Finding God’s Perfect Will Within His Permissive Will
by Pastor Gene
“… that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2b).
Throughout the centuries of Church history, many theologians and Bible teachers have tried to make sense of the will of God and how it relates to humans. Generally, three categories are suggested.
The first is called the prescriptive will of God. These are things that God clearly requires of us in His Word. For example, “Honor your father and your mother” (Matthew 19:19a). Or, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Pretty straightforward. God is saying, ‘I expect this of you. You must do these things.’
The second is called the prohibitive will of God. These are the things that God clearly prohibits in His Word. We know these all too well! For instance, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7a). Or, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:13-15). Again, pretty straightforward. God is saying, ‘I forbid you to do these things. Don’t do them.’
Finally, is what we call the permissive will of God. These are things that God doesn’t prescribe, nor prohibit, but leaves to our judgement.
‘Ah, Houston, I Think We Have a Problem Here!’
Dr. James Denison recently wrote:
After forty years of vocational ministry, I have observed that many of us settle for avoiding what God prohibits … We are willing to do his prescriptive will so far as we know it, but we typically reserve this category for major decisions such as whom to marry, what job to take, whether to have children, and so on. We approach the rest of the Christian life as a set of prohibitions to avoid.
So long as we’re going to church, praying, reading the Bible, and avoiding terrible sins, we think we’re following Jesus … But our Father has so much more for us. He has a ‘good and acceptable and perfect’ will for every dimension of our lives.”
I think He’s spot on! Most Christians reason, ‘As long as I do what God explicitly tells me to do, and as long as I don’t do what God explicitly tells me not to do, I can basically live my life any way that I want to.
But a believer who thinks that way is at the very lowest level of Christian maturity. To think this way is spiritual infancy. As we grow, we come to understand that God has a perfect will for our lives within the parameters of His permissive will.
Discovering God’s perfect will for me within His permissive will is what we call being a disciple, being a follower of Jesus.
“You are not your own,” Paul reminds us, “for you were bought with a price. So, glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Finding The Father’s Perfect Will
So, within the category of ‘things God permits,’ He has a perfect will for me to discover. For instance, I could have married any woman in the world, as long as she was a believer and we were equally yoked. That would have been within God’s permissive will for my life. But I do believe that God had one woman in mind for me, who would complete me and be my partner in the journey of the Christian life. That was His perfect will for me.
And that’s where the tricky part comes in. That’s where the rubber meets the road. We can pursue the prescriptive and permissive wills of God without relationship, but the perfect will of God is only discovered in the process of walking with Him.
Being a follower of Jesus means following Him – really following Him, walking with Him daily. It’s this journey, this relationship, this intimacy that allows me to discover His perfect will for my life.
He may reveal His perfect will to me through His Word (Psalm 119:105). Or through His Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would “guide you into all the truth … and … declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). Or He may allow circumstances to enter my life that nudge me in one direction or another. Or He may speak to me through the counsel of others – godly brothers or sisters sharing words that resonate within me spiritually.
But, no matter how God reveals His perfect will to us, it’s important to know that it is there to be discovered.
We should never be content to merely keep the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of God’s Word. That’s just the launching point to a wonderful journey of walking with Jesus and discovering specifically how He wants to use me to glorify Himself.
And think of how beautiful this is! It highlights the intimacy of our life with God as disciples. How personal God is with us! His prescriptive and prohibitive will are for everyone, but His perfect will is for me alone – discovered as I walk as a child of light.
For, “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light … and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8, 10-11)
To consider …
- Have you ever found your self in the keep-the-commandments-and-I’m-OK mindset?
Did your relationship with God feel real and vibrant at such times?
Did you ever get the sense that you were missing something ‘bigger’ spiritually?
- Consider the wonder of God’s plan! Think of how He’s revealed His general will to all of humankind through His Word, but reserves His perfect will to be discovered by us in relationship.
How does this speak to the intimacy God desires to share with us as we journey through life?
- God leads us in many ways, but He never leads us apart from His Word.
How has God arrested your attention in the past in order to reveal His will to you?
How did He confirm it with His Word?
- Do you take the Holy Spirit for granted?
Are you consciously aware of His presence as the One whom Jesus called your “Helper” – the One who would “be in you” and “be with you forever” – the One who would “teach you all things”? (John 14:16-17, 26).
So important is the Holy Spirit’s role that Jesus said to His disciples, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Do you give Him that measure of importance in your life?