Finding God’s Perfect Will Within His Permissive Will

Finding God’s Perfect Will Within His Permissive Will

“… 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?




  2. In “Experiencing God”, Henry Blackaby reminds us of three beautiful things about God’s will for our lives. His will is always best, He will, by the Holy Spirit, always lead us in the right direction, and He is always able to equip us to accomplish his will. Knowing these three things to be truth, my desire to discover God’s perfect will for me increases daily. Seeking him and trusting him become the very essence of each day. Sometimes I land in totally unexpected places but God knows and that makes the journey so much sweeter even when it is hard.

  3. Kerin Medeiros : June 4, 2018 at 5:24 pm

    Indeed as my sister,Anne, stated in her comment above, I affirm that His will often results in me being brought to unexpected places! Daily I have been asking the Lord to be my scheduler and begged Him to use me in ministry. Being available starts in my mind and with an attitude of submission to His perfect will. Once I see my agenda as a commissioning coming straight from His hand, I no longer experience frustration when He re-adjusts or interrupts the urgent matters on my daily list. When I surrender to the things He swaps those tasks out for, I arrive at a place of rest and peace. I glory in His goodness and grace towards me…

  4. David Medeiros : June 4, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    There is the potential to get caught up with the do’s and don’t’s as the Ephesian church did in Rev. 2. All the good things they did was over shadowed by the one rebuke the Lord had against them, they had abandoned the love they had at first, verse 4. I believe love has to be the motivating factor in our walk with the Lord or the relationship can become stale and routine. One safeguard is Eph. 5:17,18, ” Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” I heard on a Christian station on TV called Music Choice. Christian recording artist Crowder made this statement, ” God is just as concerned with every step of the journey as He is with the destination.” Discipleship is a step by step process, energized by the Holy Spirit as we take those steps in faith.

  5. Recently read a book by DeYoung entitled “Just Do Something”, and he describes the aspects of God’s will similarly to Pastor G, his argument regarding the permissive will is slightly different in that he suggests we have freedom within God’s permissive will, that we don’t need to know it before we do it, if we obey him it will be his will.. but I think the idea of being Spirit-led is important, and something I am needy to grow in..

    • I haven’t read the book you’re referring to Evan, but I think you are wise to pursue being led by the Spirit in your decision making. A well intentioned believer who is wired to be spontaneous may find himself pursuing a noble cause for Jesus that is not within God’s perfect will. When the people in a Samaritan village rejected Jesus (Luke 9:51-56) James and John wanted to “call down fire from heaven upon them.” At some point unbelievers will be judged, but not by these two highly motivated disciples.
      On the other hand there are too many in the church that live day to day within the safe boundaries of doing the do’s and avoiding the don’ts as PG said in his sermon. They are faithful followers but they rarely move beyond the lines. They seem to sit by waiting for God’s finger to literally appear and carve their next move on the wall before they commit to serving in a ministry.
      My experience is that God’s will for me is discovered through prayerfully moving forward into areas that stretch me and keep me depending on the Lord’s provision. That ensures that He alone gets the glory while my faith in Him and my confidence in myself is enlarged.

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