The Son of God came into the world to do the will of God. He did nothing but the will of God. He did all the will of God. His life perfectly conformed to God’s will. Those who follow him will want to know the will of God, and they will want to know it in order to do it.
But what are we expecting to know about the will of God? Here, it seems to me, Christians have differing expectations.
Some who want to know God’s will want to know it as they face decisions, especially some of the important ones that can have big consequences. Where should I go to college? Whom shall I marry? What job should I take? Does God want us to make an offer on the house? Should I take the money I’ve been putting aside for a boat and give it to the church building programme?
Where are we going to find out such things? We know that the Bible is the Word of God, and that the Scriptures ‘principally teach what man should believe about God and what duty God requires of man’ (WSC Q.3). But when we go to our Bibles and read the words according to their natural sense and obvious intent, we do not find any revelation of God’s will about such things.
Yes, I know that there are those who think they find specific information in the Bible. A man might be feeling restless and wondering if he should move. One day he picks up his Bible, starts reading, finds Joseph went to Dothan, and concludes that God is telling him to move to Dothan, Alabama. Of course, God is telling him no such thing. What if he had started reading a few pages back and read that Jacob went to Paddan-aram where God appeared to him?
Since the knowledge of God’s will about life decisions is not found in the Bible, what is a Christian expecting when he ‘seeks’ to know the will of God so that he can be ‘right in the centre of it’? Well, he is seeking some kind of message or signal from God. And people, who say they get such knowledge, can attribute it to many things. It may be a ‘word of knowledge’ spoken by another Christian. Or a dream. Or getting ‘a sign’ (The nearest I have ever come to feeling I was getting a sign is the flashing ‘Hot Doughnuts’ light at Krispy Kreme.) Or maybe it’s a strong feeling of some sort. What you can’t get around is that you are expecting God to get a message to you in some way.
Others, who may know and practice better than to expect guidance about such things, nevertheless want to know God’s will about all the big issues in life. They do not look for God to tell them the answers by any extra-Biblical means. They look to the Bible alone to find the answers. How exactly should you discipline a child? Who should handle the family finances? What should be the basis of national currency? What kind of art does God want produced?
Such folks want to know, practice, and promote God’s will. They want to bring the Lordship of Christ to bear on everything. They want to honour the sufficiency and the authority of the Bible as the Word of God.
But there is a big assumption in this approach. It is that God intends to tell us such things. And, since the Bible alone is the Word of God, then the answers have to be in the Bible. So we mine the depths of the Bible to discover the will of God about everything we believe is significant.
But does God speak to us in the Bible about all these things? Well, no. Paul told Timothy to keep in mind ‘how from childhood you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 3:15). First and foremost, God tells us in the Bible the way of salvation which is accomplished by Christ and received by faith. But then Paul goes on to say all Scripture is ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ Does this mean teaching about everything? Reproving and correcting every wrong? Does it teach that there is a ‘righteousness’ (what is right and God requires of us) to be trained in for every subject we think is of sufficient importance that God must have revealed his will about it? Not in the context. The Scriptures do these four things, Paul says, ‘that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16).
What does Paul mean? He goes on immediately to tell Timothy what he means: ‘I charge you . . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching’ (2 Timothy 4:1,2). These are the good works the Bible will equip Timothy to do. As he studies the Scriptures in order to carry out his work as a minister he must be careful that he is ‘a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). In other words Paul is saying that Timothy may look to the Scriptures to teach, reprove, correct, and train him in righteousness so that he can be a minister who is competent to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness, God’s people.
The Confession of Faith puts it clearly:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly laid down in Scripture or may by good and necessary consequence be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at anytime is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or the traditions of men (WCF I:6).
However, the Bible does not even tell the church everything that we might think the church needs to know:
. . . there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence, according to the general principles of the Word . . . (WCF:I:6).
It is a good and commendable thing to want to know and do the will of God. It would be wrong to disparage that desire. But, it is important to ask these questions: (1) What do you mean by the ‘will of God’? (2) Where do you look for it? (3) How much does God intend for us to know?
We would like to have certainty about everything. We want to be able to assure ourselves that we have done the will of God by taking the new job. We want to be able to say to the economists, ‘Thus says the Lord . . . ‘
When we talk about God’s will in this sense, we mean knowing what God requires us to believe and do. We can learn these things only from the Bible which is ‘the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him’ (WSC Q.2). And we can learn from the Bible only those things that God in his wisdom decided we need to know.
For the rest, we are going to have to live with lack of certainty. We will have to make decisions. And, we know we make these decisions as finite and fallible human beings. We will have to live with the reality that we will make mistakes and that we will lack certainty. In these things we trust in the providence of God, who rules over us and everything else, and who causes all things to work for his glory and our good.
Do you want to know the will of God? The place to begin is with the Ten Commandments and with Jesus’ summary of them in the Two Great Commandments.
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