When You Don't Want to Do What You Ought To

If your "want to" does not conform to God's "ought to," what can you do to have peace?

I see at least five possible strategies.

  1. You can avoid thinking about the "ought to."

    This is the most common strategy in the world. Most people simply do not devote energy to pondering what they should be doing that they are not doing.

  2. You can reinterpret the "ought to" so that it sounds just like your "want to."

    This is a little more sophisticated and so not as common. It often takes a college education to do this with credibility, and a seminary degree to do it with finesse.

  3. You can muster the willpower to do a form of the "ought to" even though you don't have the heart of the "want to."

    This generally looks pretty good, and is often mistaken as virtue, even by those who do it. In fact, there is a whole worldview that says doing "ought to's" without "want to" is the essence of virtue. The problem with this is that Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver," which puts the merely "ought-to givers" in a precarious position.

  4. You can muster the willpower to do a form of the "ought to" and feel remorse for not having the heart of the "want to."

    This is not hypocrisy. Hypocrisy hides one of the two contradictory impulses.

  5. You can seek, by grace, to have God give the "want to" so that when the time comes to do the "ought to," you will "want to."

    Ultimately, the "want to" is a gift of God.

    "The mind of the flesh is hostile to God…it is not able to submit to the law of God." (Romans 8:7)

    "The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God…because they are spiritually appraised." (1 Corinthians 2:14)

    "Perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 2:25)

The Biblical doctrine of original sin boils down to this (to borrow from St. Augustine): We are free to do what we like, but we are not free to like what we ought to like.

God's free and sovereign heart-changing work is our only hope. Therefore we must pray for a new heart. We must pray for the "want to":

Incline my heart to Your testimonies. (Psalm 119:36)

He has promised to do it:

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes. (Ezekiel 36:27)

This is the new covenant bought by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 8:8-13; 9:15).

(Adapted from a 1998 Taste & See Article)

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.