This is a Part 2 of the series on God’s will and doing it. Consider reading the entire series in order to grasp the whole concept.
Last week we began looking at the Will of God and how you can know it. The main point was that you could know the Holy Will of God. God wants you to live a holy life, because He is holy.
There is an interesting fact that is true all over the world. Do you know that almost all people try to uncover God’s will? People know God exists, and while they have different ideas about God, they want to know His will!
Some people cast lots by choosing a straw or particular stick or choosing a pebble from a bag. We saw in the book of Jonah how the sailors cast lots to determine who was responsible for the storm. Even Pharaoh in Joseph’s time understood there was a God, when he said, “Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you.” (Gen 41:39) He knew Joseph had an understanding of God’s will.
Some pagans used hepatoscopy, which is studying the liver. The liver was the heaviest organ, so “if God was going to reveal His will, He would do it through the liver,” pagans thought. Some used rhabdomancy, which was the use of arrows as a sign as mentioned in Ezekiel 21:21. Sometimes they had small statutes or idols before which pagans sacrificed to gain favor. God warned against that in both the Old and New Testament (Is. 44:9; 1 John 5:21). Beginning in B.C. 600, and likely long before, pagans often consulted astrology. They said they could determine God’s will by reading the stars, which God warned against this in Isaiah 47:13. Today, every newspaper has an astrology section with horoscopes. Poor Nancy Reagan was accused of giving recommendations to the President based on the stars. There is also hydromancy, which uses water to tell fortunes. In Genesis 44:5, Joseph’s servant informed Joseph’s brothers “the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination?” Today, this is like reading tea leaves. Some even sought the spirits as Isaiah warned against in Isaiah 8:19. How many pagans break a wishbone to determine what to do, or at least a wish?
Some pagans try to confuse things by pointing to different methods God used to make His will known in the Old Testament. Certainly there were prophets sent by God, but there were also pagan prophets who made divine claims and God told Israel to execute them (Deut. 18:20). Then you have the Urim and Thumim, which were likely two stones the high priest carried in his breastplate or were sown into his shoulder boards and they would light up to give the answer to a question (Ex. 28:30). There were sacred lots as in Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.” There were dreams and signs given by God (Gen. 37; Judg. 6:15-22). Who decided which one was used? Who was to say what was from God?
There are no examples of explicitly seeking or finding God’s will after Acts 1:26, in which the disciples drew lots to select Matthias as a replacement for Judas. There were dreams, visions, and revelations after this, but never in the context of explicitly seeking God’s will. From this point onward it is not divination (seeking to probe the divine mind) but revelation given by God to His people. After Pentecost there is no instance of the church seeking God’s will through any of the forms of divination listed above.1
Apart from the Acts 1 incident with Matthias, which was before Acts 2, divination is not normative for the church. God administered His will by the Spirit through His Word. There is not one reference after Acts 2 for divining God’s will. Today determining God’s will is found in 2 Tim. 3:16-17. Can you determine the bull’s eye for God’s will from that passage? I don’t believe you can.
Last Sunday, we looked at God’s will from three aspects. His sovereign, holy and individual will. I presented the basic Traditional view of God’s individual will which said that because God is a God of order and He is able to direct us, He gives us direction on His perfect individual will. While God can do that, I can’t find Scripture to support that. What about the examples in Scripture that seem to support the “individual” plan for believers?
1) Does the Lord Jesus guide you on a bull’s eye plan?
The Traditional View of God’s individual will states God has an ideal, detailed life-plan uniquely designed for each person, which He reveals to the heart of the believer through inward impressions and outward signs.2 For example, Paul received a light and voice guidance on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-4). Should we all expect that? After all, Scripture describes God as our guide as in,
The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Is. 58:11 NKJ)
And the sons of Korah wrote,
For this is God, Our God forever and ever; He will be our guide Even to death. (Ps. 48:14 NKJ)
Further examples are found in the book of Acts where Paul was sent on specific places of ministry and away from others (Acts 16:6-10; 19:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11). The question is “does God have an individual will for every believer?”
We need to understand that Acts was a transition time of Divine Revelation for the completed Scripture. There are too few cases to establish a Divine pattern. The recipients of divine guidance were in a specific position in God’s program – apostle. The few cases only describe specific instances, but not all of life, and what is provided is not comprehensive.
Garry Friessen summarizes this with four principles.
- Direct, supernatural guidance for specific decisions was the exception
- Direct guidance was given to people who played strategic roles
- Direct guidance was provided only at critical points in the transition
- Direct guidance was always communicated by Divine revelation.3
We often accept this and narrow it down to the decisions we want. We want to know what spouse to marry, what job to take, what school to attend, what house to buy. But how many consult God for what shirt to wear today? If God had an individual will for what school to attend, then He knows and wants you to wear a specific shirt today. We spiritualize the big decisions so we look and sound spiritual. Have you ever heard of a televangelist declare God’s will? One person said, “I’m going to stay in this tower, until you all give the seven million dollars God wants you to give.” It sounds so spiritual.
2) Does Scripture teach the bull’s eye?
Let’s take a look at several passages that are used for the Traditional individual will approach. For example, a chief passage people use from Solomon is Proverbs 3:5-6,
5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. (Pro. 3:5-6 NKJ)
Does it teach an individual will, or does it teach if you obey God’s ways, He will make the course of your life a blessing? The context of Proverbs 3:7-10, seems clear that God will make your path smooth.
Many will use Psalm 32:8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” This came from David’s confession of adultery and murder and here David’s acceptance of God’s forgiveness. God’s guidance is in the way of righteousness, not an individual will.
Some use Isaiah 30:20-21,
20 And though the Lord gives you The bread of adversity and the water of affliction, Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, But your eyes shall see your teachers. 21 Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left. (Is. 30:20-21 NKJ)
The original version (Hebrew) uses the plural of the word teachers. There are a couple versions that translate it as a singular and even add a capital “T” so it looks like God is the teacher who speaks from behind. The word is plural, so refers to the prophets who guide in the way of righteousness, not an individual will. Does God speak to every Israelite? Or does God speak through the prophets who spoke to the people on behalf of God.
We’ve seen the passage Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2,
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:1-2 NKJ)
Does this refer to the individual or holy will? It is a perfect individual will, so therefore of the traditional view? Note the context of Romans 12. These are holy commands for living among believers. The verses describe transformation so that they are sanctified for God’s purposes.
Another passage is Ephesians 2:10, which follows the salvation passages of verses 8-9. Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10 NKJ)
These good works were prepared beforehand by God for His holy will, which can only be done in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We also looked at Ephesians 5:15-17 last week, as a passage used to support the individual will,
15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5:15-17 NKJ)
Yet, there is nothing in the passage that describes an individual will. In fact, the context of Ephesians 5:1-14 describes the believer’s walk in light versus darkness. It’s an appeal to follow the holy will. Specifically, note Ephesians 5:8, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Eph. 5:8 NKJ) And, “walk in love” (Eph. 5:2). In other words, avoid foolish living and understand God’s holy will. Does God have a plan for your life? Yes, but is it individual step by step?
Finally, let’s note Colossians 1:9, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” This often quoted passage does not describe an individual will, but rather a life that is characterized by wisdom and spiritual understanding. The context of Colossians 1:10-12 is God’s holy will for character and His presence.
The reality is that the Traditional view promotes immature decisions.
3) Traditional view promotes immature decisions
We’ve asked this question before: Which shoes did you put on today? The brown loafers or the black oxfords? Which socks did you put on? Did they have to match the shoes? Which did you put on first? The dilemma of the individual will goes on and on. It often leads to fleecing God. For example, “If she answers on the first ring, I’ll know she is the right woman to marry.”
Consider these aspects of the Traditional view:
- Permits believers to justify unwise decisions, because “God told me to do it.”
- Fosters costly delays because of uncertainty about God’s individual will.
- Influences people to reject personal preferences when faced with equal options
- Encourages putting out a fleece and lets circumstances dictate decisions.
Additionally, the Traditional view relies heavily on “impressions.”
4) Impressions imply living by subjectivity
I love this illustration by Garry Friessen,
While engaged in a ministry to high school students in eastern Oklahoma, I once began a youth meeting with the following declaration: “This afternoon, I have a message from the Water Tower Monster.” I had immediate attention as curiosity peaked. “The Water Tower Monster is an awesome specter who lives beneath the water tower just outside of town beside Highway 59. His message is this: he wants everyone in town to believe in him. He says that if there are any unbelieving residents remaining at the end of one year, he will destroy the whole town. When you believe in him, you will experience and unmistakable shiver in your liver. The stronger your faith becomes, the more he will reinforce your faith through communication with your inner being. Are there any questions?”
After a few moments of restless silence, one student decided to humor me. “I live pretty close to that tower. Why haven’t I ever seen this monster?”
“The Water Tower Monster is only visible to believers,” I replied.
Another spoke up. “Then you have personally seen the monster with your own eyes?”
“Oh, yes,” I replied. “Not, however, with my physical eyes. I see him with the eyes of my heart.”
“The eyes of your heart?”
“Right. As I grow closer to the Water Tower Monster, the liver shivers become stronger and his presence is more clearly confirmed within.”
One boy looked especially perplexed. “Wait a minute. Are you talking about the eyes of your heart, or the eyes of your liver?”
“That’s right,” I said.
A girl probed further. “Has anyone else ever felt these liver shivers?”
“Of course. All true believers have them.”
“But how do you know the difference between a genuine liver shiver’ and liver disease?” She continued.
“When you experience the real thing, “I explained, “There is no doubt about it. The inner message is as distinct as if the Water Tower Monster were speaking audibly.”
Finally, one of the kids could stand it no more. “This is ridiculous!” He exploded, to the obvious approval of all present.
“Tell me,” I replied. “Is your belief in God substantially different from such faith in the Water Tower Monster?”
What followed was a lively discussion of the bases of Christian faith. And many of those young people came to appreciate more than ever that their faith was built not upon a wholly subjective foundation, but upon the solid rock of God’s entrance into human history and His objective revelation to man.4
The key is to consider the source. Impressions and emotions are not Divine revelation. They might be a feeling, a sense, or a hunch. Do they come from God, Satan, an angel, a demon, emotions, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, or an upset stomach, or medications? Robin Williams took his life and Rob Schneider blamed the side effects from the drugs used to treat his Parkinson’s Disease. Our senses feel more real than trusting the Truth of God’s Word, but they are subjective.
Sometimes, if the person is older, smarter, louder, or emotional, he will often come across as authoritative. Signs are subjective, but people latch on to them. Jesus said a wicked generation seeks after signs. A young dude says the young lady in his car, “Your hair, the stars, and this red mustang all point that we are supposed to be close tonight.”
Okay, what are the signs? Who interprets the signs? What is the source of the signs? Do the signs agree? Is the message authoritative? Let’s look at two more passages.
Some hold to Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Does this look like God’s guidance for an individual will? The context is not guidance. It doesn’t address impressions. And there is no implication of an individual will. It does focus on empowered righteous living, not which suit to buy or home to build.
A final passage that many will use is Galatians 5:16. Yet, the context is who is leading the life, either the flesh or the filling of the Spirit. Here’s the key:
The Lord Jesus wants you to live God’s will by faith in His holy will!
Last week I used this map. If you are to go toward Bedford, Indiana from here, there are a multitude of ways to get there. Which one is individually right for you? The ones that stay on the public road and don’t go through private property! Staying on the roads is part of God’s holy will.
Faith is a moment by moment proposition. It’s not a believe and you’re good for life.
Next week, we look at you have freedom in God’s holy will.
Message Based Discussion Questions
1) How do you decide what to wear each day?
2) Can the Holy Spirit guide you? _____________ Read John 16:12-14. Does Scripture teach that the Holy Spirit will guide you in a specific individual will on what socks to wear or what college to attend? How should you understand the passage?
3) Is there a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7)? ________________ Is peace a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22)? _____________ How does this peace orient you to understanding God’s will? What is the Spirit’s role? Is that will His moral will or individual will? What is the difference?
4) Would it be easier to know exactly what decisions God wants you to make every moment, or trust Him by faith with the Bible? ______________ What makes it very difficult to trust the Lord (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6)?
Making application of the message to life:
5) Why is the Traditional View of God’s will similar to behavioral therapy rather than living by a heart motivation to please the Lord?
6) How would you help a person understand the weaknesses of the Traditional View of trying to live out God’s will?
7) What are several weaknesses of “impressions” that are supposed to determine God’s will?
1Bruce Waltke, Finding the Will of God, p.53-54.
2Garry Friessen, Decision-making and the Will of God, p. 112.
3Ibid., p. 92.
4Ibid., pp. 127-128.