– Part 2: The Will –
In the first post in this series we began to deal with the very real struggle all of us face in our lives as believers—the struggle of how to do good. For oftentimes we desire to “do good” but then find ourselves instead doing what we hate. The Word of God records for us a real life example of this struggle in Paul the apostle. He experienced defeat despite desiring to do good: “…For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Rom. 7:15). We can recognize the great tension here, for it is one thing to be ignorant of God’s will and do evil, but quite another to desire to do the will of God and not be able to do it. Paul described himself as “the one who wills to do good” (Rom. 7:21), yet he could not find the means by which he could accomplish this end. As he went on to say, “…for to will is present with me, but how to perform that what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:18b). We noticed last time that there are two main components to this verse: 1) The will, and 2) How to perform what is good. In this post we want to begin considering the first component, the will.
The will and desire to “do good” is a vital part of our walk with the Lord, but there are at least two difficulties we might encounter in this:
1) We must understand correctly God’s will, and
2) We must make God’s will our will.
If we do not have the first, then our “will” is useless, for it does not match what God really desires. We are in fact calling our own will God’s will. For example, suppose someone affirms that God’s will is for believers to amass millions of dollars and live in luxury. Yet this is completely contrary to the revealed will of God (see 1 Tim. 6:9). In such a case, what good is that person’s “will”? We must understand what God’s will is!
But further, if we do not have the second, God’s will becomes some theoretical, far-off thing that does not grip our minds, hearts, and consciences. The will of God must be made our will. We must come to delight in it and allow it to have full sway. The Lord Jesus said to His Father, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God, and Thy law is within My heart” (Ps. 40:8). He also prayed to His Father in the garden, “…not My will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Lord understood the will of God and it was His delight, so much so that He could say, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). The will of the Father was truly Christ’s will. He not only knew the will of God, but accomplished it at every turn. At the end of His earthly course He could truly say, “I have glorified Thee on the earth. I have finished the work which Thou hast given Me to do” (John 17:4). What man could say such? Jesus Christ was a Man who perfectly demonstrated what it means that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, cf. Deut. 8:4).
But we are sinners in sinful bodies (unlike our Lord, Heb. 4:15). In light of this we must ask, where does the “will” to do good come from? How do we come to know God’s will? Is it automatic for the believer? Are there hindrances to the will of God? Several Scriptures can help us begin to answer these questions.
Where Does the Will to Do Good Come From?
…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Php. 2:12-13).
The will to do good does not come from our imagination or what we think His will to be. God’s will comes from God working His will in us. Thus God is the origin. Yet He does not force His will upon us or force us to act. He works in us in such a way to compel us to will and do His good pleasure. Paul said, “For the love of Christ compels us…” (2 Cor. 5:14). When we begin to understand the immensity of the love of Christ and what God has accomplished for us in the Gospel, it will begin to cause us to act in a certain way. Do we recognize this work of God in us? Perhaps it is a trial or some unforeseen event in our lives that comes upon us. Perhaps it is a rebuke from a brother or sister in the Lord. Or perhaps it is simply we in simple faith reading His Word and allowing His Spirit to direct our paths. God moves in many different ways to “work” in us. Do we bow under His lovingkindness as a Father and allow His hand to mold and shape us? He has begun a good work in us and has promised to “complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Php. 1:6).
But further these Scriptures also show us our responsibility to act. God works IN us as believers, but we are to work OUT our salvation. We are to work out what God is mightily working in us. And notice it says, “your own salvation.” There is a “common salvation” (Jude 3) God has graciously given to every believer through the finished cross work and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But each of us has our “own salvation” to work out practically in our walk with Him. My salvation is different than yours in this sense. God does not deal with us all in exactly the same way. The world tends to do this. The U.S. government, for example, gives us social security numbers to identify us. To the government each of us is a number. Not so with God. He knows each one of us by name, as a good shepherd knows the names of his sheep (John 10:3). Each of us has our own unique personality and gifts. Each of us has different struggles, obstacles, and weaknesses to overcome. Each of us has different ways we can bring Him glory, and so the Lord molds our Christian character in various ways. God is working in us “to do for His good pleasure.” The will of God worked in us and through us is to the intent that He is glorified and pleased. It is for His pleasure. We as believers sometimes mistakenly adopt the mindset that God exists for us. But the Word of God says just the opposite: “yet, for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). Our existence is for Him. Our lives and doing His will are for His pleasure. O that we might work out more and more what He is working in us!
But notice finally in this verse it says with “fear and trembling?” Why are we to work out our individual salvation “with fear and trembling?” The answer this verse gives is because the God of glory is so working in us! The Almighty God has stooped in grace to save us from a lost eternity, but also is now presently working in us to conform us to the image of His beloved Son (Rom. 8:29)!
How Do We Come to Know God’s Will?
And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).
From this we learn that coming to know the will of God is not automatic. The will of God is good, acceptable and perfect, but it does not simply drop out of the sky into the believer’s brain. The will of God must be PROVEN or TESTED. Many of us err in this. We live in a fast paced, fast food, lightening fast technological society where we want everything now. We also live in a world where many false claims and misinformation are blindly accepted. Understanding the will of God takes time and testing. We have to prove it. Concerning this word “prove,” Barnes helps to explain:
“The word used here (dokimazo) is commonly applied to metals, to the operation of testing, or trying them by the severity of fire, etc. Hence it also means to explore, investigate, ascertain.” [NT Commentary]
The purpose of the testing is to reveal the true character of the metal. Is the gold really gold? Is the silver really silver? The fire will reveal the truth of its makeup. When we “prove” God’s will we come to know the truth—what it really is. And we will have evidence (“proof”) of the truth from His Word. The Word of God reveals the truth of His mind and His will, so we must sit (as it were) at the Lord’s feet, hear His Word, and meditate on it. It takes time and it takes waiting on the Lord to reveal His will. It takes patience and sometimes the Lord’s timing is during the “fourth watch of the night” (see Matt. 14:25), but the Lord honors such waiting: “I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Ps. 40:1).
Are There Hindrances to the Will of God?
And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…(Rom. 12:2).
But finally, there is opposition to the will of God. The world would ever stand in the way of the Christian seeking to do God’s will, and so the exhortation is “Be not conformed to this world.” That is, do not be molded into the world’s way of thinking and acting. We as Christians sometimes think that the default condition in this world is that we understand the will of God and are doing all right. But the opposite is true. The default condition is being conformed to this world. It happens quite naturally and with no effort at all. Our lives can effortlessly be fashioned after the course of this world. The world presses in on us and can easily shape us according to its standards. For instance, the world would say, “Always make sure you’re looking out for number one (i.e. yourself!)” But the Word of God says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Php. 2:3). The world’s standards and beliefs are many times in direct contradiction to the Word of God and God’s will for the believer!
We must guard against this. There must be the recognition of God’s mercies (Rom. 12:1) and the resulting desire to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God would have us “transformed,” which is the same word used in the Gospels at the Lord Jesus’ transfiguration (see Matt. 17:2). It is similar to a word we use in English, metamorphosis: to change into another form. And so are we allowing the world to conform us after its pattern, or are we allowing the Lord to transform us so that we can prove His good, and acceptable, and perfect will?
“…The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
Not only is there opposition from without—from the world trying to shape and conform us to its ways—but also within. Here the Lord describes the flesh and its opposition to the Spirit. By “flesh” oftentimes the Bible means human effort, strength, or ability. The Lord says the flesh is weak though. It has no power or ability to accomplish the set purposes and will of God. In fact it wants nothing to do with God and His will. We have no power in or of ourselves to “perform what is good” (Rom. 7:18). The flesh is utterly ruined, as it continues in the same verse: “In my flesh dwells no good thing.” It is completely given over to corruption. There is no good thing in it. This must be understood. Many times by our decisions and actions we contradict this truth, somehow believing there is at least “a little good” in all of us. No! The Lord Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…” (John 6:63). Do we hear and take to heart the Lord’s words? The flesh profits nothing. There is nothing to be gained through the flesh. No “life” can come from it. It cannot accomplish anything good or positive for the believer. The Spirit of God desires to work growth and change in the believer to conform him into the image of Christ, but the flesh wants nothing to do with this. The flesh, when allowed to function, can cause the believer to stumble and not do God’s will.
In the next post we hope to begin to cover the second component of Rom. 7:18 – “how to perform that which is good.” This is a big subject in the Word of God and one that is severely mishandled today in Christian circles. If we as believers truly entered by faith into the truth of what the New Testament epistles teach concerning the power to do the will of God, we would live more abundant, joyful, victorious lives as His dear children.