice on our behalf that gave humanity a second chance.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. -Romans 5:6

But when it comes to following Jesus in the course of everyday discipleship, can we agree that we’re going to need some willpower? Faithful living will not occur by passive osmosis. If you don’t mean to do it, you’re probably not going to. It takes a level of determination. It requires an attitude that says,  “With God’s help, I am going to do this.”

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David captures this attitude in Psalm 101, where he repeatedly and worshipfully says to the Lord, “I will.” Here’s a sample:

1I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.
2 I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
3 I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.

David was by no means a perfect man, but he had an unrivaled passion and love for God. This passion expressed itself in bulldog-like determination.

In response to God’s extraordinary love, David was extraordinarily determined to honor God with his whole life. And because of his determination, it was David who: “…expanded the borders of the kingdom, defeated Israel’s enemies, gathered the wealth used to build the Temple, wrote the psalms, and established the dynasty that eventually brought Jesus into the world.”*

Not a bad resume.

Christian, sanctified willpower has its place today. Our world could stand a few more spiritual bulldogs, people who by the grace of God are determined – come hell or high water – to follow Jesus.

It’s a new day with God. Run with it.

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. -Philippians 2:12-13

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*Warren Wiersbe, The Transformation Study Bible, David Cook Publishers

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