The subject of God’s will and specifically how to know God’s will for your life is something that confuses many people. There’s also some really terrible teaching out there about how to find it, so when the interim pastor at my church preached on the subject a couple weeks ago and knocked it out of the park a clear and biblical explanation I knew I needed to share it. So with his permission I’ve constructed this post, cribbing from the notes I took that morning and the verse list he provided me with.
First, it’s important to distinguish which will of God we’re talking about. There is what our pastor called the “determined” or “decreed” will of God, which others also call God’s sovereign will. This encompasses all the things God had declared that he will do and that are unchangeable. For example, the entire Bible shows how God moved throughout history to work out his redemptive plan to send the Messiah. It is prophesied in Genesis, and through the nation of Israel God sent Jesus when the time was right. But I don’t think that’s where most Christians get confused.
Rather, it is the desired will of God for our lives that we need to better understand. There’s a great book on the subject I read a few years ago by Kevin DeYoung called “Just Do Something.” I highly recommend to anyone really struggling with the issue of how to please God in choosing a career path or a spouse. DeYoung pointed out in that book that there are both Godly and sinful reasons for wanting God to dramatically show us exactly what he wants for our lives. Godly reasons can be a desire not to sin or displease him, but there can be sinful reasons too. Ultimately, his point is that “we should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tightrope, or a bull’s-eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.” And he’s right.
We don’t need a fleece or a sign in the heavens to know what God wants for our lives, because he’s already told us His desires for us in His word.
Yesterday, I posted Psalm 143, because verse 10 says, “Teach me to do your will for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” It wasn’t until I heard the sermon a couple weeks ago that it clicked for me what this means. If David is asking God to teach him to DO His will — then he had to already know what that will was. And we can know too, all we have to do is open our Bibles.
My pastor pointed out six areas of God’s desired will for our lives with the verses that explain and support each:
1. Saved. It is God’s will that we be saved through Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 2:1-7 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
2. Spirit-filled. God wants us to live lives controlled by the Holy Spirit and the Bible tells us what a spirit-controlled life will look like.
All of Ephesians chapter 5 lays this out, but I’ll share just a few of the crucial verses (15-21): Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand whatthe will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3 also explains what our life should look like as spirit-filled converts of Jesus. Verses 12-17 say, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness,humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
And of course, Galatians 5:16-25, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
3. Sanctified. In the simplest terms, being sanctified means to be holy. Although our holiness does not save us (because we will never be completely holy), the process of sanctification is the growth of a believer as they become more like Jesus. This is tightly tied to the previous point, since it is impossible to do this without being led and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures above speak to what that holy lifestyle looks like and, in several cases, contrasts it to a sinful lifestyle.
This desire that we be sanctified is explicit in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
4. Submissive (or selfless). This one gets a lot of people bent out of shape because our selfish hearts don’t like it, but the Bible does say over and over that we need to submit to God, to authority and to each other. I tend to think of this is terms of selflessness, and considering others more important than yourself (as in Phil. 2:3).
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Hebrews 13, 1 Peter 2 and Ephesians 5 also talk about submission.
5. Suffer. Another unpopular point, but suffering will likely be a reality in the life of a Christian and it can be God’s will. The entire book of 1 Peter addresses the matter of suffering. And Jesus himself was a suffering servant, if we pick up our crosses to follow him shouldn’t we expect the same?
1 Peter 3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
1 Peter 2:20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
2 Timothy chapter 3 also promises persecution for following Jesus.
6. Say thanks. Gratitude to God should be a constant in the Christian life and it should not be dependent on the circumstances of our life. The Psalms are full of praise and thanksgiving, but the entire Bible is littered with shouts of praise and instructions to thank God.
1 Thess. 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Corinthians 15:56-57 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Phil. 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Beyond these points we have tremendous freedom. The way my pastor put it was that, “If you are saved, spirit-filled (controlled), sanctified, submissive, suffering and thankful then you can do whatever you want, go wherever you want, choose whatever you want…because if this is true of your life, guess who’s controlling your wants? – Psalm 37:4 says “ Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart”; God plants His desires in our hearts – Psalm 37:5”
You see we don’t need God to tell us who to marry, or which job to take. He teaches us throughout His word, what is right and good and what is wise. He gives us plenty of commands to obey, but countless things are a matter a personal choice to be made in wisdom and faith. We need to be transformed by His word and love what God loves and then, as DeYoung would say … just do something.