Most Christians would say that knowing the will of God is important, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion, worry, and even stress in regard to “being in the will of God.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “Offer yourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual act of worship. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Might it be safe to say that the reason so many Christians are unclear in regard to God’s will is that so many Christians have not “offered themselves a living sacrifice?”
We are a very individualistic society. We like to express ourselves, we like to be heard, and we want to separate ourselves from the crowd by virtue of our style or the novelty of what we have to say. We don’t offer ourselves a sacrifice very well because that would mean thinking less of ourselves, making less of ourselves, and making more about the glory of God. We want to be good Christians, we want to be faithful, we want to build ministries and make a name for ourselves in Jesus’ name. None of that, however, is what God requires of us. His calling on our lives is to simply love and please him, no matter how common or how magnificent a task may be because it’s not about us; it’s about him.
Our confusion begins with our self-centered, individualistic mindset and worldview. We look at verses like Jeremiah 29:11, “for I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord. Plans to help you and not to harm you, to give you a hope and a future.” We read that and see the singular “you.” We come to believe that what God is saying to us (me) is that he knows the plans he has for me, specifically, and that those plans will always match our definition of good. There are a number of problems with this thinking and it has separated us from the will of God.
The first thing is that when we read that God knows “the plans he has for you,” we think of you meaning “me,” the individual. The “you” here is plural because he is addressing a people whom he is forging into a nation. That generation would go into exile in Babylon and many of them would die there in captivity in service to a cruel and pagan king. That doesn’t really fit our idea of “good,” but God has a plan for the nation that would culminate in the coming of Messiah, and that is the ultimate good.
Secondly, as God is speaking to a nation, he is speaking beyond their circumstance. This promise of God is echoed in Romans 8:28 where we are told that “God is working in all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” This particular generation would know captivity and separation from God. The generation after them (Ezra/Nehemiah) would know the hardship of trying to rebuild a nation. All this hardship and difficulty, all this suffering would serve a greater good: salvation for the world through Jesus Christ who would be born from the line of David, from the tribe of Judah, to the people of Israel, of the covenant of God for the salvation of all who would believe, both Jew and Greek. That is the greatest good there is, salvation. The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 speaks of many people who might have protested that they did not receive the good that God promised and who might have questioned whether they were in the will of God were it not for the undeniable fact that they had surrendered themselves completely to God. They didn’t think about their personal cost, because the work and will of God is so much bigger than that. We tend to think more of ourselves than we ought.
Our forefathers of the faith had one goal in mind: honor God and please him. They weren’t thinking about building funds and big tent revivals. They witnessed the power of God because their life here was never about them, it was about the great purpose of God. You see, God has a plan. He has a purpose. As God is one, his purpose and plan is one. You and I don’t have our own little plan from God. We have a place in God’s great plan … a role in his eternal story.
God’s plan was set before the foundation of the world. It picked up a good head of steam in the garden at the fall when God had to cover the guilt and shame of Adam and his wife with animal skins: the first life for a life. We’re not beginning our own little narrative independent of God’s great story, rather we are engrafted branches into the plot line God began at “Let there be…” God’s will isn’t built around your life. Your life is created to fit into the will of God and we need to surrender our own manuscript, cease the mutiny of making our own independent story and offer ourselves a living sacrifice, willing to play out the role God has for us in his great story…purpose….will. Jesus said that good soil would yield 30, 60, even 100 times what was sown. We want God’s will for us to be 100, but it’s the yield that is God’s will and he has appointed you to bear maybe 100, maybe 30. The question is, Will you be grateful and rejoice, working diligently in your 30 as you would if your part was 100?
In our way of thinking, you had better choose the right college, because if you don’t you will meet the wrong spouse, have the wrong children, and set off in the wrong career. Your life at that point us unredeemable. But God doesn’t work this way. His will is that you know him and become like him. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” because faith redeems our humanity and brings us back to God’s intent and illuminates the image of God in us. That is God’s will, that we (the church, together, as a body) would be inhabited by His Spirit and reveal his heart to the world. You fulfill the will of God as you lay down (aside) your life and serve God by serving others. This is not done for the sake of being good, or even in an effort to be obedient, but only to follow and please God. Obedience is the fruit of redemption, not a means to it. Once we start thinking of the benefit for us, we’ve gotten off track.
The will of God is the redemption of the elect — those whom God foreknew and therefore predestined to be conformed into the likeness of His Son. When we seek to glorify (reveal and reflect) God to the world for the benefit of others and keeping no regard for our own selves, then we are in the will of God. We trust God utterly for our every need, and to come through, doing those things which only God can do. Whether he will be faithful never comes into it because we are convinced (convicted) beyond a doubt that he will do exactly what is needed, and we are willing to endure hardship, difficulty, disappointment, and even harm if it means that Christ is glorified through us. “Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ, who, being in his very nature God did not consider his equality with God something to be clung to, but laid it down, taking on the very nature of a servant, being found in the image of a human man, and was obedient even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-11). What right, entitlement, or outcome shall we cling to when Christ our Lord clung to nothing? This is the will of God: that we become like Jesus, for the glory of the Father. Together, living as His body, the world will see him for who he is.