God’s Will (Part 1): Theologically & Practically

I remember sitting in Church as a kid always hearing about God’s will for my life, but never knowing what that meant. This is the first of 2 articles that discuss the Biblical view of Gods’ will (Part 1) and a practical game plan for us to follow (Part 2). In this article we are trying to understand God’s will Biblically. Biblically, we see God’s will appear predominantly in the New Testament with the Greek word thelema, from which we get the English name Thelma. Thelema means desire, purpose, intent, and decision. Therefore, we are looking to see what is God’s desire and intention for Himself and our lives. It is important to note that Jesus considered God’s will with the upmost importance, ‘For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’ (Mt. 12:50). As Jesus puts it, when we strive to do God’s will, we become more familiar with God Himself. When I first studied God’s will through the Bible, I realized how theological and practical the study became. So let’s look at God’s will both theologically and for practical application in our own lives.

When we strive to do God’s will, we become more familiar with God Himself.

God’s Will is Theological. The global Church today screeches at the term ‘theology’, but such a response reveals the current state of many immature Christians, most often this is the response of ignorance covered in pride with statements like ‘who cares about theology, how do I apply this verse’. Wrong application can always be pointed back to a misunderstanding of God’s will. We have to start with a theological understanding of how God’s thinks in His desires and then apply the same thinking to our desired outcomes. The more theological our understanding of God’s will, the more we have God’s will in our lives. God has a logical way of bringing His desires to their perfect outcome. Here are just a few examples:

Wrong application can always be pointed back to a misunderstanding of God’s will.

  • God’s Decree of Election – In understanding the theological aspects of God’s will, we must first understand the term ‘decretive will’. God’s will can be described as decretive because we understand that it is eternally determined in decrees for His purpose. One of God’s decretive will’s was to choose us ‘before the foundation of the world…[according] to the kind intention of His will’ Eph. 1:4-11). God’s eternal choosing and calling believers to Himself, happened in eternity’s past because He desired it so. We learn more as we see in John 1:13, when it speaks about regeneration, which says we are ‘Children of God…who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of men, but of God.’ You see, it is God’s desire to save his chosen, not our desire to save ourselves. Our desire is to choose sin; Paul even say’s that ‘there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God’ (Rom. 3:11). God’s decretive will helps us to understand that God’s purpose in eternity was to choose his elect, an act of ‘kind intention’ and grace.

  • God’s Desire for Repentance & Judgment – In Acts 17:30-31 we see Paul preach on Mars Hill, saying ‘30 Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” Paul is saying that God desires repentance for all men, however at the same time knowing that it is for only ‘as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed’ (Acts 13:38).

  • God’s Desire for Jesus to take the Cup of Wrath – God’s desired for Jesus to drink the cup of wrath that God had to pour out in judgment for all mankind’s sin (Mt. 26:42). This theological understanding of Jesus submitting to God’s wrath should bring emotions of being grateful for not having to use sacrifices anymore, or even pay our own penalty.

  • God’s Desire for His Will, Not Ours – It says in Mt. 6:9-10 ‘Hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.’ Most Christians are too self-centered, self-motivated, and self-focused when we are commanded to think of God before us. Not only is His will most important, but it is prioritized over sustenance (Mt. 6:11), forgiveness (Mt. 6:12), and temptation (Mt.6:13). The Lord’s Prayer in Mt. 6:9-13 is a great lesson for us to desire outcomes that are less selfish, and more God-focused.  

Walking worthy is important to God, and it is always according to what he desires, not our current societal norms

God’s Will is Practical. There are many versus in the Bible that are explicit about God’s will for practice as a Christian. This is why many theologians call this God’s ‘preceptive will’; it is our understanding of God’s desire for living, according to God’s precepts of what is right and wrong. Here is a brief survey of explicit statements for what we should do to please God’s will:

  • To Pray for Discernment – In Col. 1:9-10 we see Paul say ‘9 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, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.’ Walking worthy is important to God, and it is always according to what he desires, not our current societal norms. In order to not be swayed by social trends, spiritual attacks, or even persecution we need to pray for discernment. In fact, it is God’s explicit will for us to pray constantly (1 Thess. 5:17).

  • For Sexual Purity – In 1 Thess. 4:3 it says ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.’ I heard a Christian once say, ‘I just know that God wants me to move in with my girlfriend.’ As a Pastor, I immediately rejected his emotional understanding of God’s will with 1 Thess. 4:3-7. It is clear that no one can avoid sexual temptation during co-habitation. The Bible must dictate decisions, even when feelings feel strongly against its advice.

  • In Persecution – With a quick survey of the Bible, we see that God’s will encompasses using persecution as a tool for our maturity (James 1:2-4). We even learn that being persecuted is God’s good will for sake of the Gospel (1 Pet. 3:17).

  • To Rejoice Always – In 1 Thess. 5:16 we are commanded according to God’s will to be glad at every present moment. This means all situations no matter the circumstances.

  • To Give Thanks in All Things – In 1 Thess. 5:18 we are told it is God’s will to give thanks. Give thanks is the idea of returning thanks to God for all that he has given us. The term give thanks is where we get the word Eucharist from, this is why we give thanks when remembering Christ through communion (i.e. the Eucharist).

  • In Decisions & Plans – In James 4:13-17 we see James explain how we should conduct our life when it comes to decisions for business, travel, and life. James says ‘ 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit…15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” The important phrase here is ‘if the Lord wills’, a conditional clause, which instructs us to condition our decisions upon God’s plans. James is not saying that making a plan is sinful, but relying on our plans more than God’s will is sin. This means if we plan to live somewhere or have a certain job, but God’ makes it clear that it is not right and we do it anyways, it is sin. Sometimes, we have to make a plan and work the plan, but adapt according to God’s will.

  • For Truthful Speech – In Prov. 11:1 and 12:22 Solomon says that God delights in ‘a just weight’ and ‘those who deal faithfully’. God demands truth in our speech and actions, and is not pleased by a person who balances things in their favor for personal gain.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the Bible when it comes to God’s will. However, we see how God’s Will is important because of the theological and practical implications. We learn that God is pleased when we attempt to have his desires, and not ours. In Part 2, we will discuss our game plan for discerning God’s will when there isn’t a clear answer in Scripture.

David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.

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