Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Battle for God’s Will
Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:13NKJV
This morning we look 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 that due to our sinful natures fallen man cannot—because he will not—do God’s will. So where is our hope for this petition to be granted by God? Well, as we saw previously, doing God’s will means in this context obeying God’s law. In heaven all creatures perfectly obey God’s law because they love it. On earth fallen sinners do not do God’s law because they hate it. Now Christians have been given new natures that love God’s law but we still have to battle with our old natures which can only and will always hate it. Thus, the Catechism notices that “we, and all men are… prone to rebel against his word.” Paul, in Romans 6:8-9, describes this propensity for disobedience in fallen man. Our sinful state is such that when God’s will via His law is made known to us in a particular area, our sinful natures are stirred up as it were. It is as if sin was lying dormant until the law of God comes in and then sin is provoked and rises up to fight against God’s law.
Thus, in this petition we ask God to ensure that His will is someday done on earth as it is right now done in heaven. Only God, in the mighty power of His grace, can bring about the full transformation of my own heart so that I will fully embrace and do His will. In the sanctification process God inexorably and progressively brings His transformative power to the spirit of the believer, so that we more and more do the will of God from the heart even as we less and less do the will of the flesh. Praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is thus praying for the full sanctification of all believers. We know God will bring this about in the consummation when He ushers in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein righteousness will fully dwell without any spot or blemish of sin whatsoever (2 Pet. 3:13). And so praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is also praying for God to bring about the full consummation of the gospel, when the creation will be fully restored and all believers will be glorified in bodies and souls of perfect righteousness. Thus, we take part in God’s restorative and redemptive plan when we pray this petition.
In addition to admitting the current sinful condition of things here on earth, this petition also acknowledges that all of the creatures in heaven are right now doing God’s will to God’s complete satisfaction. Accordingly, when Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth, just as or even as it is done in heaven, He was revealing to us something about heaven: that in heaven God’s will is fully and perfectly executed. Thus, the doing of God’s will in heaven is the benchmark and target for us on earth. There can be no flaw, no lack, no coming up short of doing God’s will in heaven for if there was even the slightest or rarest inadequacy or imperfection in the carrying out of God’s will among the heavenly beings then Christ would not have given it to us as our standard. But since heaven is our model and goal then heaven is perfect in righteousness, and this prayer anticipates the day when the earth will fully match heaven in that perfection! Until then it is our privilege to wage spiritual warfare with God-empowered weapons which are mighty for casting down every argument and thought that would oppose obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Praying with real faith in Christ for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven is waging spiritual war, first against the remaining sin in my heart and in the hearts of all believers, and then in the hearts and minds of all people everywhere. May God grant that we are a generation of mighty warriors!