The Will of God
By R. C. SproulDoris Day sang a popular song entitled "Que Sera, Sera," "What will be, will be." At first glance this theme communicates a kind of fatalism that is depressing. Islamic theology frequently says of specific events, "It is the will of Allah."
The Bible is deeply concerned about the will of God---His sovereign authority over His creation and everything in it. When we speak about God's will we do so in at least three different ways. The broader concept is known as God's decretive, sovereign, or hidden will. By this, theologians refer to the will of God by which He sovereignly ordains everything that comes to pass. Because God is sovereign and His will can never be frustrated, we can be sure that nothing happens over which He is not in control. He at least must "permit" whatever happens to happen. Yet even when God passively permits things to happen, He chooses to permit them in that He always has the power and right to intervene and prevent the actions and events of this world. Insofar as He lets things happen, He has "willed" them in this certain sense.
Though God's sovereign will is often hidden from us until after it comes to pass, there is one aspect of His will that is plain to us---His preceptive will. Here God reveals His will through His holy law. For example, it is the will of God that we do not steal; that we love our enemies; that we repent; that we be holy. This aspect of God's will is revealed in His Word as well as in our conscience, by which God has written His moral law upon our heart.
His laws, whether they be found in the Scripture or in the heart, are binding. We have no authority to violate this will. We have the power or ability to thwart the preceptive will of God, though never the right to do so. Nor can we excuse ourselves for sinning by saying, "Que sera, sera." It may be God's sovereign or hidden will that we be "permitted" to sin, as he brings His sovereign will to pass even through and by means of the sinful acts of people. God ordained that Jesus be betrayed by the instrument of Judas's treachery. Yet this makes Judas's sin no less evil or treacherous. When God "permits" us to break His preceptive will, it is not to be understood as permission in the moral sense of His granting us a moral right. His permission gives us the power, but not the right to sin.
The third way the Bible speaks of the will of God is with respect to God's will of disposition. This will describes God's attitude. It defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, God takes no delight in the death of the wicked, yet He most surely wills or decrees the death of the wicked. God's ultimate delight is in His own holiness and righteousness. When He judges the world, He delights in the vindication of His own righteousness and justice, yet He is not gleeful in a vindictive sense toward those who receive His judgment. God is pleased when we find our pleasure in obedience. He is sorely displeased when we are disobedient.
Many Christians become preoccupied or even obsessed with finding the "will" of God for their lives. If the will we are seeking is His secret, hidden, or decretive will, then our quest is a fool's errand. The secret counsel of God is His secret. He has not been pleased to make it known to us. Far from being a mark of spirituality,the quest for God's secret will is an unwarranted invasion of God's privacy. God's secret counsel is none of our business. This is partly why the Bible takes such a negative view of fortune-telling, necromancy, and other forms of prohibited practices.
We would be wise to follow the counsel of John Calvin when he said, "When God closes His holy mouth, I will desist from inquiry." The true mark of spirituality is seen in those seeking to know the will of God that is revealed in His preceptive will. It is the godly person who meditates on God's law day and night. While we seek to be "led" by the Holy Spirit, it is vital to remember that the Holy Spirit is primarily leading us into righteousness. We are called to live our lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. It is His revealed will that is our business, indeed, the chief business of our lives.
1. The three meanings of the will of God:
(a) Sovereign decretive will, the will by which God brings to pass
whatsoever He decrees. This is hidden to us until it happens.
(b) Preceptive will is God's revealed law or commandments, which we have the
power but not the right to break.
(c) Will of disposition describes God's attitude or disposition. It reveals
what is pleasing to Him.
2. God's sovereign "permission" of human sin is not His moral approval.
Essentials Truths Of The Christian Faith
by R. C. Sproul © (Tyndale 1992)
R. C. Sproul
- Theological FAQs
- Doctrines of Grace – Scripture List
- Dispensationalism - Scripture List
- Our Ongoing Need of Redemption as Christians
- Man's Utter Inability to Rescue Himself
- A Divine and Supernatural Light...
- What Happens in the New Birth, Part 1
- What Happens in the New Birth, Part 2
- Introduction to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ
- God's Part & Man's Part in Salvation
- Human Inability
- To Cut off the Sinner from All Hope in Himself
- Effectual Calling
- Man's Will - Free Yet Bound
- Canons 4-8
- The Necessity of Divine Influences Part I
- The Necessity of Divine Influences Part II
- The Unregenerate Will: Self-Determined But Not Free
- Is the Will Free by Nature or by Grace?
- The Wind Blows Where It Wishes
- The Cambridge Declaration
- A Reminder to the Covenant God
- Reversing the Curse
- A Simple Explanation of Monergism
- The Work of the Trinity in Monergism
- Human Nature in Its Fourfold State
- The Pelagian Captivity of the Church
- Excerpt from Spurgeon's Sermon: Free Will - A Slave
- Regeneration Precedes Faith
- Regeneration Necessary to Perceive the Beauty and Excellency of Divine Things
- Should Predestination Be Publicly Taught & Preached?
- The Plan of Salvation
- Grace Alone: An Evangelical Problem?
- The New Genesis
- Evangelicalism, False and True
- Salvation: Synergism or Sola Gratia?
- The Leaven of Synergism
- Two Views of Regeneration
- A Practical Discourse on God's Sovereignty
- Simul Iustus et Peccator
- The Law Honored In The Sinners Salvation
- The Will of God
- Are There Two Wills in God?
- Two Wills in God
- Of Justification by Faith
- Of Christian Liberty
- Justification: Contrasting Biblical Teaching and Roman Catholicism
- The Pharisee & The Publican
- Commentary on Galatians
- The Necessity of the Atonement
- Imputed Righteousness: The Evangelical Doctrine
- Justification by Faith Examination of the Doctrine of Salvation
- What God Requires, Christ Provides
- Justification: Redemption Applied
- Justification and Sanctification: How Do They Differ?
- Can a Christian Lose His or Her Salvation?
- Perseverance - God Keeps His People Safe
- The Covenant of Grace: A Key to Understanding the Bible
- Classical Covenant Theology On Justification
- Classical Covenant Theology On Law and Gospel
- Classical Covenant Theology On the Covenant of Redemption
- Classical Covenant Theology Covenant of Works
- Classical Covenant Theology On the Covenant of Grace
- Administration of the Covenant of Grace
- What is Covenant Theology?
- Series on Covenant Theology
- The Difference Between The Law & The Gospel
- Adam's Fall and Mine
- Calvin's Institutes
- The Nature of the Atonement Why and for Whom Did Christ Die?
- The Divine Intention of the Cross
- There May be More Than One Way to God
- The Way of Faith
- The Gospel of Jesus Christ
- Puritan Prayers Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
- The Lord's Prayer, Its Spirit and Its Teaching
- More on Prayer and Devotion
- 21 Questions on The Doctrine of Scripture
- Surprised by What? A Defense of Sola Scriptura