Gaining the Consent of the Will
By John Fast
It is the incremental and progressive nature of indwelling sin which makes it so successful in enslaving people and ruling over their hearts and minds. It takes one step to gain another. If one path is obstructed by some barrier, it takes another route so that little by little, step by step, it accomplishes its ultimate goal, which is the conception and commission of actual sin leading to death. In James 1:14 the Holy Spirit has revealed the first two steps in sin’s progressive work. First, it carries away the mind from its duty and obligation to God to love, obey, and submit to Jesus Christ as Master and Lord (Jude 4), to His word, and His will above all else. When it succeeds in carrying away the mind, it then works to ensnare the affections by enticing them with a person’s own lusts, thereby making sin appear desirable, beneficial, harmless, and even necessary to our success, happiness, and well-being. It will turn sin into a virtue and Christ and His gospel into a servant of their sin. The bait which Satan uses to entice and lure the affections into loving sin is a person’s own lusts. Whatever a person’s own lusts are, they make the perfect bait to lure and ensnare the affections because there is already a natural affinity for them. Having then entangled the affections, sin proceeds to its third step, and the subject of this study, which is to conceive sin in order to actually bring it about, “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death” (Jm 1:15).
In order for sin to actually be committed, it must first procure the consent of the will, because unless the will consents, the actual act of sin cannot be committed. No one commits the actual physical act of adultery and sexual immorality against their will. No one indulges in pornography against their will. No one uses profanity and the name of God and Jesus Christ as an expletive against their will. No one entertains themselves with sin against their will. No one knowingly dilutes and corrupts God’s word against their will. No one chooses to reject sound doctrine and exchange the truth of God for a lie against their will. People are ignorant of God’s will and word because they are willingly ignorant (2 Pt 3:5). People refuse to come to Christ because they are unwilling to come to Him on His terms, “you are unwilling to come to Me,” (Jn 5:40). The will consents to what the affections love, and the affections love what the mind is set upon. If the mind has been carried away, and the affections have been ensnared by sin, then sin will gain the consent of the will. Therefore, the conceiving of sin is indwelling sin, by its deceits, gaining the consent of the will, and once it has gained the consent of the will, there is nothing to prevent a person from actually committing and giving birth to sin.
God may providentially, in one way or another, prevent the actual commission of the sin, such as by taking away or preventing the opportunity, so that none of the sin to which the will has consented is actually committed. In this way God frustrated the wicked plans of Sanballat and Tobiah to prevent the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall (Neh 4:7, 15). “He frustrates the plotting of the shrewd, so that their hands cannot attain success” (Job 5:12). However, within the person themselves, nothing remains which would inhibit or prevent them from actually committing the sin, given the opportunity. A hurricane may be diverted from actually making landfall and wreaking havoc and destruction, but it is just as full of wind and rain. In the same way, a person may be ready and willing to commit sin, but God prevents it from actually making landfall, but the soul is just as full of sin as if it had actually been committed. Such a person will not rest until they can actually accomplish the sin to which their will has consented, “For they (i.e. the wicked) cannot sleep unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble” (Pv 4:16).
Having gained the consent of the will, sin now looks for an outlet, an excuse, and an opportunity to actually give birth to the sin to which they have consented. If an outlet cannot be found, they will fabricate and invent one so they can give full vent to their sin, lawlessness, and rebellion. They make others stumble by maneuvering or intimidating them into approving of and consenting to the sin to which they have consented. How many professing Christians, even pastors, now approve of, sanction, and excuse those who practice and openly live in the most vile and filthy sins?
Once the will has consented to any sin, nothing but the intervention of God’s restraining power will prevent a person from actually committing the sin to which their will has consented. This is why it is such a great and severe judgment of God when He gives a people, a nation, or a church over to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Rm 1:24), and finally to give “them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper” (Rm 1:28). There is no greater judgment than for God to give a people over to the actual commission and doing of the sin to which their will has consented. That God has given this nation, and most of professing Christendom over to such a fate, thereby hardening most people in their sin, is beyond dispute.
God does this by actively removing all that restrains the actual commission of sin, thereby hardening them in it to their eternal ruin. The external restraints of civil law become meaningless because the law is ignored, evil-doers are not punished, the meaning of justice is perverted, the tyranny of the mob prevails, and sin becomes common and openly condoned (Hab 1:4). The internal restraints of conscience are removed because those who have been entrusted with preaching God’s word have neglected the particular doctrines of the gospel, including the sinfulness of sin and God’s wrath against sinners (Jer 9:12-14; 23:22; Mk 6:34). They preach a Jesus who will forgive them for their sin, but not one who frees them from their sin, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rm 8:2) The sin they are doing and practicing is not done in ignorance of its sinfulness, but in disregard of and disdain for its sinfulness, “and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Rm 1:32). To give “hearty approval” to sin and to those who practice it is to consent to sin with the full, total, and absolute consent of the will.
In total disregard and contempt for the ordinance of God, they willingly give their full and heartily approval to what God in His word condemns. They give hearty approval to claims of extra-biblical revelation, to the adulteration of God’s word, to the belittling of sound doctrine, to the disparaging of holiness and obedience, to the rejection of God’s ordained roles for men and women and His principles for marriage and parenting, to the denial of the sinfulness of sin, to the corruption of His worship, to redefining Christianity, to profane, immoral, and blasphemous forms of entertainment, to the love of money, pleasure, and self, and to worldly, carnal, and sinful lifestyles. In fact, there is virtually nothing that God has condemned and forbidden that the vast majority of professing Christendom has not willfully consented to and given its hearty approval, either in their profession or their practice.
Those who truly know and love Jesus Christ do not practice sin nor do they approve of those who do, as the Apostle John affirms (1Jn 3:9). Rather they practice righteousness and holiness (1Jn 3:7); they abstain from wickedness (2 Tm 2:19); they do not participate in, but instead expose the sinfulness of the unfruitful deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11). The true Christian is to “approve the things that are excellent”, not what is unambiguously sinful, “in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Phil 1:10). Those who love and practice sin, and who give hearty approval to those who do, cannot love Jesus Christ. They may profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him (Tit 1:16), thereby showing that sin has succeeded in gaining the full consent of their will. “Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Rm 14:22).
So, this third step in sin’s progressive work is the conceiving of lust or sin, which is its all too common ability to obtain the consent of the will to its enticements. Those in whom sin has succeeded in gaining the full consent of the will are prone to deceiving themselves with false hopes and securities, by which they are hardened in their sin to their eternal torment. This destructive effect is produced by many causes and errors. We will consider six of the most common.
False Hopes By Which Sin Hardens the Heart
The first deception is that it is only one sin that they would indulge, and a very small and common sin at that, at least in their own eyes. They will gladly forsake all other sin if they can only hold on to and indulge in this one. This was the hope and plea of Naaman (2 Kgs 5:18). This was the fatal flaw of the rich ruler (Lk 18:22), and it is the false hope in which so many now trust. They plead an inability to forsake this one sin, no matter how hard they have tried. It is just too hard, it would be too costly to forsake. It would involve too much self-denial. They are blind to the fact that the reason it is so hard to forsake is because they love it so much. Because of this false hope there are many who now live in the habitual practice of some gross sin, while at the same time giving the appearance of great devotion in other religious duties and activities, “All these things I have kept from my youth” (Lk 18:21). This is a false hope by which so many today are self-deceived. Even if it were possible for someone to forsake all other lusts and only consent to indulge in one sin; one sin willingly lived in will destroy a person’s soul just as readily as a thousand, “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries” (Hb 10:26, 27). Besides, such a notion is patently false. Anyone who willingly lives in one known sin also lives in many others.
Secondly, they deceive themselves by reasoning that even though they cannot yet rid themselves of their sin, they will continue to love Jesus and abound in all sorts of religious activity. They would never renounce Christ or become overt haters of God and His word or a persecutor of Christians for anything in the world. Therefore they hope that despite this one small and common sin which they love and willingly consent to, all will work out in their favor in the end. This too is a false hope, and a tool by which sin may deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting, because no man can serve two masters. No one can willingly live in any sin and still love God in the least, as is evident by the rule given in 1 John 2:15, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him”, and corroborated by the Apostle James, “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (Jm 4:4). It is a pretended love, a false pretense of love to God that is professed by anyone who willingly lives in any known sin, or approves of those who do. Where Jesus Christ is not loved above all, He is not loved at all. And where people are unwilling to part with even one detestable lust, where they fight tooth and nail to practice it openly and unmolested by laws or conscience, and if they give hearty approval to those who do practice such things, it is self-evident that they have no love for God despite all their profession to the contrary. If you willfully consent to live in any sin, and give hearty approval to those who do, you cannot and do not love God.
Thirdly, they resolve to repent of and forsake their sin after they have obtained the pleasure, the satisfaction, or the object after which they lusted and their will had consented to, so that their sin will not ultimately be their ruin. Their circumstances were such that they had to sin. It was the only way to get what they wanted, but they will repent once they get what they want. This is also a false hope and deception which sin uses to harden someone in their sin. They deceive themselves into thinking that because they intend to repent and forsake, that they actually will repent and forsake, or because they have an intention to repent, and maybe have made some sporadic and feeble efforts to forsake it, that they actually have repented and forsaken their sin. They have false notions of repentance. They think because they make a show and profession of repentance for the sinful way in which they obtained their desire, they can now live in and enjoy what they obtained through sinful means. They ignore the fact that if they had to sin to get what they wanted, then what they wanted is sinful. Zaccheus proved his repentance by relinquishing all he had gained through sinful means (Lk 19:8). The ends do not justify the means, “And why not say…”Let us do evil that good may come?” Their condemnation is just.” (Rm 3:8; cf. Rm 6:1, 2). Virtually all who make such resolutions end up justifying, extenuating, and rationalizing their sin, not repenting and forsaking it, thereby hardening themselves in it. They, like the lawyer in Luke 10:29, seek to justify themselves by engaging in theological hair-splitting and creating loop-holes in God’s clear commands. Anyone who will not now abandon their sin, who will not upon the discovery and conviction of any sin in their life immediately renounce it as sin, hate it as sin, and sincerely and constantly work, by faith and dependence on the power of Christ, to kill it and be rid of it – then let them profess and pretend what they may, let them be ever so active in religious things, let them be popular preachers – they never intend to repent or forsake it, nor is it likely they ever will. To keep from condemning themselves they will approve of it in others, accumulate friends and teachers who will justify them in it, and are thereby hardened in it by the deceitfulness of sin.
Fourthly, even though they willfully consent to live in a known sin, they convince themselves that their condition is not as bad as some think it is, or as they are warned it is, or as the Bible declares it to be. And this is because the sin to which they consent is not some glaringly heinous sin which has convicted their conscience and filled them with dread and anguish of soul. It is no more than they see others living in who make a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Like Israel they say, “For what reason has the Lord declared all this great calamity against us? And what is our iniquity, or what is our sin which we have committed against the Lord our God?” (Jer 16:10). They see no real evil in the sin they consent to live in. If it is so sinful, why are so many others comfortably living in it? In fact, they can offer all sorts of justifications and arguments in its favor, so they see no reason why God should be angry with them. This is also a deception, because the sins which the will are most prone to consent to and approve of are the ones which are most easily lived in and practiced with little disturbance to the conscience. They are easily consented to because they have become so common, so normal, so culturally acceptable, and so deeply rooted and entrenched that the consciences of most have long ago been desensitized to their sinfulness, thereby hardening them in their sin.
Fifthly, they rationalize that the sin to which they willfully consent does not originate from within themselves, from their own sinful lusts and desires, and the sinfulness of their own heart. Rather it is the result of something external, something in their circumstances. Some real or fabricated social cause and injustice demands that they consent to and approve of sin. The demands of their business and their financial security require that they consent to sin and approve of those who practice it. The unbearable burden of some present situation and their condition in life necessitates their consenting to sin, at least until they are freed from them. Once their circumstances improve, once these things are rectified, and once they are freed from them, then they will return to and resume their love for God and His ways. This too is a false security, the very notion of which is nullified by the principle found in Hebrews 3:12, “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.” Whatever a person’s circumstances in life may be; even though “we may be burdened excessively beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor 1:8), all willful departures from God and His word are from “an evil, unbelieving heart”. There is no such thing as a necessary sin. The traditional view of the Jewish Pharisees was that it was something external to them that caused defilement, or was the cause of their sin. Jesus constantly debunked their traditional belief that the cause of sin and defilement was something external, and instead identified the real problem – their heart. The reason for willfully consenting to and living in any known sin lies in the heart, not in a person’s circumstances. Likewise, a person’s circumstances are no reason, under the pretense of a false compassion, to give hearty approval to and aid and abet those who, by blaming their circumstances, willfully practice and live in any known sin, “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, both of them alike an abomination to the Lord” (Pv 17:15). A change in circumstances will not change the heart, rather a changed heart will seek to trust and obey in all circumstances, and count it all joy when they suffer because of it, “By no means let any of you suffer as a…evildoer…; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God” (1 Pt 4:15, 16).
Finally, they consider it an easy thing to deliver themselves from and renounce the sin to which they willfully consent, if and when it becomes absolutely necessary. It is something they can give up at any time. But this is also a deadly deception. Once someone has willfully consented to any sin, they will never of their own accord admit that it is sin or forsake it as being exceedingly sinful. They consented to it because they loved it, therefore they will never tolerate having it exposed for the ugly and detestable thing it is; sin. It becomes as dear to them as their own eye or hand. To protect their beloved sin from being identified as sin, they will invent respectable and acceptable names for their sin. I ask you reader, can you name even one sin that has been willfully consented to, and become publically accepted and commonplace, from which any people or nation have ever voluntarily delivered themselves? Once sin has gained the consent of the will, and has been lived in for any time, unless they are delivered from their sin by the power of the gospel, and their sin is made to appear exceedingly sinful, then “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God” (Hos 5:4).
By such false hopes and reasoning multitudes now deceive themselves in a false security and have become hardened in their sin to their eternal doom. The things which most professing Christians today willingly consent to, have accepted as normal, and given hearty approval to – without even a thought as to what God’s word may have to say about them, or in total disregard of God’s prohibition and condemnation of them – would have shocked and horrified the consciences of previous generations of Christians and non-Christians alike. The true Christian is to resist and strive against sin (Hb 12:4), for which he/she will experience the hostility of sinners against themselves (2 Tm 3:12), not consent to and approve of it. It is an immutable principle of Scripture that the more one resists and strives against sin, the more hostility they will face from sinners. The more sin is exposed for what it is, the more hostility and opposition will be experienced from those who live in it and from those who heartily approve of those who practice it. No one exposed sinful lives, false beliefs, and unbiblical practices more than Jesus, for which He experienced and endured the hostility of sinners against Himself (Hb 12:3). The lives of first-century Christians were an offence to the unbelieving world. They were slandered as evildoers (1 Pt 2:12; 3:16), they were maligned because they refused to live in or approve of what God has forbidden (1 Pt 4:4), and they, by faith, willingly consented to suffer the loss of all things, even the loss of their life, rather than willfully consent to and approve of what God has forbidden (Hb 11:36-38).
The Will as the Source of all Obedience and Disobedience
To make this more clear we need to understand that the will is the center, the principle, and the cause of both obedience and disobedience. Actions are good or evil in so far as they have the consent of a person’s will. The legal and moral reason something is sin is by virtue of its departure from the will and law of God. The guilt of sin is incurred by the acts of the will in sin and concerning sin; in consenting to actually doing them and/or in approving of them and those who practice them. The will may consent unto sin in one of two ways:
The first is by a full, total, and complete consent of the will, even after an informed and thorough consideration. It is a deliberate and full consent, all convictions of the mind and conscience being overcome and subdued, with no principle of spiritual life in the will to restrain or weaken it. When the will has thus consented, the person will propel themselves into sin like a rocket into outer space. No amount of warning, no pleading, no reasoning will deter them or hold them or call them back any more than a silk thread will stop a charging bull. They are without any check or stop, like “A wild donkey accustomed to the wilderness, that sniffs the wind in her passion. In the time of her heat who can turn her away?” (Jer 2:24). They are those of whom Paul speaks, “having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness” (Eph 4:19). They know that what they intend to do is sin, but they are bound and determined to have their own way, “Ephraim is oppressed and crushed in judgment, because he was determined to follow man’s command” (Hos 5:11). The pleasure, satisfaction, and perceived benefit they derive, or hope to derive from their sin, drives away any misgivings and apprehensions from their mind. Israel stubbornly persisted in their idolatrous practices, even after experiencing God’s hand of judgment, and in direct defiance of the warnings of God’s prophets, all because of the pleasure and perceived benefits which they were convinced came by them, “As for the message that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we are not going to listen to you! But rather we will certainly carry out every word that has proceeded from our mouths, by burning sacrifices to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations to her, just as we ourselves, our forefathers, our kings and our princes did in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food, and were well off, and saw no misfortune” (Jer 44:16, 17). This is that consent of the will which gives birth to sin in unregenerate people.
Secondly, there is a consent of the will unto sin which is only partial, in that it is accompanied by a hesitancy and reluctance as well as a desire for the opposite. This is what is expressed by Paul in Romans 7:15, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” Peter willfully denied Jesus three times or else he would not have done so. It was a voluntary action on his part which he willfully chose to do at that particular time and under those particular circumstances. But at the same time Peter had a principle of love for Christ and faith in Him which never failed, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail;” (Lk 22:32). It was not Jesus’ provision for Peter which failed, but Peter failed when his faith was tested. He made the mistake of relying on his own strength rather than the provision of Christ. His faith and love were still little, “O you of little faith,” (Mt 14:31; cf. 16:8). His little faith and love failed under the weight of the temptation and trial he was under, but they did not fail completely. He hated the fact that he had betrayed the One he loved, “And he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk 22:62). Peter never again denied Jesus Christ as Lord, not in his profession nor by his practice. At the same time Peter was consenting to sin there was an opposite principle of love and faith to Christ at work in his will which weakened his consent to sin. So, even though Peter willfully consented to deny His Lord and Master, he did so out of fear and little faith, not out of greed and personal ambition like Judas, not out of envy like the Jewish leaders, and not out of self-gratification as do all who give their full and total consent to sin. No true believer can ever give an absolute, full, and total consent of their will to any known sin, and the reasons for this are three.
Why a True Believer Can Never Fully Consent to Any Sin
First, the true Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, whose very nature is holiness, and who imparts His spiritual nature of holiness into all true believers (Rm 8:9-11). They are “sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise,” (Eph 1:13). Like a seal leaves its impression in the wax, believers bear the image of the One who sealed them. The image which the Holy Spirit imparts is holiness. They have an inward principle of good that desires all that is good, “the one who wishes to do good” (Rm 7:21). The Holy Spirit within predisposes the will to all that is good, to consent to all that is good, and to heartily approve of all that is good, as defined by God’s word. “Therefore I esteem right all Your precepts concerning everything, I hate every false way” (Ps 119:128). God’s word and His will have the dominion over the will of every true believer, not sin. Therefore, any consent which the will of the believer may give to any sin – a will in which the dominant principle is for all that is good – would be contrary to its dominant principle, and so is not and cannot be total, full, and complete.
Secondly, not only is there a dominant and ruling principle in the will of all believers against sin, but there is a real and active inward opposition in the will toward consenting to any known sin, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another,” (Gal 5:17). The opposite is also true; the will never consents to what is spiritually good without experiencing some form of opposition from the flesh and indwelling sin. The opposition of the Spirit against sin may at times be imperceptible in the life of a believer, but its imperceptibility does not negate the rule of Scripture. It is a real and active opposition, and this inward, spiritual opposition is enough to keep the will of a true believer from ever giving a total and absolute consent of their will to any sin.
Thirdly, we have the promise of God that He will never allow a believer to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear, “but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). The way of escape which God provides is the strength and perseverance to endure temptations and trials – literally “to remain under” them, as the Greek word means – and to do so without sinfully succumbing to them, thereby purifying and strengthening our faith by them. Lot willfully consented and chose to live in Sodom, but he did not consent to live in their sin, nor did he give hearty approve to those who did, “and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation,” (2 Pt 2:7-9). Notice, while living among sinners, Lot’s soul was “tormented day after day”. He did not become desensitized to the sinfulness of sin, but his soul was continuously “tormented” by it. The word connotes mental and emotional anguish mixed with anger. Lot’s will did not consent to sin or heartily approve of it. The promise of God assures us that He will never allow the will of any true believer to fully consent to any known sin, or to give hearty approval to those who practice and live in them. He “knows how to rescue the godly from temptation”, and He does so by making sin appear exceedingly sinful and abhorrent to the soul, to where they will say with Joseph, “How then could I do this great evil, and sin against God?” (Gn 39:9).
When a believer sins, it is always against their will, “I practice the very evil I do not wish” (Rm 7:19). They wish they had done something else. They repent and turn away from their sin. They work to kill and crucify the sin in their life, not feed it. On the other hand, the unbeliever always sins with the full consent of their will. They have no principle of spiritual life to weaken or restrain them from giving their full and total consent to the sin which their affections have been enticed into loving and desiring. Loving the praise and approval of man more than God, they willfully give their hearty approval to those who live in and practice sin, thereby exposing that they have been hardened by the deceitfulness of sin to their eternal ruin. The challenge of Joshua rings true today, “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were before the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living;”…or the idols of prosperity, ease, materialism, entertainment, pleasure, tradition, self, the world. Only those whose will is under the dominion of God’s word and Spirit can affirm in sincerity and truth, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15).
In our next study we will examine the way in which the deceit of sin works to gain the consent of the will unto sin, so as to conceive the actual commission of sin in the soul.