God’s Will

Kevin DeYoung argues in the best-titled book of 2009 that God has a sovereign will and a moral will, but He does not have what is typically thought of as an individual will of direction. He has an individual will only in the sense of those two other wills: He has in fact decreed whom you will marry, and in addition He has expressed moral guidelines for how to choose him or her. You don’t need to agonize through extra-scriptural means of finding out what His individual will of direction is, because the now-complete Bible is everything we need to know to make right decisions. God doesn’t tell us in advance what His will is with regard to two equally moral options. He doesn’t send us any messages about whether we should go to Fargo or Fiji.

I believe I’m representing DeYoung accurately, because I agreed with his view before I read his book!

But I recently ran into two passages cited against his position.

Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Colossians 1:9 “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” [cf. Ps. 143:8, 10]

These passages certainly fit a third “will of direction,” and in my reading of them through the years I’ve never thought to fit them into the one of the two categories of sovereign and moral will. Honestly, I never raised the question until today.

Does it Fit?

One strong clue that the two-wills paradigm still fits these verses is Romans 2:18, where Paul says of the Jews, “[You] know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law.” These are obviously some of the same words as Romans 12:2. Evidently, you know God’s will when you know God’s law.

The parallelism in Psalm 40:8 suggests something similar: “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”

And this can be more than made to fit with Col. 1:9. To be filled with the wise knowledge of God’s will is to know how to make application of Scripture to your situation. The right application of Scripture to your circumstance could be called “God’s will,” because God desires not just that someone not steal, but that you not steal tax dollars through book-cooking this afternoon. Both are His moral will, even though the second one is not stated explicitly in Scripture.

Likewise, when Paul prays in Rom. 12:2 that the believers in Rome would be able by testing to discern God’s perfect will, He may mean that He wants New Covenant power to transform them into becoming better practiced at applying God’s revealed moral will in Scripture. It’s not always immediately and perfectly clear how the Bible applies in any given case. We need the spiritual insight of a renewed mind to know what goods God’s moral will is leading us to perform.

I have a good theological reason not to allow for another category of God’s will beside His moral and sovereign will: that would be a form of divine revelation outside Scripture. That’s dangerous, as DeYoung humorously demonstrates.

And I have a logical reason not to accept a third category: What if God opened all the right doors, moistened all the right fleeces, and impressed me deeply that I was to choose a certain girl for my wife—and I refused? Where would that leave the girl God had for me? How could she follow God’s will when I said no? God is not the God of Plans B (Isa. 46:10).

I read John Frame’s section on a “third will of God” in The Doctrine of God after going through this exercise. I believe I’m stating the same position he is, and he is as clear and compelling as ever. I commend it to you.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

3 thoughts on “God’s Will”

  1. DeYoung explicitly says that he’s not contributing anything new. If anything, it’s just a well-written and accessible presentation of an old view.

    I honestly don’t know what Friesen contributed, because I have never read his work! It sure made a splash around here, though, because I’ve heard multiple professors mention it over the years—including Dr. Reimers just a few weeks ago.

  2. Mark, the esv is a poor translation in Rm 12.2. “Discern” should be “prove, manifest, demonstrate”. And the “what is good and acceptable and perfect” is in apposition to “will of God”. It defines what the will of God is.

    So the transformed Christian is supposed to manifest the will of God in his life by living out those things that are good and acceptable and perfect (complete, mature).

    The KJV also obscures the translation in this passage and has contributed a good deal to the ‘third will’ idea.

    FWIW

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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