Discerning God’s Will

Four Key Passages

Before focusing too much on finding God’s will for specific decisions, I recommend careful reflection on four New Testament passages. 

Carefully investigate what God has to say in these Scriptures: 

1. Romans 12:1-2: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (NASB)

Discovering God’s will begins with the dedication of our lives to God. This dedication must involve two continual actions: Renunciation and Renewal. 

As we continually renounce the norms of behavior typical in godless culture (see Gal. 5:19-20 and Lam. 3:13-16), and renew our minds, our lives will be ordered consistent with our dedication to God. 

In these verses dedication leads to discernment. By dedicating ourselves, we “… may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” “It appears from the context that the believer is not viewed as ignorant of the will of God, but as needing to avoid blurring its outline by failure to renew the mind continually” (Everett Harrison, p.128, E.B.C., V. 10) (cf. Eph. 5:8-10).

2. Philippians 1:9-10: “And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.” (NIV)

These verses offer another helpful pattern. Love is the crowning Christian virtue (I Corinthians 13:1-8; Colossians 3:14) and the first-fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It is the distinguishing mark of discipleship (John 13:34-35) and should influence every decision believers make (Matthew 22:37-40). In this prayer for the Philippians the apostle indicates that growth in love (tempered by knowledge and discernment), is indispensable to the constant challenge “to discern what is best” (which is the goal of Christian living).

“The ever-increasing love for which Paul prays is to be discriminating. It is to be constrained by `knowledge’ and `depth of insight’. Without the constraints of knowledge and insight, love very easily degenerates into mawkish sentimentality or into the kind of mushy pluralism the world often confuses with love. These constraints do not stifle love. Far from it, they ensure its purity and value. Such love, Paul insists, must abound more and more.

“Paul’s thought is that there are countless decisions in life where it is not a question of making a straight forward decision between right and wrong. What you need is the extraordinary discernment that helps you perceive how things differ, and then make the best possible choice. That is what Paul means by choosing `what is best.’ The pursuit of what is best can never be carried on without constant appeal to the standard of God’s gracious self-disclosure in the Scriptures (cf. Matt. 7:24-27).” (D.A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, pp. 126,27,30)

3. Colossians 1:9-10: “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God….” (NASB)

In this prayer for the Colossian believers another connection is established between the will of God, wisdom, and the goal of pleasing God in everything. The apostle is not praying for them to discover God’s will but to be filled with the knowledge of will.

“Is there anything that our own generation more urgently needs than this? Some of us have chased every fad, scrambled aboard every bandwagon, adopted every gimmick, pursued every encounter with the media. Others of us have rigidly cherished every tradition, determined to change as little as possible, worshipped what is aged simply because it is aged. But where are the men and women whose knowledge of God is as fresh as it is profound, whose delight in thinking God’s thoughts after him ensures that their study of Scripture is never merely intellectual and self-distancing, whose desire to please God easily outstrips residual and corrupting desires to shine in public? People cannot live by bread and Jacuzzis alone. We desperately need meditative and reflective dependence on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

“The need takes on painful urgency when we discover that even within our churches, let alone the nation at large, there are rapidly declining standards of the most basic bible knowledge. True, basic Bible knowledge does not ensure the kind of knowledge of God’s will that Paul has in mind. But ignorance of the Bible, the focal place where God has so generously disclosed his will, pretty well ensures that we will not be filled with this knowledge of God’s will, this knowledge that consists in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” (D.A. Carson, Spiritual Reformation, pp. 103-104)

4. Ephesians 5:15-17: “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (NASB)

“Be careful how you walk.” This verse reminds us of the theme in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress where every incident focuses on following or departing from the divine path for Christian living.

The choice between a path of wisdom and the path of foolishness (cf. Prov. 4:7,13,18; 8:34-36). In verse 17, foolishness is contrasted with the will of God. Yet the will of God is not something hidden.

In context, the will of God (which I must understand), is to maintain a careful walk of wisdom, making the most of my time (i.e. not squander the opportunities God gives), and renouncing foolishness (see the way the book of Proverbs characterizes a fool).

“Understanding what the will of the Lord is does not mean that you seek a special guidance about everything that you do and say. There are people who interpret it like that and they never move without praying and waiting for some immediate guidance. But you need not do that. Here is the guidance in the Bible before you. Read your bible instead. There are very exceptional circumstances in which one needs some special guidance, but they are very few. Understanding what the will of the Lord is does not mean that. Read the ten commandments, read the beatitudes, read the Sermon on the Mount. That is the will of the Lord. To know the will of the Lord, I say, you have to read your Bible. Meditate on the law of the Lord like the man in the first Psalm, whose delight is in it and who meditates in it day and night. Know it thoroughly and then apply it” (Martin Lloyd-Jones, Ephesians Commentary, Vol. 5, pp. 459-60).

The repeated connection in the passages between wisdom and God’s will should alert us to our need for two things:

1. The Fear of the Lord

    • Psalm 111:10 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
    • Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (cf. Prov. 9:10; 15:33; Job 28:28; I Pet. 1:17).

“Not till we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty (`the great and awesome God,’ Neh. 1:5; compare 4:14; 9:32; Deut. 7:21; Ps. 99:3; Jer. 20:11), acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours. It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all. Not for nothing does Scripture say, `with the lowly is wisdom’ (Prov. 11:2) (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 101). (cf. Ps. 15:1-3; Isa. 66:2; Matt. 5:3; Lk. 18:9-13; 1 Pet. 5:5-6)

2. The Reception of God’s Word

    • Psalm 19:7: “The law of the Lord is perfect restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”
    • Psalm 119:98: “Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies….”
    • Colossians 3:16: “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom.”
    • Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (cf. Matt. 4:4).

“Again, it is to be feared that many today who profess to be Christ’s never learn wisdom, through failure to attend sufficiently to God’s written Word” (Ibid. p. 101).

“It is folly, to pretend to seek God’s will for your life, in terms of a marriage partner or some form of Christian vocation, when there is no deep desire to pursue God’s will as he has already kindly revealed it” (Carson, Spiritual Reformation).

Summary 

We are responsible before God to be dedicated to Him; to renounce sinful patterns of life; to discern what is best; to walk in wisdom – making the most of each opportunity.

Living this way will require a humble attitude toward God and constant reflection on Scripture.

Steve Cornell

This entry was posted in Christian life, Discernment, Guidelines for living, Will of God. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Discerning God’s Will

  1. ladynada says:

    Hi there,

    I so wanted to recommend this excellent subject and your writing except for this quote:

    Understanding what the will of the Lord is does not mean that you seek a special guidance about everything that you do and say.

    You _can_ get to the point in your Christian walk where you can ask God about _everything_. Please review this caveat that you mentioned twice in your article. Jesus did what He saw the Father showing Him, and said what He heard the Father say. It IS possible.

    I understand you want to make a distinction between the true and the flakey kind of God told me not to use crest toothpaste… but… God CAN tell you not to use crest toothpaste – i.e. it might have poison in it from China!

    so…. your article was excellent and much needed! for us believers, but do not sell the Father short in His ability to advise our every thought (take every thought captive, for example).

    God Bless Us,
    nada

  2. ladynada says:

    I just remembered that I just posted an entry to my blog a few minutes ago that speaks to the points I raised.

    07-06-07: counterfeit of mental ascension versus revelation of My Word [ Will ]
    http://heartdaughter.com/blogs/elijah/index.php/2007/07/16/308/

    Hope this helps,
    nada

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