Understanding God's Hidden Will and Revealed Will
Posted January 18, 2018 by Amy Wang
Other editions: Chinese(中文）
Photo: nomadsoul1 / 123RF Stock Photo
How can we handle big decisions?
When we are confused about the future, about selecting a school, major, industry, job, or spouse, we often wish God would provide clear guidance, but most of the time, He does not let us clearly know His secret will. In this case, we need to rely on wisdom and make decisions according to His clearly revealed will, i.e., the principles and commandments in His word. Even though the Bible does not specifically tell us what to choose, it provides many moral principles, recommendations, and warnings to help us make wise decisions. For example, the Bible recommends us to seek many counselors so that our plans will succeed. It also teaches us what kind of attitude and values we should have if we want God’s guidance.
Do you want to know God’s secret will?
We can see how curious people are about the future and how much they want specific guidance by the popularity of fortune tellers and horoscopes. Some Christians will even consult a Christian prophet for advice. Unfortunately, they may not realize there are many false prophets (Matthew 24:11), who are no different from fortune tellers. Both can severely mislead us (Ref).
While making decisions, many people seek only God’s specific direction, but neglect the clearly revealed will of God, e.g., the commandments of the Bible. Although it is good to consult God for specific guidance (contrast 1Samuel 30:8 and Joshua 9:14), we cannot expect much if we are disobeying His clearly revealed will (Ref). When King Saul repeatedly disobeyed God’s clearly revealed will, he lost God's guidance through the prophet Samuel and sought guidance from a medium at Endor instead (1Chronicles 10:13). Both actions displeased God. If we want to receive God’s specific guidance, we need to humble our hearts, fear God (Psalm 25:9, Proverbs 1:7, Job 28:28), try to do justice and show mercy (Isaiah 58:10-11, Proverbs 11:3-5), trust and acknowledge God in everything (Proverbs 3:5-6), and commit our ways to Him (Psalm 37:5, Proverbs 16:3).
If you have completed the above, but still feel the need for additional guidance, know that God can and does take the initiative to directly reveal His specific calling, if He wants to or senses the need to (Ref). He can lead us by the holy spirit, a special dream, a vision, and so on. The apostle Paul sometimes received God’s guidance this way (Acts 16:6,9). However, if we haven’t received any specific, clear guidance, we should not be flustered. God has given us some freedom or responsibility, within His moral boundaries, to make our own decisions (Friesen).
Most of what we need to know for godliness is already in the Bible. Moreover, God sometimes purposely does not want us to know His secret will (Deuteronomy 29:29). But we do not need to postpone all decision-making because we received no specific guidance from God (Ref). We should not act as if God were always playing hide-and-seek with us. Instead, we should start by trying to follow God’s moral will. Below, I will clarify how God’s sovereign will is different from His moral will and His will of disposition, and why Christians should be primarily concerned with the latter two.
God’s sovereign will is often hidden, but we can know his moral will
Theologians divide the will of God into 3 different categories (R. C. Sproul):
A: God’s sovereign will, or will of decree (Isaiah 46:10) :
God made his plans long ago, including where and when we would live (Acts 17:26), and even the good things we would do in our lives（Ephesians 2:10). This plan is mostly hidden, but that is on purpose. For example, if everyone knew who Jesus really was, they would not have crucified Him (1Corinthians 2:7-8), and mankind could not have been saved as a result. God’s sovereign will is definite — nothing can block it. However, God may not tell us what it is, because that might interfere with it.
B: God’s moral will, or will of precept/command
In contrast, God’s moral will includes God’s commands and principles, such as the ten commandments or the sermon on the mount. Unlike his sovereign will, God's moral will is revealed to us, but it is not definite, i.e., we can break God's commandments. It is a choice God gives us. Those who love God will keep his commandments (John 14:21), and ultimately be rewarded (Romans 8:28), but most people will sometimes violate God’s commandments. Even so, our inappropriate behavior cannot stop God’s sovereign will. He already took our sins into account in his plan from the beginning. The amazing thing is, God works out his sovereign plan, even through the inappropriate behaviors of evil men. However, keep in mind, they still have to bear responsibility for their actions, even if their sins cause God’s grace to abound (Romans 6:1-2,6:15-16).
C: God’s will of disposition
God’s will of disposition includes what pleases God or angers God, and what He hopes will happen but which might not because of man’s free will. The following examples shows how God’s will of disposition differs from his sovereign will and will of command. For example, according to his will of disposition, Jesus did not want to die on the cross. However, He still humbled himself and obeyed God’s will of command, and in doing so, realized God’s sovereign will, which God planned all along (Acts 4:27-28). Additionally, according to God’s will of disposition, God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell and face eternal death (2Peter 3:9). He hopes everyone will confess his or her sin, repent, and enter God’s kingdom, but He won’t force anyone to choose eternal life. Going to hell is the result of choosing to violate God’s commandments (Luke 13:3), and refusing to repent and turn to faith so as to receive mercy. Additionally, God’s will is for our sanctification (1Thessalonians 4:3), but again, God gives us freedom to violate God’s commandments.
God is not a micro-manager
When making decisions, some people have the wrong impression that god wants us to pick the one and only, best choice, as if we were trying to aim our arrow at the bull’s eye (Friesen). In other words, they worry that if they don’t seek God’s best, which God has already prepared for them in advance, they might miss it. Actually, in the Garden of Eden, God did not tell Adam and Eve at what time to eat what fruit (See: De Haan, 24). He only told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil（Genesis2:17). God never criticized Adam because on one day he ate a peach instead of a banana, so maybe there are multiple choices of equivalent value, which are consistent with God’s moral principles. God gives us some room for freedom and self-determination.
God also let Adam name many kinds of animals (Genesis 2:19-20). If Adam asked God to help him name each animal, that is equivalent to shirking his responsibility (See: De Haan, 23-24). When your boss gives you a responsibility, he or she hopes you will complete it to his or her satisfaction. You can sometimes ask for clarification on what your boss wants, but please don’t expect your boss to make every decision for you. That is called hand-holding. God is not a micromanager. He will not overly control us.
Getting to know what pleases God in the course of time
We can better understand our God-given freedom in decision-making by considering what an ideal marriage should be. In an ideal marriage, a husband and wife will slowly get to know each other’s interests, needs, pet-peeves, and so forth, and thus learn how to please one another. In the course of time, they can sometimes even guess what the other is thinking. In a good husband-wife relationship, each spouse will not be constantly making demands of the other, but rather, only needs to indicate what can make him or her happy.
In specific situations, if needed, God will give a specific person a specific calling. However, He usually only needs to tell us what pleases Him, and then gives us freedom to do good things from the heart, not out of compulsion. If we read a little of the Bible every day, in the course of time, we can understand better what pleases God. We can try to ask God for advice or to clarify His intentions or expectations, but God does not want to constantly compel us to do things. He does not want us to be like the horse who has no understanding and therefore needs bit and bridle to be controlled (Psalm 32:9). God gave us wisdom to let us make wise decisions.
Using God’s values and priorities to make decisions
When we are considering several choices, what standard can we use to determine which choice is more ideal? We can make decisions from an eternal perspective. I once learned a helpful acronym, ALIVE, to remind us of this. It stands for “Always Live in View of Eternity.” From a Christian perspective, the most important decision is to choose eternal life by faith. Then, according to God’s priorities, the most important goal is to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33, 1Corinthians 10:31).
Additionally, we should consider the day of judgment. Sooner or later, our choices will have consequences. Whatever we sow, we will reap (Galatians 6:7-9). According to the Bible, man is destined to die once and after that face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). At that time, we must give an account to God for our actions, including even our words and secrets (Matthew 12:36-37, 2Corinthians 5:10,Ecclesiastes 12:14). King Solomon concluded that we ought to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14), because one day, God will judge us. What are these commandments? At the heart of the commandments is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
The goals of Christians are evidently different from that of non-Christians. We are not seeking worldly success, riches, power, fame, or selfish ambition. Rather, we are to consider also the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4, 1Corinthians 10:23-24). We should try to understand what will bear eternal fruit. For example, we can lead someone to God’s kingdom of heaven. Additionally, we can help people and do good to accumulate treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
In conclusion, we do not need to wait forever for God’s special revelation of what specifically we should choose, nor ask the advice of prophets before every decision. We should start from the clearly revealed commandments and values in the Bible, and use our God-given wisdom to make decisions that He would approve of. Sometimes, making decisions is very challenging, but God gave us this responsibility. To help us make better decisions, we must carefully consider many things. In the future, I will provide additional details on specific tools God has provided to help us do this.
- 1. Sproul, God's Will and the Christian. USA: Tyndale House Publishers, 1984.
- 2. Kurt De Haan, RBC Ministries, How Can I Know What God Wants Me To Do? Grand Rapids, Michigan: RBC Ministries, 2003.
- 3. Garry Friesen, Decision Making and the Will of God. Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1980.
- 4. 走偏了的『尋求神的旨意』, 2007-03-14, by mldcvc
- 5. 「尋求神旨意」的誤解,基督教論壇報, 2017-03-18
- 6. 林漢星（1998）。《新生命舞曲》。 福音證主協會、證主出版社 ，第十顆：「明白神旨意」
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