By Dan Delzell, Christian Post Contributor

Humans are physical, mental and spiritual beings, and our behavior and beliefs stem from a variety of sources. Adam and Eve were perfect when God created them, whereas you and I inherited a fallen nature from our parents (Psalm 51:5).

Can people voluntarily control their behavior and beliefs? For our behavior to be purely voluntary, it would require an environment devoid of the imperfect impulses of our sinful nature, (see Romans 7:14-20) and one lacking God’s perfect power and amazing grace.

I counseled a man years ago who had a cocaine addiction. The first time he used the drug was essentially a voluntary decision. In making this unwise choice, he relinquished a certain measure of self-control and began to experience intense cravings for this highly addictive white powder. He compared his desperation for more cocaine to a person under water needing to come up for air. I have never forgotten his compelling analogy.

The greater the indulgence, the stronger the addiction. And the stronger the addiction, the less voluntary the decision to give into it. “A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Peter 2:19). 

Another example involving human responses is that of the Christian life. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). Believers are led to live godly lives by the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, just as drunk people behave badly under the influence of alcohol (Ephesians 5:18). 

Some believers had the advantage of hearing and accepting the Gospel at an early age. My wife, Tammy, and I had the joy and privilege of leading our children into a loving relationship with Jesus. (See my recent CP op-ed titled, “Parents: Immerse Your Young Children in the Gospel.”) 

Many other Christians first heard the Gospel in their teens or twenties. They read Christian literature as they considered the message. Rather than closing their mind, they were led to seriously contemplate God’s Word. “The Holy Spirit says: ’Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’” (Hebrews 3:7).

If you would like to come under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, then “come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). God invites you to engage in the wholesome practice of meditating upon Scripture. (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:97-105; Colossians 3:16). 

Believers are instructed to remain close to Christ by trusting the Lord and making godly choices.

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Turning away from God, while largely voluntary, is prompted by sinful desires and wicked decisions. This explains why Peter instructed Christians to “abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

When we come under the control of a particular influence or ideology, we get caught up in the flow of that river.

For example, some women have felt pressured to get an abortion, only to experience even greater anxiety after the abortion. “One study found that 44% of respondents regretted their decision to get an abortion. Among their emotional symptoms, women in the study cited depression, feelings of loss, shame, and even negative feelings when they were around other babies. 42% of those women said the adverse psychological effects continued for 10 years or more.”

And a growing number of confused children and teens are deceived and led astray by transgender ideology.  A young woman described her gender dysphoria that prompted her to transition: “I think my gender issues came out of mental health, not the other way around … For the rest of my life, I will always be bewildered that this was allowed to happen. I was dealing with unaddressed trauma from sexual abuse. I needed therapy and help, not a bilateral mastectomy.”

What controls your behavior and beliefs today? Which direction is the river flowing in your life? “Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you” (Romans 8:8,9). 

Are you who you want to be, or is your life filled with shame, regret, and restlessness? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

The daily challenge of controlling our behavior and beliefs is ultimately resolved at the cross, where the Savior’s blood was poured out and his life sacrificed for our sins (1 Peter 3:18). God sent his only Son to be our Redeemer (John 3:16). You can either walk toward the cross in repentance and faith or run from God in rebellion and unbelief. 

If you are willing to surrender your life to Christ and to the control of the Holy Spirit, you could bring your sins to God today as you say this prayer: 

“Lord Jesus, please forgive my sins. I want to follow you. Teach me. Guide me. And most of all, wash me Jesus with your precious blood. I turn away from my sins. Please fill me with the power of the Holy Spirit. I now want to live under his control. Amen.”

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska. 

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