What is the will of God?
Yesterday we looked at the surprising weapon Christians are to arm themselves with: the attitude of Jesus, which was an attitude of following the will of God for his life no matter what. As we continue studying 1 Peter 4:1-6, Peter goes on to say in verse 2 that we Christians will no longer live for evil human desires, but rather we live for the will of God.
What is the will of God?
Here is what the will of God is not: Peter is not talking about some special plan that God has for our future.
Very simply, living for God’s will is doing what God says. Another great word for this is obedience. We followers of Jesus are committed to obeying God, and Peter says that means that we no longer obey evil human desires. What are evil human desires?
Another way to translate the words “evil human desires” is the word “lust.” The scholars tell us that the word Peter used means “to strongly desire to have what belongs to someone else, and/or to engage in an activity which is morally wrong.” (Louw & Nida)
When you put verses 1 and 2 together, Peter is saying that through the suffering he mentioned in verse 1, disciples of Jesus are no longer living for selfish human desires, but we are to live for the will of God, which means we obey his desire for our lives.
This the key to living as followers of Jesus: we live to obey the will of God! To obey God’s desires.
To understand this further, Peter uses the word “Flesh” multiple times in these few verses. In the NIV you see it as the word “body” and as “earthly life”. What Peter is talking about is that there are so many desires that our flesh has. But so far in verses 1-2 Peter has been saying that when we experience suffering in our flesh, it really puts things into perspective, and sinful desires pale in comparison. Thus followers of Jesus make it our focus to live according to God’s will and desires for us.
Let’s talk more about living for God’s will. It is such a foundational concept to Christianity.
But how to we follow God’s will? It can feel a bit forced. Peter is saying, “Do God’s will.” Or, “Just obey.” Is that all there is to it? Just obey. Can we just choose to obey? Is it that easy?
Maybe you have a personality where if God says it, then you are good to go with obeying it, period. No questions. You are okay with it. And you genuinely seek to obey.
But there are others of you who have a different personality or approach. You hear, “do God’s will,” and you know that it is a good thing, but you are wondering, why should we obey God? Or is that all there is to it? Is there a reason for it? Can’t God tell us more about this?
I would suggest that there is more. And that Peter knows there is more. And that Jesus taught that there is more. And this is what is more: obeying God’s will is intended to flow from a heart of love for God.
When we love someone, we are inclined to respect them, serve them, treat them well, help them. God doesn’t want us to obey him begrudgingly because he is the supreme power of the universe, and we are his creatures. As if God is some dictator. Or a master with slaves. God wants us to do his will out of love for him. He wants to be in a real loving relationship with us.
I wonder, do you love him?
Of course we would say “yes” to that. But perhaps we say, “Yes, I love God” too quickly, without examining our hearts and minds.
I use some phone apps to guide me in reading scripture and praying. One is from the Book of Common Prayer, and it has morning, evening and night prayer services that you can read through and pray. It includes plenty of Scripture and the Lord’s Prayer, other written prayers, spaces for silence and your own prayer requests as well. One of the written prayers that is in there every single day always gets me thinking:
“As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you, now and forever, amen.”
And then yesterday, another app I use had this prayer,
“Dear Lord, instill in my heart the desire to know and love you more.”
In a week when I was thinking about a passage that emphasizes obeying God, these two prayers hit me hard. Do I love God? Of course, I love God. But really, do I love God?
I thought of Peter, not long after Jesus was arrested and taken away. That evening, Peter is following from a distance, watching, fear rising in his heart, as they put Jesus on trial. Then Peter is spotted, and pointed out as one who had been with Jesus. Peter allows fear to overtake him, and he denies knowing Jesus, once, twice, three times. Vehemently Peter denies knowing Jesus.
Then the rooster crows, and Jesus looks out across the way, locking eyes with Peter. Peter, who had only hours before made bold claims about dying for Jesus, now has denied him. He flees the scene, weeping bitter tears. But a few days later, Jesus rises from the dead, and Peter is a changed man.
Jesus reinstates him, saying Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times, one for each denial. And each time Peter says “I love you.”
This is a different Peter now. Having acted out of fear instead of love, Peter is now set on a trajectory of loving Jesus that will carry on for the rest of his life.
Jesus transformed his life. Jesus wants to do the same in your life. He wants to restore a loving relationship between you and him. He is not a taskmaster forcing you to do his will. Instead, he wants you to know, out of mutual love for one another, that loving him leads to obeying him which is the best possible way to live.