THE WILL OF GOD FOR US
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-11-87 10:50 a.m.
Most of the times the pastor delivers an exposition; he will take a passage and expound it. Once in a while, I preach a textual sermon, and this message today is in the text of John 7:17, a text, John 7:17. In the King James Version: “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” [John 7:17]. Doing the will of God, The Will of God for Us.
As John wrote it, “If any t-i-s,” that’s a little tiny Greek word meaning “anybody, anyone, anytime, anywhere,” refers to all of us. “If any one will do His will,” thelō to thelēma, not future tense, will, but volition. “If any one, anywhere will volitionally give himself to God, the Lord will reveal to him the didachē,” our word didactic comes from that Greek word, “he will know the didachē,” translated here the “doctrine,” he will know the way [John 7:17]. God will reveal to him what heaven has chosen and purposed for him.
Now to the one who is not a believer that is inanity. It is ridiculous. Even the thought of it is folly wide the mark. How can I know the will of God, when to some there is no God, and to others there is certainly not a will for us, a purpose, a divine plan?
The agnostic says there is no such thing as the will of God. He, agnostic. There is an alpha privative, they call it. There is an a in Greek. And the word gno, g-n-o, gno. That’s a Greek word, gno. So agno, agnostic, he doesn’t know. “I do not know the will of God. I cannot know.” An agnostic cannot know anything; he’s an agnostic, “I don’t know.” But when he avows that I don’t know, immediately he jumps to omniscience; then, nobody can know. He goes from not knowing anything to knowing everything. That’s a strange quirk in the mind. An agnostic doesn’t know anything.
An agnostic, a young fellow, was standing before a thoughtful old man. And the old man said, “What did you say you are?” He said, “I’m an agnostic.” And the old man said, “And what is that, pray tell?” And the young fellow said, “That means I’m not certain about anything.” And the thoughtful old man said, “Well then, how can you be certain that you are an agnostic?”
The agnostic; “It’s not possible to know the will of God. You can’t know anything.” And the infidel so avows, “We can’t know the will of God; there’s not any God.” He also is a phenomenon just to look at him. He’s an infidel. He’s an atheist. He doesn’t believe in God. Therefore, there’s no such thing as God’s will. An atheist, an infidel, would have to be omniscient. You ask him, “Are you omniscient? Do you know everything?” If he were at all honest, he’d have to say, “No, I do not know everything. Well, maybe in an area of knowledge that we don’t know, God could be there.” You could ask him, “Are you omnipresent? Are you everywhere? Have you been everywhere?” If he were honest, he would have to say, “No, I’m not omnipresent.” Well, maybe, in some area that you’ve never been in, maybe there is God. How can you know that there is no God?
One of the strangest things in the Bible is this. Not one time, not one instance, not in one place is the existence of God ever argued, ever proved. All God says in this entire Bible about an atheist or an infidel is this. In Psalm 14:1, and in Psalm 53:1, God says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” That’s the only place it’s ever mentioned. A man is a fool, God says, who denies His existence. And I can easily think why God would suppose that. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork [Psalm 19:1]. The whole earth is full of His glory” [Psalm 72:19; Isaiah 6:3].
How could you look at the flower and not see the handiwork of God? How do you look at a little baby, and not see the omnipotent ableness of God? How do you look in your own heart, and ever conclude there could be any other than somebody somewhere who has put in your soul a longing for Him? “You made us for Yourself, and we are restless until we rest in Thee.” [Augustine of Hippo, Confessions]. O God, how many affirmations have You given to us in this life and world that You live, that You are, that You exist.
But to continue, how can I know the will of God? “There is no such purpose of God for me,” says the worldly. He is consumed with self-interest in this life, in this world. And for him, a world to come is a fancy. It’s a poetic imagination. It’s something that the aberranted religious mind would contemplate, for his interest and his life are consumed in this world with himself and with the things of possessions.
It’s a marvelous sentence that you’ll read in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews. The author there is calling the roll call of the faithful, these who have died in the faith. And the author writes this sentence, “Wherefore, God hath prepared for them a city, God hath prepared for them a city; wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God” [Hebrews 11:16]. They sought for a city whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10]. And God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He hath prepared for them that city [Hebrews 11:16].
But these who are consumed in this world, whose lives are built around themselves, they don’t see that city. Therefore, it does not exist. They shut their ears to the whispering of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, He does not speak. They inure and harden their souls against the will of God. Therefore, His presence is not known. They map this world in a fog of darkness and death. Therefore, the light that shined in the face of Jesus Christ is extinguished [2 Corinthians 4:6]. It doesn’t exist.
As you would think and as you would know, I cannot enter into the persuasion of those who deny that God has a will for us. So the beautiful text, “If any one, if any one wills, if any one chooses to do His will, God will show Him every step of the way” [John 7:17].
That’s a remarkable thing for us. I know the will of God through an obedient heart, through a bowing and worshipful spirit, through a willingness to listen and to follow after. And if I have a humble and obedient response to God, He will show me His will step at a time, day after day. Like the headlight on a great locomotive going down the track, as I follow after, God will reveal every mile of the journey. And He will do it for anyone. If anyone, that’s each one of us, if anyone will give himself in obedience, in loving surrender, to the will of God, the Lord will lead you each step of the way [John 7:17]. “What is the will of God for us? I’m willing, pastor. I’m listening.”
This is the will of God for us: first and above all that we love, and believe in, and receive His dear Son [John 20:30-31]. Nothing in all of life is comparable to the meaning of God our Father that we love, and accept, and believe in, and trust, and worship and adore His dear Son. At His baptism, God said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” [Matthew 3:17]. At the transfiguration, the same Lord God spoke from heaven: “This is My beloved Son . . . hear ye Him” [Matthew 17:5]. For us to receive and love and adore, trust in, worship, serve, follow after God’s beloved Son is first of all God’s will for us, and pleases our Father in heaven.
In this Second World War, I heard a story that moved my heart. There were two young men marching in the uniform of our beloved country. And in a uniform and in an army the distinctions that we know in this life largely disappear: whether one is learned or unlearned, whether he’s rich or whether he’s poor, no matter the background. Two men who are in a uniform marching to battle are pretty much the same. They look alike. They’re in the same assignment, and they’re facing death for us.
Well, these two young men in the army became dear and close friends. One of them was the scion of a wealthy family, an affluent family. The other one was an orphan, had no father, had no mother, grew up in poverty and want. Well, those two young men were dear friends. As they went into a battle, the affluent young man took out of his inside pocket a sealed letter; on it, the name of a man, his address in a city here in America. And he placed that sealed envelope in the hands of his friend and said to him, “If I don’t come back, if I don’t live, promise me that you’ll take this sealed letter and deliver it to this address.” The lad said, “I promise.”
The battle was fought. And in the engagement unto death, that affluent lad lost his life. An American soldier laid down his life for us, thousands of them did. The lad who was an orphan and was spared and lived looked at that sealed letter, and when the war was over made his way back to America, back to that city and to that address, and stood before a mansion. He knocked at the door and the father in the home came to the door and looked at that soldier boy. And the lad placed in his hands that sealed letter. The father opened it and read the letter from his slain and fallen son.
“This,” and call the name of that orphan boy, “is my other self. I have made him promise that if I do not live, he’ll deliver this message to you. And I want you,” says the boy, “to open the door of your heart and home and receive him and take him as your son.” When the father read the letter, he turned to that orphan boy, and said, “For my boy’s sake and for my son’s sake, come in. Come in.”
That is exactly and precisely what God has done for us. As poor and unworthy as we are, God says, “For My Son’s sake, come in.” I’m a child of the King. I belong to the heavenly Father [John 17:6]. I’m a member of the household of faith [Galatians 6:10]. This my Lord has done for me. And this is the first will and choice of the Father: that I believe in, and love, and adore, and accept His Son [John 3:16]. It’s for His sake that my name is written in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12,18, 21:27]; that I walk in robes of white with the saints in glory some wonderful and glorious day [Revelation 7:13-15].
What is God’s will for us? First, and above all, that we accept the Lord as our Savior, to love Him, worship, adore and serve Him. What is God’s will for us? That I love and belong to the church, the assembly of God’s saints. Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” And when I love the church and belong to the assembly of God’s saints, I am pleasing our Father in heaven.
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Savior redeemed
With His own precious blood.
I love Thy church, O God,
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my toil and cares be given
Til toils and cares shall end.
[“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight]
It is pleasing to God that I love, and am a member of, the assembly of God’s people. As such, I must remember the admonition in the Book of Hebrews. We are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together [Hebrews 10:24-25]. When church time comes, I want to be there.
One of the men last week said to me, “I was following behind a staff member in your church, and he was talking to two of your interns. And I overheard them discussing whether or not they would attend the services of the church or not.” I could not think of such a thing as that! These who are on the staff, paid by our tithes and offerings, having a discussion whether or not we will attend the services of the church. Great God in heaven, what do You think of us?
Long before I was ever a paid servant of the house of God, it was a joy to my young heart to be present when the people gathered for song, and for praise, and for sermon, and for service. I loved to go to the house of God. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. There’s not any entertainment offered in this earth that even begins to approach, to start the feeling of exaltation and encouragement that I feel when I’m here in your presence. God is in this place. I praise His name. I look forward to the services; have through the years and the years.
What is the will of Christ for us? What is God’s will for us? In the first Corinthian letter, chapter 11, “I praise you, brethren . . . that you keep the ordinances, as I delivered them unto you” [1 Corinthians 11:2]. Into our hands God has committed two sacred ordinances. The initial, the first, is to be baptized [Matthew 28:19]. There’s not much I can do for God. He owns the earth and all that is in it. He lacks nothing. Not much can I do for God, but I can do that. I can follow Him in baptism as He set the pattern [Matthew 3:13-17]; I can follow after, I can be baptized. I want to be baptized, I was baptized. Everyone in God’s created world, in a confession of faith to our blessed Lord, loving Him, all of us ought to be baptized, buried with Him and raised with Him in the likeness of His glorious living resurrection [Romans 6:3-5].
And the eleventh chapter, out of which I read that verse, presents in detail the Lord’s Supper, admonishing us to observe it in beautiful and reverential form [1 Corinthians 11:17-34]. And we have sought to do that in our dear church. Once a month we seek to observe that sacred ordinance of the breaking of the bread, that is His body, and drinking of the fruit of the vine, that is His red blood [1 Corinthians 11:23-25], sitting here with one another, recalling the suffering, the atoning death of our Lord, and looking forward to the day when He comes again, observing it until He comes back for us [1 Thessalonians 4:12-17].
O God, what a precious privilege thus to share in the assembly of God’s saints! If I do the will of God [John 7:17], what would I do? Not only loving our Lord, not only loving our dear church, that for which He gave His life [Ephesians 5:25], but having a part in its support. That’s no burden to me. Lord, You could have given it to angels. You didn’t do that. You gave it to us. We are Your emissaries and Your servants and Your ambassadors [2 Corinthians 5:20]. And you gave us the kingdom [Luke 12:32, 22:29].
“Brethren,” writes Paul in the [first] verse of the eighth chapter of the 2 Corinthians letter, “we do you to wit.” Isn’t that a beautiful old English word? “Brethren, we do you to wit. We make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia” [2 Corinthians 8:1]. It was a grace that God gave them, how that, in their deep poverty they abounded in their riches of liberality [2 Corinthians 8:2]. The poorer they were, the more they gave to God.
Lord, I’d love to be like that, “Anything, Master, that comes into my hands, if it’s but a piece of bread, if it’s but—if it is but a portion, Lord God, I’ll remember You in it. It will be a part of the pattern of my life that, whatever I have, a part of it, Lord, I will dedicate to Thee.” God will be pleased if I do that, remembering Him.
I must hasten. Last of all, let me speak, doing the will of God in my life personally [John 7:17]. Not only accepting Jesus as Savior [1 Timothy 2:3-4], and not only assembling with you in the church for which He gave His life [Hebrews 10:24-25], but in my own life seeking and doing the will of God for me [1 Peter 2:15].
My precious and blessed mother, my sainted mother had an illimitable ambition for me. She had, my father and mother had two boys and I was the older. She envisaged for me that I would be a doctor, a physician, like her father. Her father, Dr. David Curry, was a physician. You know, it is hard for me to realize the span of the centuries; he was a doctor in the Confederate army. That seems to me to be centuries ago, the War between the States. And she had it in her heart that I was going to be a doctor, like her father.
So living on a little farm, just across the northwest Texas line in New Mexico, out in the desert, it looked so barren to me. Four miles from the closest town, I had a little pony named Trixie, and I had a little buggy, and six and seven years of age I drove that little pony and rode in the buggy to go to school. And no matter what, she saw to it that I went to school. My father and mother didn’t realize it, but I remember one day it was nine degrees below zero; and I got in that little buggy and drove to school. I can remember crying now; the cold hurt me, especially my hands. So my mother said, “I’m moving to town, putting my boy in school.” So my mother moved to the little town and put me in school, and I was about seven years of age.
Then my mother took me to Amarillo. The little town in which we lived had no accredited high school; and she was determined I was going to be a doctor like her father, and she took me to Amarillo and put me in high school. And I went through Amarillo high school. Then my mother took me to Baylor University. I was going to be a doctor like her father. And she was ambitious for me to be a doctor like her father. And all through those years, and as far back as I can remember, I felt God calling me to be a preacher and a pastor. And I would say to my mother, “Mother, I’m going to be a preacher.” My mother and my father thought that it was a childish fancy, that I would get over it, that I’d outgrow it. Instead of outgrowing it and getting over it, it became more of an obsession in my soul. God has called me to be a preacher and a pastor.
When I went to Baylor, I took several of those pre-med courses with those pre-med students. I made A-plus in every one of them. But I had in my heart one love, one devotion, one commitment: God called me to be a preacher. That’s the will of God for me. And it was only in the after years that my father and mother, and especially my mother, ever reconciled herself to my being a preacher.
I’d talk to her about it—I hate to elaborate—I’d talk to her about it. “Why is it, Mother, that you don’t want me to be a preacher?” And she would speak to me at length, “They’re badgered, they’re starved to death, they’re not paid their salaries, they’re in trouble all the time, they have unhappy people,” just my mother would go on and on and on, “I want you to be a doctor. I want you to be a physician.” But that was God’s will for me: however the fortune may be, however the turn of providence may be, whatever, God called me to be a preacher; and I never was dissuaded or waivered in it.
I am not peculiar or unique in that. There is a will of God for each one of you as there is a will of God for me. All of us, Mary Crowley used to say, “God doesn’t take time to make nobodies.” She’s so correct, God bless her memory. There is a will of God for you, you. You are as precious in His sight as the greatest king that ever reigned or the mightiest preacher who ever preached. There is a will of God for you. And to find it and to do it is the joy and gladness of the human soul. He speaks, if you will listen. He calls, if you will obey. He directs, if you will follow after. And that is our commitment in His blessed name.
Brother Doug, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the hymn of appeal, a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me this day, and I’m answering with my life [Romans 10:8-13]; I’m coming.” If you’re in the balcony, and there’s time and to spare; down one of these stairways. In the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “This is God’s day and God’s time for me, and here I stand.” On the first note of the first stanza, come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.