Can’t...or Won’t?

No offence, but some of you don't have any business reading this today. Normally, I do not restrict my words to any special group of people. But now I must. This time it is for Christians only. Everything I write from now to the end of these readings on excuses is strictly for the believer in Christ. If you're not there yet, you can skip on to the next page because you lack a major ingredient: the power of God. Non-Christians are simply unable to choose righteous paths consistently. That divine response upon which the Christian can (and must) draw is not at the unbeliever's disposal. That is, not until personal faith in Jesus Christ is expressed. This is one of those now-not-later issues that's limited to believers only.

Now then, if you know the Lord, you are the recipient of limitless ability...incredible strength. Just read a few familiar lines out of the Book, slowly for a change:

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13 NASB)

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father...that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His spirit in the inner man. (Ephesians 3:14, 16)

He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4)

And one more:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Wait a minute now. Did you read every word—or did you skip a line or two? If so, please go back and slowly pore over those five statements written to you, a Christian. It's really important.

OK, what thought stands out the most? Well, if someone asked me that question, I'd say, "Special strength or an unusual ability from God." In these verses it's called several things: strength, power, divine nature, ability. God has somehow placed into the Christian's insides a special something, that extra inner reservoir of power that is more than a match for the stuff life throws at us. When in operation, phenomenal accomplishments are achieved, sometimes even miraculous.

Let’s get specific.

It boils down to the choice of two common words in our vocabulary. Little words, but, oh, so different! Can't and won't. Christians need to be very careful which one they choose. It seems that we prefer to use can't.

"I just can't get along with my wife."
"My husband and I can't communicate."
"I can't discipline the kids like I should."
"I just can't give up the affair I'm having."
"I can't stop overeating."
"I can't find the time to pray."
"I can't quit gossiping."

No, any Christian who takes seriously those five passages we looked at (there are dozens more) will have to confess the word really should be won't. Why? Because we have been given the power, the ability to overcome. Literally! And therein lies hope in hoisting anchors that would otherwise hold us in the muck and mire of blame and self-pity.

Non-Christians have every right and reason to use can't, because they really can't! They are victims, trapped and bound like slaves in a fierce and endless struggle. Without Christ and His power, they lack what it takes to change permanently. They don't because they can't! It is a fact...a valid excuse.

But people like us? Hey, let's face it; we don't because we won't...we disobey because we want to, not because we have to...because we choose to, not because we're forced to. The sooner we are willing to own up realistically to our responsibility and stop playing the blame game at pity parties for ourselves, the more we'll learn and change and the less we'll burn and blame.

I wish I could find a less offensive way to communicate all this, but I just can't.


If there’s a “won’t” in your life that you’ve been calling a “can’t,” talk it over with God. Use any or all of these short passages to help you find God’s perspective as you pray: Psalm 105:4, Isaiah 43:18-19, Habakkuk 3:19, and Hebrews 10:35-39.

Excerpt taken from Come Before Winter and Share My Hope, by Charles R. Swindoll, Copyright © 1985, 1988, 1994 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission.