Taking the Mystery Out of Knowing God’s Will

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Last week, as I was making a couple of devotional posts on this website, I made a mistake. The margins of the post were not aligned properly so that the text would view correctly on a mobile phone. Formatting for a monitor screen and formatting for a mobile phone are both required in every post made so that the text will all be aligned correctly within the margins of the page. Forgetting to check the page alignment was a mistake, but it was not a sin. Yet, the opposite is what we hear sadly being taught, preached, and even advised from one professing Christian to another, which is this: that when we sin against God, instead of calling it for what it is – sin – we’ll soften the reality by replacing the word “sin” with the word “mistake.” Instead of confessing and repenting of our sin, by calling it a mistake we’re actually justifying our sin. That’s when people will say: “I made a mistake. We all make mistakes.” Or, “Nobody’s perfect, and everybody makes mistakes.”  Yet, Christ died for sin, not for mistakes.

What is the definition of sin? CLICK HERE

A few months ago, I was strolling through social media and watched a woman as she was standing before a crowd of men and women, (it appeared she was preaching because she was on a platform), and she said:

“We all at times in our life make stupid mistakes. We all have times when we messed up, and still mess up. There’s not one person in this room that doesn’t look at their life and see moments and even seasons when bad decisions were made. Decisions that were followed with regret. Why? Because we all have flaws. We all have faults. We all have those times when we get it wrong. We slip up and realize the terrible blunder we’ve made in just poor choices.”

Initially, there may not appear to be much wrong in what she was saying.  It is true that no one is perfect and, yes, making mistakes is unavoidable. However, there was an intentionality in her message because it was so repeated, and it was to not use the word, “sin.” We live in a culture that seems determined to do away with the mention of sin. The exhortation to “love the sinner and hate the sin” is a clever Christian cliché regularly used to deflect people’s responsibility and accountability for their sin. While it’s true that we should both love sinners and hate sin, the cliché distorts those truths by unbiblically severing the two.

The woman pastor then followed up in saying, “God forgives. Jesus died so that we all can be forgiven. Now, it’s just a matter of forgiving yourself and receiving God’s forgiveness because He still has a wonderful purpose for your life. He knew you’d make mistakes you’d regret. That’s why He is for you, not against you. And when you admit you made a mistake, because He is merciful, He has promised to show you mercy.” 

Sounds good enough, right? She used bible words, right? And she made it sound as though God is so loving that He just may “shrug His shoulders” to sin because He, too, must admit that all and everyone is going to mess up, right?  He has to agree that everyone will make bad decisions they will regret. So, doesn’t that make Him obligated to show mercy no matter what? Notice, she never said the words, ‘confess and repent.’

The answer to all the above is …. No, that is not what we find in Scripture. Yahweh told Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy.  And in Luke 1:10, we find that He shows mercy to those who fear Him. 

God is never obligated to show mercy.  You can ask for mercy, you can plead for mercy, but you can never demand it. – RC Sproul

One afternoon, I was anticipating the opportunity to give biblical counsel to a hurting woman who not only was deeply wounded by another’s sin, but was living outside of God’s will in sexual immorality.  Pastor John’s message, “Taking the Mystery Out of Knowing God’s Will,” was so engraved in my heart that I couldn’t wait to encourage her with the wisdom found in this one powerful sermon. I eagerly requested of God to show His mercy and grace toward her during her suffering.

However, someone else in her life had their own words of advise for her and what they told her to do and how they instructed her to think was in contradiction to Dr. John MacArthur’s message and ultimately, to the Word of God. Their advise was anti-biblical, worldly, and sadly supported by professing Christians who shared in her self-created philosophies. What was told to this woman as “God’s Will” was so far removed from the truth of Scripture that the fruit from their worldly guidance continues to reap consequences today. Their counsel was along the lines as the woman preacher and was not based on Scripture. I know this is a rather lengthy explanation, but it’s vitally important as we desire to take the mystery out of knowing God’s Will that we understand confession and repentance of sin:


Should we forgive a person who does not confess his sin and is not repentant? To answer this properly, the term forgiveness needs some explaining. First, what forgiveness is not:

Forgiveness is not the same as forbearance. To forbear is to patiently endure a provocation, overlook a slight, or maintain self-control in the face of frustration. Forbearance causes us to weigh someone’s sinful action or attitude with love, wisdom, and discernment and choose not to respond. Scripture uses various words for this quality: patiencelongsufferingendurance, and, of course, forbearance (see Proverbs 12:1619:111 Peter 4:8).

Forgiveness is also not forgetting. God does not suffer from amnesia about our sin. He remembers very clearly; however, it is not a remembering to condemn us (Romans 8:1). King David’s adultery and Abraham’s lying—these sins are recorded for all time in Scripture. God obviously did not “forget” about them.

Forgiveness is not an elimination of all consequences. Even when we are forgiven by Christ, we may still suffer the natural consequences of our sin (Proverbs 6:27) or face the discipline of a loving Heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:5–6).

Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a commitment to pardon the offender. Feelings may or may not accompany forgiveness. Feelings of bitterness against a person may fade with time without any forgiveness being extended.

Forgiveness is not the private, solitary act of an individual heart. In other words, forgiveness involves at least two people. This is where confession and repentance come in. Forgiveness is not only about what happens within the offended person’s heart; it is a transaction between two people.

Forgiveness is not selfish; it is not motivated by self-interest. We do not seek to forgive for our own sakes or to relieve ourselves from stress. We forgive out of love of God, love of neighbors, and gratefulness for our own forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not the automatic restoration of trust. It is wrong to think that forgiving an abusive spouse today means the separation should end tomorrow. Scripture gives us many reasons to distrust those who have proved themselves untrustworthy (see Luke 16:10–12). Rebuilding trust can only begin after a process of reconciliation involving true forgiveness—which, of course, involves confession and repentance.

Also, importantly, forgiveness offered and available is not the same as forgiveness given, received, and transacted. This is where the word forgiveness on its own with no qualifier is often used differently from, and beyond, how God’s Word uses it. We tend to call the attitude of forgiveness—being willing to forgive—“forgiveness,” just the same as the actual transaction of true forgiveness. That is, in popular thinking, as long as a person is open to granting forgiveness, he has already forgiven. But this broad definition of forgiveness short-circuits the process of confession and repentance. Forgiveness offered and forgiveness received are entirely different, and we don’t help ourselves by using a catch-all word for both.

If this is what forgiveness is not, then what is it? An excellent definition of forgiveness is found in the book Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns:

God’s forgiveness: A commitment by the one true God to pardon graciously those who repent and believe so that they are reconciled to him, although this commitment does not eliminate all consequences.

General human forgiveness: A commitment by the offended to pardon graciously the repentant from moral liability and to be reconciled to that person, although not all consequences are necessarily eliminated. (Crossway Books, 2008, p. 55).

Biblically, full forgiveness is not just something that the offended person offers; it requires that the offender receives it, bringing reconciliation to the relationship. First John 1:9 shows that the process of forgiveness is primarily to free the sinner; forgiveness ends the rejection, thus reconciling the relationship. This is why we must be willing to forgive others—if we aren’t willing to forgive, we refuse to allow others to enjoy what God has blessed us with. Modern pop psychology has wrongly taught that “forgiveness” is one-sided, that reconciliation is unnecessary, and that the purpose of this unilateral forgiveness is to free the offended person of feelings of bitterness.

While we must not harbor bitterness in our hearts (Hebrews 12:15) or repay evil for evil (1 Peter 3:9), we should make sure we follow God’s lead and not extend forgiveness to the unrepentant. In short, we should withhold forgiveness from those who do not confess and repent; at the same time, we should extend the offer of forgiveness and maintain an attitude of readiness to forgive. – Dr. John MacArthur


You see, God’s will for our lives is not a secret we have to uncover. It’s not a mystery we have to unlock, or a pattern we have to decipher. In fact, God is abundantly clear about His will for our lives in His Word.

And rather than hunting for mystical answers, interpreting dreams and impressions, or analyzing minutely the inclinations of your heart, God has called His people to discover His will as laid out in the pages of Scripture.

In his sermon, “Taking the Mystery Out of Knowing God’s Will,” John MacArthur helps listeners do just that. Working through the Bible’s statements about the will of God, he identifies six directives the Lord provides us in Scripture. In summary, God wants His people to be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, suffering, and thankful. And when all those priorities are in place, John explains that making  good and righteous  decisions in line with God’s will could not be easier:

“If you’re saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, suffering and thankful—you ready for this? Do whatever you want. Do whatever you want. Marry whoever you want. Go wherever you want. Work wherever you want. Choose whatever you want. You say, “Whoa. Are you sure?” Absolutely. Because if this is true of your life, guess who’s controlling your wants. Do whatever you want. People say to me, “Why did you come to Grace Church?” I wanted to come. There wasn’t [anything] mystical. I didn’t hear voices in heaven. Did I know all this would happen? No, I just came here because I wanted to come. I said, “That’s a good place. They want me. Nobody else wants me. I want to go.” It wasn’t like I had a lot of options. Still don’t. People say, “How did you decide to decide to marry Patricia?” That was easy. I wanted her and no one else. And I said, “God, that’s the one I want, right there. And I believe you’re controlling my wants.” You say, “I need a verse for that. That’s way out there.” I’ll give you a verse. I know, you’re used to getting a verse.

Here’s the verse. Psalm 37:4, you ready for this? “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” That doesn’t mean He’ll fulfill yours, it means He’ll plant His. You delight in the Lord—saved, spirit-filled, submissive, all of those things—you delight in the Lord and He will plant His desires in your heart.

Why am I in the ministry? Because I wanted to be. Why am I at Grace Church? Because I wanted to be. Why do I go here and do that? Because I want to. And I just want to make sure that the wants that are coming out of my heart are the reflection of the desires that God would have for my life. And so if I follow what I know to be God’s will, then what I don’t know to be God’s will is simply a matter of following desires that God has planted in my heart because I’m delighting in Him.” – Dr. John MacArthur

I find great comfort and relief in those words; I hope you do, too.

God’s will is not a mystical path to discover and rigorously follow. If we’re living the lives He has called us to live, (saved, Spirit-filled, taking sin seriously and taking His mercy seriously), it couldn’t be more simple. If the priorities of our hearts are His priorities, our desires will naturally line up with His will for our lives.

To watch or listen to “Taking the Mystery Out of Knowing God’s Will,” click HERE.

Here is an excerpt from his message:

“God’s will is that you be sanctified.

Now what does exactly that mean? Let’s get real practical. Four things he says. One, “that is,” – i.e. – “that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Now we’re getting real practical. Stay away from sex sins. Somebody says, “How far away?” Far enough away to be separated from all sexual sin. Very practical. This is God’s will.

Sometimes you have a couple come in and they want to get married, and they sit in the office, and you say, “Tell me a little bit about yourself. When did you meet?” so forth, and so forth. And through the years, I’ve always asked a question somewhere on the line, “Are you engaged in sinful sexual behavior?” It’s a direct approach. And then you see these sometimes shining faces saying, “No, you know, we’re waiting until marriage.”

Sometimes these faces fall, and sheepish looks. And my response is, “Well, if you’re conducting yourself knowingly out of the will of God and are unwilling to obey the will of God which is revealed, then why would you assume that it’s the will of God for this relationship to go on?” Sometimes they’ll say, “You know, we think it’s God’s will for us to get married.”

The first question is, “Are you committing sexual sin together? Because if you are, you’re not in the will of God now. You’ve got to back up. Go back, reestablish that relationship on a pure level. And when you have been obedient to that which is known to be the will of God, you’ll be in a position for God to disclose to you pretty clearly what is His will about what is not revealed.” Stay away from sexual sin. And, of course, it’s ubiquitous, it’s everywhere, it always has been. There’s nothing new under the sun, just comes in different forms. Stay away from sex sin.

And he gets more specific, verse 4, “Each of you should know how to possess his own vessel” – that’s body – “in sanctification and honor.” Handle your body to honor God. Handle your body in a pure way. Keep your body pure.

He goes further in verse 4, “not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.” Don’t act like godless heathen. Don’t act the way the world acts. Stay away from sex sin. Handle your body to honor God, like 1 Corinthians 9, beat it into submission if necessary. Don’t act like godless pagans.

Fourthly, he says, “that no man transgress” – go cross the line – “and defraud his brother in the matter.” Wow, what does that mean? Don’t take advantage of other people. Don’t take any advantage of any other people for any reason, particularly in the sexual area. I tell young people, especially girls, “You beware when some guy comes along and says, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you,” and then wants to steal your virginity. That’s not love. That is lust, lustful passion that has nothing to do with love. Love is much nobler than that, much more glorious than that, much grander than that; and a true and a pure love says, “I love you so much that I would not do that. I love you that much.”

This kind of defrauding that goes on is not the will of God. It is the will of God that you be separate from sin. Stay away from sexual sin. How far away? Far enough away to be completely separate in all forms. Handle your body to honor God. Don’t act like the godless heathen around you act. Do not take advantage of other people for your own gratification, your own lustful fulfillment.”


May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire,” 2 Peter 1:2-4.


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