Does God Have An Individual Will For Each Person’s Life?
Those who ask this question assume an individual, specific will for every person. They assume that God has an ideal, detailed blueprint already drawn up for each person’s life. They assume that for any decision we face there is a specific choice (in the most restrictive sense) that God wants us to make. This applies to the school we should attend, the occupation we should choose, and the specific individual God wants us to marry. In his book, Knowing God’s Will — And Doing It!, J. Grant Howard, Jr. expressed it this way: “Scripture teaches us that God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which will happen. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It is also, for the most part, unpredictable. It includes everything — even sin and suffering. It involves everything — even human responsibility and human decisions.” A good summary of this view is given by Garry Friesen in his book Decision Making & the Will of God: “God’s individual will is that ideal, detailed life-plan which God has uniquely designed for each believer. This life-plan encompasses every decision we make and is the basis of God’s daily guidance. This guidance is given through the indwelling Holy Spirit who progressively reveals God’s life-plan to the heart of the individual believer….”
Although this view is very popular, we are convinced that the idea of an individual, specific will of God for every detail of a person’s life is not taught in God’s Word. The Calvinists and other determinists argue that the Bible is filled with examples of individuals for whom God had a specific plan, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Paul, et al. But each of these examples was highly unusual and was related to God’s working out of His plan of salvation for fallen mankind, that is, the Scheme of Redemption. Furthermore, the specific plan that God had for each of these individuals was revealed to them by special revelation and, therefore, cannot be seen as normative for ordinary believers.
Those who affirm God’s individual will for each person usually cite passages like Psalms 32:8; Proverbs 3:5,6; Isaiah 30:20,21; Colossians 1:9 and 4:12; Romans 12:1,2; Ephesians 2:10 and 5:15-17. But when these passages are considered in their context, a much stronger case can be made for these passages in terms of God’s preceptive or moral will (which we have already discussed at some length) and not His decretive will.
Being Led By The Spirit
But someone will say, “How about being ‘led by the Spirit?’” In Romans 8:14, the Scriptures say, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” and in Galatians 5:18, it says, “But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under law.” The Calvinist thinks the Holy Spirit influences him through some mysterious inward guidance. The Bible does not teach such a doctrine — these two passages included — and we are firmly convinced that when one begins to listen to some inner voice, he is headed for trouble. In fact, Romans 8:26,27 doesn’t say anything about the Holy Spirit speaking to us. What it says is: “…the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 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.” Being led by the Spirit of God has to do with one’s obedience to God’s Word (i.e., God’s preceptive or moral will), which is the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). Being led by the Spirit in a direct way, like was promised to the apostles (John 16:12-14), was never intended to be understood as being avail able to all Christians. In other words, direct guidance by God’s Holy Spirit was promised specifically to the Lord’s apostles, not Christians in general, and was for the specific purpose of revealing the Bible, not for inner guidance for all Christians (cf. Ephesians 3:3-5).
We find it ironic that those who are waiting to know God’s will for themselves through some inner guidance or miracle apart from the Word are the very ones who miss God’s will for their lives by not obeying His preceptive or moral will. I have personally taught the gospel to those caught up in this deceptive doctrine and have had them tell me that if God wanted them to be baptized for the remission of sins, He would have told them directly through a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. As they erroneously wait for a direct revelation of God’s decretive will, they fail to obey His preceptive will. Therefore, as one can see, this is a most damnable doctrine!
But, in rejecting such a doctrine, one must not jump to another equally extreme position which says that knowing the will of God is irrelevant to daily decision making. The will of God (particularly His preceptive will as revealed in the Scriptures) is always applicable to our daily lives. God’s Word is to be the reference point for our decision making. This means that the most sophisticated technique for knowing the will of God in our lives is found in II Timothy 3:16, which says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” In other words, whatever God instructs us to do in His Word, either through commands or general principles, is His will for our lives. this means that if God wants us to do it, then it is in the book! Thus, when the question is asked, “How can I know God’s will for my life?,” we can answer, “Look in the Bible.”
Not As Many “Thou Shalts” And “Thou Shalt Nots” As You Might Think
Additionally, and contrary to what a lot of people think, God’s preceptive will for man has very few “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Most of what God would have us do is learned from principles taught in His Word. This is why Bible study is so important. If we are not thoroughly familiar with God’s Word, then we will not know the principles that allow us to make the right decisions in our lives. For instance: When we are familiar with the sanctity of life ethic taught throughout the Bible, we are able to make the right decisions concerning the many pressing issues of our day, namely, abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, etc. In times past, God’s people perished because they were ignorant of His Word (cf. Hosea 4:1), and the same thing can happen to us today.
Neither Required Nor Forbidden
But, and this is very important, many of the decisions we face every day are neither required nor forbidden by God’s preceptive will. The key to understanding this point
is to be found in the idea that it is not our task to know if a particular decision is God’s will, but rather if it is within God’s will. For example: In I Timothy 5:8, the inspired apostle wrote, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” This is God’s preceptive will and it requires, among other things, that a parent provide nourishing food for his/her children, and as long as this general principle is met, the specific decision of whether to have liver and onions or steak and green beans for dinner does not really matter to God. Whether one eats in the kitchen or the dining room, or whether the beans are fresh or frozen, or whether one has a hamburger for breakfast, lunch or dinner, does not matter to God. Once again, as long as the general requirements of this passage are being met, God is not really concerned about the specific choices that are made. Understanding this point can be liberating for those who have thought God wanted them to make a specific choice in every circumstance.
To be pleasing to God, everything we do must fall within His preceptive will (cf. Colossians 3:17), even those things that are not specifically required by it, such as matters of opinion and indifference. For instance, we have the right (i.e., it falls within God’s will) to eat or not eat meat; but, and this is terribly important, we have no right to bind either of these on anyone else (Romans 14:1-13). Likewise, we have the right (i.e., it falls within the umbrella of God’s preceptive will) to send our children to a public or private school; but we have no right to bind either of these on someone else. Furthermore, we have the right (i.e., God grants permission) to marry within or outside of our own race; but we have no right to bind our personal convictions in this matter on another person. There are, of course, many other things that could be listed here, but you see the point, do you not?