As we continue in our Shepherd series, last week we looked at Romans 12:1-2. In doing so I spoke briefly to the Apostle Paul writing to the church in Rome; a pagan culture being influenced by a Church made up of Jews and Gentiles. In the first 11 chapters Paul lays a theological foundation and then beginning in the 12th chapter he helps the believers to live a transformed life. Paul does so by highlighting 5 key points to knowing God’s will.
1. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices
This is Step One to discovering the Shepherd’s will for your life; a life of surrender to God.
2. Holy and Pleasing to God
A consistent and pleasing life before God is Step Two to discerning God’s will.
3. Your spiritual act of worship
Step Three is all about setting the Shepherd first in your life - worship God alone.
4. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world
Step Four requires diligent resistance and non-conformity to worldly values.
5. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
This is Step Five to knowing God’s will - a commitment to a renewed mind.
This leads us to todays sermon - “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will (Rom 12:2b). As I mentioned last Sunday, one of the most frequently asked questions I have experienced in pastoring is “what is God’s will for this or that situation.” The question doesn’t surprise me, but what does surprise me is how many of us want God’s will but with little or no surrender to God. The five prerequisites above enable us to discern and discover God’s will appropriately.
As believers in Christ, we all have a longing inside of us to be in God’s will. However there is also the struggle we all face of the flesh or our sinful nature opposing God’s will. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Roman Christians; there are times when believers struggle between offering ourselves to God or offering ourselves to sin. In Rom 8:5, Paul clarifies this life long experience - Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Once again we have such a great opportunity before us to live in ways that please God. One of the mature goals of Christian living is that of walking in the Spirit of God daily; this does not necessarily mean perfection but a consistent desire to set one’s mind before God for transformation.
Test and approve:
Do you remember the “therefore” in the beginning of Romans 12? Well, after Paul lists these five points of maturity for the Christian seeking to discover God’s will, he “then” speaks of testing and approving God’s will. Paul is actually encouraging the people of God to test, examine, determine, judge or prove God’s will. God is not concerned that we seek out his will and discern or discover what it is; that is to say he is completely willing for us to know him fully. And he is comfortable with followers of Jesus to test his character, his ways and his will. We discover who God is when the will of God is tested and approved. The root wording in the Greek language implies someone who has been “tested in battle, who reliable and trustworthy.”
Believers go through tests in life as well, whether through suffering in its various forms or through persecution. The same word in the Greek language is found in 1 Peter 1:7 - “These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed”. God is looking for people who will press into him through all of life’s circumstances and prove the will of God as genuine and glorious.
As well, I am reminded of Malachi 3:10 where God’s people are exhorted to test God in the area of financial trust in God - Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. God is big enough and good enough to handle our questions and concerns with life along with its various challenges.
In the temptation of Jesus, he does say not to put the Lord your God to the test. But this is in the context of sin and chance. With God’s will there is no chance involved, there is no means of manipulating God to suit one’s own end. We are not to test God on the basis of luck.
We are to test and approve what is true about his character and his good, pleasing and perfect will. This is a profitable pursuit.
The Will of God:
One of the challenges of testing and approving the will of God is that of the mystery surrounding who he is. The will of God has been discussed over the ages by Christians and there are different views that can lead to frustration and even emotional anxiety. Some believe that as a result of God being sovereign his will cannot be broken. And yet we know that we make choices all the time that break the commands of God. We have what is called free-will and we at times wonder how that compares to God’s will. We see this paradox in:
- Prov. 16:9 - In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
- Prov. 19:21 - Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
When I read Rom 12:2b it speaks of his good, pleasing and perfect will. Paul gives three adjectives to describe God’s will; personally I like this trinity and want to use this in describing God’s will for us today. Good, pleasing and perfect speak to me of our God who is infinite and all-knowing, the transcendent Creator who is not limited by space or time.
Don Byrt gave me a book entitled The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead. In this book he looks at God’s will through three different lenses: Intentional, Circumstantial and Ultimate. I see this as relating to Paul describing God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
- God’s intentional will.
God’s Intentional Will can be seen in the Garden of Eden; this was God’s original design. There was unity between God and mankind. There was perfect peace and harmony between Adam and Eve, male and female. Adam and Eve used to walk and fellowship in the garden with God. There was life and no death. God provided everything that humanity needed to thrive physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. God is good and so is his will towards mankind. It has always been God’s intention for us to know his good will. The will of God must be seen as good and true according to his character and his original design in creation. God’s intentional will is for the good of mankind. This is good news in a bad new world.
- God’s circumstantial will.
The Permissive Will of God is where there is lots of debate and discussion. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they were told not to eat, they rejected God’s intentional will for their own.
Since humanity had rejected God’s intentional will, God now had to interact with them differently. Weatherhead call this God’s “Circumstantial Will”. It is not what God wanted for us but he had to allow for free will and our own choices. So when a woman decides to have an abortion, that is not God’s intentional will but it has become God’s permissive will; God had to let her make the choice or she would no longer have free will.
This is the case from drunk driving to world wars, people are making choices under God’s permissive will, that is to say, God allowed their choices but it was not his intention for these bad things to happen.
There are times in all of our lives when we walked in God’s circumstantial will. We made some choice that was contrary to God’s character or truth as revealed in the Scriptures. This is the struggle we all face daily; obedience or rebellion. Jesus, alone, modelled what God’s intentional will looks like and he did so perfectly. In other words, Jesus never disobeyed God’s intended will by crossing over into God’s circumstantial will. He loved his Father with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and loved his neighbour. When we put God ahead of our personal desires we are loving God and can find ourselves living well; Matt 6:33 - But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. When we put the needs of our neighbour before our own needs, we are loving our neighbour. This seems so simple and yet so impossible. Why is this?
Unfortunately, with the fall of mankind into sin our free will comes with ugly selfishness. If we are going to love the way God loves, we need to have our nature changed. That is why becoming a Christian is so important - God gives us a new nature in Jesus. That is what God offers everyone through the unselfish gift of Jesus’ life.
- God’s ultimate will
The third will of God is his Ultimate Will and that is the redemption of mankind and the restoration of all things. God is all-powerful and nothing is too difficult for him. He is constantly encouraging us to walk in his intentional will instead of his circumstantial will; he longs for the obedience of his children not disobedience. We see in the Scriptures God’s final purpose is that of bringing us back to his original design. He will create a new heaven and new earth that I believe will be very similar to the Garden of Eden. God’s ultimate will is that we spend an eternity with him where there is no more sickness, dying, tears of pain etc… Rev 22:1-5…
The end of the Bible has many images of destruction that scares a lot of people; that is the circumstantial will of God - mankind in out-right rebellion. God’s ultimate will is being fully realized as the King of Kings ushers believers into an eternity of goodness.
God’s ultimate will, seen and unseen, will be fulfilled…
The mystery of the new heaven and new earth awaits us…
God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect. His will is good in the sense of his original design for mankind was good, all-together-good. His will is circumstantial in that mankind now makes choices, hopefully to please God and come into his good and intentional will. Lastly, his will is ultimate with the purpose of fulfilling God’s dreams and plans for mankind.
This morning I hope you have grown in your understanding as to the will of God. We all want to discern God’s will and know that we are at peace with him… Next Sunday we will look at how we can interact with God’s will and bring him glory.