Really Doing the Will of God
Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 16:41NKJV
This morning we look again at Westminster Larger Catechism Question 192, which asks, “What do we pray for in the third petition?” It gives the answer, “In the third petition (which is, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven,) acknowledging, that by nature we and all men are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God, but prone to rebel against his word, to repine and murmur against his providence, and wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the devil: we pray, that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart; and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things, with the like humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy, as the angels do in heaven.”
Last time we saw how praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is an act of spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Though we do not have the power to defeat these forces, our reigning Lord does, and He is the one who has taught us to pray to Him to do it! Today, therefore, we consider how our Father causes His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven when He moves to grant this petition offered in real faith. First, we notice that in granting this petition to us, God must take some things away from us. The Catechism lists four things God must take away: blindness, weakness, indisposedness, and perverseness of heart. All of these descriptions are not physical but spiritual. That is, they are images of our inner life of thought, emotion, and desire. Thus, this petition teaches us that apart from God’s continued grace to us, even we who believe, who know better, would inevitably exercise our wills out of blindness towards what is good and godly. In our weak faith we would yield to those temptations from the world and the devil that are especially attractive to us. Left to our own strength we would be overcome by our flesh and find ourselves once again indisposed to do God’s will. And our perverse or crooked hearts would prevail against our best intentions and lead to will things that are against the glory of God.
Accordingly, when Christ taught us to pray that God’s will be done on earth, and therefore, in us, He was teaching us to accept the fact that we cannot stir up strength from within ourselves to overcome our spiritual enemies so that we would obey God. Instead we must continually look to God to take away our unwillingness to do His will as well as to give us the grace to “make us” willing and able to do three things: to know, do, and submit to His will. First, we need God’s grace to know His will. Although even non-Christians can “know” much of what is right and wrong according to the will of God, they suppress this knowledge in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-22). Similarly, apart from God’s continued grace towards us, we Christians would shut our eyes to the truth that we know and deceive ourselves into believing the lie of sin (1 Cor. 15:12). Second, we need grace to do God’s will. I can memorize all of God’s commands to me, but only by His strength will I be moved to act on that knowledge. And third, God must bring about my willing submission to His will for apart from His grace I would resist it (Rom. 7:15-25).
Accordingly, when the Catechism teaches that God must “make us able and willing” it is rejecting any notion of God forcing sanctification upon the believer. We grow in conformity to God’s will not by our own strength but by God’s, and not by God compelling us to do what we don’t want, but by God transforming our hearts so that we grow in our wanting obedience and in our not wanting sin. In other words God causes us to willingly know, do, and submit to His will and to do it from the heart, which is to say truly and sincerely. Thus, the final part of today’s answer calls attention to the disposition of the heart in our doing God’s will. When we ask that God’s will be done on earth we are asking God to transform our hearts and minds so that we would be just like the angels and do God’s will, not merely outwardly or grudgingly, but with real “humility, cheerfulness, faithfulness, diligence, zeal, sincerity, and constancy.” The good news is that because Jesus taught us to pray for God to so do His will in us, we can know that when we ask Him in real faith, He will!