In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-12)
In old English, people expressed an action in the future tense by using the word “shall” — as in “It shall rain tomorrow.” The wording indicated an unaccomplished action, or the certainty of something that had yet to happen. People in those days, however, expressed their future desire by using the word “will” — as in “someday, I will become the master of my destiny” (meaning, I want or wish to do so).
Ironically, over the years it became so common to express one’s future intentions in this way that in modern English, the word “will” has all but replaced the word “shall” as the way we express the future tense. People say “I will do this…” or “This will happen…” to indicate things yet to occur.
In a subtle and selfish conceit, we have come to use an expression of our human desire as a way of speaking about the certainty of our future. This tells us a lot about the power and priority we like to ascribe to our individual human will.
But Scripture does not do this. When Scripture speaks of what shapes our future and destiny, it does not give that credit to the human will, but rather to the will of God.
For example, when John describes those who have received Christ and are born again in faith, he says they, “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but the will of God” (John 1:13). This is strikingly different from the way many Christians talk about “receiving Christ” as an act of their own human will. According to Scripture, to be saved by grace through faith is an act of God’s will. As Scripture says, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
It is with this understanding of faith that Jesus taught us to pray to the Father: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We are not asking to get our own way, but rather that God would have his way with us. We are not praying that our own wishes and desires should determine our destiny, but that God and his will would rule our destiny just as he rules in heaven. Faith is not an act of the human will; it is the surrendering of our will to God’s. To be a disciple is not to set our own destination, but to simply follow to the destination where our Lord leads us.
This is why the Apostle Paul was able to rejoice when he said:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Paul gives thanks for a decision God made – an act that God accomplished in Christ – when he determined to make us his people. Paul gives praise that God’s will has been done for us in Jesus Christ, just as we were chosen in heaven before the foundation of the world.
It may seem quaint to us now, but there was a time when people spoke of what they hoped to do in the future, they would add the phrase “God willing” — to indicate who was really in charge. Such an expression was one that came from faith, acknowledging that the will of God is sovereign, not our own.
It is because I trust that God’s will be done that I pray he keeps each and every one of us in faith and that, God willing, all people would come to know the power and promise of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
— Pastor Steven E. King