The Herald Weekly Vol XVIII : 10

God’s Will: His Sovereignty and Command

Saul, the strict Pharisee of his day thought that he was fulfilling the will of God when he led his fellowmen to destroy churches, throw stone at preachers and put Christians in prison in Jerusalem and elsewhere. His fiery zeal saw him persuading a throng of fanatics to stone Stephen, one of the seven deacons, to death outside the city of David. But his life took a drastic and dramatic turn during his travel to Damascus. He was struck by a blinding vision when the risen Lord Jesus appeared to him. “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) Saul was totally devastated when he discovered that all his efforts in doing God’s will by trying to undermine Christianity was, in fact, a foolish and terrible mistake. His thought of fulfilling the divine will be boomeranged against him. He had to be converted, transformed and renewed in Christ in order to walk in the will of God. Thereafter, he spent three years in Arabia receiving the teachings from Christ (Gal 1:17-18). His name also was changed to Paul when he became an Apostle.

In Romans 12:2, Paul strongly appealed to fellow believers, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:2). He mentioned the will of God that is good acceptable and perfect which all believers must endeavour to know, do and fulfill in order to please our Almighty Creator. There are two ways of understanding God’s will, namely, God’s will of Decree or Sovereignty and God’s will of Command.

1. God’s Will of Decree or Sovereign Will

In Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, He acknowledged the sovereign will of God and prayed to the Heavenly Father, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Lk 22:42). It was God’s plan that Jesus must die for the sins of mankind. So Jesus bowed down to let God’s sovereign will come to pass. He knew and obeyed God’s Will.

God’s sovereign will is seen in Paul’s understanding of the elect being chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). Just as Jesus said that none of the souls that the Father has given to Him will be snatched out of His hand (Jn 10:29-30) and none would perish because of the Father’s sovereign power to care, preserve and protect His chosen ones.

2. God’s Will of Command

God’s will is expressed in commands given to His people. From the time of Moses, His Ten Commandments gave the Israelites the principles of honouring parents, the prohibition of killing human beings, stealing, adultery, lying, giving false testimony and coveting other people’s possessions. Paul stressed that “sanctification” is God’s will for His people. So is giving thanks to God in all things (1 Thess 5:18).

The world passes away, but the ones who perform the will of God abide forever (1 Jn 2:17). But not all abide forever. Some do, Some do not. The difference is because some do the will of God. Those who do not obey Him will perish. God commands and it is up to God’s people to obey and carry out His will. But there are those who just revel or refuse to obey. What it means is that His will of command can be violated but those who break God’s laws are responsible.

In understanding the two ways of God’s will, we know that God’s decretive will always come to pass whether we like it or not. When Saul met Jesus on the Damascus road, the divine will was that he would be the Apostle to the Gentiles and suffer for the gospel’s sake. But God’s will of command can be broken. Several followers of the Apostles were said to have refused to pursue the work of the ministry like Demas who left Paul halfway for the world (2 Tim 4:10). He was responsible for rejecting the will of God and he would be responsible to God for his deeds.

The Preciousness of These Truths (edited from John Piper’s sermon on God’s Will)

Commenting on the two ways of understanding God’s will, Piper said that there is a deep need what we all have when we are deeply hurt or experience great loss. On the one hand, we need the assurance that God is in control and therefore is able to work all of our pain and loss together for our good and the good of all who love him. On the other hand, we need to know that God empathizes with us and does not delight in sin or pain in and of themselves. These two needs correspond to God’s will of decree and His will of command.

For example, if you were badly abuses as a child, and someone asks you, “Do you think that was the will of God?” you now have a way to make some biblical sense out of this, and give an answer that does not contradict the Bible. You may say, “No, it was not God’s will; because He commands that humans not be abusive, but love each other. The abuse broke His commandment and therefore moved His heart with anger and grief (Mk 3:5). But, in another sense, yes, it was God’s will (His sovereign will) because there are a hundred ways He could have stopped it. But for reasons I don’t yet fully understand, He didn’t.”

And corresponding to these two wills are the two things you need in this situation: one is a God who is strong and sovereign enough to turn in for good; and the other is a God who is able to empathize with you. On the one hand, Christ is a sovereign High King, and nothing happens apart from His will (Matt 28:18). On the other hand, Christ is a merciful High Priest and sympathizes with our weaknesses and pain (Hebrews 4:15). The Holy Spirit conquers us and our sins when He wills (Jn 1:13; Rom 9:15-16), and allows Himself to be quenched and grieved and angered when He wills (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19). His sovereign will is invincible, and His will of command can be grievously broken.

We need both these truths – both ways of understanding the will of God – not only to make sense out of the Bible, but to hold fast to God when we experience suffering.

Each of us may experience some form of suffering in our lives. We may not fully understand why this is taking place. Let us not feel despondent or disappointed for we have a Heavenly Father who loves us and knows our every need, even in our weakness we sometimes feel that He is far away. May the Lord grant each one of us the wisdom to discern what is the will of God for our life even on a daily basis so that we may glorify Him in all that we do, say or think.

Pastor Bob Phee

Leave a Reply