What Is the Will of God?

Theologians have long debated the best way to try to describe the will of God. There are several different terms that have been used, but some of them contain theological errors or are misleading. The Bible speaks of God's will in two primary categories that may best be described as God's "will of decree" and His "will of desire". Deut. 29:29 refers to both and shows the basic difference: "The secret things [God's will of decree] belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed [God's will of desire] belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."

1)  God's "will of decree"
This refers to the eternal decrees of God which He established from before the beginning of the creation. If God could have created a world in which no bad things happened, then He intentionally foreordained everything that comes to pass in this world. These eternal decrees of God are hidden from us, and can often only be understood by us in hindsight (if at all).
  > Ps. 139:16 -- "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them."
  > Is. 46:9-10 -- "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure..."
  > Eph. 1:11 -- "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will..."
  > Matt. 10:29-31 -- "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows."
  > Acts 4:27-28 -- "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done."

2)  God's "will of desire"
This refers to what God has commanded His creatures to do. This is the way that God desires for us to act. God has clearly revealed His will of desire in His word, and we are responsible to learn it, remember it, and obey it perfectly.
  > Matt. 7:21 -- "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."
  > Matt. 28:18-20 -- "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen."
  > 1 Thess. 4:3 -- "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality..."
  > Heb. 13:20-21 -- "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

NOTE: Nothing and no one can thwart God's will of decree, but God's will of desire is resisted and violated all the time through human disobedience. As Acts 4:27-28 states, everyone involved in the execution of Jesus was in rebellion against God's will of desire (the Law of God) while simultaneously fulfilling God's will of decree exactly as He had planned and prophesied. This case illustrates the principle that God is absolutely sovereign over evil but that sinners are still fully responsible for their sin. It's beyond our capacity to understand, but it's obviously the clear teaching of Scripture.

Finding God's Will

When most Christians talk about finding God's will for their lives, they are usually trying to figure out God's will of decree before they make a big decision. One theologian describes the popular view this way: "Conventional understanding of God's will defines it as a specific pathway we should follow into the future. God knows what this pathway is, and he has laid it out for us to follow. Our responsibility is to discover this pathway—God's plan for our lives. We must discover which of the many pathways we could follow is the one we should follow, the one God has planned for us. If and when we make the right choice, we will receive his favor, fulfill our divine destiny and succeed in life.... If we choose rightly, we will experience his blessing and achieve success and happiness. If we choose wrongly, we may lose our way, miss God's will for our lives, and remain lost forever in an incomprehensible maze." Sadly, that very common view is entirely unbiblical and destroys lives and souls. Here are a few of the worst side-effects.

The idea of needing to discover God's hidden will has the tragic effect of making people resent God and distrust His fatherly providence. If God has the map for your life and is hiding it from you and will punish you if you don't find it, then what kind of sick god is that? That's a false god that the Devil wants to pass off on you; that's not your heavenly Father. As theologian Bruce Waltke argues, the modern idea of finding God's will is actually a pagan notion that has nothing to do with biblical Christianity.

As result, many well-meaning Christians who are thus deceived end up paralyzed with fear and are crippled by anxiety. They desperately want to please God, but they don't know how. They sincerely want to do God's will, which is why they're afraid to do anything that might take them "out of God's will". This means that many Christians are rendered completely ineffective for the service of God because they have been tricked into desperately seeking something that can't be found.

Unfortunately, some people use the will of God as an excuse for their laziness. In a show of fake humility, some people sit comfortably on their blessed assurance while waiting oh so patiently for God to make His perfect will perfectly clear. Ironically, this misconception about God's will allows them to feel more highly spiritual the less they do. Even worse, some people make up some way to justify their sin (violating God's revealed will of decree) by some supposed sign from God that led them toward the choice they made.

It is not God's will for you to try to find His will for your life. God is not hiding anything from you that you need to know in order to do His will. Study what God has plainly revealed in Scripture, and ask God to shape your desires to align with His. Ask God for wisdom and for His providential guidance. Seek out wise counsel from mature Christians who can help you avoid pitfalls. Commit your way to the Lord, and trust Him to order your steps according to His perfect plan (Ps. 37:5).

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