Knowing the will of God is easy when it comes to issues such as murder, theft, adultery, and the like. We need not ask God, for example, whether we might be permitted to engage in sexual immorality as His position has already been made abundantly clear (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But often it seems we are faced with decisions for which there is no clear mandate. What should I do with my life? What career field should I pursue? Should I attend college? Should I change jobs? Should I move to another city? Should I get married? Questions such as this abound, and the answers are not always clear. Does God have a specific will in these circumstances? How can a person really know the will of God when it comes to everyday decisions for which there is no clear biblical mandate?
For a time in my life, I used to frequent a small local sandwich shop for lunch. There were many varieties of sandwiches on their lunch menu which often left people to stop and stare at it for some time before making up their mind. I on the other hand, never encountered such difficulties. On reaching the front of the line I would immediately exclaim, "I'll take the roast beef sandwich, on sourdough, cheddar cheese, with everything, heated up, bag of chips, bottle of coke, to go." It didn't take long for the friendly girl behind the counter to recognize me as I strolled in around lunchtime. One day I walked in and just as I was drawing a deep breath to rattle off my usual order she blurted out, "I know, I know . . ." and proceeded to recite my order to me verbatim.
Now suppose I walked into another sandwich shop for lunch. Could I reasonably expect the person behind the counter to be able to do the same? Of course not. The people at my local sandwich shop had come to know me and so they knew my "will" for lunch. Because I had built up a relationship with them, they could reasonably assume that what I wanted that day was the same as what I had wanted the day before (and every other day before that!) Knowing my will requires knowing me. Just as knowing God's will requires knowing Him. Many Christians are content to merely know the will of God apart from knowing God. The former is regarded in terms of rules; the latter involves a relationship.
God honors those who seek His will, but there is a greater reward reserved for those who earnestly seek Him. Just ask a certain Roman soldier living in Caesarea around the year A.D. 40:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. (Acts 10:1-4)
Cornelius was no doubt surprised by his vision. But even more surprised than Cornelius would have been many believers of that time. For God didn't speak to Gentiles (i.e., those of non-Jewish descent)--or so most Jews thought. Even amongst the disciples it was unclear where Gentiles fit into the message of grace that they were preaching. Nevertheless, Cornelius was faithful--both in seeking God and in doing His will. The Angel of God continued:
Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea." When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:5-8)
Cornelius wasted no time in dispatching his servants to Joppa. Meanwhile, God spoke to the apostle Peter in a vision (Acts 10:9-16) that must have been troubling for him to accept at first. In the vision, God seemed to be telling Peter to eat food that had been considered "unclean." Only after the arrival of Cornelius' servants did the message of both visions become clear--God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:34) and offers forgiveness of sin to "everyone who believes" (Acts 10:43).
Through the faithfulness of a humble Roman soldier God chose to convey His message of grace and love to all people, regardless of race, color or creed. Cornelius lived out what the author of Hebrews would later write:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
Indeed, God does reward those who seek Him and will reward those who do His will (Revelation 22:12). But is it possible to have one without the other? Many Christians are content to be blind followers of what they think is the will of God--going to church, giving away money, and trying to be a good person. Looking at the life of Cornelius we see that he was "devout," "God-fearing," and "generous." But was God impressed by his good works in and of themselves? Or was God impressed by his faith?
Without faith it is impossible to please God. This is a powerful statement--consider carefully its implications! All the good works in the world are nothing apart from faith--apart from believing in Him. If you are going to church out of guilt or compulsion, don't waste your time! If you are giving away your money because you feel you have to, don't waste your money! If you are being a good person because you think God is going to someday balance all the "rights" and "wrongs" in your life, you might as well give up now! (Romans 3:23). Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Seeking God's will apart from a relationship with Him is at best a futile effort.
Jesus spoke strong words to the Jews when they asserted their own relationship to God:
Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (John 8:42-47)
The single most important aspect to knowing God's will is knowing God.
"The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." (v. 47)
If you have never made a conscious decision to "believe in the Lord Jesus" (Acts 16:31), do it now and begin a relationship with the God who has been drawing you to Himself. If you have a relationship with God but are unsure of His will, seek to know Him first, and His will second.
This is what the LORD says: "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
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Copyright © 1998 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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