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Understanding The Will Of God

Alfred E. Bouter

'And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever' (I John 2:17 NKJV).

This subject presents a great test to every believer. Researching 'the will of God' from the Holy Scriptures can be both a source of challenge as well as edification. Consider the life of Daniel in relation to our reference verse; his influence remained long after the emperors of the Babylonian empire had passed from this scene. As far as we are concerned, when we do God's will in our lifetime, we will live forever.

God's Will Or Man's

Our consumer oriented society needs a Copernican revolution in thinking in order to understand and appreciate the Biblical concept of the will of God. Instead of concentrating on myself, on my wishes, on my ideas, the focus of Scripture is on God and His desires. God has created man in such a way that he functions in an optimal way when the heart is centred on God and not on self. In this context, to sum it up briefly, we are: God-oriented as to the instructions we need from the Word for our motives and goal; others-oriented as to our service, to do God's will; self-oriented with regard to the need for self-judgment in order to be able to discern and practice God's will; Christ-oriented as to the right incentive and example for a life according to God's will.

A Brief Outline Of Romans

Perhaps a short outline of the Epistle to the Romans would be profitable in this discussion. Because of man's disobedience, he entirely failed to do God's will, and thus came and still comes short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). On the basis of Christ's accomplished work and by the grace of God, the repentant sinner who turns to God in faith is reconciled to God and becomes God's servant, dedicated to do His will (Rom. 6) in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8). Motivated by the mercy of God, the Christian dedicates his body as a living sacrifice to do the will of God (Rom. 12). This is a life-time commitment, thinking and living entirely different from the world's standards (religious, political, social).

In Romans 12 we are taught that doing the will of God is not merely an individual matter. On the contrary, as responsible individuals, we have been linked with each other as members of Christ's body. We are challenged to do the will of God together. From Romans 12 through to chapter 16 we get a picture of how God's will is understood and practiced. To put it in different words: God works with, in and through us, His will may be realized in a world full of opposition to Him and His people.

God's Will Affects Everything

First I want to give you some examples and realms with regard to the will of God we will consider the Lord's life on this earth, finishing with our responsibility and God's will.

(1) God's will covers past, present and future, as Ephesians 1:4-11 beautifully demonstrates. This passage goes from what God determined before the foundation of the world, to the present age of grace (where God's mystery has been revealed to believers), and then on to the glorious reign of the Son of man!

(2) God's will and creation (see for example Rev. 4:11 and Col. 1:16). This important topic was presented by Paul at Mars' Hill (Acts 17), where he immediately connected it with God's rights as Ruler of the universe and as Leader of the history of man. In Colossians the emphasis is on Christ's greatness, whereas in Rev. 4:11 the believers acknowledge that everything has been created for the glory of God and for His will. This leads to worship.

(3) God's will and redemption. Because of the price of redemption (Christ's blood). God has acquired additional rights to our obedience to do His will. Is it not remarkable that even our body is connected with the will of God? It becomes a visible 'tool' or I vessel' in which the will of God is to be displayed. In Hebrews 13:21, James 1:18 and John 1:13 we have more instructions about God's dealings with us according to His will, in order to prepare us to be vessels that carry out His will. It is worthwhile to read and meditate upon these passages.

(4) God's will and the Kingdom of God. Matthew 6:10 and 33 (v.10 is explicit about the will of God, v.33 mentions only the Kingdom) may give help as to this point. It is God's plan to commit the rule over the earth, even the whole universe, into the hands of the Son of man, our Lord Jesus Christ. Having been rejected by His own people, it becomes critical that His followers (disciples) learn from Him, in order to do the will of God. Is this a priority in our lives? The New Testament teaches us that the King is rejected by His nation and by this present world system. However, His disciples always have the opportunity to be loyal to Him and to do the will of God in the very scene where God's Anointed is still rejected. The Kingdom of God in its present meaning, therefore, implies a test to those who confess the Name of the Lord. Therefore, all professing Christians are challenged to be subject to the King who is absent, see Luke 19:12-27 for an example. In this way the will of God may be learnt and practiced by disciples of the Teacher, and by bondmen of the Master or Lord. Matthew 10:24f and Luke 6:40 are real key verses to help us in this formation process. In this regard we could link Luke 12:47 with this line of teaching as well, observing the solemn responsibility implied there.

(5) God's will and the Assembly, or the Church. Ephesians 1 explains how the position and relationships of those who belong to His Assembly, are a matter of God's eternal counsels and purpose according to the pleasure of His will. Here the emphasis is on what God has prepared for the special satisfaction and delight of His own heart! How could this become a reality as far as we are concerned? Is it not because we have been accepted in the Beloved and have been made to the praise of His glory?

Knowing God's Will And Doing It

In Acts 22:14 we read how Saul of Tarsus was called by the Lord in the glory, in order that He would know His will. I underline here that the knowledge of God's will since then till today is intimately linked with a glorified Man in heaven. This characterizes Paul's ministry from beginning to end. What about our knowledge of Christ in heaven? Appreciation of this truth will greatly affect our understanding of the will of God in our lives.

Knowing or understanding His will, however, increases the burden of our responsibility, as illustrated in Rom. 2:18ff. Paul explains how the Jews, who knew God's will, were more guilty than the pagans who lived in corruption and idolatry. Why? Because knowing the will of God and not doing it, heaps a great debt on the one who has the knowledge. The Lord Jesus confirms this principle in Luke 12:47. In John 13:17 He says, 'If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.' Furthermore, in James 1:22 we read, 'But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.' Is this not our failure, as it was with the Jews in Paul's days, that we know God's will, but we are not putting it into practice? Here we may learn from the angels who are always doing His will, (Ps. 103:21). Most of all, we may learn from our Lord!

'I delight to do Thy will, 0 my God, And Thy law [is] within my heart' (Ps. 40:8). This was our blessed Lord's motive for coming into the world! He was not only willing to do God's will, but also able to do it. Moreover, He not only lived to do God's will, but He was ready to die for doing God's will. What a Saviour! John's gospel indicates several times how the Lord was living with this great motive of wanting to do the will of God, and also how He actually was performing it. Please study and meditate upon these passages, which are real food for our souls and which help us to follow the path of the perfect Servant-Son. In John 4:34 Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.' (cf. John 5:30, 638 and 17:1-5 with regard to God's will and work).

The Lord intimately identifies Himself with His disciples who do the will of God. It is interesting to compare the three different reports of the Gospel writers about the way the Lord identifies with such disciples; Matt 12:49f ('the will of my Father'), Luke 11:27f ('the word of God') and 'for whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and mother' (Mark 3:34f). Do we belong to this company?

The Will Of God And Sufferings

In 1983 a famous Rabbi in the US, Harold Kushner, published a book about the problem of suffering. In it he suggested that we should not blame God for sufferings (which is right); then he goes on to say that God is good, but that He cannot help it when evil befalls His people (which, of course, is a wrong thesis). Perhaps we may remind ourselves at this point of Romans 8:28, where we see the very opposite of Kushner's claim. God not only allows adverse circumstances, He is even in full control and uses them to form believers in His school' (Rom. 5:3-5; Jam. 1:3). His ways ultimately, and surely lead to the fulfilment of His purpose, that we should be conformed to Christ, the Firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). Why do we have sufferings? Is it not also, to make us realize that we are living in a world which is in direct opposition to God's will? (cf. 1 Peter 2:15).

Understanding God's Will And Our Attitude

First of all there is the matter of response: the love of God shed abroad in our hearts would lead us to positively respond to Him and to His will. Similarly, our Lord Jesus as a blessed Man on this earth, who is our perfect Model to imitate, responded first of all to the relationship of love with His God and Father. This was His motive for doing God's will. In other words: His commitment to the Father's will was motivated by His love and displayed in His wholehearted loyalty (John 7:17 and 9:31) and in the true fear of God.

Then there is the aspect of thankfulness towards God in doing His will; see 1 Thess. 5:18 which deals with thankfulness being an expression of God's will in our lives! The opposite is found in those who, soon after the Flood, turned away from God to all kinds of idols (Rom. 1:18-31). What about our thankfulness? In the days of Ezra (10:11), days of restoration and revival, obedience to God's will was expressed in separation from idolatrous associations. Would it be different for us today?

A very comforting thought is found in 2 Tim. 2:26, a passage which speaks of restoration from evil influences and conditions in order to do God's will. Are we not all failing people? Is it not wonderful to realize God's merciful dealings with us?

God does not cause the suffering to His own, but He allows it to happen, so that His servants can benefit from the experience (e.g. increase their faith), and also for His own glory. Two examples are: Job, whom Satan tested to the uttermost, see Job 1 & 2, and Peter, whom Satan desired to sift as wheat, Luke 22:31.

What makes us free to do His will? When Mark the evangelist had failed in his service on Paul's and Barnabas' first missionary journey, one might have thought it was all over for Mark. In fact, this impression may be confirmed by Acts 15, but then later on we find how Paul realises Mark's restoration and how he had become useful for service, even to write the Gospel of the Perfect Servant. The One who came to do God's will, is the Subject and Object of Mark's writings, such was the usefulness of the restored servant. In a similar way we need God*s mercies and grace to restore us that we may do His will (again, or perhaps for the first time in our lives).

Understanding God's Will

In this great matter, Colossians 1:9 always has been an encouragement to me. It deals with important issues related to this matter of understanding God's will: (1) Is it not through close communion with God, through the study of and meditation on His Word, that we may become exercised and also informed about a particular area in our lives or about a specific point? (2) Is it not through prayer, the expression of communion and dependence, together with the study of His Word, that we receive a confirmation or indication about the way we should go? (3) Is it not, also, through the work of the Holy Spirit, using the Word and prayers (our own and others'), that we get peace of mind with regard to the carrying out of God's will? (4) Is it not our conscience, exercised and formed by God's Word and Spirit, that would also be a tool for the indication of God's will? (5) Do we not rely on the good advice of

those we know are living in close communion with the Lord, that we find further help? (6) However. we have to compare counsel and advice from others with the Word. and with the leading of the Spirit in our lives. In the same way we have to check our own thoughts. David's prayer in Psalm 139, when we make it our own, is a real help in this process. (7) This means practically also that we have to take time, in order to come to a conclusion regarding God's will in our lives. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength! (Isa. 40:31).

On the other hand, when we live in close fellowship with God, and our constant prayer is to be really dependent upon Him, we may trust Him, and He leads us, (even when we do not have time for a long process of revision and meditation). However, impulsive actions are often a proof of the work of the flesh. Here is another question we might ask ourselves: is there unjudged sin in my life? is there something I don't want to give up, although I know that God wants me to? For those who have given themselves to the will of God, there is this reassurance; that He will lead us, and His eye will be upon us.

The same Psalm 32 which speaks of God's leading, also shows us that the Lord will certainly deal with stubbornness, refusal of self-judgment, and following of self-will. What shall we choose?

Another 'great' passage, Hebrews 13:20f, with which I conclude this paragraph and which I leave for your own meditation, gives us further clues as to the understanding and doing of God's will. May He '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.'

Related Subjects And Conclusion

Subjects to be studied together with this important theme on understanding God's will, would be the following. Discipleship deals with the issue of practically following our Lord Jesus, learning from Him, and being in His company. In this context He is our Teacher. Being a bondman means we have a relationship with the One who is our Lord and has total sway over us. To Him we must be completely dependent and loyal. The Kingdom of God, in its meaning for today, involves much Biblical teaching about the way God sees us as linked with Christ, our Model. This important theme also deals with the issue of the reward for those who do the will of God in a scene where our Lord is rejected (Luke 19). Another related subject is dedication: to be a living sacrifice. With Romans 12:1-2 we have another clue to help us understand the will of God, 'And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what [is] that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.' Is this not linked with the matter of response as well?

There are several other aspects of our lives which are connected with the subject of our present study: faith, obedience and holiness. Faith: how much we learn from the examples of the heroes of faith in Old and New Testament times, of believers of whom we have (auto-) biographies, and most of all of the great Leader and Finisher of our faith! Of course, faith is intimately linked with obedience, another prerequisite for understanding God's will, and with holiness, without which no one can see God. Psalm 1 would be a great help with regard to this challenging and searching subject of which we just have touched the surface. May the Lord help each one of our readers, in these days of humanism, self-love and self-seeking, to fight the good fight of faith and to seek to promote God's interests.