How do we normally discern God’s will in our day to day lives? Let us gather some data points from the Bible.
Spirit and Truth
First, we worship in spirit and truth. True knowledge about God matters, and we should care about what the truth actually is. True knowledge about God doesn’t lead to vain repetition, or simply habitual religion, but is a life changing spiritual reality.
John 4:24 CSB —
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
Hosea 4:6 CSB —
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
Because you have rejected knowledge,
I will reject you from serving as my priest.
Since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I will also forget your sons.
Isaiah 32:6 CSB —
For a fool speaks foolishness
and his mind plots iniquity.
He lives in a godless way
and speaks falsely about the Lord.
He leaves the hungry empty
and deprives the thirsty of drink.
Job 42:7 CSB —
After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.
Hosea 6:6 CSB —
For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Malachi 2:7 CSB —
For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should desire instruction from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of Armies.
God’s Overarching Will
Knowledge of God’s grace and holiness lead us to a desire to do God’s will. The word of God tells us what God desires. God desires for us to first love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind; second to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Matthew 22:37 CSB —
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
Deuteronomy 6:5 CSB —
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Keeping God’s Commands
The Bible, the word of God, tells us of God’s covenant promise and plan for the redemption of creation, teaches us about God’s character, and reveals what God desires. As followers of Jesus, we strive to keep God’s commands. God’s commands and God’s will are communicated to us in the Bible.
John 14:15 CSB —
“If you love me, you will keep my commands.
Psalm 119:155 CSB —
Salvation is far from the wicked
because they do not study your statutes.
Psalm 119:56 CSB —
This is my practice:
I obey your precepts.
We keep God’s commands not out of love for the commands themselves, but because we love God, and love our neighbour.
Matthew 9:13 CSB —
Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Micah 6:8 CSB —
Mankind, he has told each of you what is good
and what it is the Lord requires of you:
to act justly, to love faithfulness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
We have not kept God’s commands, we have not loved God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, or with all of our strength. We have put ourselves and our own selfish interests before loving our neighbour. Apart from faith, we are in bondage to sin, and cannot please God. In faith we are released from bondage to sin, and are free to pursue righteousness. Our Christian freedom and hope is not only choosing daily to live a life pleasing to God, but eternal life.
Romans 6:12-22 CSB —
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness. For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under the law but under grace.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? Absolutely not! Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over, and having been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. I am using a human analogy because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness. So what fruit was produced then from the things you are now ashamed of? The outcome of those things is death. But now, since you have been set free from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification—and the outcome is eternal life!
Following God’s commands leaves tremendous freedom as we wisely choose our path through life. God doesn’t usually lead us through specific decisions, but leads us in righteousness, provides us with wisdom, and he made us as creative creatures who are to glorify God in all things we do; seeking first the Kingdom of God in every decision. With Godly wisdom we will hear from God always, because it is his law and his will that is written on our hearts, informing our decisions.
Matthew 10:16 CSB —
“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.
Psalm 23:3 CSB —
He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
1 Corinthians 10:31 CSB —
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
Matthew 6:33 CSB —
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.
We are certainly to pray for wisdom, to use the gifts God has given us wisely, to love what is good, and therefore to make good choices as we walk through life. The entire book of Proverbs and Eccleciastes seem to speak to this Christian freedom we have to live wisely, make good choices, and glorify God. We are still tempted, and have yet our wicked desires, but we slowly put these desires of the flesh to death on a journey of sanctification.
James 1:5 CSB —
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.
1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB —
No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to bear it.
Jeremiah 17:9 CSB —
The heart is more deceitful than anything else,
and incurable—who can understand it?
A Biblical Depiction of Righteousness
As we are sanctified and grow in knowledge, we both desire and learn to live more righteous lives. The Bible gives a vivid view of the righteous life. Infact, we are even told the unrighteous works of the flesh are obvious.
Romans 12:2 CSB —
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Galatians 5:16-26 CSB —
I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Ephesians 4:21-5:5 CSB —
assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.
Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the devil an opportunity. Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and walk in love, as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Obscene and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 CSB —
Additionally then, brothers and sisters, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received instruction from us on how you should live and please God—as you are doing—do this even more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you knows how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not with lustful passions, like the Gentiles, who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and take advantage of a brother or sister in this manner, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to live in holiness. Consequently, anyone who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Christian Free Will and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit
With a wide world of choices before us, it can be tempting to want Jesus to make our decisions for us. What then is the role of the Holy Spirit, God himself, who has indwelt us? We know we are still subject to temptation, that we still have wicked thoughts, so it would be a mistake to think that our thoughts are God’s thoughts. This would be a wicked mistake, and would make gods of ourselves, which is idolatry. The Holy Spirit does however illuminate the truth, and convict us regarding sin and righteousness. This is most profound in the conversion process as we repent. After conversion, the work of the Holy Spirit continues through our period of sanctification as we practice prayer, thanksgiving, repentance, putting the flesh to death, and good works. God made us in his image, as creative creatures with consciences and many diverse gifts. There are many paths we could pursue righteously, but we are always to turn from evil.
John 16:8-14 CSB —
When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.
“I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. For he will not speak on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
But what should we desire? Love certainly, but what about prophecy? A prophet speaks on someone else’s behalf. Aaron was Moses’ prophet. Moses was God’s prophet. All of us who are Christians are Jesus’ prophets. We have the truth and testimony of Christ recorded in scripture, and we are to proclaim this to all the earth.
1 Cor 14:1 CSB —
Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.
Exodus 7:1 CSB —
The Lord answered Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet.
But what about special revelation apart from scripture; prophecy directly from God to Christians today? We certainly have the example of Ananias, but this does not seem to be the primary or normative way God operates today. If God does speak directly to us, we should be ready to obey and share the message as God wills. However, emptying your mind and willing God to speak directly to you isn’t taught in the Bible. Instead, be ready for whatever God has planned for us as we turn from evil and regularly use our time to actively study, fellowship, and pray.
Acts 9:10 CSB —
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
“Here I am, Lord,” he replied.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 CSB —
And we exhort you, brothers and sisters: warn those who are idle, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t stifle the Spirit. Don’t despise prophecies, but test all things. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil.
Speaking on Behalf of God
Further, God never contradicts himself, and can never be made a liar. A study of the character and commands of God sets a high and sobering standard for teachers who speak and teach the word of God; even more so for prophets claiming to speak directly on behalf of God. It is a terrifying idea to have God against you as Jeremiah suggests; to make God your enemy.
James 3:1 CSB —
Not many should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we will receive a stricter judgment.
Luke 17:2 CSB —
It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
Deuteronomy 18:20 CSB —
But the prophet who presumes to speak a message in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.’
Jeremiah 23:25-31 CSB —
“I have heard what the prophets who prophesy a lie in my name have said: ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the minds of the prophets prophesying lies, prophets of the deceit of their own minds? Through their dreams that they tell one another, they plan to cause my people to forget my name as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. The prophet who has only a dream should recount the dream, but the one who has my word should speak my word truthfully, for what is straw compared to grain?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Is not my word like fire”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and like a hammer that pulverizes rock? Therefore, take note! I am against the prophets”—the Lord’s declaration—“who steal my words from each other. I am against the prophets”—the Lord’s declaration—“who use their own tongues to make a declaration.
On one hand, the word of God, the Bible, is not something we worship. On the other hand it is not merely a sieve through which we hear God’s voice. We need to have as high a view of scripture as Jesus had. The Bible is the very word of God.
Hebrews 4:12 CSB —
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
2 Timothy 3:15-17 CSB —
and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.