I don’t know about you, but I want to be the best Christian I can be. This is what I want, but this is not always what I do. I find peace in knowing that Paul, too, struggled with this. He didn’t always succeed in doing the good. Rom. 7:19. We have probably all encountered this interior struggle between wanting things of the world and things of Heaven.
It is important to understand that the body is not bad. The body is drawn towards good things. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between created goods / earthly things, and the perfect good, the Heavenly good, which is God. A major part of living a better Christian life has to do with retraining the will towards giving up lesser goods in favor of the greatest good. For example, food. Food is good, but too much food or food that doesn’t properly nourish the body is not so good. We need food to live, but gluttony crosses the line. When we sin by doing things like gluttony, we close ourselves off from the greater good of God. We fill our longing and hunger for good with lesser goods, instead of filling our selves with God.
How do we retrain the will? I recently read that reading Scripture helps to educate the will on the greater good, which influences our ability to choose the greater good. (Michelle Jones, The Gospel Mysticism of Ruth Burrows: Going to God with Empty Hands). I also just read that love is the best motivator for changing behavior. (Art Bennett, The Temperament God Gave You).
For love to motivate us, we must first come to know the one we want to love. We come to know someone by talking to them. Thus, meditating on Scripture, which is the word of God, is a way of talking with God. It teaches us truth about him, about who we are, and what a proper relationship between creator and created should look like. We are drawn to the good, and Truth is good. Plus, the more we know God through Scripture, the more we love him. In fact, I think this is what John meant when he said we love him because he first loved us. 1 Jn 4:19. When we realize just how amazing his love is, how much more perfect than the love we receive from humans, we respond to his love with love.
At the same time, there is still resistance. We want to be the be all – end all in our lives. Being Christian is about dying to self so that we can be open to receiving God’s love, and in so doing, grow in greater love of him. Being Christian means constantly deeper and deeper conversion in response to God’s love and mercy. Being Christian means admitting our short comings, and relying on the Holy Spirit to be our strength in weakness. 2 Cor 12:10. None of this is easy. All of this feels contrary to our nature. However, if we have faith, then living our lives according to Scripture will reap rewards such as peace, joy, and love. Unfortunately, reaping those rewards first requires that we begin acts of dying to self (curbing our desire for lesser goods) (Mk 8:33); we must first become disciples in act and deed.
In the meantime, do not be surprised if you stumble along the way; if you find yourself in patterns of choosing lesser goods. Just turn to him, recognize that you are weak, and ask him to show you how to curb your appetite for worldly things; how to desire him more than things of the world.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to grant you the grace to love him more. Ask him that through this love you might choose more and more often the greater good over the lesser goods. Ask him to help you in your self-discipline, in exercising your will in favor of the greater good. If needed, ask him to help you humble yourself, to accept your weaknesses, and to turn to him in love.