• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

God’s Will Is also His Plan and His Desire

The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.  But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Psalm 33:10-11NKJ


Question 93 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What is the moral law?" It gives the answer, "The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he oweth to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it." Last time we saw that the moral law is God's revealed will for all mankind. This week, before we expound the rest of the Catechism's answer, we need to consider other aspects of God's will taught in the Scriptures.

Part of the difficulty of understanding the moral law as God's will for our lives is that the Bible often speaks of different aspects of the will of God. Since the Catechism is answering a question concerning the law of God, it only mentions what theologians have called, the preceptive will of God. The preceptive will of God has to do with God's precepts; God's laws. Thus, this aspect of God's will directs and binds every human being to personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to it. God's will for you, or to say it another way: what God wants from you, He has declared by way of commandment. So the moral law of God is God's will for your life; it is His preceptive will for you. 

However, the Bible also speaks of God's will as His predestination of all things. Notice in the Scripture at the head of this article that it is only God's plan and purpose that stand firm forever. God's plan is God's declaration of what will be and it includes all things, from the greatest galaxies to the tiniest atoms.  This aspect of God's will is referred to as His decretive will, in that God declares or decrees what will be.  God said, "Let there be light," and there was light (Gen. 1:3). Accordingly, all of creation exists by the will of God. Jesus was born of a virgin because it was the will of God. He was crucified, died and was buried, and rose again on the third day because it was the will of God. Whereas the perceptive will of God teaches us what we should do in our lives, the decretive will of God teaches us what God will certainly do in the future. The preceptive will of God can be resisted, for we can break God's law, but nothing can resist the decretive will of God. Moreover, much of God's decretive will is not given to us (Deut. 29:29), for we will not need to know the future if we truly trust that God is in control. Like an obedient child on a trip, we will not demand to know where we are going, because Dad is driving!

Consequently, Jesus taught the decretive will of God in order to encourage His disciples not to fear what man can do to them, when He said to them, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will," (Matt. 10:29). Notice how not even a single bird can die unless or until God has willed for that bird to die. The Almighty Creator, Sustainer, and Knower of all things does not allow anything to thwart even the smallest portion of His plan. Thus, the decretive will of God should give you great confidence, for it teaches you that nothing can happen to you unless it has been willed to happen to you by your loving heavenly Father. It is only because of the decretive will of God that one of the most precious promises in the Bible can be given: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose," (Rom. 8:28).

Finally, the Bible also speaks of God's will in the sense of God's desire or delight. Theologians have referred to this aspect of God's will as His will of disposition. Here we find those things that God has done or will do because He has decided, or willed, to do it that way. Thus, Paul is an apostle of Jesus Christ, "by the will of God," (1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; etc.). So also, Jesus prayed, "Not my will but Yours be done," (Luke 22:42). Here Jesus was obviously not asking for the Father's commandments but not His own to be kept! Likewise, He could not have been saying not His own plan but the Father's plan be done, as if He had a different plan for all things from His Father. No, Jesus was saying, "Considering the infinite wrath that I must satisfy in order to save Your people, I would rather not do it this way, yet not as I desire but as you desire, so let it be." 

In summary then, if you are wondering what God's will is for you and how to find it: the preceptive will is God's law - you find it in the Bible; the decretive will is His unchangeable and perfect plan for all things - and other than the big things like Jesus is coming back and we will live forever in the new heavens and the new earth, it's none of our business (!); and God's will of disposition is His desire or choice - you find this by fellowshipping with God!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

Reformed doctrine. Reverent worship. Real life.

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