How to Discern God’s Will

This is an additional part for the lesson on bearing one’s own cross, basically discerning God’s will over following my own self-interests. For more on this topic, consider looking over my seminar on God’s Will.

There is a Sovereign Will of God: his secret plan that determines what happens in the universe.

  • Daniel 4:34-35 – He does according to his will.
  • Psalm 115:3 – He does whatever he pleases.
  • Job 42:2 – No purpose of yours can be thwarted.
  • Proverbs 21:1 – He directs the king’s heart.
  • Revelation 4:11 – Creation exists because of his will.
  • Ephesians 1:11 – Having been predestined according to his purpose.
  • Proverbs 16:33 – Every decision is from the Lord.
  • Romans 9:19 – For who resists his will?
  • Acts 2:23 – By the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.
  • Acts 4:27-28 – To do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur.
  • Romans 11:33-36 – How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways.

There is a Moral Will of God: revealed through his commands in the Bible what men ought to believe and how men ought to live. Probably 95% of God’s will can be found in the Bible.

  • Romans 2:18 – know his will … being instructed in the Law.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – This is God’s will for you…
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God.
  • Colossians 1:9 – May be filled with the knowledge of his will.
  • Colossians 4:12 – That you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
  • Romans 12:2 – That you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Ephesians 5:17 – Understand what the will of the Lord is.
  • Ephesians 6:6 – Doing the will of God from the heart.
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust and acknowledge God, he will make your paths straight.
  • Psalm 32:8 – He will instruct and teach you in the way you should go.

There is an Individual Will of God: of his ideal, detailed life-plan designed for each person (traditional view).

Those who hold to this view seek to answer the question, “How may I be in the center of God’s will?” It is normally asked in the big decisions in life and the rest of life is navigated by circumstances and personal feelings. To find the center of God’s will require special revelation of God.

  1. A wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:3-5, 8, 10-26)
  2. A target audience for Paul (Acts 16:9-10)

A Completed Canon of Scripture: There are no more visions, dreams, and appearances (1 Corinthians 15:8, 1 Peter 1:20, no more “thus says the Lord…”) We have a more sure word of prophecy found in the canon of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19a, 21)

  • Revelation 22:18-19 – prohibits adding to God’s word (this revelation).
  • Jude 1:3 – The faith was once for all handed down to the saints.
  • 2 Peter 1:2-3 – God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.
  • 2 Peter 2:1 – False prophets arose, and false teachers will be among you.
  • What about dreams and visions today? (Hearing God’s Voice, by Richard and Henry Blackaby)
    1. In many parts of the world, God seems to be using visions and dreams extensively. In areas where there is little or no gospel message available, and where people do not have Bibles, God is taking his message to people directly through dreams and visions. This is entirely consistent with the biblical example of visions being frequently used by God to reveal his truth to people in the early days of Christianity. If God desires to communicate his message to a person, he can use whatever means he finds necessary—a missionary, an angel, a vision, or a dream. Of course, God also has the ability to give visions in areas where the gospel message is already readily available. There is no limit to what God can do.
    2. At the same time, we must be careful when it comes to visions and the interpretation of visions. We must keep in mind that the Bible is finished, and it tells us everything we need to know. The key truth is that if God were to give a vision, it would agree completely with what He has already revealed in His Word. Visions should never be given equal or greater authority than the Word of God. God’s Word is our ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice.

How NOT to Determine God’s Will:

  1. Do NOT Put God to the Test (Matthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 8:3)
  2. Do NOT Seek After Signs (Matthew 12:38-40)
  3. Do NOT Communicate With the Dead (Isaiah 8:19-20, Deuteronomy 10-12)
  4. Do NOT Look at Horoscopes (Jeremiah 10:2, Revelation 21:8, Galatians 5:20)
  5. Do NOT be Led by the Spirit Contrary to God’s Word (James 4:17)
  6. Do NOT be Led by Your Sinful Nature:
    • Jeremiah 17:9 (“follow your heart,” which is wicked and can’t be trusted)
    • Ephesians 4:22-24 (“Be true to yourself,” which self? The old self or the new self?)

How to Determine God’s Will:

1. Examine yourself to make sure you are a Christian:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:5 – test yourself
  • James 1:18 – God gave us new birth
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 – who desires all men to be saved
  • 2 Peter 3:9 – God does not want anyone destroyed but to repent

2. Understand a biblical worldview on the decisions that you make and the direction that you take (Ephesians 5:15).

  • What does God expect of me?
  • What principles from the Bible could give me further wisdom on this decision?
  • After determining biblical boundaries, pray for God’s wisdom to make the best choice with the options that remain (1 Thessalonians 3:1 – we thought it best…).

3. Seek counsel from those in authority over you:

  • Parents (Proverbs 6:21-23, Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Husband (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18)
  • Small group leader or pastor (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Employer (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 4:1)
  • Government officials (Romans 13:1-7)

4. Discern whether your decision will be consistent with God’s five purposes for your life:

  • Knowing (worship, exalt, magnify): connecting with God by getting to know, trust, and love him.
  • Relating (fellowship, encouragement, membership): connecting with others through learning real love and belonging in God’s family.
  • Serving (service, equipping, ministry): connecting with opportunities to give back and make a difference with your talents.
  • Growing (discipleship, edification, maturity): connecting with truths, tools, experiences, people, and habits that help you grow spiritually.
  • Sharing (outreach, evangelism, mission): connecting with opportunities to share your story and God’s story as you live out your life mission.

5. Discern whether your decision will be consistent with your God-given SHAPE (how you are wired). We are created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

  • Spiritual gifts: how has God gifted me? (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 12:11)
  • Heart: what do I love to do? (Philippians 2:13)
  • Abilities: what are my natural talents and skills? (Exodus 31:3)
  • Personality: where does my personality best suit me to serve? (Psalm 139:14)
  • Experience: what life experiences do I bring to this opportunity? (Philippians 2:12)

6. Consult your board of directors: a group of past teachers, mentors, and disciplers whom you can contact for advice.

  • Proverbs 1:5 – a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.
  • Proverbs 11:14 – where there is no guidance the people fall.
  • Proverbs 12:5 – thoughts of the righteous are just.
  • Proverbs 12:15 – a wise man listens to counsel.
  • Proverbs 13:10 – those who take advice are wise.
  • Proverbs 15:22 – without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.
  • Proverbs 19:20 – the wise listen to counsel and accept discipline.
  • Proverbs 24:6 – an abundance of counselors brings victory.
  • Proverbs 27:9 – a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.

7. Make your decision and allow God to “blue pencil” your plans (the key is “Lord willing” and Proverbs 16:9 – the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps, like a drafting change). Avoid the sin of presumption (James 4:13-17).

  • Acts 18:21 – I will return, if God wills.
  • Romans 1:10 – perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
  • Romans 15:32 – I may come to you in joy by the will of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:19 – if the Lord wills.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:7 – if the Lord permits.
  • Hebrews 6:3 – if God permits.
  • 1 Peter 3:17 – if God should will it so.

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

Recommended resources:
Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen
Decision Making by the Book, by Haddon Robinson

How to Bear Your Cross

The passage for today is Mark 8:31–38. This lesson contrasts two orientations to life. One approach to life involves ignoring the cross and living for yourself. This is the self willed person that isn’t concerned with submitting to God’s will. The other approach involves denying self and becoming consumed with what interests God. Jesus is personally challenging his disciples to build the character quality of submissiveness toward God and his will for their lives. Luke 14:27 says, “whoever will not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Jesus is saying you have to carry your cross to become a disciple but that you cannot presently be one of my disciples if your life is marked by submission to the Lordship of Christ. Jesus isn’t describing the perfection of our lives but it’s primary direction.

Historical Background: coming immediately after Peter’s confession, Matthew 16:16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20, this prophecy was apparently triggered by the confession. If it had come earlier, the 12 would’ve been unable to receive it without being shaken in their conviction about him. This is Jesus first open prediction of the events which were now about one year away, earlier he had referred to them as they are in the old terminology, John 2:19. Peter was unwilling to except such a revelation because he was now certain about Jesus’ messiahship, Matthew 16:22, Mark 8:32. Peter was interested in the establishment of Christ’s earthly theocratic kingdom. Jesus understood this was the time to to be the slaughtered lamb rather than the reigning lion. Later in Peter’s letter he would put the pieces of the eschatological puzzle together when he wrote, “as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.” Peters misguided seal drew the Lord’s rebuke and created an occasion for Jesus to address the issue of true followership.

The Command: Matthew 11:29 (take, learn), Matthew 16:24 (deny, take up, follow), Mark 8:34 (deny, take up, follow), Luke 9:23 (deny, take up, follow), John 12:26 (let him follow), John 21:22 (follow). 1 Corinthians 15:31.

1. According to Mark 8:31, was Jesus and unsuspecting victim at his trial and execution? Jesus was not an unsuspecting victim at his trial and crucifixion, he knew all the details well ahead of time.

2. How does Peter respond to this short lesson of Christ upcoming passion? (Mark 8:32). Peter rebukes Jesus. Peter was unable to reconcile such information with his newly affirmed belief in Christ’s messianic identity. He basically tries to straighten Jesus out, which if he did, would’ve accomplished Satan’s goals. The verb, “took him aside,” pictures Peter confidently drawing Jesus aside in order to rebuke him for his own good. Peter acted with an air of conscious superiority. The word translated “rebuke” is the same one used for silencing of the demons, Mark 1:25, 3:12.

3. What emphatic words did Peter used to rebuke Jesus? (Matthew 16:22). Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, God forbid it Lord! This will never happen to you. God forbid translates a Hebrew colloquialism as literally meant “gracious to you, or merciful to you,” and was understood to mean something such as “God be gracious to you or may God in his mercy spare you this.” The word “never” in the phrase, “this shall never happen to you,” is a double negative in the Greek. It is an emphatic denial or prohibition. It could literally be translated, “this shall never, no never happen to you.”

4. Why did Jesus rebuked Peter in the presence of the other disciples? (Mark 8:33). Although Peter formulated the statement, it probably represented the view of the other disciples who needed to be reviewed also.

5. What did Jesus command Peter to do? (Mark 8:33). “Get behind me, Satan.” This command is similar to that given Satan in the wilderness temptation, Matthew 4:10, “begone, Satan,” but here Peter isn’t commanded to leave but rank himself behind Jesus. Peter acted with such an air of superiority, Jesus had to remind Peter who was to follow. The best teachers are students and the best leaders are followers. Jesus recognized the satanic opposition in Peter. Peter was opposing divine will. Peter is repute for being an agent of Satan.

6. What had Peter become with this mindset? (Matthew 16:23). According to this verse “you are a stumbling block to me, for you are not setting your mind on God’s interest, but man’s.” Peter was a stumbling block because his thought life was dominated by self-centered interests rather than God’s interests. “Stumbling block” is from the word originally used of an animal trap, in particular the part for the bait was placed. The term eventually became to be used of luring a person into captivity or destruction. Satan was using Peter to set a trap for Jesus.

7. Why does Jesus call Peter Satan? (Mark 8:33). In Peter’s effort to dissuade Jesus from the cross, he recognized a repetition of the wilderness temptation, Peter had made himself an unwilling agent of Satan. Jesus does not identify Peter with the devil but names him as a real adversary to God’s purpose and plan.

8. Why does Jesus teach the crowd about cross bearing after rebuking Peter? (Mark 8:34). Peter had just been reminded that Jesus must always submit to the Father’s will, now through the picture of cross bearing Jesus stresses that this must also be true of those who follow after him. So the issue of submission to God or obedience was the occasion for the teaching on cross bearing.

9. What three things are required of those who have become disciples of Jesus? (Mark 8:34). Jesus gives three commands, he must deny himself (aorist imperative), and take up his cross (aorist imperative), and follow me (present imperative).

10. What does the phrase “deny himself” mean? (Mark 8:34). It does not refer to some monastic vow or forgoing certain foods during Lent. It refers to the duty of every disciple, to turn away from the idolatry of self-centeredness and to deal with one’s inherent sin nature. The opposite of denying self is living for self. The disciple of Christ must no longer make his own interests and desires the supreme concern of his life. Obedience to the aorist imperative involves a fundamental reorientation of one’s life; It is urgent and we must do it now. It involves saying “yes” to God and “no” to self. Our culture tells us to except ourselves, to be ourselves, to be good to ourselves. Self is what caused Peter to set his mind on man’s interests rather than God’s interests. One cannot follow Jesus if he’s going the opposite way. To deny oneself is incomplete. At best it leave one in a neutral state, whereas following is an active and positive state. This calls for a second requirement. Take up on the cross is the positive action needed after one has denied himself.

11. What does it mean to take up your cross? (Mark 8:34). It does not prefer to putting up with some disappointment, sickness, or tragic situation in our lives. “Well I guess that’s just across I’ll have to bear in this life.” Taking up one’s cross involves a willingness to suffer and die for Christ, but it is much more than that. It is a willingness to live daily for him. Taking up one’s cross is the positive action needed after one has denied himself.

12. How was Jesus carrying the cross beams to Calvary associated with submission? (Matthew 26:39, 42, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42, John 19:17, Romans 5:19, Philippians 2:8, Hebrews 5:8, 12:4). Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane was whether to place his own interests before the plan and program of God. Self-interest said, “avoid the pain of the cross at all cost.” But Jesus fervently agonized in prayer and resisted temptation to point that his sweat became like drops of blood, Luke 22:44. Jesus yielded to the Father’s will when he said, “not my will but yours be done,” Luke 22:42. Philippians 2:8 summarizes the entire process well, “being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

13. How often should we take up his cross? (Luke 9:23). The word in this verse is “daily.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:31 that he “dies daily.” Every day Paul died to his own selfish desires and interests in order to advance the cause of Christ. What motivated him to die daily was the reality of the resurrection. There is life after death and one day all believers will stand at the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for whether they lived their lives for themselves or for Christ.

14. What does Jesus say is true of those who don’t take up his cross? (Matthew 10:38). The verse says that if we don’t take up the cross and follow him, we are not worthy of him. The adjective “not worthy” describes the believer who doesn’t live a life of submission. This kind a believer is not fit to be Jesus’ disciple and is not due a reward. The adjective is a word that expresses “weight, value, and worth.”

15. What four consequences do people experience when they choose not to follow Jesus? (Mark 8:35–38). These verses contrast the personal consequences of the individual who decides to obey these three commands and he who does not. The word “for” introduces four different personal consequences that people experience when they try to save their lives, or preserve their personal interests. There is a strong paradox here. Those who lose their soul, (psyche), weather in actual martyrdom or disciplined self-denial and submission, will find it in the age to come. Those who find it now by living for themselves and refusing to submit to the commands of Christ lose it in the age to come, Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33.

TakeUpYourCross

The historical meaning of cross bearing: The disciples in this passage are commanded to take up their cross. This is not a reference to cross dying but to cross bearing or carrying. We know it is not connected with dying or martyrdom because Luke 9:23 requires that we take up our cross daily. The phrase “take up his cross” is a figure of speech derived from the Roman custom that required a man convicted of rebellion against Rome’s sovereignty to carry the cross beam to his place of execution. As he was paraded through the streets, he was made to wear a sign which said that he had been a rebel. This practice was not designed to cause a more horrible death but the whole proceeding was designed above all as a deterrent. Requiring the condemned man to carry his cross displayed publicly his submission to the authority against which he previously had rebelled. Now, as all could see, he was submissive. To take up his cross was a figure of speech easily understood by anyone in the Roman empire to mean, “to submit to the authority against which one had previously rebelled.”

Questions:

1. What are some of the things that you have exchanged in the past?
2. Have you ever been involved in a relationship that became a hindrance or a stumbling block to your spiritual progress?
3. What is the one thing in your life that you have a tough time Buellton to God and his will? Prayerfully surrender it. Confess this to your small group accountability partner and ask him or her to hold you accountable and you’ll bring it to Christ Lordship.
4. As the condemned criminal would carry his cross through the Roman city, in what ways do you display that you are in submission to God rule in your life before an unbelieving world?

Additional Commentary: 1

Mark 8:31 / After three days: This is the literal meaning of the Greek phrase which can mean simply “after a short time.” The parallels in Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22 use the phrase “on the third day,” reflecting the Christian tradition that Jesus’ resurrection took place on the third day after his crucifixion (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:4).

Mark 8:31 / Rise again: What is meant is that God will raise Jesus from death, and the parallels in Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22 use a Greek word that makes this more obvious.

Mark 8:33 / Get behind me, Satan: strong language that reflects the way Jesus takes Peter’s rebuke of him. It is possible that Jesus’ words indicate that Peter’s attempt to persuade him not to follow a path of humiliation was a genuine temptation that had to be rejected forcefully.

Mark 8:34 / Deny himself: This means that the disciple must be willing to lose all for the sake of following Jesus. “Take up his cross” refers to the practice of making the condemned person carry the crossbeam upon which he was to be tied or nailed at the place of his execution. Death by crucifixion was a Roman execution by state authorities, familiar in ancient Jewish life on account of the Jewish rebels caught and executed.

Mark 8:35 / For me and for the gospel: What is implied here is a trial before religious or state authorities in which one’s profession of Christ is the issue. “To lose one’s life for me” (Christ) would mean to refuse to renounce Christ in such a situation, even if the punishment were death. “And for the gospel” implies that the person charged has come to the attention of authorities on account of preaching the Christian message. The gospel in this absolute sense is with one exception used only in Mark and in Paul (see Mark 1:15; 10:29; 13:10; Acts 15:7; Romans 10:16; 11:28; 1 Corinthians 4:15; 9:14, 18, 23; 2 Corinthians 8:18). The term means not only the message but also the activity of circulating it, and this little phrase (unique in Mark, cf. Matthew 16:25; Luke 9:24) must indicate that Mark wished his readers to know of the importance of the mission of the church.

Mark 8:38 / “When he comes” probably refers to the appearance of Christ in glory that was expected by early Christians and continues to be the hope of all traditional believers. Angels were expected to accompany him. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11; 2 Thessalonians 1:6–10.

Believers Bible Commentary: 2

Jesus lived a life of incessant service for others. We have seen Him hated by His enemies and misunderstood by His friends. We have seen a life of dynamic power, of moral perfection, of utter love and humility.

Mark 8:31 But the path of service to God leads on to suffering and death. So the Savior now told the disciples plainly that He must (1) suffer; (2) be rejected; (3) be killed; (4) rise again. For Him the path to glory would lead first to the cross and the grave. “The heart of service would be revealed in sacrifice,” as F. W. Grant put it.

Mark 8:32, 33 Peter could not accept the idea that Jesus would have to suffer and die; that was contrary to his image of the Messiah. Neither did he want to think that his Lord and Master would be slain by His foes. He rebuked the Savior for suggesting such a thing. It was then that Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” Not that Jesus was accusing Peter of being Satan, or of being indwelt by Satan. He meant, “You are talking like Satan would. He always tries to discourage us from wholly obeying God. He tempts us to take an easy path to the Throne.” Peter’s words were Satanic in origin and content, and this caused the Lord’s indignation. Note that Jesus first looked at His disciples, then rebuked Peter, as if to say, “If I do not go to the cross, how can these, My disciples, be saved?”

Mark 8:34 Then Jesus said to them in effect, “I am going to suffer and die so that men might be saved. If you desire to come after Me, you must deny every selfish impulse, deliberately choose a pathway of reproach, suffering and death, and follow Me. You may have to forsake personal comforts, social enjoyments, earthly ties, grand ambitions, material riches, and even life itself.” Words like these make us wonder how we can really believe that it is all right for us to live in luxury and ease. How can we justify the materialism, selfishness, and coldness of our hearts? His words call us to lives of self-denial, surrender, suffering, and sacrifice.

Mark 8:35 There is always the temptation to save our life—to live comfortably, to provide for the future, to make one’s own choices, with self as the center of everything. There is no surer way of losing one’s life. Christ calls us to pour out our lives for His sake and the gospel’s, dedicating ourselves to Him spirit, soul, and body. He asks us to spend and be spent in His holy service, laying down our lives, if necessary, for the evangelization of the world. That is what is meant by losing our lives. There is no surer way of saving them.

Mark 8:36, 37 Even if a believer could gain all the world’s wealth during his lifetime, what good would it do him? He would have missed the opportunity of using his life for the glory of God and the salvation of the lost. It would be a bad bargain. Our lives are worth more than all the world has to offer. Shall we use them for Christ or for self?

Mark 8:38 Our Lord realized that some of His young disciples might be stumbled in the path of discipleship by the fear of shame. So He reminded them that those who seek to avoid reproach because of Him will suffer a greater shame when He returns to earth in power. May His words “ashamed of Me … in this adulterous and sinful generation” speak to our hearts.

1 Hurtado, L. W. (2011). Mark (p. 142). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
2 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1341–1342). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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

Forget God’s Will for Your Life

Here are my notes for the sixth session of The Forgotten God, by Francis Chan, which includes questions for my Poster-TheForgottenGodsmall group, quotes from the book, and other observations. Remember these are notes, and not a complete article on the topic. Please purchase the book to support the author.

What might you accomplish with your life? How often is this just asking about your five-year or ten-year plan? Sadly, we often focus only on the future rather than on the here and now.

1. Why might it be safer to follow “God’s will for your life” than following God in what he may lead you to do today?

2. If you were absolutely, 100% submitted to the will of God at this moment, what do you think he might ask you to do?

Read Romans 8:1-13

That which is impossible to do, and live up to, in Romans 7 is possible in Romans 8. What makes the difference?

3. In Romans 8:5-8, Paul writes about the difference of the mind set on the flesh and set on the Spirit.

4. In Romans 8:9-13, what does Paul mention that set the Spirit-filled person apart?

5. What do you think it means to “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). The process of following the Spirit’s leading is walking according to the Spirit (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5, 16, 25).

6. The analogy of walking: We don’t really think about the getting from point A to point B when we walk, we are focusing on the next step. Practically, what would it mean for you to walk by the Spirit in your daily life?

  • Walking by the Spirit means we are moving in a particular direction, and that direction is set by the Spirit.
  • What is the real difference between adding the Spirit to your life and actually following him step by step?
  • When you just add the Spirit to your life, you are not open to change, you want the Spirit to enhance what you are already doing.
  • When you follow the Spirit, you will find yourself changing, maybe letting go of some things that were once important to you, maybe even giving up some good things in your life.

7. Which is more frightening? Giving up everything you own or going through life without the Holy Spirit?

  • Remember the rich, young, ruler (Mark 10:17-22). He didn’t realize what was keeping him from Jesus until Jesus asked him a similar question.
  • By definition, submitting to the Spirit leading means giving up control. This is not a one-time act but a lifelong process. Walking by the Spirit comes down to daily dependence on God. Falling into sin means you are disregarding the Spirit’s leading.

Identify a particular sin in your life. What would it look like to be Spirit-led in a moment of temptation?

There can be real pressure to try harder to produce the Fruit of the Spirit. Truth is, you can’t try harder! Obedience comes through the power of the Spirit.

Quotes from The Forgotten God book:

  • And to expose our hearts to truth and consistently refuse or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us and, if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence. – A.W. Tozer
  • It makes sense that Jesus would say it’s to our advantage to have this “other counselor.” After all, Jesus merely walked beside the disciples; the Spirit would actually enter their human bodies (John 14:17).
  • To be honest, I believe part of the desire to “know God’s will for my life” is birthed in fear and results in paralysis. We are scared to make mistakes, so we fret over figuring out God’s will. We wonder what living according to His will would actually look and feel like, and we are scared to find out. We forget that we were never promised a twenty-year plan of action; instead, God promises multiple times in Scripture never to leave or forsake us.
  • My hope is that instead of searching for “God’s will for my life,” each of us would learn to seek hard after “the Spirit’s leading in my life today.” May we learn to pray for an open and willing heart, to surrender to the Spirit’s leading with that friend, child, spouse, circumstance, or decision in our lives right now. To say that we are not called to figure out “God’s will for my life” does not mean God doesn’t have purposes and plans for each of our lives or that He doesn’t care what we do with our lives. He does. In both the Old and New Testaments He tells us that this is true. The key is that He never promises to reveal these purposes all at once, in advance.
  • Nowhere in Scripture do I see a “balanced life with a little bit of God added in” as an ideal for us to emulate. Yet when I look at our churches, this is exactly what I see: a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives. People who have, in a sense, asked Him to join them on their life journey, to follow them wherever they feel they should go, rather than following Him as we are commanded. The God of the universe is not something we can just add to our lives and keep on as we did before. The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives. Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow Him to the cross, to true Life.
  • I think repentance is one of those words we hear a lot but maybe don’t incorporate into our lives very often.
  • Jesus is calling us to be willing to suffer anything and forsake everything for the sake of the gospel.
  • I say I want to give it all to God, to truly submit myself to the leading of the Holy Spirit. But I won’t lie, sometimes the reality of what that means leaves me wanting to hold back a little. There are things on this earth that I really enjoy, like surfing, golfing, eating out, and laughing with friends. I know what you’re thinking: that those things are not sinful. And you are right. But that doesn’t mean the Spirit will not lead me to forgo those things occasionally or maybe even permanently for His purposes and the glory of the Father.
  • Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not limited to the day we first meet Christ. Instead, throughout Scripture we read of a relationship that calls us into an active pursuit of the Spirit.
  • Imagine I buy a treadmill to lose some weight. Three months later I take it back to the store and complain to the clerk that it didn’t work, I didn’t lose a pound. He would asked me, “What’s the problem? Did it not work properly?” I respond, I don’t know if it works. I never ran on it. I just know I didn’t lose weight, so I am done with it!
  • Receiving freedom and healing in answer to prayer is generally not something that is done to you, a situation in which you are just a passive participant. Occasionally God works this way and simply heels or freeze a person outright. He is certainly capable of this. But in my experience, he typically asks us to play an active role in the journey toward wholeness. He doesn’t need our help but invites us to participate. Also this journey to freedom takes time, sometimes a very long time.
  • Have you been stuck in a cycle of sin for a long time? Have you given up on the Holy Spirit and resign yourself to thinking that he doesn’t work or doesn’t have the power to bring freedom, at least not in your life? If this is you, then maybe you have not internalized the reality that walking in the spirit requires action on your part.
  • The hopeful part in all this is that even when I do ignore the Spirit and sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us of that sin. Though at times we sin, we are not ruled and enslaved by sin as we once were.
  • The Holy Spirit will not, cannot, lead you into sin. If the Holy Spirit is in you, as a believer, then when you sin you are not listening to the Spirit’s leading.
  • Living by the Spirit implies a habitual, continual, and active interaction with the Holy Spirit. While this sounds exhausting, it really isn’t because all of this living and action is done in the power of the Spirit. It is not by your own strength.
  • I love the apparent contradiction in Philippians 2:12-13. Paul says in one breath, work out your own salvation, and then the next, it is God who works in you. The both-ness here doesn’t allow us to escape a simple conclusion. Yes, it is God who works in you. And yes, there is work for you to do. Yes, the spirit empowers you to do the work. And yes, you do the work.

The Secret Things of God

Today I’m going to talk about Deuteronomy 29:29 – the “secret things” of God.

ILLUSTRATION: Are you a fan of the old Twilight Zone show? It’s a lot different from the Twilight series we have today! Do you remember this episode?

THE DOWNSIDE OF DIVINATION
When Don and Pat Carter’s automobile breaks down in Ridgeview, Ohio, they decide to have lunch at the Busy Bee Cafe while they wait. The booth they sit in has a fortune telling machine on the table that answers yes or no questions for a penny each. Don asks the “mystic seer” if he is going to get a promotion at work. The card says that it has been decided in his favor. When Don calls the office, he discovers that the seer was right. Because of this initial success, Don asks the seer more and more questions.

Pat begins to recognize that Don is taking the seer too seriously. Based on the seer’s predictions, Don believes it is unsafe to leave the diner until after 3 p.m. Pat convinces him to leave a few minutes before 3, but the couple is almost struck by a car while crossing the street. A nearby clock shows it is 3 p.m. After they calm down, Don wants to go back to the cafe for more answers.

The breaking point comes when Don wants the seer to tell him where they’re going to live and asks the seer every conceivable yes/no question to arrive at that information. Pat tries to break the spell the seer has over Don. After a persuasive speech from Pat, Don apologizes and then announces directly to the mystic seer that they’re leaving to go do what they please.

INTRODUCTION: This is a great example of our desire to know “secret things,” those things that have not been revealed to us.

God seems to be so mysterious. There are a lot of things that we just don’t know about or understand about God; we have questions of which we don’t have answers that satisfy the human mind or heart.

  1. Why is there suffering in the world?
  2. What is God’s will for my life?
  3. When is Jesus coming back again?

THE MISUSE OF MYSTERY
Some things are just a mystery. We finished a January Bible Study a couple of weeks ago in the book of Colossians, and the concept of “mystery” was a big part of it.

I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. –Colossians 1:25-27

At the time, there was a philosophy called Gnosticism, which claimed that only certain people had some special knowledge of God, and it was a secret to most people. It was a heresy that was condemned by Paul as well as early church councils. In Colossians, Paul’s reference to the “mystery” was not some secret knowledge, but the mystery of how God is able to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one family, breaking down the dividing wall of separation.

THE CONTEXT IS COVENANT
Moses writes about some secret things of God, but we must seek to understand this verse in context. Let me read it again, in the NASB…

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. –Deuteronomy 29:29

The first thing to understand about this passage is that it is in the context of the “covenant.” This chapter is describing the conditions of the covenant and the results of disobedience. The phrases in this verse pair together: “the secret things” with “the things revealed.” Since the Jews were the chosen people of God who possess these unconditional promises of God, there is a question that poses a problem, “How could Israel, the recipient of everlasting promises, be destroyed and deported?”

THE EXPECTATION OF EXILE
God’s word says it best in Deuteronomy 29:24-28…

24 And all the surrounding nations will ask, ‘Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why was he so angry?’ 25 “And the answer will be, ‘This happened because the people of the land abandoned the covenant that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. 26 Instead, they turned away to serve and worship gods they had not known before, gods that were not from the Lord. 27 That is why the Lord’s anger has burned against this land, bringing down on it every curse recorded in this book. 28 In great anger and fury the Lord uprooted his people from their land and banished them to another land, where they still live today!’

This is the problem, the continuation of Israel and its apparent termination seem to be mutually exclusive. They saw no hope of recovery. But God’s people should know better, because God had revealed the end from the beginning.

THE REGATHERING OF THE REMNANT
In the very next chapter, we read – then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. -Deuteronomy 30:3

This is generally referred to as the remnant returning from exile. Not everyone came back, since after 70 years many families established new roots, building businesses and growing their families. But there were three returning stages under Zerubbabal (525 BC), Ezra (458 BC), and Nehemiah (444 BC), which is the fulfillment of what we read in Deuteronomy 30:5 – The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.

Actually, the first ten verses of Deuteronomy 30 is a prediction of this regathering of Israel from all nations to which she was scattered. It did not look very likely, but perhaps you remember that Ezekiel had a vision where he saw the “dry bones” of Israel in exile coming back together, infused with divine breath that would resuscitate the nation to its proper role as 1) servant of the Lord and 2) mediator of God’s divine grace (Ezekiel 37:1-28).

THE CLOSENESS OF THE COMMANDMENT
In order to make clear the possibility of knowing and doing the will of God, Moses spoke of the accessibility of the Lord’s commands and requirements in Deuteronomy 30:11-14. As I read this, the word “commandment,” which occurs regularly in Deuteronomy, refers to the ENTIRE Law of God, not a single command they are to keep.

11 For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. 12 “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 13 “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ 14 “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. –Deuteronomy 30:11-14

The point here is NOT the ease or even the possibility of keeping God’s Law, but the fact that we can even KNOW God’s Law at all. Contrary to the pagan nations around them, the Lord’s promises and purposes for Israel are crystal clear; they are NOT too difficult, or too wonderful, or beyond comprehension. Human beings CAN understand God and his Law despite their human limitations.

Notice what you DON’T need to do to find, hear, or listen to God’s Word: you don’t seek it in the highest heaven, or cross the deepest sea, because then we can blame it on someone else who has not gone to these places to retrieve the Commands of God. “Ignorance is bliss,” we say. Moses assures us that his Word is “very near you” in your mouth and in your heart. This tells me that Bible study is not all that difficult since we have the Holy Spirit guiding us, illuminating us, and inspiring us. This passage is very reminiscent of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:6-7),

6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your HEART. 7 “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall TALK of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

Everything God wants his people to know is revealed in his Word, which is unveiled to the human heart and mind, and is to be communicated by one’s mouth.

Perhaps you recognize that Paul picks up this theme in Romans 10:6-8…

6 But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, ‘WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?’ (that is, to bring Christ down), 7 or ‘WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).” 8 But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

There is no need to go to heaven to get the message, or cross the sea to get it; the incarnation and the resurrection have already occurred and don’t need to be repeated. Instead, there is a life-changing message of the gospel, the word of faith that is to 1) be believed in the HEART and 2) confessed with the MOUTH. Just as the gospel message represents the very presence and purpose of Jesus Christ, Moses tells us in Deuteronomy 30, that the word of this covenant is close and authoritative, just as the Lord is close and authoritative.

So, back to Deuteronomy 29:29, it was this knowledge and hope that should have inspired obedience to “all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) Let’s read it again:

The Lord our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. -NLT

THE PASSAGES ABOUT OUR PURPOSE – WHAT IS GOD’S WILL?
Now it is time to get practical:

Is God keeping secrets from us? Well, since we don’t (and can’t) know everything, he obviously has kept some things from us. Even Jesus said that only the Father knows the timing of his second coming (Mark 13:32). Remember, anything that we know about God, is known ONLY because he has revealed it to us.

What is the one thing that most people seek to know from God? What does the future hold for me? Or what is God’s will for my life? Or why do bad things happen to good people or innocent people? Or why do the innocent suffer?

So, let’s talk about the future. What IS God’s will for my life? Well, we’ve talked about this before; but we usually ask the wrong question. We should be asking, “What is God’s will?” We should not search for that one, elusive, divine plan, and, at the risk of choosing poorly, forever being out of God’s will. We must discover God’s will, God’s purposes, and then align our lives to that revealed purpose. When we discover that which God is doing, we seek to deny self, take up our cross daily, and follow him to join him in that work (Luke 9:23).

Here are some passages that tell us about God’s will:

  • Mark 3:35 – For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother. (Believing and serving the Lord is God’s will)
  • Romans 8:27 – and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Intercession or prayer is God’s Will)
  • Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (The renewal of our mind is his will).
  • 1 Corinthians 1:1, 2 Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, 2 Timothy 1:1 – Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, (Paul was called to be sent out, which was God’s will)
  • 2 Corinthians 7:9 – I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. (Godly sorrow for and repentance of sin is God’s will)
  • 2 Corinthians 8:5 – and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (giving yourself to the Lord and to others is God’s will)
  • Colossians 4:12 – Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. (A holy life and assurance of salvation is God’s will)
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; (your sanctification [becoming like Jesus] and personal purity, is God’s will)
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (Being a thankful person is God’s will)
  • 1 Peter 2:15 – For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. (Living rightly as a testimony of the gospel is God’s will)
  • 1 Peter 4:2 – so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. (Avoiding the lusts of men is God’s will)
  • 1 Peter 4:6 – For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (Living in the spirit is God’s will)
  • 1 Peter 4:19 – Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (Suffering for the cause of Christ is God’s will)
  • 1 Peter 5:2 – shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; (Eagerness in serving and shepherding others is God’s will)

But for human beings, even believers, we want to know the future, rather than seek God’s will. Have you noticed, in the One Year Bible reading, that divination is condemned; the Bible tells us to avoid soothsayers, seers, fortunetellers, astrologers, psychics, mediums. Why? Because God knows there is a problem in wanting to know the future.

THE CHOICES TO CONSIDER
I believe that THIS is the reason why. If we know the future, we no longer LIVE and WALK by faith. How often have we read about the admonition to walk by faith and not by sight? (2 Corinthians 5:7, Colossians 2:6). Eventually we will begin to place our trust in some other person or discipline rather than trusting in the living God. We are in essence telling God that all of the information you have revealed to us is NOT sufficient. Peter tells us…

He has granted to us EVERYTHING pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of him who calls us by his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).

When we look to the stars by reading our horoscope, or call Miss Cleo’s 800 number during late night TV, we slap God in the face and tell him that he is NOT sufficient. He is NOT all that we need. The sacrifice of Christ was NOT enough, I need more answers.

Warren Wiersbe writes, “Our responsibility as God’s people is NOT to pry open the doors to the future, but to obey God’s will here and now. It is not necessary that we know God’s secrets, but it is essential to obey that which he has revealed to us.”

Ask yourself these penetrating questions at the bottom of your outline.

As we finish here, what has God said to you this morning?

  1. Maybe you recognize that your have not been trusting God with your future. Today is the day to repent and make things right with God. Tell him today that he IS sufficient and repent of your seeking answers in some place other than in Christ. This morning is a time to pray, trust, repent, and start fresh in your relationship with Christ. Recommit yourself to God right now.
  2. Maybe you have been attending here for a long time, and it’s time to officially join this congregation. You’ve held out for months if not years. You’ve been waiting for some special revelation from God when his will has been very clear for so long. You continue to worship here for a reason, it’s time to be obedient and join the family. A Christian without a church family is an orphan. Every team has a roster, every class has a roll, it’s time to join the family.
  3. If you don’t know Christ as your Savior and Lord, don’t let this opportunity to get away from you. Today is the day of salvation. You’ve been seeking answers all this time and God has made it painfully clear that he is very near. You sense his presence. You long to understand and experience forgiveness and purpose he has for your life. Remember, you don’t need to know all the secret things of God; only believe the things he has already revealed.

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God’s Will and the Church

The passage for this message is First Corinthians 12:12-14, 26.

We have been studying how to best experience God, not just to know God but to experience him. The seven realities of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God can change our perspective from a self-centered theology to one that is God-centered, understanding these profound truths:

1. God is always at work around us
2. God pursues a continual love relationship that is real and personal
3. God invites us to join him in his work
4. God speaks to us to reveal himself, his purposes and his ways
5. Having heard from God, we will experience a crisis of belief that requires faith and action
6. We will have to adjust our lives to join him in his work
7. We come to know God through experience as we obey him

It been challenging and this confronts us on a deep and personal level. These realities cause us to think about our current relationship with God and force us to admit that we have often been simply a casual fan of Jesus, but not a follower of Jesus at all, believing just enough to know that heaven is the place we want to go after this life, but not enough to make actual changes in our lives that will allow God to use us and make an impact on his kingdom. We believe the mission and purpose of God is to call out pastors, teachers and missionaries to build his kingdom, and we settle for sitting on the sidelines, never really wanting to get into the game. We are glad we “made the team” by saying YES to Jesus at some point in the past. We know there’s a playbook but have not really gotten it out to read it, or to prepare for the game, and we justify ourselves by saying, “I just sit here on the bench so I leave reading the playbook and running the plays to the starting team. I don’t expect to get in the game so I’m just fine sitting here on the bench, dressed out and wearing my team’s colors. I don’t really like practice too much: the coach is always telling us what to do and how to do it. He makes the team run, shoot, get in shape, hone our skills and get prepared for the games. But I don’t really DO all that stuff. I prefer just sitting over here on my little bench, next to this little orange water cooler filled with Gatorade. Why am I on this team? It’s because I like the crowd cheering for me and my team, knowing I can make it to the Final Four and the Championship Game because of all the dedication, commitment, skills and efforts of those five starters who get all the playing time.”

Wow, I didn’t think I would take this illustration so far, but the more I thought about it, how often is this the truth? My faith is all about ME. My faith is personal. But the Bible begs to differ. Faith is not something that we believe in or live out on our own. There is way too much evidence in Scripture that the Christian faith is to be carried out in the context of community. We often seek God’s will in our own lives but fail to realize that God has a will for the church. The church is the gathered group of Jesus followers. The church is people, those who have confessed allegiance to the One who bought them and saved them, not just to sit and soak, but to serve. I’m not talking about volunteering, although that is expected when we have a corporate mentality to Christianity. I’m talking about truly understanding what the church is all about. What does God expect of the church? Why do we gather in worship? Jesus mentioned that there are two great commandments: to love God, and then to love others. The whole law can be summed up in these two commands, but the Bible also has a lot to say about HOW we live as believers and followers and disciples of Jesus. Let’s first see what the church IS:

1. The Church is a Creation of Christ.

A. He builds the church: Matthew 16:18, I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

B. He builds the church using Spirit-led pastors and leaders: Ephesians 4:11-13, And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

C. He builds the church and arranges its members according to his own will: 1 Corinthians 12:18, But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.

2. The Church is the Living Body of Christ with many Members; 1 Corinthians 12:27, Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. It is not an organization as much as it is an organism; people make up this active and living body of Christ.

3. The Church is Uniquely Related to Jesus Christ as the Head of the Body;

  • Ephesians 1:22, And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.
  • Ephesians 4:15-16, 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

All matters of the church are to come under the lordship of Christ.

4. We (believers) are the Members of the Body of Christ who are Uniquely Related to Every Other Member of the Church; Ephesians 4:11-13, 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

5. The Church is on Mission with God in Carrying Out the Father’s Redemptive Plan;

The Great Commission: Matthew 28:18-20, 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The Ministry of Reconciliation: 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, 17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Wanting to Know God’s Will

We often desire to know God’s will for our lives, but remember, THAT is the wrong question. We need to ask, “What is God’s will?” rather “What is God’s will for my life?” Discover what God WILLS and align your life to what we know. Of those two questions, one is God-centered while the other is self-centered.

There IS something called “God’s will” and as individuals, we want to hear God speak, discover that will and then make major adjustments to be a part of God’s will. But God also has a will for the church, which is the gathered body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we want to hear God speak in order to discover his will, and then make major adjustments to be a part of God’s will.

So today, I want to focus on ONE aspect of what God’s will is for the church. It can be summed up in one word, ACCOUNTABILITY. Since we are NOT involved in an individualistic religion but rather a faith of interdependent relationships, what does God really want from us? How can the body of Christ best function? How can I be the best member that I can be, not only for myself but also for the church?

Accountability is not something that we can do alone, by reading the Bible more, praying more, tithing more… accountability is done in connection with other people. It’s more than just BEING WITH other people. Face it; there is no real accountability in a worship experience where we find ourselves looking at the back of another person’s head, sitting in rows like this. Real accountability takes place in the context of small groups, and it is only within a small group that lives intersect and believers grow, and help OTHERS to grow toward Christian maturity.

Accountability:

I want to spend the rest of my time building the case that Christianity is lived out in the context of small groups, and that the proof is found in a repeated phrase, “one another.” Let’s begin this lesson on the church by looking at ancient faith accountability:

In the Early Church:

  • Acts 2:47, Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart
  • Hebrews 3:13, But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
  • Hebrews 10:24-25, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

John Wesley and the Rules for Band-Societies

I did a little research on the Band-Societies of John Wesley (like a band of brothers). These were basically class meetings; this guideline was drawn up December 25, 1738.

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

To this end, we intend.

  1. To meet once a week, at the least.
  2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To each speak in order, freely and plainly, of the true spiritual condition of our souls, including the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer suited to the spiritual condition of each person present.
  6. To each speak of his own spiritual condition first, and then to ask the rest, in order, probing questions regarding their spiritual condition, sins, and temptations.

Wow, these statements reveal that John Wesley had a passion for accountability in small groups. Remember that HE was the catalyst for a great spiritual awakening, speaking to hundreds of people at a time. Speaking to the crowds was not enough to live the Christian life.

Wesley was influenced by the Moravians, who were founded by John Huss. He was actually burned at the stake in 1415 for heresies against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. His teaching eventually influenced theology in the west, primarily in Europe, and it laid a foundation for a young Catholic monk named Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517.

John Wesley described his small groups as “a company of men [and women] having the form of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their salvation” (The Book of Discipline pg.75).

You may be saying to yourself, “But I don’t like accountability in my spiritual life. It’s a private matter and I don’t want to talk about my journey and struggles and failures.” But does it not make sense to have all of our assets in place to increase the probability of our success in the Christian life? If we go it alone and fail miserably, why not have trusted, spiritual people around us to help us become mature in our faith and in our lifestyle and behavior?

Did you know that you CANNOT avoid accountability forever? Do you know why? Because…

Accountability is Inevitable: Romans 14:12 says, So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Accountability is Anticipated: Hebrews 13:17 tells us to, obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

If accountability before God is inevitable and anticipated in the church, then it only stands to reason that it would be advantageous for us to keep short accounts HERE in this life (with the church) before we ultimately stand before God.

An accountability relationship involves giving permission to a group of fellow believers to ask and expect an honest answer to mutually agreed upon questions. It’s not me telling you that I’m going to hold YOU accountable.

There is a classic verse on accountability: found in Proverbs 27:17, As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Accountability isn’t a remedial class for wayward Christians; accountability is God’s way to achieve God’s very best for our lives. Who among us does not want to please God, by becoming the best Christian we can be, the best husband or wife, employee or employer, teacher, student, parent or child? Christian growth happens in community, in the context of small groups, accountability. We all need encouragement and instruction, guidance, warning, admonition, challenge, to build up… it doesn’t happen in the large corporate worship setting. Let me tell you why.

This public gathering has one purpose, to offer worship to God out of a grateful heart. We don’t come to worship for what WE get out of it, because if we do, worship becomes self-centered. No matter how inspiring the service might be, from music to message, it’s not about US. It is in the context of a small group where we live out our faith in a culture of accountability.

Since I have three other things to tell you, and have no time to do so, I am going to put these items on my blog, and here is what you can find there:

  1. What are some reasons why we need accountability?
  2. Why do people avoid accountability?
  3. Obedience (to God and His Word) is always a positive thing; so take a look at all the “One Another” statements in the New Testament and see how great God’s Will is.

The New Testament is filled with imperatives (commands that God expects us to obey). These imperatives instruct us how to interact with one another, and talk to one another. Our talk should include confession, prayers, exhortation (which are basically suggested “next steps” for someone to follow), words of comfort, rebuke, admonition (or warnings), and the list goes on. Check out the church website for more.

As I wrap up, maybe today is the day that you finally realize that simply attending worship is not God’s will for the church. As important as worship is in the life of a congregation, God has so much more planned for his children. He expects us to be a community of faith, interdependent with each other, under the lordship of Christ.

It is God’s will for his children to share life together for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ. Each member of the body has a function and if we don’t do what God desires for us, the whole body suffers. You have to seriously ask yourself, “Why does God have me in this place at this time in history? What function am I supposed to do at this church? Why has God brought me here?

Today is the day of salvation; it is the day of commitment and a day of making decisions to embrace God’s will for the church, his kingdom and your life. Please bow in reverence while I pray.

My Prayer: Father, we have read many passages from your Word this morning, we ask that your Holy Spirit remind us of what you have said, and convict us about how to live the Christian life as YOU have designed and intended according to your will. Amen.