Jesus' Teaching about Character Formation

Jesus and the Willing-Doing Gap

    Posted by Klaus Issler on August 11, 2012

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  (Luke  6:46)


            Is deep life change really possible? Not if we rely on our typical strategies. For example, making, then quickly breaking New Year’s resolutions, is an American tradition. Even with the best of intentions our follow-through often lacks the staying power needed.

            There’s a noticeable gap between what we want to do and what we actually do.  For example, I want to be a more gracious husband, but am sometimes very ungracious to my wife when my controlling tendencies take over and I want to defend my turf at all costs. We want to do the right thing, but we don’t always do the right thing. We know what the Bible says to do—we’re willing to do it—but we often miss the mark. Let’s call it the willing-doing gap.  We feel we should be doing better but can’t, so frustration and guilt increase. 

            It’s not a physical gap, as in the distance between the two banks on either side of a river. It’s a gap about our potential growth, between where our character currently is and where we can imagine our character could be. The willing-doing gap is a universal human problem. In various ways we attempt to close our gaps. We believe that it’s possible to automatically diminish the gap . . .

            a. with more Bible knowledge;

            b. with another decision of commitment—for re-dedication or to receive another blessing;           

            c. with more encounters/experiences with God;           

            d. by attending/participating in more Christian activities.

Been there, done that. . . . but I’ve had a perspective shift and now believe deep change is possible.

            Jesus’ question reminds us of our gaps, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46).  Yet, we can seek help to move beyond our current core beliefs, but only if Jesus is our Teacher, for “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Lk 6:40).


For further discussion see, Klaus Issler, Living into the Life of Jesus:

                                           The Formation of Christian Character (InterVarsity, 2012).

Next: “Jesus and the Weakness of Will Power Alone”

Dr. Klaus Issler