Study Guide: God’s Will in God’s Word

Sunday June 26, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

When searching for God’s will, the first place we should start is the Bible. It contains much of what God wants done in the world. Greg also talks about the difference between God’s ideal will and His accommodating will, prompting many questions about the way God moves in this world.

Extended Summary:

There are many legitimate questions when it comes to knowing what is God’s will. Questions of discernment, precedent, and general what if abound when people try to figure out God’s will. It is a great challenge that many good Christians battle with everyday. However, we may be fighting the wrong challenge. Our biggest challenge as Christians is not in discerning God’s will, but in actually living according to his will.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we begin to see the ways in which we want to control our own lives and keep God out. Whether it’s our finances or the anger that we want to hold onto, there are places in our lives that we don’t want God’s will done. And when we do want to know God’s will, it is selectively and usually when we are uncertain or scared. Our prayer should be that God would fill every area of our lives and his will would be first sought. This can be difficult, but there are a few things to understand about God’s will.

The first thing we should understand about God’s will is that the Bible is foundational to knowing his will. Not only do we find God’s commandments, but we also find a way to check what we are thinking might be God’s will. God’s word is a lamp to our feet and lights the path of our life. A person who stays in God’s word will have a better chance of knowing God’s will than someone that doesn’t. The same is true of someone trying to walk a path at night with a lamp or without a lamp. One works well, the other way does not.

The main idea that we learn from scripture is to live in love like Christ. If we’re trying to figure out God’s will, then it should be in Love. If the action or thought isn’t in love, that’s a pretty clear sign that it’s not God’s will. There’s no need to pray for God’s will on questions of arrogance vs. humility, telling the truth vs. lying, or being faithful vs. cheating. God’s will is steeped in love, and it won’t choose anything but love for you. The second thing we should understand about God’s will is that God’s will should be discerned in community. It is dangerous to try and find God’s will individually.

Individually, something may make sense to a person, but when submitted to a community of fellow believers, may not make sense. This is how people decide the end of the world, fly planes into buildings, and other un-godly acts. Before a few hundred years ago, there were very few Bibles in print. Most of the time, the Bible was read aloud by one person while everyone else listened. It wasn’t until the printing press that people started to individually own a bible. A community of believers won’t get everything right, but it will help to understand God’s will.

The third thing we need to understand about God’s will is to not take it out of context. When we read in the Bible about certain acts by God, we need to make sure we understand the context within which God acted. A verse out of context can be very dangerous, especially when trying to apply 2,000 year old texts to our day. They lived in a different time, with different customs and understandings of the world.

The final idea we need to understand about God’s will is the difference between God’s ideal will and his accommodating will. God’s ideal will is that which he wants done. God’s accommodating will is that which he “settles for” when it comes to dealing with broken humanity. We should always strive for the ideal, and we shouldn’t mistake the accommodating as the ideal. God’s ideal will is that marriage would be for life and between a man and a woman. However, God allows for divorce in his law for the Israelites. God also seems to allow for polygamy, concubines, and remarriage, but none of it seems to be his ideal will for our lives. Israel wasn’t supposed to have a king, but that didn’t last long. What we have to learn from this is that just because God accommodated something in the past doesn’t make it his ideal. God may have allowed polygamy, but that doesn’t mean we should become polygamists.

Knowing God’s ideal will isn’t the same as knowing his will for us and our loved ones today. God is working with sinful people, and he knows exactly what we need in our lives. We need God’s guidance to understand that will, and that is best found in Scripture and in community. It can be easy to categorize people when we’re not in relationship with them, but it becomes easier to understand God’s will in context when we are in relationship with people.

Understanding God’s will can be tricky at times. Confusion and questions regularly abound. Yet, God wants us to keep striving to know him and his will. This is relationship, where we try to know the other person and understand them. In turn, we begin to see what God thinks of our life and how he would want us to grow. Using the principles mentioned above, we can begin to understand and search for God’s will in our lives.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. What were your thoughts on God’s will before this sermon? Did they change at all?
  3. Have you ever read a passage out of context and thought it was God’s will? What did that look like?
  4. Do you agree or disagree with Greg’s assessment of God’s accommodating will and ideal will? Why or why not?
  5. Why is relationship so important when discerning God’s accommodating will? What does it look like when relationship isn’t present?