Have you ever wondered, "How can I know the will of God for my life?" To be honest, this question deeply troubled me for many years of my life. What does God want me to do? What if I miss out on God' will? For several difficult years I viewed God's will as being hidden-like an encoded message on a treasure map. I thought my job was to search around while God sent little hints saying things like, "You're getting warmer!" Other times I feared that God's will would only be revealed to me if he took something I loved-such as basketball-away from me. While other people seemed to have a confidence about knowing God's will, I felt no such assurance.
Rather than rely upon hearsay about the will of God, I decided to closely study the Scriptures and see what God says about it. What I found was both transformative and illuminating. While I have a full chapter on this in my book Ethix: Being Bold in A Whatever World, I think you will find these four biblical principles helpful:
Principle #1 - God's will is that people be saved.
The first aspect of God's will is that, by believing in His son, Jesus Christ, people be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God, "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." If you are stumbling through life trying to know God's will, but have never asked God to forgive your sins, then you are not even in the beginning of God's will. Qualification number one for God's will is your salvation. If you have never committed your life to being a disciple of Jesus, then God has no reason to reveal anything further to you regarding the pattern of your life.
Principle #2-God's will is that people be filled with the Holy Spirit.
At the moment of salvation the God's Spirit enters the life of every Christian. The Holy Spirit that convicts us of sin and equips us with the strength to do what is right. It is always amazing to me how few people truly realize this powerful truth. When I hear Christians say, "God, send me your Spirit," I often wonder why they don't realize that God is already present in their lives! The Holy Spirit is not a force that comes in doses-He is a person who lives within you. As the Apostle Paul said, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
Principle #3-God's will is that people be pure.
Do you really want to know God's will for your life? Well, here it is: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). God's desire for every Christian is that he/she be pure. It is absurd for a young person who is sexually involved to say, "God, reveal your will to me." Since that person is ignoring God's moral will, why should He reveal some further personalized will? When you are controlled by lust rather than the Spirit of God, you are no longer in God's will.
Principle #4-God's will is that people submit to the proper authorities.
God's will for your life is very simple: Obey your parents and the proper authorities. 1 Peter 2:18 says, "Be submissive to your masters [parents, teachers, coaches] with all respect..." You might be thinking, "But Sean, you don't know my parents." But the verse continues, "...not only for those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable." Do you have unreasonable parents? What are you to do? Submit with respect. Of course, if an authority asks you to do something that goes against God's higher command, then obey God. But these times are few and far between.
God's Will is You!
God's will is that you be saved, be filled with the Holy Spirit, be pure, and submit to the proper authorities. The Bible makes it very clear that this is God's will for your life. Yet you might be thinking, "What about God's specific will for my life? I thought you were going to tell me how to find out where I should go to college or how to find my spouse!"
Well, if that's what you are looking for, then here is the final principle: If you have truly followed the first four principles then you are free to make choices based on your desires. And if you are living a godly life, God will give you the right desires. This is why the Psalmist says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." In other words, if we first give control of our lives to God, then we have the freedom to make choices because He is truly guiding our lives.
Students: Here is an important truth for you to digest--God's will is not so much about what you do, but about who you are. God's will is not so much about where you go to college, but about the type of student you are. God's will is not so much about who you date, but how you treat people of the opposite sex. God has dignified you with the freedom of making choices and living with the consequences.
So here's the take-home principle for students: Don't wait around for God's special personalized directive, get involved NOW! Get involved in a youth group, missions, Bible-club or student outreach. Go to Summit Ministries and learn how to think Christianly. Develop biblical convictions about what you believe and why you believe it. When you begin moving, God can steer you in the direction He wants you to go. This is why the writer of Proverbs said, "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (16:9).
Stay tuned for part 2...
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.