Two weeks ago I started by asking some big questions about God’s will for our lives. I learned two things from your comments: First, Boundless readers are great! You’re curious, and you want to wrestle with this stuff at a deeper level. Second, I was reminded issues of God’s will can be really hard to struggle with. It’s possible to spend weeks and even months wondering if we’re doing the right thing and wondering if the Lord’s going to tell us we missed out on what He really wanted us to do.
I believe God’s will for our lives is not hidden or difficult to find. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” You can probably affirm that passage is true, but you may struggle to believe it day-to-day. So let’s talk about where we should begin if we want to think well about the will of God.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I finished building a fence around our backyard. Before we began we had to do a ton of research. We watched a bunch of YouTube videos and asked others about their experiences. Once we had all the information, we had to put it into practice as we persevered through sweat, heat, poison oak and lots of small cuts and bruises. Several times along the way we had to revise our plan based on new information. The end result was a six-foot pine privacy fence that keeps our dogs inside and makes our backyard much more cozy.
Knowing and doing the will of God is much like this process. We begin with the best “information” concerning what God has already told us about His will— we can find this in Scripture. It’s the essential first ingredient: A love for and persistent study of the Bible.
Over the first 11 chapters of Romans Paul makes many claims about who God is and what He’s done to reconcile people to Himself. Paul spends a lot of time laying a theological foundation, cultivating important truths that reveal the scope of God’s saving activity. Now, in Romans 12:1-2, Paul turns a corner:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Godʼs mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God— this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what Godʼs will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Understanding these verses gives us critical insight into understanding the will of God. Here’s what you can’t miss:
1. This is one of the few places in the New Testament that explicitly discusses how to know God’s will. While there are other important passages, very few present such a straightforward answer to the question of “How can we know God’s will?”
2. The phrase “in view of God’s mercy” means “because” or “on the basis of.” Basically Paul is saying “Because of God’s saving attributes that I’ve been talking about from Romans 1-11, therefore…” (For more context, Paul sums up much of his theology in Romans 11:30-32.)
3. There are two main elements to Paul’s exhortation: “offer your bodies” and “do not conform … but be transformed.” Paul’s addressing the totality of each person, our bodies and our minds. Already Paul’s noted that believers who have the Spirit are able to do righteous things with their bodies (8:13), so we shouldn’t be surprised he discusses the role of our actions and our thoughts in trying to decipher the will of God.
4. The result of offering our bodies and having our minds transformed is that we’re enabled to “test and approve what God’s will is.” Testing and approving involves both knowledge and application.
In a nutshell, Paul says the gospel makes it possible for Christians to submit their minds and bodies in obedience to God, and the result of this ongoing submission is a growing awareness and practice of the will of God.
When I first studied these verses in-depth, I was deeply, deeply encouraged. There are times when we’re tempted to believe God is hiding His will from us, and we’re overwhelmed with the belief that it’ll always be impossible to do the right thing and that our failure means God thinks less of us. All of these fears should be put to rest by these verses.
If our bodily offering and transformed thinking are made possible “in view of God’s mercy,” then they aren’t dependent on our own strength, character or qualifications. The gospel proclaims it’s God who works in us “to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). If Paul says believers can offer their bodies and can be transformed by the renewing of their minds, then I have no business disagreeing with him. Instead, I can start living in hope, believing that God’s will isn’t really so far off after all.
In my next post I’ll talk more about what it looks like on a daily basis to offer our bodies and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. For now, I want any of you who are discouraged or questioning to take some time to meditate on the truth of Romans 12:1-2. Rest in the fact that God doesn’t try to hide Himself or His will from you; rather, He’s shown all of us more mercy than we can ever possibly deserve or understand. More than that, His mercy actually makes a new way of life possible for you if you’re in Christ.
If we’re filled with fear, uncertainty, disappointment or doubt about the possibility of knowing God’s will, it’ll be much harder for us to learn, grow and change. Paul makes clear that God’s will isn’t a hidden thing or something that’s dependent on our performance or qualifications. God gives us everything we need in the gospel (“in view of God’s mercy”), and Paul’s promised us that we can in fact “test and approve what God’s will is.” This promise is for you and for me and for all of the church, no matter how much we’ve struggled and failed.
So take heart— God is nearer than you think, and His will is less difficult to find than you might believe.
Leave your thoughts about Romans 12:1-2 in the comments. Do you agree with this interpretation? What other questions do you have about these verses? Are they helpful for you as you think about God’s will?