This article is about knowing and finding the will of God. Romans 12:1-2 is discussed, as well as the relationship Old Testament and New Testament.

Source: New Horizons, 1994. 3 pages.

Knowing the Will of God

How do I know the will of God? By eternal decree? By scriptural precept? By daily experience? This is a question which is universally asked. To the Christian whose conscience is bound by the will of God, it is a question of the most immediate and urgent significance. And more than that, it is a matter upon which hinges the glory of God even now reflected in his church.

Rational Worship🔗

Romans 12:1-2 is a pivotal passage that opens the will of God to our view. It does this, significantly, in the context of tabernacle worship:

I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [rational] service of worship.Romans 12:1

Immediately we understand that the church of Christ is to engage in a sacrificial worship of God, after the pattern of the ritual of the Old Testament tabernacle. As with the Old Testament animal sacrifices, it is now also bodies which are to be offered. But these are bodies, not of animals, but of the people of God. Their bodies are to be presented in a rational service of worship, that is, as “thinking offerings.” The idea is not simply that, as opposed to the offering of dumb (and dead) animals, the self-offering of the church is that of rational creatures. The idea is, as we will see, that the self-offering of the church consists in her active appropriation of the will of God.

Verse 2 explains this further: “And do not be conformed to this world [age], but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This verse makes it plain what the new precincts of God's tabernacle are. The sacrificial worship of the church is not carried out in a tabernacle made with human hands – or even within the confines of this age at all. “Rational” worship in the new tabernacle is now carried out in the transformed, renewed mind of the believer.

This rational worship is not merely static or self-reflective. It includes the believer presenting his or her body as “a living and holy sacrifice.” It is accomplished when the renewed mind proves what the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God is.

When Paul speaks of “proving” what the will of God is, he is not referring to a trial-and-error method.

He is talking about a knowable will of God that you are to approve by appropriating it in your actual experience. This is your sacrificial worship of God.

How Adam Knew God🔗

But how do I know the will of God? Here, as with the tabernacle itself, there has been a graduation from the Old Testament to the New. In the original “tabernacle” of the Garden of Eden, the question of the will of God was relatively simple. Adam was to live before God in the spontaneity of holiness, responding to the words of God's mouth. No divine will of eternal decree was open to his view. Adam's daily experience was simply to mirror the precept that God revealed to him.

It was at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that Adam was to “prove” or “approve” the will of God – to find it “good and acceptable and perfect.” But, at that tree Adam came to know good and evil from the perspective of a sinner, as did we all. No longer could there be simple conformity between God's will of precept and our daily experience.

God's Accommodation to Sin🔗

But then, having declared his grace to his people, God reinstituted the tabernacle of his presence, now accommodated to a world of sin and curse. Obedience to God's precepts could no longer be rendered in the spontaneity of holiness. So, God accommodated the way in which his people would know his will. They would know his will from an elaborate law code encompassing every aspect of their lives – but his will of decree would still be veiled from their eyes. Now they would know his purposes by the mouth of prophets and by the priestly Urim and Thummim.

In the fullness of history, those purposes came to fulfillment. The earthly tabernacle was permanently replaced by the tabernacle from heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ. God's will of decree had not yet been enunciated by the apostles, but Jesus declared that he had come to fulfill it. His person and work were the constant, spontaneous embodiment of God's will of both precept and decree.

The Firstfruits of Heaven🔗

Jesus told his disciples that their relationship to the will of God had changed:

No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.John 15:15

This word of Christ was resoundingly fulfilled as the will of God's eternal decree was opened to apostolic view: the church was to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). To bring about this conformity, the whole apostolic word expresses to us the preceptive will of God.

This is how we understand the new tabernacle precincts of Romans 12:1-2. The arena of the tabernacle is that of the transformed church. And the church's tabernacle worship is exercised in approving God's completed preceptive will (the full canon of Scripture) by carrying it out in her daily experience.

This is not a return to Eden, but the firstfruits of heaven. True, God's will of precept and his will of decree do not always coincide in the church's experience. Yet, in Christ, the church understands herself and the will of God in terms of the purpose of his eternal decree. In the realm of glory, when the new tabernacle will open up to eternal day, the spontaneity of the holiness of God's people will mark Eden's transformation. God's will of decree and precept will be one. And the Christ-conformed church will find that she is the tabernacle, together with God.

Finding God's Will Today🔗

Proving the will of God today is a Christ-centered enterprise of the highest order. It represents an enormous advance over Old Testament times, when God accommodated himself to the relative immaturity of his people by spelling out the future through prophets and the Urim and Thummim. Now, in the light of the maturity of the church of Christ, in her knowledge of the will of God, it would be wrong for any believer to desire revelation from God apart from the completed Scriptures.

This desire is sometimes at least implied in the expressed intention to “pray about” an upcoming decision. Now, prayer is to be without ceasing, and decisions of even the most trivial sort may properly enter the praying mind.

However, taking the Lord's Prayer as a guide, we should pray that all of our decisions would glorify God and promote his kingdom. But the decision at hand is, after all, ours to make, out of a renewed mind which is proving what the will of God is in our daily experience.

That means that our decision on any matter is to be in conformity with God's revealed will in Scripture. With this complete expression of his will at our disposal, we must not look for any beggarly manifestation of God's will (Galatians 4:9), as if God will now “tell” us which one of several scripturally legitimate alternatives to choose.

Thus, there is no “will of God for your life” apart from the complete Scriptures. The Bible expresses the will of God for all his people. How do I know the will of God? Not by any inward-directed piety, but by a Christ-directed appropriation of his revealed will, out of a renewed mind.

Making the Right Choice🔗

For example, where will you go to college? There may be any number of choices suitable to the calling you may have. There is not one college that God “wants” you to attend. Make your decision based upon the factors at your disposal: location, affordability, curriculum, etc.

Whom will you marry? How do you appropriate the will of God in this decision? God's will of precept is that men should marry women, and that believers should marry believers. For most people, this leaves a broad field of choice. There is not one person whom God “wants” you to marry. You make your decision based upon many factors: appearance, personality, interests, calling, etc.

And ministers: which call should you accept? What is the will of God? If you have been called to the ministry, it is the will of God, expressed in Scripture, that you should accept a call. But God does not “want” you to accept one legitimate call in favor of another. Your decision should be based upon a variety of factors: location, ministry emphasis, etc. (And the fact that a certain call providentially opens up ahead of another is no “sign” that this is the call that you should accept!)

Our Confidence🔗

Once you have made your choice among the biblically legitimate alternatives, you may be confident that it was God's will! And that is because, as a Christian, all of your choices are made out of a renewed mind, in the proving of God's completed preceptive will in Christ. As such, they are offered to God as acceptable sacrifices.

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