Can We Know God’s Will?
Recently, the question of “what is God’s will for my life?” has frustrated me. And I am not referring to what does God want me specifically to do? I am talking about God’s revealed will, what God commands of everyone.
For example, Wayne Grudem defines God’s revealed will as God’s declaring will concerning what we should do or what God commands us to do. It is not that Grudem’s definition is wrong, it is that is it not placed in the proper context.
In order to have a fuller definition of God’s will, it has to be placed within the overarching narrative of the Bible.
1. Adamic covenant. Let’s begin looking at this narrative from the first proclamation of the Gospel, the protoevangelium, Genesis 3:15. I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel. This passage is generally taken as looking forward to Christ, the Messiah, who will crush Satan. But how will we get to the awaited Messiah?
2. Abrahamic covenant. God sends Abraham. God calls Abraham out of Ur to a foreign land. God makes a covenant with Abraham that he will have an heir and numerous offspring (Genesis 15:4-5; 7; 17:6), his offspring will inherit the land of Canaan (15:18-20; 17:8), and through him all the nations will be blessed (18:18; 22:18). Paul sees this blessing as salvation for the Gentiles. God also makes this covenant with Isaac (17:19; 26:3-5) and Jacob (28:13-15).
3. Mosaic covenant. The next big event in the Biblical narrative is Moses and the Law. Through the Mosaic covenant, Israel became God’s chosen people and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). The purpose of the covenant was not as much to give a set of rules, but to continue and facilitate the blessings promised to Abraham (Deuteronomy 28). The Torah, God’s law, was designed give Israel the Abrahamic blessings as they lived in the promised land.
4. Davidic covenant. Fast-forward to the times of the kings, namely David. God makes another covenant, this time with David (2 Samuel 7). The covenant includes rest from enemies, God establishing the kingdom of David’s son, and make David’s son His son, and God’s faithful love will not leave David’s house.
5. New covenant. Lastly, the is the New covenant. God promised that He would renew His covenant with His people in a different way (Jeremiah 31:31-40; Ezekiel 36-37; Hebrews 8). With Israel about to go into exile, the promise of the new covenant showed the covenantal faithfulness of Yahweh to His people and signaled hope for Israel.
But why do these events matter? Because (most of) the New Testament authors were Jewish and they saw the events around them, Jesus’ death, resurrection, and the coming of the Spirit, as the fulfillment of Old Testament expectations. These events that were spoken by the prophets were now happen around then, sometimes even through them!
Paul recounts the story of how Gentiles now partaken in the Abrahamic blessings in Galatians 3:6-14.
Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness. Those who have faith are Abraham’s sons. Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed through you. So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith” (vv. 6-9).
It is no secret that the New Testament authors make a big deal out of Jesus’ relation to David. Matthew makes it central in his genealogy (Matthew 1:1). In fact, the name David appears over 50 times in the New Testament (with most of the occurrences in Matthew, and Luke/Acts).
But what does this have to do with God’s will? It because we are still a part of the Biblical narrative. The Biblical narrative did not end with the close of the cannon. God’s plan is still in motion. God’s sending of Abraham, the giving of the Law, the Davidic covenant, Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Spirit, and the New Covenant are all part of God’s plan to redeem mankind and the world.
As Paul writes, “I have become its servant, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints. God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:25-27)
Doing our part
As Christians, we are right now participating in this divine drama to make Christ known everywhere. It is within this context that we need to place God’s revealed will, what he wants us to do. We do not do God’s commands simply because it is what God wants. We do them because it moves God’s plan forward.
As we live our lives, we should continually ask ourselves if what we are doing makes sense with God’s plan. Proclaiming the gospel message, making disciples, loving our neighbors, makes sense with God’s plan and moves it forward. Idleness, drunkenness, and idolatry do not.
And we should also ask if what we are doing helps others as they take part in God’s plan. It is not God’s will that we should tear each other down, but build each other up.