What’s my purpose? What is God’s will for my life? How do I know that I’m currently on the right path?
One of the trickiest areas of following Christ is knowing the will of God. It also tends to be one of the most common questions that we ask, with a wide variety of answers and experiences. It’s a valid question: What does the Bible tell us about discovering God’s will for our lives?
When we talk about knowing God’s will, I think the heart of what we are asking is:
How will God guide me today in such a way that I can follow His will? What would it look like in this moment to do God’s will?
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul gives us perhaps the most helpful text for understanding the will of God and how it pertains to our life:
“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’ (Romans 12:1-2)
There are some massive takeaways from this passage:
Firstly, that presenting our bodies to God as a living sacrifice is spiritual worship. The aim of all human life is that Christ would be made to look as valuable as He is 1. Worship is, therefore, using our minds and hearts and bodies in such a way that we express the worth of God and all that he is for us in Christ2. There is a way to live your life in such a way that by what you say, what you think, what you feel, what you do with your arms and your lips and your eyes and your legs and your hands, that you can demonstrate the value of knowing Christ.3
Secondly, that discerning the will of God is intricately linked to our mind being transformed and renewed. How then do we turn all of our life into worship? We must be transformed. Not just our external behaviours, but the way that we feel and think – our mind. When our mind has been transformed, we may be able to test and discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
John Piper notes:
‘I think he (Paul) means soak your mind, marinating our mind, saturating your mind with the Word of God. The Christian mind is shaped by the Word of God, all the while praying, praying, praying. O God, shape me. O God, make me. O god, bring me into the conformity to this Word from the depths of my being.’ 4
The Two Wills of God
God is sovereign over all things. By this, I mean that God is our King, our Lord and that nothing happens outside of his knowledge and willing it to be. The Psalmist declares that ‘our God is in the heavens, he does whatever he pleases’ (Ps 115:3).
In His sovereignty, he quietly directs everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen in the entire universe. There is not one atom, not one cell in all of creation that God would not be able to outstretch his hand over and declare mine. Yet at the same time, it is also clear that God’s will is somehow thwarted. God wills us to be holy, yet I am often not. God wills us to be loving, yet I am often not.
For this reason, theologians tend to differ between God’s sovereign will and God’s revealed will:
- God’s sovereign will (or hidden will) which will always come to pass without fail.
- God’s revealed will (or moral will ) for us to do what is right, which is often disobeyed and doesn’t come to pass.
God’s Sovereign Will
God has decreed that some things will happen, and they will happen whether we wish them to or not. In Acts 4, the church is praying to God and prays like this:
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’
For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28)
Herod did what God had willed to take place. Pilate did what God had willed to take place. The shouting crowds – crucify him, crucify him – did what God had willed to take place and the soldiers, the Gentile soldiers who drive the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet did what God had willed to take place and the sovereign will of God was accomplished 5.
Importantly, God’s sovereign will is hidden to us. We cannot know it or understand it unless God has revealed it to us, and often, he does not. It would seem impractical, illogical and incongruent from our perspective, but ‘his ways are not our ways’ (Isaiah 55:8).
God’s Revealed Will
God, however, has revealed much of his overall will to us. For example, in Matthew 7:21, Jesus declares that ‘not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father’.
What does that mean? Simply, that some people will follow the will of the Father and some will not. One more example is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 which says:
‘This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality’.
Have you? No.
Some of us have not abstained, which means that we have disobeyed the will of our Father. We disobeyed, contradicted or did not fulfil the will of God for our life. The will of God for our life is sanctification and often has been ignored. Therefore we have two particular meanings of the will in the Bible. One is his sovereign will and one is his revealed will. One is always done – for he is sovereign, whilst the other can be contradicted.
How Can I Know The Will of God?
If you look to the scriptures to seek God’s will for your life, what will you find?
You will find that God is speaking to you:
- God’s will is for us to do the will of His Father (Matt 7:21)
- God’s will is for us to watch over our lives and the lives of others (Acts 20:27)
- God’s will is for us to trust him during persecution and suffering (Acts 21:13-14)
- God’s will is for us to repent (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
- God’s will is for us to serve one another (1 Corinthians 8:5)
- God’s will is for us to stand firm in the will of God (Colossians 4:12)
- God’s will is for us to be sanctified, pure and holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6)
- God’s will is for us to rejoice, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)
- God’s will is for us to be faithful to God’s will (Hebrews 10:36)
- God’s will is for you to trust him over your life (James 4:15)
- God’s will is for you to do what is right (1 Peter 2:15)
- God’s will is for you to live according to the Spirit (1 Peter 4:6)
When you open up the Word of God, you will find that God is speaking to you about his will for your life. He wants you to be sanctified. He wants you to be holy. The constant message throughout the scriptures is that God’s will for your life is for you to live like a Christian, treasuring Christ and living as someone who has been transformed by his power6. God’s will for your life is that you would seek to imitate Christ and that more and more and more you would serve as a greater reflection of Christ, prayerfully submitting yourself to God’s will 7
Following God’s will is not about discovering a secret road map that details the exact steps you should take in life, but about becoming the kind of person who treasures Christ, who values following Him, who obeys God faithfully and stands firm in affliction.
Will You Be Obedient?
Elizabeth Elliot, best-selling author and missionary, writes that:
‘The will of God is not something that you add to your life. It’s a course that you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God .. or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world’
The question is not really whether we can know God’s will or not. Clearly, we can. The far more important question that we can ask ourselves is whether we are prepared to do it. Donald Barnhouse has said that ‘95% of knowing the will of God consists in being prepared to do it before you know what it is’.
Are you prepared to be holy? Are you prepared to be faithful? Are you prepared to trust him during persecution and suffering? Are you prepared to serve one another? Are you prepared to be sanctified? Are you prepared to rejoice, to pray without ceasing and to give thanks? Are you prepared to trust God? Are you prepared to do what is right?
If you want to truly hear from the Lord, grow in your knowledge of his Word so that you can understand his character, you understand his will, you understand what God is about and understand his purposes.
John Stott had one of the best answers when asked once about how to know what God wants us to do with our lives:
‘Go wherever your gifts will be most exploited for the kingdom of God’.
For the glory of God, and for the good of others.