To Will and To Do

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We are all sinners. This is a fundamental Christian conviction. Before we believed the good news of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, we learned the bad news: in Adam, we all fell away from God. Our sin separates us from Him by an infinite chasm (Isa. 64:6; Rom. 3:10–18).

When we are newly converted, we have a fresh sense of just how much we need God. We may even be overwhelmed by our sin. With the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we recognize that we have a corrupted heart outside of Christ. When we are young in our faith, confession may come easily, for we find ourselves overcome by our need for God.

As time goes on, we might find our hearts growing colder. Many of us may find it harder to admit to wrongdoing than we once did. Grace once awed us; now we’re too proud to confess we need it. We feel a sense of self-sufficiency that robs us of vital, wholehearted repentance. Sin has become less a disposition for us and more an isolated act. Unless someone can carefully convict us of a specific wrong, we don’t feel like we have much to confess.

In such seasons, we need the Apostle Paul to wake us up: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Paul tells us that God works in us in two key ways: (1) He makes us desire Him and His kingdom; and (2) He enables us to perform deeds in keeping with righteousness.

The need to have our desires remade is easy to overlook. If we do not pursue the Lord “with fear and trembling,” our desires will dishonor Him in some way. We will be tempted to forget that even sinful thoughts require repentance (Matt. 5:21–30). It is not only an explosive outburst that calls for broken confession, but a momentary flash of anger in our hearts. It is not only a consummated affair that grieves our holy God, but a fleeting consideration of one in our minds.

Our prayer must counteract the pull of our hearts. We need to repeat Paul’s prayer: “Lord, help me to will and to work for your good pleasure.” This is a simple prayer, but it will have profound results. God loves such a prayer; He delights to answer it. Throughout the day, as we feel sinful desire—even unasked-for desire—well up in us, we can act against it. We should repent of such desires. We must not explain them away or ignore them because they aren’t “full-blown sins.”

We are all tempted by our flesh to be partial pursuers of righteousness. But God wants holistic obedience powered by the good news of Christ’s atonement. He is working in us by His Spirit. The Spirit’s ministry is not to send us on a pietistic wild goose chase. It is gritty and ordinary. His ministry is to call us to repent of our sinful desires and actions, and to empower us to honor our Savior through renewed desires and actions.

We are all sinners. But more than this, in Christ, we are all saints.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.