Wednesday, January 04, 2006

God's will: the central issue for Biblical Christians

Phil Johnson just put up another wonderful post, Prophecy revisited, in which he returns to the issue of putative modern-day prophecies. This is related to the ongoing controversy between woefully-misnamed continuationalists and inadequately-named cessationists. The ensuing comment thread was quite lively and interesting, with some particularly good posts by centuri0n and others.

What was a bit vexing is that the conversation immediately swerved aside. "But if God isn't still speaking, how do I know which brand of beans is His will for me to buy, or whether to watch Buffy re-runs or Touched By an Angel? How can I find His will for my life, in things not touched on by Scripture?" Oodles of earnest, good-hearted, but traditionalistic thinking was in evidence.

A simple-minded man myself, I'll venture two simple statements. I'll lay them down, then put them together, then move on.

Statement the First: Foundational. Concerning this issue, as concerning all issues, the central question for the Christian is -- "What does the Bible teach?"

Statement the Second: Practical. Concerning the specific issue of God's will for my life, the central question for the Christian is -- "For what does God hold me morally responsible?"

The assumption of many of the good brethren and sistren in the thread is that God has three wills: His sovereign will, His revealed will, and His jus'-sayin' will.

They would agree, I hope and assume, that God's sovereign will is (A) God's sole responsibility to effect, and (B) always carried out (Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11b, etc. ad inf.).

They would further agree, I hope and assume, that God's revealed will is (A) found fully and adequately revealed in the Bible alone (2 Timothy 3:15-17), and (B) is our responsibility to carry out by His grace and enabling (Romans 8:12-13; Philippians 2:12-13, etc. ad inf.)

So what is God's "jus'-sayin' will"? You'll really have to ask them. The term isn't theirs, but it seems to be the aspect of God's will that most concerns them. It's the one that tells us who to marry, which lane to take in the freeway, whether to witness to Abdul or not, and the like.

To find this will requires reading a lot of books, hearing a lot of sermons, attending a lot of seminars -- because there is nothing about it in the Bible. The Bible's statements about God's will fall into category one or two, above; there is nothing about category three being a factor in normal Christian living.

You see, the central question is, "Does God hold me responsible for knowing and doing this will of His? Is it a sin if I do not do it?"

If we apply that question to category one (God's sovereign will), the answer is simple and clear: no. God's sovereign will is, by definition, His to carry out, using whatever means and secondary causes He chooses (cf. Isaiah 10:5ff.)

If we apply that same question to category two (God's revealed will), the answer is again simple and clear: yes. God's revealed will is, by definition, revealed to me to tell me what God expects me to think, be, do, or avoid (cf. Deuteronomy 6:5ff.; 29:29; John 13:17).

But if we try to apply that question to category three (God's jus'-sayin' will), the answer is less clear. Is it a sin if I buy the wrong can of beans, or marry the wrong person ("wrong," not for directly Biblical reasons, but against this elusive third category), or accept the wrong-but-moral job offer, or wear the wrong honestly-purchased cologne?

The adherents are in trouble here. If they say "No, it is not sin," then they can only be saying that it is not sin to go against God's will. But isn't violation of God's will a necessary element in any definition of sin? And if God means me to buy Breyers ice cream, but instead I buy Dreyers ice cream, how can I not be sinning?

But if it is a sin-issue, and God neglected to spell it out clearly in Scripture -- how can Scripture be complete or adequate, or anything near what Paul says it is in 2 Timothy 3:15-17?

On the other hand, if it is not sin, then what is this supposed will of God? "Jus' sayin'"?

The Biblical answer is that there are only two categories to God's will, and I am only responsible for knowing and doing one of those categories. In other areas of life, I am free to act according to wisdom within the lines drawn by God's Word.

I think of unfallen, sinless Adam. We read that "out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them" (Genesis 2:19).

Now, can we easily picture Adam saying, "Oh, no, Lord God -- I would not name these animals in my own will! What would You have me name them?"

Might God not have replied, "You goofball -- I brought them to you to name"?

Check your decisions by the adequate, complete, sufficient Word of God. Pray for clear thinking in applying the principles, values, and guidelines of the Word. Then buy the beans you like, wear the cologne that smells best, praise God for a rich array of choices, and honor Him by the full use of your faculties in making those choices.


Unknown said...

I love this post.

I was raised (as many Christians were) to believe that I was supposed to spend a LOT of time trying to figure out what God wanted me to do with my life. In high school, I wanted to figure out what college God wanted me to go to (it's funny that even when we have this view, we still assume that God even wants us to go to college without question). When I first entered college, I wanted to figure out what major God wanted me to choose. Then we are told to figure out who God wants us to marry (because He's going to send her to my front door). Then we go on to career etc.

Anywho, after struggling for the past year with extreme anxiety (with occasional panic attacks) in trying to figure out what God was wanting me to do (or thinking that he was telling me to do something or to not do something), I started to realize that the only thing I was sure of was scripture.

I realized that I don't know what to do with the freedom God has graciously given me. I am very wimpy and indecisive as a man. I have always wanted to do the "right" thing. That is always where I found my acceptance and worth. Now I'm seeing that I can only find acceptance and worth from God by His grace. It's almost like people want God to tell them every little step of the way. It's like our own personalized law system. Its a perfect fit for individualistic Americans.

Anyways, those are my thoughts

Oh, and I'm slowly becoming a Calvinist.

DJP said...

Really good points, Andrew. Thanks for telling us them. I hear you!

It'd be nice to be able to pass the buck. "I know it was a lame, stupid, irresponsible, damaging decision — but, hey! God told me to!"

Eva said...

You say, "They would further agree, I hope and assume, that God's revealed will is (A) found fully and adequately revealed in the Bible [b]alone[/b] (2 Timothy 3:15-17)."

Quoting from the NIV version of the Bible, that passage reads "15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

From my interpretation, it seems to say all scripture is useful for equipping each person for every good work. Saying the bible is the only tool necessary for discovering God's will is a tad bit of an intellectual dishonesty, don't you think?

DJP said...

Not remotely.

If Paul asserts that all Scripture is God breathed, profitable for teaching us how to think and how to live, for correcting us when we're wrong and setting us right again;

...and if Paul further asserts emphatically that the man of God is thus completely equipped for every good work (— and he does);

...then I ask: what does that leave uncovered? All of thought, all of life, fully-adequate.

Don't know how he could have been more comprehensive.

Eva said...

1. yielding profit; remunerative: a profitable deal.

2. beneficial or useful.

From the American Standard version:

16 Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.
17 That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.

To me, it reads like this: Scripture is beneficial, and is necessary so that God's people can complete His work. Just as my mom would force me to drink protein shakes during basketball season, the protein shakes were beneficial and necessary for me to become a great basketball player. However, the protein shakes were not alone sufficient for me to become a great basketball player.

That being said, I still do not understand where scripture alone comes into play. I've looked at several different versions. I'm just not seeing it. What version are you using?

DJP said...

Honest, non-snotty answer: I am basing my understanding on the original Greek text, which I've been reading for about 35 years.

I think you're not weighting the wording right. First, Paul says Scripture is profitable for four areas which, taken together, encompass all of life.

But note the next verse, where Paul uses two forms of the same root to stress that the result is that the man of God is fully equipped for every good work.

To take your analogy, your good mom might say the shake was profitable for basketball, but she'd not say that it was profitable so that you were fully-equipped for every move on the court.

See the difference? Scripture, and Scripture alone, is sufficient for the state end; and the stated end takes in all of life as a Christian.

Anonymous said...

This blog is 6 years old, but I wanted to comment any way. ;-)

I love your last paragraph how you sum everything up like that. I don't have too many words to add to what you've said. Just these 2 Scriptures.

Romans 12:1 - 2. These verses show me that if I recognize God's sovereign will (verse 1), and I choose to obey his revealed will (verse 2a), then I will be better able to discern his jus' sayin' will.

And then, 1 Samuel 10:6-7. Samuel tells Saul the Spiriti of God will come upon him, and then he says, "do whatever your hand finds to do." If we are abiding in Jesus (John 15:5), and we are being daily filled with his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), then the decisions we will be able to discern the jus' sayin' will better.

That was a lot more than a few words. Sorry. ;-)

Go with God,
Donald B.