Doctrine of the Will of God – Judges 6:14
Open your Bibles to Judges 6. As we continue our study in Judges we have come to the judgeship of Gideon. Gideon is perhaps the most extensive study of any of the judges in this book, and there are many lessons to draw from the life of Gideon and it is also a pivotal time in this period of spiritual apostasy and political anarchy in the nation Israel. There are also many personal lessons that we can draw from a study of the life of Gideon, one of which is that before Gideon can advance in God's plan for him, in terms of being a deliverer, a judge, from the oppression of the Midianites there are three areas of doctrine that Gideon has to get straight. Remember all doctrine, if it is truly biblical doctrine, has application. Now you may not understand the application right now, you might think it just seems academic, but nevertheless, all doctrine is eventually applicable in some way.
Now Gideon's problem is that he reflects the pagan culture out of which he has come. The Israelites have been apostate, he seems to be a young man and they have been apostate for a number of years and so he reflects in his life, in his thinking, in his response to God the fact that he doesn't understand the basic principles of the spiritual life in the Old Testament. He has limited faith because he has limited doctrine. It doesn't matter how strongly you want to believe something, faith is always directed toward an object and if that object is not informed by the Word of God, then you cannot exercise Biblical faith because there is very little doctrine in Gideon's soul; he has no doctrinal orientation, there is no real object for his faith so he is spiritually weak. We would say he is a baby believer but he's more than that, he's been in apostasy.
And this raises one of the more interesting questions in a study of Gideon is why in the world does God call a man that is spiritually immature, a man that is apostate, a man that doesn't understand the basic principles about the will and the plan of God. What we're going to see as we continue our study in Judges 6 is that before Gideon can get to the point of being a deliverer, he has to understand some things about being in fellowship with God and what that entails, he has to understand some things about some grace orientation because he doesn't have a clue, and he has to understand some things about the will of God and that entails doctrinal orientation, so we can see from that that in terms of what we call the basic problem solving devices and the basic stress busters, which are the spiritual skills necessary to master, to advance in the spiritual life, Gideon is lacking. So God has to take him through a crash course in spiritual growth before God is going to use him in the battle in the next chapter. So as part of his training he has to understand and orient to the will and the plan of God for his life, and that's part of doctrinal orientation.
So as we have pursued our study and come down to the section, the paragraph from verse 11 to verse 18, in the midst of that the angel of the Lord, who is the preincarnate Second Person of the Trinity, has appeared to Gideon and has told him that the Lord is with him, and then in verse 14 says, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian." So here he gets the divine commission which is God's plan for his life and God's will for his life and God's will for his life at that point. And we will see that Gideon has somewhat of a difficult time orienting to that. He doesn't really want to accept the commission, he tries to get out from under it and weasel away, and that's typical of both paganism and immaturity.
So that brought us to the doctrine of the will of God which we are still studying, because so many folks have problems when it comes to understanding the will of God. I heard a classic example yesterday, it involved a pastor of a local church, but this individual was pasturing a church and the church had been looking at a building plan, a building program for some time and the congregation had met, they had raised about 90% of the money necessary to fund the project so it wasn't a matter of going into debt or lack of money or anything like that, and all of a sudden the pastor stood up in the congregation and said well, it's not God's will for us to do this so we're not going to do it. And that was a violation of the authority in the church, which was the constitution, which gave a certain amount of responsibility to the congregation on physical real property issues. It was based on a fuzzy, as he explains; he says the Holy Spirit isn't leading me.
Folks, that's how most Christians operate, it's called subjectivity and mysticism; it permeated and infected evangelicalism as a result of some of our pietistic heritage, going back a couple of centuries and that is not how the Bible says the Holy Spirit leads you. I had one professor in seminary who used to say when somebody can distinguish an inner movement of the Holy Spirit from just having a bad taste of digestive problems then we might be able to discuss this, but you see, there's no objectivity there, there's no criteria there, there's no way to validate whether or not something really is the will of God other than I just feel like it is, and so many people make decisions in life that way. They find someone they're attracted to and so they think that because they feel so wonderful and ecstatic and have such a good time with this person that it must be God's will for them to get married, or they travel somewhere and they're impressed with the beauty of a place, or some friends, and they have a wonderful time there, it must be God's will for me to move there. Whatever it might be, people so often make decisions moved by their emotions and then they label that the leading of the Holy Spirit and call it the will of God and then the first time they have difficulty or problems God gets blamed for it. It's a very subtle way we have of avoiding personal responsibility for our own decision making. It's sad but in evangelicalism and in Bible churches so often the teaching on the subject of the will of God and decision making is fuzzy and promotes subjectivity and emotionalism.
The leading of the Holy Spirit is not a leading of impressionism; it is not simply that oh, I feel this way, because we all can have all kinds of feelings and impressions and make decisions on the spur of the moment because it seems good at the time or we have liver-quiver or whatever we want to call it, but labeling that in the Spirit of God is not what we find in the Scripture and is not what the Scriptures talk about in terms of the leading of the Spirit. So we have to go over this again and again in order to make sure everybody understands it, so let's review briefly what we have covered so far on the doctrine of the will of God.
First of all, the term "will of God" relates to three aspects of divine volition in relation to God's creation. The first is God's sovereign volition, His sovereign will. That's the first category of the will of God, His sovereign will, where He brings to pass what He wills and what He has decreed. God's sovereign will is also called His secret will and we do not know what it is; it includes His permissive will, it includes evil as well as good. We can chart it out this way, that the sovereign will is defined by this circle. Inside the circle we include evil, good and all that comes to pass, all that is. The only way we can really know what God's sovereign will is is by taking a look at history. We know it only after the fact.
God's moral will is the second category. This is sometimes called His revealed will to man; his revealed will. This refers to the revelation of God's will in the Scripture, making it clear to us what He wants us to do and what He wants us to avoid; it includes all of the mandates and prohibitions of Scripture as related to the pertinent dispensation. So for the Church Age that does not mean we are under the Law but it means we are under the mandates of the higher law of the New Testament, the law of love, and under the mandates and prohibitions of the New Testament. That is God's moral will; it includes what we ought to do and the moral will of God does not always fit the sovereign will of God.
The third category is God's overriding will; we may decide to do something and God may override our decision. God may override our decision; for example, David wanted to build a temple and God said no, that's not my will for your life, so David had the will and God honored him and praised him for having that desire but it was not God's plan for him to bring it to completion.
There are several passages that support the sovereign will of God: Daniel 4:35; Proverbs 21:1, "the king's heart is like channels of water in the hands of the LORD, He turns it wherever He wishes," showing that God controls history. Jesus Christ controls history and God brings about His plan. Revelation 4:1; Ephesians 1:11; Proverbs 16:33 and Romans 9:19 all emphasize the sovereign will of God.
There is in human history no contradiction or conflict between the sovereign will of God and human volition. See, that's one of the important and unique teachings of Christianity and the Bible, is that man has volition. That means that he is responsible and accountable for his decisions. And Scripture also teaches that God controls history so what we infer from that is that God has decreed that in human history His sovereignty coexists with human volition. What happens is people tend to push those two to emphasize one over the other. If you emphasize the sovereign will of God of human volition then you're going to end up saying nothing's my fault, it's all determined by God and you end up in some sort of fatalism. What's happened in the 20th century, since God has been removed from the picture we are more and more seeing a non-theistic or an atheistic determinism control people: it's genetic, it's in my DNA, I am programmed by biology and by nature to be what I am and to be an alcoholic, or to be a drug addict, or to be obsessive compulsive, or to be abusive, or to be homosexual or whatever it might be and whereas the Scripture says that all of us have certain trends in one direction or another from our sin nature or from genetics or DNA, we might have certain trends, nevertheless, we're all responsible for those actions, because the sin nature is housed in the cell structure of the body and so we all may have certain trends but nevertheless we're responsible to control the sin nature. That's part of what maturity is to some level, is control of the sin nature and that's why it's part of the parent's responsibility to exercise a little corporal discipline on their children, is to start teaching them what it means to control their sin nature. You can always tell when there's a parent who doesn't believe in discipline because they're wonderful sweet little child is always running around with no control of their sin nature. So it's a parent's responsibility from day one to start teaching that child to control their sin nature just out of good manners to everybody that has to put up with the child. But that's everyone's responsibility. So man is responsible, the Scripture says, for the decisions he makes despite the fact that there may be other influences at work. The issue is volition; the issue is not environment or nature.
The third point in the will of God: the specifics of God's decreed will are secret and unrevealed and unknown. We don't know what God has decreed until after the fact. So when we ask the question, how do we know God's will we're not talking about this category of God's will.
Point number four: this means that we can only know the specifics of God's revealed and moral will. We can only know what God has articulated to us; we can only know what God has stated to us in the Scriptures and since God is no longer revealing Himself in terms of special revelation to man today, then we cannot know the moral or revealed will of God other than what is in the Scripture. That is our basis of authority. Passages on this are Romans 2:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks," therefore gratitude is a gauge of our spiritual growth, "In everything give thanks for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 4:3, "This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality." 2 Corinthians 6:14 states that it's not God's will for believers to marry unbelievers. So there are clear statements in Scripture as to God's will and we need to be more concerned about living inside the realm of what God has revealed rather than worrying so much about secondary issues perhaps.
Point five; therefore God's sovereign will includes His revealed will but His revealed will clearly is not always the same, it's not synonymous with His decree. We can chart this out by using our circle for the sovereign will of God and then overlapping it is the revealed will of God and our responsibility is to live inside the circle of God's revealed will, which is tantamount to living inside what we call the right circle, it used to be the bottom circle, living in fellowship with God, walking by means of God the Holy Spirit, because whenever we sin we are instantly ejected from fellowship with God, from the bottom circle or right circle as we have it in the diagram we're familiar with, and when we're out of fellowship we are outside the moral will of God because we're operating on the sin nature and therefore we're converting the outside pressure of adversity into the inside pressure of stress in the soul and we are outside of the revealed will even though we are still in the sovereign will of God. The only way to recover and get back into the revealed will of God is to use 1 John 1:9, to confess our sins and then we're instantly forgiven and filled with the Holy Spirit and we can begin to grow and advance in terms of God's will. God has revealed His will through the prophets, through the Holy Spirit, through the Apostles and their writings in the Scripture. There is no extra canonical revelation of God's will any more in human history.
Point number six; usually we become concerned about the will of God in the midst of some momentous decision, however God's will affects every decision we make to some degree. So the only way we can learn that is to operate in fellowship with the Lord and operate on what we do know about the will of God in terms of the mandates of Scripture.
Point number seven; if a man is to do all things to the glory of God, then even the most minute decision we make demands some level of attention, though not every decision involves a moral issue or a specific will of God in relation to geographical will or operational will. For example, you might have a decision as to what to do with some extra cash, whether to spend it, whether to invest it, or whether to put it in the bank and let if just accrue interest. The issue there is not necessarily moral, certainly you can spend it on something that might be considered wrong or immoral or irresponsible, something sinful but excluding that what you do with that cash is not necessarily a moral issue or a specific will of God issue in terms of the Scripture.
It calls upon wisdom and that's what Scripture talks about in Proverbs and what's called the wisdom literature in the Old Testament. Wisdom literature goes beyond simple application of doctrine. The doctrine that is in our soul is called epignosis doctrine which is applicational doctrine in the New Testament. In the Old Testament the word was wisdom, chokmah, and wisdom goes beyond simply applicational knowledge to being able to take that which is stored in your soul and apply it to given situations so that you make decisions in life that glorify God. Now the concept of chokmah goes back in Hebrew to the idea of having skill at something. That's why it's more than just simply taking a specific statement, don't do this or do this, but it's taking the whole realm of doctrine and then being able to apply that in a nonspecifically addressed area to make a skillful decision that produces something in life that is beautiful and attractive. One of the first uses of the word chokmah in the Old Testament refers to the work of Bezalel and Oholiab and their work on building all of the artifacts, all of the articles in the furniture in the tabernacle. And it says that the Holy Spirit filled them, it was a temporary filling designed to give them this special level of wisdom and skill in craftsmanship. They were goldsmiths, silversmiths, jewelers, and God the Holy Spirit gave them a skill in what they were producing so that what the produced was beautiful, was attractive, and brought glory to God.
By application, when it comes to decision making in the believer's life that relates to a non-moral issue or an issue that is not specifically addressed in Scripture, the frame of reference for decision making is wisdom. We look at a decision, perhaps we go through various processes whereby we get counsel from experts in the field, from more mature believers, perhaps, who have some greater life's experience that we can learn from, so that we can make a wise decision. There is, perhaps, a spectrum of right decisions there.
I often relate this in terms of exercises that are often conducted in the military in terms of testing and preparation, called field training exercises, and frequently what will happen, especially if you're in the army and you're in a situation, I'm sure it occurs with the navy as well, you have a problem, and the commander is given a situation and he has to go through a certain course of action and he has to arrive at a certain goal. Now there may be a hundred different ways in which you can face the problem, solve the problem, and achieve the mission. Maybe fifty of those are doomed to failure; maybe another forty of those would produce a mediocre solution or a solution where the cost of life would be unacceptable or would be too great, and maybe ten options would produce, let's say a successful to an extremely successful outcome. Now of these ten options none of those would necessarily be more right or less right than the others. Some work out better than the others, some may be affected by other factors in life, or there may be a number of wrong decisions, a number of decisions that really are what the Bible would classify as foolish decisions, they don't really produce anything of artistic value in terms of glorifying God, they don't produce a life of skill and beauty in terms of Bible doctrine, but then there are ten different options that all would produce spiritual growth, all are the result of spiritual growth, and all bring glory to God.
The trouble is that many of us want God's will in every area to be black and white; we want one thing to be the will of God and everything else not to be the will of God. But sometimes God does not have a specific A, B, or C for us to choose from. There may be many different options and the issue is as much how we go about the procedure of making that decision. This is what happens in leadership testing, in field training exercises, is one of the things that's graded would be how the commander and the troops go about the process of completing the mission. It's not just which option they choose but how they go about the procedure because there are, let's say for illustration purposes, let's say there are three options that would all produce an extremely successful completion of the mission. Let's say they choose one of them, so they're extremely successful but in the process they might make some mistakes. Maybe they hit on that decision by dumb luck; maybe they did it well demonstrating excellent principles of leadership. So the evaluation is not always on the decision or course of action ultimately chosen, but on how we went about that decision. In the spiritual life sometimes what God is testing us in a decision is not always making the right decision but the test focuses on how we go about making the decision. The procedure is as important as the final result.
This is why, when we come to point 8, since we can only know the specifics of God's revealed or moral will before God, questions about the will of God relate only to revealed information. Since God is no longer involved in giving direct revelation, He still guides and directs but indirectly; maybe through circumstances, maybe through friends, we have to be careful there because too often we can get introspective and just because certain circumstances seem to go a certain way you don't want to become guilty of making decisions just based on circumstances. Proverbs 3:5-6 states the principle, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart," that's your thinking, that means understanding doctrine and operating on the faith rest drill to apply it, "do not lean on your own understanding," that means rejecting human viewpoint, "in all your ways acknowledge Him," that is authority orientation to God, and what's the result, "He makes your paths straight." You can look back, maybe, and not realize how the decisions were going and He straightened them out even though you started to go down the wrong path or you started to make the wrong decision or maybe you did make the wrong decision and then in His overriding will He prevented you from bringing the wrong decision to completion.
It's not a guessing game. I think this is something that a lot of people get caught up in is thinking how do I know God's will, does He want me to do that and does He want me to do that and they become introspective and self-absorbed and immediately they're operating on arrogance rather than trusting God, looking at a situation, evaluating all the evidence, taking responsibility for the decision, and putting it in the hands of the Lord so that the Lord will necessarily guide and direct and bring things to be the way that He wants them to. If God wants you some place or if He does not want you some place and you are walking in fellowship by means of God the Holy Spirit and applying doctrine you won't end up where He doesn't want you and you will end up where He wants you, even though in the process you might think oh, this is the way to go or that's the way to go, God will close that door and get you right back where He wants you. So we don't have to worry about those consequences, making the wrong decision as long as we are walking by means of the Spirit, applying the Word of God.
Point number nine; this is where we stopped last time. Often it is taught that aside from the precepts of Scripture, aside from the clear statements of Scripture, the absolutes, God has a specific will for our lives in every decision. I might add that phrase, "has a specific will for our lives in every decision." Sometimes that has been taught in the past as living in the center of God's will. Usually it's expressed in terms of the geographical will or the operational will of God but it is expressed in a way that suggests that there is always in every decision a geographical will or an operational will. That would mean that if you're living in Norwich and God's geographical will is for you to live in Preston then there's no way, if you're outside the geographical will of God for you to ever even be in fellowship, because you're out of God's geographical will. Well, that's taking it to its extreme, absurdity, but that's where that kind of teaching goes. Now God may want us, at some particular time to be in a specific geographical location, but if we're walking by means of the Spirit, applying doctrine, operating in fellowship, then we will end up in a geographical location where God wants us, even if at first we may misread the signs or make a bad decision and go in the wrong direction.
God's not really playing a guessing game with us. You now the old shell game where somebody hides a pea under a walnut shell and you've got two or three of them out on the table and mix them up and say okay, guess where the pea is. God's not doing that with His will for our lives; God is not playing some kind of a divine fatalistic game saying okay, I'm going to make My will difficult for you to find, and now you have to guess what it is. No, God is going to make it clear to us and even if we make a bad decision, if we're still walking in fellowship He's going to make our path straight, He will work it out. So we don't have to be consumed, self-absorbed with those decisions.
Let's look at a couple of examples from Scripture. Jonah is one that comes to mind, Jonah 1:1-2, we have direct revelation, "The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying,  Arise, go to Nineveh," Nineveh is a geographical location so here we have the geographical will of God, "and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me." Here we have the operational will of God. But you see, God has revealed it clearly to Jonah. Now up to this point, as far as we know, God has not had a specific geographic will for Jonah, other than he is a prophet in the northern kingdom of Israel. Whether he lived in Samaria or whether he moved up north into the territory of Dan, or whether he moved over and lived along the coast was not an issue as long as when God gave him a revelation, a decree to the king or to the people, he did so. So that's why I'm saying there is not always a specific geographical will, but at times there is and when there is God makes the clear. Often He does it through circumstances that perhaps close every other opportunity so that we're left with only one particular option.
I remember a time when I was in college, a time when you're young and you're often consumed with questions about the will of God and I had worked for about four summers at a Christian ministry and was tired of it and wanted to do something different and was about to graduate from college and though well, I'm going to go on a study tour of Europe this summer. So I had the money together and I was ready to go, signed up for the trip and it needed 20 people to sign up for the trip to go. But the job that I had had for several years was one that needed some technical expertise in backpacking and mountain climbing and white water rafting and things like that and there weren't too many people around who could take on that responsibility and there wasn't anybody. But nevertheless, I just wanted to go to Europe that summer. Well, I think the deadline for the trip was like May 20th; on May 19th there was only one person who had signed up to go on that trip and put their money there, and at that point, since it was a summer camp ministry, there was a desperate cry that they needed someone to fulfill my job and they wanted me back, so I had decided well, it doesn't look like that Europe trip is going to make it so I'll go do the other ministry instead. So I did that, and the next day 20 people signed up to go to Europe. It sort reminds us of Jonah.
So it's not so much a shell game as it is God's sovereign will does override our will and He puts us where He wants us when there is a specific geographical will and we know it clearly. And if you don't know it clearly then it's not an issue at that time. Now it was for Jonah, and Jonah was to go to Nineveh, but Jonah decided he did not want the geographical or the operational will of God because Jonah hated the Assyrians, they were the ethnic enemy of Israel, he hated them, he thought that they were barbaric, they were some of the most wicked and cruel people of all of history. In fact, when the Assyrians did invade the northern kingdom of Israel and destroyed it, and then they swung south into Judah to destroy Judah God miraculously delivered Judah and destroyed the Assyrian army outside the walls of Jerusalem but before they got there, when they surrounded the walls of Lachish in Judah, it was a tremendous siege there and a record was made on the walls of Nineveh later, but when they finally captured Lachish, they took their captives and they would play games with them and they would see which one could live the longest after they peeled all of the skin off their bodies. They were extremely cruel, they loved cruelty, they probably made the cruelties of the Nazis pale in comparison. They were some of the most wicked people of all times and Jonah hated them and he did not want to see any of those people in heaven at all.
Now we all can sympathize with that at times, we know certain people that we really know if they're ever saved it's by an extra special measure of grace and some of us at times hope that maybe nobody will witness to them because heaven is just too good, but that's not the will of God. So Jonah decides to avoid this, he's going to foreshadow the words of Horace Greeley and head west. So he hops on a boat to Tarshish, which is the ancient name for the area we now call Spain. So he is going 180 degrees in the opposite direction and he decides to flee from the presence of the Lord. See, carnality makes you irrational; how can you flee from an omnipresent God. You can't. But in carnality we think that somehow we're going to fool God so he heads off, he goes down to Joppa, modern Haifa, and hops a ship to Tarshish and we all know the story of how they ran into storms as God is going to exercise His overriding will and bring it about so that Jonah either dies or goes back to Nineveh.
And Jonah is thrown off the ship; God has prepared a great fish, not a while but a great fish to swallow Jonah. See, God is going do what is necessary to bring us to the point of confession and obedience to Him, or it's going to cost us our life. He doesn't make that decision for us, He certainly didn't force Jonah to go to Nineveh against his will, but He brought to bear the right amount of pressure in the circumstances so that Jonah, of his own volition decided that it was better to go to Nineveh. So God does have a specific individual will at times, maybe many times in our lives and God makes that clear to us.
Another example is in Acts 10:17. We read in 10:17, "Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be," once again we have direct revelation from God. God revealed at that time to Peter that there was a major shift in terms of clean and unclean animals. The vision was that Peter saw a huge tablecloth being lowered from heaven and on that tablecloth were all manners of delicacies to eat, both clean and unclean as defined by the Mosaic Law. He saw lobster, shrimp and crabmeat, good old fried catfish, and he looked at is and he said Lord, I can't eat any of that, especially that roast pork, it smells good, I can't eat it, it's not clean. So in his self-righteous attitude he rejected it. Three times the Lord had to do that, that shows repetition, God's going to make His will clear, and the tablecloth was lowered and God said what I have made clean is clean. Now Peter is puzzling over just exactly what that means.
Just as a side note you will always find somebody in life who comes up with some biblically based diet. You know, everybody is talking about diets now, we just had the turn of the year, everybody has put on a couple of pounds over Christmas and we have all the New Year's resolutions and it seems like every year or two somebody comes up with a Biblically based diet, going back to the Mosaic Law and saying this is really a healthy diet, that's why God gave the dietary stipulations to Israel because they really didn't know how to properly prepare pork or some of the other food, so God made those restrictions in order that they would be healthier. That's hogwash; I'm telling you, it's shameful how so many Christians are suckers for everything, they're just like Gideon, they're so biblically ignorant that they're no good. We'll see that in Gideon, he's so ignorant of what Leviticus says that he doesn't really understand what the angel of the Lord is trying to communicate to him.
You see, all of a sudden God gives Peter a vision, and in that vision all that unclean food is now made clean. Now did He teach him about hygiene? No. Did He teach him how to properly cook pork? No. Were there some new technological advances that somehow made these foods healthier than they had been in the past? No. The issue was it's now the Church Age, the Mosaic Law was for Israel and the foods that were clean versus unclean were to teach spiritual principles. Almost all, I haven't studied every single one of them out but I've studied about 95% of them and as far as I can tell, unclean animals were animals that associated with carrion; they were scavengers, lobsters, shrimp, they're all scavengers, where they touch dead things.
It rendered you ceremonially unclean under the Mosaic Law to touch a dead person because that was a reminder of spiritual death, separation from God, and so God said if you touch anything that is unclean or anything that is dead you cannot enter into the temple or tabernacle for seven days and then you must bring a sacrifice because He's teaching a principle that spiritual death separates people from God and there must be a sacrifice to solve the problem of separation from God. So all that is designed to teach a spiritual principle and it doesn't have anything to do with a healthy diet or losing a few pounds after we've indulged at Christmas. So don't let anybody fool you about the purpose of the Old Testament diet; it is dispensational, it does not have anything to do with health.
So Peter has this vision and he is confused as to what it means; God hasn't made the interpretation clear yet, He has simply given him the new revelation. Once again I want to emphasize, just like Jonah there's specific revelation here about God's will. And just after God has made the revelation to Peter, someone comes, a group of men from the Gentile, Cornelius who was a Roman centurion, come to his house and knock on the door looking for him.
In Acts 10:19 we read, "And while Peter was reflecting on the vision, the Spirit said to him, Behold, three men are looking for you." Notice, there is direct revelation. Once again I remind you of the point that I have made a couple of times, when God does something in history…now we live in an age when everybody today wants to make religion of subjectivity and a matter of impressions. We live in an age that's dominated by mystical thought and we come out of a conservative Christian tradition that has been influenced, to some degree, by subjectivity and impressions and subtle forms of mysticism. Whenever God does something in private in the Scripture, subjectively in the Scripture, there is always objective external confirming evidence to support it. It's never simply a matter of subjective impression. God always acts objectively in history to confirm whatever He does subjectively. So that means that if you wake up in the middle of the night and think oh, God wants me to do X, Y or Z then maybe you ought to think about it a while and see if there's something that confirms that and there's objective confirmation of that somewhere along the line.
So "the Spirit said to him, "three men are looking for you.  Arise, go downstairs, and accompany them without misgivings; for I have sent them Myself." So Peter is sent to the Gentiles and he there witnesses to Cornelius and his household and they are saved and it's at that point that the new church and the leadership of the new church begins to realize that God is truly doing a new work in the Church Age, there is not going to be a distinction between Jew and Gentile. So there's another example of God's directive will, God's revealed geographical will for Peter. They it didn't involve going to another country or another state or another city, it involved going to a different house, to Cornelius' residence.
Another example of God's operational will is in Acts 13:1 and this takes place at a church in Antioch which is where believers were first called Christians. "Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers:" this is in the very early stages of the apostolic age, probably around 40 AD, not too long after the cross, five, six or seven years, there is "Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul." This isn't long after Saul's conversion.
Acts 13:2, "And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said," and here again is direct revelation, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Now notice, in all of these examples from Acts we are in the transition period of the early church, there is no canon of the New Testament at this time at all, none of the books in the New Testament have been written and God the Holy Spirit was still giving direct revelation. So they are told to set apart Barnabas and Saul for their mission to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
At most, if you go through the Scriptures I don't think you can find more than 30 or 40 cases where God gives direct geographical or operational will type of direction to individuals. Most of the time the issue is taking what you know and applying it and producing wise decisions that glorify God. And one example that we had that I think is fascinating is how God used an unbeliever to accomplish his will and the unbeliever was not aware or consciously aware of how God was using it, and that's in the case of Cyrus, prophesied by Isaiah that God's anointed, he's called "anointed" which simply means appointed one, it doesn't necessarily have super spiritual implications, that God had appointed one to bring the Jews, the decree that the Jews would return to the land after the Babylonian captivity. Cyrus did that; he was not aware that he was performing the will of God, he had not been informed by the prophets that a couple hundred years ago that God prophesied that you would send us back to our homeland, it was just his policy; he did it of his own will, his own responsibility and that's a nice example of the principle in Proverbs 21:1 that "the king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord, He turns it wherever He wishes." That does not mean that God does it in a way that destroys the individual's responsibility or volition, but we see, especially, that's one example with Cyrus, especially in that case, of how the sovereign will of God coexists with human volition. Cyrus made that decision of his own volition, his own responsibility but nevertheless it was the sovereign will of God.
Point number ten, knowing God's will, therefore, is based on the grace learning spiral. We have covered the grace learning spiral and that is the principle that learning the Word of God is not based on human talents, human education, or human IQ. God gives the gift of pastor-teacher to communicate doctrine. When the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit, God the Holy Spirit is the One who makes doctrine understandable. Now this is an important word here, "understandable." It doesn't mean that God the Holy Spirit understands it for us. Neither does it mean that if I'm filled with the Spirit that I'm automatically going to understand everything that the pastor teaches. It is understandable, that's a concept called potentiality. You can understand it because it's not based on your IQ, your education, but if you're only a spiritual baby you might not quite grasp it yet. You might not understand it until you've heard it a hundred times. There are still things that I don't grasp or understand; they are understandable because the Holy Spirit is teaching me but sometimes I have to learn a few more things before I'll finally be able to put it all together, and that's true for every one of us in the growth process. So the Holy Spirit makes it understandable and we know that from passages like 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 which teaches that the natural man, or the soulish man, "cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God because they are foolishness to him." The unbeliever cannot understand doctrine at all. The only way they can understand the gospel is if the Holy Spirit functions as a substitute for their human spirit and makes the gospel understandable to them.
So the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit we can understand the Word of God and at that point, once we understand it it becomes gnosis, academic knowledge. Just because you can repeat it back to me in the way I say it doesn't mean you understand it. I've seen many believers in my time who can pass all kinds of tests on doctrine and then when you sit down across the table with a cup of coffee and discuss it and hit it from different arenas it becomes clear that they have learned by rote memory a principle, they just heard it stated so many times that they can repeat it back to you with the right vocabulary, but they don't have a clue what it means. The same thing happens with seminary students; they go sit in class week after week and take notes and then they come to their midterm and they regurgitate what they heard in class, but that doesn't mean they've come to understand it yet, to truly comprehend the meaning of what they've heard. It's more than simply being able to take notes, write them down and regurgitate the verbiage back to somebody. You have to be able to think about it a little bit, understanding takes a little mental sweat in order to understand it. So once you understand it it becomes gnosis. That's why I say sometimes we look across the church after five or six years and somebody disappears and they end up in some weird cult or in apostasy and we say what ever happened to them. The thing is, they fooled everybody because they were good mimics; they were able to regurgitate a lot of the stuff they heard and they talked the talk but they never understood what it was to begin with, and it's got to be understood before you can believe it.
That's the next stage; you have to believe it before the Holy Spirit then transfers it into our thinking. Now there are two arenas of thinking. The inner arena, what the Bible calls the heart or the kardia. The out arena of thinking is what the Bible calls the nous, and once it goes into the nous as gnosis you have to believe it before God the Holy Spirit is going to convert it into epignosis which is full knowledge, applicational knowledge, which dominates the center point of our thinking. Now things break down at two points. First of all, a lot of believers don't ever take the time to really understand or think about, which is what the Old Testament calls meditation, not the idea that so many people have today which comes out of eastern mysticism that meditation is just a contemplating nothing, emptying your mind. That is very popular, comes across in a lot of different techniques that are taught today, self-improvement techniques, there are a lot of different concepts like that are really brought over from other religions and then given some new pseudo scientific name and made to sound like it's something new. But in the Bible meditation is thinking about the Word, not just writing notes but going home and thinking about it, reading the words.
I am amazed sometimes at the fact that there are Christians who don't believe the Bible. I've heard people say well, you know, I'm afraid I might get confused. Think about it; if you're afraid you might get confused, don't get out of bed in the morning; don't read the paper, certainly don't fill out your tax form, my goodness. We might all get confused; just because there are certain technicalities and a lot of things in the Bible that are clarified by understanding Greek or Hebrew doesn't mean that you can't learn some things from the Scripture. Many times when I give you Scriptures, now that we're using this new approach I'm able to put those verses up on the board, but how many times have you heard teaching where you're told the principle and then just given the references? The reason it's done that way is so you will go home and read those verses because we are to read the Word of God, we are to be reminded of what God has done in history.
It's only when believers are regularly reading the Word of God that they begin to, perhaps put together what's happened historically, understand who people are in the Scripture, understand who Daniel is, understand who Nebuchadnezzar is, understand who Deborah and Barak are, understand who Ish-bosheth is, and if you read your Bible then those names will not be obscure to you. And then when the pastor refers to them you'll have a frame of reference and be able to comprehend. See one of the problems today is that people are biblically illiterate and we need to fight that by being aware of what the Bible says. And as we read the Bible underline promises, then go back and memorize the promises. The faith rest drill, which is a basic skill in the Christian life starts with mixing faith with the promises of God. But if you don't know any promises in your soul then how can you claim them when you get into a testing situation or get into any kind of adversity. You're not going to have time to run home and dig into your files and pull out your notes and then look up a verse and say okay, which verse could I go read and apply now; it doesn't work that way. We need to memorize Scripture so that the Word of God saturates our soul.
So we have to go through this process and we have to think about the Word and that's how we understand it as gnosis, and then when we believe it and trust in it then God the Holy Spirit converts that into epignosis which is applicational knowledge and then we have another decision to make, we have to decide to apply it when the opportunity arises. So it's not just a matter of making a decision to come to Bible class, it's not just a matter of making a decision to think about what we have studied, it's not just a matter of trying to decide whether or not we believe it but when we get out into everyday life we have to make decisions to apply it. The Christian life is more than just learning a lot of nice things about the Bible, building doctrinal notebooks, but it's about going out into everyday life, in our marriages, in our families, in the work place, and putting into practice what we learn. That's the hard part, it's not hard just to accumulate a lot of notes, that's a lot of fun sometimes and if you have an intellectual bent then it's fun and you enjoy it. But the hard part is going out and putting it into practice.
So God gives us His will and He gives us the means to learn it so that we're not restricted by our environment; it's not a matter of our educational background, it's not a matter of our human IQ because God the Holy Spirit is the One who ultimately makes it understandable to us. Colossians 4:12, we read, "Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave for 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." So we can know with confidence that we are in the will of God.
Romans 12:2 states, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind," that is the process of the grace learning spiral, it ends up renewal, renovating our thinking, for the purpose of demonstration, "that you may prove," that you may demonstrate in life "what the will of God is," that's application is. First you have to transform your thinking, then you have to put it into practice and that demonstrates that "the will of God is good and acceptable and perfect," and that's what we call glorifying God. So it ends up in application.
Ephesians 5:17 says, "So then, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." Ephesians 5:18 says that the will of the Lord is to be filled by means of the Spirit, so that's the starting point. Ephesians 6:6, "Not by way of eyeservice," in other words, not just on the surface, not just as overt actions, "as men pleasers, but as slaves of Christ," that is somebody who is completely subordinate to the authority of Christ in their life, "doing the will of God from the kardia," from epignosis, "doing the will of God from the heart." It starts with understanding and then believing it is epignosis.
Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart," that is with your thinking, the inner most thinking part of the soul, "and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight."
Psalm 32:8, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go," God takes on that responsibility, He is the One who teaches us, "I will counsel you with My eye upon you."
Point eleven in the will of God, as we learn doctrine and the Holy Spirit stores the doctrine in our soul, which we call retention, He is the One who stores it, then in decision making the Holy Spirit is involved in retrieving the information for application. As we learn doctrine the Holy Spirit stores it in our soul, He is the One who puts it there, repetition is necessary. God uses… not only performs the end but He also instructs us on the means, so there has to be teaching again and again, and then in decision making He's involved, the Holy Spirit is involved in retrieving the information for application, recall, He brings it back to our mind so that we can put it into application.
Point number twelve, along with the specific doctrine for specific situations there is also doctrine which produces…let's reword that, doctrine also produces wisdom. There are many decisions that involve wisdom procedures; wisdom comes only from maturity, growth, that takes place under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. So from this storehouse of doctrine in our souls we then develop the ability to discern and to recognize when some decisions involve a distinct geographic or operational will from God and when they don't. Because we have wisdom we avoid subjectivity in the decision making process and we don't get up in front of a congregation and say well, God has, the Holy Spirit has caused me to think this isn't His will and avoid all authority situations and go against every structure established to guide and direct us in decision making. I'm not saying that that pastor was wrong; I'm just saying that the will of God doesn't operate apart from those kinds of authority structures. I mean if I stood up and said okay, all of a sudden I think God wants us to do X, Y or Z, and that was opposite to what the congregation had decided or what the deacons had voted on and I did not go back through that process to rectify the decision then I would be completely out of line. God is not going to lead us in ways that violate the authority structures that are established. That's not God's will for us to violate those authority structures, whatever they may be.
Point thirteen; the geographical will of God relates to operating in a specific location and we'll come back and look at specificities of the will of God and wrap this study on the will of God up next time.