Knowing God's Will
Enlarged December 28, 2010 (first published December 8, 2009) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article)
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:1-8).
We see in Romans 12 that God has a great work in this world and He has called on His people to participate. There is a perfect will of God for each believer. If you are saved, you are called.
We see that the will of God must be proven. Salvation is a gift but God’s will is a prize to be sought.
Further, the will of God is not a future possibility but a present reality. If you don’t do the will of God today you won’t know the will of God tomorrow.
Following salvation, there are five steps that are emphasized in Romans 12 for those who want to know God’s will.
1. Knowing God’s will requires doing the will of God today (Romans 12:1-2).
The Bible speaks of the will of God as something that we do today, not something we hope to do tomorrow. If the believer frets about the present or is lazy in the present and is only looking to the future and hoping for a different circumstance, thinking that he will serve God when things change, he will never do the will of God. We must leave the future in God’s hands and use the opportunities of the present, no matter how difficult.
God is in control of the circumstances of our lives (Romans 8:28; 1 Cor. 7:17-24). To fret against the circumstance is to fret against the will of God. This is the great sin that the Israelites committed repeatedly in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10)
This is true for new Christians. The will of God starts right where you are by accepting the circumstance in which you find yourself and doing everything that you know to do to grow spiritually and to serve Christ. The first year after my conversion, I didn’t know what the Lord wanted me to do as far as a particular ministry. I only knew that I needed to learn the Bible and be faithful to church and start doing everything that the Bible taught me to do, so that is what I did. I operated a printing press to make a living, but that was not my life. My life was seeking and serving Christ and preparing myself for His will. In this way I was able to get the full benefit from that opportunity and to build a good foundation for the time to come.
This is true for the unmarried. I had a friend at Bible College who spent a lot of time worrying about finding a wife, so much so that he was hindered in his ability to concentrate on his studies. If I am not married, I need to recognize that this is an advantage for the present, that I have more time to devote to the Lord in this present circumstance, and I need to use that time and trust the Lord about the future (1 Cor. 7:32-34). God is the Author of marriage, and He knows how to bring the right partners together at the right time.
This is true for the married. Regardless of whether your mate is saved or unsaved, it is God’s will for you to remain married if at all possible and to serve Him in that circumstance (1 Cor. 7:12-17). The same is true about whether or not you have children. God is in control of conception (Gen. 20:18; 29:31; 30:22). If you have children, don’t look on them as a distraction. Dedicate yourself to raising them for the glory of God. If you don’t have children, don’t fret about it. Use the opportunity to serve the Lord while you wait on Him to provide children in His time and according to His will.
This is true for young people. Youth is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The young person must dedicate himself to knowing and serving the Lord in his youth rather than waiting until some later time. Too many young people waste their youth, throwing it away on vanity, foolishly thinking that they will get serious about life when they get older. They thus throw away the wonderful opportunity to use their youth to prepare themselves for the future.
2. Knowing God’s will requires surrender and dedication (Romans 12:1).
Presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice means to use my body and my life to serve Christ.
This is a free-will decision. God does not force us to be saved, and He does not force us to devote our lives wholly to Him after salvation. He wants us to do this from a willing heart. Thus, there are hard choices that must be made for those who want to know God’s will. I must choose to dedicate myself to Christ rather than to the pursuit of selfish desires. I must deny the flesh and pursue the Spirit. Most people devote their lives to money, pleasure, ease, comfort, security, prestige, and such things. The child of God has the privilege of pursuing a higher calling.
This is a decision that is motivated by God’s love. We love God because He first loves us. We do not pursue the will of God in order to be saved; we pursue it because we are saved and we want to please the One who has saved us by His grace through the great price that was paid on Calvary.
This is a reasonable decision. It is reasonable because knowing and serving God is the purpose of life (Ecclesiastes 12:13). It is reasonable because life apart from God’s will is vanity. That is the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes. If I use my life for anything other than God’s service, I am throwing it away. It is also reasonable to dedicate my life to Christ because God’s will brings great reward (Hebrews 11:24-27). A missionary who was later martyred once said, “A man is not unwise to give up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
This is a personal decision. Young people are often deeply concerned about what other young people are thinking and doing. There is “peer pressure,” but if I want to know God’s will I must move beyond that and focus my attention on pleasing God alone.
This is also a daily decision. Dedicating myself to the Lord’s will is not something that can be done once; it must be done repeatedly. Many times a person will get fired up at a church meeting or a summer camp or a Bible conference, and he or she will surrender to the Lord’s will, but due to the pressures of life and spiritual warfare this decision can fade away if it is not renewed daily.
3. Knowing God’s will requires separation (Romans 12:2).
At the very heart of knowing God’s will is the issue of separation from the evil things of the world. It is not optional, because God is a holy God and this wicked world is in rebellion to Him.
The word “conformed” implies that we are weak and can be molded. The world is evangelistic. It is not content to mind its own business. It seeks to conform the believer to its philosophy and lifestyle. Rocker Courtney Love said that she has “a need to impose my worldview on the culture” (Spin magazine, Oct. 1988, p. 100).
Separation is thus absolutely necessary to know God’s will. Consider the following important verses: Ephesians 5:11; Titus 2:12; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17.
The world has poured into Christian homes and churches through the rock & roll pop culture, but the believer that wants to know God’s perfect will must reject it and pursue holiness and righteousness.
Consider 2 Timothy 2:22, which teaches that separation is not just a “negative” issue.
We see here that separation is a matter of spiritual and moral protection. Timothy was told to “flee also youthful lusts.” That is the image of running from some great danger. God does not want to take pleasurable things away from His people. He is the Author of every good gift (James 1:17). When He made Adam and Eve, He put them in the loveliest Garden one could imagine. He designed it for them to provide every wonderful and pleasurable thing. God is not some cruel person who wants to harass people with meaningless laws. God is the most compassionate, giving Person in existence. His command to separate from the evil things of the world is designed to protect us from spiritual and moral destruction. It is designed to keep us out of the devil’s cruel clutches.
In 2 Timothy 2:22 we are also reminded that separation is a heart matter. Timothy was instructed to pursue holiness “with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” If the heart is right, the believer will respond positively to the Lord’s command to separate from evil. Before I was saved, I grew my hair long as a flag of rebellion and pride. I refused to cut it for love or money, but after I was saved I cut it when I was challenged by an elderly woman that long hair was not befitting a young man who claims to be a follower of Christ. I cut it because my heart was right with God and I wanted to do His will instead of my own, and I did not want to offend people.
We also see in 2 Timothy 2:22 that separation is a replacement matter. Timothy was instructed not only to flee from sinful things but also to “follow” godly things. It is not enough to give up sensual music and worldly fashions and friends that hinder one’s spiritual walk; the child of God must add godly friends and sacred music and edifying literature and wholesome activities and get busy in the service of Christ.
4. Knowing God’s will requires transformation (Romans 12:2).
Knowing God’s will requires not only dedication and separation; it also requires spiritual transformation. This refers to Christian growth and it is the way of victory over the world. By transformation the image of Christ can become fashioned in the believer so firmly that the world cannot mold him into its own foolish and corrupt image.
Spiritual transformation comes by the renewing of the mind through God’s Word. We must learn to think God’s thoughts and that is what transforms the life, and this comes through reading and studying and meditating on God’s Word. See Psalm 119:9; John 8:31-32; 1 Peter 2:2. It has been said that a dusty Bible indicates a dirty heart, and the Bible will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from Bible.
Spiritual transformation comes by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must yield to Him, put Him in the driver’s seat. This is what it means to “be filled with the Spirit.” See Galatians 5:16-17; Ephesians 4:30; 5:18.
Further, spiritual transformation is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and persistence and dedication. It requires building godly habits like Bible reading and private prayer and church attendance, and then continuing in them.
5. Knowing God’s will requires ministry (Romans 12:3-6).
To know God’s perfect will it is not enough to surrender to Christ and to separate from the world and to read the Bible; we must also get busy serving the Lord. This refers to discipleship.
It is not a matter of waiting around for something to happen; it is a matter of getting busy doing what I know that I should do at any given time, and as I do this, God leads me in His perfect will step-by-step, day-by-day, week-by-week, year-by-year. As we read the Bible we must obey the Bible, and as we do this we are walking in God’s will.
In Romans 12 we are reminded that there are two aspects to the ministry. There is a general ministry (Romans 12:9-21) and a specific ministry (Romans 12:6-8). Every believer has a particular gift and ministry, and we find that particular calling by getting busy in God’s general calling, which involves walking in obedience and holiness. As the believer does the things that he knows God wants him to do, such as obeying one’s parents and loving one’s wife and honoring one’s husband and being faithful to church and sharing the gospel and separating from evil things and tithing and praying, God leads him along and reveals His particular calling more and more clearly.
We see in Romans 12 that knowing God’s will requires sober thinking (Romans 12:3). This means I must understand my exact calling and not think too highly of myself. It involves humility. I must not think that God has given me more than He has. For example, there is a two-foot-tall man in Nepal. He is the world’s shortest man. The Bible says that God made him, and if he were to put his faith in Christ and seek God’s will, he would find that he has a specific calling, but he would have to accept his place. If he were to aspire to be a professional basketball player, he would doubtless be sorely frustrated and disappointed! There are people who can’t sing well that want to be singers, and people who aren’t good with children who want to work in children’s ministries, and men who can’t preach who want to be preachers, and men who aren’t qualified to be pastors who want to be pastors. I have seen many men who have not been content to be what God has called them; they want to be something else, and as a result they cause frustration in their own lives and confusion in the church. To think soberly also means the believer should not think too lowly of himself. Every believer has a special calling and an important place in the Lord’s work in this present world. In the human body there are many members, and each member is important to the overall function of the body. The same is true in the church.
We are also reminded in Romans 12 that the church is essential for knowing God’s will. Paul mentions “the body” in verse 4. That is a reference to the church. It is the pillar and ground of the truth and the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). It is the God-ordained institution of training and discipling. It is the place of spiritual protection. It is the headquarters for world evangelism. The first foreign missionaries were sent out from a church (Acts 13:1-4).
Knowing God’s will is not complicated. It simply involves surrendering to God and starting where you are and obeying God step by step. See Psalms 37:23.
I have never met a person who regretted finding God’s perfect will, but I have met many that have regretted missing God’s perfect will. Don’t be foolish and throw away the wonderful opportunity that you have to surrender your life to God and to pursue His perfect will. Don’t follow the crowd; follow Christ!
To make major decisions, such as about marriage and job and education, apart from God’s perfect will is dangerous in the extreme.
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