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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Pray about that battle between two wills
Text:LD 49 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 4

Psalm 119:22-24

Psalm 119:25-27

Hymn 1

Psalm 92:1,2,6,7

Scripture readings:  Isaiah 48:12-22, Acts 26

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 49

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Battle of wills.  Any one who’s spent any time with a toddler knows what that means.  It’s not called the Terrible Twos for nothing.  Even in the day to day of all our lives, we constantly run up against the will of others.  One person wants to do one thing, but another person wants to do something else.  And away we go with the conflict, the battle of wills. 

That’s just on the human level.  Then there’s the ever-present conflict between God’s will and ours.  Ever since the fall into sin, our wills have been out of sync with God’s will.   Our wills are broken and dysfunctional – Scripture leads us to believe that our wills in their natural state are even dead.  Our wills in their natural state are totally dark and inclined to all evil. 

Certainly that’s the way we are in the natural state, the state of sin.  Without the work of the Holy Spirit, our wills are entirely corrupt and dead.  But through God’s work of regeneration, our wills are brought to life again.  God’s Spirit revives our will, heals it, corrects it, and as the Canons of Dort say, “pleasantly and at the same time powerfully bends it.” 

Yet the remnants of the old nature remain.  There’s still something in us drawing our wills in the wrong direction.  We all know this by experience.  We’re prone to wander.  We wander oftentimes because we want to wander.  It’s our will to do that.  God tells us to stay on his straight paths where it’s safe, but we think we know better.  We ignore his will and set our will above his.  We all do it, myself included.

For this reason, our Lord Jesus included the third petition in his prayer.  He taught us to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” because he wants us to recognize that there’s oftentimes a conflict between our will and God’s will.  And he wants us to see that conflict and then pray for its resolution.  We should long for peace and harmony between God’s will and ours.  So this afternoon we’ll explore this further.  We’re going to see how our Saviour teaches us to pray about that battle between two wills.  We’ll learn how we’re to pray for:

  1. The denial of our own wicked will
  2. Obedience to God’s good will

In order to pray about our wills, we have to know something about them.  Obviously, we have a will.  We have desires to do certain things, and desires to not do other things.  But what is the nature of that will?  We can see that illustrated for us in what we read from Acts 26. 

After being arrested, the apostle Paul had appealed to Caesar.  That was his right as a Roman citizen.  Before being shipped off to Rome, however, he had hearings before Festus and before King Agrippa.  Acts 26 sees Paul before Agrippa, making his defense.  He tells his story and how it was he ended up there.  It’s a well-known story and we don’t need to look at all the details here this afternoon.  What we want to focus on is what Paul was like before meeting Jesus.  What was happening with his will? 

It’s obvious that it was set entirely against God.  Paul thought he was offering diligent service to God.  If you’d asked the other Pharisees, they would’ve said that Saul (as he was then known) was a fanatic.  The other Pharisees would’ve thought he was on the extreme side.  He had an obsession with persecuting the followers of Jesus.  His will was set on wickedness.  All this despite the fact that he was an ultra-religious person.  His intense devotion and uber-piety didn’t alter the fact that his will was evil and set against God’s will.

So when our Lord Jesus accosted him on the road to Damascus, the first thing he says to him is, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  What are “goads”?  It’s one of those biblical terms that needs explanation because it comes from an agricultural world with which most of us aren’t familiar.  A goad was a long stick with a sharp point on the end.  It was used to keep oxen on the path the farmer wanted them to travel.  If the oxen were to get out of line, the farmer used the goad to get them back on track.  In other words, the goad was how the farmer made the oxen do his will.  If an ox were to kick against the goads, the goads would be used with greater vigour.  An ox could never win.  Unless it wanted to be in a constant state of pain, it would have to bring its will into line with the farmer. 

That’s the way it was with Saul of Tarsus.  His will was out of line with God’s.  Saul was the stubborn ox who refused to plow a straight furrow.  He’d heard the preaching of Jesus Christ through the apostles.  He’d heard the command to repent and believe.  He was there when Stephen witnessed and Saul consented to his death.  He was kicking, kicking, kicking against God’s will.  God’s will for him was to believe that Jesus is the Christ, that Jesus had died for sinners, and rose again on the third day.  God’s will was that he believe the gospel and submit to Christ as Lord.  But Saul’s wicked will said, “No way!  I’m going to keep going my way!”

That’s what our wills look like all the time in the unregenerate state.  When someone hasn’t been born again, when someone doesn’t believe in Christ, they constantly and continually insist on going their own way and doing their own thing.  The unregenerate don’t care about God’s will, what God wants.  For those who haven’t been born again, it’s all about the self-willed life.  They never to stop and ask themselves, “What does God want me to do in this or that situation?” 

But loved ones, for believers our old nature lingers and sometimes we go in the same direction.  Even after he was regenerated by the Holy Spirit, after he’d been born again, Paul had the same struggle.  I’m sure you remember his famous words from Romans 7 about his inner conflict.  He exclaimed, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  Who here doesn’t reach the same conclusion about themselves?  Who here doesn’t get to that same exclamation, “What a rotten person I am!  God has blessed me so richly with the gospel.  He came to me in my baptism.  I’ve been called his child, brought into his family, promised the rights of a son, I have a God who loves me deeply.  And yet, yet, so often I go my own way.  Why am I kicking against the goads?  I’m that stubborn ox that just keeps kicking even when it’s senseless to kick.”

Brothers and sisters, that’s why we pray along the lines our Lord Jesus taught us.  That’s why we need to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We need to pray that God will help us to deny our own wicked wills.  Left to ourselves, we have no solid ground on which to stand in the battle against our sinful nature and what it does to our wills.  We can only be strong if God helps us and makes us strong with his Spirit.  We need his assistance because without it we’re sure to fall.   

The remnants of our sinful nature tell us lies.  “It’s okay, you can indulge in your pet sin.  You deserve it.  Is God real anyway?  Maybe, but maybe not.  If he is, he forgives, right?  That’s his job.”   After we’ve made all these rationalizations, then our will puts the wheels in motion. 

Do you know what the most difficult word is for us to say?  The most difficult word in the world is “no.”  To say “no” to your will when it wants to sin is so hard, isn’t it?  Because it’s so hard, Christ teaches us to pray about it.  The third petition means we have to pray intensely for God to help us say “no” right from the beginning.  When the lies start, we want to say, “That’s a lie.  It’s not true.  That’s not what my Father’s Word says.  I can’t go down that path.”  Pray that God would help you to see the lies for what they are.  Pray that God would help you to live in the light of the real reality, the true truth.  Why should we make this our prayer?  Because we love God for what he’s done for us in Jesus Christ.  Because we want to please our Father in heaven and live for his glory.  We make the denial of our own will a matter of prayer because we want to thank God for all the riches of his salvation. 

Now the denial of our own wicked will has a flip side and that’s obedience to God’s good will.  There’s always a will to be followed.  The question is:  whose will?  The third petition is about the doing of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. 

Now the question could be raised there:  what does God’s will refer to here?  That refers to God’s revealed will.  It refers to what God wants as it’s been shown to us in Scripture.  So God’s will in the third petition is not referring to his secret will, or, as it’s also been called, his decretive will, the will of his secret counsel and decrees.  We’re talking about his revealed will, the will found in his precepts and commandments given in the Bible. 

It’s this will to which the new man from Tarsus was obedient.  Saul, who took the name Paul, says in verse 19 of Acts 26 that he was obedient to the vision from heaven.  Christ had revealed his will to Paul.  His will was that Paul would be his servant and witness to the Jews and the Gentiles.  Christ’s will was that Paul be a preacher of the very gospel that he’d hated so much up to this point.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul obeyed God’s good will. 

What is God’s will for your life?  Well, he has a particular will concerning each of our lives and sometimes we see glimpses and get notions of where he’s taking us.  But like I said, here with the third petition we really need to think about God’s will as revealed in Scripture.  God’s will for your life is found first and foremost in the Bible.  That’s what we’re praying to obey in the third petition.

Therefore to know God’s will means we have to know the Bible.  It sounds obvious, but it needs to be said.  The Scriptures are the foundation for a Christian life conformed to God’s will.  So when we pray along the lines our Saviour taught us, we’ll be praying for God’s help in understanding his Word.  We have to do that because understanding the Bible doesn’t come naturally to any of us.  It doesn’t come naturally to me and it doesn’t to anybody else.  We can only understand it as God illumines our minds with his Holy Spirit.  It is in his light that we see light.  Spiritual things can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit. 

So let’s make this concrete.  Brothers and sisters, your Bible reading, in whatever context it takes place, needs to be accompanied by prayer.  When you read the Bible for yourself, pray for light and understanding of God’s will.  When you read the Bible at home with your family, pray that God with his Spirit would help everyone to get what God wants and what God is saying in that passage.  When we read Scripture here in church together, be praying that God would help not only you, but everyone in the congregation, young and old to grasp the full meaning of God’s will. 

Then we not only pray for understanding, but also for obedience.  It’s easy to know something – to know, for instance, that God’s Word calls us to be loving, charitable, and gracious, not to cut down others whenever we get a chance.  We know God’s Word says that.  The knowing in your head is easy.  It’s the obedience where we kick against the goads.  Here again, we need to be praying that God would give us wills that line up with his, so we want to do what pleases him. 

Our Catechism adds that line, that we would obey God’s will “without any murmuring.”  In the original German it said, “without any backtalk.”  That’s exactly what this means.  You know what backtalk is.  When kids talk back to their parents, that’s never a good thing.  Mom or Dad might tell you to do something and if you talk back, that’s a recipe for trouble.  They expect you to obey with the right attitude.  “Yes, Dad, I’ll get right to it.”  With an attitude of joyfulness, wanting to please your Father.  That’s certainly the way the angels in heaven obey God.  They do it with joy.  They don’t talk back.

That’s also the way our Saviour obeyed the Father during his thirty-three years on this earth.  His obedience to the Father was always heart-felt.  Never with murmuring or back-talk.  It was always, “Your will be done...”  He was perfectly and faithfully obedient and that bears on us in two ways. 

In the first place, you’ll remember that this is part of his work for us.  This is part of the gospel.  His obedience is transferred to us, imputed to us.  From God’s perspective, in Christ we are the obedient, never-murmuring children.  In Christ, we are those who never talk back, who would never even dream of talking back.  In Christ, we have all the times that we have talked back paid for, forgiven, removed from our rap sheet.  We’re forgiven and righteous in God’s sight. 

Second, this bears on us because we’re also united to this Saviour through the Holy Spirit.  And so we want to bear his image.  We want his obedient life to be reflected in ours.  That’s why we make this a matter of prayer.  We pray that God would conform us to the image of his Son that we may always do his will without any backtalk, out of joyful, thankful and loving hearts.

And that will of our God is good.  We see that reflected in what we read from Isaiah 48.  God speaks to his people and says, “If you’d only listen to me!  I teach what’s best for you.  If you’d listen to me, you’d have peace like a river and righteousness like the waves of the sea.”  God is saying that there are blessings in obeying him and chief among them are peace and righteousness.  Peace – the knowledge that our life bears evidence that we’re no longer in conflict with God – peace of mind, you could say.  And peace like a river – an abundance of it, peace never in short supply.  And then righteousness – that’s a comprehensive term for salvation here.  If you listen to God, you’ll hear the gospel call and obey it and you’ll find the way of the more abundant life that Christ came to give, a life as copious as the waves of the sea. 

Proverbs says the way of the wicked is hard.  The Psalmist says there is much good to be gained from following God’s commands.  No, we’re not talking about earning our salvation.  Definitely not.  Our salvation is grounded in God’s grace alone in Christ alone.  But God does promise to add his blessing when we seek to follow him because we love him and want to please him and thank him.  His will, revealed in Scripture, is designed for our good.  When we follow God’s commandments, things generally go smoother in life.  Recognizing that adds extra motivation to pray that we’d follow God’s will.  That we wouldn’t go our own way, which we think is good (but really isn’t), but that we would go God’s way, a way that truly is good.

Loved ones, the Lord’s Prayer deals with the reality of this broken world.  In this broken world, the reality is that God’s will and our will don’t always line up.  They should, but many times they don’t.  With this petition, we’re praying for that to happen.  We’re praying for it to begin happening already in this age, to begin happening now already as we live on this earth.  And the hope we pray for is the age to come.  In the age to come, our wills will perfectly line up with God’s.  In the new heavens and new earth, everything God wills will be what we want.  There we will want what he wants not just some of the time, not just most of the time, but all of the time.  Exactly like our Lord Jesus.  That’s our hope and that’s what we have to pray for constantly.  AMEN.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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