Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
A plethora of books have been written on the topic of God’s will, but few of them are worth the paper on which they are printed. In this portion of the passage, Paul instructs the Roman believers about the benefits of living a life consecrated to God. He tells them that the result of being transformed by the renewing of their minds will be their ability to know the will of God. That is a rather profound promise. By growing in grace and truth, they will be able to discern between what is and is not God’s will. The important condition upon which this promise is made is the following: “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Discerning God’s will requires being transformed by God’s word. Simply stated, it is impossible to know God’s will without first knowing God’s word. In other words, a mind saturated with and submitted to Scripture will result in a life that is characterized by sanctified living and faithful service to God.
Before dealing further with this passage, it seems necessary to define what Paul means by “God’s will.” In Scripture, there are two kinds of God’s will: His sovereign will (decretive will) and His revealed will (moral will). Sovereign Will describes what God has ordained to take place. This will is intentional, predestined, and often beyond our knowledge unless He chooses to reveal that to us. The prediction of Christ’s return and future reign is one example of God informing mankind about events within His sovereign will. The interaction between God and Satan in the book of Job, as well as the commenatry by Joseph in Genesis 50:20, inform us about various details of God’s sovereign will that we would never have known otherwise. Revealed Will describes what God expects, desires, and commands of His people. He has given them the opportunity to obey or disobey His revealed will. They can live within His commands or they can live outside of His commands. They have the choice to serve Him or to serve themselves. Fortunately, God’s sovereign will cannot be thwarted; not even by the disobedience of sinners like you and me (c.f. Gen. 50:20). His decrees will stand and His plans will not be diverted by our selfish decisions: “…according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Everything that He has ordained to happen, will happen. This means that even the worst behavior of sinful men is not beyond the scope of His sovereignty. Instead, we find that it was ordained by a good and sovereign God (i.e. the slavery of Joseph, the misery of Job, the death of Christ) to accomplish His glorious ends.
Paul is obviously not talking about God’s sovereign will in this passage. There is no guarantee that any believer will know God’s sovereign will simply because he has consecrated himself to God or saturated his mind with Scripture. It is possible; however, to know what God has revealed as His will for our lives in terms of what He has commanded. We may come to know these things simply by studying and obeying Scripture. A mind full of Scripture will be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. Making godly decisions (i.e. what is good, acceptable, and perfect) requires knowing what God has commanded, forbidden, and left to our discretion. Obviously, not every decision involves a choice between right and wrong; sometimes it’s a matter of good, better, and best. Ultimately, God’s will is that I be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 2:18), therefore, everything I experience should be considered in light of that primary purpose.
- The phrase by testing you may discern means that knowing God’s will is not an “automatic given” for every Christian. In fact, it requires some degree of effort. Our default position as sinners is to oppose God’s will. Our flesh is at war with the Spirit, and without being saved and sanctified we can never know and obey God’s will. As John Murray has said, “The difference between truth and error is not a chasm, but a razor’s edge.” The difference between knowing God’s will and knowing that which is contrary to God’s will requires a great deal of discernment. Such discernment can only be gained through a careful study and consistent application of Scripture. The renewing of the mind causes transformation which causes the ability to discern God’s will. Consider the following analogy: Those who work with money can spot a counterfeit bill simply by holding it in their hand. An untrained eye would never know that the bill wasn’t legitimate. However, someone who spends the majority of their day handling legal tender will spot a counterfeit bill almost effortlessly. The same is true of a believer who is growing in grace and truth. When counterfeit teaching comes along, the believer will be able to discern the truth from error. Not everything labeled as “Christian” is biblical, and not every emotion that we experience is the Spirit’s leading (Jer. 17:9). We must learn to filter everything we experience (see, hear, feel) through what God has revealed to us. Then we will know what is good, what is perfect, and what is pleasing to Him. Knowing God’s will requires knowing God’s word!!
Applications: Thus, in making decisions, we ought to: 1) Be often in prayer and the study of God’s word, 2) Be growing in wisdom and maturity, and 3) Avoid trivial things that distract us from important things! Being involved in a local church and having godly people in your life is also very important. Knowing God’s will requires that we be doers of the word and not merely hearers (James 1:22-25), or else we demonstrate that we do not truly know God’s word. We have the ability to know and do God’s will because He has given us all that we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3) so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s word has been given to guide us, and the Holy Spirit has been given to help us discern and apply His word. Through His power as an agent of the word, we are being transformed into the image of Christ for the glory and praise of God. Let us therefore, forget what lies behind and look ahead as we press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:13-14).
May the lyrics of this song provide a glimpse of what it ought to look like: Take My Life and Let It Be!!
Questions for Meditation:
Are my thoughts, feelings, decisions, etc. in line with God’s “will” for me to be conformed to the image of Christ?
Am I consistently looking to God’s word for guidance regarding His will, or am I relying on more subjective ways that He has not ordained?
 God’s Sovereign Will: This is what God has ordained to take place. His sovereingty directs all things, and we cannot know this decretive will until after it has already taken place, except where He has predicted the future events of His will. [ex. Gen. 50:20; Matt. 18:14; John 1:13; Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 1:5, 11; 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19; 2 Pet. 1:21].
 God’s Revealed Will: This is what God expects, commands, and desires of His people. He gives them the opportunity to either obey or disobey His moral/revealed will. They can live within His commands or they can live outside of His commands by serving themselves. Fortunately, God’s sovereignty does not allow human decisions to divert from what He has ordained to happen in His decretive/sovereign will. An example of this is the fact that even the sinfulness of men can be used for the good of God’s glory (ex. Joseph being sold into slavery, and Jesus’ death on the cross). [ex. Matt. 7:21; 12:50; 21:31; Luke 12:47; John 4:34; 7:17; 9:31; Acts 13:22; Rom. 2:18; Eph. 5:17; 6:6; Col. 4:12; 1 Thess. 4:3; 5:18; Heb. 10:10; 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:2; 1 John 2:17; 5:14].
 Recommended resources: Guidance and the Voice of God by Philip Jensen and Tony Payne (See a review!!); Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung (See a Review!!); Finding the Will of God by Bruce Waltke (See a Review!!); and Decision Making and the Will of God by Garry Friesen (See a Review!!) Bruce Waltke lists 6 Steps for making decisions: Study Scripture, Cultivate a Heart for God, Receive Wise Counsel, Consider God’s Providence, Use Sound Reason, and Trust God to Affirm or Redirect; Jensen and Payne have three: Scripture, Wisdom, Avoid Triviality.