“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3a
There is the general will of God. This is what is God’s will for everyone. For instance, God desires salvation for every person (Ezek. 18:23, 32; Mat. 18:14; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). It is also God’s will for people to live a sanctified holy life (1 Thess. 4:3).
Then there is the particular will of God for each particular circumstance of each individual person. This has to do with such questions as a person’s work, daily and life decisions. A lot of times determining the individual will of God for our lives can be discerned by asking five simple questions:
- Will it build me up spiritually? (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:23; Hebrews 12:1-2)
- Will it bring me under its power? (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12; Romans
- Do I have an uneasy feeling about it? (cf. Romans 14:23)
- Will it cause someone else to stumble? (cf. Romans 14:15)
- Will it bring glory to God? (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians
Ask yourself these five questions and you’ll be on the way to choosing the right fork in the road and making a decision that will help you press on in your spiritual journey in life.
The word “will” (Greek thelema) means will, desire, determination, choice, purpose, inclination or pleasure. When we speak of God’s will we speak of His desire, determination, choice, purpose, inclination, and pleasure for us. Since He loves us (e.g. John 3:16; Romans 5:8) we can be secure in thinking that He only wants what is best for us. This is why we should always submit our will to His will for us. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy [God’s] will be done” (Matthew 6:10). Jesus Himself prayed “not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:36-46). We are called to imitate Christ (Rom. 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). Therefore we too should be praying and seeking God’s will for our lives. And as we do we can rest in the fact that, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32).
The most important step in determining God’s will for our lives is to come to Him in a state of full and complete surrender of our will to His will. In the letter to the Romans Paul lays out the glorious gospel of grace in the first 8 chapters. In chapters 9-11 he speaks of God’s election to service using Israel as an example. Then in chapter 12 he makes the transition to practical material that will involve the rest of the letter. He transitions to application by stating the way to determine God’s will and how He would use you in life is to first fully surrender to Him. Paul states: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).
In light of the glorious gospel of grace, life in the Spirit, and the prospect of serving the Lord (Romans 1-11), the only reasonable thing to do is to present ourselves to God in full surrender as a living sacrifice. He warns against conforming to the world. Don’t try to determine God’s use of you by worldly standards or priorities. Instead we are to be transformed by the mind renewing word of God. The purpose in this is, “that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Full surrender precedes finding God’s will. God’s will is described by Paul as “good and acceptable and perfect.” Isn’t that what we all want?
We live in an evil fallen world. How can we discern God’s will with so much darkness and sin around us? How can God’s will and evil be reconciled? In Genesis 45-46 the life circumstances of Joseph provide the environment to answer such questions. (I encourage you to read these chapters as a backdrop for the rest of this study.) In Joseph’s life we see: treachery against him by his siblings; his slavery; his imprisonment under false accusations; his being forgotten in prison and his eventual rise to power in Egypt. In all of this God is at work. How was God’s will present in Joseph’s life when bad things were happening to him? To understand God’s will in connection with evil we need to see it in the following ways.
The intentional will of God - God always providentially opposes evil and seeks to bring about “good” (Hebrew – TOV). God used the evil circumstances in the life of Joseph to save his entire family (Genesis 45:5-9; 50:20). Every good thing comes from God (James 1:16-18). Our position in life is from God (John 3:27). Growth and progress of the gospel comes from God (1 Corinthians 3:7).
The circumstantial will of God - If and when men inwardly choose to do evil, God tries to influence them away from evil by getting them to express it in the least evil way. Through Reuben (Genesis 37:21-22) and Judah (Genesis 43:9; 44:33) God minimized evil. God desires none to perish. Therefore, God waits patiently for sinners to repent (2 Peter 3:9). This goodness and longsuffering of God is meant to lead people to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
The ultimate will of God - When evil is overtly expressed, God is able to bring good even from intended evil actions. Though evil befell Joseph, God brought good from it (Genesis 45:5-9). All things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). God can bring good from any situation (Romans 8:28). God’s will, will get done! Job was inspired to say, “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” (Job 42:2). Remember what Joseph said about his life circumstances, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20).
What is the nature of God’s revealed will? The Bible describes God’s revealed will as: thorough (2 Chronicles 32:22); intimate and personal (Psalm 32:8 - like a couple communicating by eye contact); as counsel (Psalm 73:24); safe, skillful, like a Shepherd (Psalm 78:52-53, 72); continuous, ongoing, and revealed step by step (Isaiah 58:11).
How does God reveal His will to us? God reveals His will to us through: circumstances (Jeremiah 32:6-8; Acts 16:6-8); in various ways (Hebrews 1:1); through life illustrations (Psalm 19:1; Matthew 6:25-34; Romans 1:19-20); through dreams (Genesis 31:11; 37:5-11; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:19); through visions (Daniel 8:1,17; 10:7; Acts 9:10-17; 10; 16:9-15; Revelation 1); through an audible voice (Genesis 46:2-4; Exodus 3-4; 1 Samuel 3:1-10); through angels (Genesis 18; Luke 1-2; Hebrews 13:2); through people (Genesis 45:8; Acts 11:28; 21:10-11; 1 Corinthians 12,14); through God’s written word (Psalm 119; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Peter 1:19-21); through Jesus (Genesis 18; 32; Joshua 5:13-15; Ezekiel 40:1-4; Daniel 3:25; 10:4-9; John 1:1-5,14; Hebrews 1:1-3); and through the inner presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16;6:19-20).
In the context of 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul identifies sanctification as an aspect of the general will of God for all people. He says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” It is God’s will that we be sanctified! The term “sanctification” (ἁγιασμός hagiasmŏs, hag-ee-as-mos´) means purification, the state of purity, holiness, sanctification. Sanctification involves heart purity. Sanctification is being purified from anything and everything that would impede our relationship with God and His plan for our lives. Sanctification is being cleansed from sinfulness so that we can be set apart for His use. Our prayer for sanctification should be, Lord, cleanse and purify my heart from anything displeasing to You, anything that would deter or impede Your will in my life; anything that would prevent me from being set apart for Your use. Lord, make me all You desire me to be, so I can do all You’ve called me to do, for Your glory, until You return.
Sanctification involves a step of faith (Acts 26:18). Our sanctification is rooted and grounded in Jesus (1 Cor. 1:30). Sanctification involves victory over sin (Romans 6:19, 22). It involves purification of the heart by faith (Acts 15:8-9). Sanctification is an act of faith by which we surrender to God those things that either would displease Him or run contrary to His will and plan. To a great extent sanctification is living out God’s will in every area of your life.
At the end of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he gives a prayerful benediction stating: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
We will discuss this verse more in part 2 of For This is the Will of God. Suffice it to say that the sanctification God desires is a thorough deep and complete work. And God promises to do for us what He asks of us. We simply have to trust Him to do it.