the Christian life
The Will of God for the Christian
by Carol Berubee; adapted from the book, A Primer on Pauline Doctrine: Revealing the Mystery of the Body of Christ
A common question that arises among Christians is, “What is God’s will for my life on earth? What is His plan for me?” The short answer is that God’s will for His children is sanctification. This isn’t a satisfactory answer for many Christians, though; they want to know specifics, such as what career path to choose, or who to marry (how can I find my “soulmate?”), or where to live, or what car to buy. The Bible doesn’t answer these questions because it’s not necessary to do so. Once it is discovered how God works in our sanctification, and how we are to step into what He’s doing, everything else will “work together for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose.”
The Big Picture
1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And be not fashioned according to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
1 Thessalonians 4
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification…
The will of God is our sanctification. How do we “prove” this will of God? We come to the perfect will of God through the crucible, through the proving, or testing (as of metal in a fire) that occurs when we present ourselves as a living sacrifice. When we present our bodies, we “find out by experience” that God’s will is our sanctification; that is, our experience will be that of sanctification.
Paul wants us to examine the mercies of God and let them be persuasive over our will. Over the first eight chapters of Romans, we learn of God’s love and grace in sending His Son to be our propitiation. Through the shed blood of Christ, while yet sinners, we were justified. We were identified with the Death and Resurrection of Christ so that we are free of the old man. We are not under law, but under grace, so that we may freely serve righteousness by the power of the indwelling Spirit. We have been adopted as adult-sons; we are joint-heirs with Christ. And then in chapters 9 through 11, we learn of God’s divine election and supreme wisdom.
In light of all that God is and all that He has done for us, it is our “reasonable worship” to present our body as a living sacrifice, but the body is living only because it is animated by the soul and spirit; therefore, to present our body is to present all of our being -- body, soul, and spirit. The living sacrifice is in contrast to the animal sacrifices of old whose life was to be ended in sacrifice. But the Christian now has life because Christ was sacrificed in our place. In this life we now have, we have freedom to worship God Who now persuades us to offer our very selves, our whole life, to Him.
This presentation of our body is our “reasonable service.” This can also be translated, “intelligent,” or “spiritual” service (or “worship”). To present our body as a living sacrifice is our spiritual, or reasonable, worship. It is not a duty because we are not under law, but it is reasonable and spiritual because of Who God is and what He has done. Worship is reasonable to those who have been persuaded by the mercies of God. We worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23).
Paul instructs us to not be fashioned according to the spirit of this evil age, or world-system, but to be transformed. “Transformed” is metamorphosis, just like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. When we were regenerated, we were made a new creation in Christ, not a transformation of the old man. The transformation here refers to something else, something that takes place following regeneration. In Matthew 17, the Lord Yeshua was transformed when He stood on the mount with Moses and Elijah. We call this the Transfiguration, and it’s the same word here (metamorphosis) in Romans 12:2.
We are to be transformed, or transfigured, by the renewing of our mind; it is the growth of the new man under the power of the Holy Spirit. We participate only to the extent that we obey the Spirit, but it is the Spirit alone Who renews the mind. We are the passive recipients of this renewal (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18 where the verb is also passive). The soul, of which the mind is a part, is being renewed; the soul, or the inward man, grows and is being conformed to the image of Christ. We know this is a gradual transformation; yet, it is also true that we have entered upon the ultimate will of God the moment we give our body as a living sacrifice.
As we obey the Spirit in rejecting the ways of the world and yield to Him in the ways in which He renews our mind, then we are being transformed. As we are transformed by the renewing of our mind, we are proving (experiencing, discerning) the will of God. In this transformation, we are living in obedience to God’s will (our sanctification) and, at the same time, we discern and experience that His will for us is our sanctification. We see this synergistic relationship regarding our sanctification throughout the NT epistles, but it’s clear that it is God Who works first while we must then yield to the Spirit in the power of His grace.
12 So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed,…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God Who works in you both to will and to work, for His good pleasure.
God also wants us to pray for the sanctification of others. This is part of what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. When we pray for others, we are doing the will of God for the benefit of the Body; at the same time, such obedience to the Spirit works in our own sanctification.
9 For this cause we also…do not cease to pray and make request for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
12 Epaphras…salutes you, always striving for you in his prayers [always praying fervently for you], that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
The will of God is our sanctification, which includes every area of our lives. We must worship in spirit and truth, which includes obedience to the doctrines of Christ, as well as the sanctification of our thoughts and behavior because we are Christ’s and He is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:23).
- Our Reasonable Worship
We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice and we separate ourselves from this world system in submission to the One Who owns us. We worship in spirit, not in emotion (though we may express emotion as a result of our communion with God in worship). Worship may include music, but if there were no music in this world, true worship would not be diminished. Worship may include “bending the knee” (when applicable; Acts 9:40, 20:36; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10), but even if not in this posture, our worship is acceptable to God so long as we worship in spirit and truth. Worship must include Bible study (so far as the Scriptures are available) so that we may come to know God more and more. Worship must include prayer; a life without prayer is a life that is not dependent upon God and, therefore, any other acts of “worship” may not be holy and acceptable to Him. Worship must include fellowship with other believers, which may include “going to church.”
Worship is more than praise songs, prayer, Bible study, and fellowship, however. Worship must be no less than submission to the will of God in all aspects of our lives. To worship in spirit and truth is to be fully given to the pursuit of His will as expressed in His Word. In a nutshell, worship is obedience. If we believe God, we will obey Him, which is an expression of faith and worship. Our walk is not without some stumbling and error, but a walk in humility that is yielded to the Holy Spirit will always lead to more growth and maturity – our sanctification.
7 “You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 8 ‘This people honors Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me. 9 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men.’”
Many of the Pharisees worshipped through the flesh, meticulously giving their whole lives to the pursuit of worship, but not in spirit and truth. They worshipped a god of their own making, not the God of the Scriptures. They included many elements of truth, but they mixed in their own ideas, which always spring from the flesh. Any worship that stems from the flesh in any way is not acceptable to Him. Worship that is holy and acceptable is only that worship that is expressed by the giving of our whole lives as a sacrifice in obedience to the Spirit, as evidenced by joy, not reluctance or resentment; by yielding to the Spirit, not by our own efforts or sense of duty; with thankfulness, not complaint (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Ephesians 5:20, Colossians 1:11-12; cf. Romans 1:21). The only worship in which God resides is the worship over which He presides. The only worship God accepts is the worship He has specified in His Word that is worked out in us by the Spirit. We have liberty in many things, but we don’t have license to worship God in any way we feel is good. We were created to worship Him in spirit and truth.
- Behavior and Doctrine in Love
1 Thessalonians 4
1 Finally then, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received of us how you ought to walk and to please God, even as you do walk, that you abound [in this] more and more. 2 For we know what charge we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from fornication: 4 That each one of you know how to possess himself of his own vessel in sanctification and honour…. 6 That no man [sin], and wrong his brother in the matter… 7 For God called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification. 8 Therefore he who rejects [despises this teaching], rejects [despises] not man [not me, Paul], but God, Who gives His Holy Spirit unto you. 9 But concerning love of the brethren you have no need that one write unto you: for you yourselves are taught of God to love one another; 10 for indeed you do it toward all the brethren in Macedonia. But we exhort you, brethren, that you abound more and more [in this].
Here, Paul addresses sexual immorality, which was a big problem in the pagan Roman Empire. Paul also says that love of the brethren is another part of sanctification, which is God’s will for us. Paul connects these two concepts of immorality and love by saying that the one who wrongs his brother in the matter of immorality doesn’t really love his brother (vv. 6-7); that is, the one who encourages or enables disobedience among his brethren is not practicing love (cf. Romans 1:32, 1 Corinthians 5:1-2).
God’s will for us is our sanctification, our separation from this present evil age and the ways of this world, including immorality. But ceasing from immorality is not the only piece of sanctification that relates to love of the brethren.
9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard [of your love in the Spirit for all the saints], do not cease to pray and make request for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 to walk worthily of the Lord unto all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Spiritual wisdom and understanding lead us in our walk so that we are pleasing to Him, bearing fruit, and increasing in the knowledge of God. To those who walk in the wisdom and understanding He has provided, knowledge of Him will increase. So, here, Paul connects love of the brethren (v. 9a) with our understanding of the Word of God (doctrine) because the more we understand His Word, the more able we are to walk worthily of the Lord. The more each member of the Body walks worthily of the Lord, the more the Body is edified. This is the ultimate expression of brotherly love.
11 Strengthened with all power, according to the might of His glory, unto all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks unto the Father…
God’s will is that we be strengthened so that we may endure all affliction with patience and longsuffering with joy, not with resentment and discouragement. His will is that, in all things, good and bad, we thank Him (Ephesians 5:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:18; cf. Romans 1:21). The thankful heart is the one that has faith that, in all things, God is growing us so that we are conformed to the image of Christ.
- The List
After Paul writes Romans 12:1-2, in which he tells us how to discern and experience the will of God by presenting our body as a living sacrifice, he writes a few chapters detailing how it is that we can walk worthily of the Lord, thus manifesting His will (our sanctification).
Romans 12:3-16 regard our relationship to each other in the Body of Christ. We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but instead recognize that we are all members of one Body. We are to use the gifts the Spirit has given us for the edification of the Body. We are to abhor evil, but cling to that which is good. We are to be “kindly affectioned” toward one another in brotherly love. We are to be diligent in spiritual growth as “true bondslaves of the Lord.” We are to be joyful in hope, steadfast in sufferings, given to prayer, and liberal with the needs of fellow believers, especially those who are travelling in the ministry of the Gospel. Fellow Christians may be some of the most antagonistic toward us, but we are to bless those who persecute us rather than curse them. We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We are to be of one mind among ourselves and one aspect of this is to be “borne along with the lowly” rather than have our hearts set on “high things;” in this way, we will avoid being wise in our own conceits.
Romans 14:1-15:7 give specific instruction as to how we must walk alongside our fellow Christians in regard to meats sacrificed to idols and the observation of certain holy days. We must not use our liberty in these things to stumble our brethren who have a weak conscience.
Romans 12:17-13:10 regard our relationship with unbelievers and the world system. We are not to repay evil for evil; in refraining from retaliation, we will have a good report among all men and we will leave place for the wrath of God. If possible, we are to keep peace with all men; this doesn’t mean ecumenism or participation in sin but our recognition that the proclamation of the Gospel causes division without our adding to that division because of a poor demeanor or some other provocation. We are to recognize that all governmental authority is from God. We don’t have to agree with the government or participate in it, but we must not rail against it or be seditionists. We must obey all laws except any law that specifically forbids our worship of God. We must owe no man any debt except the debt of love, for the love of neighbor fulfills the Law.
Romans 13:11-14 regard our personal walk in light of all that has just been written. If we believe that the Lord’s return is near, we will cast off any work of darkness. We will put on the armor of light. We must walk in the light of the day, not in immorality, not in strife or envying. We must clothe ourselves with the Lord, taking no thought for any works of the flesh.
None of these specific exhortations, commands, and admonitions can be obeyed under a law-principle and still be pleasing to God. We must not exchange Mosaic Law for yet another set of laws. All of these commands are addressed to our spirit, to the inward man, not the old man. It is the new man yielding to the Holy Spirit in love that is pleasing to God. If Romans 12:1 is not the prerequisite, then none of these specific actions of obedience will be done in the power of the Spirit and, therefore, none will be counted as true worship or good works.
False Avenues in Determining God’s Will
The pagans among whom Paul ministered would seek out various means of determining their fate, or ascertaining the path they should take. There were astrologers, and the gods and their priestesses. There were many other occult practices, which are also used today, even among professing Christians, including the use of mediums, tarot cards, and similar devices. There was also the discerning of signs and circumstances, which is particularly common today among those who engage in false religions, including the New Age, but also among many professing Christians. All of these false avenues rely on sight and “intuition,” not objective faith; in contrast, the Christian walks by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
In contrast to the pagan devices, Paul tells his readers about the will of God. We can know the will of God; it isn’t some elusive thing that must be “figured out.” His will is that we walk by faith as He takes us from glory to glory, being transformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18). As we walk with the Lord, we come to understand that God has revealed His will in His Word, and we grow in wisdom and godliness.
We need wisdom to make day to day decisions, but where do we get that wisdom? First, the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). Second, we grow in knowledge and wisdom as we walk in the Spirit, which means to walk by faith, in His power, according to what He has revealed to us in His written Word. Many Christians want to "hear" from God concerning any number of decisions, all the while failing to truly "hear" God already speaking in His written Word.
Wisdom isn't about trying to get direction about the future, like a crystal ball. God has revealed knowledge of Himself to all of us; the wisdom of God is Christ. The only knowledge and wisdom we need is found in His Word where no prophecy is of private interpretation. While Gnostics revel in what they perceive to be ongoing revelation from God, often personal direction and insight, God has revealed His truth to all believers alike. Therefore, wisdom is knowing God’s Word and being faithful to it as evidenced by walking in it. God's will for our life, and the full display of wisdom, is given in Romans 12:1-2.
Romans 8:28 says, "…[W]e know that to those who love God all things work together for good." God is sovereignly working everything out. We are to be faithful right where we are and make decisions according to His written Word. When those decisions concern subjects that aren’t specified in the Bible, we are to make those decisions from a pure motive, having in mind how our decisions may affect other members of the Body with whom we are always connected. God is far more interested in our spiritual decisions than He is about career moves or finances.
Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to be well-pleasing unto Him...," but having to hear a word from God about decisions is the opposite of faith. As long as we are being obedient to all that Paul (especially) has instructed us, thus being conformed to the image of His Son, those day to day decisions will fall in line without us having to get another word from God.