(You can read part one at http://www.marketfaith.org/knowing-the-will-of-god-part-1-what-do-we-mean-by-the-will-of-god)
I once read about a man who was convinced it was God’s will for him to leave his wife and children to marry another woman. He was asked why he was so sure it was God’s will. He answered that he had a strong feeling in his heart and when he was with the other woman he just knew it was so right.
So, what should we say to someone with that attitude? Was the man right to assume it was God’s will for him to abandon his family and commit adultery? Who can say it was or was not? Why?
In the last installment we began our exploration of knowing the will of God. We started with a definition. Basically, the “Will of God” is whatever God wants to be or to happen. We explained three ways that simple statement relates to us as Christians.
1. We said that the will of God involves some things that God causes to happen. For instance, the creation of the universe or the beginning of life were events God did completely on His own without our involvement. Therefore we are subject to them regardless of what we desire.
2. Then there are things God wants us to do according to His perfect plan for our lives. We called this God’s “perfect will.” We have to acknowledge, however, that in our current state of life we do not (or maybe cannot) always really know what that will is precisely.
3. That being said, God does allow us to do what we believe is His will even if we are not absolutely sure. We call this His “permissive will.”
So, though we may understand what is meant by God’s will (both perfect and permissive), that does not really tell us how we can know what His will is. Just how can we really know what the will of God is for ourselves or anyone else? Isn’t it essentially how and what we feel in our hearts about what God wants us to do in certain situations? In this installment we will explore four principles to help us seek, discover, and know the will of God for our lives.
First, a word of warning. As you will note, none of these principles have anything to do with how we feel. On many occasions, I have dialogued with Mormons. Inevitably, whenever I pose questions about their faith for which they have no rational answer, they fall back on their feelings. They often say they have a burning sensation in their heart that Mormonism is true, regardless of its philosophical, historical, and unbiblical theological problems.
But is this a valid way to distinguish truth? Of course it is not. Feelings are completely subjective and can easily be manipulated or misinterpreted. They are subject to a variety of factors including the weather, hormones, or even what we eat. So, in the case of a Christian, relying on feelings is not a wise or valid way to discern the will of God.
So let us explore four practical principles for discovering and knowing the will of God for our lives.
Principle One: We Know the Will of God by First Knowing What Is Not the Will of God.
In the neighborhood where I live there used to be a short, narrow, and crooked street that ran through a cemetery. At the entrance of the street was a sign that plainly read: NO TRUCKS. One day I came up to the entrance where a big 18 wheeler semi-tractor trailer was stuck trying weave between two crooked turns in the middle of the grave yard. I thought to myself, “I am sure the driver must have seen the sign, did he think they had put it there for no reason?” (The county later wisely widened the street and redirected it around the cemetery.)
God has put up warning signs for our lives. Granted, it is not easy to know the specific will of God in some circumstances. But there are some things we can be certain are not His will in every situation! How can we be sure? Because God has clearly communicated specific prohibitions to us in His Word, the Bible. Let me give some examples:
In Exodus 20:1-17 are the Ten Commandments as given to Moses. Seven of them tell us explicitly what is never God’s will in any situation.
1. It is never God’s will pray to or worship any other gods or make idols (Ex. 20:3-6).
2. It is never God’s will to take God’s name in vain (Ex. 20:7). Does this mean we should not swear? That’s one application, but it also forbids us to use God’s name for wrong motives (e.g.: bilking naive people out of money).
3. It is never God’s will to commit murder (Ex. 20:13). Murder means to take the life of an innocent person (including the unborn). Jesus extended this principle to even mean hating someone in our hearts (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; see also 1 John 3:15).
4. It is never God’s will to commit adultery (Ex. 20:14). Likewise, Jesus extended this commandment to lusting in one’s heart. In fact, He further applied it to any sexual relations outside of the marriage of a man and woman. (Matt. 5: 27-32)
5. It is never God’s will to steal someone else’s property (Ex. 20: 15).
6. It is never God’s will to tell a lie (Ex. 20:26). Jesus even said that Satan is the “father of lies” (John 8:44; see also Lev. 19: 11-12).
7. It is never God’s will to covet what is not rightfully ours to possess (20:17).
Here are some other actions that are never God’s will:
1. It is never God’s will to practice the occult. Forbidden occult practices include astrology, horoscopes, divination, palm reading, communicating with the dead, witchcraft, casting spells, etc. (Deut. 18: 9-14).
2. It is never God’s will to get drunk (intoxicated). Paul explicitly forbade drunkenness. Basically he said it is incompatible with being filled with the Holy Spirit. (Eph. 5:15-18 – More on this passage in the next installment.)
3. It is never God’s will to slander or gossip. (Lev. 19:16; Psalm 15:3; 101:5; Prov. 10:18; 16:28; 20:19; Matt. 5:19; Mark 7:22; Rom. 1:29,30; 2 Cor. 12:20; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 1 Tim. 3:11; 5:13; 2 Tim. 3:3; Titus 2:3; 1 Pet. 2:1)
4. And here’s one that too many Christians have ignored and regretted. It is never God’s will for a Christian to marry a nonChristian (1 Cor. 6:14-15).
5. And here’s another one that remains true despite some revisionist theologian’s attempts to obfuscate it. It is never God’s will to engage in homosexual relations (Gen. 19:1-11; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:24-28, 32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:9-10).
These are absolute prohibitions. They are never God’s will. We have no need to ponder them. We have no need even to pray about them (except for deliverance from temptation or forgiveness). Our only option is to obey them.
Frankly, a lot of individual person’s and, indeed, most of humanity’s problems would disappear if we just followed these ethical principles. But discovering God’s will is more than just knowing what negative things not to do. We also, of course, need to know what positive things we should do.
Principle Two: We Know the Will of God by Studying God’s Word, the Bible.
The 119th Psalm is the longest and one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible. It is an acrostic divided into twenty-two sections of eight verses each. Each verse of each section begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each verse of the Psalm also contains a word that is a euphemism or synonym for the Word of God. Consider the following examples.
“Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes!” (Psalm 119:5)\
“Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119: 11)
“I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.” (Psalm 119: 15-16)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he told his young protege, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Later in the same letter he declared, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
The Apostle Peter also affirmed the authority and Divine inspiration of Scripture, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
A key ingredient in knowing the will of God is diligent study of His word. The more we learn about Him the more we will understand what He desires for our lives. That being said, we must be careful how we go about “handling the word of truth.”
Maybe you have heard the old joke about a man who had to make a decision and wanted a solution from the Bible. He decided that he would just let it fall open and stick his finger on any verse at random and do what it said. So he closed his eyes, opened his Bible and stuck his finger on a verse. When he opened his eyes he read: “Judas went and hung himself.” “That can’t be right!” he thought, so he tried again. This time it read, “Go and do likewise!” Alarmed, the man tried a third time. It read, “What you do, do quickly!”
The Bible is not like an “8-Ball” toy that we shake and get an instant answer. We cannot use it like a fortune cookie or crystal ball. Discovering God’s will from Scripture requires diligent study to learn its principles for living. The more and longer we study, the more wisdom we gain.
That’s one reason why we should memorize Scripture. It is a lifelong process of reading and meditating on God’s word, by which we increasingly discern the will of God. So we may, as Paul says, “… not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2).
The point is that the Bible doesn’t simply tell us what not to do, it also positively tells us what to do. Knowing the right thing to do and not doing it is a violation of God’s will (James 4:17). These are divine commissions to obey and permissions to act freely within boudaries. For instance here are some (but certainly not all) examples of positive Scriptural admonitions.
1. We should love one another as Christ loved us. (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 13:8)
2. We should honor our mothers and fathers. (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20)
3. We should keep the Sabbath (Lord’s Day) as taught by Jesus and in the New Testament. (Ex. 20:8-11; Matt. 12:8-12; Mark 2:27-28; Luke 6:5-9; 14:3-5; Col. 2:16-17)
4. We should be good stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us. (See my recent article on biblical stewardship at http://www.marketfaith.org/defining-biblical-stewardship/)
Principle Three: We Know God’s Will by Asking God in Prayer.
The Bible has much to say about prayer. Jesus often prayed and taught His disciples to pray (Matt. 6:1-9; 21:22; Mark 1:35; 6:46; 11:24-25; Luke 11:1-13; et. al.)
Here are some examples of the benefits and promises of prayer:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7: 7-8)
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. “(Philippians 4: 6)
“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
“The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” (James 5:16)
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
Prayer is a primary way to learn the will of God. Again, however, we must be careful; God is not a genie in a bottle. Prayer is not “Abracadabra – please and thank you.” Prayer is not for us tell God what we want Him to do. It for us to learn what God wants us to do! We always ask coming before Him with humility and faith to follow His will. As the old saying goes, “God answers prayers in one of three ways: ‘Yes’, ‘No’ or ‘Wait.’” That third option is sometimes the hardest to accept.
As we grow in our faith over the years, we learn how to pray more effectively and to discern God’s desires more clearly. It is a lifetime quest and, remember, it is not a matter of how we feel.
“But,” you may ask, “what if I don’t have years of experience? I am a young Christian and sometimes I just don’t know what to do.” The answer is to profit from the experience of others.
Principle Four: We Know the Will of God by Seeking Wise Counsel from Mature Believers.
I have been a Christian for more than forty-five years. Nonetheless, I am still learning about God’s will for my life. Sometimes I still need advice from other mature Christians. Despite what some youth might think, older people are not all fuddy-duddies. Most of them have faced the same kinds of problems young people do today. We all need to seek the counsel of mature and experienced Christians at one time of another to help us decide the right thing to do in some situations.
So, how do we know God’s will for our lives? It is not always straightforward. We start by knowing what is not His will. We learn God’s stated prohibitions, His divine commissions, and other allowable permissions from God’s word, the Bible. We also should pray and ask God’s guidance. And, finally we may need to seek the counsel of mature Christians to help us discern the right things to do.
Given all that, nevertheless, we must confess that knowing the will of God is relatively easy compared to doing the will of God. So, you ask, “How can I actually do God’s will in all situations?” The short answer is, “You can’t!” But don’t despair. In part three we will examine some key principles for successfully achieving God’s will for our lives. In doing so we will learn why we must avoid the polar pitfalls of legalism or antinomianism.
Next installment: How Do We Do the “Will of God’?
© 2014 Tal Davis