How to find God’s will
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
Also see: Why is it important to know God’s will
Understanding the Bible
Why is it important to know God’s will?
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
Selfies are common in social media like Facebook and Instagram. It’s easy because all smart phones have cameras. A selfie is a photo of yourself. It’s is all about me. I am in the center of the photo. The word “selfie” was first used in an Australian internet forum in 2002. But what does the Bible say about selfies? We will see that normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.
Let’s look at a verse on a Christian’s relationships with others: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8NIV). The letter of 1 Peter was written to churches facing suffering and persecution. The verses beforehand address a Christian’s relationships with the government, their employer and their spouse (1 Peter 2:13 – 3:7). The main attitudes to be shown in these relationships are respect and submission. The verses afterward address a Christian’s response to suffering and persecution, which is to be characterized by doing good and pursuing peace.
Our verse lists five characteristics: like-mindedness, sympathy, family love, compassion, and humility. These may be grouped into two categories of “respect” and “care”.
If we are like-minded and humble towards each other, we will respect each other. Being like-minded is to have unity and to be harmonious. Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another” (Rom. 12:16). It is like a musical instrument playing along with others in a band or orchestra or a person singing in a choir.
How do we get along with other Christians, especially those at church? Are we harmonious together? Or are we just a disjointed group of individuals who don’t get along together?
Being humble is the opposite of being proud and having an inflated view of one’s importance. Peter also wrote, “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). It’s as essential as clothing. So it’s not all about me. It’s all about you. It’s all about us. That’s what’s wrong with selfies and wanting people to “like” us on social media.
Are we happy for others to succeed and to take a more prominent role than us? Do we seek recognition for what we do?
If we have sympathy, family love and compassion towards each other, we care for each other. I think “empathy” would be a better translation than “sympathy”. The verb form is used in Hebrews to say that Jesus empathizes with our weaknesses because He was temped like us (Heb. 4:15NIV). It means to be in touch with another’s emotions and feelings. Paul wrote, “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Do we recognize what life is like for each other and share the ups and downs? Or do we ignore them?
As all true Christians are children of God, we are to love one another as those in the same family or team. And we know that families and teams can be great or terrible. It’s meant to be great because Paul associates this type of love with humility, generosity and hospitality (Rom. 12:10-13).
The third aspect of our care for each other given in this verse is compassion. Paul associates this with kindness and a forgiving attitude (Eph. 4:32) and John says it is helping a fellow-believer and is associated with sacrificial love (1 Jn. 3:16-18).
Are our relationships with each other like this? Or do we go through the motions without any real empathy, love and compassion? We live in a selfish world. Selfies are common. At times like these, the Israelites were told to “stop doing wrong” and “learn to do right” (Is. 1:16-17). This is a change of 180 degrees. For us this means to stop focusing on our self so much.
My smart phone has two cameras that aim 180 degrees apart. When one lens is aimed at me, the other is aimed away from me. If we want to take less selfies, we need to either use the other lens and aim away from us.
So let’s look around and get involved in each other’s lives because God wants us to care for each other like He does.
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be empathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Pt. 3:8). These are the characteristics of normal Christian relationships. They reflect the attitude and example of Christ.
So let’s be respectful towards each other – full of respect. And careful towards each other – full of care. Let’s respect and care for one another because normal Christian relationships are characterized by respect and care; not selfies.
Written, April 2014