“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3
Many people wonder what God’s will is for their lives. They question their purpose and God’s plan for them, but His will is about more than earthly purpose. God wants to shape us into holy beings who experience immense joy and freedom as we navigate a sinful, fallen world. Everything about God’s will is to set us apart from sin and into holiness.
The Bible tells us about eight components of God’s will of holiness, each with a specific intention: salvation, self-sacrifice, filling of the Spirit, submission, suffering, satisfaction, trust, and sanctification. Each either affirms His will or expresses what is prohibited.
His Primary Will for Us
Above anything else, God’s foremost will for us is to be saved from sin and to know the gospel.
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:3–4
Paul’s first letter to Timothy clearly mentions God’s desire for our salvation. He also plainly gives us the truth about the means by which we can gain salvation: Only Jesus can save us by the atoning work He did on the cross.
“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” (v5–6)
The unfortunate element here is though God desires to save “all” people, only “many” will be.
“Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28
Only the “many” who believe through the work of the Holy Spirit will be saved. Jesus’ death was abundantly sufficient to cover the sins of every person, but His substitutionary death applies only to the elect. He absolutely offers it to “all,” but only those who respond to it receive it. Not “all” will be saved, only “many” of them.
A limited response to receive salvation does not diminish God’s will for “all” to be saved in any way. It is still His principal intention so that we might enjoy His unending grace and eternal life.
Selflessness and Humility
Being a follower of Christ means we must be willing to make some sacrifices.
“I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1–2
Under Mosaic Law, God accepted the sacrifice of certain animals to gain His forgiveness. But Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf changed all that. Now, the only acceptable sacrifice to God is the offer of our entire selves. We must yield our lives to Him in pursuit of righteousness. It does not preclude sacrifices of praise or certain personal sacrifices, but complete surrender to His will and way is the only appropriate sacrifice.
We must also take up our cross.
“Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
Taking up one’s cross is a kind of self-denial. We must be willing to obey God’s commandments, serve each other, and, perhaps, suffer death for His sake. Such selflessness and humility are a large part of God’s will for us.
Filled with the Spirit
Christians often partake in communion, whether privately or corporately, and some churches use wine to symbolize Christ’s shed blood. But the Bible tells us this is not how we commune with the Lord. Only the Holy Spirit can help us properly connect with our Savior.
“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18
Paul is not talking about how the Holy Spirit comes to dwell with us at the moment of our salvation. Rather, he is giving a command for believers to live continually under the Spirit’s influence through His holy word.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom.” Colossians 3:16
Living a Spirit-filled life means we are conscious of the Lord’s presence and allowing Him to dominate our thoughts and actions. A life pointed toward God’s character through the power of His Spirit allows us to pursue pure lives and surrender to His will no matter the circumstances.
Such willing obedience is God’s will for us, and it is in which we find ultimate satisfaction.
“Therefore, submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” 1 Peter 13–15
The apostle Peter wrote about several types of submission — to masters, our spouses, and (perhaps surprisingly) the government. God appoints all government leaders (Daniel 2:21; Romans 13:1); therefore, God expects us to submit to their authority. We are to obey every local, state, and national law. However, it is important to note that if a law goes against the law of God as it is given explicitly in Scripture, only then do we have a right to refuse to submit. God’s laws trump every man-made law.
When we obey our civil institutions, we testify of God’s goodness and peace in our lives. Such testimony silences ignorant people who do not understand God’s ways and how He works in our lives. It is God’s will for us to obey man’s laws but, even more so, His laws.
The Will to Suffer
We only need to read the news to know how often and sometimes severely Christians are persecuted for their faith. It is going to happen whether we like it or not. Peter also addresses this reality in his first epistle.
It seems odd that it is a blessing when we suffer for our faith, but there is a good reason, which we see in verse 18.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.”
We must be willing to suffer for the cause of the gospel, but we are not the only ones who suffer. Christ Himself also suffered unjustly because it was God’s will. As a result, He was ultimately triumphant and exalted to the right hand of God, and one day we will join Him (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
Every moment of suffering and tribulation is worth what God has for us. Paul confirms it in Romans 8.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:16–18
Today’s sufferings cannot compare to the glory of our bodily resurrection and the complete Christlikeness we will one day experience. According to the Bible, suffering — whether ridicule, mockery, or physical persecution — is God’s will and the believer’s ultimate glory.
“You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22
God’s Will for Fruit
Galatians 5 tells us of the fruits of the Spirit. These are the evidence of our faithful walk with Christ.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22
Knowing the fruits is good, but we cannot produce them if we do not know how. Thankfully, the apostle James tells us.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22,25
The “work” James refers to is not necessarily physical labor. He is also referring to is God’s requirement that we believe His Son, Jesus, is the promised Messiah.
“This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:29
Out of our belief and because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we perform actions that produce fruit in our lives. In agricultural terms, it is vital to remember that our fruit production is not limited to one season. God wants us to keep producing and multiplying our yields our entire lives, which takes tremendous endurance.
We have heard that following Christ is not a sprint but a marathon. We must persevere in our faith if we are to reap our reward in heaven, the reward of eternity with our Lord and Savior. And in our perseverance, we glorify God and draw others to Him.
“For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:36
God’s upmost will for us all is to receive His gift of grace, but it does not stop there. At the very moment of salvation, He fills us with His Spirit to work in us and through us, and, in doing so, He transforms us. Faithful followers of Christ do not resist God’s call of self-sacrifice, obedience to government, suffering for the spread of the gospel, and seeking to produce good fruit. In these ways, we set ourselves apart for Him.
Ultimately, there is only one thing God wills for our lives — to be holy like Him. We glorify Him best when we seek to be more like Him.
“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:16