Monday, June 25, 2007

Controvery

I'm not writing this post just to stir up a controversial subject, but I would really like to know my reader's response. So please let me know what you think!

I've heard this sermon a lot: the whole topic of the "general will of God" and "specific will of God" for your life. General will is found in Scripture, specific will is unknown and should be sought out.

Here is my question: For those of us who would wear the label of a cessationist, how are you supposed to know the specific will of God for your life? I've heard answers of "feeling peace" and "Scripture will show you" but if I'm asking God's will for a job decision, how is Scripture supposed to answer that one? And more importantly, why do we trust a feeling of peace, but we wouldn't trust a dream or vision? Are we guilty of being overbearingly inconsistent with our theology? I can see why some would defect to the continualist's camp. They seem to be more consistent.

The reason I bring this up is because of a series of messages my own pastor has taught dealing with this exact topic. And I was visiting another church recently (out of town - not church shopping!) and heard the traditional, fundamentalist view of the will of God. I'm curious what you all believe. Should we be trusting our feelings to know God's will? Or is it possible that there isn't one perfect job (or college, or spouse . . . you fill in the blank), but that God works His sovereignty through our decisions and we aren't called to know a "specific will of God" for our lives.

Please let me know what you think. And if you are one of the guys who I know lurk here, I want to hear your input, too!

19 comments:

Morning Rose said...

For the Christian, I believe we know the will of God for our lives through circumstances and people that God brings our way, through His Word, through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and through prayer. God also gives us a conscience to help us discern right and wrong and a peace that passes all understanding when we are doing His will.

I tend to believe that the sign gifts (such as speaking in tongues) have ceased. If they do still exist, would they help us in knowing the will of God for our lives?

Michael said...

Leaving aside the issue of the gifts, I tend to think that pastor's/fundamental Christians (whoever) try to use the specific will of God argument to try and control other people's conduct. In my experience (PCC most dramatically) within a message about God's specific will for our lives was implicit (or explicit) that His specific will for us was to stay at PCC.

I only believe in a general will of God. As far as the specific will is concerned, essentially follow your dreams, so long as it is not in conflict with the general will / Scripture I'm pretty sure you're good.

Oh, just remembering - I think they would sometimes throw the specific will of God argument in when trying to make people feel guilty for not being missionaries...

Name: Karen said...

What a great question--a thinking one. I love that about you and Gretchen....you read, you study and you think critically. I don't have time today...but I am going to think on this do some reading, examine my own thoughts about God's will and get back to you.

Im not sure is this is what you are talking about...but are you talking of God's decreed will and His desired will? John Piper wrote this:

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1995/1580_Are_There_Two_Wills_in_God/

Anyway, I'll think on these things and post. Oh, and Donette, thanks for making us think.

Karen

Donette said...

MR - my question about the cessationist position is more to the fact that while we believe signs have ceased, like dreams and visions, we still give a lot of credence to our feelings, like "peace" about a decision concerning the will of God. I wonder how inconsistent it is to doubt a dream or vision, but to trust our feelings, instead.

Donette said...

Michael, I am definately leaning towards your view. That is my pastor's position. We can only know God's general will, what He gives us explicitly in the Word, and as long as we are obeying that (and always checking our hearts with every decision we make) then we have some freedom in the day-to-day decisions, like a job or a school.

I am just questioning the reasoning that we have to search for God's specific will for our life, and if we are indeed to do that, how are we supposed to know? And if we make a wrong decision about something neutral, than are we "out of the will of God?"

Donette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donette said...

Karen, your link didn't work, so if anyone is interested in reading the article, search for "Are there 2 wills in God?" at DesiringGod.org

It wasn't exactly what I was referring to, but a great article nonetheless!

Thanks for the compliment, but I wish I knew more and asked less. I am so used to hearing about God's specific will for my life, and my pastor's teaching on this subject has brought up a lot of questions. I appreciate everyone's input.

Gretchen said...

Nett -- like Karen, I think I need to think over my answer a little more.

I guess. . . I am not a total cessationist. I do believe that the gifts were signs used to prove God's power while the gospel was so fresh and unheard of. I believe that sign gifts are un-needed here in the west where we have free access to God's word, and learned people to help us understand. However, I do think believe that God may still use signs to show Himself to an unreached people group through healing or tongues or other miracles.

I know I need to be cautious here. I am just unwilling to put God in a total box about this. I am reading through the Bible, and one thing that is standing out to me is that God used signs often throughout the Old Testament, but sometimes more often than others. For instance, during King David's rule, you see God's action in battle, guidance to David on building instructions, etc, but not amazing acts being done by prophets as you do later in Israel's history (ex: Elijah & Elisha). Its amazing, of course, no matter how God works -- He just works differently according to the time.

All of that is round-about your real question, which I am still considering. I'll get back to you.

Rachel said...

My husband isn't one of those men who lurk around your blog, but he did recently write a paper (just for fun - who does that :O) about God's will. It made it really easy for me to understand. Here's the final summary paragraph:

"It might be an agonizing decision you have to make, with competing desires raging in your own heart. In those instances, we tend to want someone else to make the decision, and who better than God? But this is a presumptuous attempt to dodge our responsibility by being able to say “God told me” or “God gave me peace.” We want God to take responsibility for our decisions. What God wants us to do is obey what he has revealed, pray for wisdom, then do what we think is best. Only after the fact can we say it was the will of God. If we really trust God, we don’t have to fear making the wrong decision, for he works all things for the good of those who love him and are called by him (Rom. 8:28). We try our best to obey what is revealed in Scripture and do what is wise, but if we mess up, or there are painful consequences, we can still trust God that he is working it all out for our good and his glory. We must obey God’s revealed will. His secret will will always be done, whether we obey or not."

If you want the whole paper, I'll be glad to email it to you.

Miscellaneous From Missy said...

I really enjoyed thinking this over, Donette.

I am a cessationist, although I had never heard that word and was thankful that you included a definition link in your post! :-) I love what Gretchen said about not putting God into a box. I believe that if He has a "specific" will in a certain situation, He will make it clear, and who am I to decide how He should be able to do that. I also agree with Michael, that churches/pastors in general seem to use (I just tried an HTML tag, on the word use, I hope it works) God's specific will for whatever they think His will should be in a person's life.

As to your dreams vs. peace question: hmm, I had a dream several years ago that I KNOW that God used to get my attention. I dreamed that I was in front of a room full of Christians, and I was asked if I had read my Bible every day that week. In my dream, I thought about the question, and then intentionally lied so that others would think that I was super spiritual. When I woke up, I felt so guilty, and I know that it was because in real life at that time, I probably would have made the same sinful, pride-filled decision. God used that dream to show me where my focus was (on me instead of Him) and to show me the disgustingness of my heart in that area. Thankfully, He has also helped me to change that area of my heart.

So yes, I believe that if He wanted to use a dream to show us what job to choose then He would. But I also believe that we need to be careful of depending on dreams or peaceful feelings to dictate our decisions.

Like Rachel's husband wrote in his just-for-fun paper(!), we need to read the Bible, pray for wisdom, and act.

My favorite line was "We try our best to obey what is revealed in Scripture and do what is wise, but if we mess up, or there are painful consequences, we can still trust God that he is working it all out for our good and his glory."

I do not believe that God intended his beloved children to face decisions with fear and worry, but with peaceful confidence that His Word provides all general directions, and His Spirit provides nudgings in any specific matters that require it. We just have to rest in Him and responsibly step forward.

Actually, I have been struggling with a certain situation with my oldest daughter, and God has used this discussion to show me that my worry and fear are not His desires for my heart. I know what the Scripture says. Now, I need to step forward and let God work any consequences out His way.

Thank you Donette, for posting your question and everyone else for answering her question! Yay!

I *feel* joyful and peaceful! :-)

Gretchen said...

Nett -- this is similar to the question you posed about blessings. Are we not already so VERY blessed? Likewise, do we not already have God's will revealed to us in so many ways? I contend that we are likely not obeying all that He has revealed as His will, yet we want MORE -- peace, signs, etc. -- to SHOW us His will.

The "fun" paper made an interesting point -- that we perhaps just want God to make our decision for us. Isn't it true, though, that He really will do so, if we are close to Him in our walk -- eating and drinking His word, speaking to Him with every breath, thinking thoughts toward Him intentionally all day?

I have a dear friend who is somewhat reluctantly dating a guy who is in every way perfect for her, a godly and wonderful man, an apt leader both spiritually and physically. She is reluctant, perhaps because she is still rather young (22), and probably scared because she has not dated before, and because she is frightened of making the wrong decision. I have counseled her to pour these fears out to the Lord, and He will make up her mind for her -- by either strengthening the feelings of respect and affection she already has into a strong love, or by making it clear that her feelings will not ever grow. The fear that "we will make a huge mistake" by being together is unfounded, because she is certainly not acting in sin by dating this man (who, I might point out, has been waiting for her to come round for about a year). In situations such as these, where the deciding factor really is "what you WANT", the only way to know, is by doing what you want -- trusting that if you because you delight yourself in the Lord, He will give you the desires of your heart, mostly because He makes those desires the same as His!

I feel like I am rambling. Does that make sense? I guess I am saying that we ought to strive to obey the perfect revealed will of God in scripture, and trust Him to "direct our paths", knowing that it is all in His hands.

Donette said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I really appreciate the feedback! I am still working through what I believe on this topic, as well as how it applies to my everyday life. But I am leaning toward what some of the comment implied or said directly: that is, God's will is revealed to us in Scripture and we shouldn't necessarily worry that decisions that are nuetral are against His will.
I know that I am commanded to do His will, and how am I to do it if He doesn't lay it out perfectly for me? Does He expect us to wander blindly through life seeking, and never knowing, how to follow His will?
I firmly believe in God's absolute sovereignty, so I know that He works all my decisions out for His and my good (although I also realize that His good may not, at first glance, appear to be my idea of good.) I believe that I should rest assured that as long as I am not sinning in a decision, I am obeying His will for my life.
After all, isn't the Christian life supposed to be peaceful? If I am constantly questioning every "major" or "minor" decision as to whether or not it is the will of God, and never knowing because I don't believe in signs, then I can't imagine ever being at peace!
Okay, that's all I have to add so far, so keep the discussion going if you have anything else to add. I am enjoying your feedback!

P.S. Rachel - email me your husband's "fun" paper. I'm sorry he is not a lurker here! :)

G-Knee said...

Donette,
I just am on the tail end of this and haven't much time to post. Coming from the same view as another reader in the historical/fundamentalist view I was totally dumbfounded when, in moving to Lafayette when I heard that sometimes "GOD ALLOWS CHOICES". 2 equal choices and they are both good and you get to choose.

During our NANC conference in Track 1 this is discussed and really is unpackaged in a great way by Steve Viars (my pastor).

Sometimes I'll hear an emotionally driven message by someone who "felt God moving them" to do such and such and will wonder why God isn't doing that in my life, but if you read through historical Christian authors' writings, I think you'll find that this emotionally driven movement of Christianity is very recent.

Scripture is to be our authority of how to live. Sometimes there isn't a 100% you must do this answer.

Now...it DOES say in scripture that "He who desires the office of a bishop..." so there is the fact that God GIVES an overwhelming desire to those who want to be a pastor or missionary, but I believe that sometimes young people, such as myself, are a little cohersed into the ministry...when their desire isn't the office of a bishop, but more a "People Pleasing" movite - the desire not to disappoint the visiting evangelist or the desire to make his church proud to be the sending church of a young missionary.

My 2 cents,
G-Knee

Name: Karen said...

As I've thought through this off and on the past week...something keeps coming back to me and that is this:

There is so much about the God that we can't understand. Our pastor did a class on this very thing last winter. So these terms like 'cessationist' and 'continuist'.

I think all Christians no matter what your camp have to be careful. I could be a gung ho cessationist and when I reach my Heavenly Home, come to find out I was wrong. The sign gifts, some or all, were still in effect, maybe just in a different way than in Acts or some of the other New Testament Books.

I grew up being "afraid" of the pentecostal. They were confused heretics, according to many I was in touch with. However the seeimingly genuine Joy and love for Jesus that radiated from those 'heretical penecostals', stirred a longing in my soul for the Christianity that dripped from them when I was around them, even at a young age.

Where as I used to judge them as "wrong" and label them (continuationists) as mislead and incorrect, I've now come to the conclusion that while I believe the Scripture points to the cessation of sign gifts---Im not willing to die on that hill. I don't think it's so clear that I'd be willing to give up Dr.Pepper for it. In otherwords....my position may be incorrect. (Im a Dr.P addict)

I think that when we truly delight in the Lord and desire the will of God, that the desires of our heart will line up with His will, and we will walk in the way He has for us. I think often times it's so difficult for us to truly and wholly pray w/God's will on our lips....our humanness just reeks w/OUR desire even as our lips utter, "not my will but yours Lord"

I believe God opens and closes doors and sometimes when we are truly so caught up w/the world (which though we all will try to deny it, lets face the truth, we are) we can't hear the voice of God. I think the voice of God doesn't have to be audible (I don't think He speaks that way today, personally) but the prompting to do or not do something...or Scripture coming to mind as we are ready to speak, or finding victory over areas we constantly struggle and the list could go on.

I don't think the Christian life is promised peaceful. I'd say maybe quite the contrary. Jesus came and Scripture says it will set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother. If we knew God's specific will, what would leave us from...being God ourselves. If there is a specific will of God, which I do think there is, I don't necessarly think it's for us to KNOW, but for us to seek it dilligently.

I don't think I've probably made ANY sense to you. I do thank you for the question as I think this is the stuff that spurns us on as fellow laborers in Christ. We've all had to think, study, pray and research in the recess's of our hearts and minds...our view of God and His will. That can only stimulate all of us towards a deeper and more REAL realationship with Jesus Christ.

Hugs to you, Donette!
Karen

Donette said...

G-knee, my pastor is basically teaching the view you expressed. I wished I had heard this when I was younger and making decisions about things like college. I'm glad you understood my question. Thanks for sharing your view.

Karen, I'm not willing to die on that hill, either! Although I do believe the gifts have ceased, I'm not about to make it a fundamental of the faith. My point in the post was more that the "peace" I grew up searching for in all my decisions seems now to be more consistent with our brethern in the continualist camp, as opposed to those who claim the name "cessationist."

And my point about a peaceful Christian life was in no way meant to say that we wouldn't have conflict! But there is a peace that comes from being secure in Christ, and following His will, that I believe every Christian should experience. I don't know how that peace is applicable to God's specific will, if there is no way to know what that will is.
Does this make sense at all?

Thanks for commenting. I appreciate you taking the time and thinking this through!

Name: Karen said...

I know what you meant about peace, I wasn't trying to infer you thought the Christian life was peaceful always. I think I just ended up rambling. I think I took your question further and in a different direction than you were intending. Please Forgive Me.

My accountablity partner met this morning and I asked her about this question of specific will. The more we talked we seemed to agree that we thought God had only one will. If He has more than a specific will, wouldn't he contradict himself?

I'd like your thoughts on what you think or define 'specific' will as AND what you think about desired/decreed will.

Donette said...

Thanks for responding, Karen. You have no need to apologize - it's one of the great things about blog comments, we can interract and ask questions and re-examine what we said, all to help us understand each other better!

I grew up learning that their was God's perfect will, as commanded in Scripture, and then there was God's specific will for your life, i.e. what school to attend, what job to take, which guy to marry, etc. Each believer, besides obeying God's commanded will, should search the Scripture to find His specific will for your life. Quite often I would hear testimonies of someone reading Scripture and finding "the verse" that told them where to go to college or whatever. Often people would seek for signs, like "peace" that would confirm they were doing what God's will was for their life.

As I have come to understand God's sovereignty more, and as our pastor has dealt with this subject, I am beginning to understand that God does have 2 wills, but we would define them differently than how I was raised.
His "Commanded Will" is the same - it's what Scripture commands of us to do, defines what is sin and how to show our love for Christ. No questions about that one. This will can and often is "thwarted" by man, in that man often chooses to disobey God's commanded will.

Then there is His "Sovereign Will." This is His secret will that cannot be thwarted by anyone, because His sovereignty won't allow it. And we cannot know this will until it has already taken place. Even when someone sins and in that sin disobey's God's commanded will, (take for example a believer marrying a non-believer, clearly a sin as commanded in Scripture) God's Sovereign will is still accomplished. The believer, although guilty of sin, in no way "thwarted" God's plan. He can and will work through our sin to accomplish what He plans. Another perfect example is the death of Christ. Murder is wrong, and the Jews are responsible for killing Christ and breaking God's commanded will, but ultimately He used that sin to accomplish His sovereign will.

So what does all this mean to you and me? When faced with a decision, I pray, not for direction to make the "right" decision so that I am still in the "perfect will of God" but I pray for wisdom and to check my own heart for wrong and sinful motives, and then I can make a decision, based on my preferences for which way is better for me and/or my family. It takes away the fear of "I might be making the wrong decision!" If I'm not sinning, then I can rest assured that God's sovereign will will be accomplished, whether or not I take job A or B.

I hope this all makes sense. Please ask me to clarify if you have anymore questions!

Morning Rose said...

Going back to the point about peace, our pastor spoke on this tonight while preaching from 2 Timothy 1:1-5. In verse 2, peace is a consequence of grace and mercy (the cause) or the fruit of grace and mercy (the root). If we have peace with God, we will have the peace of God, a sense of well-being between us and the Lord that stems from a pure conscience (verse 3). As the hymnwriter wrote, "It is well with my soul."

I thought of your post as our pastor preached and wanted to share these comments on peace.

Donette said...

Thanks for those comments, Morning Rose. I couldn't agree more.