I Want To, But I Can’t

“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what’s best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary…..I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.” Romans 7: 15-20 Message version

What we have here is Paul’s assessment of the human condition when we try living rightly without God’s Spirit. Paul, who glimpsed heaven and is one of the most admired Jesus followers, faced this bitter dilemma within his own human nature. He did what he didn’t want to do, and didn’t do the things he wanted to do. And can’t we relate? What are we to make of this though? If Paul knew his nature to be capable of this, how can we ever hope to gain control of our human nature?

Paul’s solution is Jesus, of course. Paul’s point is that we can’t resolve it with rules, but only by relying on the Spirit. Later in the chapter he says: “Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” (verses 24-25 MSG). Of course, we know that Jesus is the answer. One day, we will be changed in the blink of an eye, and we will no longer be a slave to these competing desires. And Jesus helps us now, too, in that loving Him changes us and changes our values – Romans 8 is an exposition on how we can have victory through the Spirit.

And yet, here we are. As long as we are in these bodies, we are going to experience this paradox that Paul faced – even though we so often pretend we don’t. It’s true that we can have success in right living when we live our life connected to God’s Spirit, but so often when someone is struggling with sin, we say something that sounds like “you just need more of Jesus”. And that’s totally true – and yet if someone is struggling, it’s often because there is a barrier in their lives that thwarts their ability to live rightly. When we say “you need more Jesus” we imply that they just aren’t trying hard enough or there is something wrong with them because they can’t access the Spirit in their struggle. There may be real and complex reasons why a barrier exists.

I think counseling can help us with this, and I personally believe that exploring this human compulsion can be both sanctioned and directed by God’s Spirit in cooperation with a competent counselor. I think it’s helpful to explore why I do the things I don’t want to do. Let’s take a man who was told by his father he’d never amount to anything. So now he’s caught in a gambling addiction and he doesn’t understand his compulsion to do the thing he despises. It’s partly true that we’re prone to addiction because of our human condition. But it’s also true that in counseling he might discover that his drive to “amount to something” compels him to try to make money in any way possible to prove his father wrong. The problem might not actually be that he doesn’t love Jesus enough, or isn’t trying hard enough, but that the beliefs he’s been given drown out who he really is, and who he could be in connection with God’s Spirit.

Do you do things you don’t want to do? Or find yourself unable to do the things you know you need to do? I would encourage you to explore these things in the office of a professional counselor, who can help you unwind the messages you’ve been given throughout your life; who can help you cling to truth and discard fear and doubt. Will you still struggle until the day Jesus returns? Yes, you sure will. But what if you could struggle less?

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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One thought on “I Want To, But I Can’t

  1. I want to but I can’t. These words ring so true for me. I can totally relate to the idea that all we need is a little more Jesus. I understand what it means to try hard and fail. I have been frustrated and discouraged by my inability to access strength available through the Holy Spirit.

    I know now, Paul is speaking to believers in this passage. I wrestled with this verse and others like it for a long time. Wrestling to understand scripture is not a bad thing, but for me this passage became confusing.

    Unless one is a believer, this verse doesn’t make sense or can’t be applied appropriately. I struggled trying to access power that I couldn’t access until I was saved.

    I just think its important not to make assumptions that anyone is saved. I’m not saying to judge or decide whether someone is or isn’t, but this could be one of the reasons a barrier exists. It was for me.

    I have already shared how incredibly valuable and life changing counseling has been for me. So it’s a given. I am a huge fan of seeking outside help, but there’s still more to consider.

    It’s not wise, necessary or safe to tell everyone, everything. In fact, many issues are probably best handled by someone trained to deal effectively with them. Although many people have expressed to me, if there was something going on, and they needed outside help, they would get it. What happens with all the people who are struggling but don’t believe they need professional help?

    I mentioned last time that I have little tolerance for someone whose struggle I do not share. While I understand and am better able to come alongside someone whose struggle, I share.

    While the suggestion that I need a little more Jesus is always true, sometimes we need more people help too. Does God miraculously heal? Well, He sure can! However, its been my experience God uses the people in my life to walk with me, encourage and help me.

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