Is it Possible to Know What the Will of God Is?

Sophia Bricker

Contributing Writer
Published May 01, 2024
Is it Possible to Know What the Will of God Is?

We can learn about His purpose by reading Scripture, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and getting to know His character. Merely understanding God’s will is not enough. We must obey Him and walk within His will.

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People will struggle to know the will of God at some point in their lives. They wonder about the Lord’s plan in theological terms when they hear news of wars or children starving.

How does the suffering of those individuals fit into God’s will? If the Lord is the Ruler of all, then how could pain, hunger, and death be a part of His plan?

Or people can struggle with the will of God on a more personal level. They may wonder what He wants them to do in life, such as what college they should attend or the career they should pursue. Individuals may seek out the Lord’s counsel if it is His purpose for them to marry or have children.

Understanding what the Bible means when it mentions “the will of God” is essential to working through these questions about God’s plan in the world and for individuals.

We must cut through the common assumptions and misunderstandings that people have about this issue to get to what Scripture truly teaches. As we do, we will gain a more theologically coherent view of God’s will and how to follow it.

Defining the Will of God

Central to the topic of the will of God is the biblical truth that God is sovereign over all (Psalm 115:3). As the Creator and Ruler of all, He has a direct purpose for everything and everyone (Proverbs 16:4).

In this sense, God’s will relates to His purposes and plans for the world and all creation. The Lord’s sovereign plan cannot be hindered or resisted (Isaiah 46:10-13; Proverbs 19:21). What He has planned and directed will be carried out. Some theologians refer to this as God’s decretive will.

However, God also created people with free will. We can choose to obey or disobey Him, to place faith in Him or to reject Him. In another sense, then, God’s will refers to what He desires or wants, but which can be rejected by individuals.

Theologians often call this God’s preceptive will. For example, He wants all people to come to repentance and be saved (2 Peter 3:9).

This is His will and the reason He sent His Son to die for our sins (John 3:16). Yet not everyone obeys His will in this matter. Many have and will continue to reject the Lord’s offer of salvation.

Also, the Lord does not want people to suffer from diseases and starvation. He does not delight in murderous killings or oppression of the poor. These things are not in His will, but He allows them to take place (theologians call this God’s permissive will).

Bad things occur because of the sinful choices of Adam and Eve in introducing sin and death into the world, as well as the evil actions of people today.

In His goodness and love, though, the Lord works in these situations to bring about good where harm was intended by people (Genesis 50:20).

For Christians, this distinction between God’s sovereign will and His will in terms of wants or commands is important. Scripture encourages us to seek out, understand, and obey the will of God.

We should echo Jesus’ words to the Father when He prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Believers should want to walk in the path of God’s will and avoid straying from His revealed desires and commands.

As we do, we can trust that the Lord’s overarching, unchangeable plan and purpose will occur just as He promised. Even the pain and suffering in life that God does not desire can be transformed and used for His good purpose (Romans 8:28).

Knowing God’s Will

The Lord is greater than us, so we cannot expect to know or understand everything He does.

Scripture teaches us, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

At times, we will have to be content with the mystery of God’s sovereign will.

What He desires, though, can be known. He has revealed His will in the Bible and encourages us to seek it out. If we diligently seek His will, He will teach us (Psalm 143:10).

Part of seeking His will is through renewing our minds by reading His Word and by trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then, we will be able to discern what the Lord’s perfect and good will is and obey it (Romans 12:2).

As we study the Bible, we find many passages that tell us what God desires or wills:

In addition to these passages that teach about the will of God, we also learn more about what the Lord desires or wills by reading Scripture and getting to know God’s character.

For example, we do not have a verse that directly says, “The will of God is to help the poor,” but we know that it is His will based on verses that display His loving concern for the poor and show that those who love the Lord should help those in need (Psalm 140:12; Proverbs 19:17; 22:9; Matthew 25:34-40).

The more we learn about our Lord and Savior in Scripture, the more we will be able to discern His will.

Doing the Will of God

God does not want us to only know His will, but to do it. Jesus told the disciples that the wise person listens to His words but also puts them into action (Matthew 7:24).

We are meant to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22, ESV). Therefore, an essential part of understanding God’s will is to obey what He says.

Doing so takes work and intentionality. No one walks in the will of God naturally or passively. We must diligently seek out His will, allowing the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us.

Then, when we understand what the Lord wants us to do, we must choose to listen and put His Word into action.

At times, following what God has declared in the Bible will prove costly to us. Many things that God wills go against mainstream society, such as sharing the truth of the gospel with others and avoiding sexual immorality. People might not like us when we walk in the way God desires.

Even our close friends and family could object to our decision to obey the Lord in our daily actions and decisions.

The Bible never tells us that doing God’s will is easy or that it will make us popular with others. Instead, Jesus said that His disciples would take up their crosses daily and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-25).

This means that, at times, we will suffer humiliation, rejection, and hatred from others for following Jesus. Such reactions are expected because that is how people repeatedly respond to Christ.

Yet, doing God’s will is worth it. As 1 John 2:17 says, “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

Let us strive, then, to know the will of God and to actively live it out each day.

How about Knowing God’s Will for My Life?

“What is God’s will for my life?” is the million-dollar question. Young people think if they can answer that question definitively then they would be prepared for life. They will know where they are going and how to get there. The point is not knowing if God has a plan.

Believers understand that their lives have meaning and purpose, for their existence is not an accident or the result of random forces. However, they want to know His unique plan for their lives so they can know what to do and how to live.

Despite the popular hype around knowing “God’s will for my life,” Scripture does not talk about the Lord’s sovereign plan or desires in this way. We do not see God carefully giving detailed instructions to people about each part of their lives.

Instead, we see God telling Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt without any details about the trials Moses would face (Exodus 3:7-10). All he knew was that the Lord promised to help him (Exodus 4:12, 15).

Likewise, David knew the Lord had promised he would be King of Israel but did not know exactly when or how that would happen (1 Samuel 16:12-13). He struggled while hiding in caves from Saul, though he trusted in the Lord.

Or consider the example of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was informed of the Lord’s purpose for her to conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Messiah, the Son of God (Luke 1:26-37).

She did not receive specific guidelines about enduring the pregnancy but trusted in the Lord (Luke 1:38). She remained faithful despite the unknown.

The Lord does not normally give us step-by-step instructions about our lives. What He does give us is His Word, which is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Psalm 119:105).

God gives us just enough details so we can decide to act and step forward. It is uncommon for Him to show us the entire path of our future. He does this so we can learn to trust Him in the unknown and to walk with Him in a relationship.

Instead of being so consumed with things that the Lord often does not reveal to us right away, we should seek to be faithful now in doing what we know is the will of God.

What Does This Mean?

The will of God refers both to His sovereign, immutable plan as well as His commands or what He desires for people.

We can learn about His purpose and plan by reading Scripture, following the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and getting to know His character. Merely understanding God’s will, though, is not enough. We must obey Him and walk within His will.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Matese Fields

Sophia Bricker is a writer. Her mission is to help others grow in their relationship with Jesus through thoughtful articles, devotionals, and stories. She completed a BA and MA in Christian ministry, which included extensive study of the Bible and theology, and an MFA in creative writing. You can follow her blog about her story, faith, and creativity at The Cross, a Pen, and a Page.

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