Colossians 3:15 by Robert Dean
There are many erroneous ways Christians have interpreted this verse to try to understand how they can know the will of God. This has led to ideas which don’t conform to an understanding of what Colossians 3:15 really means. How can we know what God’s will is for our lives? Is the peace of God a feeling that permeates every moment we are operating inside the will of God? How does this verse relate to the harmony we can find within the body of Christ?
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:45 mins

How to Know the Will of God. - Colossians - Col 3:15


Colossians 3:15 NASB "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful."

Many of us have heard the Word of God taught a certain way. God has a perfect will for every decision in our lives. Another way this is taught is that we should live in the center of God's will—in other words, there is an X marks the spot and if we are not living right on top of that X then we are going to be missing out on some of God's blessings in life and we need to discern exactly where God wants us. The implications of that are that if this relates to every decision then: Did you seek God's will this morning when you decided what you were putting on because you were coming to church? Maybe you should have worn a different color; maybe you should have worn different shoes. Did you seek His will as to whether you should put the left one on first or the right one on first? How far are we going to extend this in terms of understanding God's will in our life?

A third way in which this is often expressed is that God reveals to us precisely what this will is all the time. So how do we tune into that? People often say, well if God wants you to do something a certain way then there will be a peace that you have in your soul about the decision that you make. We have seen that there are certain logical flaws with that. There are many unbelieving thought systems that also emphasise having this sort of inner tranquillity as a means of guidance for how to make decisions. So the question is raised: How do we discern the difference between the kind of inner peace and tranquillity that an unbeliever would have and one that a believer has? If we answer, well we just know it, the question is: how do we just know it? There ought to be a way to articulate that, and there ought to be a biblical way to articulate that.

This is related to the point that one of the keys to discerning this will is this inner state of peace or tranquillity that we should have when a decision is made. We have seen that we can go through Scripture and there are a number of times when God expressed His specific will through different individuals and they did not really have a sense of peace or inner tranquillity about that decision.

All emotion is simply a response to some external stimuli, may be even internal (something we think), but it is what we do with that emotion as it initially presents itself to us as whether or not we are going to move in the direction of carnality, self-absorption, sin nature manifestations of emotional sins, or whether we are going to remain in fellowship and handle that emotion on the basis of the Word of God. That doesn't mean we stifle the emotion per se. Jesus wasn't trying to squelch or stifle His emotion in the Garden of Gethsemane. He handles is through prayer.

The issue with this is that it doesn't pass the doctrinal smell test or the practical smell test. Sadly, many of us have been taught a slightly distorted view of decision making in the will of God in a way that is not biblical and is in fact a very subtle form of mysticism or subjectivism. When the answer to a question is, well I just know, can you articulate it? No. Well then you have just slipped over into a subtle form of mysticism.  

We have seen that the idea when it comes to peace in reference to God is primarily used in the Scripture to relate to the objective reality of reconciliation. In terms of our relationship to God reconciliation has occurred because man has been reconciled to God. Because of man's sin the cross paid the penalty, so objective reconciliation took place there. And when we have justification there is an application of the objective reconciliation to us which is why Paul says in Romans 5:1 NASB "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." In Ephesians 2:11-22 the focal point is that there is not only that vertical peace with God, there is a horizontal disruption of human relationships because of sin—primarily in terms of the big blocks of Jew versus Gentile and the privilege of God's blessing upon the Jews in giving them the Law, and now there is a dividing wall because of the Law. But Paul says that dividing wall, not only the barrier between God and man but the barrier between Jew and Gentile, is removed. Because we have peace with God we are to have peace with every other member of the body of Christ.

The focal point in this verse as we see is that it doesn't stop with "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts," but it goes on to say, "to which (peace) indeed you were called in one body." The focal point in the passage is clearly on the body of Christ and having harmony among the members of Christ. And when we get at cross purposes and we have a relationship breakdown with other members of the body of Christ one of the ways we are to approach this is to understand as the framework, the foundation of our thinking, that this is wrong and we have to fix it through God the Holy Spirit and the application of His Word. It is so terribly easy in a body of believers for one person to get at odds with another person and then, unintentionally perhaps, say something to somebody else, not really out to assassinate somebody's character but they just make some comment about another person. Whenever we have sins of the tongue we can never bring those things back and the next thing we know some gossip, slander, sin of the tongue develops and within a short time a church can picks side and split five different ways in two or three weeks. It is tragic if sin is allowed to have a foothold like that. And this is the kind of thing that Paul is addressing here, that we need to have an external objective standard. If we have two Christians who are absolutely committed to the objective goals and mission that Jesus Christ has given us then they can solve any other difficulty or problem that they may have or misunderstanding that they may have, because if both are operating on humility and are submitted to God they can solve any problem. There is no such thing biblically as a personality conflict.   

When Paul says that we are to let the peace of God rule in our life it is not this idea that we have this inner peace that is going to tell us, or referee or umpire our decisions, but that we have an external standard of harmony with God that is to be manifest in every personal conflict we might have in life and we are going to let that ruling umpire for every relationship that we have. The idea of ruling in our hearts is ruling in our minds, our thinking; it is an objective standard for thought. It is the exact same thing the writer of Hebrews says in Hebrews 12:14: that we are to pursue peace with all people. However, we do run into a little problem because there are a number of people out there who do not really want to cooperate in this venture. Every now and then we have people like that in our life and they just don't want peace on biblical terms, they want peace on their carnal, rebellious, self-centered terms. It isn't ever going to work, so we can't compromise the absolute truth of the Word of God in order to have this kind of pseudo harmony. As long as certain people are rebellious we can't pursue peace. There are examples of this in the epistles of the New Testament where Paul has to deliver certain people who were former co-workers to the discipline of the devil (1 Timothy 1:20). There are others who have to be disciplined in other ways and we can't always achieve that harmony, but we have a responsibility to do what we can within a biblical framework to accomplish that because that is the will of God.

What we are trying to clarify here is the idea that we are to live in the center of God's will, that God has some specific things always: a specific location perhaps, a specific way of doing some things that are always true for every believer.

True or false test questions:      

  1. The statement God has a specific will for how and what each believer thinks. True. "Think on these things." There is a biblical viewpoint, God's viewpoint, and everything else is human viewpoint, satanic viewpoint, demonic thinking. There is a right way to think and everything else is wrong. The only way we come to think the right way is to get into the Word of God.
  2. God has a specific operational will for each believer. It depends on how we define operational. If we define operational in the general plan of God that is true for every believer, that we are to walk by the Spirit, that we are to confess our sins, that we are to pray without ceasing, then God has a set, specific operational will for every believer. That is expressed in all of the commandments and prohibitions that we find in the Scriptures. But if we take it down to an individual level, that God has a specific way in which He wants you to operate today, that may not be true because the way you do something and the way somebody else does something may not be exactly the same. We can still follow the same mandates of Scripture but because of your spiritual gifts, background, training, culture, it will manifest a little differently in one person than in another person.
  3. God always has a specific geographical will for every believer. They key to a statement like this is looking at those words "always" and "every." Does God have a geographical will for different believers at different times. Yes. But there are a lot of times when there is not a specific geographical will—probably most of the time. There are a few times when God really does want you on X marks the spot, but not always. There wasn't a specific geographical will for Jonah's life until God said: "I want you to go to Syria."
  4. God always has a specific will for every decision we make in life. Again we have to watch those words "always" and "every." There are many decisions in life that have no moral or spiritual consequences whatsoever. Whether we get up in the morning and have a cereal of poached egg is not an issue with the will of God. These are not the kinds of decisions we are talking about. But if we fall into the category of thought that God always has a center for His will then we have to carry that through to every decision. This is a sort of reductio ad absurdum argument and that has its value.

As we look at the concept of the will of God we have to realise that the term will of God is used in three different ways in the Scripture. Will always has to do with God's volition. He is the creator of the heavens and the earth and He has volition. He makes choices, He is not necessitated to act a certain way or not. He cannot be other than He is. He cannot commit a sin. That is because all sin is doing anything that is contrary to the will of God. He cannot do anything that is not consistent with His own will.     

When we think about the will of God the first category is God's sovereign will, and that is His overriding will with regard to His creation where He brings to pass, either through His permissive will or His active will, what He will and what He has decreed. We only know the sovereign will of God after the fact.

The second category is God's moral will. This is basically the expression of the things we ought to do and the things we ought not to do. There is an expression of that which is consistent with God's righteousness, His justice, His holiness. Sometimes God's moral will is also called His revealed will, but sometimes God's revealed will does not involve morality. In the Old Testament the Torah expressed God's will for Israel but not for the Gentiles. Does that mean it was not wrong to commit murder among the Gentiles. No, but the basis for that was something else; it wasn't the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments was part of a code that was for Israel alone but it didn't mean that there were aspects of it that weren't true for other people as well.

The third category: God expresses His specific geographic will or specific operational will through special revelation only. The moral will expresses what is right and what is wrong, what we should do, what we ought to do, but other more specific things were always expressed through God's special revelation. For the Jews in the Old Testament He lays down the moral law in terms of the Torah, but the Torah doesn't tell them when they are to move, when they are to camp at night, it doesn't tell them how they are to conquer the Canaanites; that comes later through special revelation.          

In Ezekiel 4:1 we have a great example of God's specific will for Ezekiel but God specifically tells Ezekiel this. He is not talking to anybody today; we are living in an era of no special revelation. This is also an example, by the way, of special revelation and it is not moral. Ezekiel 4:1 NASB "Now you son of man, get yourself a brick, place it before you and inscribe a city on it, Jerusalem." God used Ezekiel to do these little dramas in order to teach illustrate certain points to the Judahites. [2] "Then lay siege against it, build a siege wall, raise up a ramp, pitch camps and place battering rams against it all around. [3] Then get yourself an iron plate and set it up as an iron wall between you and the city, and set your face toward it so that it is under siege, and besiege it. This is a sign to the house of Israel. [4] As for you, lie down on your left side and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it." This is specific. Ezekiel didn't discern this by having peace or tranquillity or contentment in his heart, he discerned this because God said this is what I want you to do. And it is very specific. That was at that point in time the specific geographical and operational will that God had for Ezekiel as a prophet.

At other times in Ezekiel's life he could go to Jerusalem or to Bethlehem, up to Samaria. God wasn't requiring him to be in a specific location. So even scripturally when we look at the prophets there is not a specific geographical will all the time for any of them; it was only at certain times.

Another example is in Acts 10. Acts 10:3 NASB "About the ninth hour of the day he clearly saw in a vision an angel of God who had {just} come in and said to him, 'Cornelius!' [4] And fixing his gaze on him and being much alarmed, he said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God. [5] Now dispatch {some} men to Joppa and send for a man {named} Simon, who is also called Peter; [6] he is staying with a tanner {named} Simon, whose house is by the sea.'" This has been cited as a passage on divine guidance but it is special revelation. It is a vision, God send an angel to speak to Cornelius; it is not something internal; it is objective, special revelation. That kind of thing doesn't happen today.

There is a category called God's overriding will, and this is when we make certain decisions contrary to God's sovereign will. We may make a good decision. We may, for example, desire to give a lot of money to a missionary or to a cause. That is a good, right, moral and wonderful thing, but God doesn't want you to do it so He is not going to give us the money. This is His overriding will. In times when God does have a specific geographic will for us we will discover that no matter what we do we can't avoid it. The bottom line is when God wants us to do something specific we can't run away from it; that is what will take place. The rest of the time all our decision making is on the basis of what He has specifically told us.

There are over 500 imperative mood verbs in the epistles of the New Testament. That builds the fence line and the border for our life game. We can't violate those. When we do we are violating the moral will of God. There are also a number of other ways in which the Scripture expresses God's will. There are different grammatical forms other than imperatives. But that sets the boundaries. For 99.9 per cent of the time the issue is: are you going to live inside of those boundaries? As long as you don't go outside of those boundaries whatever decision you make is okay.