How Can I Know God's Will For My Life?
The question is a perennial. "What is God's will for my life?" The most basic answer, however, can be troublesome: "God's Word tells you." Many cannot find God's will for their lives in the Bible because they can't find the answer they want. They are too busy looking for what they should do rather than looking for the person they should become.
Danger lurks for those who try to pry into God's secret council (I wrote about it here). They run the risk of losing their assurance and joy in God Himself. Thus, it is best to be content with the providence of God and pursue who God wants us to be.
In one of Paul's earliest letters, he reminds and encourages the Thessalonians of the will of God for their lives. And what was God's will for them?" For this is the will of God, your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3a). God's will for their life was not concerned about particular situations such as what career they should pursue, who they should marry, or where they would live. It was not concerned with what they should do but with the kind of person they should become.
Why is this important for us to consider today? For young people graduating high school, they feel tremendous stress from those around them to figure out what course their life will take. For those at a crossroads in their life, they feel paralyzed with a life-changing choice. For those who feel established in their lives, they fight complacency. Yet, all that pressure does not compare to our need to grow in our character and become better people. That is more important than any life choice we will ever make.
The point Paul makes to the Thessalonians is the answer we need for our perennial question. And that is when we focus on who we should become, we will become the people who do what God wants us to do. God wants us to be more concerned with our character than with our actions. Isn't that the message of the entire Bible after all?
One instance of this is when Paul stresses to the Colossians the importance of living in Christ. Paul's point is that in order to live the Christian life, we must always live as though we died with Christ and rose with Christ into new life. Essentially, we must always live in light of the gospel. This, Paul argues, shapes not only the way we live but the way we worship.
"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—'Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch' (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23).
Ambrosiaster, a biblical commentator of the early church, noted the problem of the Colossian church was they "worshipped worldly things, put their hope in them, and not in Christ alone." The life they were supposed to live, the morals they were supposed to abide by were "cut off from the head, who is Christ, and thus have become the basis of a pseudo-religion and sacrilege." The point is this: when we attempt to do what God wants us to do without first becoming who God wants us to be, we are prone to trust in worldly methods and soon head off into worldly pursuits.
Simply living God's will for our lives—that is, doing what God wants us to do without becoming who God wants us to be—is no different than any other religion or secular philosophy with their morality and lifestyle advice. One of the great preachers of the 20th Century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, clarified,
"Morality is really just interested in the conduct and the behavior in and of itself and in terms of its social consequences. There is a sense in which morality is a very insulting thing to a human being, because morality is not really interested in me, it's only interested in my behavior. That's why Christianity is so different. Christianity is interested primarily in me. And it is interested in my conduct, not in and of itself and terms its social consequences, but because of its interest in Christ, in God, in the church, in the plan of redemption, in the whole scheme, in the fact that God is, through the church, going to astound the principalities and powers in the heavenly places."
When God commands us to do His will and obey His commands, He always prefaces it with how we should think and what kind of character we should possess. In Colossians 3, Paul continues with these words, "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above" (Colossians 3:1a). Peter says much the same in his second epistle: "For this very reason, make every effort…" (2 Peter 1:5a, emphasis added). That is the biblical formula.
Do you want to know God's will for your life? Then, become the person with the character God wants, and you will do what God wants you to do.