Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Living God's Will

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”---Deuteronomy 29:29

After preaching a couple of weeks ago, I got one of those emails that every preacher of the Bible loves to receive. One of the young ladies in attendance said, “Your sermon has been much on my mind this week. It's caused me to look at where I have been and where I am now in a new light... and that's great.” Of course, every pastor is filled with delight upon hearing that people have been led to think about their own lives as a result of a sermon. Perhaps, even more exciting is when people go a step further and begin asking questions spurred on from the sermon. This young lady continued her email with the following question, “Do you think it's possible to not live out God's will for your life?”

As I thought about how to answer her question, I decided to answer it in the newsletter, because those who begin to understand the sovereignty of God so often ask it. I have always believed God is sovereign. For many years, my definition of His sovereignty, however, only accounted for His right to have authority over all things. I thought he waived some of this right in order to provide us with some measure of freedom. Certainly, I believed that He knew what I and all other creatures would do. I believed His foreknowledge was exhaustive. However, I did not believe He was acting in my free decisions. I thought this kind of activity on God’s part would rob me of freedom and make Him the author of my sin.

I remember how offended I was when I first learned that God not only has the right to have authority over all things, but that He exercises that right. I learned that He not only exhaustively foreknows all things, but He actually decrees them. I was offended because I did not like the idea that God is actually exercising His sovereign will, rather than allowing me to autonomously exercise mine. Suddenly, I realized that God was involved in every area of my life. God creates, sustains, and redeems His people. He decreed everything that would come to pass and He is sovereignly active in every decision. When I came to understand this truth, which I do not intend to defend here, I had all sorts of questions. One of the questions I had was the same one the young lady from our church body asked me. Is it possible to not live out God’s will for your life? I offer two answers to this question:

1. Yes, it is possible to violate God’s will for your life. God has clearly revealed His will for your life throughout Scripture. We call this God’s preceptive will. If we want to know how God would have us walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, we must look to the Bible. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We must have our minds transformed if we hope to live out the will of God. This transformation of our mind happens only through studying the Word. Psalm 119:9-11 answers the question of how a young man can keep his way pure,

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

When God gave us His incomparable gift of the Scripture, He also gave us the responsibility to open this gift of revelation and live by it. Through the Bible we have both moral commands and general wisdom that are given to us for our benefit and His glory. We not only can violate God’s preceptive will, we do it all the time. We call this violation, “sin.” As believers in Christ, we are continually thankful that Jesus kept the preceptive will of God perfectly.

2. No, it is not possible to violate God’s will for your life. Did I just contradict myself? Although it may seem like I am contradicting myself, I am talking about a different will of God. When we speak of God’s will, we not only speak of His preceptive will, we also speak of His decretive will. God has sovereignly decreed all that will occur. He decreed to create, to permit the Fall, to elect men to salvation, to send His Son as the Messiah, to send His Spirit, to establish His church, and to eventually consummate His kingdom. He controls the universe, the physical world, the brute creation, the affairs of nations, man’s birth and lot in life, the outward success and failures of men’s lives, things seemingly accidental, the persecution of the righteous, the supplying of the needs of His people, the answers to prayer, and the exposure and punishment of the wicked (see
Berkof’s “Systematic Theology,” 2nd ed., for a good detailing of this).

When I explain how exhaustive God’s sovereignty is over the affairs of men, people often ask me if I am saying God is guilty of moral evil. Scripture is clear that God is not guilty of evil. We are guilty of evil. Yet, God has decreed to permit our sinful acts. After Joseph’s brothers committed an evil act against him, he said in Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Peter understood God’s decretive will in regard to Jesus’ crucifixion in a similar manner. In Acts 2:23, Peter said, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” When we say that God decreed to permit these evil acts, we do not mean that He gave people the right to do evil. Instead, we mean that God gave people the ability to do evil.

God does not always reveal His sovereign decretive will to us; prophecy is an exception. Instead, the secret things belong to the Lord. He did not tell me whom I would marry. He did not tell me I would be planting a church. He did not tell me I would have two children. He did not tell me Hurricane Katrina would happen. He has not told me who the next President of the United States will be. He has not told me who will win the many athletic competitions this year, nor has He given me the winning lottery numbers. I have not been called to figure out the secret things of the Lord. I have been called to know, trust, and obey what He has revealed in His Word.
I imagine that, like me, the young lady who asked the question wanted to know if she could violate God’s decretive will. We all want to know if we can marry the wrong person, or choose the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or go to the wrong college, or choose the wrong mission field. The answer is, “no.” However, we can make an unwise or sinful choice. We can make a choice that violates the preceptive will of God, and we will be held accountable for those unwise and sinful decisions. I pray that we would learn to attend to the preceptive will of God and trust Him to sovereignly care for everything else.

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