(Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 103)
by Bob Burridge ©2012
Every day, all day long, we make choices. Most of them are made without a lot of thought since they have no obvious moral or life changing issues to consider. Many of our daily choices become habit. We make them because they are part of our routine. When we wake up in the morning we decide what to do next. Our regular schedules help us decide what happens after our feet hit the floor. We develop different patterns for weekdays, Sundays, Saturdays, and holidays. We pick out our clothes for the day, and decide about breakfast. We decide what turns to make on our way to places where we need to be, and what to do when we get there.
Some choices are more challenging to us. We know they will impact our lives or the lives of others. We make decisions about our careers, who we will marry, where we will live, and other matters where the outcomes are complex, and future conditions are impossible to foresee.
When the big complex choices need to be made, the wise look for advice from others so they can base their decisions upon the best information, and so they are aware of all the reasonable options. The best advice comes from God who knows all contingencies and factors. The principles in his word set important boundaries within which our decisions ought to be made.
The old “What Would Jesus Do” principle is generally good advice, but speculation can be dangerous. Jesus was God. He had authority which none of us have. He did things based upon knowledge of individual situations that only God could know. But if we strive to be directed by the actual teachings of Jesus in the Bible, we will have help in making those important choices that come along. We want to know what Jesus tells us to do. That is always a very good thing to consider.
As Christians, we want to please God with our choices. Often people worry about making choices that are out of the will of God. But commonly, they have a totally wrong idea about what being in God’s will means. They believe that somehow they might mess up God’s plan. That is never possible. However, it is possible to do things that violate what God says is good and right.
To better understand this, we need to know what God says in his word. There he tells about his eternal plan and our responsibilities in it.
Third petition of the Lord’s Prayer
tells us to pray concerning God’s will.
Matthew 6:10b, “… Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.”
There is a natural progression in this model prayer our Lord gave us. “You kingdom come” leads to “Your will be done.” When we pray for the coming of God’s Kingdom, we are asking that God’s Sovereign Lordship would become increasingly clearer. That the false Kingdom of Satan would be diminished and ultimately destroyed, that the Kingdom of Grace would be built up in its place with lives redeemed by Christ’s work, and that the Kingdom of Glory would be hastened along to completion as we serve our Lord.
To promote God’s kingdom on earth, is to see that his will is done here. We want God to be pleased with what is done where we live today, just as he is with what is done in heaven where his kingly glory is most clearly seen.
John Calvin said, “The most important part of God’s Kingdom lies in His will being done.”
Ursinus, the writer of the Heidelberg Catechism said, “nor does the Kingdom of God come except by the use of those means by which it is advanced. These means now, are the duties which belong to every man’s calling in life.”
The answer to Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 103 is, “In the third petition, which is, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,’ we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.”
The doing of God’s will here on earth, is the advancing of his kingdom. The one does not happen independently of the other. God involves the obedience of his people in his great victory. So, why should we pray for his will to be done, if all he wills is always done?
Moses explained it clearly in Deuteronomy 29. Verse 24 sets it up saying that when Israel breaks God’s covenant, and God judges her, “All nations would say, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ ”
God’s answer to why he would do a thing so hard to understand is summarized in verse 29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
There is only one will of God. Some things in his plan are not made known, while others are.
Parts of God’s plan are kept secret.
From all eternity everything is done according to God’s plan. As Creator, he made all things to be exactly the way he knew was best. As the All-Able God, his plan is infallibly carried out and cannot be changed. There is nothing that could surprise God, because he knows all things from the beginning. There can be nothing that could come along to make him regret his perfect choices. If God regretted what he decreed, then he is neither perfect nor unchangeable. We would be talking about some other kind of being, one that cannot properly be called “God”. (The verses where it is sometimes translated that God “repented” are explained in a helpful article, “Does God Repent of Things He Has Done?”.)
There are two helpful verses in the Psalms that make God’s sovereignty very clear:
Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”
Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”
David’s blessing to Jehovah in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13 shows his confidence in God’s sovereignty. Notice the similarities to the Lord’s Prayer, “Therefore David blessed the LORD before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, LORD God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name.’ ”
Just as in the Lord’s Prayer, this prayer speaks to God as “our Father”, and it praises his glorious name. It says that his is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, and that his kingdom is forever and ever. It mentions his kingship, that he is head over all and rules over all.
God decreed all things according to the council of His own will. No one can violate the decrees, or keep them from coming to pass. Job 42:2, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You,” or as the NASB translates that last part. “… no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.”
In Isaiah 14:24 God himself says, “… Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, And as I have purposed, so it shall stand.” Then in verse 27 the prophet adds, “For the Lord of hosts has purposed, And who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, And who will turn it back?”
God’s secret plan, his decreed will, is always carried out.
Even Satan has to ask permission from God to do his evil. This is clearly shown in what happened with Job. Job never found out the details about why he suffered, but he learned not to question God’s purposes. In Job 42:2-3 Job cries out in repentance for daring to question God’s perfect plan and wisdom, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”
Though we do not yet see how it all fits together, it all does. God even allows sin, yet he is not the cause of it. He turns evil so that it accomplishes his eternal plan. God’s secret will, his eternal plan, is always done.
When evil hearts sin, they condemn themselves, and show the tragedy of opposing God. By overcoming sin and evil God reveals his grace and mercy and his victorious plan of salvation. The presence of both the creature’s sin and God’s mercy shows that there is a real moral distance between the creature and the Creator.
This secret will of God only becomes known when God carries it out. We see his plan as history unfolds. We cannot know what nations will rise and fall until they do. We will not know when we will become sick or meet someone special until we do. We do not know what opportunities will come to us, how they will work out, or what accidents, benefits, or disasters will happen — until they do.
God’s providence turns the hearts of kings and children, stirs up the storms, and calms the seas. It even shapes the hard to understand wishes of our own hearts.
The problem is that some think of God as if he was not what he says he is. They imagine him unable to do all he planned, that we could mess up his plans if we chose something different than what he wanted. Nothing could be more opposite to what the Bible directly and clearly teaches.
Parts of God’s plan are not kept secret.
They are revealed to us.
Deuteronomy 29:29 “… those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
The Bible tells us what things are pleasing to God so that we would aim to do them. It tells us what is morally good and wise. It explains how we ought to behave in God’s world, in the church, and in our families. Without Scripture, there is no way we could know for sure what God has already said. In Romans 7:7 Paul said, “I would not have known sin except through the Law.”
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul reminded Timothy that this is how we know God’s will for our lives, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Bible tells us all that God expects us to know about Himself and about our responsibilities.
We live in a time that hates rules and responsibilities that apply to everybody all the time. Many modern churches have abandoned the Ten Commandments as if they do not apply any more. They have abandoned keeping the Sabbath Day Holy. They make drawings and images of Jesus as if in his earthly state he was no longer God. Some even joke about God, or directly use his name in a careless way, which is the meaning of the word “vain”. We need to promote the revealed will of God in a world that laughs at the idea, or that thinks we are extremists if we really believe God’s word to be true.
So, can people be “out of the will of God?”
It depends upon what you mean. The Bible does not actually put it that way. No one can wander out of what God has eternally decreed. Our choices are free. They are our own real decisions. We are never compelled by God to chose something we do not really want to choose. But our choices will always turn out to be in fulfillment of exactly what God decreed.
That does not excuse us from moral responsibility for our choices. We certainly can be out of the revealed will of God. That is the situation when we do what he forbids, or neglect what he commands. We cannot “mess-up” God’s secret plans, but we can discover ourselves to be part of the rebellion.
There is a good example of this in the story of the three captured Hebrew teens in Daniel 3. During the captivity of God’s people King Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship of an idol. Three teen boys; Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, would not disobey God that way. When the angry king threatened to throw them into the fiery furnace they said, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”
We know those boys best by their Babylonian names: Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. They did not know what God had planned for them, but they knew what he commanded. They knew that nothing would happen if God had not purposed it to happen. He was able to deliver them if he determined to do so, but if not, they would obey anyway because that is what would please God.
How then should we make our daily decisions?
How do we choose our jobs or career, our spouses, and our houses? How should we plan our vacations and recreation times?
We cannot know the secret plan until it happens. However, we can know what God has made known in his word. The facts and principles there are powerful and sufficient when we trust in them.
First, we need to know and understand God’s word. We are not to make our decisions by miraculous visions, or by supposed private revelations. The age of those things passed away when the Bible was completed. We should not expect signs, dreams, omens, or angels to tell us what our job should be, who we should marry, or what house to rent or buy. Instead, we should be guided by the principles revealed in Scripture. God’s moral rules set the boundaries for our decisions. We should never consider anything that violates God’s moral laws, or ignores his instructions. It is also wise to seek godly council from those who might see things we are missing.
If we know and respect those limits, and honor God’s words of wisdom, we can make confident choices knowing that the Lord is guiding us.
Second, we need to observe circumstances and opportunities as God’s secret plan unfolds. We must accept the fact of God’s providence, his Sovereign rule over every opportunity and circumstance. We should be sensitive to the talents and skills God gives us, to the interests he stirs up in our hearts. We are to use the minds God gave us, and the lessons we have learned to decide which choice best fits with God’s word and the priorities he reveals there.
Third, we need to expect the guiding of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that he whispers secrets or new revelations to us. It mean that we pray that God will guide us. We ask that his Spirit will direct us by God’s word, and by our own understanding, to make the choices that most please him and promote his Kingdom and glory.
This is what God expects of us: faithfully and prayerfully applying his word in making all our choices. We make confident decisions within the boundaries of what the Bible teaches, with sensitivity to the circumstances of his providence, and by diligent and sincere prayer in submission to God’s guidance.
We might make choices that do not turn out well compared with what we wanted. However, if we made our decisions in a truly Godly way, we should accept the consequences. Rather than wishing we had turned left instead of right if we are in a car accident, we ask God to give us wisdom to honor him in that situation. If we do something sinful, then it is our duty to sincerely and humbly repent of it, and to rest confidently in Christ’s forgiveness.
What do we pray for here then?
When we pray “Your will be done” we are saying that we are pleased to see God’s plan unfold in the way that he knows is best. We accept his divine decrees as they unfold moment by moment. We truly want his will to be done, because we love and trust him. We are saying that we are satisfied with our callings in life, with our talents, our resources, and the opportunities he sends to us. We are saying that we want to be able to see God at work in all that happens, and that we want to be a part of it in a godly way that honors our Lord.
We pray that what occurs on earth should, to the best of our ability, and with God’s enablement, conform to what pleases God here on earth, just as it does in heaven.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)