About fifteen miles east of Atlanta, there sits a 900-foot high chunk of granite called Stone Mountain. When I was a child, my family used to go to Easter sunrise services held on top of the mountain. You can either climb the mountain via a mile long path that becomes steeper as you go, or you can take the less strenuous option of riding up on a cable car. When you get to the top, you will soon notice a high fence, strategically placed to prevent climbers from venturing out to areas at the edge that are far too precipitous to walk – areas where even the most agile person could easily fall hundreds of feet to a certain death. On the other side of the fence, however – that is, the safe side of the fence - climbers and hikers have the freedom to walk wherever they want.
When it comes to understanding the will of God, the Scriptures give us a great deal of freedom as to how we make decisions. It is when we move outside the boundaries that the Scriptures give us, however, that we then venture into areas and actions that are dangerously beyond the bounds for how we are made to live.
As we consider the question of ‘What CAN we know from Scripture about God’s will?’, it is important to keep in mind that:
When the Bible tells us about doing “the will of God”, it usually has to do with behavior and obeying commandments that are clearly revealed in multiple places throughout Scripture.
The 119th Psalm (an acrostic meditation on the richness of the commandments of God) provides a helpful starting point:
9 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! (Psalm 119:9-10 - ESV).
The Apostle Paul wrote along the same lines in what might be the most unknown New Testament passage concerning what is explicitly stated as doing “the will of God”. Paul was explaining to the church in Thessalonica the importance of living in a way that is pleasing to God. In one sense, that ought to resonate with us in terms of our interest in doing the will of God because, as we ponder the question of “what is the will of God”, a part of our motivation (hopefully) is that we want to please God. To that concern, Paul says the following:
1 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. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 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. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (I Thessalonians 4:1-8 - ESV)
Paul uses a big word in speaking of what the will of God is for our lives: “your sanctification”. A simple way of understanding sanctification is that it is that process whereby we grow to reflect less and less of our sinful nature and more and more of the heart of Jesus. The Westminster Shorter Catechism refers to sanctification as ‘the work of God’s free grace’, and that is true but, given the way that Paul explains it to the Thessalonians, we ourselves clearly have a role to play in the process of our sanctification.
Next week, I will give some statistics as to what the Scriptures really say about “the will of God”. The results will be surprising, maybe even refreshing. When it comes to understanding the will of God, the Scriptures primarily focus upon how one lives their life. We might be initially disappointed to find that the Scriptures tend to say a lot less with regard to what is the right choice in a big decision where one is faced with two or three seemingly good options from which to choose. However, as we understand what the Scriptures tell us about how we are to live our lives, then that provides us with a type of lens to see through. In other words, as we learn more in the Scriptures about how we are to honor God with our lives and our actions, we then have a framework that greatly aids us in seeing how to make wise decisions that are within the bounds of what is the revealed will of God.
To reiterate what I touched on in last week’s blog, we might be disappointed to find that the Scriptures do not actually give a magic path that appears before us, telling us what decisions to make at every turn, nor should we treat the Bible like a magic book as if it can give us precisely clear direction for every single decision in life. Rather, as we grow in learning the Scriptures, we grow in developing a clearer understanding of the freedom that we have to live within the boundaries that God has set before us. As we grow in our understanding of that freedom, we also growing in our understanding of what the Bible teaches us about the will of God.
Indeed, as we continue to grow in understanding the Bible, we will also be growing in wisdom as to how to make choices and decisions that are ultimately honoring to God.
To transition toward next week’s blog, the process of making decisions that are consistent with “the will of God” has a lot less to do with ‘hearing God’s voice on a matter' and a lot more to do with learning how the Word of God gives us the parameters, instruction, freedom and guidance to use our minds to make wise decisions. As our minds are being transformed by the word of God, our understanding of the will of God becomes a lot less complicated and a lot more trusting of the God whose will we are seeking to follow.