Defining the Will of God
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”- Deuteronomy 29:29
To get the right answer, we must ask the right question, and that is particularly true when it comes to finding the will of God for our lives. So often when we ask about the will of God, we want to know the plan that He has ordained for our lives. We want to know the direction the Lord decreed for us in eternity past, which vocation—doctor, writer, lawyer, or teacher, for instance—He has chosen for us to fulfill.
Wanting to know God’s plan for us can be commendable, but we must take care that we seek to know only that which He has revealed to us. And when it comes to figuring out God’s will for our lives, we must distinguish between two senses of God’s will, one of which we can discern right now and the other that we know only in hindsight. We are talking about the distinction between God’s revealed will and His hidden will, which is alluded to in today’s passage.
Deuteronomy 29:29 says God has revealed some things to us, but other things He has kept secret. We speak of the Lord’s revealed will, which consists of what He has told us about Himself and His ways in Scripture. Often, we call the revealed will of God His preceptive will or will of precept because it reveals His commandments or moral law. The revealed will of God shows us what He finds pleasing in itself, and it is a picture of His moral character (Pss. 119:105; 143:10).
The secret will of God is also known as God’s decretive will or His will of decree, and it consists of His eternal plan for all of creation. We know that everything down to the smallest detail has been foreordained by our Creator (Eph. 1:11). This includes even the evil acts of moral agents such as human beings and angels; thus, the will of decree includes things that God does not find pleasing in and of themselves. God ordains these things so that He can work in and through them for our good and His glory, both of which He does find pleasing in themselves. The secret will of God can never be violated; what He has ordained will always come to pass (Job 42:2). Our Creator’s revealed will, however, is violated every time someone breaks His moral law.
We cannot know in advance the details of the Lord’s hidden will. Our knowledge of it comes after the fact—in retrospect, we can look back on events and know that God has ordained them in His secret will. That is why it is futile to search for God’s hidden will, the details of our lives that are yet to come. Instead, we are to learn God’s revealed will and make our decisions according to it.
The right way to pursue the will of God for our lives is to ask, what is pleasing to Him? The Lord does not expect us to live according to what He has not revealed but to seek to please Him where we are now and in the many future possibilities that we contemplate. We will never be outside of God’s decretive will, but it is possible to live in such a way that breaks His revealed will. And to break His revealed will is sin.
Passages for Further Study
1 John 3:19–24