The question most often asked by Christians is, “What is the will of God for my life?” Many books have been written with the express purpose of showing readers how to get an answer to this question. However most missed the true meaning of the will of God for those who are seeking it for their lives.
God creates man with a heart that longs for meaning, for a sense of purpose, and self-worth, reflecting King David’s assessment of himself: “I praise you because I’m fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm139:14).” But sadly their hearts are now empty, and there is nothing in this world that can fill that God-shaped vacuum. However this article is not an apologetic about man’s need for God, but about people who already believe in God yet they’re still lost. Perhaps they’re not lost in relation to their place in God’s kingdom, but to the time between the present and when God calls them home; and they found their lives in Christ anything but abundant. Might this also be the reason why many Christians do not have that blessed assurance of their salvation?
Before I became a Christian
Some of the experiences expressed here may not apply to those who were born and raised in a Christian environment, but perhaps it may still hold true for most as they will usually develop a genuine faith in Christ much later in life. It is during such time that there is much confusion, many questions unanswered, many concerns about the future, the desperate longing for the meaning of life, a natural need for a sense of belonging, and infinite possibilities of longings that are expressed in different shapes or forms.
As for me, the reading of Hermann Hesse’ Steppen Wolf during my early college years triggered a torrent of existential questions that served as an outlet from an attempt to find answers for these nagging questions. The author’s thoughts served as stimuli for my own thoughts as I tried to navigate my inner landscape. The multitude of thoughts though were very entertaining at first, gradually became unbearable as they circled endlessly without coming to any meaningful conclusion.
After I became a Christian
After more than a decade of trying to think my way out of the maze of life through existential thoughts, and dabbling in Trancendental Meditation and a study of the Bhagavad Gita through a commentary by a Hindu guru and various other literature, God opened my eyes to the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ. An image I like to use to describe this life changing event is I saw Christ’s invitation for me as a perfect jump off point out of the vicious cycle, the treadmill, of self help salvation that promised but did not deliver. I felt a wonderful sense of a lightness of being as never before; a great burden fell off my back; a peaceful feeling of my feet being firmly planted on the ground, I could settle down and start building a life as any normal human being would. It was such a wonderful feeling of being at peace with the world, not having to try to escape anymore as I used to in my recurring dreams.
But the initial joy of salvation proved to be short lived. The quest for life’s meaning is now translated into the pursuit of the will of God. The difference is now God is in the picture. I used to be accountable to myself but now it’s God I will have to answer to. Though the scope of the pursuit for meaning is much smaller, it’s still large enough to cause any Christian great consternation.
It didn’t take long before I got back on the treadmill of performance. My recurring nightmares of being lost somewhere, or losing something precious, or falling so far behind in my classwork that there was no way to catch up, are now replaced with dreams of being a missionary in some remote corner of the world. Though they were not nightmares, they were unfulfilled dreams nonetheless. The volume of Christian literature kept me busy for several years but there were still many questions unanswered. What is God’s will for my life? How can I serve Him? Trips to downtown neighborhood telling folks of the great news of Jesus Christ provided some meaning and satisfaction for but a short while; many times during those trips I wondered if I really knew what I was telling folks, about Jesus’ promises of burden lifted and rest for the weary souls. I was like a salesman who was trying to sell folks a product he’s never fully benefitted from.
Some Bible references on God’s will
Let’s consider some frequently quoted Bible references that appear to tell us what the will of God is for believers.
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thess 4:3-5)
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:18)
From these references we read that the will of God for us are at least avoiding sexual temptations and being always filled with gratitude. How about God’s will for us concerning tithing, fruit of the Spirit, evangelism, godly characters, Bible study, relationship, greed, jealousy, pride, wisdom, anger, hypocrisy, honesty, and an almost an unlimited number of other good things? Though the number of verses in the Bible shows only a handful of the wills of God, in reality there are as many as man’s imagination can conjure up as they’re reflected in Christian literature.
With an infinite possibilities of the wills of God for one’s life, the Christian is kept quite busy trying to figure out what or how many wills God has for them. The question that might be raised at this point is when can they experience Jesus’ promise of rest for them, or when can they claim for themselves the “It’s finished” that Jesus uttered before He took his last breath?
The problem of sin
Usually people think of sin as something that is obviously sinful such as adultery, murder, or whatever else that their faith tells them, but in reality everything that gives a person a sense of failure becomes a sin to him. God gives us the story of Job to demonstrate to us the power of a person’s mind in condemning him in the situation of a failure. In Job’s case it was his big loss of everything he possessed. We saw that Job’s friends deduced that it must have been Job’s sins that brought him to such state. Even Job himself thought he had sinned and tried to defend his righteousness. The story of the man blind since birth was also a case in point where people concluded that his failure, his blindness, is a consequence of his own or his parents’ sins.
Chances for setbacks are ever present in human existence, which means the Christians are always living with a guilty conscience especially in relation to the will of God and how they deal with them in their lives.
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. (James 4:17)
This applies to preachers and pew sitters alike with probably more guilt on the preachers because they tend to tell others to do things they don’t do themselves (Luke 11:46). But no matter who you are, this mode of living being under a perpetual affect of sin and its associated guilt is a direct antithesis of the gospel of good news.
The following Deuteronomy 28:1-2 passage is representative of the Old Covenant based relationship between God and man which can be summarized as saying “if you do this then I will do that.”
If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
The promise of blessings is conditional upon full obedience to the LORD your God, therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us why people think the way they do in the story of Job and the man born blind, and we see it being played out regularly in church settings through testimonies and conversations, which basically means the lack of blessings must be a sign you’re not right with God.
But we all know that God cannot be wrong, and so is His commandments, or His law. That leaves the possibility that we are very likely wrong about our understanding the role and purpose of the law. It’s not given to man as a golden rule to live by, but as an instrument to point out man’s utter depravity and their need for Christ. The misconception of the law as a golden rule causes man to be stuck on the treadmill of performance, or of perpetually seeking God’s will without ever getting to a place where they can find rest for their souls.
The true WILL of God
So far we’ve seen that there is a fundamental, an innate desire in man to find life’s meaning and purpose. For those who do not or have not yet entered a relationship with God through His Son, he’s driven by a law rooted in their conscience which dictates their every thought and action. For those who call themselves Christians, they’re driven by what is written in the Bible; for them though the written Scriptures is more concrete and more realizable than the conscience based one, it is still vague enough to those who follow it to wander endlessly in the desert of seeking the will of God without ever reaching the promised land.
There is however a different kind of will of God, not the kind commonly understood and taught in the Christian world, not one to strive for, but one which Christ died to guarantee our ownership, not the one based on our ability, but the one inherited by faith. Hebrews 9 refers to this will of God as an eternal inheritance.
15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. 16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. (Hebrews 9:15-17)
To realize this eternal inheritance, the follower of Christ must stop all their vain pursuits to find God’s will in the traditional, but worldly, sense, and rest at the foot of the cross of Christ so their eyes might be opened to see the will, or rather the inheritance, that is already theirs in Christ, that it’s not outside of them to seek, but that it’s already theirs by God’s promise.
This is truly what it means to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. To no longer follow Christ according to the pattern of the world, which is to look from within ourselves the resources for meanings, or for means to satisfy a perceived will of God, but to look to Christ alone for what that is already ours, enough for us to enter the kingdom of heaven, to be fully accepted by God, to be already fully sanctified for God’s purpose, and many other wonderful gifts that God gives us along with Christ.
The Old Covenant concept of inheritance, the land, is a foreshadowing of the New Covenant’s inheritance we have in Christ (see footnotes). We found this in the book of Numbers where land was distributed such that each family receives a plot of land sufficient to support itself and subsequently transfered to the next generation through inheritance:
52The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 53To these the land shall be apportioned for inheritance according to the number of names. 54To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance according to its enrollment. 55But the land shall be apportioned by lot; according to the names of their ancestral tribes they shall inherit. 56Their inheritance shall be apportioned according to lot between the larger and the smaller. (Numbers 26:52-56)
But inevitably there will be a loss of ownership due to adverse circumstances, through failed farming, sickness, or other forms of failure. Except in rare circumstances, most of those who end up losing their possessions due to hardship never recover enough to buy them back. The Lord ordained the year of jubilee, one in every fifty (Leviticus 25:8-17), including the sabbath year, one in every seven (Leviticus 25:1-7), to sanctify Isarael’s economy. In the sabbath year, each field must not be cultivated or harvested from, but the law concerning the jubilee year had much more implications: all lands leased or sold to others for whatever reasons must be returned to their original owners, and all slaves and bonded laborers were to be freed (Leviticus 25:10).
The effect of the jubilee year was to prevent any family to become permanently landless through sale, mortgage, or permanent lease of its assigned land. This provides a means for the destitude to raise money for survival until the next jubilee year. But we must know that, whatever God does, He does it as part of His great plan of salvation to restore back to man what that was lost at the Fall. The jubilee year was the foreshadowing of God’s grace when people who lost their eternal life can be restored without having to meet any payment (Leviticus 25:10-17).
This is to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that they would have water from the cisterns they did not dig and eat from vineyards and olive groves they did not plant (Deut 6:11). The returning of the lost inheritance in the year of jubilee is a wonderful foreshadowing of the returning of the Holy Spirit to the believers, and it is consistent as always with how God saves us: “8For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9it is not from works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Let us survey the following parts of our spiritual inheritance.
• The indwelling Holy Spirit
11In him we were also chosen,[a] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)
12What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12)
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
• Redemption and Forgiveness of sin
“In whom we have redemption in his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:14)
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7)
“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)
• Sanctified and Justified
You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)
• Assurance of salvation
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 John 2:1)
Even the best lawyer in the world cannot defend us like this wonderful heavenly Advocate the Son of the living God.
• And everything we need
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
Hopefully at this point it has become clear concerning the differences between the two viewpoints of the will of God.
In the traditional and most common view, the will of God is something that is up to the believer to discover what it is for themselves, whether they will be happy, or productive, or in line with God’s will for their lives. If they struggle in their earthly living or their walk with God, it’s probably because they don’t pray hard enough, they don’t spend enough time at revival conferences, they don’t participate enough in church activities, or other things that they failed to do. If they miss the will of God, it’s their own fault.
On the other hand, the will of God as inheritance for the believer cannot be lost. It is theirs whether they know it or nor, whether they have the ability to hang on to it or not. It’s purchased for them by the blood of the Lamb of God. It might sound like a cop out but that’s the way God wants it, as He has ordained it in the law of jubilee.
The pursuit of the will of God after the pattern of the world leaves the believer never fulfilled, it always leaves them in the state of uncertainty because he will never know what God’s will is for his life, and even when he thinks he does know the will of God, it’s never enough. It draws their eyes inward toward self as virtually all they’re seeking are to meet the needs of their flesh. No matter how well they’re dressed in spiritual trappings, it’s still the efforts of the flesh, and they will inevitably produce fleshly results, and they’re centered on self instead of Christ.
Conversely the will of God as an inheritance requires all fleshly efforts to cease. The believer now takes their eyes off of themselves and set them on Christ in whom are all they need for godliness and contentment. They can rest because no one can take away their promised inheritance because the jubilee year has come. This is the true will of God.
If a life is driven by any purpose, let that purpose be to rest in what Christ had accomplished just as it is written in Hebrews 4:11: “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.”
- http://www.newcovenantinstitute.net/living_god_ministries/radio_archive/will_of_god.htm (accessed 2017/01/29)
- https://www.theologyofwork.org/old-testament/leviticus-and-work/the-sabbath-year-and-the-year-of-jubilee-leviticus-25 (accessed 2017/01/29)
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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