To be faithful Christians, we must understand what God wants. How can we understand His will? Jeremiah 10:23 reads, “I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.” There is a common thread throughout all of the methods God has used to show us His will. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The author of Hebrews is extremely clear with these words. God in the past has used various methods of communication, but now He has given us the one true and complete way of God speaking to mankind: Jesus.
As the Bible shows, we must seek the “word of the LORD”. Jesus Himself is the embodiment of the Word (John 1:1), and everything leading up to Him is important in understanding what He desires.
When God communicated to Adam that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not even to be touched (Genesis 3:3), we recognize that this was God’s word being given to man. This “WORD of God” is a clear connection throughout scripture.
Genesis 15:1 begins, “After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram...” The will of God carried weight in Abraham’s life, for his faith was founded upon it. Abraham knew that a divergence from what God commanded would be rebellion against Him.
In the time of Moses, we see the word of God given to him and Aaron, and then handed down to the people of Israel. When Moses approaches Pharaoh to free Israel, he does not say, “I am Moses; let them go.” He says, plainly: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go...” (Exodus 5:1). In this transition period from the patriarchs to the prophets, Moses is a man who still is face to face with God (Exodus 33:11), yet carries God’s will not only to a liberated Israel, but to the most powerful nation on earth at that time.
From this point on, we see “Thus says the LORD” consistently attributed by those prophets sent by God to do His will. The importance is given not to the one bringing the message, but the One who has given it.
“Thus says the LORD” was a required element in the message of God, primarily to show that the message was valid. Of course, just because a person claimed to have a message from God, it did not guarantee that it was the truth (1 Kings 13:11-34); thus, God gave His people ways to determine whether the message was true or not (Deuteronomy 18), and He does the same today (Matthew 7:15-20).
Because we seek God’s pleasure, it follows that we cannot accept our opinion as a basis of truth. God will not be pleased with the opinion of someone else, either. We need the “word of the LORD”, and we should accept nothing less. How do we receive it?
Some might claim that we just need to be a good person, and we will get a “sign”, or a “feeling”, from God, telling us what to do. In fact, many who claim to receive these messages believe it validates their salvation. This discounts the necessity of the scriptures, for if we can still receive direct messages such as what God gave the patriarchs, we have no need of the Bible. Furthermore, how do we know to be a good person without the word of God, which defines “goodness”? Those defending personalized extra-biblical messages from God should be willing to test their content. Paul writes, “test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1). In most or all of these claims of personal contact with God, there doesn’t seem to be much “testing” going on. In this author’s limited experience, every person who has approached him with individual experiences of receiving a message from God has never displayed a mindset of seeking to prove that what they have experienced is authentic; rather, it has been an almost automatic acceptance that the message is indeed from God, and that it is the truth.
Some groups might claim that we cannot understand the message that God has given in the Bible, and while the text is inspired, we need someone else to “interpret” the text for us. This invalidates any individual reading and understanding of the Bible, and negates any true influence it can have, except through a human mediator. Such a view does away with the only mediator, Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5). We need men to teach and preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2), but we need no interpretation except what the Bible says for itself.
Still others are convinced that God accepts them no matter how they live their life. They claim that there is no moral standard, and that whatever way we live is right because God allows them to live that way. This, of course, is nothing but an unguided license to whatever lifestyle we choose. The contrast that God offers in His will is to “walk worthy” (Ephesians 4:1).
We receive the “word” in no other way than through the Bible. Man has been given everything he needs to understand and do God’s will in the text He has given to him. Anything more than this, or anything less, will not provide for our spiritual fulfillment. Peter wrote that God’s “divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4). Jude wrote of the “faith that was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul wrote that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Put simply, the history of the Old Testament and the example of the New shows us that God communicates His will to Christians today in accordance with the way that He created us. God made us to think in certain ways, and He communicates His will through the reading and studying of the Bible.
The most obvious method of communication is when God tells us precisely what to do. A clear example is when Jesus tells the disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you ...” (Matthew 28:19-20). He could not get any clearer than that. Most who believe the Bible is divinely inspired will not dispute that when God tells us something to do, we must do it. Jesus gave His apostles the message of the Gospel so they would proclaim it throughout the world, and the Gospel demands today the same measure of consideration, because it is STILL the “word of the LORD”. As Paul wrote to the brethren at Corinth, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 14:37). We know from our daily lives that there are laws that we must follow in order to be “good citizens”. God, the King of all creation, has told us what to do in order to be pleasing to Him and to become citizens in His kingdom.
Another way that God gives us His will is to show us that will being applied and carried out. Paul wrote, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9). This means that we do not need to be given a command directly from God to know what the right way is. We simply must look at the example of the Apostles and the Church in the New Testament. Again, Paul writes, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Since we know that those in the Bible who did these things were found faithful to God, we know that we can do the same, and be found faithful. We learn from examples in our everyday life, so when God shows us these examples in the Bible, we must consider them binding upon us.
Finally, God implies certain things about His will. No scripture is given to us, but every part is written for us. While a passage might not relate directly to me, I can still learn from what is present and what is absent. Jesus used implications to teach, such as his answer to the Sadducees concerning the resurrection (Matt. 22:32). “I am” implies that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive in some form, proving that the resurrection would indeed occur, a belief that the Sadducees did not share. Implications can be the most challenging way that God communicates His will.
Even if we accept all of this, we will never understand God’s will if we do not take it seriously. John writes in Revelation: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (22:18-19). We can obtain the “word of the LORD”, but that does not guarantee that we will listen to it and profit from it. James reminds us that we can ask liberally for the great, endless wisdom of God (James 1:5). If we are not seeking HIS wisdom, then our search for truth is pointless.
God communicates to us today, but in a very specific way. He does not use mysterious ways, or hints, or urges, or feelings. He uses the verifiable truth of His word, shown most plainly in Jesus. Do you want God’s will to be accomplished in your life? Begin by learning about Him. Hear Him, and He will guide you into a life of fulfillment and joy in His kingdom. -Steven McCrary