Dismantling a Defective View of God's Will
Big Idea: God's will is that we would live God's way as revealed in God's word.
(To listen to the full sermon audio, click here.)
Few things are more confusing for Christians than trying to understand God’s will for our lives. We keep trying – and failing – to hit the “bull’s eye” we think of as being the center of His will. Why is that? Can we actually know what God's will is or are we looking for something that doesn’t exist (at least not the way we think about it)?
What if our entire understanding of God’s will is defective?
Sadly, most of us are flat wrong in the way we understand God’s will. We need a paradigm shift; we need to dismantle our defective, distorted view so that we can delight in His revealed will.
Here are three reasons it's important to study the concept of God's will:
1. The DEMAND for this topic
Because we often misunderstand it. Some of us think of God’s will as a singular blueprint that we are to follow, discerned by internal promptings or impressions, confirmed by a sense of peace, or concluded as a response to a “fleece” (a man-made test that we devise). We agonize that, given a choice between two good opportunities, we may make the wrong decision and, in the process, displease God.
Because we’re prone to abuse it. We use the term “God’s will” for everything – like a trump card – and it ends up meaning nothing: “God told me this is His will”. Or we use it to push off accountability and justify passivity, “I’m praying about where God wants me to serve”.
Because we’re frustrated about it. We’re seeking specific guidance from God for decisions about school, vocation, marriage, church. Yet it feels like God is a spiteful older sibling, taunting us with the answer but holding it just out of reach.
But God’s not like that!
2. The DEFECTIVE traditional view
In theological circles, scholars refer to the “traditional view” of God’s will, which breaks down into three broad categories - the first two, God's sovereign will and moral will, are agreed upon by all Christians, while the individual will is what we are disputing.
A. God’s Sovereign Will
God's sovereign will is His secret plan which controls the outcome of all matters in the universe. Because God is supreme in power and without equal, He controls the outcome of all things, both big (elections, weather patterns, and wars) and small (which way the dice fall in a game). Proverbs 16:33, Daniel 4:35, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:27-28, and Ephesians 1:11 all support our understanding of God's sovereign will.
The important conclusion, however, is not that God predetermines everything like a cosmic puppet master, but that He is sovereign over every outcome and always accomplishes what He desires. He works for His glory and our good even in our bad decisions. Nothing can hinder His sovereign plan.
B. God’s Moral Will
God's moral will is bound up in His commands in the Bible that teach men and women how they ought to believe and live. Examples of this would be the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) or the New Testament guidelines for marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14, Romans 5, and 1 Peter 3).
The Bible is God’s revealed will for our lives. Through it, we have access to the wisdom, clarity, and instruction we need to obey God’s moral will and lead lives of godliness.
C. God’s Individual Will
Then there's God's individual will - His ideal, detailed life plan uniquely designed for every person. This is the “bull’s eye” of God’s will that many aim for. In this view, there is only one right path, only one right decision, only one "center" to God's will. Even a single misstep, and you have left God’s “perfect will” and you are relegated to God’s “Plan B”. The problem is this is not Biblical. While many people teach this view, the Bible does not. This is the consistent claim of Scripture:
God's will is that we would live God's way as revealed in God's Word!
We are free to choose our path and make our own decisions as long as they are within the moral will of God.
3. The Derivation of the Individual Will of God
If the traditional view that God has an ideal, perfect, individual will isn’t taught in Scripture, where did it come from? Here are three sources:
It’s argued from God’s orderliness. If God is a God of order, the assumption is that He must have a specific, individual plan for each person. This may be logical, but there is no verse in the Bible to support it. God will accomplish the outcome He desires, but that doesn’t demand an individual will for every person.
It’s argued from God’s Fatherhood. We think that every good father has an individual, specific plan for each of his children. However, a good father instructs his children with the wisdom necessary to make good decisions themselves. He doesn’t predetermine their every step. That’s a dictator, not a father!
It’s argued from misinterpreted Scripture. Because God spoke to individuals in the Bible in a certain way (Moses’ burning bush, Saul’s blinding encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus), we universalize those accounts and assume that because He worked that way once, He will or must do something like that again in our lives.
Furthermore, there are 11 Scripture references* that are used to support this idea of the individual will of God. However, with prayerful attention to these verses in context, we find that each instructs us about the sovereign or moral will of God.
4. The DEFINITIVE will of God.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”
1 Thessalonians 4:3
God’s definitive will is for us to become like Jesus. As God transforms our hearts, heads, and hands to His moral truth, we become a particular type of person - a person like Jesus.
Thanks to the good and caring character of God, we are free to make our own decisions within God’s revealed moral will.
Question for further reflection:
- Where have I refused the moral will of God?
*Verses that are often quoted to support the idea of the individual will of God: Psalm 32:8; Proverbs 3:5-6; Proverbs 16:9; Isaiah 30:20-21; John 5:19; 10:3-4, 16, 27; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 2:10; 5:15-17; Colossians 1:9; 4:12.