The Will Is Not a Vestigial Spiritual Organ

Physical Vestigial Organs

It has been speculated by some scientists that certain organs such as the appendix had a previous use, but as the animal climbed the evolutionary tree these organs outlived their function.

Creationists assert that this evolutionary perspective is invalid. Further study has revealed functions of many organs previously labeled vestigial.

A Spiritual Vestigial Organ

On a more serious note, contemporary evangelicals view the volition as a spiritual vestigial organ. Though Old Testament believers may have been required to exercise their wills, living under the Law as they did, New Testament believers have sufficiently spiritually evolved, have climbed high enough on the theological tree, that the will no longer has a function. It has become a vestigial organ.

The previous post identifies a number of contemporary Christian perspectives suggesting that the Christian life does not require the use of the will. If God accepts us unconditionally, we are okay whether or not we employ our will to obey Scripture, live responsibly, or even display love. I can do my own thing, do what feels good, put my will a neutral, and still be okay with God. Requirements to exercise the will constitute legalism. God does not require performance. So the litany goes on of contemporary evangelical declarations that the human will has outlived its theological usefulness. After all, it’s not in trying but in trusting.

Meanwhile Back at the New Testament

Despite the declarations of contemporary evangelicals that the will constitutes a vestigial organ, the New Testament tells quite a different story. In fact, on almost every page of the New Testament we are called to exercise our volition.

Imperatives

This reality is most obviously conveyed in the vast number of imperatives contained in the New Testament. Think, for example, of the list compressed in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-22:

Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.

With a quick count I came up with 14 imperatives within this short passage.

Following commands requires that we engage the will. It would be nice to think that we did all of these things spontaneously. Another quick perusal of the list reveals that I probably do none of them spontaneously. Obedience to these commands requires the exercise of my will.

Exhortations

This no doubt is true of others also, as suggested by Paul’s opening phrase, “Now we exhort you….” The New Testament contains lots of exhortations, another indicator that even in the New Testament era God still calls us to exercise our volition.

Walking in the Spirit

But what about walking in the Spirit. Doesn’t that supersede volitional engagement? Let me answer with a rhetorical question. We don’t walk in the Spirit all the time, do we? How, then, do we move from not walking in the Spirit to walking in the Spirit? This requires an exercise of our will. That’s why Paul uses the imperative in Galatians 5:16, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

Do I Really Need to Exercise My Will?

Sure, those commands are there. God would like me to live in those ways. But performance is really not a requisite for God’s acceptance, so I really don’t have to exercise my will to be okay with God. The imperatives only convey God’s preferences for us. Right?

Many New Testament passages expose this ploy to deactivate the will to be unbiblical. For example, Galatians 6:7-8 teaches:

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

In saying “God is not mocked,” Paul is indicating that God views disobedience to New Testament instructions as mockery toward Him. New Testament commands are more than suggestions.

New Testament living not only includes trusting but also trying, the exercise of our volition. Treating the will as a vestigial organ has produced an anemic evangelical Christianity.

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