The Will Of God, Free Course, Lesson 1

The Will Of God, Free Course, Lesson 1
Allan Turner


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If God is truly the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, then is it not true that whatever happens is the will of God? A young baby dies of cancer or a young mother or father is seriously injured in an automobile accident and this is said to be God’s will. We pray earnestly for a fellow Christian’s recovery from a serious illness and in closing our prayer we say, “Not our will but Thine be done.” But, recovery does not take place and death occurs. Has God’s will really been done? Invariably, at funerals, if one listens to what is being said to the bereaved, one will be heard saying, “It is God’s will.” Are these things truly God’s will, and if so, in what sense?

The expression Sovereign Ruler is exactly equivalent to Absolute Lord or Sole Ruler. Sovereignty is equal to lordship, lordship is equal to ownership, ownership is equal to control. Consequently, it cannot be denied that if God is Sovereign Ruler then nothing escapes His sovereignty — everything that happens is ultimately the will of God. Repelled by the thought of a loving God being responsible for the death of the innocent and those we love, many have concluded that God is not yet Sovereign Ruler of the universe. Unlike now, one day, they say, God’s will will be done in all things.

Sympathetic as we are to their reasons for coming to this conclusion, we are nevertheless convinced that those who hold this position are terribly wrong. Biblically, the sovereignty of God is not open for debate. If God is not sovereign, He is simply not God. Therefore, when we answer “yes” to the question, “Is it true that whatever happens is the will of God?,” we must make sure that those who hear us understand our answer is not an unqualified “yes.” Failing to do so would be theologically misleading and personally devastating. My “yes” is qualified by the fact that there are at least three different senses in which the “will of God” is used in the Bible. When we understand the different ways in which this term is used, then we can understand how God is not personally and directly responsible for the many things people want to credit or discredit Him with, even though everything that happens ultimately falls within His sovereignty.

God’s Decretive Will

There are things that God decrees to happen. These things He causes to happen by His own omnipotence. These can be described as God’s decretive will. A biblical description of God’s decretive will is found in Psalms 33:11, which says: “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation,” and again in Isaiah 14:27, which says: “For the Lord of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?”

It was God’s decretive will that was at work in the redemption of mankind in His Son Jesus (Acts 2:23; 4:28; Colossians 1:4). What God purposes cannot be thwarted. For example, in Romans 8:28-30, God has decreed that He will justify and one day glorify certain foreknown individuals (viz., “whosoever will”) on the basis of a foreordained Christ (Acts 2:23; I Peter 1:19,20) a foreordained gospel plan (I Corinthians 2:7) and a foreordained life (Ephesians 2:10). With this fact firmly established, the apostle Paul joyously affirms, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). In like manner, the doctrine of the resurrection rests firmly on God’s decretive will. In John 6:40, Jesus said: “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” Again, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

God’s Preceptive Will

But there is a second way in which the “will of God” is used in the Bible. This has to do not with what God purposed to do Himself but with what He desires for man to do. This can be described as God’s preceptive will and is primarily concerned with man’s obedience to His word or precepts. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the “will of God” in this sense when he writes: “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36). In was in this sense that the Lord used the expression in Matthew 7:21: “Not every who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” When Jesus said “the will of My Father,” he was speaking of God’s precepts, statutes, or commandments. Consequently, it is in connection with God’s preceptive will — not His decretive will — that man is commanded to “work out [his] own salvation with fear  and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Furthermore, it is in connection with God’s preceptive will that we understand that the Lord is “longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). Actually, God’s desire (will) for the salvation of all men is reflected many places in His word (cf. I Timothy 2:4; Luke 7:30; Matthew 23:37), but such must be kept distinct from God’s decretive will. A failure to make such a distinction will cause one to land squarely within the Calvinist camp.

God’s Permissive Will

There is a third sense in which the “will of God” is used in the Scriptures. It can be described as God’s permissive will. Perhaps it is with God’s permissive will that men have the most trouble. In this category are to be found all those things which God neither purposes nor desires, but which he allows man in his freedom to bring about. There is a sense in which this third category is related to the second, God’s preceptive will. With a strict use of the word “permissive,” it can be seen that man’s response to God’s desire or preceptive will is not decreed or purposed by Him and is, therefore, permitted. In other words, God does not make someone obey His laws; in the strictest sense, He permits one to do so.

But that which makes this third category different from the second is not the presence of God’s permission, but the absence of a stated desire on God’s part that these events or circumstances should happen. In this category are events God neither purposed nor desired, but, nevertheless, permits, including some things that are clearly contrary to His stated desire (will), such as man’s sins. Therefore, when, in Jeremiah 19:5, God said: “They have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into my mind,” He made it plain that it was not His will they were doing, decreed or preceptive. In other words, it was not the mind (will) of God that they should do such a thing. Nevertheless, the Lord permitted His people to exercise their free wills and do those things clearly contrary to His counsel (will). Things such as this are within the “will of God” only in the sense that He permits them t
o happen (cf. Acts 17:24-30; 14:16; Romans 1:18-32).

God’s permissive will allows both bad and good things to occur. It is used by Paul in this latter sense in I Corinthians 16:7, when he writes: “For I do not wish to see you now on the way; but I hope to stay a while with you, if the Lord permits.” Again, he uses it this way when, in Acts 18:21, he writes: “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.” The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “And this we will do if God permits” (Hebrews 6:3).

Sometimes, of course, the Lord does not will (permit) something to happen that His creatures desire to happen. As Sovereign, He has the perfect right to do so. For example, in Acts 16:7, Luke writes: “After they had come to Mysia they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” And in James 4:13-15, the height of man’s prideful arrogance is manifested by one who does not take into consideration that his desires might be superseded by the Sovereign Ruler of the universe.

Control Not Causation

Some (Calvinists, for instance) have thought that the key to sovereignty is causation. This is wrong! The key to sovereignty is ultimate control. Through His absolute foreknowledge of every plan of man’s heart, and through His absolute ability (omnipotence) to either permit or prevent any particular plan man may have, God maintains complete control (sovereignty) over His creation. The power to prevent means that God ultimately has the final word in everything that happens. To deny this is to deny the sovereignty of God!

It is true, then, that whatever happens is God’s will. Everything that happens falls within the sovereign will of God in one sense or another. But, it is absolutely crucial to understand that there are three different senses in which this may be true: 1) Sometimes a thing occurs because God decides it will happen, and then He makes it happen. This we have called God’s decretive will and it seems to be limited mostly to His working out the “scheme of redemption.” 2) Sometimes a thing occurs because God desires it and man decides of his own free will to do what God desires. This we have identified as God’s preceptive will and has to do with God’s commandments or precepts. 3) Sometimes a thing occurs because of the agency of an individual or group of individuals and God permits it to happen.

We have called this God’s permissive will. Included in this category are sinful or careless acts like murder or the death of one caused by the actions of a drunken driver. Even tragedies that occur through the natural processes would fit in this category. All three of these categories can be classified as “God’s will,” but only the first category is God’s will in any causative sense. And even though God is Sovereign Ruler of the universe, categories two and three remind us that we must allow Sovereign Ruler to respect the integrity of the freedom He has granted to His creation. We must learn to trust His wisdom in knowing what good can be drawn from the tragic episodes He permits to take place in category three.

Finally, the Christian has the assurance of God’s special providence which compelled the apostle Paul to say: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And again, in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

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18 comments for “The Will Of God, Free Course, Lesson 1

  1. Shannon Gilroy
    March 11, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you,
    for your willingness to be used by God.
    I have to admit I didn’t learn a great deal.
    But what I learned is of utmost importance.
    Quality not quantity. I can now discuss this with a
    better explanation. The whole, free will, predestined thing.

    April 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm


  3. April 28, 2008 at 5:11 am

    May our good Lord empower you to excel in all ways according to His ”decretive Will”=) I love it. Your teachings are so helpful and easy to understand. I can now teach about the will of God with deeper understand and with clear explanation. God bless you all.

  4. Sam Montgomery
    July 7, 2008 at 3:34 am

    My Grandparents and many others, have Thine Will be Done on thier tombstone knowing death would be inetablly Gods final wordly will for all us on this Earth. these same people loved the law of the Lord and died knowing they were going to Heaven. Praise the Lord! I miss them, but shall not grieve. It takes faith to walk the walk. You must beleive to have faith, and having faith you can find hope. My hope is found in the Lord and I love him and his law and the will of god. Praise God!

  5. Dr. William Mills ThD
    September 5, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Death is not God’s will for us. When God created Adam & Eve did he not give them everlasting life? HIS will was for us to live forever in his beauty and grace in Eden.

    But Adam & Eve sinned against God and ate from the forbidden tree. That set into motion things AGAINST God’s will. I imagine God to have wept for his creations for he knew they would surely die.

    Death was given us by that very first sin, the forbiden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We pay for that sin with our own deaths, and our pains, but God has given out SOULS a way to live in his beauty and grace forever through the death of His son Jesus Christ.

    If you go to your bible and look up methusela, he was the oldest living person in the bible, but why did he live so long? Also why were there hundreds of people who lived way past 100 years old? Because as the years passed our lives grew shorter. All because of a piece of fruit and 2 people. The original Sin.

    May God bless you and Keep you.

  6. obed jamir
    February 8, 2009 at 5:41 am

    i believe..whatever the zest of thoughts prevails in this universe there is always a purpose of god for us to be pulled away from our loved ones..or rather to be diseased or being hated bu others .,.His mighty examples are beyond human thoughts and can never be understood my many …
    god really do had given gifts to share and discuss His mightyness..the ONLY ONE .. supreme ruler .. the lord and creater of humans and the galaxies.,.,.HE choosed you… and hope you will certailny bless all .. each and everyone who take a glimpse of these wonderful words

  7. Lucia Harry
    August 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    I know that God has a plan for our live, and it often happend that by the choices that we make in live ,we offend change the direction but never the less God allways brings us back to the point he want us to be.
    I belive that all the natural desaters and different new sickness, has to do with man made experiment,s. God is there with us true it all.It is like what we sow we reap.But God brings us back to the point he want us to be.

  8. alfredia mitchell
    September 9, 2009 at 12:44 am

    I am thankful this was explained…I have a better understanding about the will of God.

  9. sabrina sutton
    December 27, 2009 at 3:30 am

    question – was man’s fall from grace in the garden God’s permissive will?

  10. March 21, 2010 at 2:00 am

    I was looking for a better subject than ‘Christian Ethics’ which I have opened earlier. Where in fact, I was already in lesson 003.

    As I come across to this subject, I found it more interesting, since It is more of expounding, or I would say ‘God’s Will’ well Explained.

    I believed that there are still lots of people who fell short of becoming God’s servants because they cannot understand why unfavorable things still happened to them after they already have decided to follow God’s teachings…

    Now, with these subject, a preacher can explain clearly the deeper explanation of what ‘God’s Will’ is. I love this subject.

    Thank You Lord… In Jesus Name… Amen…

  11. March 21, 2010 at 6:30 am

    My respond to Sister Sabrina Sutton’s question is yes, it is ‘Permissive Will’… It was then allowed by God to happen as part of His plan for the coming of Jesus as savior.

  12. January 9, 2013 at 5:52 am

    Death is not our willingnes as wel as not GOD will for us. As written in the Bible, the first man Adam which God was created & Eve bring to us. He did not give them everlasting life. HIS will was for us to live forever in his beauty and grace in Eden.

    Both of them sinned against God and ate from the forbidden tree. That set into motion things AGAINST God’s will. .

    Death was given us by that very first sin, the forbiden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We pay for that sin with our own deaths, and our pains, but God has given out SOULS a way to live in his beauty and grace forever through the death of His son Jesus Christ.

    We know Mathusala had long life in the world, because he had blessing from God. Thas why he was the oldest living person in the bible, but why did he live so long? Also why were there hundreds of people who lived way past under 100 years old? Because as the years passed our lives grew shorter. All because of a piece of fruit and 2 people. The original Sin. Jesus have taken from us the sin death.
    Some times we saids that why God was taken the Child, the honest man and so on— For the People who blelieves in Jesus, must be happy Jesus takeover from the the original sin.
    We thanks Ham!

    May God bless you and Keep yo

  13. Marvin D.Schrebe
    February 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Well said!

  14. Ngongmbowoh
    May 8, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    God is good at all time. God has given free will to mankind, to do what is right and not wrong. I see any negative happenings due man’s craving.
    The facts of the Apostles is very clear, no matter the way we put it. The book of Jeremiah puts clear, that before birth God had a better plan, plan to prosper, plan to………

  15. Dave Dowling
    May 16, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Hi There .
    Greetings in the name of God the Father God the Son and God the Holy Spirit , wow what a piece , how descriptive as well as colourful and I must conclude such a wonderful eye opening way to explain what is a difficult subject .

  16. latantia
    June 29, 2013 at 10:16 am

    When you can accept death, and fear the Lord and live by the commandments, everyone lives will be much easier. We put too much time in trying to figure out the Lord…The Lord is mysterious and all we have to do is believe and have faith! Trust and believe in the most high, and love him with your mind, body and soul. I love him so much till he’s constantly on my mind. Live by the fruits of the spirit and you shall be blessed, life will be much easier for all of us. Let us all learn what the fruits and gifts of the spirit is and apply to our daily lives, while we are here on earth. I’m just gone focused on being the bride of the groom in heaven….our Lord Jesus Christ! I love everyone in this world even the good and the bad….God bless everyone!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. July 3, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    I give God the glory for this lesson. I have ben one those people shifting blames on God always. But since I went through this study, it has educated me to understand the three wills of God.

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