When a believer is walking in conformity to the Prescriptive will of God*, they are free to do as they please because what they please, pleases God. There is no further or more spiritual “will of God” to seek .- Eric Peterman
This is, quite simply, what it means to walk in the Spirit. It’s not esoteric. It’s basic.
The wills of God:
(1) The decreed will of God. (The Decretive will or God’s Eternal Decree). This is God’s eternal, foreordained plan and purpose, which will not change and cannot be thwarted. It is the ultimate cause of all that exists, all beings other than God, each and all events at all levels of complexity that occur in the universe and the spiritual realm, and incorporates the actions and choices of volitional moral agents (angels and men) and lesser volitional agents (animals, fish, etc) and all secondary causes.
Many seek “the will” or “perfect will of God” or “the only soulmate God has for me” as if they can somehow discern by some supernatural download some perfect path for them.
(2) The Prescriptive or Preceptive will of God. This is God’s moral and wisdom will for us to obey and benefit from, expressed in the form of prescriptions, principles or precepts given to men. The command not to murder lets us know it is God’s will for us not to murder others. The command not to steal makes it clear that God’s Prescriptive, moral will for us is not to steal. If I say, “I have discerned that it is God’s will for me to rob banks, and to kill those who get in my way”, we can confidently say that is not God’s will. His written Word is the expression of His will, and the example of Christ is an expression of His will. The human conscience is the organ designed to be sensitive to the Prescriptive will of God. In this sense, many people are seeking God’s will when it is already obvious. A woman doesn’t have to pray about living with her boyfriend; God has spoken (1 Thessalonians 4:3, Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20). Many are seeking “God’s will” when they have not availed themselves of the revealed will in the wisdom of Scripture on that topic. This is disobedience at best and tempting God at worst. It is God’s prescriptive will that we preach the gospel, and that same will that all who hear it believe it.
God’s Prescriptive will is often/usually not fulfilled since the fall of Adam. That is, God decreed eternally, for a time, disobedience to His Prescriptive will by many, and in varying degrees by all (Jesus excepted).
(3) The Desiring (Desiderative) will. This has to do with what gives God pleasure, and what does not. We know that God loves to show mercy, and yet He will execute judgment (Exodus 34:6-7). It is on this basis that Moses appeals to God to forgive Israel, not only here, but many times (see Numbers 14:17-19). Not only Moses, but others prayed that God would show mercy (Nehemiah 9; Daniel 9). God takes pleasure in the salvation of sinners; He does not take pleasure in pouring out His eternal wrath on sinners (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11). When we come to things which are not clearly prescribed as sin, or things which are commanded, our desire should be to do that which is best, that which pleases God (Romans 12:1; Colossians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10). It is God’s Desiring will that everyone obey His Prescriptive will.
(4) God’s Permissive will of physical and moral evils. What God allows, for a time, even though it is sin or harmful. God allowed one of his angels to rebel and become Satan. God allowed Joseph’s brothers to betray him, and to deceive their father, so that He might bring the Israelites (few in number) to Egypt, where God would spare them, and they would greatly multiply (Genesis 50:20). God allows man to reject the gospel, to willfully disobey His laws, to persecute the righteous, and so on. But in all of this, God is still in control, and His purposes are being accomplished, often through the volitional acts of free moral agents/secondary causes. God allows cancer, starvation, and human on human deprivation and harm, animals to die of disease or neglect. His Decretive will often permits (His permissive will) men to violate His Desiring will (what gives Him pleasure) and His Prescriptive will (His Word). God’s Permissive will is never outside His Decretive will. God “permits” always and only according to and within His decretive will. That is, Permission serves within the Decretive will.
In the Millennial Kingdom, due to the presence of the Son of David, all the resurrected saints and angelic activity, His Prescriptive and Desiring wills shall be substantially satisfied much of the time. In the New Heavens and New Earth, God’s Permissive will of physical and moral evil will be rendered unnecessary and inoperative, and His Prescriptive and Desiring wills utterly satisfied at all times. When God’s Prescriptive and Desiring wills meet now in the heartfelt obedience of a believer walking freely in the Spirit, then this is the “good and acceptable and perfect” will of God spoken of in Romans 12:1-2. I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2 NAS)
Further notes on the Prescriptive will of God:
This will of God is the one revealed to us in the Word of God, by commands, factual propositions, wisdom principles, and by precept and example. The Scriptures are sufficient and authoritative for the all things pertaining to faith and practice for the believer and the local church. The sufficiency of Scripture inherently affirms that the prescriptive will of God as found in the plain meaning of the text of the Word, when taken as a whole where it speaks on any given doctrine, wisdom, practice or belief is the entire will of God for the believer/church, and no other additional, special, direct or secret will is to be sought, sensed or demanded of God. To do so is to actively deny the sufficiency of God’s final Word.
It is such a relief to the believer to rest in this fact. Many operate under the intimidating assumption that there is a class of super-spiritual Christians who are in tune with God’s secret knowledge, direct revelation, or Holy Spirit direct guidance. Rest assured! No such gnostic class exists. We all put on our spiritual pants the same way every morning.
Thus, the meaning of the original author, when read and understood in context, obtained by normal, literal hermeneutics, using repeatable principles by the regenerate rational mind, and under the illumination of the Spirit, is revealed as propositional, knowable facts and truths. There are spiritual facts. Those facts are knowable and are the revelation by God to be known rationally by us His creatures. When those facts are known, and where they speak to a truth, a universal moral claim, a universal command, and when proper application is made, that is the will of God for the believer. It is an established spiritual fact and so it is binding on the conscience. To comply with it is to walk in the light of truth, is obedience and blessing and to refuse it is sin and unhappiness.
So very many Christians, families and whole churches fervently pray for God’s will to be revealed on a certain decision. But how many of them have to any significant degree mastered the wisdom literature in scripture (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes), much less even begun to apply to their situation the principles contained therein?
Then, having some impulse or “feeling of peace” they proceed with the “sense of God’s direction” in the matter. But God makes no such promise to guide believers acting in ignorance or replacement of what He has already revealed in His Word! Why should He? In fact, much of what passes for “seeking the will of God” is mere presumption and emotionalism.
The thing that really needs to be understood:
Many seek “the will” or “perfect will of God” or “the only soulmate God has for me” as if they can somehow discern by some supernatural download some perfect path for them. They worry about taking some random step that might take them off the path of the will of God. This is not the testimony of Scripture. God’s Providence, down to the last detail, is not caught shocked and unawares when we make various decisions. God never says, “Oh my God! What will I do now that Larry has done that one thing!?”
It is such a relief to the believer to rest in this fact. Many operate under the intimidating assumption that there is a class of super-spiritual Christians who are in tune with God’s secret knowledge, direct revelation, or Holy Spirit direct guidance. There are those that think they do. Rest assured! No such gnostic class exists. We all put on our spiritual pants the same way every morning.
But how many of them have to any significant degree mastered the wisdom literature in scripture?
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessaloniki, expecting them in short order to be able to know, and walk, in the will of God. Note verse 3.
1 Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that, as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you may excel still more.2 For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. [There it is! Did you catch God’s will for the Thessalonians, and for you as their fellow saints?]
7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.
8 Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1Thessalonians 4:2-8 NAS)
One verse, two distinct wills
There is a succinct verse that captures and distills the great truth in two parts, that there are two classes of wills of God:
“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.” (Deut. 29:29)
The first will is for the working out of all things, which encompasses God’s Decretive will, and is clearly marked it out as secret and not available to us. That is, we should not pray for this secret will to be revealed to us or even that we walk in it, etc. That’s entirely God’s domain, not ours. It’d be like preparing to take a ride on the Matterhorn at Disneyland (a set, immovable set of rails designed by the engineers) and asking them to turn the lights on just for you and give you a tour inside the mountain so you could preview the rails that you were going to ride on. Not gonna happen. It’s dark in there so you don’t see where the engineers are going to direct your car, which is the whole purpose of the ride.
The second part of the verse captures the concept of the second class, the Prescriptive/Preceptive will of God (in this case, for the nation of Israel via the Law of Moses which was revealed/written). If Israel obeyed and walked according to the Law of Moses as revealed (notice the past tense – it was revealed), they had in it the entirety of God’s knowable will for them revealed and being carried out by them! There was not one iota more of God’s will for them to pray for or to seek. They could pray for help and encouragement and strength in obeying it. They could thank the Lord for it and for the blessings that came from obeying it. They could repent and ask forgiveness when they failed to obey God’s revealed will. But they could not/should not pray for any of God’s secret will to be revealed nor pray that they should walk in it. That’s really the purpose of this verse. To delineate what class of will of God it is legitimate vs illegitimate to seek or to inquire of from God.
Let it go
Let go of asking or praying about God’s secret will, or worrying you’ll make a mis-step by mistake and step outside that will! He’s just fine without your help, He is providentially able to handle you missing a turn and having to go around the block, and it is disobedient (ie, sinful) to seek it. That verse makes that quite plain: Secret will, revealed will, and we should be concerned only with the second.
Take home principles:
When a believer, or a whole church, or the elders of a church, are walking humbly in conformity to and knowledge of the Preceptive Will of God, including the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit, they are free to do as they please, for what they please, pleases God. They are then to trust in the goodness of Divine Providence.
When a believer or church seeks the “will of God” where the Word has already prescribed or proscribed the belief or act or practice or decision in question, or where wisdom has already been given by Scripture, they are wrong to do so. One does not need to pray about what is commanded, patterned, urged, is already declared wise or foolish, or forbidden.
Much harm and spiritual stunting and misdirection comes to believers and whole churches acting in ignorance or disobedience of the facts in the Word, or by overriding or adding to them by being “super spiritual”.