Ep. 272 How To Navigate God’s Decreed, Moral, and Messy Wills

Ep. 272 How To Navigate God's Decreed Will, Moral Will, and Messy Will

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Shows Main Idea – All of us have transgressed God’s moral law. For different reasons, some of these folks live in the victimhood of the sinful choices they made. They are unable to understand how God can use their sin sinlessly. In essence, they see what they did as more controlling, powerful, and narrative-influencing than God’s ability to transcend or circumvent their sinful actions. It’s a confusion and conflation of God’s decreed will with His moral will. Biff was one of these people.

Life Over Coffee · Ep. 272 How to Navigate God’s Decreed Will, Moral Will, and Messy Will

Show Notes

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Honoring the Complexity

God’s decreed will is one way to talk about His omniscience and sovereignty, but there is more to say about His decreed will. I’m choosing to use the term decreed will to juxtapose it against God’s moral will to show the interplay between sovereignty, omniscience, and human responsibility. There is much more to discuss regarding the idea of God’s decreed will. It’s a complex subject that needs deeper theological discussion.

For this podcast, I’m merely making a point that God knows all things and He sees all things to the end, according to His divine purposes. God knows all things, and we cannot overthrow His sovereign and mysterious plans. Then there is the Lord’s moral will: how we should live our lives. When you conflate and confuse God’s sovereign will with how you respond to His law, you will live in what I’m calling the “messy will of God.”

Biff did this. He transgressed God’s moral law and does not believe that God can use his mistakes redemptively, or that it was part of His grander purposes. For this podcast, I want you to think about His sovereignty and our actions while recognizing we’re dipping our toes into the deeper mysteries of God.

The Case Study

  • As a child, Bill was under the tutelage of a domineering, authoritative dad, who never made a mistake but was quick to blame Biff for everything that went wrong.
  • Biff was a good student, in the sense that when things went wrong, he began to believe the lie that he was always at fault.
  • This perspective became his worldview—how he viewed life.
  • As an adult, God regenerated Biff. His life changed dramatically, but there was this overbearing presupposition that did not convert to his Christianity. He brought his former manner of life into his salvation experience (Ephesians 4:22).
  • When things went wrong, he could not distinguish between actual guilt and false guilt.
  • True guilt is when you’re at fault for the transgression.
  • False guilt is when you blame yourself for what went wrong, whether you are wrong or not.

Decreed Will of God

The decreed will of God is one way to talk about Him knowing all things in eternity past. God is not a learner but the originator and source of all knowledge. For God to learn something, He would cease to be God. The Lord knows everything (omniscient), is everywhere (omnipresence), and has all power (omnipotent). You cannot add any knowledge, space, or ability to who He is.

Thus, God can look into the future and script a plan to bring His grander purposes to pass. He lives outside of time, above time, looking down on time, seeing the beginning from the end. He is the primary causal agent, the author of the story. Within these dramas that we call life is a story line of good and evil.

And like any good writer, there is the protagonist and antagonist. Both are capable of doing good and evil. The author has given us a book that tells us what is true and false, right and wrong, and good and evil. These truths are His moral will. The protagonist and antagonist interact with God’s moral will—doing both good and evil.

Messy Will of God

It is not possible to function outside of what God predetermines. It would be like a character jumping from the book’s pages that the author has written and saying he’s not going to be part of the story any longer. Though we are actors and actresses in God’s story, we’re not robots. We make choices every day. Biff has made a wrong choice and does not see how God would know this in eternity past and could bring a redemptive story out of it.

Because of his long-standing, life-dominating shaping influence of penalizing himself for his sins, he cannot see anything positive coming from his wrong choices. “How could God know that I would sin, and I choose to sin, and He turns that sin event into a positive experience?” This scenario is what I call God’s messy will—the conflation of His sovereignty and our freedom to make choices.

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Clarifying Wills

God knew that bad stuff would happen, and He knew how to keep His plans moving forward despite our fallen choices. The most critical key is to make sure that you not only separate God’s eternal purposes from His moral will, but you prioritize one over the other. You could think of it as God’s sovereign will as being above all things, and His moral will as operating “under and inside” His decreed will.

There is an implication of parallelism here. The upper parallel is His sovereignty, and the lower parallel is the things we do, whether they are right or wrong. Biff believes that the Lord is sovereign, but when he thinks about his sins, he cannot bring himself to believe that the Lord can use his immorality for a greater good.

Good and Bad Consequences

Biff talks about the penalty for doing wrong. He doesn’t see the redemptive purposes of bad choices. He uses David as an illustration. From a consequential perspective, David’s sin does show how bad things happen when a person sows to the flesh. Do you see why Biff thinks this way?

His dad trained him to blame himself when things go wrong. To think that God could decree it and a positive result would be the outcome is  mind-blowing for Biff. Could his daddy be wrong? If you only see negative consequences for wrong actions, you will paralyze yourself from ever getting off the mat to do the right thing. Here is a diagnosis of Biff’s thought process.

  1. Biff sins.
  2. Biff’s life-dominating shaping presupposition kicks in.
  3. Biff blames himself, whether it’s accurate or not.
  4. Biff, like Eeyore, wallows in his mistake.
  5. Biff constructs reasons for not moving forward.

Using Sin Sinlessly

There is a powerful, positive illustration of God using sin sinlessly—the cross of Christ. Because of some bad decisions of a few folks at the crucifixion, Christ died on the cross. I see this like Biff in that it’s negative, but I also see a redemptive purpose.

  • Negative Consequence – For those sinful men, it probably did not turn out too well. They reaped their wicked sowing.
  • Positive Consequence – For Christians, it was the only way to heaven. We reaped their wicked sowing.

There were negative and positive results of their sin. God decreed that bad stuff would happen, and He used sinful men to accomplish His purposes. This verse shows God’s decreed will and how He used wicked men to achieve His objectives.

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23).

  • Those who killed Christ were outside God’s moral will—no doubt. They made a huge mistake.
  • God also decreed in eternity past that His Son would die (Isaiah 53:10).

I would be a fool to think I could satisfactorily explain all of this to anyone, but I do understand it as much as my fallen, finite mind permits me to do so. Faith in the goodness of God is what fills my finite gaps of understanding, which is how all of us process everything.

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Outside One, Inside the Other

What about Biff? Let’s say he did sin. He was outside of God’s moral will. I have been here many times. You can be outside of God’s moral will but not outside God’s divine plans. It’s possible to be outside of His moral will but inside His predetermined will. Thus, the Lord is working His plan in Biff’s life, even though Biff is stumbling through life imperfectly.

One more thing!

Perhaps a man at the crucifixion was part of Christ’s death and later repented of his acts. I would counsel him the way I would counsel Biff: stop looking in the rearview mirror about breaking God’s moral law—sinning against the Savior, and recognize that the Lord is working His plan through your mistakes.

Call to Action

  1. Perhaps you have sinned, and you find yourself in unenviable circumstances. Do you live in self-punishment because of your mistakes, or are you going to recognize that your sin did not surprise God? He is working His plans into your life. If you struggle with these things, will you talk to someone about it?
  2. Is there a life-dominating presupposition that skews how you interpret God and your relationship with Him? What do you need to do to change your bad view of God into a God-centered perspective?
  3. Describe a situation, whether from the Bible or your life experience, where the Lord took a sin event and turned it into redemptive purposes. Start with Genesis 50:20.

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