How to Avoid Being Judgmental

Human nature encourages us to pay far more attention to the shortcomings of others than to our own faults. We tend to evaluate others on the basis of a lofty standard of righteousness that somehow is not applicable to our own performance.

The disciples of Jesus had been highly influenced by the leadership style of the Pharisees, who didn’t bring the best out in people. They were critical, picky, and thought the worst concerning people. Their ministry didn’t offer hope, but condemnation. Their criticism was spawned out of self-righteous pride. They were condescending and didn’t believe in what God could do or was doing in the lives of people.

The larger context of this passage is about proper relationships. The unChristian study revealed a lot of perception when it comes to Christianity.

  • Proper relationship with Christian brothers (Matthew 7:1-5).
  • Proper relationship with unreceptive unbelievers (Matthew 7:6) Proper relationship with God the Father (Matthew 7:7-11).
  • Proper relationship with all people (Matthew 7:12).

Our Focal Passage Today is Matthew 7:1-12 – Questions:

1. What would you say is the orientation of our church, doubting and criticizing people or believing and hoping the best for people?

2. Can you be a nonjudgmental person yet make moral and theological judgments? If yes explain why? (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, 1 Timothy 4:1-6, 6:3-5, 1 John 4:1-3, Jude 3, Revelation 2:2).

3. How does Jesus himself make a moral judgment? (Matthew 7:6)

4. What is the difference between dogs and hogs? (Matthew 7:6)

5. What causes us to be less condemning (or judgmental) and more merciful? (James 2:12-13)

6. What is the negative command that Jesus give his disciples and Matthew 7:1?

7. Why is it advantageous not to judge others? (Matthew 7:16)

8. What happens to a person that is constantly faultfinding and nitpicking? (Matthew 7:2, Luke 6:37, Proverbs 26:27)

9. What should our “standard of measure” be? (Matthew 7:2)

10. how can you know whether you possess a judgmental spirit? Write the six principles from the following passages. I possess a judgmental spirit when…

  • 1 Corinthians 4:5
  • Romans 14:3-5, 10, 12-13, Colossians 2:16
  • Luke 18:11-14
  • John 7:24, 8:15, 2 Corinthians 5:16-17
  • Romans 2:1
  • Matthew 7:5, 1 Corinthians 11:28, Galatians 6:3-5

11. What part of the human body does Jesus use to illustrate his point that we ought to first examine ourselves? (Matthew 7:35)

12. Why is it so outrageous for the person in Jesus illustration to claim to be an eye surgeon? (Matthew 7:45)

13. What does Jesus call people who find fault with others? (Matthew 7:5a)

14. What does the command in Matthew 7:5 demand of us?

15. What does self-examination involved? (Matthew 7:5b)

16. What does a self-examination prepare us to do? (Matthew 7:5c)

Six Steps to Avoid a Judgmental Spirit:

Step 1 – Do Not be Judgmental (Matthew 7:1a)

What it does NOT forbid…

  • Judging between what is legal in a court of law (Matthew 5:22).
  • Making moral distinctions (Matthew 5:21, 27, John 4:15-18, 8:1-11).
  • Passing judgment on false religious leaders (Matthew 7:15-20, 1 John 4:1–3, 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, 1 Corinthians 14-29, Acts 17:11, Revelation 2:2).
  • Deciding where people are in their receptivity to God’s Word (Matthew 7:6, Matthew 10:14, Acts 13:31, 18:5-6).
  • Determining God’s will (Romans 2:18, Philippians 1:10).

In John 7:24, Jesus said, “do not judge according to appearance but judge with the righteous judgment.” This verse presupposes that some kind of judging are not only legitimate but mandated.

What it DOES forbid…

  • Deciding what a person’s motive is without asking (1 Corinthians 4:5).
  • Measuring everyone else by your self-made standards or personal convictions (Romans 14:3–5, 10, 12, 13, Colossians 2:16). “Other may but I cannot,” dealing with gray areas and amoral issues.
  • Justifying yourself by condemning other people (Luke 18:11–14). When I have to elevate myself by lowering others I’m in trouble.
  • Making a first impression based solely upon external appearances (John 7:24, 8:15, 2 Corinthians 5:16–17, 1 Samuel 16:17). Coming down hard on others when you so miserably fail in the same area (Romans 2:1).
  • Quickly judging others before examining oneself (Matthew 7:5, 1 Corinthians 11:28, Galatians 6:3–5, also 1 Corinthians 11:31, 2 Corinthians 13:5).

Step 2 – Be Prepared for the Boomerang Effect Response (Matthew 7:1b-2)

The command “do not judge” is present imperative. This verse ends with the purpose clause, “so that you will not be judged.” Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that critical and picky preachers breed critical and picky congregations. This is not a reference to God’s judgment because he is just and will judge all of us by the eternal standard of his word.

If you want others to judge and condemn you, you start it. If you want them to be understanding, loving, believing, then begin by being that way yourself. A positive attitude is as contagious as the flu. Unfortunately, so are frowns, sighs, cutting sarcasm, and harsh words (Proverbs 26:27)

Jesus says a judgmental spirit has a boomerang effect and it will come back upon the one who was initially judgmental (Matthew 7:2)

Charles Swindoll calls, the Law of a Echoes,” telling the story of a young boy who lived with his grandfather on the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps. He would often love to hear the sound of his own voice echoing back to him, he would go outside and shout “hello” and the sound would come back “hello, hello, hello.” One Day the boy misbehaved and needed some discipline. The boy resented receiving it so much that he shouted to his grandfather, “I hate you,” and the rocks and boulders across the mountains responded in kind.

Step 3 – Answer the Why and How Questions (Matthew 7:3–4)

Jesus chose the eye to illustrate his teaching because this is one of the most sensitive areas of the human body. Jesus is using colorful hyperbole here. He is exaggerating to make his point vivid. There is no way a log can get stuck, unnoticed, in someone’s eye. Jesus may have even dramatized this point, which would have made this teaching quite humorous.

The word “speck” refers to a little splinter, a small twig, a bit of dried stalk or stick; perhaps like a speck of sawdust. The word “log” refers to a beam that supports the roof of the building. It signifies a large 6×8 beam, a timber cut out of the trunk of a tree. Jesus is describing a timber that is more like a telephone pole than a plank.

Although a speck is small in comparison to a log, it is not an insignificant object to have in the eye. Jesus’ comparison is not between very small sin or fault and one that is large, but between one that is large and one that is gigantic.

The word for “look” is the present tense and stresses the “continuous gaze or focus upon” that speck. Jesus wants them to recognize that they are so quickly to notice, pay attention, or call attention to that speck because it is a little piece of our own log. This suggest that we become most critical of that in others, which is a major problem in ourselves.

The word “notice” means “to perceive clearly, to consider closely, carefully, and thoroughly, to understand fully.” The term conveys the idea of serious, continuous meditation or thought. Jesus is saying in effect, “Why don’t you stop and think about your own sin? Until you have done that how can you confront another about their shortcomings?”

When Jesus asked the question, “How can you say to your brother…” It is like a blind surgeon trying to remove a splinter from someone else’s eye.

Step 4 – Stop Play Acting (Matthew 7:5a)

Jesus accused the person he described in Matthew 7:4 with these words, “you hypocrite.” The word “hypocrite” refers to the Greek and Roman play actors who spoke into large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of their voice. Hypocrites referred to people who are pretending to be somebody or something that they aren’t.

In this context the word hypocrite could refer to the condemning the brother who is guilty of the same sin but has done nothing about it (Romans 2:1, Romans 2:3, Romans 2:17–24, James 4:11–12).

Step 5 – Make it Your First Priority to do Self-examination (Matthew 7:5b)

The Pharisees judged and criticized others to make themselves look good (Luke 18:9–14). In contrast, Christ commands his disciples to judge themselves so that they can help others look good. There is a huge difference. Since the Pharisees didn’t have an adequate definition for sin, they had a very inadequate appreciation of their own faults. If they knew how worthy of blame they themselves were, they would have been less ready to blame others.

Jesus commands us to “first take the log out of our own eye.” The aorist tense denotes urgency, the imperative mood demands immediate action and obedience.

There were two extremes that must be avoided in this matter of self-examination:

Shallow Examination – sometimes we are so sure of ourselves that we fail to examine our hearts honestly and thoroughly. A quick glance into the “mirror of the word” will never reveal our true situation. It’s only when one “looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty” (James 1:25) that he sees what kind of person he really is.

Perpetual Autopsy – sometimes we get so wrapped up in self-examination and introspection we become discouraged, guilt ridden, and defeated. Satan longs to accuse us (Revelation 12:10) and put us on a permanent guilt trip that immobilizes us from active service in the kingdom. We need to acknowledge our sin, own it, morning over it, confessed it, and fully experience God’s forgiveness. (1 John 1:9)

Step 6 – Help Your Brother (Matthew 7:5c)

When you’re able to see clearly, then you’re able to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. When we judge ourselves rightly and deal with the log in our own eye, only then are we able to see clearly enough to help our brother. God wants us to be good listeners but eye surgery involves more than just listening to the patient. Eventually the eye surgeon must do the delicate and tender work of operating on the patients eye. So, the Christian eventually needs to speak into the other lives of other people.

Jesus doesn’t call us to be parakeets but Paracletes who “come beside” our brother to help him. Jesus doesn’t want to us to parakeet our brothers words and say nonjudgmental statements back to a brother caught in a trespass (Galatians 6:1). Jesus instructs us here to discern what is constricting our brother’s vision and to intentionally attempt to remove it.

Discernment versus Judgment:

1. Regarding Personal Sins:

  • A discerning person – One who discerns by thoroughly examining himself before evaluating the actions of others (Galatians 6:4, 1 Corinthians 11:28, 31, 2 Corinthians 13:5).
  • A judgmental person – One who judges by condemning others for their visible problems but fails to realize that their attitude stem from root problems which he himself has not yet overcome. (Romans 2:1, 14:10).

2. Regarding Facts or Evidence:

  • A discerning person – One who discerns by checking the accuracy of all the facts and related factors before reaching a conclusion. (1 Corinthians 2:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, 1 John 4:1).
  • A judgmental person – One who judges by forming opinions on first impressions or hearsay, then looks for evidence to confirm his opinions even though the evidence may be out of context. (John 7:24, 51, James 4:11).

3. Regarding Exposure:

  • A discerning person – One who discerns by dealing as privately as possible with the problems he sees. (1 Corinthians 6:5).
    A judgmental person – One who judges by publicly exposing those he condemns. This may cause others to condemn him for having the same route problem such as pride, lack of love, or a critical spirit. (Luke 6:37)

Definitions of Words:

The Root Meaning of Judgment: The Greek verb is used in Scripture to describe the scope and action of judgment. KRINO no means to pass judgment on, to sentence, to mentally or judicial condemn, to conclude, to decide, to determine.

The Root Meaning of Discernment: there are several Greek words to describe the scope and action of discernment.

  1. DOKIMAZO means to test, to examine, to interpret, to discover, to approve, to prove, to demonstrate.
  2. ANAKRINO means to ask questions, to examine, to evaluate, to scrutinize, to investigate, to search out.
  3. DIAKRINO means to make a distinction (between persons), to weigh thoroughly each part.

Take a look at this word study document (by Rick Leineweber) to see the categories of uses of these words in Scripture. [ Go ]

Understanding The Bible Commentary:

Jesus says, Do not judge. The Greek construction (mē plus the present imperative) carries with it the idea of “ceasing what you are now doing.” Judging, in this context, implies a harsh and censorious spirit. If you insist on condemning others, you exclude yourself from God’s forgiveness. Although it is psychologically true that a critical spirit receives from others a harsh response, Jesus is here speaking of final judgment. The NIV correctly translates, “or you too will be judged.”

The admonition not to judge is often taken incorrectly to imply that believers are not to make moral judgments about anyone or anything. That this is not what was intended is clear from Matthew 7:15–20, which warn of false prophets who can be known by the fruit they bear. Jesus does not ask us to lay aside our critical faculties but rather to resist the urge to speak harshly of others. The issue is serious in that God will judge us by the same standard we apply to others. This rather frightening truth should change the way in which we tend to view other people’s failings.

Matthew 7:3–5 present the ludicrous picture of someone with a long beam or rafter protruding from his eye trying to extract a tiny chip of dried wood (or perhaps a speck of dust) from the eye of another. Obviously we are dealing with Eastern hyperbole (like Matthew 19:24, with its scene of a camel going through the eye of a needle!). How hypocritical to be concerned with the minor fault of another in view of one’s own personal failure. Taken in an unqualified sense, this would put a complete stop to helping others with their moral difficulties. Undoubtedly it is intended to restrict hypocritical correction of others rather than to prohibit all helpful correction.

Matthew 7:6 is proverbial and difficult to interpret in its present context. Dogs and hogs are derogatory terms applied to the Gentiles. Some think that in the present context they refer to all who are not disciples of Jesus. Probably the words should be understood in a more general way as counsel against sharing spiritual truth with those who are unable and unwilling to accept it. Practically, it would be unthinkable to take sacred food and give it to dogs or valuable pearls and feed them to pigs. The point is, use discretion as you share the truth of God with others.

Matthew 7:7–11 – Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5–15) Matthew brought together a portion of Jesus’ teaching on the subject of prayer. Now he expands it by stressing how important it is for believers to be persistent in prayer. The present imperatives, “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” and “keep on knocking” indicate that prayer is not a semi-passive ritual in which we occasionally share our concerns with God. In Luke, the narrative is immediately preceded by the story of the man awakened from sleep at midnight by an importunate neighbor who needs bread to feed a guest (Luke 11:5–8). Prayer requires stamina and persistence. Divine delays do not indicate reluctance on God’s part. In the time of waiting we learn patience, and the intensity of our desire is put to the test. God, through Jeremiah, told the exiles in Babylon, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). It is those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” that are satisfied (Matthew 5:6).

Jesus now reasons that since earthly fathers who are less than perfect will not mock a child who asks for food, does it not follow that God will give good things to those who ask? Jesus is not making a theological statement about absolute human goodness but is drawing a comparison between parents’ natural acts of kindness toward their children and the perfection of God’s generosity toward those who seek his favor.

Matthew 7:12 – This verse is commonly called the Golden Rule. In its negative form it is found in many ancient cultures. Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” In the fourth century B.C., the Athenian orator Isocrates said, “Whatever angers you when you suffer it at the hands of others, do not do it to others.” Apparently it never was stated in the positive form (Do to others what you would have them do to you) by anyone before Jesus. Some writers hold that the shift from negative to positive is without any particular significance. However, in its negative form the Golden Rule could be satisfied by doing nothing. The positive form moves us to action on behalf of others; it calls us to do for others all those things that we would appreciate being done for us. Now we have moved from justice to active benevolence. This kind of outgoing and dynamic concern for others sums up the Law and the Prophets (cf. Weymouth). It is “the essence of all true religion” (Phillips). The Golden Rule brings into focus the ethical intent that lay behind all the Old Testament legislation on matters of interpersonal relationships. The law of love is the ultimate expression of the ethical teaching of both law and prophetic injunction (Matthew 5:17).

This last section is from, Mounce, R. H. (2011). Matthew.
Understanding the Bible Commentary Series (64–67). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

Judge Not, Lest You Be Judged

This may be one of those passages that prevents us from confronting a sinning brother, so let’s seek to understand it. Here is a question to get us started: “What is Jesus calling for in this passage?” no judgment? self-judgment? fair judgment? divine judgment?

The religious leaders were guilty of exercising a false judgment about themselves, other people, and even the Lord. Their false righteousness helped to encourage their false judgment. It may be why Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount with a discussion on judgment. There really are three judgments:

  1. Our judgment of ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5)
  2. Our judgment of others (Matthew 7:6-20)
  3. Our judgment by God (Matthew 7:21-29)

Our passage today brings us to the first section, judgment of ourselves. This is the first principle for a reason. Jesus did not forbid that we judge others, but we are to first judge ourselves. This involves careful discrimination and discernment. Christian love is not blind (Philippians 1:9-10). The person who believes all that he hears and accepts everyone who claims to be spiritual will experience confusion and suffer spiritual loss.

  1. We will be judged (Matthew 7:1) – the tense of the verb indicates a one-time final judgement. when we judge ourselves, we are preparing ourselves for that final judgment when we face God. The Pharisees played God as they condemned other people; and they never considered that God would one day judge them.
  2. We are being judged (Matthew 7:2) – this parallel passage in Luke 6:37-38 is helpful here. Not only will God judge us at the end, but people are being judged right now. We will receive from people exactly what we give. The kind of judgment and the measure  of judgment come right back to us. We reap that which we sow.
  3. We must see clearly to help others (Matthew 7:3-5) – the purpose of self-judgment is so that we are able to serve others. When we don’t judge ourselves, we hurt those to who we should minister. The Pharisees judged others to make themselves look good (Luke 18:9-14), but Christians should judge themselves so they can help others look good.

The eye is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, which Jesus used on a few occasions to make a point (like Matthew 6:22-23). We must exercise love and tenderness when we seek to help other people (Ephesians 4:15). There are two extremes to avoid in this spiritual self-examination:

  1. The deception of a shallow examination: we can be so sure of ourselves that we fail to examine our hearts honestly and thoroughly. The quick glance is not helpful (James 1:22-25).
  2. The debilitation of a perpetual autopsy: we can get unbalanced as we focus too much on ourselves, which leads to discouragement and defeat. Jesus forgives and restores, and Satan is the accuser (Revelation 12:10) and loves to condemn God’s people. Ask God to remove those things that blind us. When we KNOW of our sins and attempt to help others… that is called hypocrisy. That is the condemnation of Jesus.

We must exercise discernment because not everyone is a sheep, there are some wolves out there. We cannot let the wolves pull the wool over our eyes.

The reason we must judge (Matthew 7:6) – it is a privilege to handle the holy things of God, and he has entrusted his Word to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). No priest with throw meat from the altar to the street dog, or give pearls to a pig. So, while we are commanded to take the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15), we cannot cheapen the gospel by a ministry that lacks discernment.

  1. Even Jesus refused to talk with Herod (Luke 23:9)
  2. Even Paul refused to argue with people who resisted the Word (Acts 13:44-49)

The reason for judgment: it is not that we might condemn others, but that we might be able to minister to them. Jesus always dealt with people according to the needs; there was no memorized presentation he used for everyone.

  1. Nicodemus – he talked about new birth.
  2. The woman at the well – he talked about living water.
  3. When the religious leaders tried to trap him – he remained silent (Matthew 21:23-27).

This is one of the most debilitating verses in the Bible, because if we say anything about someone else, they throw this verse back in our face, “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1-6). This is an issue that has confused many people.

  1. On one hand, we are commanded by the Lord Jesus, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
  2. On the other hand, the Bible also exhorts us to beware of evildoers and false prophets and to avoid those who practice all kinds of evil.
  3. How are we to discern who these people are if we do not make some kind of judgment about them?

Christians are often accused of “judging” whenever they speak out against a sinful activity. However, that is not the meaning of the Scripture verses that state, “Do not judge.”

  1. There is a righteous kind of judgment we are supposed to exercise—with careful discernment (John 7:24).
  2. When Jesus told us not to judge (Matthew 7:1), He was telling us not to judge hypocritically. Matthew 7:2-5 says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
  3. What Jesus was condemning here was hypocritical, self-righteous judgments of others.

In Matthew 7:2-5, Jesus warns against judging someone else for his sin when you yourself are sinning even worse. That is the kind of judging Jesus commanded us not to do.

  1. If a believer sees another believer sinning, it is his Christian duty to lovingly and respectfully confront the person with his sin (Matthew 18:15-17).
  2. This is not judging, but rather pointing out the truth in hope—and with the ultimate goal—of bringing repentance in the other person (James 5:20) and restoration to the fellowship.
  3. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are to proclaim what God’s Word says about sin. 2 Timothy 4:2 instructs us, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.”
  4. We are to “judge” sin, but always with the goal of presenting the solution for sin and its consequences—the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
  5. According to Matthew 7:6, let’s also assess a person’s heart before we share the pearl of great price.

Developing Spiritual Discernment

The longer one is a follower of Jesus Christ, the greater one should have spiritual discernment, which is the ability to determine right from wrong, good from evil, this direction or that.

Discernment does not come by flipping a coin and saying “heads or tails,” and it doesn’t completely rely on common sense or the conscience. Spiritual discernment is a gift from God and comes to us through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every authentic Christian. It is the supernatural ability to “know” something not because of personal knowledge or experience, but because of personal time spent with God in prayer and time spent in his Word.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5–7)

The ability to know God and discern his will for your life comes through…

Salvation: Spiritual things can be discerned only by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have met the prerequisite for knowing the mind of Christ. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15–16).

Scripture: As you study Scripture, you learn how God works in the lives of His people. Understanding God’s principles gives you a basis for knowing how He is working in your life today.

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise (Psalm 111:10).
  • These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Situations: Are you focusing on God’s will for your future? Instead, focus on God’s purpose in your present situation, and trust Him with your future. God always has a personal will for you, and your responsibility is to adjust to what He is doing in your life right now. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:33–34).

Surrender: Are you surrendering to what God wants to do in your life today? Pray to be moldable clay in the Potter’s hand, allowing God to mold and shape you into the vessel of His choosing. O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? declares the LORD. Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel (Jeremiah 18:6).

Servanthood: Have you given up ownership of your own life? When your heart is willing to be God’s servant no matter the cost, He will reveal His plan for you. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:24–25).

Ways We Make Decisions

How do people come to make godly decisions that honor him? I recently read this from June Hunt that lists six methods of decision-making:

What Are Six Methods of Decision Making?

If you could, wouldn’t you want to know the future? If you could see the outcome, wouldn’t it make your decisions a lot more accurate? Today people seek guidance through a variety of occult practices. They search for answers in newspaper columns, carnival booths, and psychic hotlines. Astrologers, palm readers, and fortune-tellers toting tarot cards all claim to speak for God, but the God of the Bible says these dramatic ways are “detestable” (Deuteronomy 18:9). He warns us…

  • Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:31)
  • There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12)

Making decisions can be approached in various ways, but most will fall into one of the following six methods or a combination of some of them. Not all methods of decision-making will prove to be profitable.

Dramatic Method: Some people misuse Scripture by flipping open the Bible and pointing to some random Scripture for guidance without considering the context. Others expect God to come through with a spectacular, supernatural sign that will give proof of His will in a given situation. God says … The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26).

Defaulting Method: Scripture tells us there is an appropriate time to delegate duties and to seek counsel, but ultimately we are responsible for our own choices. We can even be so pressured by the opinions of others that it becomes easier just to let others make decisions for us … even when we think they are wrong. God says … He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right (Isaiah 7:15).

Delaying Method: Many people choose to procrastinate when a decision is due, hoping that “it will all come out well in the end.” They allow circumstances to determine the outcome. However, not to decide is actually a decision. Their delay tactics are filled with superfluous activities that do not include placing a high priority on knowing God’s will through prayer, biblical counsel, and intimacy with the Lord.  God says … That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways’ (Hebrews 3:10).

Deductive Method: The Christian life is to be a life of balance between human deduction and spiritual insight. If we become solely analytical in thinking through a situation and choose to rely completely on logic, we will miss God’s way. God says … My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (Isaiah 55:8).

Desirous Method: Too many people allow their emotions to have “soul control.” This means allowing feelings to determine their behavior. God gave us emotions, but He never intended emotions to be our “decision makers.” Many of us don’t even realize that we often have an “if it feels good, it must be good” mentality. God says … He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe (Proverbs 28:26).

Discerning Method (the best method): To be discerning is to grasp what may not be evident, that is, “to have insight and understanding by going beyond what seems obvious.” Spiritual discernment, therefore, is wisdom to determine what is true, appropriate, and superior in the eyes of God, regardless of how things may seem. God says … The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).

A Desire to Be Wise

I believe that growing up in spiritual things involves growth in wisdom. It’s not just about being smart, but how your life experiences have taught lessons as well. It might help to define wisdom. The Holman Bible Dictionary tells us this:

Real Wisdom Is the Fear of God: Three basic definitions of wisdom summarize the status of the field of study very well. Note that the first two of these definitions are quite secular in nature while the third is religious.

  1. First, wisdom is considered by many to be simply the art of learning how to succeed in life. Apparently, ancient persons learned very early that there was an orderliness to the world in which they lived. They also learned that success and happiness came from living in accordance with that orderliness (Proverbs 22:17–24:22).
  2. Second, wisdom is considered by some to be a philosophical study of the essence of life. Certainly, much of the Books of Job and Ecclesiastes seem to deal with just such existential issues of life (see particularly Job 30:29-31).
  3. Third, though the other definitions might include this, it seems that the real essence of wisdom is spiritual, for life is more than just living by a set of rules and being rewarded in some physical manner. Undoubtedly, in this sense wisdom comes from God (Proverbs 2:6). Thus, though it will involve observation and instruction, it really begins with God and one’s faith in Him as Lord and Savior (Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28).

When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

Everyone wants to be wise, yet here Paul taught the Corinthians that true wisdom or discernment requires the believer to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Because Satan’s greatest impact on us occurs when he deceives us, we need the Holy Spirit’s help. Spiritual discernment enables us to

  1. Draw conclusions based on God’s perspective
  2. Make wise decisions in difficult circumstances
  3. Recognize the activities of God’s Spirit
  4. Distinguish the correct and incorrect use of Scripture
  5. Identify and expose false teachers

Ask God to give you his discernment and wisdom as you serve him. Let that discernment guide you in your daily walk with Christ.

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Application in Seeking God’s Will

It is one thing to ask to know God’s will, it is another to seek it. Seeking requires work and effort. Many Christians would rather be told what to believe or what to do than labor in the discernment of God’s will. Sometimes we ask the wrong question. It is not, “what is God’s will for my life?” The more accurate question is, “What is God’s will?”

Discerning the Will of God:

  1. Here is a mental picture, a man lost in the woods.
    1. We do not decide whose fault it is that he is lost.
      1. Whether he is misdirected.
      2. Whether he is the victim of an accident.
    2. He asks, “Where do I go from here?”
      1. He feels there must be a path which is the path of God for him to follow in those circumstances.
      2. How do you know that you wont make a mistake?
      3. How do you know if it is God’s way or just my best guess?
    3. He will not know for certain until he gets to the end that he did not make a mistake.
      1. He will travel by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).
      2. He must be willing and able to read the signposts and follow.
      3. Remember that God always deals with us where we are.
  2. The greatest help: deepen our relationship with Him, because those who know Him are the quickest at discerning His will.

The Dangers:

  1. The tyranny of “should.”
    1. The question is asked, Should I do this or that?
    2. It implies that if you should, and don’t, that you are not in God’s will.
    3. This lays a burden of finding THE right answer (the center of God’s will).
    4. It is better to say the wiser choice, rather than saying the right choice.
  2. Confusion concerning the work of the Spirit.
    1. Some people neglect the Spirit’s power, believing they know what’s best and then ask God to bless it.
    2. Others overuse it: Like claiming that the Spirit led them to do something which is not part of the Spirit’s work.
      1. How to dress, eat, and other simple decisions.
      2. Usually this claim is based upon the “right feeling” at the time.
      3. When you claim that the Spirit led you, use criteria other than your feelings (Jeremiah 17:9)
  3. A job description for the Spirit:
    1. The Spirit always relates to Jesus (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7-15).
    2. The Spirit enables people to know Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-13).
    3. The Spirit brings people into the body (1 Corinthians 12:13).
    4. The Spirit gives people the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) .
    5. The Spirit enables people to avoid sin and adopt a new way of life (1 Corinthians 6:11).
    6. The Spirit leads people to know that in Christ they call God “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4: 6) .
  4. The Spirit’s work points to Jesus.
    1. He does not make personal decisions for you.
    2. As you seek to be in union with Him, you will know what He wills and you make the wiser decision.

The Search for God’s Will:

  1. In the Bible, this is our only source for faith and practice, so let’s use it.
    1. Some people believe the Bible tells us what to do in all of life’s situations.
      1. Don’t randomly open the Bible to find an answer, it’s not a Ouija board.
      2. What if you make a serious blunder, like pointing to 1 Samuel 31:4?
    2. The Bible leads us to know Christ.
      1. The Bible provides us with basic principles for living (John 15:12-13, Romans 15: 1-2) .
      2. These principles influence our decisions as we struggle with life’s questions.
      3. Direct answers from the Bible…
        1. Are a way of avoiding the hard decision-making process. Jesus told me right in this verse what to do. Sometimes we are not willing to wrestle with seeking His answer.
        2. Do you want a surgeon to quote Scripture to decide whether or not to operate? NO, use his medical knowledge, judgment, experiences and principles regarding the sanctity of life.
  2. In the clouds.
    1. Many people look for signs above, like in the clouds.
    2. The problem with signs is interpreting what they really mean.
      1. Gideon’s advantage (Judges 6:36-40) he placed a sign and the interpretation with God in advance.
      2. We can interpret a sign to mean exactly what we desired anyway.
      3. On the farm, the clouds formed a “P.C.”
        1. The son said: Preach Christ, and go to seminary.
        2. The father said: plant corn.
    3. We have the ability to think, seek counsel, collect information, to make the best decision we can, and trust He will bless your efforts.
    4. Getting lost in trivia.
      1. If you worry too much about finding God’s will for your life, you will likely lose sight of God’s love.
      2. The key is to find God more than finding His will.
      3. Too many people love trivia (like the Pharisees) and get lost in it.
        1. Details were put on following God’s will to the letter.
        2. They lost sight on true worship and relationship.

Numerous signposts:

  1. Conscience.
    1. Men have done a lot of evil things believing that they were following their conscience.
    2. Slavery was uncondemned by the conscience of men.
    3. A psychopath has no moral compass.
  2. Common sense.
    1. I’ve heard it said, “I prayed, and nothing happened. So I used my common sense.”
    2. Who has given common sense? And why?
    3. Sometime the will of God is opposite to what common sense would dictate. It is sometimes called foolishness by the world (1 Corinthians 1:18; 3:18).
  3. Advice.
    1. “Where there is no guidance, the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory” (Proverbs 11:14) .
    2. Without consultation plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22).
  4. History and biography.
    1. There are few problems that we face that have not been faced by those before us.
    2. Read the Bible, and even secular literature.
  5. The voice of the Church.
    1. Jesus recommended that people consult the church (Matthew 18:17).
    2. Remember that a democracy (majority rules) does not always make it right.
  6. Pray.
    1. Praise Him, give thanks, and then lay things at His feet.
    2. God cares (even about your confusion), and will help you work through your decisions.
  7. Use a sound decision-making process.
    1. Make a list of pros and cons.
    2. Brainstorm options.
    3. Gather information.
  8. Live boldly.
    1. Be confident that your decision will turn out well (forget “What if?),
    2. God will not keep scores of your decisions (He sees the end from the beginning, Isaiah 46:9-11.).
    3. Ask, “What would Jesus do?” then do it.
    4. God will bless you here or there (Job change).
      1. His will is for you to love and serve Him (Matthew 22:36-40).
      2. He does not have this secret plan for which we must hunt.
      3. His secret is this: Christ is in you (Col 1:27).

God’s Will, at the Point we Need Help, can be Discerned:

  1. It is a mistake to try to discern His will years down the road.
    1. John Piper writes about future grace.
    2. How you will deal with something in the future is not God’s plan, He will meet you at the point of your need.
    3. He will give you His sufficient grace at the time you need it, not in preparation for the future.
  2. His Word is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).
  3. You can not be certain that you have not made a mistake until you get to the end. Hind-sight is always 20/20.
  4. We will not miss our “providential way” even if we make mistakes (in good faith): the result will not be our being lost.

Final Challenging Questions:

  1. Do I want to discern God’s will, or do I want Him to bless my own?
  2. Have I got the courage to do God’s will once I discern it?

We need more than discernment: we need strength, courage, faith, determination and perseverance to will God’s will and then to do God’s will.

Motivation for Doing God’s Will

The first step after knowing God’s will is to discover our motivation for doing God’s will. Much of this outline comes from Thomas Merton’s classic, No Man is an Island, and then I have elaborated on his thoughts. *


  1. I have an instinct that tells me that I am less free when I am living for myself. Living for self is really a basic natural function. In a way, living for my self is not freedom, because I am a slave to the old selfish nature.
  2. My freedom is only freedom when it is brought into the right relation with the freedom of others. This is the essence of community, all members exercising freedom of self-sacrifice on behalf of others. If one fails to be in relation to others, we are not able to exercise the freedom to choose to follow a cause higher than our own natural instincts.
  3. I don’t find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. There is joy in being in relationship with others and seeking to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
  4. To give my freedom blindly to an equal or inferior is to degrade myself and throw away my freedom, I can only become perfectly free by serving the will of God. God calls us to a higher purpose, which adds meaning to our existence. Serving ourselves is not freedom because it is evidence that we are slaves to instinct.
  5. Obedience to man has no meaning unless it is primarily obedience to God. As believers, we do all as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:31). As we understand the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) we are to first love God and then love others.
  6. Conscience is the soul of freedom.
    1. A rational being who does not know what to do with himself finds the tedium of life unbearable. He is literally bored to death. Life outside of a relationship with Christ brings no purpose of higher meaning. Life is hard, and if there is no call toward a higher life, there is hopelessness and despair.
    2. I cannot make good choices unless I develop a mature conscience that gives me an accurate account of my motives, my intentions and my moral acts. It is not enough to just do the right stuff or believe the right stuff; the motivation behind our actions is of great interest to God and our true selves.
    3. We must have right purposes: conscience is the light by which we interpret the will of God in our own lives.

Pure Intention:

  1. Our happiness consists in doing the will of God. It makes sense that if we resists the will of God and we know it, we find ourselves feeling guilty that we knowingly disobeyed God’s will.
    1. The essence of this happiness does not lie in the agreement of wills, it consists in union with God.
    2. The union of wills which makes us happy in God must ultimately be something deeper than just an agreement. We must develop conviction.
  2. God’s will is more than a concept–it is a reality, a secret power which is given to us, from moment to moment to be the life of our life.
    1. It is not an abstraction.
    2. It is not a static center drawing our souls blindly to it
    3. We find ourselves in relationship with the Creator and His purpose and desire transcends our being.
  3. The will of God is the movement of His love and wisdom ordering and governing all free and necessary agents.
  4. Ponder this: Shall I be content to do God’s will for my own advantage? This is the essence of being obedient because of what I get out of it.
    1. Our intentions are pure when we identify our advantage with God’s glory. Receiving a blessing for obedience is different from doing something expecting a blessing.
    2. In order to make our intentions pure, we do not give up the idea of seeking our own good, we simply seek it where it can be found–in a good that is beyond ourselves.
  5. Question: what is an impure intention?
    1. One that yields to the will of God while retaining a preference for my own will. I still do this out of selfishness.
    2. This drives my will from His will, since I am not losing myself in the pure intention of following God alone because He deserves it and it is the right thing to do.
    3. It doubts in theory that God wills that which is generally best for me. Do we really believe that all God asks and wills is for my best interest? If we doubt it, we are not able to act on God’s will without reservation.
    4. To this man, the will of God becomes rich when it is pleasing to him, poorer when it offers less immediate satisfaction.
  6. Question: who is this man of impure intentions?
    1. Is hesitant and blind.
    2. Is always caught between two conflicting wills.
    3. Cannot make simple and clear-cut decisions.
    4. Has twice as much to think about: worrying about God’s will and his own at the same time.
    5. Is deceiving himself.
      1. Blinded by his own selfishness.
      2. Plunged into a confusion of doubtful choices, endless possibilities.
  7. Sanctity consists not in merely doing God’s will, but in willing God’s will. Obedience without pure intention is not attractive.
    1. It is not always necessary to find out what God’s will is in order to do it. Often times we know what His will is, the question is whether we embrace His will over our own.
    2. But if we are to will what He wills, we must begin to know something about what He wills. Study of God’s Word is helpful.
  8. How can I find out what is the will of God for my life?
    1. Before He wills me to do anything, He first wills me to be. This is a key concept in having a dynamic relationship with Christ. We are to be with him (Mark 3:14) before we are to do things for Him.
    2. What I do depends upon what I am (gifts of the Spirit).
    3. It is His will that we not only live as rational beings, but as new men regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
    4. Seek Him where He is to be found: His Church, His Word (john 14:26).
  9. When we speak of God’s will, usually we are speaking of some recognizable sign of His will.
    1. It is one thing to see a sign, it is another to interpret it correctly.
    2. The vision of the prophets: being alive to the divine light concealed in things and events, they saw glimpses of the light where other men saw nothing but ordinary happenings.
    3. Signs show us the road, but only a few paces, as a lamp lights only the steps in front of our feet.
    4. If I am to know God’s will, I must have the right attitude toward life, to know what my life is and to know the purpose for my existence. Many people are simply clueless about the purpose of life and the mission of God in the world.
    5. His will for me points to one thing: the realization, discovery and fulfillment of my true self in Christ (in order to save my life I must lose it, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).
  10. I cannot work out God’s will for my life unless I am consciously helping other men find God’s will in theirs. Here again is the idea of community.
    1. His will is our sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), our transformation in Christ (Romans 12:2), our deeper integration with other men (Hebrews 10:25).
    2. The book is called, No Man is an Island: we need others that God has also regenerated.
  11. Remember: we must will the will of God, not simply do it. This is a lot of work, it is easier to just do something than it is to make such an effort to be something or to will something.
    1. So, we must know what it is that He wills.
    2. We must will His will because we love it.
    3. It is better to say “no” and then go, than to say “yes” and not obey (Matthew 21:28-31, which did the will of his father?).
  12. Right vs. simple intention.
    1. Right intention is pure: attention is placed upon the work to be done, then we rest in the accomplishment and hope in reward.
    2. Simple intention: we are less occupied with the thing to be done, we are more aware of the One who works in us.
    3. The man of simple intention works in the atmosphere of prayer.
  13. Simple intention is a rare gift from God.
    1. Rare because it is poor.
    2. It seeks nothing but the supreme poverty of having nothing but God.
      1. With right intention, you risk losing the fruit of your work.
      2. With simple intention, you renounce the fruit before you begin and you don’t expect it.

* Thomas Merton was a contemplative monk, who on December 10th, 1941 entered the Abbey of Gethsemani, a community of monks belonging to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), the most ascetic Roman Catholic monastic order. While on a trip to a monastic East-West dialogue conference in Thailand, Merton died in Bangkok on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution. The date marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of his entrance to Gethsemani. The monastery is located near Bardstown Kentucky, not far from Louisville, where I went to seminary.

Different Parts of God’s Will

God’s will is much more complex once we begin to discern the meaning. I discovered a resource written by a liberal Christian theologian Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976).* In his book, The Will of God, he explains the following.

God’s Intentional will:

  1. Take illness and death as an example. I must accept it, it is the will of God.
    1. Was the doctor all this time fighting against the will of God?
    2. Had she recovered, would we not say that was the will of God?
    3. Her death and her recovery cannot both be the will of God in the sense of it being His intention.
    4. Confusing thoughts: “I suppose I must accept it as the will of God, but if the doctor had come in time he might have been able to save her.”
    5. Suppose a missionary’s daughter dies of cholera.
      1. Many might say, “It’s the will of God, that’s all it is”
      2. But suppose someone crept into her room last night and deliberately put a cotton swab soaked with the cholera germ under your little girl’s mouth as she lay there?
      3. The reaction may be, “I would kill him, the snake, what do you mean by suggesting such a thing?”
      4. The argument is the same for God, “Isn’t that just exactly what you accused God of doing?”
      5. Call it mass ignorance, contaminated water, an accident, bad drains, but don’t call it the will of God.
      6. It is not the will of your Father in heaven that any of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14) .
  2. God’s will divided into three parts.
    1. The divisions.
      1. Intentional: God’s ideal plan for mankind.
      2. Circumstantial: God’s plan within certain circumstances.
      3. Ultimate: God’s final realization of His purposes.
      4. The trouble is that we use the phrase “The will of God” to cover all three.
    2. Biblical illustration.
      1. Jesus came with the intention that men would follow Him, not kill Him (Matthew 4:19).
      2. Then came the cross and the one whom the Father wanted men to follow was put to death; God’s intentional will was stopped.
      3. When the circumstances brought by evil put Christ into the dilemma of either running or dying, in those circumstances, the cross was the will of God.
      4. Problem: Jesus is the Lamb who was lain before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19-20, 1 Corinthians 2:7).
    3. Practical illustration.
      1. In a nation that is at war, and a father says to his son, “I’m glad you are in the army.”
      2. This does not mean that the army was the father’s intention from the beginning: Perhaps his intention from the beginning was for his son to be a doctor.
      3. In those circumstances set up by evil, the army became the father’s will for his son.
  3. God’s ultimate goal in Christ: redemption of man.
    1. In spite of evil, the same goal would have been reached if God’s intentional will would have been carried through.
    2. God cannot be finally defeated: not everything that happens is His will, but nothing can ultimately defeat His will.
  4. Dissociate from the phrase, “The will of God” all that is evil, unpleasant or unhappy (this is covered in circumstancial will) .
    1. A father longs to give good gifts to his son (Luke 11:11).
    2. Can you picture a father sending mean things to his son, and the son with tearful, hurting eyes saying “Thy will be done?”
  5. Two difficulties:
    1. Do people really get comfort believing their tragedies are the will of God, their compassionate, loving Father?
      1. Tragedy is hard to bear if it all was just a ghastly mistake.
      2. But, there never is any real comfort in a lie.
    2. Some of the greatest qualities in people are brought by suffering, so is not suffering the will of God?
      1. So, warfare and persecution is the will of God?
      2. The war did not make courage, but revealed what was there all the time.
      3. Logically–Does God needs evil to produce good?
      4. NO, evil does not make good qualities, but reveals them and gives them exercise.
      5. God made everything good, evil can be defined as the absence of good. Evil take the good, and twists it.
  6. Catch these words of Jesus (Matthew 23: 37) “O Jerusalem, I longed to gather you… but you would not.”

God’s Circumstantial Will:

  1. Remember, the father’s circumstancial will for his son during wartime was to be in the army. His intention was medical school.
  2. Man’s free will created the circumstance of evil that cut across God’s plans: Basically a will within a will.
  3. There are two parts of God’s circumstancial will:
    1. The natural.
      1. There are the laws of the universe, which are an expression of God’s will, which were not set aside even for Jesus.
      2. The rain falls on the just and the unjust.
      3. The forces of nature carry out their function and are not deflected when they are used by the forces of evil.
      4. Jesus did not call to God saying, “It’s not fair!”
    2. The spiritual.
      1. Even in evil circumstances, we can react positively and creatively to find good out of evil.
      2. The cross is not just a symbol of capital punishment, it is a symbol of the triumphant use of evil in the holy purposes of God (the cross becomes a throne, a crown of thorns becomes one of glory) .
  4. Illustration: a baby fallen out of a high rise window: Is it the will of God? Yes and No.
    1. YES, His circumstantial will.
      1. His law of gravity should operate.
      2. His baby is made of flesh and bones.
      3. The body will be broken if it hits the pavement, or else the baby would have been made of something else (like rubber).
    1. NO, His intentional will.
      1. The baby’ s death is not the will of God.
      2. It was not His intention that the baby be allowed to fallout the window at all.
  5. Disease: is it the will of God?
    1. NO, God’s intentional will is health.
    2. Yet there is a will of God within evil circumstances.
      1. The ultimate will of God will be reached if we make the right reaction to these circumstances.
      2. Disease is an invasion of germs, a reminder that we live in Satan’s domain.
    3. How does one react to disease?
      1. Joni Erikson Tada  and her neck injury as a teenager.
      2. So many healthy people are spiritually asleep and not co-operating with Him at all.
      3. I am sure that the battle against disease is the will of God. Disease is not His intention: Jesus regarded it as part of the kingdom of evil (Luke 13:16)., yet He can work through evil circumstances.
  6. One could say, it’s a bit casual of God to allow these things to happen if they are not His intention.
    1. God’s ways are not often clear to men (1 Corinthians 13:12).
    2. Think of a little child who has hurt his knees.
      1. Will he say “It’s rather casual of you to allow me to hurt myself like this.”
      2. We do not say, “Look at my knees!” but rather, “Look at my frustration, disappointment and pain.”
      3. There is much that we do not understand, but I know that my Father loves and cares for me.
    3. Jesus did not say, “I have explained the world.” but “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) .
      1. If we will only trust where we do not see.
      2. Walk in the light that we have (like holding a lantern rather than using a headlight).
      3. We will find peace in our hearts even before we see Him face to face.
      4. Suffering often brings us to our knees like nothing else will.

God’s Ultimate Will:

  1. I know you can do all things, and no purpose of yours can be restrained. (Job 42: 2).
  2. Picture a child damming up a stream:
    1. He never prevents the water from finally reaching the river.
    2. We may divert God’s plans for a while, but we will not finally defeat them.
  3. Omnipotence does not mean that God gets His way by an exhibition of His superior might;  then freedom is an illusion.
    1. It does not mean that nothing can happen unless it is His intention.
    2. It means that nothing can happen that finally defeats Him.
    3. He will reach His ultimate goal even if man diverts the stream.
  4. If God can use evil as well as good to reach His goals, then nothing we do really matters.
    1. No, Paul said to the Romans, Are we to continue to sin that grace may increase? (Romans 6:1).
    2. Here is a proper perspective:
      1. This evil has been done, how will I win good from it?
      2. NOT, I will deliberately do evil in order to win good from it.
      3. With evil intent, men crucified the Son of God. Within six weeks, other men were preaching about the cross as the instrument of salvation.

* Regarding Weatherhead being a liberal, I don’t throw the “liberal” handle around lightly, but it is documented that he dismissed the virgin birth, promoted Zachariah as the father of Jesus and Mary (a temple prostitute) and denied the atonement. Weatherhead’s theory that Jesus was the son of Zechariah later became part of the teachings of Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. Encountering this teaching in Weatherhead’s The Christian Agnostic, Young Oon Kim adopted it as the best explanation of the birth of Jesus in her work Unification Theology, a standard textbook of the movement. Ruth A. Tucker comments in her book Another Gospel: “Kim’s Christology is a prime example of liberal theology…. By diminishing the role of Jesus, Kim paves the way for the exaltation of Sun Myung Moon.”

Knowing the Will of God

These are notes from a seminar I taught back in 1988; can’t believe I found these notes. I taught this to a local congregation while I was a part of Partners, Resort/Family Ministries at the oceanfront. The notes are in outline form so I hope to elaborate on each point.

Knowing the Sovereign Will of God:


  1. This present world system is an organized kingdom of evil. While God created everything and He said that it was good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), the evil one came and introduced evil, tempting the first humans to rebel and disobey God (Genesis 3:1, 2-3, 4-5).
  2. This present world is ruled and motivated by the will of Satan.
    1. The Prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:1-3).
    2. But Satan’s power is limited (Job 1:12 for example).
  3. Only God has all power and all authority.
    1. Theological dualism
      1. Horizontal dualism: two beings of equal power battling, good and evil is a cosmic fight to see who will win.
      2. Vertical dualism: two beings at odds in a battle, but they are not equal, and God will always win, there is no doubt. They battle but God is always higher than the evil one.
    2. I am God and there is no other, I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning. My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure (Isaiah 46: 9-10).
    3. It is His pleasure to reveal His will to believers (Jeremiah 29:13, Philippians 2:13).
  4. Jesus told His disciples to get into the boat and cross the sea, did Jesus not know the storm was coming? Why did He not tell them to wait since the storm was coming? (Matthew 14:22-33).
    1. Being omniscient – He knew they would encounter a storm.
    2. Being omnipotent – He would save them from the storm.
    3. Their crossing the sea had to be God’s will; therefore they and the storm was God’s will:
      1. Into the storm they were sent (God’s will is often full of storms).
      2. In no danger, Jesus was praying the whole time (Hebrews 7:25).
      3. In darkness, yet no believer will remain there (John 12:46).
  5. When you seek God’s will.
    1. You may face contrary winds. as even Paul (2 Corinthians 11:24-29).
    2. But remember He will direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God’s Will is Sovereign (Isaiah 46:9-11):

  1. Only the true God can know (what we call) the future, and therefore bring it to pass.
    1. Consider the fact that God is always in the present.
    2. There is no past or future from God’s perspective.
    3. Does God know the future? There is no future since He is always in the present.
  2. No one can ultimately alter the purposes of God: My purpose will be established, I will accomplish all my good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10).
  3. His ultimate will is established in the fulfilling of prophecy.
    1. He declares the end from the beginning.
      1. He knows the end (because He is in it), yet we are not His puppets to blindly follow.
      2. He directs our path, He does not pull us down the path.
    2. The context of Isaiah 46:10.
      1. God is prophesying Israel’s future and He will bring it to pass.
      2. His ultimate will cannot be restrained (Daniel 4:35).
  4. God has a secret will, which is not revealed to us.
    1. We cannot know all of His sovereign will, but we can know the parts revealed in Scripture (Deuteronomy 29:29).
    2. We will not know this secret will until He reveals it.
  5. We can know God’s sovereign will as revealed in history.
    1. To Abraham, “I will make you a great nation.. .and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3)
      1. Israel was made a great nation.
      2. The nations are blessed through his seed, which is Christ (Galatians 3:6-9).
    2. To all who accept Christ as Savior (John 3:16,14:1-6).
  6. The cross is proof of the sovereign (ultimate) will of God.
    1. 1000 years before Christ: David prophesied the Messiah would be crucified (Psalm 22:14-18).
    2. 700 years before Christ, Isaiah prophesied the death of Christ (Isaiah 52:1-53:12).

God’s Ultimate Will is Immutable: (Malachi 3:6).

  1. For I am the Lord, and I do not change (Malachi 3:6).
  2. God is not man that He should lie, nor son of man that He should repent. He has said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good (Numbers 23:19, Balaam blessing Israel).
  3. The reason His will is immutable: God is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8).
  4. God’s will is immutable.
    1. What about the Flood, or Moses interceding for the people? The language indicates that God changed his mind. But think about it, the Bible is clear that God does not change, so the language used is more for us to understand in human terms.
    2. In salvation, the plan has not changed for sacrifices of animals to the sacrifice of Christ.
      1. We are saved by grace, through faith, not works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
      2. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12, Romans 10:9-10).
    3. In judgment, For the Father judges no one, but has committed all Judgment to the Son (John 5:22).
    4. In morals, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).
  5. To know God’s will, we must read His Word which has been preserved for us.

God’s Will is Good, Acceptable and Perfect: (Romans 12:1-2). Paul’s challenge is to prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect.

  1. God’s revealed will is Good:
    1. For the Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord gives grace and glory, no good thing does He uphold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
    2. God is the giver of every perfect gift (James 1:17).
    3. This giver is a sun and shield.
      1. He is the Light of the world to guide our steps (John 8:12).
      2. He is our shield of protection (Psalm 3:2-3).
    4. He gives to us grace and glory.
      1. Grace brings eternal riches (2 Corinthians 8:9)  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that through His poverty you might become rich.
      2. Glory (Romans 8:17) If indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
  2. God’s revealed will is Acceptable:
    1. His will is the only acceptable will to Him.
    2. Man’s natural will is rebellious (Romans 8:6-8) For the mind set on the flesh is death…and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
    3. Satan’s will is totally evil (Isaiah 14:13-14).
      1. Satan said five times, “I will” and never regarded God’s will.
      2. To what degree does your will conform to God’s will?
    4. You are either doing the:
      1. Will of Satan – which is totally evil.
      2. Will of man – which is carnal.
      3. Will of God – which is good, acceptable and perfect.
  3. God’s revealed will is Perfect (because He is perfect).
    1. He has revealed the mystery of His will (Ephesians 1:9).
    2. He wants us to know and understand His will (Ephesians 5:17).

God’s Will Can be Known: (Hebrews 13:20-21).

  1. Natural man is not capable of doing God’s will, for the things of God are foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14, Ephesians 5:17).
  2. The Christian must desire communion with God, then He will take control of your life and make you complete in every good work to do His will (Hebrews 13:21).
  3. God did not save you to let you go your own way and make decisions according to the old carnal nature (independence).
    1. He gives you a new nature to combat the old nature (1 Peter 1:4).
    2. It is impossible for a carnal Christian to please God (Romans 8:8).
  4. The Question is: How can I know the perfect will of God?
    1. Sincerely desire to do His will (Hebrews 10:38) The just shall live by faith.
    2. Search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) The Bereans “received the word with readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.”
    3. Stand on the promise of the Holy Spirit.
      1. He communicates with your spirit, always in harmony with the Scriptures, assuring you that you are a child of God (Romans 8:16).
      2. He intercedes for the believer “according to the will of God” (Romans 8:27).
      3. He promised to guide us in all truth (John 16:13).
    4. See the signs of God’s providence.
      1. He may put before us an open door (Revelation 3:8, 2 Corinthians 2:12).
      2. You must be fully committed to Christ, and His will before He will show you an open door.
      3. Learn to wait on (trust in) the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 40:31).
      4. Seek counsel in godly people (Proverbs 11:14) Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory.
  5. Realize that God is in charge even when He is not in control, meaning God being directly involved in doing hurtful actions to mankind. But because we live in a fallen world and bad things happen to good people, God can use those hurtful things in our lives to bring about positive changes: He will cause everything to work together for good for those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

Leaders Ask Application Questions

The point of this post is to challenge leaders and teachers. To be effective in leading your class, make sure to ask application questions that lead your group to spiritual growth. This is perhaps one of the most quoted passages in the Bible Study business:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. (James 1:22-25)

To study the Bible, or to take a class on prayer, or discuss compassion for the poor but not do anything about what one has learned, is a waste of time.

The Word of God holds up a mirror in which we can see our own face: our character, values, attitudes, and habits. It offers us a perspective on our situation and relationships that we can’t get on our own. It also opens up a window into the realm of God, in which we see the face of Christ looking back at us. We get to compare our face to that of Christ, noting the similarities and differences. The Bible promises that we can change (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Extensive psychotherapy doesn’t change most people all that much. When change does happen, something on the order of a miracle is occurring. But the gospel insists that the Spirit of God (through the Word of God and with the help of the people of God) can and will perform this miracle in any person willing to cooperate.

So many study groups settle for educating people about God and the Christian life, but they don’t believe it’s possible for them to really become like Jesus. People like the idea in theory, but the actual process scares them.

  1. Do we really want to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror, week after week? Can we bear to see and examine the face of Christ?
  2. Do we really want to give up our familiar paths and strike out on the uncharted territory of God’s ways?
  3. Do we really want the Spirit breaking up our concrete habits with a jackhammer?

Likely, your group contains decent people who sort of want to follow Christ but aren’t all that eager to see their lives disrupted. They are busy people who have jobs, families, bills, and housework that don’t leave them hours and hours to contemplate Christ and their lives. Discussion questions that invite them to apply the Word of God to their lives need to take into account both the mandate of the gospel (big changes) and the realities of the human condition (big obstacles to change).

Go Slow and Deep: People who are asked to take drastic action too often and in too many different directions eventually go numb in order to survive. Consider the person who hears a Sunday sermon, reads the Bible even once or twice a week, and attends Sunday School each week. If this person encounters three, four, or more calls in one week to change drastically, it’s overwhelming. Over time, people learn to tune out the guilt feelings triggered by such calls.

In your small group, learn to ask, “So what?” regularly and systematically, but ask, “Now what?” sparingly, yet with focus and detail.

  1. “So what?” invites group members to think about the implications of what they are studying. “Now what?” asks them to take action individually or together, to do something concrete about those implications.
  2. “So what?” is theoretical, general application. “Now what?” is practical, specific application.
  3. “So what?” helps people think an issue through. “Now what?” guides them step by step in a realistic plan to be doers of the Word.
  4. “So what?” questions work in at least two dimensions.
    1. The first dimension is when: helping the group bridge the gap between when the passage was written (then) and our current situation today (now).
    2. The second dimension is who: discerning how a passage applies to people in general, to them as individuals, or to them as a group.

Then and Now: One common error in Bible study is to assume that something God told someone to do in 605 B.C. is what God wants each of us to do today. A related error is to assume that God wants us to imitate everything the first Christians did without regard to the differences of situation. These errors overlook the fact that God deals both in timeless principles and in unique situations.

  1. “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) is a timeless principle.
  2. “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household” (Genesis 12:1) is an instruction to a particular person, Abram.

When we get the particular and the timeless confused:

  1. We may conclude that God wants all men everywhere to be circumcised and all women everywhere to cover their heads.
  2. We may conclude, like many 19th-century Americans, that because Paul treated slavery as OK in A.D. 50, it was still OK in A.D. 1850.
  3. We may decide that since God told Joshua to practice genocide against the utterly degenerate Canaanites, then maybe our enemies deserve genocide, and maybe we have been called by God to imitate Joshua.

1. “So what?” questions always begin with what was then. The first “So what?” question should point to the original purpose of the writer or speaker in the passage:

  1. What do you think Jesus wanted His audience to do in response to this parable?
  2. What action does Paul tell the Galatians to take?

With a story, it may be more helpful to ask about how the various characters responded to the challenges they faced:

  1. How did Abram deal with his doubts?
  2. How did the apostles handle the conflict between the Greek- and Aramaic-speaking believers?

2. Next we look for bridges between then and now by asking how our situation is like and unlike the situation addressed in the passage:

  1. What conflicts do we face in our ministry? In what ways do they resemble the conflict described in Acts 6? In what ways are they different?
  2. Do you identify with the Galatians in any ways? In what ways are you similar or different?

As the leader, you should always ask yourself, “How is our situation different?” This question will help you guide the group away from erroneous applications. Joshua’s conquest of Canaan was in many ways a unique situation. The founding of the first Christian community in Jerusalem was also unique in many ways.

3. Finally, with the similarities and differences between then and now in mind, we can ask whether the passage offers any timeless (always) principles, like, “What can we learn about good and poor ways of handling doubt from Abram’s example?”

Principles can include a sin to avoid, a promise to trust, an example to follow, a command to obey, or a truth to believe. It is essential not to generalize a universal principle from a specific situation without careful thought about the differences between then and now.

Sometimes you’ll want to help people apply the passage to their personal lives. At other times, you’ll draw out a group application. Most of the Bible was written not to individuals, but to groups. The “you” in many passages is plural.

Another way of asking, “So what?” is to point people toward listening to the Holy Spirit:

  1. What do you sense the Holy Spirit is saying to us about how we relate to others in our lives who don’t know Christ?
  2. What is one key truth from this passage that you sense the Spirit is urging you to embrace?

Set aside 15 minutes at the end of your group meeting to contemplate questions. Pray, asking the Holy Spirit to speak. Then talk, with ears open.

Now What? “So what?” questions are general and ask for relevance. “Now what?” questions are pointed. They ask us to take action.

  1. How can you put this insight into practice this week?
  2. What can you do to cultivate this into a habit?
  3. What will it mean, in practical terms, for you to seek God’s kingdom first this week?
  4. How can we, as a group, obey Isaiah’s call to a true fast?

Many of your discussions will end with “So what?” questions. It is not a waste of time to help people think and feel more biblically. But sometimes, action is called for.

“Now what?” questions require specific, realistic, and measurable answers.

  1. Specific means that definite actions, rather than general goals, are specified.
  2. Realistic means that the person has devised a plan he can reasonably carry out within the limitations of his life, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the help of the group to back him up.
  3. Measurable means something concrete will be done, and at the end of a month or a year, the shift in the person’s attitudes or actions will be noticeable by an observant outsider. We shouldn’t become obsessed with measuring spiritual growth, since the most important changes are internal and may take time to affect our behavior dramatically, but it is possible to ask ourselves. What can I do to become a significantly more compassionate person by this time next year?

Bear in mind that questions about the future are often more intimate than those about the past or present. Most people don’t talk about their hopes and goals casually. When the group has been together for about six sessions or more, members will find it extremely bonding to begin discussing their hopes for who they want to become and how they plan to pursue their goals. One way of formulating this question is, “In what ways do you want to be different as a result of our studying Philippians?”

Counting the Cost: Jesus told a parable about two sons, in which one son agreed to do what his father asked but then didn’t follow through, while the other balked but eventually obeyed (Matthew 21:28-32 ). People frequently talk about how a passage applies to them but don’t do anything about it after the discussion. One reason for this is that they don’t consider the risks and costs of living the gospel. Jesus urged His followers to count the cost and to be sure they knew what they were getting themselves into before embracing the kingdom of God. Here are some questions you can use when studying a passage that you know asks something difficult, such as turning the other cheek:

  1. What are the risks of doing what Jesus says here?
  2. What would it cost you to do that?
  3. What obstacles hinder you from living that way consistently?

Then, having looked squarely at the downside, invite people to weigh it against the upside:

  1. What would be the benefits of living like this?
  2. What would motivate a person to take those risks?
  3. How can you overcome those obstacles? How can we help?

Not Just the Facts: Application questions provide the potential for spiritual growth. They take us beyond learning facts about a passage of Scripture. We discover how the passage applied to its original readers, how that ancient situation connects with our modern world, and how to do something with what we’ve learned. This process helps us become doers of the Word, not merely hearers, and as the Scriptures promise, such people (and such small groups) “will be blessed in their doing.”

Thanks to Karen Lee-Thorp, Discipleship Journal, July/August 1998 [print_link] [email_link]