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How to know God’s will

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Romans 12:1-8

My first Bible was given to me by the Gideons on March 27, 1969, as I left my fifth-grade class at Bonham Elementary in Houston. When I became a Christian four years later, I carried this Bible in the hip pocket of my jeans, which is why it is so tattered and torn today. But it is precious to me.

That Gideon had no idea his ministry would so influence my life, or that I would preach from this Bible today. He did God’s will for his life that day, and I will forever be grateful.

We are in the midst of our Heritage Month, celebrating God’s providence across our church’s history and finding ways to trust his plan for our personal lives. Last week we agreed that God has a plan for us, a plan better than any we could make or know.

Now we ask the second question: how do we know God’s plan, God’s will for us? I want to give you some brief convictions about the will of God, then we’ll explore our text together.

These are foundational principles:

God has a plan for your life, and it is good.

God wants you to know his will for your life; in fact, more than you do.

God’s word is his will. He will never act contrary to it.

God’s will is for today. No one in the Bible knows where he or she will be next year, but he or she always knows what he or she should do this day. God’s will is first and foremost for now.

Have you transferred ownership of your life to God?

Now, with this foundation in place, let’s decide if we are in the will of God, and if not, how to be. In Paul’s day, people used animals to worship God, to sacrifice to him, to be right with him. Today we don’t think in agricultural, but financial, terms. So let’s change the analogy to our culture.

To know if you’re in God’s will, here’s the first question to ask: have you transferred ownership of your life to God?

Our text begins: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (v. 1).

“In view of God’s mercy”—Paul said it well two verses earlier: “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (11:35). God has given us life, and life eternal, this day, and every possession and ability which is ours. Remember his mercy.

Now, yield your life to him in gratitude. “Offer” is a technical term for making a sacrifice at the Temple.

How do we do this?

Make a total commitment. “Your bodies”—to the Hebrew, this meant all of life. They did not separate body and spirit the way the Greeks did. To them, the body stood for everything. Not just Sunday, but your time all week; not just a tenth or less of your money, but all of it, obedient to God; not just your ethics at church, but at work or school. Everything.

Make a daily commitment—”living sacrifices” means that we do this constantly. Not just when you became a Christian, or made a significant decision to follow God a few years ago, but today. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” When did you last yield your life and will consciously to God?

Make a sacrificial commitment—”sacrifices” is just as true for us as for them. In Acts 14.22, Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” It will always cost you to follow Jesus.

This is our “spiritual worship.” This is how God evaluates our worship this morning. Not by the fact that we came to church, sang the hymns, prayed the prayers, gave some money, and listened to the sermon, but by whether or not we transferred ownership of our lives again to God today.

This is counter-cultural, in the extreme. We’re told to be self-sufficient and self-centered. Looking Out for Number 1, Pulling Your Own Strings, Winning Through Intimidation, and Unlimited Power are just some of the recent bestsellers which describe the current culture. But God’s word stands opposed to this culture. It says, if you want to be in the will of God, first you must yield your will and life to him.

Quite simply, God will not reveal his will to you as an option for you to consider. Only when you’re willing to follow God’s will can you be in that will, or know it for your future. Oswald Chambers was right: we only understand that part of God’s will that we obey.

So if you want to be in God’s will, transfer ownership of your life unconditionally to God. For the first time, or again today. This is the indispensable commitment God is calling you to make today.

Withdraw from the world’s account

The second principle for knowing God’s will is the mirror of the first: withdraw from the world’s account: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (v. 2a).

You cannot be right with God and right with your culture at the same time. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters; either he will hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second” (Matthew 6:24). You must choose.

So, what is the “pattern of this world”? It boils down to three basic principles:

Possessions over people. One T-shirt slogan says, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” Our culture judges the worth of people by their possessions and appearance. Money, possessions, what you drive, where you live, what you wear. American Protestants give to foreign missions exactly what Americans spend on Nintendo games.

Popularity over principle. If “everybody’s doing it,” it must be okay. The popular culture says that premarital and extramarital sex are expected and normal, that alcohol and illegal drugs are safe and exciting, that families and marriage are outdated. What’s popular is what’s right, in the pattern of the world.

The present over the eternal. “Just do it.” “If it feels good, do it”—these are the slogans of our day. Live for today; the eternal is irrelevant. We’re all God’s children anyway; only 4% of us are afraid we might go to hell. The different religions are just roads up the same mountain. Eternity’s secure, so live for today.

“Do not conform any longer” indicates that these Roman Christians are already conforming to the world’s pattern. Apparently, so are most American Christians. On every ethical standard, those who say they attend church regularly are not statistically different from the rest of the population. Divorce, abortion, and substance abuse rates are all the same. Issues like sexuality, basic integrity, and values don’t appear to be different inside the church.

What about you? Does the world know you’re a Christian? Can they tell you’re different by your life? Or are you conformed to their mold? In the words of the old question, if you were tried for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence from your lifestyle to convict you?

I found a quote the other day that I put where I could see it: “The great challenge of life is to decide what’s important and to ignore everything else.”

Only when you withdraw from the world’s account can you transfer ownership to God. The two go together. Where are your deposits today?

Are you investing daily in your relationship with God?

The third question: are you investing daily in your relationship with God? The only way to stay out of the world’s mold and surrendered to God is to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (v. 2b). How do you do this?

“Transformed” refers to your inner nature. It’s the same Greek word used for Jesus’ transformation at the Mount of Transfiguration, where he was completely changed. So are we to be completely changed into his image.

This happens when we “renew our minds”—the phrase refers to our thoughts, attitudes, and basic character. When we immerse ourselves in the word of God, think its thoughts, and ask before every decision, What does Scripture say? When we pray regularly with God, talk with him through the day, and listen to him. When we worship God on Sunday and on Monday, publicly and privately. The closer we are to God, the better we sense his Spirit, hear his voice, and can know his will.

This is a daily, lifestyle commitment.

Here was Paul’s experience: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Is this your experience? When did you last spend the day with God? Are your thoughts and attitudes being transformed into the image of Jesus? This is his will for you.

Conclusion

If you have transferred ownership of your life to God, withdrawn from the world’s account, and are investing daily in your relationship with Jesus, you are in the will of God. Then “you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

And then you will find and fulfil your life calling and ministry. You will know and use your spiritual gifts, whether preaching, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leading, showing mercy (6-8). If your present is in his will, your future will be also.

The history of our church proves that it so. Due to the brevity of time, here are just a few examples.

Dr. Reed and Dr. Howard both left large, multi-staff, thriving congregations to pastor what was then a church with no permanent campus.

In 1940 Morris Shubinski, Jr. became the first Park Cities member to surrender to God’s call to ministry, in his case medical missions. E. O. Scoggin, Jr. answered God’s call to preach the next week, and was ordained by Park Cities. He later became the only member of our church to be killed in action during World War II.

In 1948 Charles Barnett took an entire year from his building contractor business to volunteer as the contractor for the building project which became this campus.

In 1954 Frank Durham and Dr. Howard organized the Andrew Club to visit newcomers to the area each month, with great success.

In 1977 Jim Pleitz arrived in Dallas and immediately began to air his “Thought for the Day” messages, catching the attention of the entire city. He kept Kip’s Restaurant open with his frequent breakfasts with prospects. And 284 people joined the church or were baptized in the first five months of his ministry here.

Do you think they found and followed God’s will? Will you?

My pastor in Houston had on his pulpit a plaque with these words from the Greeks’ question to Philip in John 12:21: “Sir, we would see Jesus.” I’ve had these words inscribed on this pulpit this week, where I can see them each Sunday. God’s will for my life and yours is that we help people follow Jesus.

Sixty years from today, who will be grateful that we did?