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
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
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 possible.
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
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
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
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 without thinking.
However, our willpower only has authority in the psychological
realm. We cannot overcome or defy the physical laws or spiritual
laws with our willpower.
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 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. He says "stop", and promptly gets run
When we try to stop the operation of God's law with our
willpower, we fail as completely as does the ant in trying to stop
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
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
"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds What was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees? It
the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by
no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).
was their willpower! And we need a righteousness that exceeds
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 Jesus.
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 intellect.
This Wrong Message Is All Around
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 following:
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
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
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
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
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 chapters.
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 to happen.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 willpower.
Simply Use The Correct Tool For
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. 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, "Codependence."
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, 20).
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-
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 These Problems."
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
When the bad root is gone, a bad tree no longer exists to produce
the bad fruit.
Isn't "Bad Fruit" Sin?
I have been emphasizing healing bad roots, but bad fruit (bad
behavior) is also sin.
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
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 salvation?
The answer to these questions is simple but profound, and
the next chapter will explain it. You will be relieved!
Click here to go to the next chapter.
Click here to see how to buy a book.
Copyright 2003 Edward Kurath