If I Make Right Choices, I Will Grow Spiritually
“Christian” Beliefs that Can Drive You Crazy – Part 5
False Assumption — If I Make Right Choices, I Will Grow Spiritually
“Just Say No!” advised the popular drug-education program. The sponsors thought that just saying no was the answer to the drug problem. Other people have held the same philosophy about other problems—anger, lust, depression, addiction. If we have problems, they say, we’re merely making wrong choices. What we need to do to correct the situation, they say, is to understand what the right choices are, then make them.
If you truly believe this, life becomes pretty simple. All you need to know is what is right, and then do it. Knowledge and willpower become the tools of spiritual growth. The cause of spiritual growth, then, is making right choices.
This crazymaker sounds Christian. Indeed, the Bible has much to say about choice. Joshua encouraged the Israelites to choose: “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Certainly we have no problem with Joshua’s laying out the choices. We do need to choose whom we will serve—and that choice has eternal significance. The problem is that the spiritual life is not that simple. Spiritual growth, or sanctification, does not end the day we choose God.
There are a multitude of choices in daily life. You choose to diet, but three months later you are twenty pounds heavier. You choose to stay calm, yet you go berserk when your spouse gives away the punch line of your joke. You choose to stay sexually pure, yet you can’t help sleeping around. You choose to have a consistent prayer time, but you can’t get up in the morning.
“Just Say No” has failed because the doctrine that willpower is the answer is a human doctrine, not a biblical one. Willpower fails. With the best of intentions we choose one thing (as an act of the will) and then do the opposite. Instead of just saying no, we experience what the apostle Paul did: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).
So this crazymaker says, “If I make right choices, I will grow spiritually.” If making right choices is our only hope, then we are indeed hopeless. Paul’s experience and our own reveal our inability to “just say no.”
Why Doesn’t It Work?
Our mind, soul, and heart are often in conflict with one another, and we do not like to face conflict within ourselves. We may know what is right and what our values are; but in our hearts are deep loves and affections for things and people that are contrary to our values. For this reason, the Bible always calls for change from the inside out, not just making right choices.
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). As hard as the bad tree tries to bear good fruit, it cannot. This is what can happen to Christians who try to choose good fruit, but have not faced the bad aspects of their heart. Jesus gave a better answer than the “make right choices” model; he called for character change: “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit…The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matthew 12:33, 35).
Internal character dictates what we ultimately choose to do. If we have problems in our heart, no amount of trying to make right choices will produce good fruit in us. We must deal with the things that are on the inside and driving our choices.
How Then Do We Grow?
If making right choices cannot ensure spiritual growth in us, then how do we grow? First of all, realize that choice is necessary but not sufficient for growth. Spiritual growth is always a combination of choosing the good, gaining the support and strength to do it, and dealing with the bad.
Equally important to our choices is submitting ourselves to God and to his church for support, and absorbing his Word and his truth. Through relationships we forge in the body of Christ, we must confess the deep aspects of our heart. We must learn to depend on God’s Spirit to discover what is choking our spiritual growth. We must dig around inside the root system of the tree to remove what is choking its growth. And then we must practice what we are learning (Hebrews 5:14).
Bad Out, Good In
Spiritual growth is both cultivating the good and weeding out the bad. To make right choices, most of us do one or the other—cultivate the good or weed the bad. We usually work only on one side.
The Bible says we must take care of both sides of the problem. Only then will we be able to sustain good choices. We must add what good things we need as well as uncover the bad things—both internal and external—and turn from them.
People who try to stop eating, for example, will fail precisely because they deal with only one side. Without food, they feel the isolation driving their lust for food. They try to say no to the bad (overeating) without replacing it with something good (deep relationship with people that would end the isolation).
When people say no to drugs, they begin feeling the pain that they tried to cover up with the drugs. Whey people stop acting out sexually, they get depressed because they have to face the inner emptiness and pain that was driving the sexual behavior. If all they do is make the right choice—to stop the behavior—they leave themselves in misery. They are unable to sustain the choice simply because the driving motivation is still there. The need drives the lust.
The apostle Peter says that “since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude” (1 Peter 4:1). We need to prepare for the suffering to come when we stop bad behavior. Yet God does not leave us there. He wants us to fill the needs that are driving the lusts. He wants to provide for us through the grace of his people. He does not want us to give up one thing without replacing it with another.
Spiritual Growth Leads to Right Choices
Earlier in this article, we saw how the false assumption of making right choices is often held up as the cause of spiritual growth. But now, we better understand that making right choices is a result of spiritual growth. The ability to make right choices is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
When our theology tells us we can make the right choices, we know we’re being prideful. We are unable to save ourselves, Jesus said—unable to do the right thing. He told us to own the fact that we are poor in spirit, which means we are unable to do what is right. To admit this is humility—which is simply surrendering our assumption that we can make right choices. We admit our spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3), recognize that we can neither save ourselves (Matthew 16:25) nor be perfected through the power of the will or human effort (Galatians 3:3). God must transform us.
What Choices Can We Make?
Since we cannot make the choices we want to make, what choices can we make? We can choose to:
- Confess our sins
- Give up the notion that we can save ourselves
- Submit our inability to God
- Ask for help in searching for our faults
- Take account of our needs and let others meet them
- Make amends
- Invest and practice talents
- Seek God
- Seek truth
- Love one another
All these choices assume weakness and humility. They focus not on being good, but on working out problems. These choices will succeed, where trying to be good will fail. These choices are based on our sinfulness and inadequacy, not on our goodness or ability to make godly choices. These choices will produce spiritual growth that bears the fruit of self-control and the ability to make right choices.
Therefore, instead of trying harder to make right choices, surrender your inability to God—become humble, unable—and ask him to begin the process of spiritual growth in you. As you begin to do the hard work of spiritual growth, he will begin reproducing his life in you through the process of internal change. As you cooperate with his pruning and cultivating of your character, you will produce fruit in your season.
Taken from 12 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy, © Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend, Zondervan
199512 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy helps you find relief from 12 false assumptions that are commonly believed. Drs. Cloud & Townsend explain the origin of these false principles, show where they go wrong, and pressent a biblical path for resolving emotional and spiritual problems.
This article is Part 5 in a series of Feature Articles adapted from 112 “Christian” Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy.
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