Ordo Salutis: Transforming the Will
Now we turn to a transformation of the will. The will is something that God gives humans so that they might create new things. The will is what makes each person unique. It is our capacity to create new things, concepts, events. It comes from us alone. It is part of being made in God’s image for us to have a will. It is the nature of the spiritual to be self-determined. Without elevating our will to the sinful place Americans give it–freedom being the ultimate right–we must recognize that God created us to have free will, un-coerced by outside wills to some extent.
N.T. Wright says that people tend to focus on outward behavior rather than on the will. In doing this, they opt for one of two things:
- Obey rules imposed from the outside
- Discover the deepest longings of your heart and try to be true to them.
Neither of these is a valid approach to life. The will must be shaped and aligned with God’s will. Both of those options are shortcuts to a life of character and virtue. They want what virtue offers without the hard work–yes, I said hard work–required to become a person of character.
For example, the person with a rules-based mentality knows what to do but does not have the power to follow through. Wright says, “We must search for the larger framework within which appropriate rules may play their proper, though ultimately subordinate, part” (After You Believe, p. 45). Maybe the rules are only signposts pointing us to a larger purpose, a grander end, that God wants for us. Maybe we need them but not in the way we’ve been taught to need them.
For those who choose option 2, the problem becomes when the longings of one’s heart are wicked and cruel. What if one’s “true self” really just wants to steal? To have an affair? What then? The more they choose to be “authentic” in this way, the more they will become this person in habitual ways and their wills will indeed be shaped inwardly. The heart cannot transform itself by looking inwardly; the answers to life’s deep questions about purpose and meaning are never found by simple meditation and authenticity, no matter how well-intentioned the thought.
“Certainly the will of a spiritual being is the one thing in his creation that God chooses not to override and force to take on a specific character…. It has its choice–though it does not have its choice of the consequences of choosing what it wants. And one of the consequences of choosing what one wants without regard to God’s will is enslavement to one’s own self-conflicted will. On the path of self-will people eventually come to the place where they cannot choose what God wants and cannot want God” (Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p. 146).
Willard is saying that the effects of habitual choice of what you want are only being able to choose what you want. You eventually lose sight of God and are unable to do what He wants.
Before this happens though, most of us live lives of duplicity. Our wills are fragmented. If we think about the choices we make in a given day, we have varied motives and thought processes that go into making them. Our duplicity begins to manifest itself in deception, where we pretend to feel and think something when we really don’t. We do what we want to do but hide it because we’re afraid of being found out.
We don’t exercise our wills unless we’ve first used our minds. The mind and will are connected. The will or heart can change the thoughts and feelings that are available in our future choices. But we must first have those new thoughts and feelings through new information.
In John 8:28-29, Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
Jesus’ will was aligned with His Father’s will. It was not that He did not have His own will–Jesus could have sinned against God just like any one of us. But He did what pleased His Father. “Single-minded and joyous devotion to God and his will, to what God wants for us–and to service to him and to others because of him–is what the will transformed into Christlikeness looks like” (Willard, p. 143).
But how do we go from self-will or duplicity to being aligned with God’s will? According to Willard, it means…
- Surrender. We begin by surrendering our will to God’s will, telling God that we really want Him to be God. We stop asking God to bless us while still living life as we wish.
- Abandonment. We move beyond surrender to abandonment when we not only want God to be God, but surrender to every circumstance of life as happening within God’s permission. We do not gripe and complain when bad things happen to us, but remember that there is no suffering that God cannot use for our good. We choose not to fight against God when we suffer but embrace God (and even the suffering) for we know He is working in it for our good.
- Contentment. We are grateful and rejoice in our “lot in life.” We are content with surrendering to God, and so duplicity becomes a thing of the past.
- Participation. Somewhere along the line, we choose (or we have chosen) to participate with God to see His will played out in the world. “The strongest human will is always the one that is surrendered to God’s will and acts with it” (Renovation of the Heart, p. 152).
What do you think?