The Wills of God

  • 5 November 2018

Here's a great little summary of the different ways the Bible talks about the will of God by RC Sproul

When I’m asked about the will of God and I try to unravel this difficult subject, I usually start by reminding people that there are at least two different Greek words in the New Testament that are translated by the English word “will.” These words, thelema and boulema, have several nuances of meaning, so it’s not always immediately apparent by looking at a passage from the New Testament exactly what is meant by the will of God. However, there are three ways in which this concept is most commonly understood. 

The first is what we call the sovereign, efficacious will of God. When the Bible speaks of the will of God in this sense, it is describing the will that causes whatever He decrees to come to pass. When God willed the universe to be created and said, “Let there be light,” that expression of His sovereign will was instantly fulfilled; as Genesis says, “there was light.” God spoke and the lights came on. Likewise, when Christ commanded Lazarus to rise from the dead and come out of his tomb, that command was efficacious - Lazarus obeyed instantly and immediately. The sovereign, efficacious will of God is the will that brings to pass whatsoever He decrees. 

Second, the Bible speaks of the will of God with respect to what we call His preceptive will. The preceptive will has to do with His law and commandments, the precepts He issues to regulate the behavior of His creation. It is the will of God that you have no other gods before Him, that you honor your father and your mother, that you remember the Sabbath Day, and so forth. Please note that the preceptive will of God can be violated and is violated every day. Being sinners, we disobey the will of God. 

Third, the Bible speaks of the will of God in terms of His basic disposition or inclination. In this sense God’s will has to do with what is pleasing or displeasing to Him. 

Let me illustrate how a verse of Scripture can be interpreted differently if we apply these different nuances of meaning. The Bible says, “The Lord is . . . not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis added). If the text means that God does not will that any should perish in the sovereign, efficacious sense, then it must be the case that none perish. If it means that He does not will that any should perish in the preceptive sense, it simply means that God has stated that no one is to engage in the activity of perishing, and to do so is a sin. If it is referring to God’s disposition, it is simply saying that He is not pleased when someone perishes, that He does not enjoy the reality that not all are saved. Obviously, the first two understandings can be ruled out by teachings found elsewhere in Scripture, so that we may conclude that Peter is telling us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. 

Excerpt from The Prayer of the Lord