Rev. Eriks is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado. Previous article in this series: November 1, 2004, p. 68.
In the first article on this subject, we distinguished between the two aspects of God’s one will: the will of God’s decree and the will of God’s precept. God sovereignly determines all things that happen in our lives. In all the events of this world and in our lives God sovereignly accomplishes His will. This is the will of God’s decree, which is a great comfort for us in life and in death. Yet, we have important decisions to make in our everyday lives according to the will of God’s precept. God’s sovereign government of all things does not dismiss our responsibility to choose the way of righteousness daily. We answer to God for everything we do. God has not made us puppets that accomplish His will only as He pulls the strings. He created us to be rational, moral creatures able to make decisions. Under the bondage of sin, we are able only to choose the way of sin. But as those recreated in the image of Jesus Christ we now have the ability to choose obedience to God’s Word. This is possible only because God works “in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
As those who belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, we confess with the psalmist inPsalm 40:8, “I desire to do thy will, O my God….” We desire to do the will of God from the heart (Eph. 6:6). This is the inclination of all those who belong to Jesus Christ. In all of life we request, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”
We all must make decisions in our lives. Some of those decisions are especially difficult and burdensome because of how they will affect our lives. Pastors must decide between two calls when they receive a call from another congregation. College graduates who have studied to be teachers must decide which contract to accept. High school graduates must decide whether or not to go to college and in what vocation they will serve the Lord. Young people, with their parents, must decide if they will date this person or should keep dating that person. Decisions must be made concerning medical procedures for loved ones whose health is failing.
How do we know what God commands us to do every day? Does God move us by an urge that a certain choice is right and another is wrong? Does He whisper it in our ears? Will He interrupt our sub-consciousness with a dream or vision that we might know His will? God reveals His will to us in Holy Scripture. The God-ordained way of making decisions is to study the Holy Scriptures prayerfully. The only trustworthy guide in determining God’s will is the Word of God.
Recently an article in the “Faith” section of the Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald quoted how a local pastor determined it was God’s will for him to start a Christian school. The article says,
And Stocker [the senior pastor of the church—GJE] is thrilled with what is happening. “This is the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” he said of starting the school. “For years, I was just not interested in a school,” he said. But one morning, as he prayed, “I felt God spoke to my heart and gave me my marching orders.”
We would agree that it is good for Christians to establish their own Christian schools. But this man came to the conclusion that he must start the school, not on the principles of Scripture that he had been studying, but as he was moved by a feeling and some mystical voice of God in his heart to embark on this project. This is not the way to determine God’s will.
God does not reveal His will by speaking to us directly. This is the error of continued revelation, which is part of the mysticism of the charismatic movement. This is the way many today think God’s will is determined, as the newspaper article above reveals.
Neither should we make decisions based solely on feelings. We must be wary of our feelings because our feelings are so heavily influenced by our sinful flesh. Our feelings and emotions can change as quickly as the wind changes direction. Emotions themselves are not evil. But certainly they should not be given preeminence in making decisions where we are seeking God’s will. When feelings and emotions become the primary thing, then we will find ourselves doing what we want to do.
Holy Scripture must order our decisions. Holy Scripture is the only rule for faith and life because it is the Word of God. This is the testimony of Scripture itself in II Timothy 3:16, 17, which says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” All Scripture is the Word of God because all Scripture is God-breathed. Through the wonder of organic inspiration, God used sinful men to write down His Word so that every word of Scripture is His Word. Because Scripture is God’s Word, it is profitable “for instruction in righteousness.” Therefore, Scripture is our unfailing guide in making correct decisions before the face of God.
The Belgic Confession, in Article 7, declares Scripture to be our unfailing guide:
We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in them at large, it is unlawful for anyone, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith…. Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God….”
The point of the Belgic Confession is that Scripture alone is trustworthy to know “the will of God.” Scripture is the authoritative rule for all of life. According to Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” In Scripture we find the full will of God for our lives. He has given to us everything we need to know to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
The God-ordained way for making decisions and determining how we are to live our lives is studying the Holy Scriptures prayerfully. God never calls us to do something opposed to His Word. God does not tell His children to accept a job that requires them to work on Sundays in violation of the 4th commandment. It is not God’s will for a man to take a job that calls him to move away from a true church of Jesus Christ. If a young woman is dating a young man who is not spiritually one with her, she should not say that if it is God’s will that they not marry, God will lasso her while she walks down the isle at her wedding. God clearly speaks in His Word what His will is in these circumstances.
In all of life God calls us to submit to His Word. Often we find that we know what God’s will is. But we simply do not want to do it. We even pray, asking God to show us His will. But it can happen that we pray, while sinfully hoping that there is another answer. This kind of praying and seeking is rebellion against God’s will clearly revealed in His Word.
Seeking to know the will of God from His Word requires working with Scripture honestly. A popular idea for finding the will of God in a particular situation is that a man may close his eyes, let his Bible fall open, and with his finger point to a passage. Then he opens his eyes and reads the passage, expecting that verse to provide the guidance that is needed.
Here is an example:
There’s a story that has lasted a long time not only for its humor but also because of its insight. It’s about a man attempting to discover the mind of God by taking his chances with the Bible. He simply shut his eyes, opened up his Bible, and put his finger on a passage. Opening his eyes, he read this passage from
“Then he went away and hanged himself.” Somehow, the fellow didn’t think that gave him any direction for his problem, so he closed his eyes again and opened his Bible to another passage. He looked and read Jesus’ statement in
“Go and do likewise.” That wasn’t quite what he was looking for either, so he tried one more time. He shut his eyes, opened his Bible, and read the statement in
“Do whatever he tells you.”*
Using the Bible in this way is unacceptable because the results may be bizarre and because it is not dealing with the Word of God honestly. When the Scriptures are used in this way, we manipulate God’s Word by taking the verses out of context. With this practice we do not find out what God’s will is. God demands that we study the Word of God in its context to find out truly what He is saying in His Word. This cannot be done with the approach described above. Instead we must diligently study passages that have something to say about the decision we have to make. We must labor to know God’s will, trusting that God’s Spirit will apply the Word to the decision we have to make.
When studying the Word of God to determine God’s will for making decisions, there are a few scriptural keys we must consider.
Pray. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” Because we belong to God, having been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, we desire that God’s will be done in our lives. With this petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches that this must be our desire and prayer. As we study the Scriptures, we must pray that God show us clearly what His will is. We must ask God not only that we may see what His will is for us, but also that we may have the grace to submit to it. We need grace to submit to God’s will because of our own stubbornness in sin — we are so prone to resist the clear will of God and do what is right in our own eyes. Be aware of this in yourself in seeking God’s will.
Pray for and seek wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of God whereby He gives the ability to choose what is right. This wisdom was the gift of God to Solomon in the way of Solomon’s asking for it. This wisdom is not something given without means. Wisdom is the fruit of knowledge and understanding, which is given through the means of studying God’s Word. For the daily decisions to be made, we must daily study Scripture, so that when we are faced with those decisions the Word of God comes readily to mind.
Finally, in seeking God’s will, seek the good counsel of others. God also provides other members of the church to help us in determining God’s will. God’s Word speaks of the importance of such counsel in the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 12:15 makes the point, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” Proverbs 27:9 says, “Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man’s friend by hearty counsel.” (Cf. also Prov. 13:10, 15:22, 19:20.) Do not expect godly counselors to make decisions for you. Such godly counselors will be able to direct you to the teachings of Scripture and can pass on wisdom from their own experience in making similar decisions. This counsel is needed because such counselors will provide the objective perspective that is often negated by our feelings. It is good to seek counsel from pastors, elders, parents, and those who are older and wiser in the church.
In our lives we have many decisions to make. The decisions addressed so far are those in which Scripture forbids one choice and approves another choice. When we are faced with such decisions, although they may be difficult, we experience that Scripture is our unfailing guide, for which we give thanks to God.
However, there are many decisions to be made that Scripture does not specifically address. These decisions fall into another category when we have determined that the choices before us are not opposed to the Scriptures. If they are not, then how do we know what God’s will is? For example, a family struggles to know if they should move from one part of the country to another (from one church to another). A pastor must decide in which congregation to labor when he receives a call and must consider two calls. When we face these decisions we must pray that God will lead us. This does not mean we don’t have to consider God’s Word. We need to examine, with Scripture, our reasons for doing one thing or another. We consider the circumstances and the effect of this decision upon others and us. Because God is sovereign, we trust that the decision we make is God’s will. Although acting upon that decision is difficult, we do so having the confidence that this is God’s will.
May it be our desire in all of life to do God’s will. Let us make our decisions in the biblical way, seeking the knowledge and wisdom found in God’s Word with much prayer.
* Dave Swaverly, Decisions, Decisions (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003) pp. 7, 8.