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Theology in Romans

I.  Introduction:

 Paul gives us instructions in Romans 12:1-2 for discerning what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.  As we saw this morning, his teaching might not be what we necessarily expected to hear.  It did not involve Ďinterpreting feelingsí or Ďhearing an audible voiceí or Ďreading all the signs.í  No, Paul teaches us to be living sacrifices, to not be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of your mind.  Pretty straight-forward stuff.  Yet, why do we constantly hear and struggle with the question: Ďhow can I know Godís will for my life?í  One answer is that we simply misunderstand the notion of Godís will.  Theologians often speak of Godís will in one of two ways.  First, we can speak of Godís will of decree.  This is Godís secret, providential will for everything that happens.  It cannot be thwarted or challenged or changed.  We cannot know this will for God has not revealed it to us.  We know the broad strokes that God has revealed in His word concerning the future, but we are not told all of the details.  Likewise, we are not told to try and find Godís will of decree.  Rather, we are to trust in His sovereign goodness as He carries out His will.  Second, we can speak of Godís will of command.  This is the revealed will of God that we find in the pages of Scripture and in the person and work of Christ.  It is not hidden for God has made it known.  It involves Godís instructions for how we should live and how we should make decisions.  Of course, it does not make every decision for us, but it teaches us how we can be wise and holy and honor God with our decisions.  Since God has clearly made His will of command known in Scripture, we do not have to seek and find it in some arbitrary way.  No, we read His word and live by what it teaches.  As Paul tells us, we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord.  Both of these wills of God are seen in Deuteronomy 29:29, which says: The secret things belong to the Lord our God (will of decree), but the things that are revealed (will of command) belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.  

 Before we look further at how these ideas are taught in the Bible, let me mention a couple of good resources on the subject of Godís will.  First, is Bruce Waltkeís book "Finding the Will of God: a pagan notion?"  Waltke argues, as the sub-title notes, that the idea of Ďfindingí the will of God is not a Christian idea.  Rather, God has given us guidance through His Word that we should follow.  The second part of the book lays out a six point program for following Godís guidance.  Second, is Kevin DeYoungís book "Just Do Something: A Liberating approach to Finding Godís Will".  DeYoungís book is written for perhaps a younger audience and handles the topic well.  His fear is that we spend so much time trying to Ďdiscover Godís willí that we never get around to actually doing anything.  Thus, he encourages us to follow the Bible and do what it says.  I recommend both of these books as good resources for this subject.

II. Biblical Theology:

 What does the story of the Bible teach us about Godís will?  Again, I think we must begin with the distinction mentioned above to avoid error.  Likewise, it is important that we recognize a discontinuity between the two Testaments concerning the will of God.  Under the Law and the old covenant, Israel was given certain ways to make decisions.  Waltke notes six: consulting prophets, urim and thummim (which were sticks somehow used for making decisions), casting lots (division of land), dreams (Joseph), signs (Gideonís fleece), and direct words from God (Abraham, Moses, and others).  All of these were used at various times in the Old Testament to seek Godís will on a certain decision.  Yet, these approaches do not exactly carry over into the New Testament.  Although some of these ideas continue (prophecy, dreams, signs, words from God), Waltke concludes: ďAfter Pentecost there is no instance of the church seeking Godís will through any of the forms of divination listed above.Ē 1  Although I might disagree with him on some of the details (particularly in the book of Acts), his overall approach seems to me to be correct.  When the Lord graciously gave the Spirit at Pentecost and promised to give Him to all believers, it seems the need for some of the earlier methods ceased.  So then, what does the New Testament say about the will of God?

III.  Systematic Theology:

 A.  Matthew 7:21-23 I point out this passage to simply note the connection that Jesus makes between doing the will of God and not being a worker of lawlessness.  Only those who do the will of God will enter the kingdom of heaven.  Yet, what is the will of the Father?  Jesus contrasts the Fatherís will with those who offer lip service to God and go through the motions but are in the end workers of lawlessness.  Thus, we see the connection between doing Godís will and obeying Godís commands, a connection that we see over and over again in the New Testament.

 B.  Ephesians 5:17-21 Besides the passage in Romans, Paul gives us further instruction concerning the will of God in his letters.  In this passage Paul tells to not be foolish but to understand what the will of the Lord is.  The next verse seems to define both foolishness and how we can understand Godís will.  Foolishness is getting drunk with wine, while understanding the will of God involves being filled with the Spirit, which he then further defines in verses 19-21.  We are to be filled with the Spirit by encouraging one another in the faith through singing, by giving thanks, and by submitting to one another.  In these ways we are doing the will of God and bringing honor to Christ our Savior. 

 C.  Colossians 1:9-10 Paul tells his readers that he has been praying that they might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  Then, going on in verse 10, he gives the reason for this prayer: so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  Thus, again, we see the connection between Godís will and obedience.  As we walk in obedience to the Lord we will be walking according to His will.

 D. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul gives us a clear statement here: Godís will is that we be sanctified, or made holy.  Again, this fits in with everything we have seen thus far.  Godís will for our life is that we obey His commands and live holy lives.  Or as Paul says it in Romans 8, Godís will is that we be conformed into the image of His Son.  Paul says more on this in 1 Thessalonians.  Look at 5:16-18.  By rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances, Paul says that we are living according to Godís will.  Godís will is that we be sanctified in and through our faith in Christ.  This is what He wants for our lives.  How does this work practically?  DeYoung writes: ďHe (God) wants you to buy a house that will make you holy.  If you marry, He wants you to get married so you be holy.  He wants you to have a job that will help you grow in holiness.  Count on it: Godís will is always your sanctification.  He has set you and me apart that we would grow to be more like Christ.Ē  2

 E. 1 Peter 2:13-15 What does Peter tell us about Godís will?  He tells us that subjecting ourselves to government and authority is part of Godís will for our lives.  Of course, this may lead to suffering and difficulty at times, but we are to submit for the sake of our witness among the foolish.  DeYoung notes: ďRemember, Godís will for your life is your sanctification, and God tends to use discomfort and trials more than comfort and ease to make us holy.Ē 3  When things get hard, do not just assume that you have somehow gotten Ďout of Godís will.í  Granted, when we disobey, we often face consequences, but not every difficulty is a consequence.  Sometimes God is simply using difficult circumstances to make us more like Christ.  Just like Paul and just like Jesus, Peter connects Godís will with our obedience to His commands.  We are in Godís will when we are walking in obedience to His Word.

IV.  Conclusion:

 Of course, many of you are probably thinking to yourselves: ĎOk, William, fine, Godís will is that I be sanctified, but how does that help me make tough decisions?í  Itís a fair question.  Let me close by trying to answer it.  First, at least in one sense, it helps you eliminate certain possibilities.  You should not be unequally yoked to an unbeliever.  You should not take a job that is going to cause you to sin.  Second, knowing that God wants us to be holy and instructs us how to be holy in His Word should drive us to study and prayer.  Such devotion will lead to intimacy with God and His ways.  Such intimacy will lead to knowledge and wisdom, which at the end of the day is what we really need.  Such intimacy will lead us to trust in Godís sovereignty and to move forward, not because we know exactly what the future will bring, but because we know that He is with us, leading us and guiding us.  Such intimacy will lead to us walking with the wise and listening to their counsel.  This is where God wants us.  We will make mistakes in our decisions, but we will repent of them when necessary and we will learn from them so that we will be wiser in the future.  Watching and waiting for signs will often lead us away from the Lord and into lethargy and indecision.  There are no short-cuts to sanctification.  Sure, there is a time to wait patiently for wisdom, but there also comes a time to act.  May we be a people who know Godís will for our lives, namely to make us holy, and by His grace may we make decisions and live our lives in light of that.  Amen. 

1 Bruce K. Waltke, Finding the Will of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmanís Publishing Company, 1995), p. 54.
2 Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), p. 58.
3 Ibid., p. 78-79. 

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 30 November 2010 )

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