Does God Have An Individual Will For Each Person’s Life?
Those who ask this question assume an individual, specific will for every person. They assume that God has an ideal, detailed blueprint already drawn up for each person’s life. They assume that for any decision we face there is a specific choice (in the most restrictive sense) that God wants us to make. This applies to the school we should attend, the occupation we should choose, and the specific individual God wants us to marry. In his book, Knowing God’s Will, And Doing It!, J. Grant Howard, Jr. expressed it this way:
Scripture teaches us that God has a predetermined plan for every life. It is that which will happen. It is inevitable, unconditional, immutable, irresistible, comprehensive, and purposeful. It is also, for the most part, unpredictable. It includes everything, even sin and suffering. It involves everything, even human responsibility and human decisions (p. 15).
A good summary of this view is given by Garry Friesen in his book, Decision Making & the Will of God:
God’s individual will is that ideal, detailed life-plan which God has uniquely designed for each believer. This life-plan encompasses every decision we make and is the basis of God’s daily guidance. This guidance is given through the indwelling Holy Spirit who progressively reveals God’s life-plan to the heart of the individual believer….(p. 35).
Although this is a very popular view, I’m convinced it I s not taught in God’s word. Calvinists and other determinists argue that the Bible is filled with examples of individuals for whom God had a specific plan (e.g., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Paul et al.). But each of these examples was highly unusual and somehow related to God’s working out of His plan of salvation for fallen mankind (viz., the Scheme of Redemption). Further, the specific plan that God had for each of these individuals was revealed to them by special revelation and, thus, cannot be seen as normative for ordinary believers today.
Those who affirm God’s individual will for each person usually cite passages like Psalm 32:8; Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 30:20-21; Colossians 1:9 and 4:12; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 2:10 and 5:15-17. But when these passages are considered in their context, a much stronger case can be made for them in terms of God’s preceptive or moral will, not His decretive will.
Being Led By The Spirit
But someone will say, “How about being ‘led by the Spirit?’” In Romans 8:14, the Scriptures say, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” and in Galatians 5:18, it says, “But if you are led of the Spirit, you are not under law.” The Calvinist thinks the Holy Spirit influences him through some mysterious inward guidance. However, the Bible does not teach such a doctrine, these two passages notwithstanding. I am convinced that when one begins to listen to some inner voice, he is headed for trouble. In fact, Romans 8:26-27 does not say anything at all about the Holy Spirit speaking to us. What it says is:
…the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Being led by the Spirit of God has to do with one’s obedience to God’s word (i.e., God’s preceptive or moral will), which is, according to Ephesians 6:17, the “sword of the Spirit.” Being led by the Spirit in a direct way as was promised to the apostles (John 16:12-14) was never intended to be understood as being available to all Christians. such direct guidance was for the specific purpose of revealing the Scriptures, not for inner guidance for all Christians (Ephesians 3:3-5), as so many incorrectly believe.
I find it ironic, then, that those who are awaiting God’s will for themselves via some inner guidance or miracle apart from the Scriptures are the very ones who miss God’s will for their lives by not obeying His preceptive or moral will. I have tried teaching the gospel to those caught up in this deceptive doctrine only to have them tell me that if God wanted them to be baptized for the remission of sins, He would have told them through the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. As they mistakenly wait for what they think will be their own personal revelation of God decretive will, they resist obeying His preceptive will. As one should be able to see, such thinking has the fingerprints of Satan all over it.
But when rejecting such a doctrine, one must not jump to the equally extreme position which says knowing the will of God is unnecessary to daily decision making. The will of God, particularly His preceptive will, is always relevant to our daily lives. It is, in fact, the reference point for all our decision making. Consequently, the most sophisticated technique for knowing God’s will for our lives is “the Bible tells me so,” which is but another way of saying:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).
This means that whatever God tells us to do in the Scriptures, either through precept or principle, is His will for our lives—i.e., if God wants us to do it, then it’s in the book. So, when the question is asked, “How can I know God’s will for my life?,” our loud reply ought to be, “Quit waiting for some ‘better felt than told experience’ and read the Bible!”