Today's Broadcast

Questions & Answers

A Discussion with R.C. Sproul and R.C. Sproul Jr.

Dr. Sproul is joined by his son Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. to answer some common yet difficult questions concerning the will of God. They also discuss the comfort that the people of God can experience when God's sovereignty is properly understood.

From the series: Knowing God's Will

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    The Meaning of God's Will (pt. 2)

  2. devotional

    God's Revealed Will

  3. devotional

    God's Hidden Will

The Meaning of God's Will (pt. 2)

R.C. Sproul

(Continued from The Meaning of God's Will, Part 1)

The Decretive Will of God
Theologians describe that will by which God decrees things to come to pass according to his supreme sovereignty as the "decretive will of God." This is also sometimes called "God's sovereign efficacious will"; by it God brings to pass whatsoever he wills. When God sovereignly decrees something in this sense, nothing can thwart its coming to pass.

When God commanded the light to shine, the darkness had no power to resist the command. The "lights" came on. This is God's "determinate counsel" spoken of in the Bible. God did not persuade the light to shine. He did not negotiate with elemental powers to form a universe. He did not achieve a plan of redemption by trial and error; the Cross was not a cosmic accident exploited by the Deity. These things were decreed absolutely. Their effects were efficacious (producing the desired result) because their causes were sovereignly decreed.

A serious danger faces those who restrict the meaning of the will of God to the sovereign will. We hear the Muslim cry, "It is the will of Allah." We slip at times into a deterministic view of life that says, "Que será, será" --What will be, will be. In so doing, we are embracing a sub-Christian form of fatalism, as if God willed everything that happened in such a way as to eliminate human choices.

Classical theologians insist on the reality of man's will in acting, choosing, and responding. God works his plan through means, via the real choices of willing and acting creatures. There are secondary as well as primary causes. To deny this is to embrace a kind of determinism that eliminates human freedom and dignity.

Yet there is a God who is sovereign, whose will is greater than mine. His will restricts my will. My will cannot restrict his will. When he decrees something sovereignly, it will come to pass--whether I like it or not, whether I choose it or not. He is sovereign. I am subordinate.

The Preceptive Will of God
When the Bible speaks of the will of God, it does not always mean the decretive will of God. The decretive will of God cannot be broken, cannot be disobeyed. It will come to pass. On the other hand, there is a will that can be broken: "the preceptive will of God." It can be disobeyed. Indeed, it is broken and disobeyed every day by each one of us.

The preceptive will of God is found in his law. The precepts, statutes, and commandments that he delivers to his people make up the preceptive will. They express and reveal to us what is right and proper for us to do. The preceptive will is God's rule of righteousness for our lives. By this rule we are governed.

It is the will of God that we sin not. It is the will of God that we have no other gods before him; that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves; that we refrain from stealing, coveting, and committing adultery. Yet the world is filled with idolatry, hatred, thievery, covetousness, and adultery. Here the will of God is violated. His law is broken.

One of the great tragedies of contemporary Christendom is the preoccupation of so many Christians with the secret decretive will of God to the exclusion and neglect of the preceptive will. We want to peek behind the veil, to catch a glimpse of our personal future. We seem more concerned with our horoscope than with our obedience, more concerned with what the stars in their courses are doing than with what we are doing.

With respect to God's sovereign will, we assume we are passive. With respect to his preceptive will, we know that we are active and therefore responsible and accountable. It is easier to engage in ungodly prying into the secret counsel of God than to apply ourselves to the practice of godliness. We can flee to the safety of the sovereign will and try to pass off our sin to God, laying the burden and responsibility of it on his unchanging will. Such characterizes the spirit of Antichrist, the spirit of lawlessness, or antinomianism, that despises God's law and ignores his precepts.

Protestants are particularly vulnerable to this distortion. We seek refuge in our precious doctrine of justification by faith alone, forgetting that the very doctrine is to be a catalyst for the pursuit of righteousness and obedience to the preceptive will of God.


This is part three of R.C. Sproul's book How Can I Know God's Will?. If you would like to study this topic further, here are a couple of products that may interest you: Knowing God's Will CD Collection or Knowing God's Will MP3 Collection.

God's Revealed Will

Having discussed the Lord’s hidden will, we will now focus our attention on the aspect of His will that is revealed in Scripture — those things given to us and our children (Deut. 29:29). This will is also called God’s will of precept, or preceptive will, because it contains the commands or precepts by which we are to structure our lives.

Our Creator’s revealed will tells us those things He considers inherently good. For example, God tells us not to bear false witness (Ex. 20:16) because He loves the truth. It is important to note that, unlike the Lord’s hidden will, men and women routinely violate His revealed will. When we sin, we act contrary to God’s will of precept. Also, even though wickedness transgresses the Lord’s preceptive will, evil is permitted according to God’s hidden will (Isa. 45:7), which is always done (Job 42:2). But this does not mean He loves transgression in and of itself, for His precepts tell us that He hates wickedness. Mysteriously, the Lord in His hidden decrees often ordains something that He hates according to His preceptive will. God does this not because the evil deed is desirable in itself, but because He uses sin to bring about the higher benefit of our ultimate good and His final glory (Rom. 8:28; 9:14–24). And He does this without ever being responsible or liable for evil (Job 42; Luke 22:22; James 1:13).

Today’s passage tells us we must live our lives by the Lord’s revealed will. Scripture is to guide us in our choice of spouse, vocation, place of residence, and so on. Of course, the Word of God does not tell me whether I should be a doctor or a lawyer, but it does tell me the Lord has given me certain gifts (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:1–16) and to seek out wise counselors (Prov. 11:14). Therefore, I should search out my gifts and ask godly friends where my talents lie to direct my choice of vocation. Similarly, the Bible does not tell me whether I should marry Sally or Sue, but Proverbs 31:10–31 describes the godly wife, and so I should look for someone that embodies such qualities. Single women should be this “Proverbs 31 woman” and look for a man worthy of such a noble wife. In any decision, we will not go far wrong if we endeavor to make it according to God’s revealed will.

God's Hidden Will

The saints we have examined this month faced scores of difficult problems. Esther and Mordecai had to confront a man bent on the extermination of the Jewish nation. Joseph found himself helpless against false accusations and was forced to spend years in jail unjustly. Difficult problems confront every believer, and so we will spend the next week learning how to address them with the help of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Dealing with Difficult Problems.

“What is God’s will for my life?” summarizes the first problem we will address. Usually, we ask this question to discover the Lord’s wishes for our vocation or to help us choose the proper spouse. Certainly, it is wise to seek God’s will regarding such important decisions.

Yet discerning God’s will becomes complicated when we consider that Scripture speaks of it in different ways. In fact, the Bible says there are distinctions within it. Chief among these is the difference between His hidden will and His revealed will.

God has not told us everything that He knows. There are secrets that belong to Him alone. On the other hand, the Lord has revealed other things that are for us and our children forever (Deut. 29:29).

Our focus today is on God’s hidden, or secret will, which is alluded to in today’s passage and other portions of Scripture. Some theologians refer to it as the will of decree since the Lord’s hidden will encompasses His sovereign decrees by which all things come to pass (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:8–10). As we saw last month in our study of providence, these decrees are unalterable and are what Scripture alludes to when it says God cannot change His mind (Num. 23:19). We cannot know these decrees in advance, and they are, as Dr. R.C. Sproul teaches, “none of our business.” His sovereign will does indicate what the course of our life will be, but it never excuses our sin.

We must take care to not focus on the Lord’s secret will inordinately and at the expense of His will revealed in Scripture. Primarily, we remember His hidden will so that we will not forget that God has a good purpose for His people that cannot be thwarted (Rom. 8:28). But we are to live our lives according to His revealed will.

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