God has delivered the bulk of His will to us in the form of the Bible. Whenever we talk about knowing and obeying God’s will, we are primarily talking about what God has spelled out in His Word. If you want to know God’s will regarding your behavior, conduct, and actions—look for clear answers in the Bible.
To be sanctified by God’s Word means that we are being shaped and trained by God’s directions toward Christlikeness. God not only tells us what He wants us to do, but He also tells us why: “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thess. 4:1 ESV).
In our conduct and choices, God’s will is that we would please Him. How does the idea that you can please God with your life strike you as an answer to your desire to know God’s will? Even your desire to want to please God is pleasing to God.
No matter what time of the day you are reading this, you have probably already made numerous choices, large and small, since you woke up this morning. You likely didn’t stop before making each choice to consider whether that choice was God’s will. If you had, you might still be paralyzed in front of your coffee maker. But what would it be like to live each day with the overarching desire to please God?
Instead of trying to make every single, little choice conform to some predetermined, straitjacket will of God, you can seek to please Him, knowing that as you follow His Word, He’s sanctifying you in the process. Just because God doesn’t have an individual will for your life doesn’t mean He doesn’t know and care deeply about the choices you make. He does! Your choices can please Him and also grieve Him. And pleasing Him leads to His glory and our good. The apostle Paul continues:
“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (1 Thess. 4:2–3 ESV).
What word jumps out at you in those verses? Sanctification. That may not be a word we use in everyday conversation, but it should define our everyday lives. It’s one of the most important words in the Christian life. After “cross,” “conversion,” and “salvation,” “sanctification” covers the rest of life on this side of eternity. Sanctification is the lifelong process of being set apart, being made righteous, becoming more Christlike. The word captures the work God begins in our lives starting at the moment of salvation and continuing through our last breath. “And I am sure of this,” Paul writes, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6 ESV).
God wants us to live like people who know Him! What do we want? I sure don’t want to live like a person who doesn’t know Him. I don’t want to live for myself, giving into temptation and selfish desires, like those who don’t know God. I want to live with a healthy sense of self-control that brings holiness and honor to my life. I don’t want to live on a destructive roller coaster of ever-changing passions. And I don’t want to be a person who merely says he knows God; I want to be a person who lives like he knows God, seeking to please Him.
Sanctification encompasses the vertical aspect of our intimacy with God, and it also covers our horizontal relationships with others. In Paul’s words, “That no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (1 Thess. 4:6–9 ESV). It is God’s sovereign will that we be sanctified by His Word, which always involves the way we know Him and the way we treat one another.
Notice how the Bible describes God’s will for our lives. The focus is never on externals: where, when, with whom; that’s our focus. We ask:
Where should I live?
Where should I work?
Where should I go to school?
Whom should I marry?
Whom should I befriend?
Whom should I reach out to?
It is God’s sovereign will that we be sanctified by His Word, which always involves the way we know Him and the way we treat one another. God focuses on:
Is this the decision of a Christ-follower?
How does this action reveal My Son?
Is this consistent with My Word?
Why do you want to do this?
How does this show My heart?
When we are concerned with doing God’s will, we will shift our focus to God’s set of questions. Sanctification isn’t our project, as if just trying harder will make us Christlike. Consider Paul’s understated reminder of our constant Companion on this journey of sanctification: the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8). Through the Holy Spirit, God actively makes Himself known to us, increasing our sensitivity to His ways as He guides us through His Word.
I’ll never forget a chapel speaker I heard in college. I was training to serve the Lord, consumed at the time with seeking the dot of God’s specific will for my life. Although I can’t recall his exact words, this was his message: 95 percent of God’s will for you is the kind of person you are. God cares about the conversation you have at the dry cleaner—not which dry cleaner you use. God cares about the way that you drive your car—not as much which car you drive. God cares about the choices you make with your finances—and that’s not a matter of finding the right vs. wrong choice; it’s a matter of using wisdom.
Until that moment, I confess that for me, knowing God was mostly about where and what I would be for Him. From that moment, my attention began to shift to who I would be for Him, whatever I was doing or whenever I was doing it.
Excerpted from Chapter 5 of The Will of God IS The Word of God by James MacDonald.