This is from our church’s recent January newsletter, but I’ve been asked to make it public by posting it here.
In his Seventh Homily on 1st John, the early church father Augustine of Hippo gives this pastoral advice, “Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt.” As a college student, I attended a summer conference for Reformed University Fellowship, and one of the campus ministers adapted this quote to answer the question, “How can I know if I’m doing God’s will for my life?” He answered, “Love God and do what you please.” The answer is shocking at first. It sounds like a way to avoid responsibility and a license to sin. Anything I please?
The key to understanding St. Augustine, as well as my conference speaker, is found in the order of the words. It can even be brought out with the addition of a comma: Love God, and do what you please. As long as the first command is truly followed, the second will follow after God’s will. St. Augustine expands upon it like this:
See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.
He points out that charitable people can at times be “fierce” and evil people at times appear “gentle.” The deciding factor between the outward actions and demeanors is always the inward component of love. The larger context of Augustine’s sermon makes it clear that this “love” is love for God. Once that’s taken care of, the rest follows naturally.
And my RUF Summer Conference speaker was correct to use this rule to answer the perennial question of “What is God’s will for my life?” God has shown us His will: to do justly, to love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). These are not specific positive injunctions, but rather principles of charity which we are expected to make use of in our everday life.
Too often people speak of “God’s will” as if there is some quasi-secret plan, glimpses of which are occasionally revealed to the super-pious. But there is no partially secret will of God. There is a secret divine will to be sure, but it governs everything all the time (Matt. 6:10; John 1:13; Eph. 1:11). The secret things, we are told, “belong to the LORD our God” (Deut. 29:29), “but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Therefore, we might add the words of the apostle Paul, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down) or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But… ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim’” (Rom. 10:6-8). In other words, you know the gospel, now go out and do it.
In fact, all throughout the Bible we are told to go out and do God’s will. It is something that can be commanded to us without a following list of positive details. Any work of charity that we do, if it is truly fueled by our love for God, will be His will for our life.
In order to do God’s will, the Christian need not look for some special revelation of the details, nor should he wait for an extra inward signal from God. Instead, he is to get to work, making use of love. Once again, this is the goal for all Christians, and it should serve as a road sign for the way in which we raise our children. In order to rightly “do as you please,” you must have previously ingrained holy habits and desires. You aren’t clueless as how to do God’s will because you’ve been trained in the ways of righteousness (God’s moral law found throughout the Bible) all along the way. You don’t need a specific list because your impulses and appetites are in tune with the Spirit as He has been revealed throughout the pages of the Scriptures.
Think of it another way. You’ve learned the dance, and now your feet are doing the moves while your eyes look out at your partner. You can have a conversation and even decide to make split-second changes in direction. This is how our response to God’s will ought to work.