What is God’s will for my life?
When I worked in college ministry for a few years before I went to seminary, one question that often came up from students was a fairly predictable one: What is God’s will for my life? College students who want to honor God with their lives, particularly the further along they go in their college years, are often searching to know the answer to that question.
They mean it (usually) in the sense of – What career should I pursue? What job should I accept? Where should I live? Should I go to grad school? Who should I marry?
But often, before I would take the conversation where they wanted to go and we would begin to work through some of those specific questions, I would first ask the same question back to them: Before we answer that, and think about God’s will on that level, let’s start at a more foundational level. What is God’s will for who you are, as a person? What is God’s will—not for your job, or who you should date, or where you should move—what is God’s will for your life?
How would you answer that question? Not, what is God’s will for where you should go on vacation next summer, or if you should ask your boss for a raise, or if you should buy that new car. What is God’s will for your life?
WHAT DOES THE SCRIPTURE SAY?
Before we begin, it’s important to note that although I will ultimately refer to two passages that explicitly refer to “the will of God,” we don’t have to go first to a concordance and look up “will” and find all the verses that deal with this topic. (Which is good news, because there are 1,158 occurrences of the word “will” in the New Testament alone!)
The Bible is not meant to be an encyclopedia. It’s not organized by subject headings and pages of definitions; it’s organized by books, of which many (in the New Testament) were letters written to local churches. There are long narratives and extensive sections of poetry, prophecy, and history. To use the Bible as an encyclopedia would be like using a screwdriver as a hammer. It can be done at times, perhaps, but it’s not what it was designed for.
The overall picture of the will of God for us in Christ is clear from the overall story of Scripture and individual sections of Scripture. What will be discussed below is made clear also in 2 Corinthians 3 and Romans 6 and John 15, along with many other places, none of which use the phrase “the will of God.” That said, in this instance I am going to use two verses that do explicitly discuss the will of God for our lives.
WHAT IS GOD’S WILL?
First, if we’re wanting to know what God’s will is for our lives, perhaps the best place to start is Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul gives us a short, succinct statement of God’s will for every area of our lives. Very specifically, God’s will for each Christian is summed up in two words: “your sanctification.”
For this is the will of God, your sanctification.1 Thessalonians 4:3, ESV
What does that mean? It means your personal holiness. It means your growth to Christlikeness. It means your life as being set apart to be lived for God’s glory. So what is God’s will for you? His will is that you would grow to holiness, that you would look more like Jesus, that you would live as one who has been set apart for him.
After stating this truth, Paul goes on to apply it specifically to the area of sexual immorality. And while that’s an area where many may need to focus their attention (if that’s the case for you, take some time to carefully consider 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8), what about the rest of life? Surely our sanctification has to do with more than just the specific area of sexual immorality, right?
And that’s where our second passage comes in: Romans 12:1–2. If 1 Thessalonians 4 gives a succinct statement of God’s overarching will for our lives, Romans 12 shows us how we can discern that will in specific areas of our lives.
In Romans 12, Paul begins to apply the gospel truths that he has been making clear for much of the first eleven chapters of that letter. Over the next four chapters, he’s going to instruct the church in how to live out the gospel life, and he begins that section like this:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:1–2, ESV
While Paul here doesn’t tell what God’s will is, he does tell us how we can know it (and obey it). If God’s will is our sanctification, here we find what it takes to discern how that looks in different areas of our lives.
What does it take to know the will of God? How can we discern it? Paul says that it takes responding to the gospel of God’s mercy by offering ourselves to him wholeheartedly as an act of spiritual worship. In so doing, we’re no longer seeking to be conformed to the pattern of the world around us, but instead we’re being transformed into Christlikeness by the renewal of our mind.
Helpfully, the New Living Translation captures verse 2 like this:
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.Romans 12:2, NLT
As God transforms you into a new person by changing the way you think, you learn to know and obey and delight in God’s will. How does he transform us in this way? Through his Spirit, by his Word, and in the community of his people. And all three are important. If we want to discern God’s will for our lives, we need to be offering ourselves to him wholeheartedly, seeking the transformation that comes though his Spirit, by his Word, and in the community of his people.
The word we use for this around MCBC is “maturing.” If you want to know the will of God for your life, I’d ask you the same questions I ultimately asked college students 15 years ago: Are you pursuing maturity in Christ? Are you seeking to be transformed into his image? Are you allowing the Spirit to speak through his Word and into your life? Are you living life in the community of God’s people, so that they can help you fight sin and you can help them fight sin (see Hebrews 3:12-14)?
God’s will is your sanctification. And as you pursue him in this way, he’ll make clear how that looks in every area of your life.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.