How To Know God's Will

(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)

Since we're on the topic of God's Will, let’s look at Romans 12:1-2: 

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the 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.”

This verse says that we can “test and approve” what God’s will is.  (What need is there to "test and approve" God's Will if it's always the only thing that happens, as Calvinists claim?  If God always does His Will, regardless of what we do or think, why would He care if we "test and approve" it?)  I have always wondered about this phrase, about what it means and what it means for us.  

The conclusion I have come to is that as the Holy Spirit renews our minds, we will come to better understand God’s goals - His desire to reach people, to save people, to pour out love and forgiveness and grace and mercy and compassion and truth on them.  On all people!  

(Incidentally, I read a post on our church's blog yesterday, and I was trying to figure out if the writer was a Calvinist or not.  And then she said something like, "As we all know, Jesus died for those who believe in Him..."  And I immediately thought "Calvinist!  No, Jesus didn't die for those who believe in Him; He died for all people.  But only those who choose to believe in Him will acquire the forgiveness and eternal life that His death bought for us."  Be careful with Calvinists!  They say things that sound so biblical that you might not notice the Calvinism for a long time.)

As we grow closer and closer to the Lord and let the Holy Spirit transform us, we will be able to grasp more and more what the Lord's Will is, what our role in it is, what our focus should be, and what our responsibilities are.  We will learn to work for His kingdom and righteousness.

But I think Calvinism messes this up by teaching that God's Will always happens and that it's the only thing that happens.  Where is the need to be obedient then?  To care about being obedient and about pleasing the Lord?  Doesn't He control whatever we do anyway?  So what's the point in trying or caring?

And we also run into trouble if we view God's Will as “His pre-set plans for our lives,” as plans that are set in stone, that we have to find or else we'll be "out of His Will."  Because then we focus on trying to discover this “pre-set path,” as though it’s a hidden path in a thick, weedy woods.  We use faith and prayer as a machete, trying to hack our way through the undergrowth, seeing if we can find that hidden path so that we can get on it.  And we are always afraid we will miss it somehow.

But His Will isn’t a pre-set path.  And it's not going to always happen regardless of what we do or don't do.  Yes, He works all things into His Will.  And His overall Will for mankind will happen.  But we can fail to live out His Will in our own lives.  Because His Will is generally about how He wants us to live today – obediently, seeking righteousness and His kingdom, growing more and more in Jesus’ likeness.  And Romans 12:1-2 doesn’t say that we will be able to know His Will by searching for it, like it’s a path that needs to be found.  It says that we will be able to “test and approve” His Will when we become “living sacrifices” and our minds have been “renewed.”   

So what does all this mean for us?

Out of thankfulness for the mercy that God has shown us, we are to live holy and pleasing lives as God calls us to.  We are to sacrifice our desires and plans for His sake and for His kingdom, offering our bodies to be used by Him and for His purposes.  And this includes our minds, which we are to transform and renew by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This is to be our daily lifestyle. 

But you know what Calvinism is?  

A great excuse to be lazy!  Why put effort into anything if everything's been predetermined and God causes everything you do?  And if Calvinists say, "Oh, but you still have to put effort into being obedient and honoring God," then I am going to ask, "Are you saying you have some sort of control over what you do and how you do it?  Where is God's sovereign control now!?!  So you can't control your thoughts about God and your choice about Jesus, but you can control your actions and behavior!?!  Interesting!"  If they were truly being true to their theology, they would admit that nothing they think or do or put effort into matters because they have no control over it anyway; it's all been preplanned by God for His glory and they can do nothing He doesn't cause them to do.  So once again, I ask, "Why bother trying to do anything?  Why bother caring?"   

But I think the Bible shows that we decide how to live and what to believe and whether we are obedient or not.  And the verse above shows that God expects us to get our hearts and minds in line with Him.  And this can only really happen when we choose to stop conforming to the world.  

We can’t do both: have our minds conformed to the world and transformed by the Holy Spirit.  But when we choose to let go of our worldly pursuits and mindsets - when we seek righteousness, holiness, and God’s Kingdom and seek to be pleasing and submissive to Him - we give the Spirit room to come in and transform us. 

And it is then that we can discern God’s perfect Will for our lives, what He wants for us and from us and the ways that He wants us to walk and what His goals are.  And then, it’s up to us to obey!  And as we walk in obedience, the path will become straight and we will know the “next steps” when it is time.

            “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm.”  (Psalm 37:23) 

            “The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness.”  (Proverbs 11:5)

We won’t know God’s plans for us by trying to force Him to reveal it, by trying to make it happen, or by going about our business while neglecting a serious pursuit of God and our responsibility to be obedient.  We have a lot more to do than just “going with the flow,” thinking we’ll stumble into God’s Will for our lives or that His Will always happens no matter what. 

We need to be delighting the Lord by being spiritual sacrifices - by letting the Spirit transform us into humble, righteousness-seeking, God-honoring, God-fearing, totally-committed and radically-obedient Christians - if we want to remain on His best path for us, if we want to know what His good, pleasing, perfect Will is.  

(And don't be too hard on yourself if you feel you don't measure up and can't be perfect.  None of us do or are.  This is a life-long journey, full of ups and downs, steps forward and steps backward.  And God knows that.  He knows that we're human and that we'll stumble and that we'll be scared and make bad decisions.  Why do you think He sent Jesus to die for us!?!  Because He knows we are human and can't be perfect and that we need His grace and mercy!  So don't get distressed about your humanness.  Just keep turning your face back towards Him, no matter what.  Keep falling into His arms when you hurt, at His feet when you're broken, and on His mercy and grace when you fail.  Your sins have already been paid for and forgiven by God anyway.  But it's up to you to accept it and to live in thankfulness for it.  So even if it's hard and life hurts and you feel like giving up or hiding in shame, keep taking steps in His direction, no matter how small the steps are or how far you've walked away.  Like the father of the prodigal son in Luke 15, He's always ready to embrace anyone who comes back to Him, in love and forgiveness.  He doesn't want your "perfect, polished behavior."  He wants you - a real relationship with you - imperfections, weaknesses, shortcomings, and all.  Keep coming to Him as you are, and He'll keep guiding you into the person He wants you to be!) 

Where We Go Wrong

I think we cause problems when we misinterpret verses like ...

            “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord . . .” (Jeremiah 29:11)

            “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

            “ . . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)   

We hear these and think it means that He has plans and that He will always do whatever He plans, that we will always be safely in His Will because His plans are set in stone and will happen to us, regardless of what we do.  Right?

And in a way, that is true.  God’s plans eventually get done.  But we have a right to refuse to follow Him in His plans.  And if this happens, He will just find someone else to work His plans through.  

Did you know that even though God had plans to use Moses to lead the people out of Egypt, Exodus 4:24-26 tells us that God was going to kill Moses one night for being disobedient?  God wanted to use Moses for His plans, but He didn't need Moses.  If Moses had chosen to remain in disobedience, God could have and would have simply gotten someone else to do the job.  (And if Calvinists say, "Oh, but that's how God got Moses to be obedient, by threatening to kill him."  Then I would say, "So God lies about what He's going to do to get people to obey, when He Himself controls if they are obedient or not anyway!?!"  Yep, makes perfect sense!)

So God has His plans and calls us to follow Him in His plans.  But we can refuse to follow Him.  We can rebel or go our own way.  And He will let us face the consequences of our choices.  Just ask the Israelites who were led out of Egypt but died off in the desert because they refused to follow God in His plans, causing God to take the next generation (the willing and obedient ones) into the Promised Land instead.  His Will does get done.  But it is up to us if we will be a part of it, through our obedience and humility and spiritual transformation, or if we will fall outside of His Will, die off in the desert, and miss out on the blessings because we chose to do it our way. 

Philippians 2:12 echoes the need for daily obedience in order to see His purposes accomplished.

            “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. . . .” - and then comes verse 13“for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” 

We are to continue in our obedience, in the fear of the Lord, because God works in us to accomplish His purposes.  But if we are not living in active obedience – if we are just floating through life thinking God’s Will for us will always be done because God always does whatever He wants regardless of our responsibility or obedience – then we cannot expect to be accomplishing His purposes. 

Usually, when we float through life without consciously and actively abiding in Him in reverent fear, we are just accomplishing our own purposes and putting His name on it, even though they might seem good, godly, and reasonable to us.

Yes, God is all-powerful and He does indeed know what is best.  And whatever He does is best.  But just because He knows what’s best and wants what’s best doesn’t mean that He always causes those things to happen, apart from man’s cooperation.  I believe that He voluntarily limits His use of power in causing many things to happen.  He does not always use His power to force things.  He doesn’t always do “His Will,” regardless of us.  There are times that He hinges it on us.  (Of course, as I said, His Will does eventually get done, but through people who are willing to do it and to follow Him His way.  Those who neglect to do it His way miss out.)

Sometimes, our problem is that we would much rather seek His plans than seek Him with our whole hearts.  We would much rather believe that His Will has to do with finding out His plans or the next step on the path than it does with transforming our lives. 

We want a quick open door, not a total makeover of our spiritual lives and disciplines.  We want the blessings without any work or responsibility on our parts.  We’d rather just convince ourselves that everything that happens is because God planned it that way and made it happen, that we don’t have any responsibility because God always does what He wants anyway.  And we want to believe that every problem we have in life is because He made it happen for a reason, not that it might be some consequence of our own doing or a result of our disobedience or just a part of life in a fallen world that we have to deal with.

Seeking “the next step in His plans for us (that hidden, pre-set path)” is a lot easier and a lot less disruptive than transforming our lives and our minds.

But we do have responsibilities and we do create consequences.  His best plans for us don’t always happen because we can choose to obey or disobey.  We can choose to pray or not.  He allows us to be disobedient, to not seek answers in prayer, to fail to pray for His Will to get done. 

And He allows us the consequences that go with it.   He honors our free-will and our choices and allows us to have an influence over what happens in life, for good or for bad.  We have a hand in (and a responsibility in) making His Will happen and in reaping blessings instead of curses.  By obedience, righteous living, and prayer.

            “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.”  (Psalm 25:9, 12) 

            “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding . . .  Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path . . . Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”  (Proverbs 2:1-2, 9, 11) 

            “The integrity of the upright guides them . . .”  (Proverbs 11:3 

            “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right . . . this is the man who will dwell on the heights, whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.  His bread will be supplied, and water will not fail him.” (Isaiah 33: 15, 16)

            “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’“  (Jeremiah 6:16)

            “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  (Philippians 2:12-13) 

Humility, wisdom, understanding, discretion, integrity, righteousness, seeking “the good way” and walking in it, obedience, and reverent fear of God are what will take us down the good, restful path.  It’s what will keep us safely within His Will for us. 

But that path is not pre-set and fixed.  Because we can refuse to look for or go down that path.  We can refuse to include Him in our choices.  We can disobey.  We can fail to trust that He will lead us into the Promised Land, fail to follow in faith.  His best plans for our individual lives don’t happen apart from our obedience.  

Why would He spend so much time in the Bible commanding us to obey ... if our obedience had no effect over our lives and His plans?  

You know how Calvinists would answer this?  "It's a mystery.  We can't understand it!"

No ... you can't understand it because you refuse to see the truth!

I can understand it perfectly.  God commands us to obey because He has given us the choice of obeying or disobeying.  He knows that our choices make a difference.

It's really not a mystery at all!  (It's only a "mystery" if you are clinging to nonsense!)

We have to decide if we will obey Him or disobey Him.  And our choices will make a difference.  And He wants us to obey because He knows it's best for our lives and eternities, and because He has plans He wants to accomplish through our obedience.  

But even if we disobey, even if we fall and drift and stray, even if we have a terrible past full of mistakes and things we're ashamed of, God can work it all into something new and good.  He can turn it all around.  Heal it.  Use it for His plans.  He can renew us and get us on a new "perfect path."  

Making mistakes and straying off course should not cause us to despair . . . because God knows how to weave everything into something good and because He is always creating new “best paths” for us. 

So don’t focus on the past or on what you missed out on or on how far you fell. 

Focus on coming back to God today, on being obedient today, on how God can work everything into something good, and on drawing near to Him again, falling into His arms and throwing yourself upon His grace and mercy!  

Focus on These:

If you really want to know the Will of God and how to stay on the path He wants for you, don't worry about being perfect or trying to do something big to please Him.  Simply start living out these verses today, and see where God leads you: 

            “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37, 39   

            “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”  (John 14:21)  

            “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33 

            “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)    

            “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  (1 Corinthians 10:31)

            “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  (Psalm 46:10)

Love God and others with all you’ve got!  Obey His commands!  Seek His kingdom and seek righteousness!  Remain in Him always, through prayer and His Word!  And if you are living for His glory, your life will be fruitful and God-glorifying!  And we don’t have to know everything; just be still in Him, for He is God!  He will be exalted!  

If we do these things, He will make our paths straight and we will be walking safely within His Will for our lives.  Just keep your face to Him, walking in His direction, and you'll always be headed the right way!    


So why am I saying all this?  Why such a big post on God’s Will and our responsibility to seek righteousness and be obedient and abide in Him?  Why repeat it over and over again in various posts?

For one, I am saying this because I think that many of us are missing out on a genuine, loving relationship with Him.  Maybe because of our own negative self-views, because we are not comfortable trusting others (even God), because we don’t know how to let ourselves be loved, or because of our misconceptions about who He is. 

And our lack of obedience and lack of abiding in Him reflects it.  And we are probably creating serious, negative consequences for ourselves, missing out on the kind of healing, love, peace, joy, and blessings that He wants for us.  And it’s time to seriously take a look at the walls that we have up between us and God.  (If this is the case, maybe give the “Through the Refining Fire” series a look.  There might be something there to help you work through the things that block you from a real, genuine relationship with our heavenly Father.) 

But mostly I am saying this not for the hurting Christians who struggle with letting Him love you but for the multitudes of apathetic Christians who are coasting and compromising in their spiritual lives.  I think that lazy, lukewarm, self-serving, comfortable Christianity is what has greatly helped our country get into the moral mess that we’re in. 

We are ruining our “Promised Land” because we are becoming the Israelites who died off in the desert: too focused on our own comfort and happiness, complaining about our circumstances, forgetting what God has done and Who He is, worshipping “golden calves” in our hearts, hardening our hearts to God’s convictions, and failing to fall down before the Lord in humility, failing to live in reverent fear, and failing to be obedient. 

I have been there before – lazy, lukewarm, self-serving, and comfortable. Not truly understanding the incredible responsibility and need for seeking righteousness, for actively pursuing Him daily in His Word, for praying for His Will to get done, for doing my part to make it happen, and for walking with Him moment by moment in humble dependency.  I figured that God would just do whatever He wanted anyway, regardless of me.  And I didn’t understand that prayer really does matter, that God works His Will through willing people. 

But a five-month stretch of demonic harassment (in the post "Why I Don't Doubt The Existence Of The Supernatural World") opened my eyes to the spiritual battle that rages around us, to the reality of the invisible world working alongside this one, and to the very real need for us to get off of our lazy, lukewarm, self-serving, comfortable, Christian butts and get on our knees and get into the Word and pursue Him, His Kingdom, and His righteousness with all we’ve got.  That is how we are a part of His Will getting done!  That is how we impact the world for His glory!

If only we will begin to take our Christian responsibility seriously then we might see God intervene in our country.  We might see revival!  

This is why I am writing this post.

            “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.”  (Psalm 12:1)

            The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”  (Psalm 14:2)

            “Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares.  If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city.”  (Jeremiah 5:1) 

            “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.  So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”  (Ezekiel 22:30-31)

            “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  (2 Chronicles 16:9) 

            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15 

For the posts in this series, click here.

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