A regretful past – After 15 years of marriage, Mike was growing discontent in his marriage. He eventually committed adultery and divorced his wife. The divorce was the toughest on his oldest daughter.
She began associating with the wrong crowd and is now addicted to meth. Her struggles eventually led Mike to the Lord, but he continues to wrestle with the guilt from his past.
- Was his sin to blame for his daughter’s addiction?
- Was it God’s will for this to happen?
A hopeful future – Steve and Melissa have been dating for six months. Steve is two years removed from an ugly divorce and has a 4-year old son. They both enjoy each other’s company, but they wonder if marriage is God’s will for them.
Steve is unsettled regarding his first marriage and Melissa isn’t sure if she is ready to take on the role of a wife and step-mom at the same time.
- How can they discern God’s will regarding marriage?
- What is their main responsibility in making this decision?
Mike, Steve, and Melissa are struggling with understanding the different aspects of God’s will. Like many Christians, they struggle with past choices and regret. They find themselves thinking about the life God meant for them to live, only to have it altered by sinfulness.
- Does God have a Plan A life mapped out for us, but because of our sin, He implements Plan B?
- How does Mike biblically deal with the consequences of his sins against his daughter?
- How can Steve and Melissa move forward in their decision to marry with confidence?
When asking questions about the will of God it’s essential to remember we are not the main character in the story. God is the author and the main character. Secondly, we must have accurate definitions regarding the term will. Here area a few categories and definitions which may help you.
Revealed or Moral Will is God’s commands and decrees given to us in Scripture. It can be summed up in the two great commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). Additionally for Christians, His will for us is to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
God’s Providence is God’s personal and active preservation and governing of everything He has made. This is achieved in three ways;
- Preservation – God is the personal and ultimate agent responsible for and the active maintenance of the created order (Hebrews 1:3)
- Concurrence – He cooperates with created things in every action by directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do. He is the Primary Cause of every action performed by every creature and the creatures are the secondary cause of every action (Job 37:5-7).
- Government – He has a purpose in all He does in the world and that He provincially governs or directs all things in order that they accomplish His purposes (Psalm 103:19).
God and man working concurrently
When I use the term God’s will in this article, I am really referring to concurrence. How does God interact with His people?
With an improper definition, we can head down the path of fatalistic thinking, believing we have no free choice, or to open theism (God does not know the future). Both of these scenarios are not biblical. Many gifted theologians have written much on the subject of concurrence.
It seems better simply to affirm that God causes all things that happen, but that he does so in such a way that he somehow upholds our ability to make willing, responsible choices, choices that have real and eternal results and for which we are held accountable.
Exactly how God combines his providential control with our wiling and significant choices, Scripture simply does not explain to us. – Wayne Grudem
God works invisibly and behind the scenes directing causes while initiating everything which happens. This is often referred to as the Primary Cause.
We bring about actions consistent with our own nature or properties which bring about results in public observed nature. This is referred to as the secondary cause.
Thus it is accurate to say that events are fully caused (100%) by God and fully caused (100%) by His creation. There is a mystery here which has not been revealed to us (Deuteronomy 29:29).
- How have our decisions impacted our life and the lives of others?
- Have we gone outside of God’s will in the past?
- How do we work in cooperation with God to bring about His will for our lives?
God’s will (concurrence) with past decisions
Mike is heartbroken about the possible effect his sin has on his daughter. He is not alone. We often wonder how we made life more difficult for ourselves and others because of our past decisions. Mike feels like he now has to live a Plan B life.
To think through his problem biblically, we need to have a good understanding of the true character of man, God’s concurrence in our life, and God’s sovereignty.
Romans 1 is helpful for understanding man’s true character. With our sin-impacted minds, it is difficult for us to see ourselves for who we really are. We tend to think of ourselves as more decent than we ought.
This dynamic is why self-righteousness is such a temptation for all of us. But Romans paints a much different picture (Romans 1:28-29).
Every Christian would acknowledge we are sinners–we hurt others and others hurt us. This is a manifestation of the fall. Sadly, our self-righteous trained minds can easily diminish our own actions. This passage shows us what we are like when God’s common grace is removed.
Last week I read a story about a tragic chain of events which occurred at a soccer match in Brazil. A referee ejects a player from the game. They get into a fight on the sidelines and the referee takes out a knife and stabs the player resulting in his eventual death.
Then an angry mob forms to attack the referee. The crowd kills the referee, quarters his body, and decapitates his head only to place it on a stake in the middle of the field.
I believe this to be an example of what can happen when God removes His hand of common grace. These individuals were left with only their foolish thinking and did things which should never be done.
I am tempted to think of myself being above this type of evil. However, the Gospel reminds us that it is only by God’s grace that we are not doing the same things (1 Corinthians 4:7).
This context should shed some light on Mike’s thinking about a Plan B life. First, let me say in view of God’s sovereignty, thinking we have a Plan A verses a Plan B life is clumsy thinking. God knew Mike would commit adultery and divorce his wife in eternity past.
We all have a tendency to think our Plan A life is full of happiness, joy, and comfort. The good life is ours to lose. We begin life with an “A” and if we keep God’s moral will we will be blessed with a good life.
This is anti-Gospel thinking which puts us at the wrong starting point. Plan A for all of us should be God’s wrath. Our sinful natures subject us to God’s anger (Ephesians 2:3).
We mistake God’s common grace in our lives for our own goodness. All of the good qualities about ourselves are gifts from God, not of ourselves (1 Corinthians 4:7). God’s common grace is His loving-kindness, forbearance, and patience which is designed to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
He is patience with us, desiring all of us to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We are already living Plan B, which should cause us to rejoice. Mike is left struggling with his past decisions and his mind continues to think,
If only I had __________________.
As a new Christian, he is starting to understand God’s will while trying to come to terms with his past actions. He will not find shalom by looking at his past or from a detailed analysis of disappointing events. Peace comes from resting in God.
I think all of us can look back on some of the events of our lives, whether big or small, and see how if the decision which led to the event was different, the succeeding events would have been different. I would not recommend anyone going there in their thinking.
That’s like trying to put the toothpaste back in the bottle. This will distract anyone from resting in God’s sovereign care and power. Here are some articles on regret.
We all would like some do-overs in our lives, but that would make us god, while relieving us from trusting God who is a bit more dangerous than we prefer. – Rick Thomas
I think Rick hits on a key point in the last sentence. I think we would do well to examine our hearts when we start to wrestle with our past. Why do we find it difficult to embrace our “badness?”
Is there some lingering self-righteousness in play? Are we denying the Lordship of God in our lives? Are we looking to punish ourselves by not embracing the finished, sufficient work on the cross? Do we have a non-biblically trained conscience?
Knowing God is sovereign should allow us to rest with the past events of our lives. It should not lead us to in-depth examination of our past. Mike needs to treat his past like Paul treated his past (Philippians 3:13-14).
Trying to determine if his actions led his daughter to turn to drugs cannot be answered. He should rest in God’s sovereignty regarding his past. He made choices which were under God’s sovereignty. There is mystery there, but his focus should be on Christ.
If Mike looks at God’s big story of redemption, he should see how his daughter is just like him. She is making choices underneath God’s sovereign plan–choices which will have negative consequences for herself and those close to her.
Mike’s goal should not just be to get her off of drugs. The goal needs to be Christ. The goal needs to be heaven. The worst thing which can happen to his daughter is not a lifetime of struggling with drugs, but an eternity in hell.
Mike can look for ways to serve his daughter, with the hope she may gain Christ. It will take prayer and counsel. Yes, there will be heartaches, setbacks, and disappointments. We do not know how his daughter will respond, but Mike can rest in God’s sovereignty. God has his back.
God’s will (concurrence) with future choices
Steve and Melissa are trying to discern God’s will regarding marriage. They know God’s law of reaping and sowing (Galatians 6:7-8). They want to be in line with God’s will (Mark 3:35). There are emotions involved. There is fear and uncertainty.
To help bring clarity, we need (1) to understand our new relationship with God through Christ, (2) to examine our desires, and (3) to understand God’s sovereignty.
One tendency I have observed in myself and with my Christian friends when seeking God’s will is starting in the wrong place. Instead of focusing on things in our control (secondary cause), we try to uncover God’s invisible, behind the scenes plan (Primary Cause).
We look for signs and for open doors. We look for bread crumbs to verify we are on the right path. If we are not careful, we can turn into modern-day Gideons by laying out fleeces (Judges 6:17).
This is where we need to remember the Gospel. We are now part of God’s family (Galatians 3:26). God has given us all we need to participate in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We have the indwelling Spirit of God giving us access to the mind of God. Instead of looking for bread crumbs, we need to draw close to God, seek wise counsel, and step out in faith.
One key truth we need to recognize is the impact of the new covenant in regards to searching the will of God. In the Old Testament, God made Himself known primarily through prophets, divination, and dreams.
Moses is an excellent example of a prophet. God spoke to Moses and Moses spoke to the Israelites. Many Scripture verses begin with, Thus say the Lord.
Divination was also used in the Old Testament. For example, the priests were fitted with the Urim and Thummim to divine the will of God (Exodus 28:30). Joshua also used the casting of lots to determine God’s will (Joshua 18:6).
Today, God’s main revelation to us is from the Bible. However, many still seek to use divination in seeking the will of God. In the New Testament we see the disciples casting lots to determine who would replace Judas, but after Pentecost there are no examples of, or instructions to divine the will of God.
Through the work of Christ, we now have access to God through Christ. We are now children of God in the process of character change (Romans 8:29). Unlike the Israelites who trembled in fear when they heard God (Hebrews 12:19), we are called to draw near to Him (Hebrews 10:22).
Divination sounds pious, but it may actually be ungodly because it shortcuts the Spirit’s work in developing our character. It assumes you can know God’s mind without having His heart and His Spirit.
But discerning the mind of God cannot be done apart from character development. You cannot divine God’s heart, but you have available to you a way to develop a heart like His. He can work in your life through the Holy Spirit and His Word to foster virtue, and then you will have the mind of Christ.
Thus, as we grow close to God, we will end up having the same desires of God. We are in Christ, branches that are part of the vine of Christ. As Christ said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). – Bruce Waltke, Finding the Will of God
Since we are now in a new covenant, we no longer need to divine the will of God. God does not intend to keep His will a secret from us. We have been reconciled with God and He wants us to know His will (John 15:15). But it requires us to work on our character.
Given our Adamic nature, we should have a healthy suspicion of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9; 1 John 2:15-17). I have noticed most of the issues which drive us to seek God’s will for our lives comes from worldly desires–desires and goals from our own agendas.
For example, we seek God to help us find the right spouse because we want a blissful happy life. We seek God’s will for a new job opportunity so we can provide for our family, have a less stressful job, to make more money, etc.
Most of my desires come when I am looking at the world. The world aligns with the evil desires of my heart and I find myself seeking God’s will on personal lusts. There is nothing wrong with desiring the right spouse (Genesis 2:18) or a better job opportunity (1 Corinthians 7:21), but these would be secondary desires.
If I grasp the Gospel, my desires will change. My primary need is my restored relationship with God and my ongoing character development. The best thing for me is more of God, plain and simple.
Our desires should be birthed out of our time with God. I should seek God’s will to determine the best way to love God and to love others as well as how to develop my spiritual gifts. The question, “How will this impact my love for God?” needs to be given much consideration when making decisions.
Finally, because of God’s sovereignty, we should have confidence in our decisions. If we rightly see ourselves as children of God and focus on our responsibilities (secondary cause), then we are able to step out in faith with confidence because of God’s invisible, behind the scene workings.
He is absolutely sovereign in all things. He is able to use our actions (good and bad) for His glory and for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). This does not give us license to let go and let God, but it should allow us to rest in our decisions after we have done our homework. The Lord wants to guide us rather than hide from us.
Our homework consists of developing a heart for God through character development. This is achieved through Scripture reading, talking to God in prayer, seeking wise counsel from true friends who know us, using good judgment, and finding God’s allowance.
But the goals we set and the plans we make are not our god. We ought to say instead, “Lord, here is what I am planning to do. I think it is the right step. I’ve prayed about it, read Your Word, and sought the wise counsel of others. I believe this is pleasing to You. So if you will, I plan to do this. Always leave room for things not working out quite the way you planned them. – Bruce Walkte
Steve and Melissa need to think first about how this marriage will impact their vertical relationship with God. Will it help them better display the Gospel? Will it help them grow in their sanctification? They need to draw close to God while seeking godly counsel, preferably from mature Christians who know them.
They can work through Rick’s ebook “So You Want to Get Married – A Little Book for Every Dad, Mom, Boyfriend, and Girlfriend.” And then, if they are in faith, that is, if they believe God desires for them to be married, they should move forward.
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).