In a study addressing why millennials stay in church, the Barna group discovered that 65% of active church goers or those who believed their faith is very important to their life believed that the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life, whereas only 17% of those who dropped out of church believed that about the Bible. In this instance there is a strong correlation between one’s belief about the sufficiency of Scripture and the level of value one places on their faith and expressing that faith in a local church setting.
That correlation should come as no surprise—though it is interesting to see it statistically supported. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is clear regarding the authorship of Scripture and its effectiveness for equipping believers. Consequently it is heartbreaking when we fail to accurately communicate what the Bible teaches, and when we are confused at why young people especially are leaving the faith.
We become so focused on peripheral traditions that we don’t pass on central truths to the next generation. For example, consider the question of how we can know God’s will for our lives. How many of us have wrestled with this question and turned to self-help books or the latest greatest gurus and trends to help us maneuver that all-important question? How many of us have simply concluded that we can’t know with certainty? How often have we simply searched the Scriptures to find the answer?
How can I know God’s will for my life? It is a simple question. We might be surprised how simple the answer is. If the Bible is actually sufficient then the answer must be found within its pages—and indeed, it is.
A concordance search of the keywords “will” and “God” appearing in the same verse produces about 450 results in 188 verses in the New Testament. In many of those instances, the passage is describing simply what God will do. In some others, we see God’s will expressed in specific lives. For example, in Romans 1:10, Paul describes his hope that by God’s will he might come to Rome. Passages like this are descriptive, but aren’t intended as prescriptions for every Christian. (If we are to understand the Bible, we need to recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive—we can avoid a lot of confusion.)
Of these 450 results, there are at least 16 references that give us some clear insight—some descriptive, and some prescriptive—regarding what God’s will is for the believer. Let’s see what we can glean from these passages:
For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother. (Mk 3:35)
Here Jesus describes the importance of doing the will of God, and the close relationship with Him that is expressed in doing God’s will.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (Jn 1:12-13)
Here we see that those who are born again become children of God, and do so by the will of God. This helps clarify that God’s will is active in beginning our right relationship with Him. Positionally we are in Christ because of Him, not because of us. By believing in Him, we are doing His will, and thus become Jesus’ brother, sister, mother, etc.
If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. (Jn 7:17)
In this passage we are reminded that one who desires (or wills) to do the will of God will know the truth about Jesus. God has spoken to us in Christ (Heb 1:2), and Christ confirmed the legitimacy of the OT (e.g., Jn 5:39) and commissioned the NT. The truth is there to be examined.
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
This passage is brilliant in its prescriptive simplicity. Because of all that God has done on our behalf, we should be willing to present ourselves to Him, and to be continually transformed by His word. These things prove His will is being accomplished in our lives.
…who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:4)
It is the will of God that we be delivered from this present evil age. This is something He accomplished for us, and it should give us great confidence in our walk with Him. We are secure in Him, and can have assurance of that security.
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Eph 5:15-20)
It is the will of God that we should be filled with or controlled by His Spirit. Just as wine influences a person and controls their thoughts and actions, so we should be filled up with the word of God, allowing the Spirit of God to work in and through us.
…doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men. (Eph 6:6b-7)
In this exhortation to servants, the emphasis is placed on a commitment to do God’s will from the inner man, and not simply through outward expression. This is not about impressing people, but about honoring God.
Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (Col 4:12)
This descriptive passage illustrates the importance of believers praying for one another that the will be complete and have assurance in everything pertaining to the will of God. There is no need for uncertainty or timidity regarding God’s will. We can absolutely know what He intends for us—because He tells us. We should lift up each other in prayer that we will have the maturity of understanding to have this confidence in Him.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. (1 Thes 4:3-7)
Simply put, God’s will for the believer is sexual purity and sanctification (being actively set apart for His use).
…in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thes 5:18)
This is a simple prescription—the imperative to be thankful in the midst of everything. Understanding that He is always working things for our good (Rom 8:28) makes this much easier than if we did not have that assurance.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Heb 10:36)
Here the writer of Hebrews encourages believers that the will of God is doable. Not only can we know what is His will, but we can accomplish it, in His power.
For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (1 Pet 2:15)
God uses those who do His will as a testimony to those who don’t know Him. We should do His will to honor God, also understanding that He uses even our deeds to impact the lives of others.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (1 Pet 3:17)
Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Pet 4:19)
These passages help us to understand that believers suffer according to His will. The Christian life is not easy, and sometimes God brings suffering to help us in our sanctification, to help others, and or simply to glorify Him. If we are presenting our bodies to Him as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2), then we should have no problem with the reality that we are bought with a price and it is no longer we who live, but Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20).
…so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (1 Pet 4:2)
God’s will for our lives is that we be focused on Him, not the temporal desires of life. Those temporal things pass away, but God gives eternal significance to even the simplest and most temporal of things in life. This is what is meant by “He who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Mt 10:39) and “He who loves his life shall lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (Jn 12:25). As the Psalmist says,
Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday. (Ps 37:4-6)
The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 Jn 2:17)
In the search for significance, the answers are found in Scripture. Doing God’s will has grand and eternal results. God, in His grace, has not made it difficult to know His will. In fact, He has told us plainly what He desires. We need to have the confidence in Him and in His word to make the choices He puts in front of us—to exercise the freedom and wisdom He provides. And should we truly not know what we should do in a specific situation, if we are torn between two options that would both seemingly fit within what He has revealed as His will, then He has simply provided us an opportunity to choose. If we lack the wisdom to know which is the best way to turn, then we can ask with faith in Him, and He will provide it (James 1:5).
God’s word is sufficient, and reveals His will and design for our lives. If we focus on the simple guidance He provides in those pages, we will find ourselves so engaged in following Him, that we won’t have to wonder what He wants for us, we will already have certainty.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as President of Calvary University, and is the author or general editor of several books including: Integrating Exegesis and Exposition: Biblical Communication for Transformative Learning, Gifted: Understanding the Holy Spirit and Unwrapping Spiritual Gifts, and Dispensationalism Tomorrow and Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie. Dr. Cone previously served in executive and faculty roles at Southern California Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, and in pastoral roles at Tyndale Bible Church and San Diego Fellowship of the Bible.