“What is God’s will for my life?” is one of the most asked questions in Christian life. Recently, I heard a great sermon on this topic from Kyle Carper, the pastor at my own church, Highland Baptist in Dallas. As part of my job there as the director of music and ministry, I write a blog series recapping each week’s sermon. This post is reblogged from that series.
The question of God’s will affects all believers as they make decisions about how to live. Mostly, a desire to please God motivates us to ask this question, but often, that “pure” motive is mixed in with some others, such as fear, decision-paralysis, and a desire to shift responsibility for our lives onto someone else. If we’re being honest, most of us experience a combination of all four motives, but whatever compels us to ask, the question is central to many believers’ lives.
So let’s break the question down into its pieces: First, what do we mean by “God’s Will?”
God’s will has two definitions that most everybody agrees on and a third that is open to debate. The first is God’s sovereign will: what God has decreed that will come to pass, no matter what. This is the big, overall plan that only God knows and it includes God working all good and bad together in His perfect plan. The second is God’s moral will: what God desires to happen. God reveals this will in scripture, and it is knowable. The third kind of will is what most people mean when they ask about God’s will for their lives: His specific or individual will. Scholars debate the scope and even existence of this will. Is there a specific will for our lives? And if so, are we responsible for figuring it out? Some say “yes” to both questions. Other scholars say “maybe” to the first question, but to the second, they say that we don’t need to know God’s specific will as long as we are living according to God’s revealed moral will.
Whether you fall into the first or second camp, if God does have a specific will for your life, He will make Himself clear. One example of this idea happens in Paul’s memorable conversion experience. In Paul’s encounter with God’s specific plan, He dramatically meets and hears from Jesus. It’s important to note that Paul wasn’t seeking God; God sought him. Sometimes we can get so caught up in trying to discover God’s specific will that we make it into an idol. We need to seek God for Himself, not just for His will.
Unfortunately, Scripture doesn’t give us a handy checklist for figuring out God’s will, but it does provide some general principles.
- God wants us to be transformed. Romans 12 tells us to “be transformed through the renewing of your mind” so that you will know what God’s will is. How are our minds transformed? Through God’s word. Do we do the transforming? No! Paul uses passive voice — “be transformed” — to show that God transforms us; our role is to cooperate with the process. When our minds are renewed and opened to God’s will we do not get access to “the road map” for our lives, but instead we learn to use spiritual gifts to benefit others; we learn love, generosity, and humility; we become more and more like Christ. Quick fixes and clear road maps don’t ask anything of us; God does. God wants us to be transformed! But don’t worry; we can learn from Paul’s story — if there is a specific will for you, God won’t just let it slide by.
- God wants us to have wisdom. We can discern God’s will through wisdom. Time and again the Bible teaches us to seek wisdom in our lives. Again, this won’t grant access to the secrets of God’s detailed plan. Instead, wisdom looks like being filled with the Spirit, being thankful, being humble, and praising God. In other words, wisdom means living out the will that God has already revealed through His word and the Holy Spirit.
God’s revealed will is always what He wants. And that will is for us to be transformed and to live wisely.
Note: All the ideas in this post come from Pastor Kyle Carper; I just took notes and reported what I learned. If you like what you just read, you can listen to the full sermon here or read more sermon recaps here.