In Part 1 about knowing God’s will, I brought up Proverbs 16:9—“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” As we dig further into knowing God’s will, it’s important to look in more detail at what this scripture’s choice of words means to us.
The Heart of God’s Will
The words heart and mind are often used interchangeably in Scripture. They’re also used generously throughout the Bible. The two words occur more than 800 times, so they are obviously communicating something extremely important.
As I said in the previous chapter, Psalm 37:4 also points to the significance of our hearts and what we want: “Delight yourself also in the Lord. And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Many people would like to think it means to give us desires such as a Corvette, a big house, or a fancy yacht, but it certainly does not. We delight ourselves in the Lord by studying His Word. That’s how we come to know the character and nature of God Almighty and align our desires with His. Then, once our desires line up with His, He will give them to us. If you delight yourself in the Lord, if you study God’s Word, you’re walking in faithfulness and obedience and being sanctified, and He will give you what you desire.
As we are sanctified, our hearts change. The desires we once had leave us. We want things that are important to God, not just to our fleshly selves. This is not to say it is wrong for a person to have a Corvette. If you’re in a financial position to purchase one without going into debt, then having one or not is between you and God. It may be perfectly fine to drive a car like that. There are biblical principles that guide our use of money, and receiving material blessings from God’s hand is acceptable—whether a Corvette, a big house, or a ski boat. The point I’m making is that if your heart and mind have been focused on worldly, material possessions before becoming a believer, God’s priority for you is to study His Word and set your mind on the things of God once you’ve become a Christian. The old desires—priorities—will pass away. As the Bible says, “behold, all things become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NKJV).
When you “become new,” the things you used to want to do, you don’t want to do anymore. The places you wanted to go, you don’t want to go anymore. The kind of people you used to hang out with—perhaps worldly people who mocked the Lord—you don’t want to hang out with any more. You may want to share the Gospel with the folks you used to be with, but you no longer make them your close friends. You don’t want to be influenced by their lifestyle any more.
The motivations for your life change, too. If you once aspired to be wealthy or famous or a movie star, your heart changes because the Word of God reveals more significant desires to you.
I used the Worldview Weekend Contend Conference as an example of something I knew was God’s will because the Bible tells us to contend for the faith. But notice that I also had the desire to put on the conference. I wanted it to be well attended so young people would be equipped and encouraged, and the Lord gave me the desire of my heart. But who gave me that desire to start with? The Lord did.
So here’s how it works: As I delight in God’s Word, things that I used to want or achievements that used to matter to me, I don’t care about any longer. I have new desires, new goals, new objectives—all given to me by the Lord. As a result, I’m able to accomplish them because the Lord directs my steps. As Psalm 119:133 says, “Direct my steps by Your Word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me.”
Notice, too, how this scripture says we are to be guided. By a vision? A dream? Some other mystical experience? No. None of those. God will “direct my steps by Your Word.” Unfortunately, though, many people today want an easy answer—a vision, a dream, or a mystical, extra-biblical revelation—but that is not of the Lord. Scripture actually says, “a wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matthew 16:4, NKJV). The Old Testament cautions against dreamers of dreams, and the New Testament warns about false teachers who promote such things. While the Lord spoke through dreams and visions in the past, now He speaks through His Word. Hebrews 1:1-2 points this out: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” The Lord now speaks through His Word and the Holy Spirit illuminating that Word.
We don’t need extra-biblical revelation, “going into the silence,” walking a labyrinth, or transcendental meditation in the form of contemplative prayer, breath prayers, or centering prayers. Yet these activities are promoted among Christians by people such as the Jesus Culture band and author Richard Foster. Foster, in fact, talks about having a physical, literal confrontation with God in “the silence.” It’s the same sort of mystical experience that New Agers promote even though the Bible says to have nothing to do with these kinds of things. This is actually a form of Gnosticism, a pursuit of esoteric or hidden knowledge, a heresy the early church also confronted. John warns about this in his first epistle because it’s really demonic knowledge.
A believer will reject Gnosticism. Occultists are the ones who pursue such things. A believer receives the will of God through Scripture as illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
A lot of people don’t want to do the work it takes to know the will of God. They want microwave Christianity—a 30-second answer to the will of God question. Some, who are not true believers but tares and goats, involve themselves in occult experiences, thinking, “This is how I’ll know the will of God. This is how I’ll have God or Jesus direct my steps.” But what they end up encountering is a demon posing as Jesus.
Leading New Agers have written books they claim were given to them by Jesus. But I assure you, it wasn’t the Jesus of the Bible; it was a demon impersonating Jesus. Alice Bailey and Helen Schucman are foremost among these folks who claim an extra-biblical word from Jesus. Bailey maintained that an entity known as ‘The Tibetan’ talked to her, and Helen Schucman supposedly talked directly to Jesus. Jesus, though, does not speak outside of His Word today through mystical experiences. The Lord God Almighty speaks to us only through His Word.
Walking in God’s Will
Once you grasp that the source for discovering God’s will for your life is Scripture, you are on the right path. But how do you stay on that correct path in the long run? John 14:16 offers this encouragement: “And I [Jesus] will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever.” The Helper Jesus refers to is The Comforter, the Holy Spirit. The apostle explains this further in 1 John 1:20-21, 27:
"But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. . . . the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him."
Believers are the anointed ones because of the Holy Spirit. All who have the Holy Spirit abiding in them—those who have believed through faith and repentance—are anointed.
There’s a strange and dangerous attitude among many people today who call themselves Christians. Many think, “I don’t have to go to church. I don’t need anyone to teach me.” Somehow, they think they can “get it” on their own. But the Bible is specific that we are not to forsake the assembly and gathering together of believers. If you can’t find a Bible-teaching church in your community, you may have to gather with a few other believers on a Sunday morning or some other time during the week for fellowship. The timing doesn’t really matter, but getting together with like-minded believers and studying God’s Word does.
Not every church that calls itself a church is of God. A lot of groups call themselves churches, but they’re not. The pastors are hirelings, and the Bible warns about them. But just because there are bad “churches” out there doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make it a point to become part of a genuine New Testament fellowship.
Even when you are part of a good fellowship, you still need to study the Word of God on your own. The same Holy Spirit that helps your pastor rightfully divide the Word of Truth and teach is the same Holy Spirit who abides in you and helps you to understand God’s Word and apply it to your life.
This is one of the great things about being a believer. The Holy Spirit is a miraculous gift to help us discern truth from error. He acts almost like an alarm for your conscience. It’s as if the Spirit says at times, “Whoa, wait a minute. That’s not true. Don’t believe it!” You recognize truth and falsehood when you’ve studied the Word of God under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps you know what is truth or error based on God’s Word. Through His guidance is how a true believer walks in God’s will. Notice 1 John 2:17: “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (emphasis mine). We can abide forever in God’s will.
A true believer also longs to do God’s will. Although even a believer can sin, a true believer’s life is marked more by obedience than disobedience. To be sure, any discussion about what constitutes a “true believer” can get tricky, and it always brings me to what I think is one of the scariest verses in all of Scripture, Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” This scripture shows that false teachers, false prophets, and false converts will be judged. They may argue, “But, Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and prophesy in your name?" But in the end, what they did was just a lot of shenanigans. It was phony baloney. Some of their acts were counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders from the demonic realm. That’s why Jesus will say to them, “Depart from Me; I never knew you, you worker of iniquity, you worker of lawlessness.” The person wasn’t truly led by the Holy Spirit, and so wasn’t on the true path of God’s will.
Persevering in God’s Will
Another aspect of continuing in God’s will is perseverance, which is what we do as we are sanctified. In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul talks about it this way:
"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you both to will and do His good pleasure."
I explain this scripture in depth in Twisted Scripture, Twisted Theology, but suffice it to say that these verses are not talking about earning salvation through good works, right deeds, or personal righteousness. That would contradict Ephesians 2:8-9, which is not possible because Scripture never contradicts itself. Paul is not saying to work out your salvation as in earning your salvation. No. What he means is to take seriously our responsibility to walk in faith and obedience. We should have a fear, reverence, or awe for God, understanding that we deserve His judgment and wrath.
The way we “work out our salvation” in this sense is to be so thankful for Christ laying down His life as a ransom for us and to be so aware of the significance of His death, burial, and resurrection, that we want to live for Christ. We don’t want to trample the blood of Christ by returning to sinful practices and disobedience. Having this grasp of Christ’s sacrifice makes believers want to be sanctified. We do this by living out what the last part of verse 13 says. God works in us to direct our steps and to help us carry out His will.
First Corinthians 9:27 addresses this in yet another way: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Paul speaks here not just to church leaders but to all believers. Even if you’re not a pastor, an elder, or a deacon, you are still an ambassador of the Lord. We all represent Him and don’t want to be a poor testimony. It would be awful for outsiders to be able to say of any of us, “Oh, he claims to be a Christian, but look at how he lives.”
So, we must discipline the body and bring it into subjection. This is the battle of Romans 6 and 8 against the old sinful nature. Even though we have victory through Christ, bodily discipline helps seal in us the reality that we are no longer slaves to sin but to Christ alone.
Why is this important? I’m sure you’ve seen the sad examples that happen when people do not discipline themselves. You’ve seen—whether firsthand or in the news—someone living the victorious Christian life and having a powerful witness for the Lord. Perhaps this person has preached the Gospel to countless people and produced wonderful fruit. Then, all of a sudden, this leader begins to compromise. Priorities change, and he or she ends up involved in some gross, public sin that tarnishes the image of Christ for others.
While it’s tempting to write off people like that and say they were likely never saved to begin with, I’m afraid that in some cases, they were, in fact, saved. The problem is that they simply fell into sin. And we know that the Lord chastens the people He loves. Because these people did not discipline themselves, the Lord brings discipline into their lives, to the point that they finally repent.
I knew a powerful pastor who left his wife and children and ran off with another woman. He brought a horrible testimony to his church community and to many people across the country who knew of him. Eventually, though, he came under such conviction that he publicly repented, but he still suffers the consequences. How can someone like this get so out of God’s will?
Perseverance in faith and obedience is missing, but what causes it to go missing? One way is the people someone hangs out with and takes as close friends. While it’s actually good to have friends and acquaintances who are not believers, the only way to have true biblical fellowship is with a Christian, someone else who will support your values.
Many people who start out strong but fall into serious sin will also tell you they got off track when they drifted away from studying God’s Word. That made them vulnerable to the snares and traps of the devil. Satan used the pride of life and the lust of the eyes against them. But it begins when people let their guard down, moving away from the foundation of God’s Word, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and the Word that helps us persevere in the truth.
A 6-Point Summary of God’s Will for You
Even after all the explanation I’ve given, people still sometimes ask, “Yes, I know that’s all true, but what is God’s will for me personally?” As I’ve said before, Scripture gives each of us the answer to that question, and to make the biblical teaching crystal clear, I’ve distilled the answer down to six specific points.
1) God’s will is for you to know His will.
The assurance of this truth comes from Romans 12:2, a verse we looked at in the first “Sovereign Providence” chapter: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” By letting God’s Word transform your thinking, you come to know His will.
2) God’s will is for you to be saved.
First Timothy 2:4 says God is the One, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” If you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, if you have not repented of your sins and placed your faith and trust in Christ, then you don’t need to worry about any aspect of God’s will other than that you be saved. It is His will that you repent of your sins and place your faith and trust in Him.
This element of God’s will is paramount because you cannot keep the Ten Commandments. No one can. You cannot live up to the sinless character and nature of God. Have you told a lie? Sure you have. Ever looked at someone with lust? Of course you have. That’s equal to adultery. Have you ever hated someone? The Bible says that’s equal to murder. All have sinned, and your own conscience—the moral law God has placed in your heart—tells you that you’re a lying, thieving, adulterer at heart. Your conscience will stop you from making excuses. Romans says there is no excuse because everyone knows it’s wrong to lie, to steal, to commit adultery, and to murder.
So, we’re sinners in need of salvation, and here’s what 2 Peter 3:9 says about God’s will for all of us in that regard: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” The Lord is delaying His second coming so more people can be added to the family of God. Once a person is saved, then it becomes God’s will for that person to pursue these other things that are also the will of God.
3) God’s will is for you to be sanctified.
When you become a believer, you are justified, and your sins are separated as far as the East is from the West. Then the process of sanctification begins. Studying Scripture and participating in a solid New Testament church are critical components of your sanctification.
4) God’s will is for you to abstain from sexual immorality.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul is straightforward on this point: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” I believe Paul is blunt about this because it’s a stumbling block for many people. Although they may say they want to know God’s will, they really don’t—at least they don’t want to face it. God’s will would mean, “You can’t be shacking up with your boyfriend or girlfriend.” And too many people don’t want to go there—or should I say not go there? Believers, though, simply cannot be sanctified if they’re playing around with sexual sin.
5) God’s will is that you face persecution.
This one really separates the sheep from the goats. Thinking that God’s will means “my best life now” or material blessings in abundance—car, house, high income—sounds a lot better to most people than persecution. Scripture, though, doesn’t shy away from including suffering in the Christian’s “job description.” Notice 1 Peter 4:19: “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (emphasis mine). God does allow suffering. It’s part of His will for you.
There’s really no getting around it. Suffering is promised a lot in the Bible. For instance:
One way to know a person is a true believer is that he or she proclaims the Gospel and when persecuted for it, does not run away.
A true believer perseveres in biblical truth, faithfulness, and obedience even when persecuted. Believers won’t say, “Hey, wait a minute; I didn’t sign up for this,” and bail out. A true believer perseveres in the faith.
We need to be willing to stand for Christ and, if need be, to suffer. I’m convinced all believers will face some kind of persecution. It may be soft persecution, but all believers should face some kind of persecution in any given day, week, or year if they’re truly lifting up Christ and proclaiming the Gospel.
The reaction of a true believer to suffering will be something like, “I don’t necessarily enjoy it, but I can rejoice in it—because I know I’m being persecuted for Christ.” Only a believer can rejoice in being persecuted because of what it can do for the Gospel.
6) God’s will is for you to be thankful.
First Thessalonians 5:18 captures this truth in a nutshell: “[I]n everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When you consider this command in light of the rest of what we know about God’s will, it makes sense. Whatever happens to us—including persecution—is God’s will for us, and we know that everything works for good in our lives when we are committed to Him.
These six points give us final assurance of how to find God’s will. If you align yourself with these summary points, you’ll find yourself walking in His will for your life.