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by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf

1. The Battle for the Will

An unfortunate remark that I heard in my early teens still rankles in my mind. An unwed teenage girl in our neighborhood had become pregnant and given birth to a baby boy. The girl’s father, more submissive than wise, commented, "God’s way is the best way. 

Through that remark the father gave the erroneous impression that God had actively willed this pregnancy. But this pregnancy and birth were not the result of God’s will. They were rather a result of the unwise choices of the young couple. But although mistaken the father was still mindful of God. Today, on the other hand, most people believe there is no relationship between personal misfortune, or natural calamity, and moral wrongdoing, or sin. The reason for this is that ours is a post-Christian era in which "sin is a concept which belongs entirely to the religious realm."1

Man’s vertical, or religious, orientation has almost vanished. Rather than speak about sin, with its implications of moral accountability, we use expressions such as estrangement, alienation, isolation, lostness, maladjustment, meaninglessness, and brokenness. We tend to blame heredity, social conditions, ignorance, and particularly economics, for personal delinquency and crime. Moderners hardly ever interpret their plight with any reference to a personal Creator and Upholder of a moral universe. Man’s scapegoat is seldom self. But as John R. W. Scott says: ‘The problem of evil is located in man himself, not merely in his society."2

The apostle Paul and Luther, among others, had a keen awareness of a personal God and their accountability to Him. When Paul was smitten blind on the Damascus road, his thoughts turned instantly to God and he cried out: ‘‘What shall I do, Lord?’’ (Acts 22:10). Even after his conversion Paul called himself the foremost of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15).

While Luther was in the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt, his constant cry was How can I find a gracious God?" The Reformers, and theologians up to our time, spoke of sin. But today the zeitgeist, or the spirit of the age, is vastly different; we are living in a new intellectual and spiritual climate from which God is largely absent.

Paul, the foremost of sinners,’’ found Jesus and salvation on the Damascus road. The despairing Augustinian monk Luther discovered a gracious God in the Pauline teaching of justification by faith.

When using the term justification, we apply it to sinners. Justification presupposes criminality, or sin. There is no need for justification or salvation apart from wrongdoing. Nor can there he any appreciation of a gracious God without awareness of personal wrongdoing and sin. A defective concept of sin inevitably leads to a lack of appreciation of justification and salvation. In order to understand and appreciate justification, or pardon for sin, we must first have a realization of what sin is. After all, what is sin and how did we become sinners?

It goes back to Eden. When God created Adam and Eve, He endowed them with free moral choice. They possessed the ability either of obeying or disobeying their Maker. This is evident from the instruction He gave them concerning the fruit of the tree of knowledge: You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Gen. 2:16, 17). Adam and Eve were acquainted with God’s will, but they were not captives to it. They could depart from it. And departure from God’s will is sin.

The ability to make independent choices is part of God’s own nature. And He gave this remarkable faculty to Adam and Eve, fully aware of its ultimate cost: His own Son’s life on Calvary’s cross. But He did it because He longed for the fellowship with beings that were somewhat like Himself. Not robots that would automatically do as He desired, but intelligent, free-willed beings, capable of thinking, deciding, and acting volitionally, who would love Him and choose His company and way.

Satan knew that the fair couple in God’s garden possessed freedom of moral choice. This, he thought, might be the linchpin in turning their affections and allegiance from God to himself, And "Adam was to be tested, to see whether he would be obedient, as the loyal angels, or disobedient. If he stood the test, his instruction to his children would have been only of loyalty."3

He and his descendants’ trust relationship to God would have resulted in their highest development, since ‘higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness—godlikeness—is the goal to he reached."4 Rebellion, on the other hand, would result in disaster and ultimate death. To achieve his goal, Satan subtly wooed Eve to go against God’s will by choosing to eat of the forbidden fruit.

Adam’s decision to follow Eve’s example, to deliberately act contrary to God’s will arid obey Satan, was decisively fatal (see I Tim. 2:14). "When man [Adam] transgressed the divine law, his nature became evil, and he was in harmony, and not at variance, with Satan. There exists no enmity between sinful man and the originator of sin. Both became evil through apostasy."5

Through the misuse of his God-given free moral agency, Adam became carnal in nature and locked mankind into slavery to Satan. "The outlook of the lower nature is enmity with God" (Roan 8:7, NEB), or "the carnal attitude is inevitably opposed to the purpose of God" (Phillips).

In the service of God, Adam had been free to choose his allegiance. By obeying Satan he jumped, as it were, with all his posterity, from freedom under God into slavery to Satan (see Rom. 6:16; 2 Peter 2:19). Adam’s sin affected all mankind.

Man’s position in sin is something like that of nations under the Brezhnev doctrine: Democratic or independent nations are free to choose to convert to Communist but when they have once chosen to adopt the Communistic system of government they lose the right to leave the Communistic fold and reconvert to a democratic system of government.

By violating God’s will, Adam and Eve passed from potential immortality to sinful mortality. They bore children after their kind—mortal, with carnal and evil natures, enemies of God. Their firstborn, Cain, let his carnal nature rule him; he cherished feelings of rebellion against God and resented that the curse resulting from Adam’s sin had passed upon him and the human race. Abel, on the other hand, chose to be born again. He followed the promptings of God’s Spirit and manifested "a spirit of loyalty to God; he saw justice and mercy in the Creator’s dealings with the fallen race, and gratefully accepted the hope of redemption."6

Cain, a slave of Satan; Abel, a man under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Through only physical birth man has ever since been the slave of Satan, and his own evil desires and appetites."7 In Ephesians 2 Paul discusses man’s slavish helplessness in sin. He says that all the unregenerate, like the Ephesians before they came to Jesus, were spiritually dead. and followed the desires and imaginings of our [their] lower nature, being in fact under the wrath of God by nature, like everyone else" (Eph. 2:1-3, Phillips).

Mankind’s slavery to Satan does not imply that every person is continuously in visible rebellion against God. "Nature will lay buried a great time," said Francis Bacon, "and yet revive upon the occasion, or temptation" But enmity toward God and His will lies always latent within every unconverted person. When sudden violence erupted at the European Cup final in Brussels on May 29, 1985, between the fans of a British soccer team and those of an Italian team, leaving people dead. Roger Rosenblatt commented: "People are brimming with cyclones ready to spin into fury."8

Without the new birth, every person born into the world is irretrievably lost for eternity, since he is by temperament an enemy of God. This is the reason Jesus presented us with the imperative: "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).

All of us "must be born anew" (verse 7), as was Abel, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13), "not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Peter 1:23). Every genuine Christian has experienced this rebirth. Through such regeneration or conversion the sinner has "come to share the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4, TEV). "In Christ he becomes a new person altogether- the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new" (2 Cor. 5:17, Phillips). For the first time in his life, the converted person has "the same attitude that Christ Jesus had" (Phil. 2:5, Goodspeed). This attitude prompted Jesus always to say, "I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40:8).

Unlike all other human beings, Jesus had this attitude from His very birth in Bethlehem, since at His physical birth into this world He was born by the Spirit (see Luke 1:35). Jesus was physically horn ‘born again," while yon and I "must he horn again" (John 3:7, KJV).

Natural man rebels against God in attitude, thought, word, and deed. And this is sin. Sin is therefore not always an act. Too often we limit sin, or opposition to God, only to wrong deeds or words. But in the parable of the great separation (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus enumerated no overt wrong acts committed by those designated as goats. They were not rejected for having performed wrong deeds or spoken unseemly words. They had one nothing wrong, but they had sinned because they had differed from God in motive and attitude.

A confusion as to what constitutes sin or makes a sinner springs from the altogether too prevalent concept that only acts of sin constitute sin. But sinful deeds or words are symptoms of sin rather than themselves being intrinsic sin. They are expressions of an attitude of mental or spiritual departure from God’s will. This is inward evil, or the essence of sin.

Sin is basically relational. Sin is anything which breaks a man’s fellowship with God and causes a separation between man and God."9

We sin when we rupture our God-intended, intimate union or fellowship with Him. And fellowship with God, as Watchman Nee perceptively observes, exists only when a person will is "united with God’s."10

Sin is not merely ethics, consisting in the violation of a code of law. It is rather religious, consisting in departure from God. Norman H. Snaith says that sin is "theofugal,"11

a moving away from God. It is therefore correct, as someone has said, that sin is more than a question of breaking God’s law; it is a question of breaking God’s heart. Adam and Eve did that when they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, then ran and hid in the bowers of the ancient garden; the prodigal did the same when he left home.

Sin resides in the mind and manifests itself in one’s choices. Thus "it is not the greatness of the act of disobedience that constitutes sin, hut the fact of variance from God’s expressed will in the least particular."12

When we give our allegiance to someone other than God, we sin. We may give it to self by exalting self and our ways above God’s will and way. In the garden Adam and Eve chose their own way rather than God’s when they ate of the forbidden fruit (see Gen. 3:1-7). In this way they sinned.

We may sin simply by cherishing feelings that are not in harmony with God’s will. "The law of God takes note of the jealousy, envy, hatred malignity, revenge, lust, and ambition that surge through the soul.13

As long as we vary from God’s will in any respect, we are sinning. And "we have turned every one to his own way" (Isa. 53:6). In other words, we are all sinners.

Sin, or departure from God and His will, did not originate on this earth. It originated in heaven, in the very presence of God. The highest of the angels, Lucifer, the light bearer, an intelligent sinless, moral being, misused his free moral choice and concocted sin. The prophet Isaiah speaks of him, under the symbol of the king of Babylon, as saying: "I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High" (Isa. 14:13, 14). In aspiring to equality with God. Lucifer made his own choice apart from the will of God.

No one can make our moral choices for us. God will never coerce us to choose His way anymore than He coerced Lucifer and Adam and Eve. He will respect each individual’s choice, although it be contrary to His will. He curtails His omnipotence in order to give intelligent, free-willed, moral beings, which you and I are, an area in which to operate. Jesus put His life on the block and finally gave it to guarantee each person the inalienable right of free moral choice.

The greatness that God had in mind for man at his creation is evidenced by man’s moral freedom. And man manifests his virtue and nobility by his refusal to depart from God’s will. Only in such a way will a person become truly great. Such greatness, with virtue and nobility, the redeemed will attain. Temptation is therefore not a penalty for being a moral being, hut is rather the badge of the glory and honor of being free moral beings.

Today we do not stand before the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as did Adam and Eve. But the battle for the will is constantly reenacted, and the same question stares every one of us in the face: Will we obey God’s word to us, or will we yield our wills to the archenemy, as did Adam and Eve?

The answer to that question is solely yours; it is solely mine. By yielding their wills to Satan, Adam and Eve became his associates in rebellious departure from their God and Creator.

The will is the beachhead to the control of the whole person. Whoever controls the will controls the person. "This is the governing power in the nature of marl, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will."14

Everyone horn into the world—from genius to moron, and all persons in between—lives under the imperious demand that the faculty of free choice imposes on him—that of deciding where he will turn his will. From this constant demand there is no respite. The demand for decisions constantly assails us. God Himself laid this awesome responsibility upon our original forebears, Adam and Eve, and through them upon us.

The battle between moral right and wrong is the battle for every person’s soul. This involves the will—whether one is willing to place it on the side of God, under the guidance of His Word and the Holy Spirit, or keep it under one’s own unsanctified control.

Both righteousness and sin pivot on the use of one’s will and personal choice. Sin, or departure from God, is nothing hut the misuse of our free moral choice, the greatest gift that God gave to sin-free Adam, and Eve. Most sin arises from self-assertion, or self-will, and a turning away from trusting God and His way. Sin is not a virus rampant in the body, although it is often stumbled into by the mind’s submission to the clamorings of the body tinder a perverse will.

Oscar P. Blackwelder writes in the The Interpreter’s Bible: "Consider what happens to the moral life if the flesh is considered evil or the source of evil. The real issue is the question of control. Who is in control, the Spirit or the flesh? The seat of evil and of good is not in the flesh, but in the will,"15

"The flesh is not the seat or center of sin; the control is in man’s will. The flesh becomes sinful when it is given the upper hand The question is, Who is in command? When the flesh or natural body is under the direction of the mind, and that mind is saturated with the mind of Christ, we are sowing to the Spirit, and shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. When such a relationship does not exist, we are sowing to the flesh, and the harvest is corruption."16

The battle for the will stretches from Eden in the past to the very end of time. The first Adam, under the intriguing enticement of his charming wife, Eve, was seduced and yielded his will to Satan’s bidding. In the wilderness temptation Satan tried to lure Jesus, the second Adam, to depart from His Father’s will. But Jesus never wavered in His loyalty to His Father. Close to the end of His life Jesus could affirm His oneness with His Father by saying: ‘The ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me" (John 14:30). In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before His death, Jesus again showed His union with His Father when He prayed: "Not my will, but thine, he done" (Luke 22:44). Although Jesus did not enjoy the prospect of death at 33, He would die rather than sever His fellowship with His Father.

Today you and I do not stand before the tree of knowledge, as did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But the battle for the will is nevertheless reenacted in us. Today and every new day the same question stares everyone in the face: Will we follow the example of Jesus and obey God’s word to me, or will I follow Adam’s example and be disloyal to my God, and thereby sin?

Each of us holds in his hand the remarkable gift that God Himself gave to our sin-free first parents on Creation’s morning: free moral choice! And over this the battle still rages.


1 Gustav Aulen, The Faith of the Christian Church, by Eric H. Wahlstrom, Trans. (Philadelphia: The Muhlenherg Press, 1960), p. 231: [back]

2 John R. W. Stott, Basic Christianity (London: InterVarsity Press, 1958), p. 62. [back]

3 The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953-1957), vol. 1, p. 1082. [back]

4 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1952), p. 18. [back]

5 _______, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 505. [back]

6 _______, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,1913), p. 71 [back]

7 The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 542. [back]

8 Time, June 10, 1985, p. 37. [back]

9 Harry Johnson, The Humanity of the Saviour (London: Epworth Press, 1962), p. 26 [back]

10 Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1968), Vol. III, p. 75. [back]

11  Norman H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (New York: Schocken Books, 1973), p. 60 [back]

12  Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1943), p. 51. [back]

13  _______, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), book 1, p. 217. Cf. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 310. [back]

14  _______, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 47. [back]

15  The Interpreter’s Bible (New York/Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1953), vol. 10, pp. 563, 564. [back]

16  Ibid., p. 581. [back]

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