Chapter 5

The War of the Wills

From the booklet How to Be an Overcomer
By Gerald Flurry

In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul describes a war of the wills that caused him a great deal of grief.

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18). Paul had human will to build godly character and to overcome. But even though his human will desired it, he couldn’t do it.

The human will cannot build spiritual character.

“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (verses 19-21). Paul was shaken by this dilemma. He had an important spiritual lesson yet to learn in order to make some necessary changes in his life.

“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin” (verses 22-25). This really was a war between two opposing wills.

Paul was a highly educated man. He had a strong will, and he had learned for years to rely on that human will to do just about anything he wanted. But now he had to stop relying on it because that human will cannot overcome spiritually. In Romans 7, we read how Paul didn’t always see that like he needed to.

How well do you understand this lesson? If you are not overcoming, chances are you need to grasp this more deeply.

A Confusing Statement

In the September 1966 Good News, an article about this passage of Scripture appeared. I believe it gives us insight into why many of the Laodiceans failed after Herbert W. Armstrong died!

In that article, Raymond McNair wrote that the human will was not sufficient in itself to enable Paul to overcome. That is a confusing statement. I think it reveals a lot about why the Laodiceans had such problems.

The human will is human, and it cannot build godly character. It is of the man. Godly character is of God.

How many people were confused on this point in the Worldwide Church of God? I don’t think many of them understood this clearly. Certainly the human will plays a big role, which I will show you. But it cannot overcome as God tells us to overcome evil.

In Romans 7, Paul was experiencing a real trauma. He truly wanted to overcome. What am I going to do? I’m not overcoming! he cried. His experience was a disaster. He realized he wasn’t approaching it the right way at all. Oh, wretched man that I am! How am I going to be saved? Who is going to save me from this body of death? And he went on to say, God will do that.

Romans 8:14 shows us how we are to approach this situation: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Notice: We must be led and empowered by the Spirit of God, and through God’s inspiration, the human will must choose to follow that Holy Spirit. The human will plays a key role in our building of character because there would be no character without it. But we must be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Mr. McNair’s statement makes it sound like the human will can get you partway there in developing godly character, but it is “not sufficient in itself” and needs the addition of the Holy Spirit to complete the process of overcoming. That is terribly incorrect! We must never make the mistake of thinking, I have the human spirit and I have God’s Spirit; I can do a lot of this on my own. If we do that, we will not produce the character God says we must have. Our human will must use the Holy Spirit to overcome.

‘Both to Will and to Do’

Notice this powerful statement Paul made some time after he wrote the epistle to the Romans: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

In Romans, Paul willed it, but it wasn’t God’s will. That is why his efforts were getting him nowhere spiritually.

Here in Philippians, he says God works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure—to overcome! Paul had learned that we must have both God’s will and God’s power working in us in order to produce real spiritual fruit. It is God’s will in us that makes it possible for us to do—to fulfill His will, His purpose and His good pleasure. You can’t do that with something human!

Understand: The human will plays its key role in making certain that we can build character because God cannot do it by fiat. He must have our support. Still, that human will cannot overcome or build godly character. We must always remember that.

What can you do with the human will? What can any human being do to build character that will prepare him or her for the Kingdom of God? It takes a lot more power than human will can provide. Here God says that both of these—the willing and the doing—are done by God, through the power of His Holy Spirit.

Herbert W. Armstrong understood this truth. In a sermon on September 24, 1983, Mr. Armstrong said this: “Now you and I have a part in our creation as we ultimately are to become, brethren. We have a great part in it. But don’t forget that we are a work of God’s hands. His creation is going on in us, but we have our part in it, and yet the character that is to come into us comes from God!” (emphasis mine throughout). The character comes from God, not from any human will!

He then said, “It’s God’s character, which must come into us. But it must come with our consent, with our desire, with our will and willingness; and we have to will ourselves and have the willpower to go that way and go that way constantly.” God cannot instill His character in us without our consent. We must set our will to allow Him to perform that spiritual creation within us.

Later in that sermon, Mr. Armstrong talked about Lucifer’s creation as described in Ezekiel 28. Lucifer was perfect as God created him, “till iniquity was found in thee” (verse 15). “Now, that iniquity [or lawlessness] didn’t come from God,” Mr. Armstrong explained. “God didn’t create that in him. But God can’t create perfect character by fiat! The independent entity, the created entity, has to make a decision and have its own part in that creation and in that decision, or there can be no character.”

In other words, the human will has to take and use the Spirit of God. It has to be willing to support God’s Spirit. Then, it is the use of that Spirit that causes us to grow spiritually. The Holy Spirit doesn’t overcome by itself. A human being must get behind and let God inspire the human will to use that Spirit to build the very character of God!

In order to progress spiritually, we must be led by the Holy Spirit of power, and really use that Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take over—we must use it. And if we let God work in us, real spiritual growth will take place! Daily we have to overcome with God’s Spirit! The inner man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).

You can’t really give your life to God, build the character of God and do the Work of God until you have the Spirit. Even when it is working with you, that is not enough. It must be in you and empower you, or you don’t get the job done. You don’t will and do. You may will, but you don’t do what God wants you to do or achieve what He wants you to achieve.

In our concert series in Armstrong Auditorium, we strive to showcase “the best of the human spirit”—some of the finest artistic achievement a human being is capable of apart from God. That can be very uplifting—and it does point back to the Creator of that spirit, and of human beings. But look what the human spirit can do when it is led by the Holy Spirit! Then God is able to re-create Himself spiritually within a human being—create His very character—create another God!

‘By My Spirit’

Zechariah 4:6 describes a lesson Mr. Armstrong learned that I don’t think the Laodiceans ever really learned. This is in some ways the essence of what Mr. Armstrong was all about; it tells you why he was so successful. But how many of the Laodiceans talked about this, even when Mr. Armstrong was alive? They failed to learn this deeply, and they went down quickly after Mr. Armstrong was gone.

“Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power [nor by human will], but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”

If you want to know why Mr. Armstrong was so effective and so powerful in God’s Work, this is the reason! Unlike Paul in Romans 7, Mr. Armstrong knew that he could not do the Work of God by human power, human talent or human will. He could only do it “by my Spirit”! God’s Work is not done by human will.

We have to realize that we cannot do anything of ourselves, or we will end up lamenting like Paul: “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). He had a lot of human will! But that can’t save anybody. Godly character is not created by human will at all.

I think the Laodiceans became arrogant and attributed the power to overcome to their own human will. “The human will was not sufficient in itself to enable him to overcome,” Mr. McNair wrote. That clearly implies that the human will has some capacity to conquer evil and build godly character. It does not!

Mr. McNair’s statement might have reflected ignorance of God’s Word—or possibly arrogance and reliance on self-will! When I read that, I just thought, There’s something not right about the way that is expressed. If there is anything we have to get right, it is this! We must get this right!

What caused all those Laodiceans to make such a horrifying mistake? Mr. Armstrong didn’t make it, and they had his example. Something must have been wrong with the thinking of those men near the top. They thought, We can do a lot of this ourselves, working with the Spirit of God. But Paul taught us, No, you can’t accomplish anything spiritual with that human will. Zechariah 4:6 tells you the same thing. It’s not by any kind of human effort that you conquer and overcome. The human will and the human effort is what you use to follow the Holy Spirit, and then use it! But it is the power of God, the Holy Spirit of God, that does the good deeds.

When you look at the fruits, it seems Mr. McNair’s statement gets to the heart of their problem. After Mr. Armstrong died, we saw so many of those Church leaders do terrible things and follow along with the abominable changes that were taking place. Even when they disagreed with some of the changes, they still didn’t walk with God, and they didn’t build the character of God because they didn’t use the Holy Spirit like Mr. Armstrong did.

Zechariah 4:6 makes it so clear that if we are going to get this job done, it is going to be by the Holy Spirit, the power of God! It takes God and His power to do the Work of God. How deeply Mr. Armstrong learned this lesson!

Think about what Zechariah 4:6 is saying: It’s about God re-creating Himself! How could the human will do such a thing? God is creating a God out of you! That process is going on right now; it is the purpose of our calling! God is creating God! Only God can do that! How could a human being ever create God? Imagine Mr. McNair saying, “Paul’s human will was not sufficient in itself to enable him to create a God being.” That’s silly to even think. But sometimes we don’t think deeply enough about what this is really about: actually letting God re-create Himself in each one of us!

It staggers the imagination to realize what we are a part of. You are going through the process of God creating Gods to be in His Family. It knocks you over when you think about that for a while! Never take that for granted: Always keep gaining a deeper understanding of that, or you could fall away from it.

And never forget how that process is done. Only God can re-create Himself! Human will has to be led by the Holy Spirit and participate in it, because God can’t do it by fiat. But it’s all done by God! It’s all done by the power of God’s Holy Spirit. With our human will and our human effort, we just have to make sure we are submitting to and following the Spirit.

Even when you look at what has happened since Mr. Armstrong died, you still see those people not willing to really turn to God. After all, God is still alive and is doing a Work. Yet the Laodiceans are not doing anything of any real importance. Why? Because so much of it is by their human will.

It can be a deadly problem to think, I can do this, along with God’s Holy Spirit. That isn’t the way Paul talked about it. He was relying on that human will, and then realized, I can’t do anything with my will! Our will has to be used the way God wants us to use it. God works in us, and it is God’s will that gets things done, and God’s Holy Spirit that accomplishes the job.

So many of those men seemed to understand so much. Frankly, they taught me a lot of what I know. What happened to them? Why are those men—even to this day—still hard and arrogant and self-willed? This is a crisis of tremendous magnitude! Those people left God and destroyed God’s Work, or participated in that destruction in some way. Most of God’s people in this age are in a terrible spiritual condition.

Meanwhile, God is doing a phenomenal, inspiring, encouraging Work through this Church! For all these years, this Work has been a shining light on a hill. Yet they won’t come to God! God is here—yet they are not. Why? Because they are relying on that human will and not on God’s will. They’re not using the power of the Spirit to overcome that stubbornness and rebellion!

Think about how powerful Mr. Armstrong was in doing what he did and you will see the big difference in what he understood and what the Laodiceans understand, even to this day. They don’t get Zechariah 4:6. If they did, they would be where God’s Work is! If a person really understood that verse, what would ever stop him from following God?

We have to make sure we are not hard like that, and that we overcome that hardness with the power of God’s Spirit.

The Will of the Father

Jesus Christ said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). How much are you really doing the will of the Father in your life, even in the smallest areas?

Can you do the will of your Father in heaven with human effort? Can you help build the eternal Family of God by human talent? Absolutely not. Now, you have to cooperate with God in doing it; that’s where the character comes in. But still, it is God’s Spirit that does it and that empowers us to do it.

The night before His crucifixion, Christ prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). He was empowered to do God’s will, but His constitution was really shaken. If the Father had said, Ok, let’s forget about it, His master plan couldn’t have been carried out. If Christ had gotten His own will at that terrible time of trial, none of us could be here! That is how important this is!

“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). God says we have to understand His will. Human will isn’t going to save anyone. But some people seem to think it is a great aid to God’s Holy Spirit.

What is God’s will? We have to learn it! We don’t know it by instinct. We learn it from the Bible and the instruction God provides through His Church. Some people let down in Bible study or in attendance at services or Church-sponsored Bible studies, thinking they don’t really need them all that much. Which will is behind that kind of reasoning? Is that God’s will? God’s will is that we are “[n]ot forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25)—and the signs of that day approaching are all around us!

Just being in God’s Church does not guarantee that we will know God’s will. We must be zealous in coming to understand the will of God, or we will understand it imperfectly.

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). That is the will we must understand and prove that we have in our minds. That means thinking about Church Bible studies and everything else the way God does. We have to say, I want God’s will—I don’t want my will! We have to study and listen and learn everything we can about His will, and learn to love what He loves, follow where He leads, hate what He hates, grow excited about what excites Him. On so many specific points, it really gets down to you understanding and doing what the will of God is through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is what we all ought to be striving to do. We have to grow always in proving what is the perfect will of God.

Willing to Do Satan’s Will

In the May 1980 Plain Truth, Mr. Armstrong gave this definition: “This perfect spiritual character is the ability of a separately created entity with mind and free moral agency to come to the knowledge of the right as opposed to the wrong, to decide and will to do the right, even against desires or pulls to do the wrong, and finally to overcome pulls toward the wrong until doing the right becomes fixed nature!” It becomes your fixed nature because you are using the Spirit of God. So the human will has to be used, but we have to know how to use it.

Mr. Armstrong continued: “But since the right way is simply God’s way—the way of God’s own character and the way of God’s law—and righteous and perfect spiritual character is God’s character, that character must actually come from God, but on the decision and will of the separate entity.

“Righteous and perfect spiritual character is God’s character, that character must come from God.” That character includes God’s will.

Notice how Mr. Armstrong concluded that statement: “but on the decision and will of the separate entity.” That means that we must decide and will humanly to follow God. That is how we are involved in the character building. However, even that decision and human will are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.

It is all about cooperating with God as He re-creates Himself in us. That can only be done by the Holy Spirit, which includes God’s will.

You would have to say that those Laodicean ministers, considering what they have done and continue to do, did not have enough of God’s will in their character. The fruits show that they have a lot of self-trust and self-will.

In Revelation 3:9, God prophesied about Satan setting up a “synagogue” within His Church in the Philadelphia era! If there can be a synagogue of the devil in God’s Church, that must mean this is really a battle over the wills! The battle is this: Which will are we going to follow? God’s will? Or human will, which worships Satan to one degree or another? (2 Corinthians 4:4). It ends up being one or the other—God’s will or Satan’s will.

Christ told some Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own [nature]: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). There is more depth here than would appear. This verse shows the battle between God’s will and the devil’s will and how it all works.

The Companion Bible says “you will do” should be simply “you will.” Word Studies in the New Testament says this of the expression “you will do”: “Wrong! Properly, you will to do.” Christ was telling those religious people, You will to do what Satan does! Those men actually had the will of the devil! After all, they were trying to kill Christ! Meanwhile, they were claiming that Abraham was their father. (They were descendants of Abraham physically, but not spiritually, verses 33, 39.) Christ said, Abraham didn’t try to kill me! (verses 37-40). He explained who He was, and that infuriated them more! These Jews had the WILL of the devil, and Christ was revealing that to them. He was asking them: Do you see what you’re doing? You say you believe in the Ten Commandments and “thou shalt not kill,” yet you are attempting to kill me—the I AM! That’s the will of the devil!

Worshiping Demons

Paul warned in Colossians 2:18: “Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of [demons] ….” Translators rendered that word “angels.” Surely it’s not worshiping of demons, they reasoned. You’re not supposed to worship angels either, but this verse is talking about worshiping demons. It is talking about an Antiochus-type man in the Church of God “intruding into those things which he [has] seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head …” (verses 18-19). This tragedy took place in God’s Church after Mr. Armstrong died. We saw it happen.

Paul says these people of God are worshiping demons! How can you explain that?

The passage goes on in verse 23 to say that some practices have “a [show] of wisdom in WILL worship.” People worship the will—but it isn’t the will of God; it is actually the human will. These people have it all mixed up! And they are really getting down to will worship—but not God’s will!

God’s own people learned from Mr. Armstrong “not by [human] might, nor by [human] power, but by my Spirit,” yet they didn’t get this right—and they have ended up worshiping demons! That is what Mr. McNair was doing! Something is terribly wrong when you’re a follower of God and then end up worshiping demons! That is the worst possible disaster! Fifty percent of the Laodiceans will never recover from it. That’s what we are dealing with when we talk about following the human will.

We must know how the human spirit is used and how God’s Spirit is used. Frankly, we also have to learn a lot about Satan’s spirit. He is the one deceiving God’s people.

The phrase “wisdom in will worship” is better translated “forced worship of demons.” Satan actually got them in a position where he could force them into his worship. God never forces you into this at all. He asks you to voluntarily get behind it, being led by the Holy Spirit and using that Spirit. God is love. Satan is hate. He forces people to worship his way because, in a lot of cases, they won’t do it unless they are forced.

Verse 8 talks about “the rudiments of the world”—which are ruling spirits, or demons. The Laodiceans are worshiping demons, the ruling spirits who wrecked the universe. The Church is under a demonic attack, and Mr. McNair and those ministers didn’t know it! How sad is that?

We must learn this deeply! We have to build within our minds the very will of God and the character of God! Then we will do of God’s good pleasure. We’ll do His Work. It takes massive effort to do that. We need to recognize how easy it is not to do it.

Worshiping the Will

Adolf Hitler once said, “What you tell people in the mass in a receptive state of fanatic devotion, will remain. Words received under a hypnotic influence are radical and impervious to every reasonable explanation.” He said this hypnotic influence is inexplicable.

He went on to say, “A new age of magic interpretation of the world is coming, of interpretation in terms of the will and not of intelligence.” This is what Hitler and Satan had in store for mankind: to be ruled by “a new age of magic interpretation.” It’s magic! It’s worshiping the will of the devil!

That is what the Laodiceans are doing! It’s not that hard to do—in fact, it is hard to avoid.

Christ said of Satan, “The truth is not in him.” That’s the way he is. The truth is not there! He speaks of his own nature—he has to lie! What a terrible problem when people end up worshiping that will: It is a satanic will, and it’s what Satan does when he gets a grip on human beings and on the human will!

Satan is working through human beings on this Earth by having them promote his will. Powerful people are implementing the will of the devil! That’s how dangerous this “will worship” can become. The devil has snares, Paul said, and there are people—even in the Church—“who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). What about people in the world? Satan can take many people captive any time he wants to.

Satan’s will is being used fiercely and with great speed in this world. His power is growing mightily today, as is the power of his deceptions. Satan loves to force things on people. The Bible prophesies of a time very soon when he will get control of a political leader who takes charge of Europe, and the will worship in this world will explode to new levels! All this is leading to an unparalleled crescendo of violence in this world!

“And in the latter time of their kingdom [the time we’re living in now], when the transgressors are come to the full [did you ever see so much sin and transgression in the world as there is today?], a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up” (Daniel 8:23). This is Satan’s man! He’s going to understand dark sentences. He will be into this magic interpretation and the worshiping of the will. Don’t worry about strong reasoning or intelligence; that’s not important. Just follow along. This goes beyond logic—this is magical! It is really about worshiping the devil! That is what it was all about with Hitler, and it is going to happen again!

This tyrant is going to kill God’s people! (verse 24). These saints relied on their human effort and will rather than on His power through the Holy Spirit—and as a result, God is going to make them stand up and be loyal to Him when they face death.

In the end though, this man’s success will be short-lived. Verse 25 tells us, “he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.” In the midst of all that horror, there is the most wonderful news you can imagine: Jesus Christ is about to return!

At that time, a spiritual nation will be born—a nation of people God has worked with, re-creating Himself in them so they actually have the mind and character of God! This experience we are going through is such a wonderful blessing. Even amid all the horrors in this world, what God is doing through us is so inspiring and uplifting! Everything about it points to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the expansion of God’s spiritual Family! Then the whole world will come to see God’s most exalted spiritual creation!

Continue Reading: Chapter 6: The Science of Spiritual Warfare