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Dooley Noted: Knowing the will of God

By far, the most common question I’ve gotten over the years as a pastor is, “How can I know God’s will for my life?” For many, nothing is more mysterious and elusive than discerning how God wants them to live. But what If I told you that it doesn’t have to be that difficult? What if I told you that you that the will of God is not nearly as complicated as we often make it? If you could have confidence that each of your decisions honored the Lord, would you be interested?

Thankfully, tucked away in Romans 12:2 is the wonderful statement that “you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The key, though, is that we learn to think biblically and spiritually. The context of these words reveals two lessons about discerning the will of God. First, God expects us to approach all of life with a posture of submission. In other words, when we understand all that Christ has done for us we should gladly yield to whatever He chooses for our lives as it becomes apparent. Think of it as putting your “yes” on the table even before you know what God desires.

The Apostle Paul wrote, Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1). The image of a living and holy sacrifice hearkens back to the Old Testament blood sacrifices offered by the nation of Israel. The idea here, though, is not that would that we should die for the Lord, but that we should die to ourselves each day as we seek to live in obedience. According to the text, this is the only reasonable response when we understand the mercy of God (explained in the first 11 chapters of Romans) in our lives. God’s grace is never a license to live however we choose. Instead, His love and grace compel us to submit ourselves gladly to the will of God.

Second, we must learn to operate within the parameters of Scripture if we are serious about pleasing our Savior. Unfortunately, we often think very little about the will of God until we need to make a what we classify as a BIG decision. Things like where to live, whom to marry, what career to pursue, and so on usually drive us to consider seeking the Lord’s direction. We should not expect God to reveal new direction to us, however, if we are blatantly ignoring what He has already revealed in Scripture. If we refuse to obey what is already clear in God’s Word, why should we expect Him to guide us in new ways?

To help us, the Apostle Paul offers two guardrails (one negative, one positive): Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2a). Defensively, we should not conform to this world. The word “world” refers to a worldview that is dominated by Satan. Proving the will of God requires resisting the fallen way of thinking that plagues our culture. With so much homemade religion in the world today, there is tremendous pressure to approve what is blatantly contrary to Scripture and, frankly, common sense. Neither slick propaganda campaigns nor selfish emotional appeals will ever justify disobedience. If it contradicts Scripture, it is not the will of God.

Proactively, the renewal of our minds is what transforms us. Stated differently, the Holy Spirit changes us when we learn to think correctly. How is that possible? Again, the Bible provides the parameters for sound, godly thoughts and decisions. Refusing to fill our minds with filth prepares to us to read and understand the Scripture as God desires. When we resist sin daily and fill our minds with the Bible continually, the profound is result is not that we find the will of God but that we prove the will of God. To use Paul’s language, we prove that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2b). In other words, we are free to make spiritual decisions with confidence, knowing what will honor the Lord!

Let’s put it all together. If my driving ambition is to honor Jesus (present your bodies); If there is no unconfessed sin in my life (do not be conformed); and if my mind is sanctified with Scripture (the renewing of your mind), I am free to make decisions, big or small, with confidence that God is leading me. Discerning God’s will is not a mystical experience dependent upon sign from heaven before we can obey. Instead, the daily practice of submission to God coupled with the renewal of our minds with Scripture makes the will of God readily apparent.

Dr Adam B. Dooley is pastor of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson, TN, and author of Hope When Life Unravels. Contact him at adooley@ebcjackson.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBDooley.

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