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Andy Bustanoby
(C) 2007

If you are a born-again Christian, one of the most difficult problems in
your life is knowing God's will and doing it.  At first glance it may
seem that being perfectly conformed to God's will must be the greatest
joy of the believer.  But the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the
Philippians, cautions us about a na´ve view of God's will.  He says:

   Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my
   presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your
   salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to
   will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. 2: 12-13 NIV).

In order to understand this, we need some historical background.  Paul
is writing this letter from Rome where he is under house arrest.  Acts
28 tells the story.  Paul was charged with blasphemy by the Jews and
deserving of death because he claimed that Jesus was the Messiah of
prophecy and was God in the flesh come to die for our sins.  But because
Paul was a Roman citizen, he appealed to Caesar to settle this charge,
and this is why he's in Rome.

While under house arrest he received visitors and was able to write
letters.  One of his visitors was Epaphroditus, sent by the Philippians
with a gift to help him with his needs while he awaited trial. 
Evidently, Epaphroditus told Paul that there were some problems in the
Philippian church with self-aggrandizement, complaining and arguing, and
lack of unity.  They were obviously having a problem finding and doing
God's will.

Evidently, while Paul was in Philippi they behaved quite well.  But now
that he was gone, things had begun to unravel.

By the way, we have this image of the New Testament churches as
wonderfully spiritual.  We think, Isn't it too bad that our churches
today can't be like them?

Listen, these New Testament churches had problems.  Read Ephesians 5.
They were troubled with sexual immorality, greed, obscenity and coarse
joking.  In Corinth, there was a lack of unity and factionalism in the
church.  They also had problems with sexual immorality.  One man was
guilty of relations with his father's wife.

In what we call chapter two of this letter to the Philippians, Paul
addresses the problem of their bad spirit and arguing.  The Philippians
obviously didn't know the will of God for the church or they wouldn't be

Paul uses Christ as an example of obedience.  Though He was God, He took
upon Himself humanity, and as the sacrifice for our sins, He was
obedient to death.

It's important that we understand the context in which Paul writes about
Christ.  The Philippians are reminded that they are to be obedient to
God come what may--as Christ was obedient to death!

Before He came to earth He knew it was the will of the Father for Him to
die for our sins.  In spite of the horror that faced Him, Christ was
obedient to the will of the Father.

Paul now calls the Philippians to the same kind of self-sacrificing
obedience.  He says,

   Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my
   presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your
   salvation with fear and trembling ... (Phil. 2:12 NIV).

When he says "therefore," he connects what Christ has done with what the
Philippians need to do--be obedient to the will of God come what may!

Now that Paul was not there to teach and guide them, they were failing
to continue to work out their salvation.

Don't think, however, that working out your salvation means that you are
saved from sin by good works.  Paul says to the Ephesians, 

   For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is
   not of yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one
   can boast.  For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to
   do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph.
   2:8-10 NIV).

When you put your faith in Jesus Christ to save you, believing that His
blood atones for your sin, you are saved.  Therefore, working out our
salvation has to do with our behavior after we are saved.  Now that we
are saved, we want to see that new life expressed in a way that finds
and does God's will.

This is the tough part--finding and doing God's will.  Paul says,

   ... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for
   it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good
   purpose (Phil. 2:12-13 NIV).

I want to say two things about this statement.

First, don't think that after you're saved by grace through faith you
now have to muster your own power to live for Christ.  Just as you are
saved by faith you also are sanctified or made holy by your position in
Christ.  Living for Christ comes by believing that we are holy in Christ
and that by faith the Holy Spirit makes this holiness alive in us.

Second, understand what working out your salvation with fear and
trembling means.  "Fear" doesn't mean that we should be afraid of God.
The word carries the idea of reverential awe.  And the awe should be so
great that we tremble at the thought of what God might move us to do!

This meaning is supported by the fact that Paul has said, You have always
obeyed in my presence, but now, there is a much greater call to
obedience because in my absence you will see that this business of
living the Christian life is the result of God working in you.

You see, when you have a great teacher like Paul showing you how to live
for God and inspiring you to do it, it's easy to think that Paul is the
reason for the success of the church.  But Paul is saying that God was
the reason for success, not Paul.  But now that Paul is absent, the
people are on their own to discover and do God's will.  But wow!  What a
warning.  You better sober up and approach this with a sense of awe and
trembling.  God still is at work!

The grammar of the Greek text is so revealing here.  In the original,
the word God is in the emphatic position.  Paul is saying, "I'm no
longer around to lead you into God's truth.  God Himself is dealing
directly with you.

The third thing the Greek teaches us is that the word "God" is not only
in the emphatic position but the grammar speaks of God's power.*  Paul
is saying, You better be awed and tremble, because it is divine power
working in you to desire His will and understand how to do it.

Now you may say, Why should we tremble at that?  Isn't this exactly what
we want--to know and do God's will?

In the night before His crucifixion, Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane,
agonized all night without sleep as He faced His crucifixion.  Even
Jesus experienced fear and trembling as He faced God's will for Him.

God will not ask you to die for the human race on the cross to purchase
our salvation.  Jesus has already done it.  The work is finished.

But have you told God that you are willing to do anything else He wants
you to do?

The Lord may not have some terrible, grueling assignment for you.  But
what he wants is a willingness to do anything He wants.

I can see it now.  The Lord puts a contract before you and asks you to
sign it.  You say,

   Lord read me the contract.

He says,

   There's nothing on it.  It's a blank contract.  At the top it says,
   "Contract With God."  At the bottom, there's a place for your
   signature.  But there's nothing else on the contract.

   Whoa!  There's nothing on this contract?

   That's right; I'll fill it in later.

   But Lord, what's the job?

   I'll fill it in later.

   But what does it pay?

   I'll fill it in later.

I know you would not sign a contract like this with an earthly employer.
But are you willing to be what Paul says in Romans 12:1--a "living

   I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God, that you present your
   bodies a living sacrifice ...."

This is the first step in knowing and doing God's will!

If you are really sincere about wanting to do whatever God wants, then
you better be ready for some extraordinary things to happen in your life.
God may ask you to do the unexpected.

Do you remember the story of the disciples out on the sea of Galilee at
night in a storm?  Jesus came to them walking on the water, and when
Peter saw it was Jesus, he said, Lord, if it's you, tell me to come to
you on the water.  And Jesus told him to come.

Peter started out on the water to Jesus, but when he saw the waves
tossing all around him, he was terrified and began to sink.  Jesus
grabbed him and took him back to the boat.

You would think that Peter was quite a guy to actually walk on the water,
though he got scared.  You'd think that Jesus would have commended him
for his great faith even to try.  But Jesus rebukes him:  You of little
faith; why did you doubt?

Are you serious enough about finding and doing the will of God that
you're ready to walk on water?  If all the power of God is at work, then
why not?

Now I don't want to lead you into some unbiblical thinking about God's
will in your life.  In the charismatic movement today believers are
operating on the sheer emotion of what God can do in our lives when we
are completely surrendered to His will.  And they often go off on some
emotional trips that are not of God.

We are not left to our emotions to decide what God's will is.  There is
a strong objective element in discerning His will.

God has revealed to us a great deal of His will from two important
sources--biblical revelation and natural revelation.  If you think that
God is leading you in a certain direction, does that plan agree with
what the Bible teaches?

You may not have a particular chapter and verse to justify the plan.
But does it agree in principle with what the Bible teaches.

For example, any plan that has the slightest tinge of dishonesty or
deception can't be of God.  I know of a former United States Senator, a
Christian, who refused to run again for the Senate because he was sick
of the wheeling and dealing that expected him to give up his spiritual
convictions for a vote.

The other source you need to check for guidance on God's will is what is
called natural revelation.  This is God's revelation of Himself and His
work in nature.  Psalm 19 is eloquent on this.  The Book of Proverbs is
full of admonitions that one might call "smart living" that are based on
our observing how God works in creation.

Occasionally, you'll hear statistics about how religious people have a
longer life span than irreligious people.  It's true.  But it's not
religion that does it.  It's that they are open to what the Bible and
creation say about healthful, smart living.  They have an objective view
of the will of God through what they see in scripture and nature.

My point is this:  Be careful in your passion to do God's will-yes, even
walking on water--that you don't go off on an emotional tangent.  The
big problem I have with the charismatic movement is that it fails to
follow the teaching of the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians.  He told
them that miraculous spiritual gifts have a lower priority than teaching
gifts and those gifts that build our understanding of God's Word.

Perhaps someone will ask if I believe in miraculous healing.  Yes I do.
But it better be pursued according to the biblical pattern.

In 1967 my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer.  When the doctors did
a biopsy, they discovered that the cancer had spread so far that it was
inoperable--and incurable.  As her pastor, I broke the news to her.  Her
response was a startled, "Oh."

Then I said, "We both believe that God can heal.  But we're told that it
is up to the sick believer to call the elders of the church to pray for
healing.  So I want you to take this matter to God, and talk with Him
about it.  I'll come back tomorrow and see what the answer is."

The next day I went back.  I asked her, "Did you talk with the Lord
about this?"

"Yes," she said.

I asked, "What did He say?"

She paused, looked out the window and then back at me and smiled.  "He
wants to take me home."

Mother died shortly thereafter.

When Paul says that God works in us to do what He wants, this is what
he's talking about.  When we want His will in our lives more than
anything else, it's no surprise that we  can hear the inner voice of God
the Holy Spirit saying, No.  Healing is not for you.  I want to take you

Hearing the Divine yes or no may sound terribly subjective to you, so
let me give you some safeguards in sorting things out.

First, God speaks through scripture.  You must know your Bible.  Second,
how well do you know your personality and how it tends to get in the way
by not waiting on God and fixing things yourself.  Then there's the
opposite personality that does nothing because of the fear of getting

I am a very driving and driven person.  If there is a problem, whether
it's mine or belongs to someone else, I want to jump on it and solve it.
I've been saved and walking with the Lord since 1948.  I have learned
that the biggest danger to my spiritual life is running ahead of the
Lord.  My timing is usually wrong--I want to solve it right now!  Or it
may be that He wants me to leave it alone because He has another way He
wants to deal with it.

Knowing this, whenever I am tempted to tackle a problem and solve it, I
stop and say, Okay Lord.  You know what I'm thinking and feeling.  I
want to jump on this right now.  But I'm not going to trust my driven
instinct.  If you want me to do this, you'll have to give me some other
indication that you want me to act.  And I will wait!

I have found by waiting, if God wants me to intervene, He may involve me
by having someone else ask for me to step in.  Another way he checks my
driving personality is by resolving the problem with no intervention at
all by anyone, or by someone else showing up to take care of it.  You
see, I am cautious about confusing my inner voice with God's voice.

Some of you have the opposite personality.  You would just as soon not
get involved, and you don't want anyone to notice you.  This means you
need to handle the problem differently than I do.

Let's say that a problem surfaces.  Your immediate reaction is going to
be, Don't get involved.

You need to pray this prayer:  Lord, this is a major problem in my life.
I don't get involved when I should.  Push me to get involved if this is
what you want.

You can be sure that God will make you want to do what you normally
don't want to do.  He can change the circumstances.  He can change your
feeling of timidity.

If you know how your personality tends to act, don't be quick to do what
you would normally do when pushed or hindered by your personality.  Give
God an opportunity to work circumstances in such a way that it is clear
what He wants you to do.  Don't be surprised if it's contrary to the way
your personality normally works.

Again and again, both in the Book of Proverbs and in the Epistle of
James, we are told that we may make our plans, but the working out of
those plans are in God's hands.  James tells us not to say, "Today or
tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on
business and make money ..." (Jas. 5:13 NIV).  Say rather, If the Lord
wills that we do this.

Let's go back to the text, now, and be more specific about the process
of knowing God's will and doing it.

   For it is God who works in you to will and to act
   According to his good purpose (Phil 2:13 NIV).

The words "to act" are a translation of the Greek word "energia".  We
get our English word "energy" from this.  God not only gives us the
desire to do His will, "the want to."  He also gives us the energy to do
it.  He energizes us to action.

God is the power-source, but we are still the tool He uses.  But
remember, power tools don't work unless they're plugged into the power

This is important because some believers have popularized the statement,
"Let go, and let God."  We cannot remove human responsibility to respond
to God's call.

We are commanded in The Great Commission to carry to Gospel to the whole
world.  And the Lord promises to be with us, doubtless, making us desire
to do His will and giving us the energy to do it.

Though I'm not going to get into Philippians 2:14, we can understand 
from this why Paul says, "Do everything without complaining or
arguing...."  I like the King James Version better:  "Do all things
without murmurings and disputings."  The word "disputing" is the Greek
word "dialogo", from which we get our word "dialogue," where two people
face off and argue with each other.  Remember, lack of unity was one of
the big problems at Philippi.

I can hear one of the Philippians say to another, "I just don't agree
with you.  I want to have a dialogue with you about this."

And then, some Christians aren't outspoken.  They just murmur.  They
don't open their mouth and "dialogue."  They just keep their mouth shut
and under their breath go, Mum, mum, mumble.

Listen.  There is to be no dialogue; there is to be no church-wide
business meeting in Philippi to talk about their differences.  If
they're all doing God will, then they all ought to be on the same page!
If they're all doing God's will, then they all ought to be very positive
about what's going on and show it in church-wide unity.

It reminds me of the story of the believer in the early Christian church
who became fascinated with the ascetic life-style of the monks.  He
decided that it was God's will for him to become a monk.  He joined a
monastic order that took a vow of silence.  The rule was that they could
speak only two words a year, and that was when they had an audience with
the abbot of the monastery at the end of the year.

At the end of the first year the monk appeared before the abbot who
nodded, the signal for the monk to speak.  The monk said, "Bed hard."
The abbot nodded, and the monk went back to his silence for another year.
The second year the monk came back and said, "Room cold."  The abbot
nodded, and the monk went back to his silence.  The third year the monk
said, "Food terrible."  The abbot nodded, and the monk went back to his
silence.  The fourth year the monk appeared before the abbot, and when
the abbot nodded, he said, "I quit."  The abbot said, "I'm not surprised,
brother.  All you have done for the past four years is complain."

The abbot was right, you know.  After all, if the monk had truly
discerned God's will for his life to be a monk, there would be no
complaining, even though it was eight words in four years!

This is why Paul tells the Philippians that there are to be no
disputings or murmurings.

Are you prone to murmuring or disputing?  Does this describe your
marriage?  Does this describe your behavior at work?  Does this describe
your behavior in your church, with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
If it does, then perhaps you are the one who doesn't know the will of
God and how to do it.

So then, what is the answer to knowing and doing the will of God?  First
and foremost we must be willing to do whatever God wants us to do.  He
doesn't offer us a plan for our approval.  You will not know God's will
unless you are willing to do anything He wants.

I've been a Christian long enough to tell you that there's a great
adventure ahead when you sell out and say, God I want Your will in my
life more than anything else.

Yes, it is an exciting adventure.  You may even find yourself invited to
walk on water!


* The absence of the article in Greek before God indicates His power,
not His Person. 

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