by Steve Spurlin
– In my last post I began putting forth my understanding of and belief in the idea that the sign gifts of the first century have ceased in this dispensation, a belief known as cessationism. This belief includes the understanding that the canon of Scripture is complete and closed. I ended my last post with my presuppositions, which include the following:
- The God of the Bible exists and is knowable
- He has spoken
- The Bible is the record of His speaking
- In speaking He has revealed His will
- Since He has revealed His will He must desire that we know it
- Since He desires that we know His will His message must be comprehensible (He is God after all)
- Therefore, we can know His will
- His will is found in Scripture
In this post I would like to demonstrate that Scripture demands that we know God’s will, and explain how Scripture teaches us how to know and obey God’s will.
The first requirement is that one must be a believer. God’s desire is that men be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4). The natural man, a.k.a., the unbeliever, cannot know the will of God, cannot understand the message of Scripture, and indeed does not desire to understand the will of God or message of Scripture (1 Cor. 2:14). Thus, the first step of knowing and doing God’s will is that you must first trust Jesus Christ alone for salvation from sin.
Secondly, believers are commanded to understand God’s will. Paul, in Ephesians 5:17, states, “So then do not be foolish, but understand (present active imperative) what the will of the Lord is.” We can also deduce from this verse that to not understand the will of God is to be a foolish believer. However, in order for a believer to be able to understand the instruction of Scripture he must be one who is spiritual, i.e., not walking in darkness, but in fellowship with the Father (I Cor. 2:15; 3:1-3; 1 John 1:6-7).
Third, knowing Christ’s commands, including His further instruction found in the Apostles’ teaching, is to know His will. Psalm 40:8 proclaims, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” Knowing and obeying God’s Law was to do His will. Later in the Psalms we find the following instruction: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have hid in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Ps. 119:9-11). The clear idea is that knowing God’s word and His Law is equivalent to knowing His will.
There are several passages in the New Testament that give clear, unequivocal statements of what His revealed will for the believer is. Such ideas as, be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), being sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3), be thankful (1 Thess. 5:18), sometimes suffering for Him (1 Peter 3:17), be subject to authorities (1 Peter 2:13), and do all without grumbling (Ph. 2:14). These are just a few examples.
Fourth, obeying His commands is doing His will. Jesus patterned this for us and went as far as to tell us so. He said, “The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works” (John 14:10). As a matter of fact, Jesus’ whole life of obedience was the outworking of doing God’s will: “Behold I have come to do Your will” (Heb. 10:9). Jesus identified the fact that part of the Spirit’s ministry was to enable His disciples to obey His commandments and thereby demonstrate their love for Him (John 14:15-17).
From what I have put forth as I have found in Scripture, I believe that the clear teaching of Scripture is that we can and must know God’s will, that knowing His word is to know His will, and in doing what He commands we carry out His will. However, there is more to this story.
There are several issues that must be addressed before we can actually know and then do God’s will. First, there is the matter of knowing what His word says. Our heritage is found in First Corinthians. Paul teaches us that “we have (possess) the mind of Christ.” I believe that what Paul is teaching here is the link between the fact that we have the indwelling Spirit as well as the Divine message of Scripture, which the Spirit enables us to understand. Yet, before the Spirit can enlighten our minds to understand the word we must know it. Therefore, Paul instructs Timothy to, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Accurate handling of the word requires accurate understanding and application. One of the main issues with believer’s who don’t know the will of God is that they do not take the time nor make the effort to know what the word teaches. The belief that God gives direct revelation in order for individual believers to know God’s will for them is, in my opinion, an act of lazy discipleship, at least in part.
Another aspect of knowing and doing the will of God is that it takes wisdom to employ His will. The Greek word for wisdom, sophia, may be defined as “the capacity to understand and function accordingly”. It is this word that is used by James when he teaches us that, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Therefore, we see that wisdom is necessary and available for the believer who would know and do God’s will. That wisdom is for the purpose of employing what is known of God’s will in the life of the believer.
There is also the matter of the Spirit’s ministry within the believer and our cooperation with Him. Paul taught the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12b-13). The Spirit’s work is accomplished fully when believers cooperate with Him by, “(being) filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). The Spirit causes us to desire to do God’s will, enables us to do God’s will, but our obedience is required to carry out God’s will.
The final link in the chain of knowing and doing God’s will is found in adding all the 2′s together. Here is the way I believe it all works, according to how I interpret all that we’ve seen. The mechanics of doing His will when attempting to make a decision are as follows: