It is a strange thing for a human being to want to do the will of God. People typically want to do what they desire and are not concerned about what anyone else thinks, much less Jesus Christ.
Yet Jesus felt he had a special relationship with those who sought God’s direction. He said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). When he knew he would be leaving Earth, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Counselor – The Holy Spirit – is our source of wisdom today.
Christians recognize that doing what Jesus wants us to do is very important because it is part of his Lordship over us. Here are some key ideas about this reality:
- He has asked us to follow him. It is a simple matter of being obedient to the One who loves us and gave his life for us. There would certainly be no point in accepting his gift of salvation if we were not willing to act on it.
- He has set a standard of behavior for us. Many people think this standard is negative and deals with rules about dancing, smoking or attending movies, but of course such legalism misses the point. Our behavior should be different because Christians have a unique worldview.
- We believe that Our Lord has set a path before us which we should follow. We believe that actually following that path leads us to a greater joy than might be available if we went some other way.
Problems in following the Lord arise for these reasons:
- Many Christians do not read their Bible or otherwise maintain a relationship with Jesus, so they are ignorant of what he wants for them in general. The general will of the Lord covers a wide range of situations which believers face.
- Sincere Christians may know the general will of God, but sometimes do not know what path to take when faced with a particular decision, like what person to marry or what job to take.
- Many Christians only say they want to follow the will of God. When they discover what it is, and find it’s different from their own will, they suddenly become unsure about what they should do.
The reality is that the will of God is not something to fear, but something to anticipate. When we are confident we are following Jesus by doing his will, we have a new freedom in our lives. Whatever may come, we can be sure it’s part of a greater plan, and this brings a real tranquility to our souls.
The will of God for your life is made up of two parts, his general will and his specific will. Let’s look at both.
The General Will Of God
What are some of the things that we might consider a part of the “general will of God?” We could write a book listing the things which are the general will of God, but fortunately it already exists in the form of the Bible. The Bible is filled with things God wants us to do.
Sometimes these things are stated simply (“Love one another”). Others are stated in a negative sense, telling us what he does not want us to do (“Thou shalt not…”). Sometimes the information is available in stories or incidents which we can apply to our own lives (“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow…”). Taken together, these methods provide a large resource for us to learn the general will of God.
Let’s take a look at just a few examples of the general will of God for all believers.
Most people are familiar with the 10 Commandments, and they provide a basic teachings about God’s will. It is God’s will, for example, that you have no other gods before him. So you know you are doing his will if God is first in your life. Likewise, you can be assured you’re doing God’s will if you don’t worship “images” (which could be any material object), don’t curse God, don’t kill people, don’t commit sexual sin, steal, lie or other such things (Exodus 20).
So, reading the commandment on adultery, you should never have to question whether it’s God’s will for you have an illicit sexual affair. It’s clearly against the general will of God regardless of the particular circumstances that might drive you to such action. Decisions like this should be a “no brainer” since there is no decision to make other than one of obedience.
Jesus gave us a way of life rather than a book of rules. Jesus made this point when he said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. …But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand…” (Matthew 7:24-27).
And what words should we put in practice? Those words where he gives his general will for all, like:
- “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
- “Be reconciled to your brother” (Matthew 5:24)
- “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
- “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44)
…and, of course, hundreds of others. We learn about the general will of God as we study the Bible.
The Specific Will Of God
If we know that it’s a good thing to marry as part of the general will of God (Genesis 2:18), then how shall we know God’s will about which specific man or woman to marry? If we believe that God’s will extends to whether we should have a child, then how can we know for sure about that? And what about taking a job, buying a house or car and many of the other decisions we face?
The answers to such questions are easy: God has given you the freedom to do what you want, and that is his will for you.
How can this be? Simply because, within the context of his general will, God grants us free choice. It started back in the Garden of Eden when God said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden…” (Genesis 2:16). Adam and Eve knew one tree was excluded by the general will of God, but beyond that they did not have to ask him whether it was his will to eat a pomegranate or fig when they were hungry. This principle applies to all the concerns of life.
Let’s take a look at just a few examples of how this matter of freedom works within the general will of God:
- In John 5:35, Jesus said, “John (the Baptist) was a lamp that burned and light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.” The general will of God is that we “walk in the light,” so Jesus could commend the free choice people made in walking in the light offered by John the Baptist. That was a good choice for them.
- In 1 Corinthians 7:36, Paul talks about the pros and cons of marriage. He gives a number of principles which we would consider the general will of God (such as marrying only another follower of Jesus), but concludes by saying, “If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants.”
- In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give…” The general will of God is that we honor him though tithes and offerings, but in specific cases we have the freedom to decide for ourselves exactly how much to give.
There are many other such examples.
Does this understanding of the will of God eliminate the need to speak to the Lord about these matters? No, but we must know what to pray about. Instead of asking Jesus if we should eat the pomegranate or the fig, we should be asking him for wisdom to properly use the information we have. The Bible teaches that “If any lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally…”(James 1:5). If we had to check in with Jesus for every decision, then this need for wisdom would be pointless.
Sometimes the wisdom comes though information we collect, sometimes through circumstances, sometimes through another person. It is a good habit to talk things over with a trusted advisor before exercising your freedom of choice.
Ultimately, this principle of the general and specific will of God works because of the truth of Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Being Obedient To Jesus
The Lord directs our hearts in all things (2 Thessalonians 3:5). When we maintain a close ongoing relationship with him we are able to seek wisdom from him, and the result is joy and contentment in our lives.
Too often, however, we are not obedient to the clear will of God. For example, we have said that sexual sin is not a part of God’s general will. Wisdom is against illicit sexual relationships for a number of reasons on a personal level. Yet, there are circumstances which arise which lead us to ignore this information and somehow we think we’re justified in it. But the reality is, we have been plainly disobedient to Jesus by ignoring his general will and by ignoring the wisdom which cascades from it. This disobedience is called “sin.”
Knowing the will of God is not enough. We must act on it. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).
Some Concluding Thoughts
God’s will may indeed be a mystery at times, but it is not mysterious. We do not need to “lay down a fleece” like some did in the Old Testament. We do not need to auger Jesus’ plan for our life by selecting some random verse from the Bible and try attaching some sense to it like the Moravians and others in more recent history have tried to do.
We can be sure we are following God’s will if we have an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus, if we are aware of his general will, and if we properly exercise the freedom we have in Jesus. The most difficult issue is having the boldness to be obedient and to act on what we know.