We have over 1,200 sermons by John Piper in the desiringGod.org archive, but none of them are more popular than one sermon that stands above all the others in page views. It’s simply titled: “What Is the Will of God and How Do We Know It?” a sermon he preached on August 22, 2004. In it he answers the question: What is the single most important key to knowing God’s will in my life. How to obey him in any given situation — but also who he wants me to marry, what car I should buy, what career path to choose, where I should go to school? Pastor John explains how to know God’s will in three stages from Romans 12:1–2.
God’s Will of Command
If I am arguing that “discern the will of God” in verse two means discern the will of command, discern your duty, how does that look? Three stages.
1. God’s will of command is revealed finally and decisively only in the Bible.
Finally, and decisively, very important words. God’s will of command is revealed with final and decisive authority only in the Bible. And we must have a renewed mind in order to see it, because if you go to the Bible without having a renewed mind you will find a way to distort and evade self-denial, love, purity, and the command that Jesus be supremely satisfied. We must have the Holy Spirit illumining, transforming. The Holy Spirit brings us Christ-exalting truth and, from inside, he works truth-embracing humility. This has got to happen. Or you go to the Bible and you can blow-off all kinds of things or twist them so that they fit your own self-exalting passions.
So step one is: The Bible is God’s revealed will, the will of command. And it is the only place where it is expressed with final and decisive authority. Here is a text to support that claim, 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Not some, like some good works you got to get messages in order to do — I won’t be able to figure out the will of God here unless I get a message. And this text says the Scriptures are inspired to make the Christian competent, equipped for every good work.
2. The application of biblical truth to new situations that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible.
“God’s will of command is revealed in the Bible. And we must have a renewed mind in order to see it.”
And there are, of course, millions of them. The Bible does not tell you which person to marry or whether to marry. The Bible does not tell you which car to drive, or buy, or rent. The Bible doesn't tell you whether to buy a home or not, or which home to buy. The Bible doesn’t tell you where, or if, to take a vacation. The Bible doesn't tell you which cell phone plan to buy. The Bible doesn't tell you which brand of orange juice to drink. There are ten thousand decisions you must make that are not explicitly addressed in the Bible. So, what do you do? My answer is you must have a renewed mind.
That is what the text says in Romans 12:2: “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern” how to eat, how to drink, cars to drive, houses to live in, missions to go on, lifestyles to choose from, friendships to cultivate, conversations to have and not to have. Ten thousand decisions not written in the Bible. And yet, informed by all the teaching of the Bible, into this new mind, so that you think with the mind of Christ and assess things the way Christ would assess them. So that the decisions that are made really are flowing from the revealed will of God in the Bible as it transforms your mind.
3. Ninety-five percent of your life is unpremeditated.
I am just picking ninety-five percent out of the blue. You pick a number. Ninety-five percent of your life is unpremeditated: thoughts, attitudes, actions are spontaneous. They just are spill over. And the Bible is keenly aware of this and addresses it like this.
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure [substitute the person with the renewed mind] brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:34–36). The ones you didn’t think about at all, namely most of them. It has got to be that way. You cannot stop before every sentence and ponder the use of your verbs and nouns. It is impossible to communicate that way. You must just keep talking.
“The Holy Spirit brings us Christ-exalting truth and, from inside, he works truth-embracing humility.”
And if you were standing out here you would say: Where is all that coming from, because I am not thinking in detail about which sentence to use, and which adjective to use, and what tone of voice to use, and whether these gestures should keep going, and your life is spillover. Ninety-five percent of the time your life is spillover. And you may ask: “Well, why are you calling that part of the will of command, because it sounds like, you know, will of command would be: I am hearing a command. I am thinking about it, and then I am doing it.” But I am calling it the will of command, because you get in the Bible commands: Don’t be angry, don’t be prideful, don't covet, don’t be anxious, don’t be jealous, don’t envy. And you don’t think of any of those. Nobody decides to be prideful.
Now, see, I am humble, but I really like to be prideful, so now I will make a decision to become prideful. Or I am not feeling any envy right now, but I see somebody that has something. I think I will start feeling envy. Or I don’t have enough, and covetousness would be one way to respond — nobody lives like that. Those things happen to you, and you are guilty, because they are coming out of your heart.
I don’t by-and-large live my life by lists. You try to live your life by lists, either the list will be ridiculous in its shortness compared to the ten thousand things you do each day, or it will be so long you would die. There is only one way to live the Christian life: “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). It is our only hope. Life is too spontaneous. You just can’t live it by lists. You can’t live it even by the Ten Commandments, because ninety-five percent of the time you are doing stuff without reflecting on whether it breaks any commandment. You are just doing stuff.
My biggest challenge is: Piper, be new. Be new. Just get at the core of my being. If there is any stuff, junk, pride, left down there that is just causing the stuff to come out unbidden and unplanned, get at me down here, Lord. That is the only hope, isn’t it?
So, concluding exhortation: Immerse yourself in God’s Word. Saturate your mind with it. I don’t know another way. I am 58. Three years ago, I said to the staff at a January meeting, at age 56: I want to give my life to memorizing like I have never memorized before. I will say that even stronger right now. I am into mega-Bible memorization. I don’t know another way to saturate, transform, shape, alter, bring my mind into conformity to the mind of Christ than by memorizing and meditating upon his word. So I don’t think you have a chance of a snowball in hell to be holy and avoid that kind of language if you don’t meditate on the word of God a lot. So immerse yourself in the Bible. Get serious about a renewed mind.
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