The different wills of God
The Bible speaks of the “will of God” in several different ways. Below, I share with you some of the ways I learned from pastor Bob Deffinbaugh
1. The predestined / sovereign / decreed will of God. This is the eternal, predestined, foreordained plan and purpose of God. It cannot be changed or thwarted. This includes
– Salvation (Ephesians 1:3-6, etc.)
– His choice and calling of Israel (Romans 11:1-2, 29).
– God’s covenant promises in the Bible.
2. The preceptive or command will of God. This includes the commandments or precepts found in the Bible. E.g. the 10 commandments are God’s will, but we can break them – with consequences. There are many other commandments or passages in the Bible in which God commands us to live a certain way, to do a certain thing or not to do a certain thing.
3. The preferential or desiderative will of God; also called God’s will of disposition. This will describes God’s attitude or disposition towards something. It tells us what is pleasing to Him–what gives God pleasure, and what does not. We know that God loves to show mercy, and yet He will execute judgment (Exodus 34:6-7). It is on this basis that Moses appeals to God to forgive Israel, not only here, but many times (see Numbers 14:17-19). Not only Moses, but others prayed that God would show mercy (Nehemiah 9; Daniel 9). God takes pleasure in the salvation of sinners; He does not take pleasure in pouring out His eternal wrath on sinners (Matthew 18:14; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11). When we come to things which are not clearly prescribed as sin, or things which are commanded, our desire should be to do that which pleases God (Romans 12:1; Colossians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Ephesians 5:10).
4. The directive will of God. This refers to the Holy Spirit’s persona and direct guidance in our lives. He speaks to our hearts or through a dream, vision, or other means. It does not violate any of the “wills” above. There are times when God wants us at a certain place, doing a certain thing. This will agree with the scriptures. However, you don’t get the directive will by following the direct instructions of the scriptures. The “Macedonian call” (Acts 16:6-10), the direct guidance of Philip (Acts 8:26) and of Peter and Ananias (Acts 10:1-23) are examples of the directive will of God. Note that even though it is undeniable that God guides us personally and directly, this is not the most common way that God uses. An example is 1 Timothy 4:14.
5. The discerned will of God. This is guidance through the application of directions (principles) in the Bible to situations that have no clear directives in the written word. John Piper writes, “Most of the decisions we make are not spelled out specifically in the Bible. Discernment is how we follow God’s leading through the process of spiritually sensitive application of biblical truth to the particularities of our situation. Romans 12:2 describes this: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” In this case God does not declare a specific word about what to do. But his Spirit shapes the mind and heart through the word and prayer so that we have inclinations toward what would be most glorifying to him and helpful to others.” The decision of who to marry, what city to live, what career to pursue, how many children to have, which school go attend, what kind of car to get, what kind of food, shoes, clothes, how much money to give to charity, and more are not clearly written in the Bible. We use Biblical principles to discern God’s will on it.
Caution: Confusing categorization of the will of God.
The permissive will of God. This classification “permissive will of God” is not found in the Bible. It is a confusing attempt by some people to contrast the sovereign will of God with another concept of the will of God, namely the so-called “permissive will of God”. While the attempt is noble, I think it should be avoided because the distinction is “fraught with peril and tends to generate untold confusion.” Read “Exposing the Permissive Will of God” by R. C. Sproul
For more on this, read Pastor Pastor Bob Deffinbaugh’s article : https://bible.org/question/can-you-help-me-understand-gods-perfect-will-versus-his-permissive-will