by Alexander Twyman
When you hear the term "the will of God", what does it mean to you? In my experiences, most people take it to mean one of two things. Either, God's will is this hidden destination and the way you get to it is through a series of breadcrumbs “leading" you this way or that way followed by inner peace...or, the will of God is a highly spiritual pursuit that only the super Christians among us have achieved because they have somehow found a way to "tap into" what God was trying to do and they hear God in a way that most don’t. However, when we consider the sovereignty and power of God and His revealed Scriptures, I suggest that God's will is a lot clearer and does not depend solely on totally depraved sinful people, with hearts that are deceitful above all else to interpret an inner nudging. The problem with this approach is that it is often totally devoid of Scripture and steeped in pagan traditions (we will address this later.) But for now, in order to fully grasp the concept of "God's will", let's make sure we understand what it means when we use the phrase, "the will of God".
The Bible discusses "the will of God" in two ways: When the bible talks about God’s will, it refers to God's sovereign will, which is also known as God's will of decree, and God's will of command. God's sovereign will or will of decree is the thing that God desires that will happen no matter what without fail. This part of God’s will is not known to us unless it has been revealed in Scripture or until it actually happens. We have no way of knowing this part of God’s will on our own. An example of this is you waking up tomorrow. None of us but God knows what will happen tomorrow. So, it is very surprising to hear some people say what they believe God is telling them to do in the future. James 4: 13-16 rightly says, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” God’s sovereign will is not for us to know before its time. One last example is when Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39). Jesus said "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." Here when referring to God's will, Jesus is talking about His death which was predestined and was going to happen regardless. (Also see Isaiah 53:10, John 3:16-18, Ephesians 1:11) Only Jesus knew when this would happen (John 14:1-7, John 2:18-22).
The other way the bible refers to the will of God is His will of command. These are all of the things that God has commanded us to do that we have the power but not the right to disobey. An example of this is 1 Thessalonians 4:3. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality..." Here, God communicates his sovereign will which is our sanctification and his will of command that we abstain from sexual immorality. Another example of God’s will of command is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 "...pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Here, just like in other places in Scripture, God clearly communicates His will for us.
Now, I know what you are thinking. "The Bible doesn't speak on every issue, so how do we know God's will then? Good point. To that, I would suggest searching the Scriptures. I’m not playing with words here, but there is rarely a situation that the Bible doesn’t give any insights into. After that, pray biblically. God's word tells us that he will direct our paths. Third, seek wise counsel from people that pray and read scripture. Fourth, think biblically. Consider the costs. Prepare and plan. Be patient. Be wise. Fifth, when in doubt, repeat.
If you are still at a point where you do not know where God is leading you, wait and consider your motives. A lot of times, though we are seeking to know what Gods will of command is, a lot of times, we are unintentionally searching for God's sovereign will and that is frankly none of our business. It can only be known as God allows it to happen. Sometimes, we are just called to walk by faith. John piper notes this when referring to God’s two wills, “Now, which of these is meant in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The answer surely is that Paul is referring to God’s will of command. I say this for at least two reasons. One is that God does not intend for us to know most of his sovereign will ahead of time. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us” (Deuteronomy 29:29). If you want to know the future details of God’s will of decree, you don’t want a renewed mind, you want a crystal ball. This is not called transformation and obedience; it’s called divination, soothsaying.” (sidebar: WHOA!!)
In closing, God’s will is discussed at length in Scripture. Our encouragement to you is that you commit your lifetime to reading his word, biblically discerning how you should respond to it, and then do it. By doing so, you not only will obey God, but you will grow closer to Him and become more like Him. God bless you.
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