We as Christians have a distinct advantage over unbelievers when it comes to facing decisions. We not only know that our sovereign God has already planned the way that is best for us, but we have infallible information about his priorities that will help us follow his plan. We have the inspired Word of God. And God specifically mentions at least six things in his Word that are part of his will for our lives. He actually says, for all practical purposes, “This is my will for you.” These six things have direct bearing on many of life’s decisions. Let’s look at them.
God’s first priority is to glorify himself through man’s deliverance from the condemnation of sin. He wants everybody to be saved, and he says so several times. He says, for example, that he “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”174 He says also that he is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”175 And he says that he “sent his Son into the world to seek and to save the lost.”176
The first point in God’s plan for your life, therefore, is that you be saved. You must start here if you ever hope to know the rest of God’s will. Admit your sin. Agree that there is nothing you have ever done or can do that will commend you to an infinitely righteous God. Believe that Jesus Christ died in your place and for your sins. Then put your trust in him as your personal sin bearer and Savior. God will forgive your sins, assure you that heaven is your destiny, and set you on an exciting new road of peace and purpose here and now.
If God wants everybody to be saved, however, your own salvation is only the beginning. Now he wants to use you to bring others to a knowledge of the truth. “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you,” said the Lord Jesus.177 Our purpose in the world as Christians is identical to Christ’s—to be God’s instruments to bring salvation to the lost. Every Christian is divinely commissioned to share the good news of salvation through Christ. And if that is first on God’s priority list, it ought to be first on ours. Every decision we face should be evaluated in the light of how it affects our ability to share Christ with a lost world.
This priority of witnessing may affect your decision to marry. Do you see yourself as being a more effective witness for Jesus Christ married than single? If not, maybe God wants you to remain single. The priority of witnessing will also certainly affect your choice of a life vocation. In what line of work can you most capably be used to present Christ to the lost?
For some that could mean career Christian service. Many Christian young people have never seriously considered missionary work, or any other Christian service vocation, because they are not sure that they are called. So they have simply chosen another profession that appeals to them. That is hardly consistent. We should have a sense of divine call to whatever field we enter. We should have a settled assurance that it is the will of God. And every Christian young person should at least prayerfully think about the possibility of vocational Christian service.
Some may honestly see how their special skills or abilities, applied in some secular field, could put them in contact with people who would never be reached for Christ in any other way. And of course the ministry of the gospel by those in career Christian service requires the sacrificial support of others in secular employment. But whatever we choose for our life’s work, this clear revelation of God’s will concerning the salvation of the lost should be applied.
God’s desire to bring the lost to Christ through us may also help a young person determine which college to attend. Secular campuses desperately need a Christian witness. Yet Christian schools have a role to fill in training Christian workers for service. Only God can tell you which is right for you, but this basic revelation of God’s will should be considered when you make your choice.
The priority of witnessing may also help you decide which neighborhood to live in, or where to draw the fine line between luxuries and necessities as you establish your life style. Neighbors are prime subjects for evangelism, and the tremendous need for money in world evangelism should help us choose a modest level of living and put a high priority on giving.
Christians have a tendency to make decisions like these without considering the will of God. One young man refused to go to a Christian school to study God’s Word because he wasn’t sure it was God’s will. Then he turned right around and spent his life savings on a fancy new sports car without even thinking about the will of God. That’s not honest. A married couple declined a short-term missionary opportunity which they were qualified for and capable of handling, because they weren’t sure it was God’s will. Then they went out and bought a lovely home in a very affluent community and later admitted that they never thought about asking God his will in the matter. That’s not honest. God wants us to discern his will in every issue of life by applying biblical principles fairly.
Each Christian may apply this first principle differently in different situations, but every Christian should consider it. As Bill Bright put it, “Every Christian should take spiritual inventory regularly by asking himself these questions: Is my time being invested in such a way that the largest possible number of people are being introduced to Christ? Are my talents being invested to the full to the end that the largest possible number of people are being introduced to Christ? Is my money, my treasure, being invested in such a way as to introduce the greatest number of people to Christ?”178 How high is evangelism on your priority list?
“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”179 Here is a second revelation of God’s will.
Scholars seem to be agreed that the “and” which connects these two sentences provides a transition from general counsel to particular instances. In other words, getting drunk is a prime illustration of stupidity, and being filled with the Spirit is a prime illustration of God’s will. God wants us to be Spirit-filled; that is his will for our lives. So we need to know what the Spirit-filled life is and how it relates to our decisions.
The biblical analogy between drunkenness and the filling of the Spirit is significant. It does not imply that we will act irrationally when we are filled with the Spirit, but it does introduce the concept of control. When a man is drunk he is not in control of himself. Something else controls him—alcohol. When a man is filled with the Spirit, someone else controls him—the Spirit of God.
But how can we put ourselves in his control? First, we must acknowledge the things which keep him from controlling us. In Scripture this is called confession of sin. We are to confess to God those things in our lives which have been contrary to his wishes, both attitudes and actions, things we have committed which we should not have done as well as things we have omitted which we should have done.180
Second, we must willingly yield ourselves to his control. This is the presentation of our bodies to him which we have discussed before.181 When we give up the right to run our own lives and put ourselves at his disposal, then we are in his control. But if the Spirit of God is to remain in control, we must cultivate an awareness of his presence and a dependence on his power.
This is accomplished largely by saturating our minds with his Word. Paul said to the Ephesians, “Be filled with the Spirit,” and he said to the Colossians, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”182 When we study each context we find that basically the same things follow each command. Being filled with the Spirit and being filled with the Word are parallel to each other. As we meditate on God’s Word, our hearts are drawn to Christ. Spiritual things take on greater importance for us and begin to fill our lives. We begin to act in conscious dependence on his power rather than our own. We are dominated or controlled by his Spirit just as he wants us to be, and when we are in that condition, he is free to lead us.
This was beautifully illustrated in the early days of our Lord Jesus’ earthly ministry. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert.”183 He was filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. And if we want to be certain that the course we are considering is the leading of the Lord, we too must be certain that his Spirit is in control of our lives.
Just knowing that the Spirit-filled life is God’s will for us, is going to have a definite effect on our everyday decisions. “Where shall we go on our date tonight?” Let’s eliminate from consideration all those possibilities that will detract from our thoughts of Christ and weaken the Spirit’s domination of our lives. “Shall we send our children to public school or to a private Christian day school?” That is a complex decision and a number of biblical factors should be weighed such as the quality of spiritual training we are providing at home, the children’s individual spiritual strength, the need for a witness in the public schools, our children’s ability or inability to provide such a witness, and what would be the best investment of our money. Some things may counterbalance others, so we need to establish an order of priority from a biblical perspective. But one important factor on our list of considerations will be the degree to which we believe the public schools will detract from our children’s thoughts of Christ and weaken the Spirit’s control of their lives.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.”184 It is God’s will that we be holy. The word sanctification means holiness, consecration, dedication to God. In this verse the word clearly applies to the purity of our physical lives, that is, abstinence from sexual sins. The Word of God makes it clear that to have sexual relations outside the bond of marriage is impure, and Christians are to abstain from such practices. A fellow never needs to question whether or not God wants him to have sexual relations with his girl friend. God has already made his will known in that matter. He always desires purity.
Some young people are trying to decide whether a certain special member of the opposite sex could be God’s choice for a life partner; yet when they are together they are much too free with each other’s bodies. The temptations they arouse in each other are more than they can handle. I can assure them on the authority of God’s Word that they are not meant for each other, at least not so long as they are involved with one another physically. The Bible says, “Flee fornication.”185 More than that, it says, “Flee also youthful lusts.”186 If someone has become a source of sexual temptation to you, then God’s will for you is to run in the opposite direction as fast as your legs will carry you. Get away from that relationship. It is not part of God’s plan for your life. God’s plan is purity.
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”187 This is one statement of God’s will that many Christians find difficult to accept. They know they should thank God for the good things that happen to them, but they cannot bring themselves to thank him for the problems. They are convinced that some circumstances give them a perfect right to grumble, gripe, and complain. They may try to justify themselves by insisting that this verse only requires thanking God in everything, but not for everything. “I’m still thankful for the good things God has done for me, even in this miserable situation,” they claim.
Paul clarified that in the same context in which he taught us that it is God’s will for us to be filled with the Spirit. In the verses that follow, he listed four descriptions of the Spirit-filled life, one of which is: “Giving thanks always for all things unto God. . . .”188 God wants us to be thankful for everything, not just in everything. I don’t think Paul meant that we should go around shouting “Praise the Lord” when a precious loved one is taken from us in death. That can be phony. Yet we can be genuinely thankful in our hearts for tragedies such as that, knowing that they are part of God’s perfect plan for our spiritual enrichment.
Whenever we face adverse circumstances we are prone to ask, “What does God want me to do?” By that we usually mean, “What can I do to get this burden off my back?” The teenager whose parents are being harsh and unreasonable wants to know what he should do. The man whose boss is taking unfair advantage of him wants to know what he should do. The woman whose husband pays very little attention to her longs for advice.
The first thing God wants each of them to do is to thank him genuinely and sincerely for the problem, and to thank him for another opportunity to grow spiritually and to learn more about his all-sufficient grace. That thankful spirit may be the very thing God will use to relieve the tension and make the situation more tolerable. Do you want to know God’s will for your life? It is that you give thanks always, in every situation, for everything.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”189 It is God’s will for us to submit ourselves to the laws of the land. This is one way he can shut the mouths of those who oppose the gospel.
We all toy at times with decisions that involve breaking the law. For example, suppose I am running late to a meeting at which I am to be the speaker and where I must minister the things of Christ. I know that the leaders of the meeting will be getting worried and many other people will be inconvenienced. Would I be justified in edging the speedometer up over the speed limit to make up some time? I doubt very much that the highway patrolman who stops me will look favorably on trusting the Lord Jesus as his personal Savior after I give him my excuse for breaking the law.
What can we do about poor laws? We can work to change them, but as long as they are on the books, God wants us to obey them. The only exception to that rule occurs when man’s laws contradict the clearly revealed commands of God. At that point we ought to obey God rather than man, just as Peter and John did when the Jewish Sanhedrin told them to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.190
This God-willed submissiveness to authority reaches beyond our attitude toward government, however. Employees are exhorted to be submissive to their employers.191 Wives are encouraged to be submissive to their husbands.192 Believers generally are asked to submit to the spiritual leaders of their local churches.193 In fact, all of us are to develop a submissive spirit toward each other.194 If you are wondering whether God wants you to stand up for your rights, or argue for your opinion, or insist on doing things your way, you have your answer. God wants you to be submissive.
This may come as a shock to some folks, but God wants us to suffer. Twice, Peter mentions suffering according to the will of God. In one place he says, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”195 In another place he says, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”196 Now these verses do not say precisely that it is God’s will for every Christian to suffer, but they certainly imply that it could be. And if we do suffer, it ought to be for doing good rather than for sinful attitudes and actions.197
Two passages from Paul fit alongside these two from Peter. One passage says, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”198 The other passage says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”199 The phrase “will of God” does not appear in these verses, but the truth is evident in the light of what Peter has said.
If we are living godly lives in this godless world, we are going to experience some kind of opposition for it. That is God’s will, for he knows that it can draw us closer to him, make us appreciate him more, depend on him to a greater extent, and strengthen our spiritual lives. If we are breezing along through life without any static from the people of the world, one of two things is probably true—either we are not living godly lives, or else they cannot see it. If they do see it, some of them are going to strike out against us and cause us problems. God says so.
I’m not talking about the kind of antagonism we can arouse by tactlessness, rudeness, or super-spiritual pomposity. I’m not talking about agitating people with our eccentricities in order to prove our spirituality. That only damages the cause of Christ. I am referring to living a godly life, graciously letting it be known that we belong to Christ, and then happily accepting whatever comes—anything from people snubbing us to doing us bodily harm.
We need to consider the certainty of suffering when we face the decisions of life, and not make our choices merely on the basis of what will help us avoid it. That the neighbors hate us for refusing to conspire with them to cheat the city is not a good reason for moving to a new neighborhood. That a nation is not particularly friendly to the gospel is not sufficient reason for crossing it off our list of potential places to serve the Lord. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”200
Here then are six clear declarations of God’s will for our lives. God wants us to be saved, Spirit-filled, pure, thankful, submissive, and ready to suffer. Seek God’s wisdom in applying them to the next decision you face.
176 Luke 19:10
177 John 20:21 (KJV)
180 1 John 1:9
181 Romans 12:1
183 Luke 4:1 (NIV)
190 Acts 4:18-20; 5:28,29
193 Hebrews 13:17
194 Ephesians 5:21
197 Cf. also 1 Peter 4:14-16
200 John 16:33 (NIV)