When I was in high school, a lot of people in the church found themselves talking about two things: the rapture and the “will of God.” The Left Behind series was in full force, so people everywhere began wondering if they’d make the cut. (Would they get out, or would they find themselves stuck here to deal with the strange aftermath of living in a land in which a small percentage of the people suddenly vanished?) Of course, for the limited time we had remaining on the planet, everyone wanted to make certain they did what God wanted them to do— particularly because we didn’t have that much longer to be there (or so we all thought).
Amidst this, one Wednesday evening during our weekly youth meet-up, a wise youth pastor told us, “Read your Bible and do your homework. And instead of worrying about the will of God as a separate thing to pursue simply seek God Himself. If you do that, you’ll find yourself walking so closely with Him that you’re guaranteed to be in His will.”
After a few moments he added, “And if Jesus doesn’t come back for a few years you’ll be able to get a job and make this world a better place.”
That was sound advice.
Furthermore, the youth minster tapped into something that we see in Scripture. Namely, you can’t find “God’s will” through abstracts. You can only find His will through relationship.
This is how God reveals His plans for us today, through relationship. In the next few chapters we’ll discuss how He most often uses human relationships to confirm His will for us, so that we’re never left searching on our own.
That said, we actually do find the phrase “will of God” in Scripture. And, the places we find that phrase become our starting point. Then, as we pursue relationship with the Father, the Scripture remains our guardrails to insure we’re hearing— and heeding— His voice.
The Scripture specifically says there are five things that are the will of God. He desires for you to be—
First, it’s God’s will for everyone to be saved.
In the past few years, Calvinism has resurged in popularity. John Calvin was a Reformer during the lifetime of Martin Luther who taught voraciously about the sovereignty of God. He wrote massive books detailing his certainty that God was in control of all things.
Future generations of theologians took his writings to mean things they didn’t actually say, however. And, they took his conclusions and meanderings to the next logical (in their thinking) conclusion.
“If God is in control,” they mused, “and if all people aren’t saved… that must mean that God didn’t want all people to be saved. And that must mean that He selected some people for Heaven and chose other people for hell!”
Here’s what Paul wrote to Timothy, as he encouraged his son in the faith to pray for the salvation of— notice this— all people (1 Timothy 2:3-4 ESV, emphasis added):
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.
After spending several years with Jesus in person, followed by several decades of close relationship with Jesus via the Spirit, Peter said the same thing. Like many people today, Peter’s contemporaries thought Jesus might return any moment. They wondered why He tarried from coming back for them. Peter explained it well (2 Peter 3:9 ESV, added emphasis):
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.
Notice, God extended human history precisely so that more of His children could awaken to who they are and walk in relationship with Him.
Does God want some people to be saved and others go to hell?
Don’t ask a hardcore Calvinist. They’ll tell you “yes” on both accounts.
On the other hand, ask Paul or Peter and they tell you emphatically, “Jesus wants everyone saved.”
In other words, salvation is the will of God.
Second, it’s God’s will for everyone to be sanctified, that is, for them to live the radiant expression of the holiness He’s already given them. I like that definition of sanctification: live the radiant expression of the holiness you’ve been given. It infers that we’re not looking for something outside of ourselves; we’re awakening, as we learned in chapter 2, to the reality Jesus declared over us from the beginning.
For sure, sanctification involves living in a certain way. Paul tells us (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4)—
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…
Sanctification is an overflow of our core identity, the total inclusion we have with Christ because of our salvation.
Peter writes (1 Peter 1:13-16)—
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Notably, neither apostle urges us to earn our salvation. Nor do they say something like, “Jesus saved you. Now prove you’re saved.”
The living expression of grace is far more beautiful than rigid obedience. Grace awakens us to a better way, a life that’s in alignment with the total inclusion we’ve been given in Christ. Then, it lives from that truth.
Third, it’s God’s will for everyone to live a Spirit-filled life. Since we discussed the Holy Spirit for several chapters, I won’t belabor this here.
I do want to highlight one thing, though.
In Ephesians 5:17-18 (ESV) Paul contrasts foolishness with the will of God. One life path is wise; the other isn’t. And notice that our connection to the Spirit demonstrates which one we’ve chosen.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.
Paul eludes back to the first post-resurrection Pentecost in this passage. Remember, people who saw the 120 encounter the Spirit that day mocked them, suggesting they were drunk with wine (Acts 2:13).
Now, I’ve watched people in churches act like they're drunk. Some even say, “Come get the new wine of the Spirit.” They stumble, act goofy, and appear out of control. It’s obvious they’re faking it, as they can turn it on and off at will.
The Spirit never tosses people away from their faculties; demons do. The Spirit doesn’t control; like a gentleman, he leads. He’s tender.
At the same time, though, the “drunken” analogy is a good metaphor. You see, you don’t have to ask a drunken man if he’s drunk, do you? You just look at the evidence– the fruit of his life. Does he stumble, speak with slurred speech, smell like alcohol?
In the same way, a person full of the Spirit evidences it…
In other words, you should be be able to tell if I’m living the Spirit-filled life, and I should be able to determine if you are— just by observing the external evidence.
Do I exhibit joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, meekness, self-control, faithfulness...?
Am I “under the influence” (guided) by a substance outside of myself?
Remember, it’s important to realize that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not something we should seek one time. We should continually hunger for the Lord’s presence and His constant connection.
The phraseology in Ephesians 5:17-18 doesn’t simply suggest that we “get filled” and they stay filled. The Greek for “be filled” is written in an ongoing active tense. It’s better translated as “be being filled.” As Billy Graham wrote,
The command to “be filled with the Spirit” actually has the idea of continuously being filled in the original Greek language which Paul used. We are not filled once for all, like a bucket. Instead, we are to be filled constantly. It might be translated, “Be filled and keep on being filled," or “Be being filled.”
Like sanctification, being filled with the Spirit is a lifestyle. Regarding this, Watchman Nee reflected,
The perfect and complete order of God’s operation is first to move in the human spirit, next to enlighten the mind of the soul, and finally to execute this through the body. Such an arrangement is of vital significance.
King Saul kept his position as king long after the Lord’s presence left. As one pastor writes, “He was coasting on yesterday’s anointing... he forfeited the fresh anointing...” In other words, that’s the opposite of “be being filled.”
As believers in the New Covenant, we do not have to worry about God leaving us or forfeiting our position. He has told us that He will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). Our position and His presence are promised to us. However, we don’t simply want God near, we want to experience His presence. We want to access the blessings of that nearness.
This is the will of God, something He desires as our normal way of life. Now, I don’t know how this filling-thing works, the notion that we’re always full of Christ yet can also be filled again. The beauty of the entire Gospel is that the things beyond our human comprehension are not beyond our supernatural reception. Receive the connection as a gift and continue stepping forward.
Fourth, it’s God’s will for all Christians to live submissive lives. This is yet another term that’s been blow off course in our culture— particularly by “church people."
Let me explain…
Submission and obedience are two different things. Whereas submission deals with your attitude, obedience deals with your actions. Sometimes we can obey; at all times we can submit. That is, we can always offer honor to others from our heart.
Rolling your eyes at your spouse has nothing to do with obedience or what they’ve asked you to do. It’s an issue of submission.
Disobeying your parents… or obeying them after the third request with a huff in your voice… reveals a lack of submission— for both husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:21).
Biblically, we can always submit–- even if we can’t always obey. John Bevere writes,
The Bible teaches unconditional submission to authorities, but the Bible does not teach unconditional obedience. Remember, submission deals with attitude, and obedience deals with fulfillment of what we are told.
The only time– and I want to emphasize the only exception in which we are not to obey the authorities– is when they tell us to do something that directly contradicts what God has stated in His Word. In other words, we are released from obedience only when leaders tell us to sin. However, even in those cases we are to keep a humble and submitted attitude.
It’s God’s will for us to live from a position of humility. Grace is always the right response.
Peter summarizes it this way (1 Peter 2:13-15 ESV).
Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Notably, the government to whom Peter says we should submit (again, submit— not necessary obey) is the king who beheaded James.
Living with honor, quite simply, silences the accusers.
In each case, the men were submissive in their attitude but defiant in their action. And, as a result, their accusers were transformed. Many of the priests who opposed the apostles were soon converted (Acts 6:7).
David didn’t hang around the palace when Saul hurled javelins at him– but he retained his submissive attitude and even refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity on two separate occasions. Later David actually killed someone who claimed to have slaughtered King Saul (even though he was lying and had not done it), because David was avenging the very authority, God’s anointed, who had tried to kill him.
The Hebrew midwives refused to kill the Hebrew babies as Pharaoh commanded them. And we see that God actually blessed them for doing so (see Exodus 1:17).
Many times God will test us and our pride by telling the Biblical authority something different than what we are sensing with our limited insight. Or, we may be tempted to do something that goes against what’s written. Biblically, the only time to go against what an authority has told you is when the authority leads you to go against something that God has written in His Word explicitly (not something you twist the Scriptures to say, but something it actually says!).
I’ve watched Christians undertake shady business dealings, file for divorce, create relational rifts, and act in other ungodly ways— all because “the Holy Spirit” told them to do so. In their mind, anyway. Submission to Scripture and to Biblical authority is a safeguard.
Fifth, it's God’s will that we serve. In the first 11 chapters of Romans, Paul outlines some of the bedrock truths of our faith:
After telling us all of this, Paul begins getting very practical in his letter. He explains how we should live in light of what he’s just shared.
His first observation is that we should serve. That is, allow the goodness and grace that have been poured into us to overflow to others. He says (Romans 12:1-2 ESV):
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Notably, Romans 12 is the first passage where we see the charismata first mentioned, as well as the first reference to the body of Christ.
What are the charismata?
They’re the spiritual gifts— the vehicles whereby we minister.
When we talk about “finding God’s will for our lives,” we most often want specifics. We want to know where we should live, whom we should marry, what we should pursue as a career path.
But the Scripture first moves away from those specifics and to the very general when it talks about God’s will. The written expression of the Word provides us with a path of markers that are true for everyone. The Father desires for everyone to be…
These things are always right.
To get the specifics, we must pursue intimacy. And part of that includes understanding the unique way in which He’s designed each us individually.
In the next few episodes we’ll discuss how that design influences His specific will for each of us.
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