With apologies to linguists who love the study of English grammar, I must confess that I hated the seemingly endless hours of diagramming sentences and studying the differences between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, articles, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, periods, commas, exclamation and question marks, asterisks, parentheses, colons and semi-colons… Even that last sentence seems to have gone on and on and on, doesn’t it? But I guess I must grudgingly thank Mrs. Light, Mr. Bruneli and all of those other teachers who drummed such knowledge into my head; for without it, accurate comprehension of our language—especially in it’s written form—would be difficult. Whether it is the deciphering of a document such as a lease or a purchase agreement, a fun read of a fast-paced novel, an inquisitive perusal of a news account, or an in-depth study of the Bible; it turns out that grammar is important. Consider will. It can be used as a noun (refers to a person, place, thing or action), a verb (expresses existence, action or occurrence); or, in one of its other forms such as willed, willful, willing or willingly, it could be an adjective, adverb or participle (we’ll leave those definitions for those who love linguistics!!!); and could indicate past, present or future. Fortunately for us, we generally comprehend the meaning of the word by the context—in everyday language it’s fairly obvious if the word is descriptive or active; but for purposes of this discussion let’s look first at how will is used grammatically as a noun in the English language. Once we know that, all of its iterations seem to make even more sense and we may gain a better comprehension of what God has to say about will in the His Word.
In 1928, Noah Webster described it well. Will can mean, “that faculty of the mind by which we determine either to do or forbear an action; the faculty which is exercised in deciding, among two or more objects, which we shall embrace or pursue. The will is directed or influenced by the judgment. The understanding or reason compares different objects, which operate as motives; the judgment determines which is preferable, and the will decides which to pursue. In other words, we reason with respect to the value or importance of things; we then judge which is to be preferred; and we will to take the most valuable.”1 It should be noted that while these are actions commonly thought of as originating from the intellect or soul of man, they may also occur out of the spirit; and, since we are created in God’s image, they mirror his capacity for reason, judgment and will. That man has a will is evident:
• Matthew 21:31a—“Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said to Him, “The first.”
• Romans 9:16—So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
• Titus 1:7—For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money.”
• 2 Peter 4:19—for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
And God’s will is spoken of repeatedly:
• Mark 3:35—Jesus said, “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”
• Romans 8:27—Now he who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
• Romans 12:2—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.
• Ephesians 6:6—not with eyeservice, as men pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
Will can have to do with disposition, inclination or desire and we need to pray, as in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”2 We should also seek His will as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”3
We’ve all seen cartoon representations of a person with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other—each working to influence the will of the individual. Funny, yes; but also a good illustration of the ongoing battle we face between good and bad choices—choices of will. We can emulate the will of God or the will of evil, and we should be aware that with the ungodly choices come devastating consequences:
• Genesis 3—Out of an act of their will, Adam and Eve set the precedent and became the first example of the consequences of the ungodly use of free will when they chose to eat the fruit that God had forbidden. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
• Luke 7:30—But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves
• Matthew 23—Jesus denounced the evil acts of the scribes and Pharisees, who he described as hypocrites; and seven times he declared woe upon them, adding in verses 33, 35-36, “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? …that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”
On the other hand, godly choices result in a myriad of blessings.
• Jeremiah 26:13—Now therefore, amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God; then the LORD will relent concerning the doom that He has pronounced against you.
• John 2:17—And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
• Hebrews 10:35-39—Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise: “ For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
David pleaded for God to insert Himself into a situation to overcome the will of his enemies, “Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; For false witnesses have risen against me, And such as breathe out violence.” 4
OK, so man has a will and God has a will; we each have a choice, and it is clear that we are to follow His will rather than our own; but how do we know what that is? Sometimes we can make the process of determining God’s will a very difficult thing—at least I know I have. How many times have I agonized over the question, “What is God’s will for my life?” More than I can count. But God is faithful—He doesn’t leave us floundering around with no answers. When we look to His Word and internalize its truth, determining His will becomes much easier. God has not only given us the Bible as an instruction manual, but he has also illustrated it with real-life illustrations regarding how to do things (or not!)—all we have to do is read and follow His directions. We can choose to be confused and frustrated like the stereotypical image of a parent who refuses to read the instructions before putting a toy together for his child at the last minute on Christmas Eve, ending up with a disaster on his hands. Or, we can imitate one who sets aside plenty of time, studies the instructions, follows them step-by-step, and assembles the perfect gift in a fraction of the time.
Can it really be that easy? It sounds too simple—just follow God’s how-to manual. But what about this? And what about that? How do I know where to go and what to do next? How do I choose the perfect mate? How do I deal with my bills, my health, my spouse, my kids???? Life is not easy—in fact, it’s hard; and learning to live by faith can be a challenge. It requires a determination of our will to conform to the truth of God’s Word. For example, I’m absolutely certain that Jesus meant it when he said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble;”5 but how often do we choose to ignore his direction as we worry about this, that or whatever.
But once again, the question arises, “How do I do that?” Consider this; all of us experience times when we just know what our spouse or child or best friend is thinking because we are so close to them—they don’t have to say a word. It’s pretty much the same with God; the more intimate we become with Him, the more we know what He’s thinking. Our spirits become so attuned to the Holy Spirit that we sense His will in any given situation—it may appear as a hesitancy or dread if we’re about to make a mistake; or as a sense of lightness and freedom if we’re on the right path; or any number of other ways in which He chooses to communicate. It’s not always easy to move ahead in faith without knowing what comes next, but determining to walk by faith and not by sight is an act of our will that the LORD loves. I submit that life not only falls into place much easier, but also is also a lot less stressful when He becomes our first priority. Just try it—take a leap of faith!
Look at this account from the Apostle Paul (previously known as Saul), “Then a certain Ananias…came to me; and he stood and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And at that same hour I looked up at him. Then he said, ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’”6 It’s pretty clear that Saul’s knowledge about God’s will was to grow out of a relationship with Jesus; he simply needed to pursue Him. Obviously he heeded that instruction, for it is Paul who later wrote to the Ephesians, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.7 God’s will is revealed in His Son, and Jesus himself said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” 8
The more we study the life of Jesus and the better we get to know Him, the easier it is to determine the will of God. It starts with redemption; it continues with relationship; it is evidenced by the choices we make out of our will. And once again the Apostle Paul offers some great advice regarding how to proceed, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”9
But it gets even better. Will may also refer to a legal document called a testament that dictates the disposition of an estate; and The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.10 And, In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.11 According to His will, He has willed us an unparalleled inheritance and He communicates that knowledge to us through His Spirit.
And finally, we are the recipients of this amazing promise, presented as a Biblical example of will as an auxiliary verb signifying the future tense. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.12
1 Webster, Noah. (1928). American Dictionary of the English Language. (Facsimile Edition 1967). Chesapeake, Virginia: Foundation for American Christian Education
2 Matthew 6:9-10
3 Luke 20:41-42
4 Psalm 27:12
5 Matthew 6:33-34
6 Acts 22:12-16
7 Ephesians 1:7-10
8 John 7:17
9 Philippians 4:4-8
10 Romans 8:16-18
11 Ephesians 1:11-12
12 Revelation 3:12