Some time ago, I listened to John Piper’s sermon: What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?
Below is the essence of the letter I wrote to the friend who pointed me towards this sermon. I doubt there is any disagreement regarding the sovereign will of God – or as Dr. Piper calls it – the will of decree. Jesus’ second coming would be an example of God’s sovereign will. It doesn’t matter whether one believes it or not, it’s going to happen. That said, however, I’m struggling with many comments Dr. Piper said related to God’s sovereign will such as:
- God forbids things He brings about.
- In one sense, something is the will of God and in another sense it is not the will of God.
- God can ordain that sin happen without being a sinner.
- Everything is the will of God.
- His will might be that sin happen.
I agree that God is sovereign over everything and that He has the power to control everything. What Dr. Piper calls the will of command, however, I would break into two distinct parts – the moral will of God (i.e. all of the “thou shall” & “thou shall not”) and the personal will of God which I’ll define as the individual and specific plan espoused by many that God has for each believer.
|Dr. Piper’s overview of the will of God||My overview of the will of God:|
|Will of decreeWill of command||Sovereign will of GodMoral will of GodPersonal will of God|
Dr. Piper references the moral will of God in regards to sanctification. I would add that the Ten Commandments are the epi-center of God’s moral will for us. Everything else in the Bible that relates to how we’re to behave emanates from the Ten Commandments. For example, as referenced in 1 Thes 4:3; stay away from sexual immorality is rooted in the seventh commandment – Thou shall not commit adultery. My sense is that the renewing of one’s mind has to do with believers, who still very much have a sin nature in spite of being saved from their sins, continually realize that God’s ways are best. The bottom line is that we’ll only experience the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) when we follow God’s moral commands instead the naturally occurring ugliness of our sinful nature (Gal 5:19-21). I believe this ties into what Paul is saying when he begins Rom 12:1 with the word, “Therefore”. As I read and understand the passage, Paul is referencing his earlier thoughts in Romans regarding:
- Obedience (1:5) (This list is from my NIV Topical Bible)
- Righteousness (1:17)
- Sin (2:12)
- Justification (3:24)
- Visible signs (4:11) including miracles, rainbows, circumcision
- Body (6:13)
- Calling (8:30)
- Confessions of faith (10:9)
- Grace (11:6)
Therefore (12:1), we’re to offer our bodies as living sacrifices which is a spiritual act of worship. The next sentence that follows states that we should not conform to the pattern of this world (sin?) but rather that we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds (holiness?) so that we will be able to test (ask: is this from God? – and if the answer is yes, then it’s holy in its nature, character, desire, etc.) and approve what God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is. In these verses (12:1-2), I believe Paul is culminating his teaching about Christian living in order that we can have:
- Victory over sin (6:2-7)
- Experience the power of the Holy Spirit (8:9-11, 13)
- Use gifts God has given us (12:3-8)
- Live a life of love (12:9-21)
- Have respect for government (13:1-7)
- Experience Christian freedom (14:1)
- Hope (15:13)
As such, it appears to me that Rom 12:1-2 relates to the moral will of God (how we are to act) and has nothing to do with the “personal will” of God. But Dr. Piper, toward the end of his sermon listed three expressions or statements, one of which is: if we want to obey the will of command then we must have a renewed mind to know how to eat, which cars to drive, which houses to live in, what lifestyles to choose, what missions to go on, etc. If I’m understanding Dr. Piper correctly, he’s as much saying that that there is a personal will for each believer and in order for each believer to discover what that personal will is, the believer must be continually renewing their mind to follow it. Dr. Piper seems to lump together all of the non-moral decisions that individuals have to make into God’s “will of command” and that without the continual renewing of our minds, it will be impossible for believers to make the “correct” decision. In looking at the life and actions of Paul, however, there appear to be many instances for which Paul makes a decision or otherwise takes an action without first praying about it or otherwise “renewing” his mind. Ref: Phil 2:25, 1 Cor 16:3-4, Acts 6:1-7, Acts 15:24-29. I suppose you could argue that Paul was continually “renewing” his mind and in reality, I probably wouldn’t disagree. Nevertheless, Gary Friesen, in his book Decision Making and the Will of God identifies within Paul what Mr. Friesen calls “spiritual expediency”. That is, if Paul had to make a moral decision then the teachings of the Bible had to be followed. However, in non-moral decisions, Paul was free to decide what he thought was best. Mr. Friesen goes on to explain that Paul made decisions that brought about the greatest glory for God. In any event, it seems to me that Christians have been given an awesome level of freedom (and responsibility) when we live by the Spirit. And, as I read and understand scripture, part of this freedom is the ability to make non-moral decisions without worry or concern. From what I understand about grace, I don’t think I have to worry about making “wrong” decisions so long as those decisions are within the boundaries which scripture has clearly defined – even if I’m not “feeling close” to God. Dr. Piper asked the question as to whether it’s the will of God that one is subjected to child abuse. Dr. Piper’s answer had two parts:
- No – because God commands that we love each other and not abuse each other.
- Yes – it was God’s sovereign will that this happen because God did not “hinder” or otherwise intervene or stop the abuse. Being a bit blunt – this a lot of spiritual gymnastics. I know that the Bible teaches that God hardened Herod’s heart. I suppose one could extrapolate that God, then, is the giver and taker of good and evil and that God gives to some children wonderful parents and to other children God gives crappy parents who would abuse them in order that God’s sovereign will take place. But if I look at the life of Jesus – who is God Himself – and how Jesus related to those around Him, I am hard-pressed to believe that God would intentionally bring about child abuse. I’ll accept that God actually did harden Herod’s heart but only such that Herod’s heart was already hardened against God. Furthermore, referring back to God subjecting someone to child abuse, Rom 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose”. I don’t read that God causes all things. Rather, I understand that God can use all things – even terrible experiences such as child abuse in the life of a believer. And that yes, something as horrible as child abuse can even bring about glory for God.
So, what does all of this mean and what am I to make of Dr. Piper’s sermon? Well, much as a chemist sets out to prove (or disprove) a hypothesis, I’m trying to validate my hypothesis that God gives the believer freedom to make any choice that is within His moral boundary (His law). I also believe that God give us wisdom to make wise choices but I don’t think that God has a predetermined objective for us to discover. I do not see where in scripture the concept of a pre-determined and specific will for each believer is taught as Dr. Piper seems to imply. As always, I welcome any thoughts or insights regarding Dr. Piper’s sermon or my $0.02 worth.