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Discerning God’s Will as Revealed in Scripture

In my studies this week, I read this passage from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way.  I want to share it with you as a way of furthering our discussion about our calling.  Horton writes,

Romans 12:2 promises that “by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  On this basis, some have taught that God has a sovereign plan for our lives, but that we can step in and out of it.  Often referred to as God’s “perfect will,” this notion of God’s sovereign plan considers it merely a Plan A—God’s best for our lives—rather than God’s secret but certain decree.  Many believers struggle to discern God’s secret will in daily decisions because they confuse it with his “perfect will” in this passage.

However, Romans 12:2 is not speaking of God’s eternal counsels, sure to be fulfilled yet hidden to us. Rather, the context (renewing the mind through the Word) indicates that the perfect will that Paul calls us to discern is God’s moral and saving will (i.e., the law and the gospel) insofar as he has revealed it in Scripture.  Therefore, when it comes to our vocations, whom we should marry, where we should live, and so forth, we are responsible to discern God’s will only insofar as it is revealed in Scripture.  For example, we must marry fellow believers (2 Co 6:14), but other considerations are left to our wisdom, the counsel of friends, and the desires of our hearts.

Unlike God’s good and perfect (revealed) will, God’s hidden decree is secret to us. We have no reason to believe that God will reveal to us where we should live, even though he has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [our] dwelling place” (Ac 17:26).  But we can be confident that he has revealed everything necessary for salvation and godliness.  It is liberating to know that we cannot step in and out of God’s sovereign will, although it remains hidden to us, even if we discover that a decision was poorly made or circumstances did not work out as we had planned.  It is not only unexpected that we should know God’s secret purposes; such inquisitiveness is treated in Scripture as an affront to God’s majesty (Ro 11:34). (p. 363-364)

The bottom line is to focus on our calling as Christians and as we live out our lives as such, the rest will come together.


Michael Horton. (2011). The Christian faith: A systematic theology for pilgrims on the way. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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