"And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32

Discerning the will of God

By Tinaye Muzanya


The journey to writing this series of articles on discerning the will of God, has been long and fruitful. The “How do l discern the will of God?” question, is a question that l believe every Christian asks. Whenever my friends asked this question, it was mainly with things in the bible that are not clear. Such as who to marry or what vocation to choose. At first glance, one my think the answer to this question is simple, but it’s not. Questions are easy to ask, but answers tend to be lengthy and sometimes take time to come by. I pray as you read this article it may help you, the reader to find answers on how to discern God’s will for your life. 

Most popular views

In Goosen and Peppler’s article on “Perceiving Gods Voice” they highlight the three major views that are held. These are the traditional or specific will view, Wisdom view and relationship view. 

With regards to the traditional or specific will view, “the understanding is that God has a specific will for each individual, that his will can be discovered, and that it is the responsibility of the believer to seek and obey it” (Goosen and Peppler, 4). People who are in favour of this view often believe they can discern the will of God through an inner voice, or looking carefully through their circumstance, or feeling peace or receiving a word of prophecy. 
Those who take this view look at how some of the biblical characters like Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3), Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:1-4), Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6:34-36) were led by God. They also believe God has a specific plan for our lives and it is up to us to find that plan. This is supported by Jeremiah who God set apart to be a prophet before he was born. Also, in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
The problem with this world view is that there is no concrete scriptural support to help us distinguish between the voices that we may hear. This view struggles with being subjective so “if the source of our knowledge is subjective, our conclusions will be subjective and uncertain” (Huffman 2009:115). Secondly, this thinking is against the wisdom view or discerning Gods will through a renewed mind. “When we are motivated to pray harder, meditate more, follow impressions and look for signs in an attempt to divine God’s will, we are in error. These activities bear an unsettling resemblance to the ways in which pagans seek divine guidance” (Goosen and Peppler, 5).      

wisdom view can be summarised as follows,

1. Where God commands, we must obey. 

2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose. 

3. Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose. 

4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good. (Goosen and Peppler, 7)

“The believer should not be burdened by a preoccupation to discern the will of God in every decision, but should rather strive to develop a moral skill to understand and apply the commandments of God to situations and people” (Petty 1999:144). Scriptures to support this view are 2 Timothy 3:16 – 17 which says, ”All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,(vs17) that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Also in Rom 12:1-2 highlights that through the renewing our mind we will be able to discern “the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The major objections to the wisdom view is that it places too much emphasis on reasoning. The wisdom view doesn’t take into account that our reasoning is limited because of sin. In the words of Paul, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”(Romans 11:34). Also, the wisdom view has been criticised of taking away the intimate relationship we have with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us. The perspective fails by not encouraging “a radical openness to the Spirit, an eagerness to know Christ intimately and to respond with joy to the inner witness of the Spirit” (Goosen and Peppler, 10).
The relationship view takes the positives of both the Traditional view and the wisdom, with a few additions.

1. The relationship view removes the idea of obtaining a formula to discern God’s will and focuses on placing our confidence in Christ.

2. Through our communion with God we give opportunity for us to speak to God and for Him to speak to us.

3. Your ability to discern is dependent on how deep your relationship with Christ is. It’s just like when you spend more time with a friend you learn what they like and dislike. When we pray and study our bible we spend time with God. By so doing we learn more about what pleases God.   

4. God’s communication with each individual seems to be unique to that person. For example, the way he approached Paul (Acts 9:3-6) was not the same as the way he approached Ananias (Acts 9:10-12).

5. Relationship is a two-way street. How much we know about someone is dependent on how much the other person is willing to reveal about himself. Knowing more of God is an act of grace by God to reveal himself to us, just like when He chose to reveal His mystery of Redemption to us through Christ (Eph 1:9-10).

6. Lastly, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Larger Catechism). Jesus says that eternal life is to know Him and the one and only true God (John 17:3).


We have looked at the different world views that are there, so the next article will give principles that we can apply to discern God’s will.  These principles will be drawn from the world views that l discussed above.  


Goosen, H and Peppler, C. 2015, Perceiving God’s Voice: Divine Guidance for Everyday Believers, sats.edu, viewed 1 December 2016, from http://www.sats.edu.za/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Goosen-and-Peppler-Perceiving-God%E2%80%99s-Voice.pdf

Huffman, D. S, 2009,How then should we choose: three views on God’s will and decision making, Grand Rapids: Kregel.

Petty, J. C, 1999. Step by step: divine guidance for ordinary Christians, Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, New Jersey.