This morning, our thoughts have turned to the Biblical term of the will. In Scripture, the word "will" is oftentimes used in verb form by saying, "I will do…" Yet, Scripture oftentimes uses the word "will" in noun form to reference something that is perhaps one of the hardest concepts of Scripture for many people to grasp. What exactly is it? How do we measure the scope of it and its bounds? What fails the test in relation to the will as it applies to man or even God? These questions, and many like them, oftentimes lead to prolonged and sometimes heated debate in theological circles. By the end of this segment, we hope to investigate exactly what the will is, the application of it to God's children, and how we should view the will of God.
The will is best defined as a desire. When someone desires to do a certain thing, we say that it is their will to do so. If a man desires to eat a certain food, his will is to eat that particular food. Therefore, the will is an extension – or a simple manifestation – of some characteristic of the man or his personality. Taking that very simple analogy, why is it that certain people do certain things? Why does a man do something that is wicked? Why does a man do something that is righteous? The answer is the same in both cases. He does it because he desires to do so. Sometimes ministers talk about the fallen condition of man by nature and talk about his inability to do that which is righteous, and there they finish the thought. Truly, fallen man – of the corrupt lineage of Adam – is incapable of doing that which is pleasing to God (man is totally depraved by nature), but we should never forget that he still desires to do what he does. As the old saying goes, he is not just incapable of doing that which is righteous, but he is unwilling as well. He is perfectly pleased by nature to roll in the slop and filth of sin, because man enjoys it in his old nature.
Likewise, when God quickens His people by His grace, they are not just given the ability to please Him, but they have the desire to do so as well. Their new nature includes the desire to follow things which are right and good. This is where we reach one of the great conundrums of discussion. What is the will of man after regeneration? What is his desire? Years ago, I had a discussion with a fellow, young minister on this topic, and he asked a series of questions: 1. When I sin, who is it that wants to?, 2. When I do right, who is it that wants to?, 3. In both cases, who is it that does not want to? His series of questions revolved around the language of Paul in Romans 7, where it appears the apostle has an argument with himself.
While my answers perhaps frustrated him to no end that night, they are still the same today. The answer to every one of the three questions was, "You do." Since regenerated man has two natures with two diametrically opposite desires and appetites, every action taken by a regenerated person is going to be met with pleasure and abhorrance. When I act unrighteously, my old nature is perfectly willing and pleased with that, while my new nature absolutely despises it. When I do righteously, the roles are reversed. Looking at Paul's language from Romans 7, he will at times refer to himself in the negative light (that which does evil) and at other times in the positive light (that which does good). Therefore, it is Paul in both cases.
What is important for us to realize about the regenerated man and his will is that no matter the action taken, it is his will. There are some thoughts about man's nature, will, etc. post-regeneration that seem to indicate that that man only wants to do one thing or the other, and whatever happens that he does not want is some alien force of will that is not really his. My sins come from my own filthy nature that enjoys committing them. My good deeds come from my righteous nature that fully desires that I engage in them. In both cases, my desire (stemming from a paritcular nature) manifests itself, which shows forth my will or determination at that time. Since the new nature is nudged and impressed by Spirit and the old nature still fully wrapped in Adam's filthy rags, we may at times step in the path of the Spirit's impression or step in that old, fallen path of the flesh's desires.
Taking the thought of the will outside of our realm now, how does this apply to God? Since the regenerated man has divided thoughts and divided appetites, should such a case be so with God? Does His mind quandary back and forth as to what He should do? Is He of two minds and desires about things? Certainly the Scriptures emphatically deny this point. God is not the combination of light and darkness, good and bad, or sin and righteousness, for His condemnations of the darkness and sin would be a condemnation against His own character if He was equally composed of sin and righteousness. (Isaiah 5:20)
Since the thought of God being divided in will does not stand up to the Scriptural test, how should we view the will of God? Some believe that it is the will of God that everything happen just as it transpires throughout human history. Others believe that nothing is the will of God, and things just randomly happen by chance after God set it all up. Yet, others believe that God's desires and His will manifests itself in different forms. Before, we examine each of these major schools of thought (and there are perhaps others that could be investigated – but these should suffice for now), let us notice something inherent about the will of someone.
Since the will can be termed a desire and since it manifests something about the individual, what do we say about God when we ascribe things to His will? We say that it manifests His desire and shows forth His character. Therefore, whatever we attribute to the will of God, we are attributing to His very character. A man may be forced to do something against his will – like when a little boy is forced to eat vegetables he does not care for – but God cannot be forced against His will: that analogy does not apply. Regardless of how one wants to slice and dice things and no matter how far they want to parse words, the simple point remains: whatever someone's will is shows forth what their character and essence of being is. Like a fruit tree, the will is the fruit that manifests the type of tree in question.
The term "will of God" is found in that form 23 times in Scripture. In all but one case (Acts 13:36), the Greek word usage is the same. In the one exception, the word "will" refers more to the thought of "counsel" rather than the other 22 occurrences that refer to "desire." Proponents of the "clock-maker" deist theory – God wound up creation like a clock to simply walk away until He comes back to burn it all up – certainly have a hard time reconciling that thought to the fact that God interacts with His people throughout Scripture and faithfully records for us things that He desires – His will. So, one major school of thought about the will of God will not stand up to the Scriptural test.
Proponents of the "all things that happen are according to the will of God" either intentionally or unintentionally say too much when they say that. Since the will or desire of God is the subject, do we dare insinuate that God desires the wicked things that happen to happen? Sometimes the response will be, "Since He has all power to stop it, the fact that He didn't indicates that He wanted it to happen." Some even go so far as to say that God "needs" them to happen. Perish the thought! Yet, the mindset that uses God's omnipotence as the reason that He must desire that things happen the way they do operates under misguided human perception. It is man's natural, inherent manner to do something if he is capable of it. From an early age, little boys on the playground boast and show off what they can do. God actually shows great power by restraining His power. To say that He must will or desire it since He does not stop it operates under the fallacy that power available must be used.
Let us consider what some of the texts say about the will of God. Mark 3:35 says that whosoever does the will of God is Christ's mother, brother, or sister. Now, if everyone was doing the will of God in all things that happen in life, I suppose we would have to be universalists. For, simple logic demands that all would be related to Christ, and therefore, joint-heirs together with Him. Since that thought is patently foolish, we must conclude that not all people do the will of God (things He desires) to have the blessed privilege of partaking of familial relations with Him. Romans 12:2 includes an exhortation by Paul not to be conformed to this world in our behaviour but rather transformed (to be more like Christ) and thereby proving the will of God. Paul describes the will of God with three adjectives: good, acceptable, and perfect. Do things happen in life that are not acceptable to God? Absolutely, for He will cast a great many into the lake of fire for deeds that are unacceptable to His holy person. What about perfect? We understand that life is not perfect, and things generally go bad instead of good. How does that line up with Paul's description of God's will? His will does not have bad or imperfect design, for His desires manifest His person – goodness and perfection of an infinite degree.
Many other verses could be employed to show that not everything that happens is according to the will of God, and therefore, the idea of everything that happens being according to the will of God, does not pass the Scriptural test either. Let us briefly examine the third school of thought that I believe accurately scopes and captures the Biblical thought of the will of God.
Paul asked a question in Romans 9:19-20 about who hath resisted the will of God. The answer is: who can reply against God – it is just as foolish as clay condemning the potter. If God chooses (wills) to do something a certain way, no one can reply against it. Whatever that decision is, no person is able to say, "God can't do that." However, God has given us some ideas in His word of things He cannot do. Some seem to think that God can act in any given way, since He is God. Truly, God can do and does do the things that please Him, but we know there are some things that do not please Him – like lying – which is something He cannot do. (Titus 1:2) Therefore, the point Paul makes in Romans 9 is that no one can say that God is wrong to choose some and not others. As the sovereign Being, no one can stand up and say, "You're wrong."
Yet, in that same vein, no one can say that God is wrong to do other things certain ways. Certainly, God has the power to give regenerated creatures all knowledge at the very moment of regeneration. Yet, it pleased God (it was His will) to save us – give us knowledge – by the foolishness of preaching. (I Corinthians 1:21) It pleases God when we worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:23-24) Does He force us to do these things? Scripture denies that He does, and though He is certainly capable of doing that, it is not His desire to force us to do so. Like a parent that could blindly force a child into submission about everything, God could force us to a certain lifestyle at all times. Yet, as we try to instruct our children (and yes sometimes make them submit with a spanking), so God instructs us as our parent (and yes sometimes gives us a spanking). (Hebrews 12)
There is so much more that could be said on the subject, but let us close with this thought. Man after the new birth is truly a complex and at times confused creature, but God is never so. Man on one hand desires wickedness, and on the other hand desires goodness. God always desires goodness. Seeing this be the case, these simple conclusions should be in order. Bad things that happen are according to the will of man. Good things that happen stem at their source from God. Though able to prevent bad things from happening, we should never attribute rotten deeds of man to God's desire. Too often, the wrong question is asked about things. Rather than ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We should ask, "Why do good things happen to such bad people?" Truly, the will of God to do good unto such worms as we are is a desire that defies the imagination, and with that glorious thought, may we renew our desire to please Him every day that we live.