Do We Have An Effect On "God's Will"?
(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)
Calvinists in general think that God has pre-determined everything – our destinies, our choices, illnesses, disasters, whatever happens in life, abuse we go through, etc. They believe that God always does whatever God wants and that everything that happens is because God wanted it to happen, such as the Fall of Adam and Eve. They say that Adam and Eve rebelled (that we rebel) because God wanted it to happen and planned for it to happen and caused it to happen (this is what they mean if they say "God ordained it" - not just that He allowed it but that He planned it and caused it). And eternally speaking, He plans if we will be believers or unbelievers. So if you are not a believer and you end up in hell, it’s because He didn’t want you to be a believer. He wanted you to be in hell, for His purpose and glory.
Because, after all, His Will always happens and everything that happens in His Will, right?
They assume that because God is all-powerful, He always does whatever He wants to do and everything that happens is because He caused it. They think that His Will is fixed and that we have no effect on it and no choice about it.
But is this really the case? Does He plan and cause everything? Does He always do whatever He wants? Do our prayers make any difference at all? Do we have any real choices?
Or is our understanding of God’s Sovereignty and God's Will off? And do we have more of a role in and responsibility for making God’s Will happen than we realize? (Click here for "What Does 'God Is Sovereign' Mean?")
To better understand “God’s Will,” we need to first define it. Is it what He wants for us/asks of us? Or is it His pre-made, pre-determined plans for our lives?
His Will is a Verb
Personally, I think that “His Will” is (generally) most accurately defined as what He desires. It’s what He desires for us (the choices He wants us to make and the path He wants us to take, etc.), and it’s what He desires from us (living God-glorifying lives, being obedient, etc.).
Yes, sometimes it is about His over-arching, pre-determined plans for mankind – salvation, redemption, every knee bending to Jesus, etc. These things will happen regardless of us, because God planned it so.
But I think that in our everyday, earthly lives, God doesn’t dictate or decide everything we do. I think that He leaves a lot up to us – decisions, choices, beliefs, etc. He has plans that He calls us to follow Him in, but He lets us decide to cooperate with Him or to rebel against Him. And in His wisdom and sovereignty, He works our choices into His plans.
When it comes to our daily lives, His Will is a verb. It is how we are supposed to live daily. The Bible talks about doing the things that God wills, things that He desires us to do. It does not as often talk about waiting for His Will or trying to find it as though it is a pre-set path or plan. It doesn’t generally portray His Will as something that just happens to us, as though it’s a predetermined event. It portrays it as something that we engage in, that we cooperate with Him in, and that we have to decide to obey Him in.
Matthew 7: 21: “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. . . .’“
John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will . . .”
Psalm 143:10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground.”
Ephesians 5:17, 18: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. . . . be filled with the Spirit.”
1 Thessalonians 4:3: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified . . .”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
And a line in the Lord’s Prayer says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) I used to read this as “May Your plans come to pass,” as though we had no real responsibility for that happening and that it would happen no matter what. We were simply acknowledging that we wanted His plans to happen. But I’m beginning to wonder if it really means, “May Your Will be obediently done by us on earth, as it is done up in heaven by your angels. May we do what You want us to do, and may what You want to have happen, happen; by our obedience and prayer.”
It seems that, in general, His Will for us is how He desires us to live, abiding in Him, walking in daily obedience to Him and His Word. It’s more about the moment than it is about the future. More about how we live in obedience than about finding some pre-set path. More about our responsibility to obey than to just let life happen because “God always does whatever He wants.”
Too often, we think of “God’s Will” as a pre-set path that we have to find. We wrestle in prayer and wring our hands and cry out, “Oh, Lord, please show me your Will! What is your Will for my life? What is the next step in Your pre-made plan for me?”
But His Will is not a pre-made plan that we have to figure out. It has more to do with the way He wants us to live our lives today. And His Will - what He desires from us, how He wants us to live - is not a mystery; it’s all there in His Word. But do we take the time to discover it? Do we abide in Him? Do we put aside our own selfish desires and plans, in obedience to Him instead? Or do we waste our time and energy pursuing “the next step,” instead of pursuing Him? Do we spend our time trying to figure out what the future holds, instead of trying to figure out how He wants us to live today?
[Incidentally, if we are living as He wants us to live daily, the "next step" on our path (what He wants us to do next) will become clear . . . as we walk with Him. So just worry about today’s obedience and responsibilities and jobs and prayer requests, and He will gently guide you into tomorrow. If you live faithfully today, abiding in Him, He will keep you on "the right path."]
We Have an Effect
If we think that God’s Will for our lives is pre-set and that “whatever happens must be God’s Will because God always does what He wants,” we will be off-track.
Living like we have no effect on whether God’s Will gets done or not and like He always does His Will regardless of us will cause us to be lazy in our daily pursuit of God, lazy in prayer, lazy in obedience, and lazy in reading and applying His Word.
God is very clear that our obedience is critical in obtaining the blessings He wants us to have, in staying on the path He wants us to take, in staying in His Will for us.
I am not saying that we have an influence over everything or that God always hinges His Will on us. There are times when He doesn't. And He has every right to override us and do what He has planned (not that He overrides our free-will, just that He can work His plans out regardless of what we choose). But there are times when we do have an effect and when He does hinge things on us and act in response to us. And whether we obey or disobey, He can still work anything into His plans and use it for His purposes. But if we disobey, we reap the consequences and miss out on the benefits of obedience.
Consider the Israelites at Passover. It was God’s Will that they be spared when the Angel of Death came and killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. But in order for God’s Will to be done, they had to be obedient in putting the blood of a lamb on their doorframe. God had a Will, but it was carried out by the people’s obedience.
And as we saw in an earlier post, it was God’s Will to spare all the people who were on the boat with Paul during a storm (Acts 27). But only if they stayed with the ship. God had a Will, a plan, but the people had to decide if they would follow Him in it, if they would stay safely in His Will or stray outside of it. But if they were all predestined to live and if God controlled what they did, then why would Paul need to warn them to stay on the boat? If they didn't have the ability to make a choice, then Paul's warning means nothing. But if they did have a choice, then we are right back to free-will, to having to choose between obedience and disobedience.
[Essentially, Calvinists would have to conclude that God's warnings and instructions in the Bible mean nothing, that they are superfluous and unnecessary because everything's already been predetermined and God causes everything to happen according to His plans. What a waste of papyrus and effort, writing down His Word for us when it makes no difference anyway!
And if they say that it does make a difference, that we need His Word to help us live as Christians and grow in Christ, then that implies that how we respond to the Word has an effect, that we can choose whether to live according to God's Word or not. And that then means that we have the power of choice - Free-Will. The F-word in Calvinism!
"But," they say, "God planned for the Word to be part of how He causes us to do what He pre-planned for us to do. He caused the Word to be written and causes us to read it and causes us to obey it. Because this is how He wanted to carry out His plans."
Umm ... okay ... but then doesn't that lead to "Whatever will be will be, regardless of what we do or don't do. If whether I read and heed the Word has been predestined and God causes what happens, then I don't have a choice. And whether I read the Word now or not isn't my decision to make; it's God's. So essentially, I cannot choose to read the Word and heed its instructions ... so why should I pick it up right now and read it? If I pick it up right now to read it, then it would seem like I am choosing to read it. But you say I don't have a choice, that God will cause it to happen when He wants to. So why should I act like I have a choice - like I am overriding His control - by picking up my Bible right now and trying to read it and live by it? Who am I to think I can choose to do anything? That God doesn't control every move I make?"
Honestly, Calvinism is a great reason to not choose to do anything, to shrug off any responsibility you have because if God causes all things to happen in His time, then why should we make any choices right now? Wouldn't us acting like we can make a choice be denying God's sovereign control?
You know what would be fun to do sometime to a Calvinist pastor when he asks you to do something, like contribute money to the church's building plans or go on a mission's trip or serve in some position at church? It would be fun to say "I'm sorry but God didn't ordain it to happen. He didn't predestine me to do that. So I can't." And just see how he responds.
Either he will try to blame you for being the one who is making that decision, claiming that it's not really God who caused you to do it, thereby denying his own view that we can't make our own choices, that God causes us to do everything we do. Or he will try to talk you into it, essentially acting as if his efforts can have an effect and that we can choose how to respond. If he tries to hold you accountable for the choice to not help, then he is either denying God's sovereign control or trying to thwart God's sovereign plans.
I wonder how many Calvinist pastors would be true to their theology and simply say nothing and walk away, trusting that if they did nothing - if they didn't try to talk you into it or make you feel bad for refusing - then their "sovereign" God would cause it to happen in His time and in His way, without them needing to try to force it to happen! And how many would trust that if we never did help then it must not have been God's Will and that they simply need to accept it!
It would be fun if a bunch of Christians tried this with Calvinist pastors we know, just to see how they would respond. How many of them will act like the choice is ours?]
Wow, big tangent. Sorry. Anyway, back to what I was saying ... Let's also look at the Israelites in the desert. It was God’s Will to get the Israelites from Egypt into Canaan. But in order for this to happen, Moses had to be obedient in getting them set free, and the people had to be obedient in following him to the Promised Land. Yet, that first generation of Israelites were disobedience and resistant and whiney and rebellious. And this caused them to miss out on God’s plan – His blessing – for their lives. Instead of getting the Promised Land, they earned themselves death in the desert. Had they just trusted and obeyed God, they would have obtained the blessing.
[Interesting and disturbing note: In Numbers 14:26-35, we see that after the Israelites refused to go into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the people that lived there, God decided to do to them the very things that they were afraid would happen all along, as punishment.
It makes me wonder . . . Can our refusal to follow God “earn” us the very things that we fear, the things we are afraid that God will do to us or allow into our lives? If we live in fear of the bad things that might happen to us, might that actually “cause” them to happen? Because we are cowering in fear of life’s terrors, instead of fearing God, trusting Him, and following Him in faith? Just a thought.]
But ultimately, God’s plan to get the Israelites into the Promised Land was still accomplished. He simply took the next generation of Israelites into the Promised Land because they were willing and obedient.
Our Responsibility to Obey
In our daily lives, God’s Will isn’t always a “pre-set plan that will happen regardless of us.” Getting God’s Will done requires our obedience, a responsibility on our part to follow Him in His plans for us, to live as He wants us to live.
He does not (generally) force His Will for our lives upon us. And not everything that happens is because He planned it that way, because He caused it, or because it was His Will.
"But," Calvinists say, "the Bible says God ordains everything that happens! This mean God preplanned and causes everything that happens. So we have no control or choices."
Hmm, let's think about this a moment ...
Romans 13:1 says that God has established (ordained) all leaders, and that's why we are to obey them. And Calvinists would say, "See, this means God preplanned all leaders and chose all leaders, even all the evil ones. He deliberately picked them and put them in power," supporting their view that God ordains - causes - all things that happen.
Yes, I think God might sometimes deliberately put evil people in power, possibly for disciplining a nation. But does this mean He always preplans and chooses the leaders, that our actions and voting, etc., has no effect?
Hosea 8:4: "They [Israel] set up kings without my [God's] consent; they choose princes without my approval."
Waaaaiiitttt a second! How is that possible? If "ordains" means "preplans and causes," how can God say He establishes/ordains all leaders but then say that Israel chose leaders without His consent or approval?
The only way this can be true is if "ordains" doesn't mean what Calvinists think it does!
"Ordains" doesn't necessarily mean that God preplanned all the leaders who get into power (sometimes He does!), that He alone picks them and causes them to get into power without any influence from us. But it can also be that God simply allowed us to get the leaders we get, such as when we vote in an ungodly person or when we cause world events that lead to the rise of a wicked dictator. It doesn't have to mean that God caused that person to get into power, but it might just simply be that He knew that our actions and choices would lead to that person getting into power ... and He let it happen. He nodded His head and said, "Fine, have it your way!" "Ordaining" the consequences of our choices, granting them permission to happen.
"But," Calvinists say, "if God doesn't cause all things then He's not a sovereign God. If we can make choices and can have any effect on things then He's not all-powerful."
This is purely human reasoning. It's Calvinists telling God how God has to act in order to be God! It's Calvinists saying "But He has to cause all things or else He's not God!"
And yet God said, "They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval."
God sometimes causes things (but never sin), and God sometimes just allows things, allowing us to make choices, to bring consequences on ourselves, to choose obedience or disobedience, etc.
This is the only way both those verses can be true!
Sometimes God does cause things, yes ... but many other times, things happen as a result of our sins, our disobedience, our decisions, our failure to pray and to seek His input and help.
Consider Joshua. In the book of Joshua, we read about times that He inquired of the Lord, and God led him in the right path. But then we read about a couple times when "Joshua inquired of the Lord" was missing, when he didn't seek God's advice before doing something. And it reaped severe consequences. But then, coming to his senses, Joshua would remember how important it is to seek God's advice, and so he would, and then God would help him get out of the mess he got into when he failed to inquire of God. But had Joshua just sought the Lord in the first place instead of running off in his own wisdom, I believe God would have led him in the right path in the first place, and those bad consequences would have been avoided.
God gave us the option of following Him in His best plans for us (of remaining in His Will) or the option of doing things our own way, of missing out on His “best plans” for our lives. The Israelites didn’t have to die off in the desert, but they resisted doing it God’s way. Yet, God made a way to accomplish His ultimate Will for the people, by taking the next generation into the Promised Land, the ones who were willing to follow Him.
God's Will does get done. But He gives us the choice of following Him in it, of doing things His way ... or of rebelling, rejecting Him, and causing our own consequences. And since we all have the opportunity of coming to the Lord and doing things His way and making Him Lord of our lives, if we reject Him then it's on us and He is just in allowing us to face the consequences of our choices.
Do not - for one second - buy into the Calvinist notion that everything that happens is because God preplanned it and causes it to happen. What a way to shrug off our responsibility to do anything or to take anything seriously!
God can and does expect us to seek Him, to choose to worship Him and serve Him, to follow Him in the right path, to abide in Him, to make wise decisions, etc. The responsibility lies with us! Take this seriously. Because we will bring our own consequences on ourselves. We are responsible for our choices!
(For more on God's Will, go to my series "Understanding God's Will.")
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