Being changed into the image of Jesus
Why You Are Stuck
God Knows We Fail
(taken from the book "I Will Give You Rest" by Edward Kurath)
"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do
not practice; but what I hate, that I do" (Romans 7:15).
These words haunt all of us. This is the common experience of all those who
are trying to please the Lord, who want to walk in His ways.
God knows that you continually fail, and He wants it to be different. He wants
so much to set you free from this bondage that He sent Jesus to make it
There is a clear and profound reason why we are all stuck doing what
we don't want to do, and I will now go on to explain why.
The Reality God Created
When God created the universe, He created it to operate in an orderly way in
accordance with unchangeable laws. There are three aspects, or realms, to
the reality we experience:
1. The physical
2. The spiritual
3. The psychological
The Physical Realm
We can all see the orderliness of the physical realm. The physical laws, such
as those of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, are unchangeable. We may
not fully understand them, and we may misapply them, but they still operate.
Since the New York Trade Center Towers fell in the terrorist attack, there are
studies going on to understand what was wrong with their design that
allowed them to fall. These studies are being done in order to see if we can
learn something that will prevent such collapses in buildings of the future.
We can learn how to prevent it because the laws of physics are constant.
There are no exceptions. Nobody thinks the Towers fell because something
went wrong with the laws of physics.
If I were to go onto the roof of my house, convinced that I can fly, flap my
arms really hard and step off the roof, I would make a discovery. I would then
discover myself lying on the ground with a broken leg. It wouldn’t matter
whether I knew about the law of gravity or not. It wouldn’t matter if I
understood it, or whether I agreed with it, or whether I believed in it. It wouldn’
t matter how much faith I had that gravity didn’t apply to me. My broken leg
wouldn't mean God was angry with me. I didn’t break God’s law, all I did was
demonstrate it. The law of gravity is constant. There are no exceptions.
The Spiritual Realm
The spiritual realm (another aspect of reality) is just as orderly as is the
physical realm, and it always operates according to unchangeable laws and
principles. God told us about these laws in the Bible. His commandments
are simply a description of how the spiritual realm operates. When He said
not to lie, He was saying, "Please don’t lie; because if you do, something bad
will happen to you." It is the same as God saying, “Please don’t step off the
roof, because something bad will happen if you do.” In the physical realm,
nobody ever defied the law of gravity. The spiritual realm is just as sure, and
so nobody ever gets away with anything. There is always a consequence.
The law of God always operates. Disobeying God’s warning is what we call
sin. When we sin, we will always reap harmful consequences. The
consequences are often less immediate and less easy to connect to our
specific misdeed than when we are reaping from physical laws, but they are
just as sure.
The Psychological Realm
The third aspect of reality is the psychological realm. The psychological
realm operates in accordance with our own powers and abilities. Habit
patterns, our intellect, and our own willpower are aspects of the
psychological realm. Our willpower has been given to us as a tool to manage
this psychological realm, and it has authority there. If I have a habit of
brushing my teeth without flossing, and I decide to start flossing, I can
generally succeed in doing so. I may forget from time to time, but eventually
the new habit pattern will be established. I experience victory.
We All Have Made A Huge Mistake
But we have made a huge mistake, because we have believed that our
willpower has authority in the spiritual realm. It is so natural to us, we do this
However, our willpower only has authority in the psychological realm. We
cannot overcome or defy the physical laws or spiritual laws with our
Our willpower is impotent in defying the laws of the physical realm, and it was
never given to us for this purpose. We cannot fly by flapping our arms. We
cannot lift a 500 pound weight. We discover that no matter how much we
want to lift it, we can't. We can will it, but we cannot perform it.
Our willpower is equally impotent in the spiritual realm, and it was
never given to us for this purpose. We discover this when we try to do a
spiritually impossible task, like obeying the laws of God. We discover that no
matter how hard we want to do the good that we ought to, we cannot. We
can "will" it, but we cannot perform it. O wretched man that I am (Romans 7:
24). Our failure to do the good that we want to do is not due to a lack of
willpower, it is due to our misunderstanding about reality. We are under the
illusion that we ought to be able to "will" it and thus do it.
It Is No Contest!
To imagine the relative power of our willpower and the operation of God’s
laws (the spiritual realm), picture an ant standing on a highway. A huge truck
is coming his way at full speed, and the ant thinks he can stop the truck by
standing up and blocking its movement with his body.
The ant's degree of failure is at the same level as our failure to stop the
operation of God’s laws with our own willpower! Yet we have been under the
delusion that we can do so. And much worse, we think that God has
expected us to be able to do so!
We Have Been Misled
Unfortunately, we have often been led into striving by teachings that imply
that we are supposed to be able to live up to the higher standards, as
delineated in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, Chapter 5. However, this
is not what Jesus is telling us to do. Rather, He is telling us that we cannot
possibly do it with our own willpower.
"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the What was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? It was their
righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter
the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).
willpower! And we need a righteousness that exceeds willpower.
The Only Way
Jesus goes on to say that the only way we can truly keep the laws of God is
to be changed into His image:
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect”
(Matthew 5:48 I added the bold).
Jesus did not say, “You shall behave perfectly," but rather He said, "You shall
be perfect" (be like Me). We will have a new existence, a new nature. We will
be like Him! "Being" like Jesus leads to, and results in, "behavior" like
The Illusion Of Our Willpower
One of the great tragedies in our Western culture is the elevation of our
willpower and our intellect to the throne of our life. We think that the only
things we can trust are these two faculties. The heart, and anything that we
cannot consciously understand or control (such as our emotions) are seen
as untrustworthy, or even perhaps as bad. We are stuck in this delusion. Our
trust is so firmly entrenched in our willpower and intellect that whenever we
are in need, without thinking we automatically rely on our willpower and
This Wrong Message Is All Around Us
The bumper sticker that says "Just Say No" is a perfect example of this. If
people who were hooked on drugs could "Just Say No," many would. Many
try - and fail, over and over again. Their failure is the result of "trying hard" to
quit - making a decision with their intellect and relying on their willpower to
bring it to pass. They are doomed to failure because of what we have just
seen about God's laws.
This misunderstanding is a big problem, and it is rampant in the Church. The
Bible makes very powerful statements regarding the illusion of our will. It is a
universal flaw in mankind to think we can manage our own life in our own
strength. It is so automatic, insidious, and covert that we don't even realize
what we are doing.
We Need To Use The Provision Jesus
Made For Us
We may now be tempted to say, "What’s the use? If I can’t stop the operation
of God’s laws which are impelling me to do what I don’t want to do, I might as
well give up." But there is a way to obey the Lord. We just need to
understand the provision that Jesus has made for us and make use of it.
The Role Of Our Will Power
Let me give another example. Another huge truck is speeding down the
highway. A traffic jam lies ahead, and the truck driver needs to stop the truck
quickly. Does he open the door and drag his foot on the pavement to stop
the truck? Of course not. He doesn’t have within himself the power to stop
the truck. What he does do is to decide to press the brake pedal, and then to
act by actually pressing it. This activates a powerful brake system, which has
been provided for just such a purpose, and the truck comes to a stop. The
driver didn’t stop the truck by his own power, but he did need to do the
1. Recognize the problem.
2. Believe in the brake system.
3. Decide to activate the system.
4. Act by physically pushing the brake pedal.
He Needed To Act
That was his job as the driver. If he didn't act, there would be a mess. In this
same way, in spiritual matters, we have to:
1. Recognize the problem.
2. Believe in the powerful provision Jesus has given us to stop
the operation of God's laws against us.
3. Use our willpower to decide to activate the provision.
4. Act by praying.
It Is Not Our Power That Stops The
As you can see, our willpower does have a part to play in our being set free,
but it is not the force or power that brings it about. I will elaborate on this
process of being set free in the next few chapters.
God's Laws Bring "Good" or "Bad"
God has provided a system that has sufficient power to stop the operation of
God’s laws that are bringing destruction, frustration, and failure into our life.
However, before we can activate it, we first need to understand more about
how God’s laws cause us to do the things that we hate
When God created the spiritual realm, there were two possible ways for a
person to exist. If we align our lives with what brings good things (we "obey
the Law"), we receive good consequences (blessings). When Adam and Eve
walked in the Garden of Eden in obedience to God, life was good.
On the other hand, if we align our lives with what brings bad things (we
"disobey the Law"), we experience bad consequences (curses). When Adam
and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
bad things resulted.
It Always Works This Way
Blessings always flow when we are aligned with His laws. All of us are
reaping blessings in certain areas of our life. For example, my son was
having financial problems shortly after he graduated from college. He had
recently made a decision to follow Jesus, and I spoke to him about tithing.
He said, "Dad, how can I give ten percent off the top of my paycheck? I can't
pay my bills as it is." But he believed what the Bible said and began to tithe.
Immediately, and to my son's astonishment, his financial problems ended.
He has continued to tithe, and the Lord has continued to bless his finances.
A word of caution is in order. Having money is not always good, and not
having money is not always bad. This will become clearer as you read more
Blessings Always Flow
We don't want the blessings to stop. We want more of them. As we align
ourselves with the way the spiritual realm is constructed for blessings, we
receive blessings. Therefore it is important for us to know how the spiritual
realm works for blessing so that we can receive more good.
Unfortunately, It Works Both Ways
On the other hand, we also need to understand how the spiritual realm works
against us when we sin, so that we can stop the bad things from continuing
When we sin, we set in motion God’s laws against us. We will surely reap
what we sow. We don’t sow corn and reap cotton. We don’t sow sin and
reap blessings. We sow sin and reap bad consequences. There are, of
course, many ways that we can sin, and they all have consequences.
Sin Always Results In Bad Outcomes
These consequences are the behaviors that we don’t want to do. We are
impelled to do them by the operation of God’s law, and as a result, our
willpower is completely unable to free us from this bondage. Paul reveals
the answer to our bondage to these consequences when he writes:
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25).
The System That Has Enough Power
For us to have victory over the destruction, frustration, pain, and failure in our
life, God had to provide a system that had sufficient power. In fact, for us to
be set free requires a miracle!
Jesus was sent by the Father to provide a way out for us. He came to take
away our sins. His blood is the only cure for sin, and sin is what is causing
our problem. When we pray, as we repent and are forgiven, Jesus pays off
our debt and takes it upon Himself. The negative consequences resulting
from the sin will continue into eternity, but Jesus will take over bearing the
weight of that, and we are set free. For us, in regard to this particular sin, it is
as though we had never committed it. The bad thing going on in our life as a
consequence of our sin ceases to happen.
The "Blood" And The "Cross"
I will often refer to Jesus' "blood" and His "cross." Some writers admonish
us to "take it to the cross," or to "apply the blood." References to "blood"
and "cross", either in combination or separately, are short hand ways of
referring to the whole provision that God made for us, through the sacrifice of
Jesus, to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:
It Is Literally True
The provision is God's way of setting us free from our own sin and its
consequences which resulted from our following in the footsteps of Adam
and Eve. This entire book is an attempt to make clear what this provision is,
and to help make the "blood" and the "cross" effectual in your daily life. Also
see "Blood of Jesus" and "Cross of Christ" in the Glossary.
The Blood Needs To Be Applied
Even though Jesus paid the penalty for our sin when He died on the cross
2000 years ago, we need to do something to bring the benefits of that
provision into our lives. He has offered to pay our debt for us, but we need
to accept it in a specific circumstance. We need to apply this provision
purposefully to a particular sin for it to have an effect in our heart.
Only when we take specific action, (we pray to repent and are forgiven) do we
benefit from the provision He has already made for forgiveness of our sins.
In my previous example, the truck driver had to press the brake pedal to
engage the powerful brake system built into the truck. I will write more about
how to pray in the next few chapters.
Suppose some generous person placed $1,000 in my checking account.
When I write a check, I benefit from the money. As long as I don't know about
the money being there, or as long as I don't believe it is there, or as long as I
don't decide to make a withdrawal and act by writing a check on that account,
this money is of no benefit to me. It could remain unused in my account until
the day I die. So it is with the gift God gave us in the sacrifice of Jesus. We
need to know that the provision is there. We also need to know how to apply
it to our real life struggles, and we need to act.
There Are Two Ways To Stop Bad
When we recognize undesirable behavior, we have probably thought there
was only one way of stopping it. But it should now be clear that there are two
ways, because there are two possible sources of the bad behavior, the
psychological realm and the spiritual realm.
To stop the undesirable behavior we need to use the "tool" that is effectual in
that particular realm.
The First Step
When we find ourselves doing what we do not want to do, the first step is to
decide to stop. If that works, then it was simply a psychological issue. On
the other hand, if we have "tried" to change our behavior by using our
willpower (psychological realm), but the bad behavior (bad fruit) has
continued, we have simply been using the wrong "tool."
In That Case, Take The Second Step
Since our willpower was ineffective, we now know we are dealing with a
spiritual problem and we need to use the appropriate tool - the blood of
Jesus. In the past we may have thought the only option available was our
Simply Use The Correct Tool For The Job
Our willpower is not trash, nor is it useless. It has a job to do, but its area of
authority is in the psychological realm, not the spiritual realm. Both a
watchmaker's screwdriver and a sledgehammer have a purpose. One would
not be very successful in splitting wood with a watchmaker's screwdriver,
nor be very successful in repairing a watch with a sledgehammer.
We need to use the right tool for the job at hand.
See the following illustration of the two alternatives you have at your disposal
to stop undesirable behavior.
For Changing Bad Behavior
Recognize undesirable behavior.
Then consider two possible sources:
1. Psychological Realm.
- Decide to do better
- Use willpower
- If behavior changes, it was a psychological impulse.
If #1fails, you have simply used the wrong "tool." Apply #2.
2. Spiritual Realm
- Decide to do better
- Apply the blood of Jesus
- Behavior changes.
Characteristics of "Bad Fruit"
Undesirable behaviors that have their source in the spiritual realm are rigid,
compelling, and powerful, and they resist our efforts to overcome them. We
are stuck, are at their mercy, and feel defeated. These behaviors that are
destructive (what I will call bad behavior, or bad fruit) can either be acts that
hurt others, or they can be co-dependent behaviors that hurt us. See
examples of these behaviors in the following footnote and in Appendix B,
Bad Roots and Bad Fruit
When we sin and plant an area of wounding in our heart, the sin dwelling in
that area can be called a "bad root." By their very nature, bad roots produce
"bad fruit," whereas "good roots" produce "good fruit."
"Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad
fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good
fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good
fruit. . . Therefore by their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:17-18,
The bad things happening in our lives, including bad behavior, are "bad fruit"
from a "bad root." There is no bad fruit without a bad root being present. A
bad root always produces bad fruit, and a good root always produces good
fruit. The root produces fruit after its own kind. There are no exceptions.
Bad behavior never comes from a good root, and good behavior never
springs from a bad root.
Track Backward From-Fruit-To-Root
Once you realize that your willpower is impotent to stop the bad behavior,
you can recognize that you are dealing with a spiritual problem in your life
(bad fruit). Then you must find the source (the bad root). You must track
backward from the bad fruit to the bad root (from the behavior to the cause).
The following story illustrates how a person's bad behavior is connected to
sin. Mike had an angry father. When Mike was a little boy, his father sinned
against Mike by abusing him verbally and physically. Mike hated the abuse
and judged his father for it. Mike's father used to lose his temper and beat
Mike, and much to his dismay, as an adult he found himself losing his temper
and beating his own son, just like his father did to him. Mike hates the sinful
behavior he is impelled to do, but he can't stop it, no matter how hard he
tries. In truth, he is being impelled to do these sinful things by the operation
of God's law. He has a bad root (the Bitter Root Judgment he made as a little
boy) that is producing the bad fruit (the present sinful behavior that he hates).
Once You Identify The Bad Root,
Once you identify the bad root, you need to pray about it. There is no
other cure, which you probably know by experience. Without prayer,
(repenting and being forgiven) there is no forgiveness of sin. I will talk more
about how to appropriate Jesus' provision in Chapter 5, "Forgiving Ends
Then The Fruit Changes
When the bad root is gone, a bad tree no longer is present to produce the bad
fruit. An apple tree can illustrate this principle. An apple tree bears apples. If
we pick the fruit off an apple tree, apples will grow back. The tree will not
replace the apples we picked with peaches, but with more apples. When we
see an apple, we know that it came from an apple tree, not a peach tree.
When there is no more apple tree, there are no more apples produced.
When the bad root is gone, a bad tree no longer exists to produce the bad
Isn't "Bad Fruit" Sin?
I have been emphasizing healing bad roots, but bad fruit (bad behavior) is
Mike's bad root (judging his father) was sin. In addition, his bad fruit (abusing
his own son) was also sin, and it needed to be forgiven by Jesus. We need to
hate our bad fruit and want it to change. But it is important to understand the
difference between the fruit and the root so that the bad behavior stops
recurring. In my example, Mike does need to repent of his current abusive
behavior (pick off the fruit); but if he stops there, it will simply happen again
(grow back). The only way to stop this cycle he hates is to deal with his
childhood judgment against his father (dig up the bad root). I will address
this whole process in more detail in Chapters 4 and 5.
Since bad fruit always comes from a bad root, and good fruit always comes
from a good root, the only way to stop the tree from bearing bad fruit
is to remove the bad root and substitute the "good root" (Jesus).
In the Church we have primarily been fruit inspectors, and we have focused
on picking off the bad fruit. This is important, since the bad fruit is sin. But
we have failed to understand the necessity of removing the bad root, and so
we have failed in our Christian walk, over and over again: what I hate, that I
do (Romans 7:15). The provision that Jesus made for removing our sin must
be applied to the root and not just to the fruit to be effectual in setting us free.
Please be aware that once our heart has been cleansed by Jesus, and the
reaping in the spiritual realm has been stopped, there may still be some
residual consequences in the world around us from our previous sins. For
instance, Mike's own children will likely still be angry with him and will have
judged him for his past abusive behavior towards them. They are therefore
wounded and will need to be healed by Jesus. In addition, his past abusive
behavior may have led his wife to divorce him. Then, even though he has
been healed, his family may remain broken.
God created an orderly universe that operates in accordance with
unchangeable laws. He originally intended for these laws to apply to
humanity for our blessing. If we would live as God intended, and thus in
accordance with the way the spiritual realm works, we would be blessed. But
when Adam and Eve fell, the cursing side of His laws also began to apply to
us. When we sin, we set in motion God's laws working against us. We do not
have within ourselves the ability to stop the operation of God's laws, and so
we have to pay the consequences of our sins. God knew how helpless we
were, so Jesus came to rescue us from this impossible situation.
Now that you understand why your willpower hasn't been able to change
some major problems in your life, the next questions are:
How can this still be true for a Christian?
When I sin, does that mean I am not really saved? Or do I then lose my
The answer to these questions is simple but profound, and
the next chapter will explain it. You will be relieved!
Copyright 2003 Edward Kurath