I DO NOT KNOW GOD’S WILL: WHAT SHALL I DO?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-7-82 7:30 p.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message in a series on "What shall I do?" And the message tonight is, I Do Not Know God’s Will: What Shall I Do? As I have stated, they are not psychological treatises. They are not sociological studies. They are expositions of the Word of God. And sometimes they are not quite as you would suppose or assume or think. And the one tonight is very much like that. How do I know the will of God? The Scripture is not in one place, but all through the Holy Bible. The Scriptures answer with a tremendous, emphatic word. Our problem is we don’t like it. We stumble before it. We rebel against it. But if you listen to the Word of the Lord, there is a very plain and positive and definite answer: How do I know the will of God?
Now, just for us to begin with, we are going to read two passages of Scripture out loud together. The first is John, chapter 7, verse 17 – John, chapter 7, verse 17; and the other is 1 John, the last chapter, verses 14 and 15. We are going to read out loud those three verses in the Bible. John, chapter 7, verse 17, and then 1 John, chapter 5, verses 14 and 15. Having found our first passage, let us read it out loud together. John 7:17 together: "If any man will do His will, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God or whether I speak of Myself" [John 7:17].
Now, 1 John chapter 5, toward the end of the Bible. [First] John chapter 5, verses 14 and 15 together – "And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to His will, He heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him" [1 John 5:14, 15].
How do I know the will of God? There are many, many who say you cannot know – the answer is no. You cannot know God, nor can you know His will. The agnostic answers the question like that. "I do not know." Then he says, "And nobody knows." Isn’t that a strange antithetical development in his life? "I do not know." And he speaks of his ignorance. Then he changes to omniscience, and he knows everything. "Nor does anybody know." He knows what everybody knows and doesn’t know. That is a strange thing in the intellectual twist of an agnostic mind.
Augustine prided himself upon being an agnostic before he was converted. And one day in the presence of a thoughtful old man, he was prating and parading his agnosticism. And the thoughtful old man asked him, "What is an agnostic?"
And Augustine, the young man, replied, "It is somebody who is not certain about anything."
And the old man replied, "Then how can you be certain that you’re an agnostic?"
The twist of the agnostic – I don’t know, nor can anybody know, is one of intellectual marvels of all the generations. It is like the infidel. "There is no God." Then you ask him, "You must be omniscient, because if you don’t know everything, maybe in an area that you don’t know, there is God." Or, "You must be omnipresent. You must have been everywhere, for in a place where you haven’t been, there may be God." The answer of agnosticism and unbelief and infidelity to the question is not intellectually acceptable – ever. It has a twist in it that is always present. "I do not know," in their language means, "I do not want to know."
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, there is a list of the great heroes of the faith, the worthies of the Old Testament. And it says that "they are looking for a city whose foundations and builder and maker is – wrought by the hand of – God" [Hebrews 11:10]. And they deny such a city, because they refuse the faith that could see it. In that same chapter, are marvelous promises and they deny their power. And in that same glorious chapter, there are the whisperings of God, but they deny them, saying that they don’t exist and can’t be heard. They literally wrap the whole world in a fog and in a mist. Life begins in a materialistic conception and it ends in the disintegration of the grave. That is the answer of the unbelieving agnostic. You cannot know God. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to think you could know His will.
Then again, "Can I know the will of God?" No, says the forensic doubter. There is a turn of mind, and you meet it everywhere, that seeks, in an argumentative mood, to confront every avowal of faith and every revelation of the Holy Scriptures. They argue about it, make any avowal of faith, present any truth from the Holy Scriptures and their answer is forensic, it is argumentative. It is a strange thing how God meets a man like that. Never in the Bible does God seek to argue with an unbeliever. All he says is, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God" [Psalm 14:1] – and that is all. There is nothing beyond. It is, to me, a marvel of infinity of His presence and of His glory that no mind could ever encompass, the immeasurable, abounding glory of the Lord. My mind cannot contain God. There are just some of the things of God that I can see that my heart and my mind can grasp, but there are an infinitude of things beyond what I am able to see or to grasp. Some things I can know, I can read, I can understand. But many, many things are beyond me. I cannot in my finite mind grasp the great mysteries of the omnipotent Almighty.
It is like Mont Blanc that is located between Switzerland and France – mostly in France. One day, flying over Europe, the pilot said, "We are coming to Mont Blanc, and for the first time in my life, it is without clouds." And he flew around that beautiful, gorgeous, towering peak, he flew around it twice. This is a commercial plane. He flew all the way around it twice. And I took pictures and pictures and pictures. It was a thrilling thing to see without clouds – that marvelous creation of God. After that – some years after that, I was at the base of Mont Blanc. There are cities there, and I was in them. They are teeming with people all the way around the base. And as I stood in the streets of some of those villages and some of those cities and looked at that vast glory of the handiwork of God – truly, one of the most beautiful, breathtaking peaks in the earth. As I stood and looked at it, way up there, far up there, thousands of feet up there, there was a rarefied world in which no man lives. The air is too thin, and the intense cold prohibits life. And bathing itself in the snow and in the clouds it rises to the very feet of God. But down here at the base of it, we live, cities teem with life.
The revelation of God is like that. There are many things that are revealed to us, and they belong to us. But there are many things that God reserves for Himself. To me, one of the most meaningful of all the verses in the Bible is Deuteronomy 29, verse 29: "The secret things God hath revealed – the secret things God hath kept for Himself, but what He hath revealed is for us and for our children forever" [Deuteronomy 29:29]. Some things God has revealed to us. Some things, we can never, ever know. God has kept them to Himself. Our lives and our understanding and our knowledge is like the headlight on a passenger train that is hurtling down the railroad tracks in the night. We can see this far, and we can’t see to the end of the journey. But if we travel with the Lord, the light shines far enough for us to follow in His will and in His way. To the argumentative man, to the forensic doubter, to the man who wants to know it all, are refused everything. He cannot know God, nor can he know God’s will.
How do you know the will of God? James 4:3 says that if we ask and seek from God things to expend upon our lusts, upon our own pleasures, we can never find an answer [James 4:3]. And we will never know His will for our lives. "Ye ask," he says, "and ye receive not because ye ask amiss, to consume it on your own lusts" [James 4:3]. When I go before God and I ask God’s revelation to my heart what to do. And I seek God’s pleasure and His blessing. If the purpose of my asking and my seeking is to consume it on myself – I want more gold for me, and I want more pleasure for me, and I want more of the things of ambitious grasping for me. If I do that, I will never know the will of God. I am shut away from His presence. Again, I cannot know the will of God. The answer is no if I am a stated and overt and unbelieving sinner. Sin brings doubt and dubious dismay into the life. It separates us from God. And when a man is blatant in his unbelief, the problem lies not in his head, in his forensic arguments. The trouble lies in his heart, in his soul.
In my younger days, there was a tremendous preacher, evangelist, who later was president of the Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. His name was Lee R. Scarborough. He was a cattleman and was converted out there in West Texas. He was a bold and fearless preacher of the gospel. Every time I would hear him, he would move my heart and my deepest soul. He described one time holding a revival meeting in a West Texas town – in those long ago frontier days when men were rough and wild. And in that town, as most of those towns in that day, in that town was an infidel – bold, vocal, vociferous. He castigated the church. He scoffed at the preacher. He made the fun of the people of God. And he was loud in his remarks. So, on the main street of the town, there he stood in the days when Lee Scarborough was holding a revival meeting in the town. And he around him all of the villagers, all the people of the town. And he was mouthing his loud criticism and sarcastic, sardonic deprecations of the preacher and the revival.
And Dr. Scarborough happened to walk by and listen to the loud-mouthed infidel. And he made his way into the center of the crowd, and walked up to the infidel and took him by the lapels of his coat and held him in a strong hand and looking into his face said, "The trouble with you is, you are an adulterer." It was laying a bombshell, and then the villagers thought – and when I was a boy growing up out there in West Texas. I have seen men fight again and again out there in the streets. They thought they would see the bloodiest fight that you could ever think for or imagine. He shriveled and shamefacedly walked away. The seat of the doubt and the rejection is not in the head or in the argument. It is in the heart. It is in the soul. When a man is not right with God, everything is forensic.
How could God be just and send men to hell? How could God be a loving and compassionate Father and send us to eternal punishment? So they deny the atonement. And they deny the grace of the Lord. And they deny His Sonship and the outpouring of His life for us. The trouble is in the heart. When the Lord came to His own people and they rejected Him, the trouble does not lie in their intellectual capacities, [or] in their knowledge. For there He was – walking, teaching – He stood before them. But their hearts were not right, and they rejected Him, not because He did not teach the truth, but because they were not right in their souls. Now, you look at it: "John came unto you," the Lord said, "in the way of righteousness, and ye believed Him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed Him:" – they entered the kingdom – "but you, when you saw it, repented not [afterward] in order that you might believe" [Matthew 21:32]. The trouble is not in the head. The trouble is in the heart. The publican believed, and the harlot believed. The prostitute believed, but you, you did not turn in your heart. You did not repent. You did not change in order that you might believe.
It is in the heart. Let’s look again. This is just typical. The Lord said: "Ye search the scriptures, for in them, ye think ye have eternal life and there are they which testify of Me. And ye will not come to Me that ye might have life" [John 5:39, 40]. You can search the Scriptures or you can go to church, and you can listen to the services, but if your heart is not right, you will never see the truth of God in the revealed Word of the Lord – never. It will be argumentative and forensic to you. That is one of the strangest turns of fortune that I ever looked upon in my life, and that I ever read out of the Holy Bible. How a man’s creed arises out of the kind of life that he lives.
For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul quotes a famous saying of the Epicurean, the headiness: "Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow, we die" [1 Corinthians 15:32]. The creed of their life came out of the voluptuousness of their living. That is the way they like to live. So they denied that there was any life to come. They were atheists, and they consumed themselves with the eating and the drinking and the pleasures of this existence. Isn’t that a strange thing? A man shapes his faith, and he shapes his religion according to the way that he lives. I want to do God’s will. What shall I do?
The answer in the Word of God is exceedingly plain, exceedingly emphatic, and in this moment or two, we are going to look at it. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the way, the teaching, the doctrine, the answer from heaven [John 7:17]. If any man will do His will. Now, when I read that, "will" to you is a future tense. I shall do this, or I will do that. It is future. There is no such future here in the text. There is a volitional verb there – thelon, thelon . Revelation 22:17 says: "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst say, Come. And whosoever [will] – thelon – whosoever in his will decides for God, let him come." Now, that is the exact word that is here. The – the word, the verb thelei. It lies in a man’s will. Whosoever will. Whosoever willeth. Whosoever determinedly decides and sets himself. If any man will do his thelema. That is the substantive form of that same verb: Any man who will do God’s will, he will know it. Now, that is an unusual thing. We know God’s will only in obedience and in submission to it. If I, when I come before God, am not willing to be submissive and obedient to what God wills for me, I can never know it. It will be hidden from it. I can never hear God’s voice, or follow in God’s way. I first must be willing to be obedient – to give myself to the will of God for me ever to know it. Now, that is an unusual thing. Submissiveness, obedience, faith, commitment is the only way to know the will of God.
Now, when I look at that in my own human life and in yours and begin to think about it, it becomes very obvious, very obvious. There are laws, physical, that pertain to the body, the human anatomy, the body, the physical frame. And if I observe those laws, I am blessed, I am healthy, and I am well. But if I am disobedient to those laws and not submissive to them, I become sick and depraved and anemic and weak. It is the same thing with the health of the spiritual body. If I submit myself to the spiritual laws of God, immediately, I am blessed with God’s presence and strength and health and guidance. Everything you can name – the knowledge of the God, the grace of God, the strength of God, the will of God. Isn’t that what Jesus taught? "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" [Matthew 5:8]. The impure in heart can never see God. It is obedience to the laws of the Lord for the spiritual body, for my mind and my heart and my soul – the image of God in me. When I give myself in obedience and submission to those laws, immediately God pours out the blessing upon me. Look what he says: if anyone – if anyone – He faces the whole earth, He faces every human soul with that word – if anyone decides in his heart to be obedient to the faith and to do the will of God, he will know it.
I want to take a verse of that. There is a dramatic illustration of it in the Bible. It is in 1 Samuel 28. And here it is. King Saul, after the years of his reign, is encamped on Mount Gilboa overlooking that plain of [Jezreel]. And below are the Philistines by the thousands. And his heart turns to water within, and he comes before God and inquires from God what to do. What is the will of God, the will of heaven? And the verse answers: "And God did not answer neither by [dreams], nor by Urim or Thummim – the stones on the breastplate of the priest – nor by the prophets" [1 Samuel 28:6]. And in agony and desperation to know God’s will – to find an answer from heaven – he went to the witch of Endor," which is prohibited to God’s people from the beginning. When you don’t have God, you go to dreamers, and to enchanters, and to witches, and to all kinds of necromancers and crystal gazers. People do ten thousand times ten thousand things every day – to the astrologer in order to find out God’s will for their lives because they don’t have God. They have not submitted themselves to the Lord. Saul sought out a remaining witch who lived in Endor. And she said to him when he came – not knowing who he was: Saul has interdicted, and if I am found out, I will lose my head, my life.
Saul promised her life, and he said, "May I speak to Samuel?" Now, she had no power to raise Samuel from the dead. When God gave that permission for the tragic punishment of that disobedient king Saul, she was frightened to death. She came as a dead woman in her horror, in her fear, because he arose and stood before her and Saul. And Saul said to Samuel, "What shall I do? What shall I do? For God has departed from me, and he does not answer neither by dreams, nor by Urim and Thummim, nor by the prophets. And the Philistines press me on every side, and I don’t know what to do." And Samuel replied: "Why do you bother me, seeing you have disobeyed the Lord, and He has departed from you?" [1 Samuel 28:15]. When a man disobeys God and refused to be submissive to the Lord, he doesn’t know God’s will. And he will never know it. God hides his face from him and leaves him to his own devices. Then Samuel pronounced the ultimate judgment: "When the battle is joined tomorrow, Israel shall be delivered into the hands of the Philistines and you and your sons will be slain." Great, great God. The only way – the only organ I have to know the will of God is in submission and in obedience. I cannot know God’s will any other way.
I close with the wonderful promises of the Scriptures. If I harken, if I will listen, if I will offer to God an obedient spirit, God will speak to my heart. He will answer my appeal. He will show me the way. Listen to the Word of the Lord: "Harken diligently unto me. Incline your ear. Come unto Me. Hear, and your soul shall live." Again, in Hosea: "Then shall we know if we follow on to know the Lord." [Hosea 6:3] If I will follow the Lord, He will reveal His will to me. Or as our Lord says: "I am the light of the world. He that followeth Me, shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" [John 8:12]. If I follow Jesus, He hears, He answers, He guides every step of the way. Just once again, Paul writing to his son in the ministry in the pastoral epistle of Timothy: "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this, you will both save yourself, and them that hear you" [1 Timothy 4:16]. Did you see that? Take heed unto the doctrine and to thyself. He didn’t say that. "Take heed unto thyself and the doctrine."
That is first. I must bring to God a submissive heart, an obedient spirit, a willingness. Whosoever wills – thelon – shall will to do his will – thelema. If I am willing in my heart to obey God, the Lord will answer every question you ever asked. He will open every door you ever ask to be open. He will guide you and walk with you, and be a fellow pilgrim with you every step of the way – if you are willing to submit, to obey, to follow Him. He does not hide His face from His children. He is there with an answer. He will talk to you. He will be with you. If I am just willing – Lord, Lord, help me to be obedient, to be willing, and God will reveal every answer all through the pilgrim journey of our lives. I do not know God’s will. What shall I do? The Bible says to the obedient heart, to the submissive spirit, God will speak and reveal every answer in the pilgrim way. I just need obedience. God bless us as we offer our lives in submissive service, in obedient ministry unto Him. Now, may we pray?
Our Lord, that is about the hardest thing God could ever say to us. So many of us, when we see God’s will, rebel against it. So many of us are afraid of it. And so many of us viewing it, seeing it, draw back from it. O Lord, how we need Thy merciful grace. Help us, Lord, in our souls and in our hearts to be that willing, that thelon. I am determined to follow Jesus. Then, when the Lord reveals to us His will, God will find in us an obedient and submissive spirit. Thy servant hears. Speak, dear God. I am willing to obey and to follow after, just say the word. Then, Lord, how beautiful and full and rich and deep and blessed life can be walking in the light of the Lord.
And in this moment when we make appeal, "Pastor, today, I give my life to the blessed Jesus, and here I come. I am opening my heart heavenward, God-ward, Christ-ward, and I’m letting him lead in the way. The answers come from Him, not from me. And Lord, thy servant is willing to obey and I am starting here in this blessed hour tonight. I am giving my heart in faith to the Lord Jesus, and I am coming. He calls us to faith in Him, to the acceptance of Him, and I am coming. I am going to be baptized to his expressed will in these Holy Scriptures, and I am coming, I am bringing my family, or just myself, and joining into this there dear congregation – to pray, to work and to do God’s will in my life and in my work." Make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing, down that stairway. If you are in the balcony, down one of these aisles on this lower floor, "Here I am, pastor. I have decided, and I am on the way." And thank you Lord, for the sweet harvest you give us in Thy precious name, Amen.
While we stand now, while we sing now, while we pray for you, make it now. Do it. Welcome – a thousand times welcome. Come. "Here I am. I am on the way."