The Jerusalem Church gathered to pray upon the occasion of Peter and John’s release from prison and subsequent trial (Acts 4:23-31) acknowledging that our Creator God is sovereign — in other words, God is supreme and has absolute power. They noted that even in the unthinkable tragedy of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion God was sovereignly at work to accomplish his eternal purpose.
I’m often asked by people about God’s sovereignty and his will, especially in the way that it intersects with their life. I find it helpful to note that the Bible speaks of God’s will in at least two primary ways — God’s perfect (purposeful) will andGod’s permissive will. Here’s what these two mean and how they relate to each other.
God’s perfect will is seen in Romans 12:2 — “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may prove what the will of God is that which is good, well-pleasing, and perfect.” Paul is challenging us to submit our whole beings to the on-going, life-changing process of being completely conformed to God’s will in all its fullness. This is, of course, God’s purpose and intention in salvation so this is sometimes called God’s purposeful will.
God’s permissive will is seen in Romans 8:28-29 — “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Paul is encouraging us to cooperate with God’s work in our lives during life’s difficult circumstances — in this instance, suffering. Even in the bad things that happen — what God permits even though it is bad — God works to accomplish his purpose and intention in salvation…his perfect will — namely, to make us more like Jesus Christ.
God’s purpose of salvation — his perfect will — is being and will be accomplished. What God allows — his permissive will— is a servant of his perfect will. God is sovereignly at work in and through all things to accomplish his purpose in our lives and in his world.
As Paul reminds us, we are to present ourselves to God and surrender ourselves to the work of his Spirit so that we might become more like Jesus Christ. That is his good, well-pleasing, and perfect will that is being accomplished through all things.