The Third Petition
“[Jesus] withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done’” (vv. 41–42).- Luke 22:39–46
In our look today at the Lord’s Prayer as it is outlined in the Heidelberg Catechism, we must consider the sometimes difficult topic of God’s will. We are, after all, called to pray for our Creator’s will to be done (Matt. 6:10), but that can be a confusing petition to those of us who affirm the full sovereignty of the Lord over everything in creation, even down to the subatomic level. If God is sovereign, could His will ever not be done?
The answer to this question depends on the will of God that we are talking about. Scripture distinguishes between two wills of God. First, the Bible informs us about His will of decree, which is often described by theologians as His “hidden will.” This will is made up of the Lord’s eternal decrees and consists of His plan for creation, His foreordination of whatsoever comes to pass. We refer to it as the hidden will of God because He has not revealed all of it, or even most of it, to His people. Since the Lord has foreordained or decreed everything that will occur, including sin, this will always comes to pass. Our Creator is not pleased with everything in and of itself that He ordains in His will of decree, for He takes no delight in sin. Still, He may ordain things in this will that He hates because by working in and through such things He advances His glory, which He loves. Texts such as Romans 8:27 and Ephesians 1:11 refer to God’s will of decree.
Second, the Bible speaks of God’s revealed will or will of precept. This will consists of those things that our Creator finds pleasing in and of themselves. Essentially, this will includes those things to which He gives His moral approval—His rules for godliness. The Ten Commandments, for example, express the Lord’s revealed will or will of precept.
In telling us to pray for God’s will to be done, our Savior has His Father’s revealed will in mind. Thus, as the Heidelberg Catechism indicates, praying for God’s will to be done means praying for men and women to freely and willingly do what the Lord approves (Q&A 124). This is something we all need to pray for ourselves and for our loved ones every day. Even Jesus Christ Himself had to pray this prayer in the garden of Gethesemane, expressing His apprehension as a man in the face of His impending death and asking His Father to sustain Him and give Him the strength to carry out the Father’s perfect will. According to His humanity, our Savior needed His Father’s power to remain submissive to the holy Trinity’s perfect plan of redemption (Luke 22:39–46).
Dr. John MacArthur comments on today’s passage that in Gethesemane, Jesus “was consciously, deliberately, and voluntarily subjugating all His human desires to the Father’s perfect will” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1327). This is one of the things that we do in our prayers. We are to pray that we would love God’s law and do it willingly. We are to pray the same for others. To ask for God’s will to be done is to ask for us and others to do what the Lord says is right.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 4:1–8
1 John 2:15–17