Discerning the Lord's Will

January 21, 2014

“Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).


This has long been one of my favourite verses and the desire of my heart. I want to know how to live my life so that I please the Lord Jesus!


Darkness characterized our existence before we knew Christ; therefore, we once engaged gladly in that which manifests evil hearts — sexual immorality, covetousness, deceptiveness, and all other forms of impurity (Eph. 5:3–8a). Now that we have trusted Jesus, however, we are light in the Lord and must walk in a way consistent with light — in goodness, righteousness, and truth (vv. 8b–9). As R. C. Sproul points out, “There is an even simpler way to summarize what it means to walk in the light, however. As the apostle Paul tells us…, those who are in the light of Christ ‘try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.’”


Scripture often emphasizes our need to please God in all circumstances. The psalmist hoped that his prayer would please the Creator (Ps. 104:34). Paul and his ministry partners aimed to please the Lord (2 Cor. 5:9). Christians who support the work of the gospel present a “fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable to God” (Phil. 4:18). This desire to please God is a mark or an indicator of true conversion, and the Bible finds it inconceivable that any true believer in Jesus would lack a desire to please the Lord.


Some people might consider an emphasis on our need to do what pleases God incompatible with the gospel of justification by faith alone. “If we work hard to please the Lord, isn’t that like trying to earn your salvation?” Indeed, a stress on pleasing the Lord would be improper if we were to believe that we must please God before He will save us. Our best deeds fall far short of our Creator’s perfect standards (Isa. 64:6), so pleasing Him is not our ticket to heaven. But it is not inconsistent to seek to please the Lord following salvation. In fact, a desire to please God is the necessary and expected consequence of the new birth. We see this in the very structure of Ephesians: first, Paul describes salvation by grace and prays that we would understand this doctrine (Eph. 1–3), then he describes how we are to lead a life pleasing to God in light of this redemption (Eph. 4–6).


So, how do we discern what pleases the Lord? Dr. R.C. Sproul answers, “There is no way of learning more accurately or more quickly about what is pleasing to God, than studying the (Word) of God” (The Purpose of God: Ephesians, p. 125).


Soaking ourselves in Scripture reinforces our understanding of the light in which we must walk, transforming our minds that we might do what pleases God. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2).


Studying the Word of God does not consist merely in coming to an intellectual knowledge of its contents. It also requires us to put what we are reading into practice. As we practice the truth, we become more aware of how this truth is to be applied in difficult circumstances. Dr. John MacArthur writes, “As believers walk in the light of the truth, the knowledge of the Lord’s will becomes clear” (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1699).

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