Here is a breakdown of the two wills of God for every believers life.
- God’s Will of Decree, or Sovereign Will
Let’s see the passages of Scripture that make us think this way. First consider passages that describe “the will of God” as his sovereign control of all that comes to pass. One of the clearest is the way Jesus spoke of the will of God in Gethsemane when he was praying.
He said, in Matthew 26:39, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” What does the will of God refer to in this verse? It refers to the sovereign plan of God that will happen in the coming hours.
You recall how Acts 4:27–28 says this: “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” So the “will of God” was that Jesus die. This was his plan, his decree. There was no changing it, and Jesus bowed and said, “Here’s my request, but you do what is best to do.” That’s the sovereign will of God.
And don’t miss the very crucial point here that it includes the sins of man. Herod, Pilate, the soldiers, the Jewish leaders — they all sinned in fulfilling God’s will that his Son be crucified (Isaiah 53:10). So be very clear on this: God wills to come to pass some things that he hates.
Here’s an example from 1 Peter. In 1 Peter 3:17 Peter writes, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” In other words, it may be God’s will that Christians suffer for doing good. He has in mind persecution. But persecution of Christians who do not deserve it is sin. So again, God sometimes wills that events come about that include sin. “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will.”
Paul gives a sweeping summary statement of this truth in Ephesians 1:11, “In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” The will of God is God’s sovereign governance of all that comes to pass.
And there are many other passages in the Bible that teach that God’s providence over the universe extends to the smallest details of nature and human decisions. Not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from our Father in heaven (Matthew 10:29). “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:1). “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
That’s the first meaning of the will of God: It is God’s sovereign control of all things. We will call this his “sovereign will” or his “will of decree.” It cannot be broken. It always comes to pass. “He does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).
- God’s Will of Command
Now the other meaning for “the will of God” in the Bible is what we can call his “will of command.” His will is what he commands us to do. This is the will of God we can disobey and fail to do. The will of decree we do whether we believe in it or not. The will of command we can fail to do.
For example, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Not all do the will of his Father. He says so. “Not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Because not all do the will of God.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Here we have a very specific instance of what God commands of us: holiness, sanctification, sexual purity. This is his will of command. But, oh, so many do not obey.
Then Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” There again is a specific aspect of his will of command: Give thanks in all circumstances. But many do not do this will of God.
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One more example: “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Not all abide forever. Some do. Some don’t. The difference? Some do the will of God. Some don’t. The will of God, in this sense, does not always happen.
So I conclude from these and many other passages of the Bible that there are two ways of talking about the will of God. Both are true, and both are important to understand and believe in. One we can call God’s will of decree (or his sovereign will) and the other we can call God’s will of command. His will of decree always comes to pass whether we believe in it or not. His will of command can be broken, and is every day.