Following Jesus, becoming his disciple is to be a student of his; learning, being taught and trained to become like him in heart, mind and character. Being a disciple of Christ and being trained by him means we organize and structure our lives around the practices and disciplines that he built his life around which enabled him to live by the Spirit and to draw power from the Kingdom of God; and become who he was and do what he did. We are being trained to be able to respond and act promptly, wisely and consistently as Jesus would in the day to day moments of our life.

The difference between trying and training can be illustrated with a simple analogy of how training to be an athlete is radically different from trying to be a good athlete. An athlete becomes a good athlete not by trying and willing alone, but by training wisely. Trying without training is like wanting to become an excellent boxer like Ali by trying to mimic his performances, his stances, and movements in the ring without undertaking any of the rigorous training and preparation he did outside the ring that grew his capacity to box and perform as he did in the ring.

Trying to be like Christ in the moments required, asking ourselves what would Jesus do in such a moment is not an effective way of following Christ. Because it relies on will power alone assuming that will power is sufficient for us to do as Christ would. This view holds that will power and intent alone is enough to ensure that in the moments required we will be able to yield and discern the leading of the Spirit and do as Christ would.

The underlying assumption is that our actions and choices are the product of our will alone. However we are human beings and not pure will (spirit) alone but a composite of will and body. The will is the executive and highest part of the human person and our will is executed through the body. However the body is not a neutral instrument that yields absolutely to the will for two reasons.

(1) The body has passions: appetites that incline us towards or away particular objects and these appetites are to a degree independent of the will and may be in conflict or in harmony with the will.

(2) The body has engrained habits, dispositions of how the passions and the will generally act with regards to particular objects.

The body’s nature explains why will power is not enough to overcome addiction. One must direct one’s will not to overcoming the addiction directly, by resisting (you cannot switch off the deep cravings and withdrawal symptoms by simply willing it); you must direct your will towards practices (12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous for example) which in turn then increase your capacity to overcome addiction and live in sobriety.

The “on the spot: episodes are not the place where we can, even by the grace of God, redirect unchristlike but engrained tendencies of action toward sudden Christlikeness.

Dallas Willard – The Spirit of the Disciplines

Similarly we do not overcome our sin addiction directly through will power in general; but by directing our will to practices and disciplines which then enable us to overcome our sin addiction. When you are tempted, you should pray (directing your will to a particular practice) rather than trying directly to resist the temptation. Life is praxis and the common saying has never been more true: “Practice makes perfect”.