Discerning the Secret Will of the Lord?

On Sunday evening I preached on Deuteronomy 18:9-22, Determining God's Will for Your Life: A Definitive Guide. [Audio of this sermon can found by clicking this link.] The premise of the sermon can best be summarized by O. Palmer Robertson's quote on Deuteronomy 18:

Every possible word describing a method by which men might attempt to determine, control or predict the future is designated as an abomination to the Lord. Any proposed substitution for the revelatory word of God that comes through his prophet must utterly be rejected (qtd. from The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues and Prophecy Today).

In light of all of the talk today of "seeking God's will" by promptings and leadings of God's Spirit, we must remember that the task of seeking God's will in the Bible was supremely the task of understanding God's revealed will, not his secret will. To be "led by the Spirit" according to Scripture, is to be led in righteousness, fruit, and greater sanctification. To be "led by the Spirit" is not to be led by promptings, nudges, or signs which the Spirit may give us in facing decisions. When Paul speaks of being "led by the Spirit," he is always speaking of growth, sanctification, and fruit (Romans 8:13-15; Galatians 5:18-23).

Here are some links to just a few additional articles that may help your understanding of a profoundly misunderstood aspect of the Christian life.

The Ministry of the Spirit in Discerning the Will of God, by J.I. Packer

The Task of Seeking God's Mysterious Will, by Sinclair Ferguson

Finding God's Will, by Robert Rayburn

In this last article Robert Rayburn recounts the tragic story of a Christian friend of his who was struck with a fatal disease.

The person shared with me and others that the Lord had revealed by means of a strong impression that healing would take place. Even as severe physical deterioration gave us every indication that the doctors' prognoses were correct, my friend continued to act and speak as though healing would occur.

The death of this individual came about, contrary to what the so-called guidance he had indicated. As I look back on this event, I see how this view of guidance prevented my friend from a significant work in the Christian life - namely to die well, giving glory to God who gives and takes away, and to leave this world confessing before all that "the Judge of all the earth does right" and that , in Christ, "to die is gain!"

I can't help but think of many of the couples at the Christian college I attended. For many of these couples one partner was "led" by God to end the relationship, and the other had the exact opposite "leading," to continue in the relationship. This means that either one of the partners misinterpreted God's true leading, a possibility I suppose; or that God actually led them in different directions, an impossibility we know; or it means that God never "led" them one way or the other. In light of the fact that God's people are never commanded to seek the secret will of God, in light of the fact that no one in Scripture is ever "led" by a fallible urging, nudging, prompting, or feeling from God's Spirit, and in light of the fact that God's people are expressly forbidden to look into the future and the secret things of God (Deut. 18:10; 29:29), I would suggest that it's not God's normal practice to lead Christians in this way.

God does indeed lead Christians by his Spirit. But inevitably, that leading is directly to life in Christ and growth in sanctification!

Romans 8:11, 14-15 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.... For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"