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Wed, Feb 02, 2000

81 - Knowing God's Will

James 4:15-17 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 54 secs

Knowing God's Will; James 4:15-17


There are times when God might have a specific will for your life, and sometimes He doesn't. More often than not God does not have a specific will for our life. We talk about categories of God's will: God's geographical will, God's operational will. These have to do with specific plans that God has for us at particular times. But most of the time all we are dealing with is God's sovereign will, which is secret, and God's revealed will, which is found in the Scriptures.


Verses for God's sovereign will


 Daniel 4:45 NASB "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And {among} the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"


Proverbs 21:1 NASB "The king's heart is {like} channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." Jesus Christ controls history.


Revelation 4:1 NASB "After these things I looked, and behold, a door {standing} open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like {the sound} of a trumpet speaking with me, said, 'Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.'" For God to declare what must happen prophetically He must be able to control it to bring it into existence. But once again, remember, He doesn't override human volition in the process.


Ephesians 1:11 NASB "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."


Proverbs 16:33 NASB "The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD."


Romans 9:19 NASB "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'" God's sovereign will is secret, we do not know what it is. He has declared the end from the beginning and so we have to be careful not to lapse into some sort of hyper-Calvinistic fatalism and think that because God's sovereign will is in control and He has declared history that somehow our decisions don't matter. Because God has included within that complexity of all the events—He controls every detail from the most microscopic atom to the largest galaxy—flexibility based on human volition.


God's will for our life


We might ask: What is God's will for my life? Are we talking about God's revealed will? That is clear, just go to the Scriptures and study the Word of God. Are we talking about God's sovereign will? We don't know that until it happens. Only after we make decisions and things happen do we know what was actually included in the decreed sovereign will of God.


We can only know the specifics of God's revealed will, of God's moral will. This includes all the precepts, mandates and prohibitions of the Scriptures. How do we know God's will? Look to the Scriptures. Romans 2:18 NASB "and know {His} will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law." So one way the Jews in the Old Testament knew God's will was that they went to the Law, God's revealed Scriptures.


1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB "in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." So if we want to live inside that circle of God's moral will, then to be living in God's will means that you have an attitude of gratitude; you are thankful for everything: the good, the bad, the hard, the easy.


1 Thessalonians 4:3 NASB "For this is the will of God, your sanctification." Part of God's will is that you grow as a believer, that we go from spiritual infancy to spiritual adulthood.


2 Corinthians 6:14 NASB "Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?"

Specific will for every single believer? 

Often people will talk about this and say: "Well, you need to get into the centre of God's will for your life; you need to know God's perfect will for your life." Some times you will hear illustrations. For example, from great heroesof the faith, great missionaries like Hudson Taylor who went to China and was responsible for opening up China to the gospel, that he had found God's perfect will for his life; and because he lived in the center of God's will God blessed him and he had this tremendous ministry. That seems to leave no room for the missionary who also responds to God's call on his life to go out on the mission field and then spend his entire life witnessing to Hindu's, living in a mud hut, travelling around always either by foot or by donkey, and after fifty years of ministry be able to say, yes indeed, he found God's will for his life and led four people to the Lord. So God's will includes room for failure as well. For example, Noah was right in the center of God's will. He preached for 120 years and didn't have any converts. Many people are taught that God has a specific will for you, and that is not the case.

One example that is used to support this is Jonah. God had a specific will for Jonah at the point of Jonah 1:1 in Jonah's life. It wasn't God's will for Jonah to go to Nineveh a year earlier or two years earlier. Jonah was just going about his daily business learning and applying the Word, growing and maturing, then all of a sudden God had something specific. God may only have one specific thing for you to do in your life, the rest of it is just a general application of Scripture, growing to spiritual maturity, witnessing, being involved in a local church, being involved in ministry, giving, prayer, all the functions of your priesthood; that is God's will for your life. When God has something specific He is going to make it clear.


Another example is Peter being sent to take the gospel to Cornelius. Notice that Peter had a vision, Acts 10:17. The Holy Spirit speaks, Acts 10:19, 20. So we see that God has a specific will for Peter at that time, and that was to go at that moment in time to Cornelius.


Another is Paul being sent as an apostle to the Gentiles, Acts 13:1, 2 NASB "Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was {there,} prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.'" The Holy Spirit gives direct information about His will for Barnabas and Paul.


What we have to notice from these examples is that at most there are only 15-20 examples in Acts where God gives specific directive information. Most of the time the decisions that are made are made by weighing and evaluating the issue. Example: Acts 15:36 NASB "After some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, {and see} how they are.'" Look at how he made the decision: Let's go visit, it seems good to us. It is a good idea to go back and check up on them. This is not because God has directed them. A decision is made just on weighing the data.


Acts 20:16 NASB "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." Paul at this point is heading to Jerusalem when he should be heading to Rome, but he is making his decision based not on a direction from the Lord as to whether or not he should skip Ephesus.


Romans 1:10 NASB "always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you." At that point Paul didn't know when he would get to Rome. [11] "For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; [12] that is, that I may be encouraged together with you {while} among you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine. [13] I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles." He keeps planning to go. He knows eventually it is God's will because it is God's will generally for him to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and Rome is the capital. It is not that he is dealing with something specific at this point, he is just working out his plan and this seems to be the best procedure.


1 Corinthians 16:4 NASB "and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me. [5] But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; [6] and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way wherever I may go." Notice his decision-making here and his planning. It is what seems best at the time. He is not acting as if God has a specific will for every place and every event in his life.

8)   The problem in all of these incidences of a specific will of God is that that specific will is known only through special revelation. Those of us who believe that revelation has ceased and that the canon is closed ought to have a major problem with the way most evangelicals teach the will of God where it becomes a very subjective thing based on emotion. In the examples we have seen for God's specific will the individuals knew what God's specific will was only because God directly spoke to them, a prophet directly spoke to them, they had a vision given them by God, God the Holy Spirit spoke to them, and in a couple of places in Acts miracles occurred indicating what God's will was. That is how they knew what God's will was if there was something specific.  Also all of the examples that are usually given for knowing that God has a specific plan for your life, or specific things for you to do, mostly derive from the book of Acts and the Old Testament. They don't derive from New Testament epistolary literature. The conclusion from that is that although God may at times have a specific place, a specific location, in mind for you to live, to minister, specific things to do, if you are carrying out the general things in God's plan for God, then even if you make the wrong decisions God is not dangling this thing out there and you have to guess what His will is and if you miss you are out of luck and are not going to have God's blessing for the rest of your life because you missed God's specific will for your life. That is not the way it happens at all. Even if you make the wrong decisions God's plan is flexible enough to bring you back. The issue is if God wants you some place you are going to get there, as we see in Jonah. The same thing happened with Paul. God wants Paul to go to Rome; Paul wanted to go to Jerusalem, so Paul ended up going to Rome in chains. When God has a geographical will for your life He will bring it about. The issue is whether you are sharp enough to go of your own volition or go dragged kicking and screaming like Jonah.

9)   Knowing God's will, therefore, is really based not on some emotional, liver quiver mystical experience, it is based on the grace learning spiral. We study God's Word, the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us, it becomes GNOSIS and then EPIGNOSIS, God the Holy Spirit teaches us doctrine, and through the doctrine He guides and leads us, according to Galatians 5:18. It is always objective. Even in the Old Testament, when God spoke in private to a prophet it was always substantiated by external, verifiable data.

Colossians 1:19 NASB "For it was the {Father's} good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him."

Romans 12:2 NASB "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." Renewing the mind is learning Bible doctrine, learning to think like Christ thinks; and by thinking that way, thinking according to doctrine we demonstrate in our lives that God's will, God's plan procedures and principles revealed in the Word of God, is good, acceptable and perfect. Our life becomes a visible testimony that God's revealed will works, that doctrine works and solves problems.

Ephesians 5:17 NASB "So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [6:6] not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart."  That is, applying the word of God consistently in your life from the heart, i.e. the inner thinking part of the cognitive function of the soul.

Proverbs 3:5, 6 NASB "Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight." That means that if you are walking in obedience, learning God's will, God is going to direct your paths. You are going to go where God wants you to go.

Psalm 32:8 NASB "I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you." He teaches us the way we should go through His revelation, the Scriptures, through precepts, promises and procedures outlined in His Word.

In the first six verses of Judges chapter six outline the historical circumstances, that the Midianites who were a kind of roving band of Bedouins, would come through at harvest time and steal all of the grain and wheat and the Jews would be left with nothing and impoverished for another year. This was part of divine discipline on the nation for their idolatry and rebelliousness toward God.

In verse 7 we see God's grace for their recovery. NASB "Now it came about when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD on account of Midian, that the LORD sent a prophet to the sons of Israel, and he said to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'It was I who brought you up from Egypt and brought you out from the house of slavery." He reminds them of His faithfulness, bringing them up from Egypt. The basic message of the prophet here is to repent, that they need to turn back to God. Because they are going to do that God is going to provide the deliverer in the person of Gideon. 

Judges 6:11 NASB "Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save {it} from the Midianites. [12] The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, 'The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.'" Special revelation. But Gideon is anything but a valiant warrior, hiding away in the winepress. [13] "Then Gideon said to him, 'O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.'" So he is down there crying and whining about all the suffering in his life. [14] "The LORD looked at him and said, 'Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?'" At this point Gideon begins to realize that he is not talking to somebody who just happened by that afternoon.

Judges 6:15 NASB "He said to Him, "O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house." So the Lord again gives him specific directions. God has a specific will for Gideon's life. [16] "But the LORD said to him, 'Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.'" God's will for Gideon's life is to go and defeat the Midianites. Gideon understood this very clearly. That teaches us that Gideon's little episode with the fleece was not to find out what God's will is for his life, it is to try to come up with an impossible scenario so he can rationalize not doing God's will. Gideon is not seeking God's will here, he is seeking to avoid God's will because he doesn't want to go out into the battle. [17] "So Gideon said to Him, "If now I have found favor in Your sight, then show me a sign that it is You who speak with me." People try this all the time. They know God won't fulfil it and they feel justified in disobeying. Gideon prepares a sacrifice here. [21] "Then the angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in his hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the angel of the LORD vanished from his sight." At that point Gideon realizes fully who this is: "When Gideon saw that he was the angel of the LORD, he said, "Alas, O Lord GOD! For now I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face. [23] "The LORD said to him, 'Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.'"

Another interesting little episode takes place: [36] "Then Gideon said to God, 'If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.'" Think about this. God has already made it clear to Gideon that he is going to deliver Israel through Gideon. [37] "behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken. [38] And it was so. When he arose early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he drained the dew from the fleece, a bowl full of water. [39] Then Gideon said to God, "Do not let Your anger burn against me that I may speak once more; please let me make a test once more with the fleece, let it now be dry only on the fleece, and let there be dew on all the ground. [40] God did so that night; for it was dry only on the fleece, and dew was on all the ground." So when we look at Gideon he is not seeking God's will.

10)  Don't try to test God to find out what His will is, go to His Word and be willing to do it.

11)  The geographical will of God is the term that relates to operating in a specific location. But even in the examples in Scripture where God does have a specific will for someone in a specific geographical location it is not necessarily for their whole life or it is not that God always has a specific geographical will for their life. It may involve a lifetime ministry in one location; it may be just for this point in time God has a specific geographical will, and once this is accomplished then it is time to move on and then there is no specific geographical will after that. Example: Jonah and Nineveh.

12)  It is the same thing with the operational will. The operational will of God includes both your spiritual gift and your natural talents and abilities.

13)  Often decisions in life are not related so much to the final decision as God is testing our decision making process. Are we going about it in a God-glorifying manner?

14)  Numbers 22:12-26 reveals these three categories of God's will. God revealed His will to Balaam and told him not to go to Moab (v. 12). In v. 20, even though Balaam went to Moab God allowed him to—the permissive will of God. Then in vv. 25, 26 God overruled Balaam in his decision.

15)  The issue in decision making is utilizing the wisdom of Scripture, the EPIGNOSIS in the soul, weighing all the facts and making a decision.

Acts 15 where the problem is how the Jews are going to include Gentiles into the general new movement of Christianity. Acts 15:6 NASB "The apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter." Notice it doesn't say the apostles and the elders came together to seek God's will in the matter. They have revelation so they have God's will, now they have to decide how they are going to apply it. [7] "After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, 'Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe…'" [12] "All the people kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. [13] After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, 'Brethren, listen to me. [14] Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. [15] With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written.'" Then he quotes from the Old Testament. [19] "'Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles…" Notice how the decision is reached: "my judgment." They have weighed the biblical data, looked at the principles, and now they have to make an application based on this reservoir of EPIGNOSIS in their souls. "…but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. [21] For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath."

Look at how they made their decision. [22] "Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren…" In other words, it just seemed like a good thing to do. They had weighed the evidence and were going to use wisdom.

The issue is: Am I following what I know to be true about God's Word? Am I learning the Word of God? Am I making Bible doctrine the highest priority in my life? Am I filled with the Spirit? Am I walking by means of the Spirit? Am I applying what I know consistently? How is my prayer life? These are the things that make up the will of God.

The problem in James is that that congregation was not responsive to God, they just wanted tom do whatever they wanted to do, and they took no thought for God's moral will. Neither were they concerned about God's sovereign plan for their life. They were operating on arrogance, and that is why: James 4:16 NASB "But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. [17] Therefore, to one who knows {the} right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin." If you know what God's revealed will is and you refuse to do it, that is sin.