Is this the way we handle behavior issues as Christians? Is it just a matter of will power?
Yes, there are times when Jesus says to stop (John 5:14 and 6:43 are two examples).
Think about this brief interchange between Bob Newhart (longtime comedian), playing a therapist, and his patient. When I saw this video, I didn’t immediately apply it to therapy but to preaching and teaching in churches. Sometimes, preaching and teaching in churches has said “Stop it.” but never given people the power and motivation that comes with the Gospel.
I remember the first time I noticed this in Paul’s teaching in the book of Ephesians. The indicative precedes the imperative. In other words, before there is a call for these people to do something or to not do something (Stop it!), they first hear what God has been doing in this world and through the church. For example, notice how he begins the book of Ephesians (1:3-10).
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
He continues in chapters one through three speaking of all the provisions that God has blessed his people with in Christ. It is a grand picture of what God has been doing in such a powerful way through Christ. He closes chapter three by praying for the Christians in Ephesus (Ephesians 3:14-21).
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Chapters four through six are full of imperatives. Yet, these imperatives are more than Paul saying “Stop it.” Rather, he is inviting these people to live out the power of what God has done in Christ through the Spirit. The power to do the imperatives comes from the indicatives. The power to do what he commands comes from what he has already done.
To speak of the imperatives without first talking about what God has done in Christ (the indicatives) does not help anyone. In fact, it often leaves people frustrated and defeated. To say “Stop it.” outside of the power of the Spirit and the story of the Gospel leaves a person with little more than sheer will power. However, to only speak of what God has done and not deal with his desire, his command, and his instruction is to participate in an incomplete Gospel.
Have you experienced trying to change behavior by will power alone? What is the downside of relying on will power rather than God?