Last Wednesday was ANZAC Day, which is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand of those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Did you know that the phrase “Lest we forget” used to commemorate those who died in warfare came from the Bible? It came via the poem “Recessional” (see Appendix A) by Rudyard Kipling which was written towards the end of the 60th anniversary celebrations of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. These turned into a celebration of the power of the British Empire.
The poem was written to be sung as a hymn at the end of a church service (see Appendix B for an explanation of its meaning). It acknowledges that God helped establish the British Empire. But all human power is transient and empires eventually decline and disappear. It urges the English to be humble instead of boasting about their achievements. The main warning is not to forget God. The chorus is:
“Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!”
So the context of “Lest we forget” is God, not those who have died.
The title “Lord of hosts” comes from the KJV of the Bible (1 Sam. 1:3), which can be translated “Lord Almighty” (NIV), “Lord of Armies” (CSB), or “Lord of Heaven’s Armies” (NLT). It means that God is sovereign over all other powers in the universe, including the British Empire.
The phrase “Lest we forget” comes from a warning given to the Israelites after they settled in the promised land. It says, “Then beware lest thou forget the Lord, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Dt. 6:12KJV). Or, “be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (NLT). They were not to forget what God had done for them. But we know that the Israelites did forget God and followed idols.
So, in Recessional, “Lest we forget”, was a call to not forget God. But this song was also sung at remembrance services for those who died in warfare. And in this context, it was a call to not forget those who had given their lives for their country. In this context, the meaning of “ancient sacrifice” in the song changed from Christ’s death to the death of soldiers. This is an example of how words and phrases can change their meaning over time.
Lessons for us
As the Israelites were God’s people in Old Testament times, Christians are God’s people today. And like them, we are not to forget what God had done for us. We too can easily forget God and the ancient sacrifice of Christ for us. He gave up His life so we could have eternal life.
Let’s not be like the Israelites who forgot about God when they followed idols. Anything we can’t live without or must have is an idol that needs to be removed or put back in its place. An idol is anything that we give higher priority than God. Or anything that we think about more than we think about God.
“Lest we forget”. Don’t forget God!
Appendix A: Recessional
A poem by Rudyard Kipling (1897)
God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law —
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!
Appendix B: Exegesis of Recessional
Kipling was a British poet who wrote verse for English readers. This poem was written over 120 years ago when the British Empire was a major world power. Some of the imagery used in the poem is drawn from the KJV Bible.
Their ancestors worshipped the God of the Bible.
Their armies trusted in this God.
They were in awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God.
They acknowledge that God helped them establish the British Empire.
They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.
They are warned not to forget God.
The 60th anniversary celebrations for Queen Victoria will end. They are transient.
The military leaders will stop parading and the visiting dignitaries (kings of Europe) will return home.
But Christ’s ancient sacrifice endures.
God wants us to be humble rather than proud and boasting. We need to confess and repent of our arrogance and boasting. This may be derived from, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17KJV). “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (NLT).
They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.
They are warned not to forget God.
Although their Navy travels to far-away places, they can’t sustain their presence in these places.
Watch-post fires are extinguished as military personnel leave.
The 60th anniversary celebrations and the might of the British Empire is transient.
Like Nineveh and Tyre, the British empire will eventually decline and disappear. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire whose destruction by the Babylonians was predicted in the Bible (Nahum 1:1 – 3:19). Tyre was a powerful Phoenician city whose destruction by Alexander the Great was predicted in the Bible (Ezek. 26:1 – 28:19).
They acknowledge God will judge the nations and pray that He will spare them from judgment. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness (Gen. 18:20 – 19:29). The Bible teaches that God will judge nations according to their treatment of the Jews (Joel 3:1-16). And in many cases, sin brings its own judgment (Rom. 1:18-32).
They are warned not to forget God.
They are intoxicated with the idea of colonial power.
They have no awe of the greatness, power and majesty of God. Because of these two things, they say things they shouldn’t say.
Like the Russians and Germans, they boast of their achievements.
They also boast like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.
They acknowledge God’s sovereign power and pray that He will continue to help them.
They are warned not to forget God.
They are acting like the heathen in other lands who don’t have the benefit of knowing the Bible.
They trust in military might.
But all this is futile because it will end in dust! It is insignificant compared to the eternal nature of God.
They leave God out of their lives.
They claim to be God’s people. And they pray to God for forgiveness for their boasting and their foolish language.
Verses 3 and 5 say that they shouldn’t trust in human achievements because these don’t endure. They are fleeting.
Written, April 2018
Why do more than five million people a year in the US pay money to run several miles over an obstacle course where they must ascend vertical walls, slog through mud, and climb up inside a vertical pipe with water pouring down on them? Some see it as a personal challenge to push their limit of endurance or conquer their fears. For others, the attraction is teamwork where competitors help and support each other. One person called it “a no-judgment zone” where people who are strangers will reach out to help each other finish the race.
The Bible urges us to pursue teamwork as a model of living out our faith in Jesus. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His (Christ’s) return is drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25NLT). We are to encourage and motivate each other and not give up meeting together.
Our goal is not to “finish first” in the race of faith, but to encourage others by setting an example and lending a helping hand along the way. We should run together (not individually) in the race of faith. God urges us to spur each other on, be ready to help, and keep working together every day.
Examples of teamwork
A good example of teamwork is found in rebuilding the wall and gates of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3). Forty-two teams of workers each repaired a section of the wall. It wasn’t just done by the servants. The high priest, priests, levites, rulers, nobles, city officials, craftsmen, and women worked on the project. Everyone who was able to worked on the project. They worked alongside each other – the word “next” is mentioned 26 times in this chapter.
Jesus used teams. He trained a team of 12 men (the apostles) to lead the church in Jerusalem after He returned to heaven. He sent these and the seventy-two out “two by two” (Mk. 6:7; Lk. 10:1). They worked in two-man teams. And a team of women supported Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3; 19:25).
Paul used teams on his missionary journeys. Barnabas was on the first journey. Silas and Timothy were on the second journey. And Luke was on the third journey (Acts 20:5 – 21:17).
In the early churches that Paul established, a team of men (elders) provided the leadership and a team of people (deacons) served (1 Tim. 3:1-13).
Others biblical verses that support the idea of teamwork are given below.
Peter urged Christians to love each other, share resources with those in need and serve one another. “Continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Pt. 4:8-10).
Paul says that like in a human body (or a sports team) each Christian has a different role but we are to combine together harmoniously. As the body is comprised of many parts that work together, the church is to be comprised of many Christians working together and dependent on each other. “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body (the church). We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom. 12:4-5). “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20).
Proverbs says that we benefit when we interact with others by sharing opinions and asking questions. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17).
Solomon also notes the advantages of working together, rather than individually. This enables people to work more efficiently, rescue one another, and defend one another against attack. A team is stronger than an individual. “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble … A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).
We need teamwork in our marriage, in our family, in our church and in our ministries. That’s the best way to negotiate the obstacles and complete the projects.
This post is based on “Our Daily Bread” 13 March 2018.
Written, April 2018
After the British lost many soldiers in the early days of World War 1, this poem was written by Laurence Binyon.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
It’s an extract (called the “Ode of remembrance”) from a poem titled, “For the fallen”, that will be recited today across Australia. Today is ANZAC Day when those who died in warfare are remembered. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.
The phrase “Lest We Forget”, which was taken from “Recessional”, a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, will also be mentioned in Anzac services today.
In this post we will look at what God wants us to remember and not forget.
At least six monuments are mentioned in the book of Joshua. A stone monument was commonly used in ancient times as a memorial to remind future generations of what had happened at a particular place.
And monuments still exist today. When we drive to my hometown in central New South Wales, we pass at least three monuments. Near Katoomba there is the Marked Tree that reminds us of the explorers that crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813. West of Orange there is a monument to Thomas Mitchell who explored inland Australia in 1836. And near Eugowra there is a monument at Escort Rock where outlaw bushrangers robbed gold from a stage coach in 1862.
After they crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites set up the first stone monument at Gilgal. The stones were to be “a sign” for them. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:6-7NIV). This monument reminded the Israelites that God miraculously dammed the Jordan (even though it was flooded) so the Israelites could cross over into the promised land on dry ground.
Second, after Ai defeated the Israelites and Achan was stoned for disobedience and lying, “they heaped up a large pile of rocks” (Josh. 7:26). This monument reminded the Israelites of the seriousness of sin and the need to judge it.
Third, after they finally destroyed Ai, they “raised a large pile of rocks over it” (8:29). This monument reminded the Israelites that they could have victory over their enemies if sin was judged.
Fourth, on Mount Ebal, “Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses” (Josh. 8:32). This was in obedience to a command of Moses, “Moses and the elders of Israel commanded the people: “Keep all these commands that I give you today. When you have crossed the Jordan into the land the Lord your God is giving you, set up some large stones and coat them with plaster. Write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over to enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. And when you have crossed the Jordan, set up these stones on Mount Ebal, as I command you today, and coat them with plaster … And you shall write very clearly all the words of this law on these stones you have set up” (Dt. 27:1-8). This monument on Mount Ebal reminded the Israelites to obey the law of Moses. It had the ten comandments written on it.
Fifth, when the army of the eastern tribes of Israel returned home after helping the western tribes to conquer Canaan, they “built an imposing altar” near the Jordan River (Josh. 22:10). When the western tribes saw this they thought that the eastern tribes were engaging in idol worship. But the following reason was given to them, “We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the Lord. “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar—but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the Lord at His sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the Lord.’ “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the Lord’s altar, which our ancestors built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you’” (Josh. 22:24-28). This monument near the Jordan reminded the Israelites on either side of the Jordan than they worshipped the same God.
Sixth, after the covenant was renewed at Shechem near the end of the life of Joshua, “he (Joshua) took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord. “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us.
It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us.
It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God” (Josh. 24:26-28). This monument reminded the Israelites of their promise to obey the law of Moses.
Other monuments in the Bible include:
– Samuel set up a monument near Mizpah to remind the Israelites of how the Lord gave them a great victory over the Philistines (1 Sam. 7:7-12). It was named Ebenezer, which meant “stone of help”.
– After his victory over the Amalekites, Saul “set up a monument in his own honor” at Carmel. He wanted the Israelites to be reminded of his greatness.
But because he disobeyed God, his reign was taken away.
– David’s son Absalom built a monument to himself in the King’s Valley because no sons survived to carry on the family name (2 Sam. 18:18).
– The Pharisees built monuments over the tombs of the Old Testament prophets, but they plotted to kill Jesus (Mt. 23:29; Lk 11:47).
These last three monuments are memorials of humanity’s self-centredness and hypocrisy. While the others were mostly reminders of what God had done.
In most Australian towns there is a monument to those who died in warfare. Many of these monuments list the names of those who died. They are reminders. I think that the Bible is the biggest reminder to us of what God has done.
But there are other examples in the Bible of remembering besides monuments. We will look at some in the Old Testament (OT) and some in the New Testament (NT).
Remembering in the OT
After interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s cupbearer, Joseph told him, “when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (Gen. 40:14). But the Bible says, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Gen. 40:23). He only remembered Joseph after Pharaoh had a dream.
Jesus said, “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). She was offered deliverance from the judgment of Sodom. Although she left the city, she wasn’t delivered because she turned back towards Sodom.
This is a warning to those who trifle with God’s offer of salvation through Jesus.
Moses commanded Joshua to remember past victories and trust God for future ones (Dt. 3:21-22).
Moses instructed the Israelites to remember the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai and to teach them to their children (Dt.4:9-14). God remembers His covenant with the Israelites. And Israel is to remember the words and deeds of God, such as the deliverance from Egypt. They are told to “be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (Sinai) (Dt. 4:9-10).
In ancient times lessons from history were remembered when one generation told them to the next. For example, “things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep his commands” (Ps. 78:3-7). If this wasn’t done, the lessons of history were forgotten.
Fortunately, today we have the written version in the Bible.
Israel was urged to remember that God had delivered them from slavery on Egypt. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Dt. 5:15). This is also summarized in statements like, “Remember the days of old” (Dt. 32:7).
If Israel were ever tempted to fear their enemies, they were told to remember God’s mighty deliverances in the past, especially the deliverance from Egypt (Dt. 7: 17–19).
To remember means to not forget. If they got comfortable and satisfied, the Israelites were warned, “be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Dt. 6:12). Prosperity leads to forgetfulness (Dt. 8:10-14). And the psalmist wrote, “Though the wicked bind me with ropes, I will not forget your law” (Ps.119:61). He was committed to remembering the law of Moses.
Gideon rescued the Israelites from the Midianites. But after he died they went back to idolatry. They did “not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (Jud. 8:33).
When the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem the Levites sang “Remember the wonders He (God) has done, His miracles” (1 Chron. 16:12; Ps. 105:5).
Solomon said, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth”, before you face the difficulties of old age (Eccl. 12:1).
When the Jews were threatened when rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encouraged them by saying, “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (Neh. 4:14).
What do you use to remember things? A calendar?
A notebook? Post It notes? An alarm?
There are also examples of remembering in the NT.
Remembering in the NT
Christians are told to celebrate the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of the Lord Jesus (Lk. 22:19; 1 Cor. 11: 24-25). It’s the way that God has told us how to remember what Jesus has done for us.
Paul reminded the Ephesians to remember their hopeless situation before they trusted in Christ (Eph. 2:10-11). They had no hope of eternal life. They were ignorant of the true and living God.
The book of second Peter was written to tell believers how to deal with false teachers within the church. He describes the aim of his letter as follows:
“So I will always remind you of these things (now in the Bible), even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that after my departure (death) you will always be able to remember these things (now in the Bible)” (2 Pt. 1:12-15). Here we see that God’s purpose for the believer is to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. Churches should teach the crucial doctrines of the Christian faith. We need to be diligent with God’s truth. We need to be constantly reminded of the importance of God’s Word. This knowledge gives us stability and resilience to absorb the shocks of life. The Bible gives us stability (Mt. 4:4). We can’t live the Christian life without the Bible. Peter alludes to his imminent death. He was taking stock of himself and those to whom he was writing. He wanted them to remember certain truths about going to heaven.
At death the soul is released from the body. As a Christian he has the expectation of eternal life. Our only assurance about eternity comes from the Bible.
Peter wants to leave a lasting legacy. And it has lasted because we can read it today in the letter of second Peter in the Bible.
Paul said, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand” (1 Cor. 15:1). He then summarises the gospel and focuses on the resurrection of Christ. And he told Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead” (2 Tim. 2:8). We need to focus on the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus. That can help us face suffering and death.
Jude said, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, ‘In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires’. These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit” (Jude 17-19). We are reminded that things are not going to get any better in the professing church with time. The Bible says we are to expect the opposite. We are warned of this so we can be prepared.
The message to the church at Sardis says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent” (Rev. 3:2-3). It was like they were spiritually asleep and needed to be woken up. God wanted them to get back on track and be spiritually mature. He had a purpose for them. The entire church needed to repent.
We have looked at some monuments and some examples of remembering in the Bible. The things to be remembered under the Old Covenant in the OT, now need to be translated into equivalent things under the New Covenant in the NT. When this is done, we see that these examples show us God wants us to remember these things.
Remember our guilt and the penalty that is owed because of our sinfulness.
Remember that God has provided Jesus to be our Savior who paid that penalty – that’s the gospel (good news) message.
Remember that if we fail to accept God’s provision, we are doomed to face God’s judgement.
Remember our hopeless situation before we trusted in Christ as Savior.
Remember that people of all nationalities and cultures can worship the same God as us.
Remember to obey the commands given to Christians in the NT.
Remember that God helps us.
Remember past examples of God helping us.
Remember what the Bible says.
Remember the characteristics of the triune God.
Remember that unbelievers will infiltrate into Christendom and cause strife.
Remember to stay spiritually alert and mature.
Let’s remember these 12 things. And if we forget, let’s remind ourselves again from the Bible.
If our cell phone goes flat, we need to connect it up to the charger so the battery can be recharged. Likewise, if we are spiritually flat, we need to get our brains reconnected to the Bible so that it’s content can recharge our minds.
Lessons for us
As we pause on Anzac Day to remember those who gave their lives so we can have peace in our land, let’s remember God who sacrificed Himself to bring a future peace in heaven and earth.
God has given us the Bible “Lest we forget”. The Bible is a great reminder. Can we say, “We will remember its message”?
I use a phone alarm to remember some things. But it doesn’t work if I don’t set the alarm! I think the Bible is like an alarm. But it doesn’t work if we don’t read it!
So, don’t forget to remember!
Written, 25 April 2018 (ANZAC Day)
Recently when I had a problem with my phone, I was advised to do a reboot (restart). I’d forgotten that many computer problems are fixed by a restart. Turning your computer off and on again fixes a lot of problems because you’re removing the junk that’s accumulated and starting over again fresh.
When too many programs and processes are operating they hog system resources like RAM, cause problems like slow operation, programs won’t open and error messages appear. A restart closes every program and process and wipes away the current state of the software. This includes any code that’s stuck in a misbehaving state. Once your computer starts back up again, it’s not clogged up and is often a faster, better working computer. Most computers need to be restarted at least every few days. Very few are designed to run continuously.
In the same way, we can get bogged down in the cares of this life. Our lives can become so cluttered with finances, careers, family, relationships, and the other things we spend time doing. These things can spoil our relationship with God and hinder our spiritual growth. At times like this we need to reboot and refresh our relationship with God.
Jesus often prayed alone in the morning (Mk. 1:35) or during the night (Lk. 6:12). It was like He was getting a fresh start each day. And He prayed whenever an important decision was to be made or a crisis was near. It was like He was getting a fresh start at important times in His life. So, prayer can be a way to reboot ourselves.
To refresh our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ we need to get to know them better. The best description of the character and the acts of God the Father and Jesus Christ is in the Bible. This means reading the Bible, understanding it and applying it to our lives on a daily basis. So, the Bible can be a way to reboot ourselves.
And I think that the Lord’s Supper is like getting a fresh start each week. Like computers we get busy and our mind gets occupied with what we’ve been doing. The Lord’s Supper is a good way to clear our minds and get them working how God designed them to work. We dump the junk that’s accumulated during the week when we focus on all that God has done for us. It seems that the early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper once per week (Acts 20:6-7).
So how can we do a restart at the Lord’s Supper? When the Corinthians were treating each other poorly by discriminating amongst themselves and not respecting each other, Paul told them how to put things right before they took part in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34NIV). In particular, he said “anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking the cup”. (v.27-28). The Bible says that they were to “examine” themselves before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. They were to practice self-examination before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. We are to be honest about sin in our lives in order to maintain a dynamic fellowship with the Lord. This can mean dealing with unconfessed sin by confession and repentance.
Confession and repentance
Confession is God’s reset button for our guilt. To confess is to acknowledge our sin to God and to those we have sinned against (Jas. 5:16). The Bible says, “if we confess our sins to Him (God), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 Jn. 1:9NLT). Confession should lead to repentance. To repent is to change our direction away from a sinful way of behavior towards obeying God instead. It’s turning around to follow God (Acts 3:19). It involves action by reversing our direction and going opposite to the way of sin. For the Corinthians it meant to stop discriminating amongst themselves and to start sharing things amongst themselves and so respecting each other (1 Cor. 11:33-34). Confession and repentance help us to sustain our loving relationship with God.
We all struggle with sin. Let’s examine our motives. Are we self-centered? Are we carelessness towards sin because God “forgives” us when we sin?
Like a restart often cleans up our computer so that it can work again, confession and repentance of our sins cleanses us from all wickedness. We restart when we confess our sins. This renews our mind with the thoughts of God’s new creation so we can “participate in the divine nature” (Rom. 12:2; Cor. 5:17; 2 Pt. 1:4). It’s a good way to clear our minds and get them working how God designed them to work once again.
Lessons for us
A reboot is a simple way to fix some computer problems. But it’s easy to forget. A spiritual reboot is a simple way to fix some of our problems in life. And it’s also easy to forget.
We can reboot through prayer, reading the Bible and participating in the Lord’s Supper. It always includes confession and repentance of our sinful ways. How do you like to reboot?
Written, April 2018
Have you heard the story about a man trapped on the top of his house during a flood? The water is swiftly rising. As this man sits on his roof, fearful of being swept away by the current, he cries out to God, “Please deliver me”.
A few moments later, a farmer friend arrives with his boat. “Hey, want a ride to safety?” he asks. “No”, replies the man on top of his house. “God is going to deliver me.”
An hour later, the water is up to the gutters. A voluntary rescue person comes by on his yellow raft. “Hey, I’m here to help get you off there and on to safety,” he yells. But the man on top of his house refuses to go. “God is going to deliver me.”
Another hour passes and now the water is halfway up the roof. The man is now on top of his chimney, nervously looking down at certain death and destruction. Fortunately, a Red Cross volunteer comes along in a canoe and offers him a ride to safety. But the man refuses. “No, God is going to deliver me.”
A couple of hours pass by and the water sweeps over the top of his house and he is carried away by the current and drowns. When he gets to heaven, he meets Jesus and says, “I thought you were going to deliver me”. Jesus replies, “I sent a boat, an inflatable raft, and a canoe; but you refused each one”. Don’t be like this man!
In the previous post we saw why it is important to know God’s will. Now we will look at how we can find God’s will for us. How does God guide us? We will see that God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us.
First, we need to be aware of the conditions for finding God’s will.
Conditions for finding God’s will
Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own” (Jn. 7:17NLT). If we want to find God’s will, we must be willing to do it even before we know what it is. So, there must be a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance. If we are walking closely with the Lord and truly desiring His will for our lives, God will place His desires in our hearts. The key is wanting God’s will, not our own. A godly person’s desires are in line with what God wants them to do (Ps. 37:4, 23, 31).
Solomon answered the question, “How can I know God’s will in my life?” with a proverb, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6NIV). This means to trust in the Lord and not in ourselves. So we are to believe that God will reveal His will to us. And be willing to submit to Him in every area of life.
James says, “when you ask (for wisdom), you must believe and not doubt” (Jas. 1:6). We must believe that God cares for us and not doubt His goodness and power.
Daily fellowship with the Lord
Romans 12:1-2 has three keys for knowing God’s will. And they all rely on daily fellowship with the Lord. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).
The first key is commitment.
a) Commitment. Like the life of a sacrificial animal was offered to God, God wants us to be totally committed to Him. We are to place our lives before God as an offering. It’s to be an exclusive relationship, like marriage. Our goal is to please God (2 Cor. 5:14-15). And give up our will so we can follow God’s plan for us.
The second key is a renewed mind.
b) A renewed mind. Our thinking is to be according to a biblical worldview. Godly thinking. Paul had the mind of Christ and didn’t think about people from a worldly point of view (1 Cor. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:16). It’s like marriage. Because they spend so much time together, a husband and wife get to know each other’s mind and ways. Daily prayer and mediation on Scripture can help us to learn God’s mind and ways.
Are spiritual factors included in our decision making? Do we have the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom in mind? Do we desire what He desires?
The third key is a godly lifestyle.
c) A godly lifestyle. Not following the pattern of the sinful world. This comes from a godly mind directing obedience to Scripture. What controls our lives? Outside influences or inner convictions? Do we live as if this world is all that there is? Have we lost the eternal point of view on our lives? Are we always thinking about ourselves and disregarding the things of God? These come from the world system, which hates God (Jn. 15:9-19).
The final condition for finding God’s will is confession and repentance of sin.
Confession and repentance of sin
Unconfessed sin keeps us from closeness to God. We are to deal with sin by confessing it and repenting (turning back to follow God). “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).
If we have disobeyed God in some matter, let’s turn to Him in repentance now, before it is too late. Like Jonah, we may be able to come back into the mainstream of God’s plan for our lives.
Times of uncertainty are used by God to sift our motives too. When unsure of God’s will, we should examine ourselves to see whether we have fulfilled the prerequisites for His guidance.
Before you get a driving licence in Australia there are some pre-requisites. You need to pass:
– The driver knowledge test.
– The Hazard Perception Test.
– 120 hours of driving, including 20 hours of night driving.
– The driving practical test.
Likewise, we have seen that there are some pre-requisites for finding God’s will.
Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today.
The Holy Spirit
God guided Israel in the wilderness by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, but that method ceased when they entered Canaan. In Acts there are a few examples of God using angels and visions to guide people, but these are rare. In this post we will look at the normal means of guidance.
Finding God’s will was easier in Old Testament (OT) times because God used external ways to indicate it. The Holy Spirit now lives in a believer as a Guide, and He replaces all the external means of guidance that existed in the OT. Jesus told the disciples, “He (the Holy Spirit) will guide you into all the truth” (Jn. 16:13). They wrote this down and we now have it in the New Testament (NT).
Early in His ministry, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Lk. 4:1). Jesus and the Apostles were led by the Spirit because they were said to be full of the Holy Spirit. And Christians are commanded to be full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:17).
The Holy Spirit urges us inwardly either to take or not to take a certain course of action. Normally, this is the result of much time spent in prayer, and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of action. We can work through decisions with the wisdom God gives us through the Spirit. We can distinguish the voice of the Holy Spirit by the growing peace He gives to our minds, as we pray over the matter (Rom. 8:6; Col. 3:15). And the Holy Spirit will never lead us contrary to the teaching of the Bible.
Athletes and sporting teams have coaches to prepare them to perform at their peak. Mal Meninga coaches the Australian Rugby League team, Bert Van Marwijk has just started to coach the Australian Soccer team and Darren Lehmann has just resigned from coaching the Australian Cricket team. Fortunately, we have a coach who doesn’t retire, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit also guides us through the following external means. The chief external means by which God guides His people today is the Bible.
Paul says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The authors of the Bible were given the words to use by the Holy Spirit. Through it believers can be equipped for life, including leaning about God’s plan, purpose and will.
John Piper says there are three stages of finding God’s will.
– Using our renewed minds to understand and apply what God commands in the Scripture.
– The application of the Scriptures to new situations in life that are not addressed in the Bible.
– The development of godly character. Most of our thoughts, attitudes, and actions are spontaneous.
They are just spill-over from what’s inside.
When we look at the commands in the Bible we need to realize who they were written for. This is summarized in a schematic diagram where time increases from left to right. Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus, died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So the commands in Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) were written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us. The OT was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant). So these commands don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the NT. Some are repeated in the NT, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the NT, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the OT to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include the teachings of His to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant). The gospels were written to give Christians an account of the life of Jesus.
When interpreting a passage of the Bible we need to take the text and the context into account. Questions about the text include:
– Who was it written to?
– What did it mean to them?
– What’s changed since then? Are we living under a different covenant?
And questions about the context include:
– What happened before and afterwards?
– What is the situation?
Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.
For example, “By his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5;1 Pt. 2:24) could refer to either physical or spiritual healing. The context in Isaiah is “our transgressions”, “our iniquities”, “each of us has turned to our own way”, and “the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:5-6). And the context in 1 Peter is “our sins”, and “die to sins and live for righteousness”. There is no mention in either passage of illness or injury. So, in these verses “healed” means forgiveness of their sins (spiritual healing), not physical healing.
The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). A model to follow is a practice that is described that is worth following today. Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that is not worth following today.
Biblical commands to Christians are clear to follow. They are God’s revealed will for us. Are we faithfully seeking Him on a daily basis through Bible study and prayer? Are we active in ministry at a Bible-believing church? Are we sharing our faith? Are we doing our best to live apart from sin? Are we faithful to our spouse? Are we seeking satisfaction in Christ instead of the world?
Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Models are also clear to follow.
But what about topics not mentioned in the Bible? First, we can ask does it contradict the Bible? Nothing can be the will of God that is contrary to the Word of God. Although the Bible doesn’t give specific answers to many problems we face, it does give us general principles. We can apply these principles to the issues we face day by day. Spiritual wisdom is the practical application of the Bible to everyday situations.
Paul urged the Ephesians to “understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 5:17). We understand the will of the Lord by reflective thinking on how principles of Scripture apply to our circumstances. We find the general will of God in the Bible; we find the specific will for an individual believer through the application of principles of the Bible. We do not find this will through experiences, visions, or coincidences. We find His will through the correct use of our understanding.
For example, what about a debatable matter like tattoos? This is a secondary matter that is not essential to the Christian faith. And Christians may have different opinions and convictions about it. Some biblical principles we can consider are: God’s honor, the welfare of others (like acting in love, acceptance, harmony, don’t quarrel, don’t judge, don’t stumble a weaker believer, and don’t hinder spiritual growth), and order in the church. Also, what is the motive behind the tattoo?
On rare occasions, God may confirm His guidance to us through some specific passage in our daily Bible reading. But care is needed for we are often likely to read into a passage what is not there. God may lead us through a verse taken out of context, but this is the exception rather than the rule. God may confirm His guidance through a passage in our daily Bible-reading. But this should never be made the sole basis for guidance in any matter.
Have you ever bought some furniture from Ikea? It comes as a flat-pack and the components need to be assembled before they can be used. It’s best to follow the instructions. Otherwise, you might have to go back to the beginning in order to assemble the components in the correct order. The Bible is like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.
Prayer is another external means of guidance.
Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:6-7). Prayer is the way to alleviate worry and experience God’s peace. God wants to know about our requests. There is peace in knowing that God is sovereign and loving.
James 1:5 says we don’t have wisdom because we don’t ask for it—so prayer is critical in seeking and living the will of God. He can use answered prayer to guide us through life.
Did you know that there is an Ikea flat-pack furniture assembly service for difficult projects? And what if we could phone up and get help with difficult Ikea projects? Prayer is like that – we get to speak with the author of the instructions.
Circumstances and opportunities are other external means of guidance.
Circumstances and opportunities
God is sovereign. He is in charge of this world. And the events that He allows are all part of His sovereign will. Nothing happens by chance. What happens to us is part of God’s sovereign will. He can control our circumstances and thereby indicate His will. God may use events in our life to point us in a certain direction. God can use circumstances either to confirm the guidance we have received or to prevent our taking a wrong step.
There are a number of cases of circumstantial guidance in the book of Acts. God used persecution to scatter the church from Jerusalem to spread the gospel (Acts 8:1). During Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas moved from one place to another when they had to flee from persecution. And after Paul was arrested, he was given opportunities to preach in Jerusalem to the crowd and to the Sanhedrin. At his trial, he preached to the governor and the king. And when he was taken as a prisoner to Rome, he preached to the sailors, to people at Malta and to people at Rome (Acts 21-28).
God may prevent us from going into paths He has not chosen for us by putting us on a sick bed or by making us miss a train, an appointment or an interview. Disappointments can be His appointments for us, if we live under His Lordship. When we do not obtain something we greatly longed for and prayed for, we can be sure that God has something better in store for us.
God may also lead us contrary to circumstances. So circumstances are not always an indication of God’s will. They must be considered only in conjunction with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and His witness through the Bible.
Is it right to ask God to indicate His will by a sign? After the advent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, there is not a single recorded case in the NT of believers seeking to find God’s will through a sign. This seems to indicate that it is no longer God’s normal method of guidance. It served a purpose in OT times, when the Holy Spirit did not indwell people – but not now. Don’t ask God for a miracle as a sign, and don’t ask God for something so common that it is not really a sign at all. And don’t ask God for a verse as a sign. It’s probably best to not ask God to indicate His will by a sign at all.
God also works through open doors and opportunities. To steer a ship or vehicle, it needs to be moving. If we are active in responding to the opportunities before us, God will direct us.
The advice of godly believers is another external means of guidance.
The advice of godly believers
Christians are urged to encourage each other in the local church (Heb. 10:24-25). Wisdom is available from others with more experience in the Christian life. It’s good to have a mentor or a spiritual counselor or a small group who can provide guidance and support.
However, there are two extremes to avoid. One is to be completely independent of the advice of godly people. The other is to be so completely dependent on their advice as to accept it without question as God’s will for us.
There are some occasions when we should pay attention to the advice of godly people, and some occasions when we may have to go against the advice of those same people, and yet other occasions when we do not have to consult anyone at all. In any case whether we accept or reject or do not seek the advice of others, the ultimate decision must always be our own, for we are personally answerable to God for our decisions.
How do you build a house? One brick at a time. Or one part at a time. How do we build a life? One decision at a time. There is an old saying, “Sow a thought and you reap an act; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny”. The decisions we make about God’s plan purpose and will for us shape our lives.
God may sometimes show us His will only just before we have to make a decision, and may keep us waiting a long time prior to that. In any case, He will show us only the next step at each stage. He leads us step by step because He wants us to depend on Him day by day, and to walk by faith and not by sight. For example, the Bereans “examined the Scriptures every day” (Acts 17:11). When He shows us only one step at a time, we are compelled to depend on Him. Moreover, if God showed us the whole future, it is quite likely that we would not want to obey Him fully. And so, He shows us just one step at a time and gradually makes us willing to fulfil all His will. To find God’s will for our life, therefore, all we need to do at any time is to take the next step that God shows us. As we do so, we will find God’s plan unfolding gradually. He does not expect us to find out the details of His plan before we get there.
In the smaller details of daily life, guidance is not necessarily a question of making a conscious decision. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit. A right relationship with the Lord will lead to right action.
God’s will is not static. It is dynamic! It is not always an issue of choosing A or B. In fact, many times you can choose from A to Z, and any of them will be OK. It’s our choice. Why would God give us a brain and not expect us to use it? He lets us make choices, and he gives us second chances.
We have seen that there are seven conditions for finding God’s will, plan or purpose for us. These are desire, faith, daily fellowship with the Lord, commitment, a renewed mind, a godly lifestyle, and confession and repentance of sin.
Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. The Holy Spirit also uses Scripture, prayer, circumstances and the advice of godly believers. So God has given us several ways to find his plan, purpose and will for us. Let’s use these so that we will know, understand and follow His will for our lives.
Written, April 2018
About seven years ago, my wife and I visited England. We arrived at Heathrow airport near London and got a hire car to drive towards the south-west to Cornwall. We drove from the hire car depot out to the main road and onto a roundabout. But I couldn’t recognize the right turnoff, so we kept driving around the roundabout! It was overcast, so I couldn’t tell the direction from the position of the sun in the sky. And then it started to rain. So, we took an exit from the roundabout and stopped and got out a GPS and used it to find the way to go.
Since then, when we travel in a new area, we often follow Google maps. When we use it as a GPS it tells us the way to go, like “take the third exit at the roundabout”. Life is a journey with many junctions where decisions must be made. The decisions we make shape our lives. In some sense, every decision we have made – good and bad – has brought us to where we are today. We can look back on the good and bad choices we have made and can see how God has used them in our lives. Now we want to make good choices that are in line with God’s will.
In this post we are looking at why it’s important to know and understand God’s will. We will see that because God wants our will to comply with His will, nothing is as important to the life of the Christian as the will of God. That’s why God wants us to know His will.
But, what does the term “God’s will” mean? According to the dictionary, in this context, “will” means a wish, desire, choice, intention, or command. It’s what someone wants to happen. And it especially applies to someone with authority or power. For example, “It is the king’s will that the prisoner be spared”. And “A dictator imposes their will on others”.
Meaning of “will” in the Bible
The word “will” carries the idea of purpose and design. Purpose plus design equals the will of God. God has a purpose for our lives. So, “God’s will” means God’s purpose, plan or design.
The New Testament uses two main Greek nouns to describe “will” in the context of “God’s will”. The first, “boule” (Strongs #1012) often means God’s sovereign plan which is predetermined and inflexible and always comes to pass. Peter told the Jews, “This man (Jesus) was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan (boule) and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23NIV).
The other Greek word, “thelema” (Strongs #2307) often means God’s desire or wish. It’s God’s preferred will, which doesn’t always come to pass because it relies on human obedience.
The two wills of God
The will of God is used in two main senses in the Bible. These are “God’s sovereign will” and “God’s revealed will”.
God’s sovereign will comes from the fact that God not only created the universe, but He continues to rule over and sustain the universe. He is near, not distant. He’s not a God who created the universe and then took a holiday and left it to run on its own, while He is now remote. Instead, He has ultimate control of all that happens. He has a plan and purpose. God’s sovereign will always comes to pass. It’s hidden, and we only see it in hindsight by looking back after events have occurred, because we don’t know much about what the future holds like God does.
God’s revealed will comes from God’s commands and desires revealed in the Bible. It can be known. Because people have a free will, they can choose to either obey or disobey God’s revealed will. So, God’s revealed will doesn’t always come to pass.
The first aspect of God’s will is God’s sovereign will.
God’s sovereign will
To those who are tempted to worship idols, God said, “I am God, and there is none like me … My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’ … What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that will I do” (Isa. 46:8-11). And King Nebuchadnezzar praised God, “His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Dan. 4:34-35ESV). God plans the future and brings it to pass. God plans and governs everything.
Before Jesus was crucified He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). And the early Christians prayed, “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27-28). It was God’s will that Jesus die. That’s what God decided would happen. So, God has a grand cosmic plan, which is shown in the schematic diagram. It begins with the creation of time and everything else and progresses through the fall, our sinful world to which Christ came as Savior, to the restoration after Jesus returns and to the new heavens and the new earth. And He has a plan or purpose for each of us as well. This goes from our birth to our death and onto eternal life. Paul says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Nothing can happen to us without God allowing it. In God’s providence He controls all events, all thoughts, and all plans for His own glory.
Paul reveals some of God’s sovereign will in Ephesians chapter 1. In the context of the early Jewish believers he says, that God “makes everything work out according to His plan” (Eph. 1:11NLT). God has a plan (which is His sovereign will) that is well thought out. It’s His purpose (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 3:11). It includes everything, nothing is left out of His plan. Everything that God planned will come to pass (Dan. 4:35; Rom. 11:36). And everything that happens results from God’s will in some way.
But God never does evil and the Bible never blames God for evil or sin (Job. 1:21-22; Rom. 1:12). We have seen that it was the sovereign will of God that Jesus die. But this included the sins of Herod, Pilate, the soldiers, and the Jewish leaders. This part of God’s sovereign will is also called God’s permissive will because it involves an indirect fulfillment of God’s desire. God allows ungodly behavior and uses it to fulfil His plan. At Easter we are reminded of “When God uses evil for good”. God allows the activities of Satan. He allows people to have a free will. And He allows sin and its consequences. These happen because of human choice and God’s allowance (permission). And God allows suffering and can use it for His purposes.
That’s all we will look at about God’s sovereign will. It’s good to understand God’s plan from the old creation in Genesis to the new creation in Revelation because we make our best decisions when we understand God’s ultimate plan for us and the world. This requires an understanding of the Bible.
The other aspect of God’s will is God’s revealed will.
God’s revealed will
God’s revealed will is what God commands us to do in the Bible. It can be obeyed or disobeyed. Here’s a schematic diagram to show how this will comes to us. It was God’s idea, which was revealed to the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles by the Holy Spirit. They taught about it and wrote it down and we now have it in the Bible. We can know and understand it by reading the Bible. And then we have the choice of obeying of disobeying it.
After 11 chapters of doctrine in the letter of Romans, Paul gives the practical applications for Christians. The first two verses say what’s necessary for living the Christian life. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all He has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind He will find acceptable. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2NLT).
The revealed will of God is what God has revealed about Himself in the Bible. Knowing the will of God takes effort and study. It’s impossible to do the will of God without knowing it. Knowing comes before doing. But if we ignore and disobey God’s revealed will then we will be a worldly Christian with an ungodly secular lifestyle.
Paul says that the revealed will of God is good, pleasing and perfect:
– It’s intrinsically good because it’s like God’s divine nature. In fact, God’s character controls His revealed will. It’s beneficial because knowing and doing the revealed will of God brings spiritual and moral growth. If we apply the Bible in our lives, it changes and empowers us (1 Th. 2:13).
– It’s pleasing to God (1 Th. 2:4). Every Christian will ultimately be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). This process begins on earth and is completed in heaven.
– It’s perfect (or complete). It can’t be improved (being the best). And mature believers know and apply the will of God to their lives.
God answers prayers that are in accordance with His will (Jn. 14:13-14; 1 Jn. 5:14-15). The better we know God’s will, the better our prayer life will be and the more He will answer our prayers.
Sometimes God allows things to occur which are not according to His desire. For example, God can allow us to disobey the revealed will of God or choose a sinful course of action. By choosing not to intervene to prevent the act, God is willing that it take place. So, the will of God can permit sin, but it doesn’t cause the sin. And the person is responsible for the sin, and not God. This is called God’s permissive will.
The revealed will of God also includes suffering. The Bible says to expect suffering and that suffering can mould our character (1 Pt. 5:12-17).
What’s God’s primary will for humanity?
God’s primary will for humanity
God created people with a free will to make decisions. But many reject God’s revealed will in the Bible. God’s primary will for humanity is that they turn to Christ and be saved from the penalty of their sinfulness (2 Pt. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:3-4).
The message to scoffers who doubt that God is going to judge the world in a coming day is that “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). The delay is not because God doesn’t keep His promises, but because he is patient in giving people more time to be saved from this judgement. That’s the major desire of God’s revealed will.
Paul said that a reason to pray for all people is that God, “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Here he uses the title “God our Savior” because God wants everyone to be saved from their sin. There are two parts to this salvation: divine and human. “To be saved” is passive. We can’t save ourselves, but must be saved by God. And to be saved, we must “come to a knowledge of the truth”. God doesn’t save people against their will. He doesn’t populate heaven with rebellious subjects. Then Paul summarizes the gospel message “There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave His life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
Although God wants everyone to be saved, yet not everyone will be saved. God wanted the Israelites to travel from Egypt to Canaan, but most of them didn’t get there. Instead they wandered in the wilderness for 38 years where most of them died. They missed out of the promised blessing.
What’s God’s will for believers?
God’s will for believers
Once we’re saved, God has a further will for our lives. Forgiveness of sins is an entree to a life dedicated to the fulfilment of the will of God. God’s will is something for us to do, not just to believe or affirm. Because God loves us, His will for us is in our best interests.
Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt. 12:50; Mk .3:35; Lk. 8:21). So, obeying God’s revealed will is evidence of membership in His spiritual family.
Paul says, “do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Eph. 1:17). We need to know and understand what the will of the Lord is before we can do it.
Paul prayed for the Colossians, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way” (Col. 1:9-10). God wants us to fill our minds with His will so that we can “live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way”. Isn’t that what we want to do?
John says, “The (sinful) world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). And Peter says, “they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pt. 4:2). The will of God is opposite to the sinful desires of this world. One is eternal and the other is temporary. God’s will for our lives is the most important standard for Christian living. It’s the true purpose for the life of the believer. It should characterize Christians.
It’s like moving to a new job. We learn all about the business, its goals, vision and mission. We want to be accepted. Similarly, when we become Christians, we should find out God’s will for our lives and do it. We don’t want to displease our Boss.
There are certain things God wants us to do and not do. God’s will includes our growth to be like Christ and to glorify Him in all things. And there are good works for us to do: “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
Because God has given us His revealed will, He is interested in our lives. But who do we live for?
Who do we live for?
When defending himself against false teachers Paul reveals the motive for his behavior: “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:14-15NIV). The key point is that Paul was driven by Christ’s love – “Christ’s love compels us”. This love was revealed when “one (Jesus) died for all (everyone)”. And the reason He died was so that His followers “should no longer live for themselves but for Him (Jesus) who died for them and was raised again”. We should stop living for ourselves, and start living for Jesus, the Son of God. God wants us to be godly, not selfish. That’s a challenge to us. Who do we live for? Ourselves? Our family? Our church? God? You may say, “all of the above”. But in what priority? Jesus teaches that our top priority should be to follow Him (Mt. 10:37; 13:44-46; Lk. 14:26).
In this chapter of the Bible Paul also gives another motivation for his behavior. In the context of our death and resurrection, he says, “We make it our goal to please Him (Christ) … For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). We will give an account to Jesus about what we have done with our lives. Jesus will judge our lives. And then we will be rewarded accounting to what we have done. This is about rewards, not salvation. We are saved by faith, but we are rewarded according to our obedience to His will. Is our goal to please God? Or is it to please ourselves? Let’s be like Paul who wanted to please Christ.
When the Corinthians disputed about what leader they followed, Paul said “they (each leader) will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8). Likewise, each believer will be rewarded according to how much they have lived for God compared to how much they lived without considering what God would want them to do. Then he says, “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day (of judgment) will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:13-15). This is a metaphor saying that in future our behavior will be judged by Jesus Christ. As a fire reveals what’s combustible and what’s not combustible, Jesus will reveal what’s done in accordance with His will and what’s not done in accordance with His will. So, there are eternal consequences for how we live our lives.
It’s best to live for God because He created our world and He continues to sustain it. It’s always best to follow the maker’s instructions. Job said, “the life of every living thing is in His (God’s) hand, and the breath of every human being” (Job. 12:10). And Paul said, “Everything was created through Him and for Him (Col. 1:16NLT). This includes us. God is the source of our life.
What are the consequences of living outside God’s will?
Consequences of living outside God’s will
The Bible teaches that there are consequences to how we live our lives. The Israelites died in the wilderness. Saul and Solomon lost their kingdoms. When the Galatians were living outside God’s will by following sinful ways Paul listed the consequences. They lost the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23NLT). Instead, they practiced: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Gal. 5:19-21). So, they lapsed into sinful habits. Those who make their decisions without seeking God’s guidance will be vulnerable to Satan’s attacks.
True love and freedom only exists in the will of God (Jn. 8:32). The freedom outside of God’s ways is only a freedom to do more sin. A sin is anything that isn’t pleasing to God. It may be something we do or say, or an evil thought or selfish motive — but whatever it is, it isn’t God’s will. Sin is anything outside God’s will. It hinders and entangles us (Heb. 12:1). And God hates sin.
God told Adam and Eve not to eat from one particular tree because He wanted to protect them. That’s the beauty of obedience. It protects like a boundary fence. In Australia, schools have boundary fences. It’s safe inside them. And parents teach children not to cross the street when a car is coming. These are protective boundaries.
The Australian cricket captain Steve Smith knows that there are consequences for disobeying the laws of cricket (he has been banned from playing for 12 months). Likewise, there are consequences if we disobey God’s revealed will.
Knowing and doing
But knowing God’s revealed will is not enough. It’s like an App on your smartphone which is no good unless you activate it. The App is comprised of coded instructions. Just having it sitting in your phone and not using it is no better than not having it at all. But when you press the icon the program is activated, and you see the results on the screen. When we obey God’s revealed will it is activated, and we will see the results in our lives and in those around us.
Epaphras prayed that the Colossians “may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12ESV, NET). This means that they understand and apply the principles of Bible to their situations in life. There is nothing better for us than doing “all the will of God”. But the will of God may hurt; it may be an uphill battle.
Do you know that suffering comes by the will of God?
Suffering comes by the will of God
God created humanity with the freedom to make choices. This includes choosing between good and bad, right and wrong. We aren’t robots that only respond to instructions and we aren’t driven only by instinct. Because we can make choices, we will experience the consequences of these choices.
Peter said, “it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Pt. 3:17). It is God’s will to do what is right, even if suffering is the result. And undeserved suffering makes us partners in Christ’s suffering.
Peter also said, “those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pt. 4:19). We are to continue trusting the God who made us (as part of the original creation) and who saved us (as part of the new creation) because He is faithful. We should hand over the control of our lives to Him.
Why is it important to know God’s will?
We have seen that the Bible gives at least 13 reasons why it’s important to know God’s will. Knowing and living for God’s will for us:
Shows us the only way to heaven. By faith in Christ.
Shows us how to live.
Gives meaning to our lives. This motivates us and gives us a passion.
Helps us make decisions. How do we spend our time and resources? These are limited. We can’t do everything we want to do. Instead if we know God’s will, we can focus on what’s important.
Develops our character and values. We adopt godly thinking and a godly lifestyle. We “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4). We become more Christ-like. We reap the fruit of the Spirit.
Enables growth towards spiritual maturity.
Prepares us for heaven. When Jesus asks, “What did you do with the life I gave you?”, it will it be obvious if we lived for ourselves or for God’s plan for us. This life is preparation for the next. And we aren’t reincarnated on earth.
Brings assurance and contentment.
Improves our prayer life.
Is evidence of membership in God’s spiritual family.
Protects us from losing the fruit of the Spirit.
Protects us from sinful habits.
Because God wants our will to comply with His will, nothing is as important to the life of the Christian as the will of God. That’s why God wants us to know His will (Acts 22:14), to understand His will (Eph. 5:17), and to do His will (Mt. 7:21).
But whose will is dominant in our lives? Ours or God’s? Let’s make knowing and understanding God’s will for us a way of life. A part of our character. A regular commitment. Then it will guide and influence our mind and conscience and emotions and all the things we do.
Written, April 2018
Also see: How to find God’s will
In the marshmallow test a researcher places a marshmallow in front of a pre-schooler and tells them that if they can wait about 15 minutes before eating it, they will get a second marshmallow. The choice is: one treat right now or two treats later. It demonstrates the power of habit and willpower (or self-control).
Our habits affect or control our lives. A habit is something we do regularly and that tends to occur subconsciously. It involves our attitudes, behaviors, characteristics and customs. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form. But it is possible to form new habits through the repetition of new actions in small steps (that take no more than 5 minutes). And It takes at least 60 consecutive days to establish a habit.
God lists three habits in the Bible that go together like the layers in a sandwich.
When he wrote a letter to encourage the Christians at Thessalonica who were enduring persecution, Paul said, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18NIV). This is comprised of three commands: to be joyful, to be prayerful and to be thankful. It would have been easier if the Bible said, “Rejoice sometimes, pray occasionally, and give thanks when you feel like it”. Instead the standard is higher than that: always, continually, and in all circumstances.
These three commands cover our past, present and future. We rejoice in the present, pray for the future and give thanks for the past. Paul repeated them to Christians in Rome, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Rom. 12:12).
The first command is to rejoice always.
“Rejoice always” means to be cheerful or joyful all the time, not just sometimes. This includes good and adverse circumstances. Paul was joyful when he heard about their ongoing faith in the Lord (1 Th. 3:9). But the Christians at Thessalonica were to rejoice although they were being persecuted (Acts 17:5-9; 1 Th. 2:14). And Paul and Silas sang joyfully in prison (Acts 16:25).
When we face difficulties, we have a choice: either we can focus on our trials and lapse into self-pity. Or we can set our minds on the things above, where Christ is at the right hand of God, and rejoice. Paul also said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). So to rejoice always means that we must make this deliberate choice to focus on the Lord and the inheritance that we have in Him, not on our difficult circumstances.
Joy is different to happiness. Joy is an inner attitude whereas happiness is an emotional response to good circumstances. Because it works from the inside out, joy does not depend on our circumstances. God and Jesus are the source and subject of our joy. Biblical joy comes from who God and Jesus are and what they do. And we know that God is in control of the circumstances. As joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s a consequence of a godly life (Gal. 5:22-23). It depends on our relationship with God.
So there is some truth in the Monty Python comedy song “Always look on the bright side of life”. For a Christian, there is always a bright side of life. And that’s eternal life.
The second command is to pray continually.
“Pray continually” means to pray at regular times and to be persistent in prayer. Our prayers should be frequent and persistent. It includes always being willing and ready to pray as the need arises. This indicates one’s dependence on God.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy continually prayed for them and Paul asked them to pray for him and his companions (1 Th. 1:2; 5:25). Likewise, we need to pray for one another.
Our communication with family and friends is hindered if our cell phone is switched off or the battery is flat. Likewise, our communication with God is hindered if we don’t pray continually.
The third command is to give thanks in all circumstances.
“Give thanks in all circumstances” means to give thanks in all circumstances because “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). Note that it is “in” the circumstance, not “for” the circumstance. If we gave thanks “for” everything that would mean that we give thanks for Satan and his plan for the world!
Instead we thank God no matter what happens, as long as we don’t excuse sin. Whatever comes in our lives comes in by the will of God. Like joy, our thankfulness depends on our relationship in Christ rather than on the circumstances of life.
Paul also said, “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).
Paul usually includes thanksgiving at the beginning of his letters. In this case, Paul thanked God continually because they accepted the message that he brought from God (1 Th. 1:2; 3:9).
Thanksgiving is the time of year when North Americans spend time with family and friends and reflect on all that they are grateful for. But God wants us to be thankful every day of the year.
Each of these three commands are God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
In Christ Jesus
“God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” means that that God wants His people to be joyful, prayerful and thankful. In these areas of life we can know God’s will without a doubt. This part of God’s will is also especially revealed by the example of Christ Jesus. But we can only obey them if we are “in Christ Jesus”. Christians are in union with Christ because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Paul told them that as Christians they are collectively and individually “in Christ” (1 Th. 1:1; 2:14; 4:16). And their hope was “in our Lord Jesus Christ” – they were waiting for His return (1 Th. 1:3).
Lessons for us
It’s God’s will for His followers to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. God wants us to do these three things regularly. Every day of our life. Jesus taught about them. And He modelled them in His daily life. Let’s imitate Him in being joyful, prayerful and thankful.
Written, March 2018