The Will of God
Jesus instructed us to pray to the Father "Thy will be done." But what did He mean when he told us to pray that?
Since God’s decreed will is always done regardless, so it is pointless to pray that His will be done.
Since we know Jesus did not ask us to pray pointlessly, then why pray this?
James 5:16b says, … The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.
Ephesians 1:11 says, In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:
In the light of Ephesians 1:11, how is James 5:16b true?
We need to understand what the Bible teaches about several distinct facets of God’s will, as well as about God's revealed will and His secret will, together with what the Bible teaches about God's providence and God's concurrence with what man does.
Four Facets of God’s Will
GOD'S DECREED WILL: God is Almighty, and His decrees are a means to accomplish His plan.
1. All God decrees happens. Isa 14:24,27;43:13;55:11; Jn 10:26-28. God is sovereign over all. Isa 6:5; Ps 103:14
2. God does as He pleases. Mt 20:15; Ps 115:3; Ps 135:6; Rom 9:20
3. Nothing is too hard for God. Gen 18:14; Job 42:2; Jer 32:17; Mt 19:26
4. None can thwart God’s decrees. Isa 43:13; Rom11:29
5. The only things God cannot do are: deny Himself. (2 Tim 2:13), lie (Heb 6:18; 1 Sam 15:29), or be tempted by evil. (James 1:13)
GOD'S ULTIMATE WILL: An ultimate goal God has is raising children who will glorify Him and live forever with Him in Heaven. God uses His decrees, expresses His commands, and word behind the scenes to accomplish His plan. Many people combine God’s decreed will and ultimate will, which is fine, because both are actually "Decreed". However, decreed and ultimate will are distinguished in this paper to highlight that God both decrees the means and the ends. Furthermore, His ultimate will is what God desires, including secrete as well as revealed desires.
1. Everything that occurs, good and bad, is woven together as part of God’s plan. Eph 1:11; Rom 8:28
2. Every "decision of the lot" is from God. Prov 16:4,33
3. All things come from God, are through God, and exist through God. Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 8:6; Rev 4:11
GOD'S DESIRED WILL: God desires good things, and God allows things that break His heart. This is superset of God’s commanded will, God commands what He desires, even if the desire is solely to satisfy the demands of justice.
1. We have the freedom to do many things outside of God’s desired will. Ezek 8; Mt 23:37-39
2. God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but rather desires that they turn form their wickedness and live. Ezek 18:23,32; 33:11; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4-5
GOD'S PERMISSIVE WILL: Within limits, and for a period of time, God allows people to do tings He does not desire. God allows people who reject Him to suffer the eternal consequences in Hell. One can also call this concept allowed will, or "delegated sovereignty".
1. God knows all; the end from the beginning, and who the elect were before any were born. 1 Jn 3:20; Isa 46:10; Ps 139:16; Rom 9:10-23; 8:29; Eph 1:4; Pr 15:3
2. Nothing occurs beside what God allows. Job 1:12; 2:6; James 4:15
3. Many succeed in resisting God’s commanded/desired will. Acts 7:39,51; 4:11; 13:46; 14:2; 2 Cor 6:1
4. Some, such as the Pharisees in Lk 7:13; rejected God’s purpose for themselves.
5. We sometimes act on our own initiative. 2 Cor 8:17
6. Some people did things, like infant sacrifices, that did not enter [originate in] God’s mind. Jer 19:5 32:35
The vast majority of Christians believe in God’s permissive will, a few among the Calvinists deny this. However, other Calvinists, agree with most Christians. An example is the late Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary who states:
"God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden." (Charles Hodge quote in Curt Daniel’s Dissertation p.230).
Thus, since God did not desire evil, and God did not decree evil, but only decreed to permit evil, it follows that His desired will and decreed will, are distinct from His permitted will.
Within what God has willed to permit, He decrees commands, and acts to accomplish His ultimate plan.
Two Aspects of God’s Will
We must humbly remember, God has not told us everything about His will. In particular, God’s will has the following two aspects:
THE REVEALED ASPECT: God has told us some things He has decreed, and He has told us what pleases Him.
1. We do not know all about infinite God, but we proclaim what He has revealed. Ecc 3:11; 11:5; Dt 29:29; Rom 10:14-15; 11:33-34; 15:14; 1 Cor 2:9-16; Job 38:42:6; Eph 1:9; 1 John 5:20
2. God is responsive; His revealed will, actions, feelings and love toward people may change when their will and actions change. Ezek 33:12-20; Gen 20:3-7,22; Acts 27:10,24
3. While the secret things belong to God, God has given the revealed things to us. Dt 29:29
SECRET ASPECT: God knows in advance everyone who will be saved and lost (Rom 9:22-23; Pr 16:4). God knows in advance every day of our lives (Psalm 139). These things He does not reveal to us. They are His secret will, also called His hidden will. About the only thing we can say for certain about God’s secret will is that it does not contradict what God has revealed about His will.
These two complementary ways of viewing God’s will are neither scriptural nor against scripture. Rather, they are simply a convenient, simplified way to see some aspects of God’s will. Some people confuse the aspects of God’s will, combining the secret with the decreed / ultimate, the revealed with the desired, and denying the permissive. However, this is not valid, as God has told us some of His decrees, so those are not secret. Furthermore, God may have certain things He desires of a person that they will not see until the time is right. It is right to speak of God’s revealed and secret aspects of His will.
However, when one leaves out the fact that, in His permissive will, God permits things that break His heart, then one is left with God having two wills, one working contrary to the other, as the Calvinist A.W. Pink unfortunately does in The Sovereignty of God p.245 and other places.
Scripture gives many examples of two ways of God’s will working that we do not have simple natural terms for, so theologians have invented two terms as succinct descriptors for these two concepts: providence and concurrence.
PROVIDENCE is the word to describe the concept that God orchestrates everything that occurs as part of His plan. Providence can be defined in two ways, though both definitions are equivalent.
- Everything that happens, good and evil, is allowed by God, and is worked together as a part of His plan.
- Nothing happens, good or evil, beyond what God will permit, or that God cannot ultimately use for His glory.
CONCURRENCE is the word to describe that someone may do something for a reason, even an evil purpose, and God specifically uses this event for a good purpose. Scriptural examples: Joseph told his brothers that they meant his enslavement for evil, but God meant it for good. Pharaoh’s evil choices were his responsibility, yet God raised up Pharaoh ultimately to bring glory to Him by bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.
Resting Secure in God’s Providence
Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: "For we know that in all things, God works together for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose."
When we who are born again Christians realize, in our inner being, that God will not let a single thing happen to us, except what He both allows, and knows He will work together for good, we can see how foolish our fears and insecurities are. When God says He is our rock, He is not joking.
There is no reason to hold back in your service to God. There is no reason to give Him any less than your best, so do not give God any less than your best (Mt 6:33; 2 Cor 13:9,11; 1 Cor 9:24; 15:58; Php 3:12-16)
We do not need to worry about the results, we need to be concerned about our faithful, consistent obedience. 2 Peter 1:5-8 shows that obedient believers can be confident and content that they will be effective doing God’s will.
We must not be idle or lazy. 1 Th 5:14; 2 Th 3:6-12; Pr 6:6-11; 12:24,27; 15:19; Ecc 11:6; Tt 3:14. Knowing that God has everything in His hands is no excuse for us to be lazy. Rather, knowing that God uses our work as a means to His ultimate ends gives eternal significance to what we do. Be careful how you spend your time. Work hard for the Lord. (Eph 5:15-16; Php 2:20-21)
Nevertheless, all of our plans, without God, are only as sandcastles the ocean waves sweep away. All of our plans are contingent on God’s will. James 4:13-16; Pr 27:1; Pr 16:9; Lk 12:15-21.
Many mysterious aspects of God’s will are still mysteries to us. However, the aspects revealed to us, are more certain than anything else we can discover. We can be more certain, not because of our ability, but because of God’s ability to communicate with us.
God promises He will guide, correct, and comfort us (1 Th 4:8; Jn 14:15-18; 25-26; 16:12-15; Rom 8:9-16). And we can be sure that He will.