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29. I Have Come, O God, To Do Your Will

– Chapter 29 –

I Have Come, O God, To Do Your Will

What did Jesus come into the world for?

Let us begin with a fundamental question: What did Jesus come into the world for? If you are a Christian, espe­cially a long-time Christian, you may think that the ans­wer to this question is easy. In actual fact, the answer is not evident to the average Christian.

What did Jesus come into the world for? Most Christians have the answer ready on the tips of their tongues: “Jesus came to die for us!” It is true that Jesus came to die for our sins, but that is hardly the complete truth. If his only purpose was to die for us, why are we given the four gospels? Why is the life of Christ given to us in quadraphonic? If his only purpose was to die for us, we wouldn’t need to know anything about him apart from the fact that he died. Even then, we only need to know that he died, not how he died.

All we would need is the last part of Matthew or another gospel, plus a few verses from Romans or Ephesians; the rest of the New Testament and most of the Old Testament can be discarded.

Neither would we need to know anything about his compassion to the poor, the sick, the dying. Or how he dealt with hypocrites, of which there are too many in the world today. Or how he cleansed the temple. We wouldn’t need to know any of this except to satisfy our intellect­ual curiosity.

The answer to the question, What did Jesus come into the world for? is not so obvious. It is certainly true that he died for us, but there is more to it than that.

1. He came not only to die, but to give life

Much more, Scripture tells us that Jesus came to give us life. This life is God’s own life given to Jesus (John 5:26), a life that extends from the heart of God to the heart of man through Jesus Christ, a life that transcends physical or earthly life.

God has given us the best gift possi­ble. The gift of eternal life is far better than the gift of physical life, which in itself is truly valuable. People cling desperately to physical life even when it is seeping through their fingers like sand. As age takes its toll, it saps away the strength of even the sturdiest of men. The last flicker of life will elude every attempt to prolong it.

Physical life is certainly valuable, but God has something better in store for us: eternal life, which does not pass away. It is better not only in terms of duration but also of quality. This new life with its eternal character is, sadly, something that many Christians have never truly experienced.

How precious is the gift of life, yet how few have obtained it! The main reason is that many preachers, perhaps with the intention of attracting larger crowds into their churches, have been peddling eternal life at cut-rate prices, telling us that there are no conditions apart from “believing”.

What do we do with the life God has given us?

An equally important question is, What do you do with the life that God has given you? Few people know what they are doing with their earthly lives, much less their spiritual lives.

God has given you physical life, and you may live to 70, 80, or 90. What will you do with life? As you get older, you might no longer strive for new achievements. While you are still young, you can study for a degree or look for a job. After graduation, life becomes a grinding routine of working from nine to five at the office, and going home tired in the evening. Then you start asking yourself, “What am I doing with my life? It is just a hectic hand-to-mouth existence. But what choice do I have? I need income to live.”

There is nothing wrong with studying or holding a job. But if life is nothing more than studying, working, retiring, and dying, we can rightly ask what life is all about. What is the meaning of life if our goal is to earn more money to buy a faster car? The speed limit in Canada is 100 kms/hr (about 60 mph) and 65 mph in some parts of the United States. Just how important is it to have a car that reaches 100 kms/hr in five seconds flat?

The good news is that God wants to give us the gift of eternal life. But the question remains, What do we do with it? God has a special purpose for us in the new life, yet few Christians know what it is.

2. Jesus came to show us our mission in life: Carry out God’s will in the world

Jesus came to die for us and give us new life. We are given four differ­ent gospels so that we may learn, from a multi-dimensional perspect­ive, what he wants us to do with the new life. In the new life, God has prepared a whole program for us. He calls us to follow Jesus so that he may show us, step by step, how to fulfill the purpose of our lives.

In the new life, do I sit back and wait for heaven? And when I get to heaven, what I am supposed to do there? Take a begin­ner’s course on harp-playing? Playing harps for eternity is not everyone’s “cup of tea”. Many imagine that the only activity in heaven is sacred music. Baseball fans will be bored to tears! If heaven has no TV sets or CD players, how will you occupy yourself for all eternity?

Thankfully, God has given us something to do in the new life: In this present time, He has assigned us the awesome task of carrying out His will in the world; and we can be sure that He won’t leave us without signifi­cant responsibilities in eternity.

How do we know what God’s will for us is? Does He call us into His office to explain it point by point? Not quite, for He has his special way of revealing His will. The earthly life of Jesus, the Son of God, is recorded for us in the gospels, and Jesus tells us, “Look at my life and my deeds. Then follow my example as the Spirit leads and empowers you.”

This principle is foreign to most Christ­ians because discipleship of the kind that Jesus taught has all but vanished from most churches. But any church that does not know about disciple­ship in its true sense, or what to do with the new life, will eventually die. This is true also on the personal level: The Christian who has no direction will become frustrated and may not survive spiritually for long.

Hebrews 10:5-7 explains what Jesus came into the world for:

When Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacri­fice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt of­ferings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, Here I am — it is written about me in the scroll — I have come to do Your will, O God.” (NIV)

In this remarkable passage, we see that when Jesus came into the world, he said to his Father, “I have come to do Your will, O God,” quoting Psalm 40:6-8.

Let the force of this statement sink into our hearts. I meditated on it until tears came to my eyes, because I began to see a dimension of the Lord’s life that I had not seen before with such clarity. I was struck by his total and absolute commitment to the will of his Father. His life was resolutely fixed on one focal point: doing the will of God.

3. Jesus chose to be a slave

Two chapters ago, we discussed the significant fact that the concept of being a slave of God is central to Paul’s teaching. The failure to grasp this point will lead to a failure to understand his teaching, not least in the matter of receiving the gift of eternal life.

What is the defining element of the life of a slave? Isn’t it the fact that he must always do his master’s will, whether he likes it or not? The mark of a servant or slave of God is that he always does God’s will. That is why being a slave of God is central to Paul’s teach­ing. In various places in his letters, he emphasizes that doing God’s will is a funda­mental element in the life of the new man in Christ.

Given his Christ-centered thinking, Paul’s teaching on this matter is rooted in Christ himself, who took upon himself the status of a slave (Phil.2:7). Is any disciple above his Master? If we refuse to live as his slaves, we are not his disciples who follow in his steps. And since all of Jesus’ earthly life was governed by the singular purpose of doing the Father’s will, can our lives have any other goal?

Since Jesus himself chose to be a slave, Paul regarded “slave of Jesus Christ” a title of honor that he applied to himself (Rom.1:1; Gal.1:10; Phil.1:1; Titus 1:1). Paul’s earnest desire was to be like his Lord in every way. And Paul was by no means alone in describing himself as a slave of Christ. Other servants of Christ did the same: James (1:1); Peter (2Pet.1:1); Jude (1:1); John (Rev.1:1). Rejoicing in the privilege of being slaves of Christ, and zealously doing his will, they were greatly used by God in their lifetimes.

Few people will achieve anything

The great tragedy is that few people will achieve anything in this world, much less accomplish God’s will. What about us? Will we achieve anything meaningful in this life? Or are we marching with the vast regiments of people, billions and billions of them, who live in this world without knowing what they are living for, other than perhaps trying to enjoy themselves — though often not success­ful even at that? Do we know where we come from, and where we are going? “I know where I came from, and where I am going” (John 8:14).

A life without direction is pitiable. Many have been baptized and have joined various churches, yet don’t know what they are living for, and won’t accomplish any­thing of spiritual value in the world. Let us make it our prayer that we won’t pass through this world in our earthly sojourn without having achieved the purpose God has for us.

That God has a task for each one of us in the world is an absolute certainty. If we fail to complete our task, we wouldn’t want to see the Lord’s face on that Day. Imagine the horror of being asked by the Lord, “What have you done with the life I had given you? Have you com­pleted the work I gave you to do?” Work? What work? “Well, lots and lots of work. Here in front of you is the Bible with over a thousand pages. Have you discerned my heart and mind in it?” Some Christians say they have read the Bible many times, but do they live their lives according to God’s will as revealed in it?

If you are a Christian, let it be clearly affirmed: If you squander the life that God has given you, you will be without excuse because you hold in your hands the Book which explains what He wants you to do with your life, and also because He has given you the Holy Spirit to lead you and empower you in doing it.

Yet the tragedy is that many Christians will accomplish nothing, and will stand empty-handed when they meet the Lord. One doesn’t need to be a prophet to see this. Most Christians will achieve little or nothing in this life because their lives are not focused into one sharp point: the will of God.

Focus your life on God’s will

If you swing a metal bar against a tree, you won’t fell the tree no matter how strong you are or how heavy the bar is. The tree will sustain a few scars, and your hands will hurt after a few blows. But if the metal is melted down and molded into an axe, the entire weight of the axe head is now concentrated onto one sharp edge that can fell a tree in a short time.

Nothing will happen if you place a sheet of paper under sun­light. But if you focus the light into one concentrated point with a magni­fying glass, the paper will start burning within minutes.

When we study the four gospels, we will see that Jesus’ life was sharply focused on one thing: doing the will of the Father. “I have come, O God, to do Your will.”

Jesus is the light of the world, and how power­ful is his radiance. We too are the light of the world, but how weak is our glow. We reflect Christ’s light so inadequately. But if we focus that light, weak though it is, onto one point, it can do amazing things!

This principle was impressed in my mind when I learned scuba diving. Diving at night led to an adventure I had never experienced before: going into the ocean on a dark night. Our boat took us to a place where a ship had sunk to the bottom, fifty feet below. The wind, the rain, and the waves were battering our boat. It was pitch dark, and the water looked ink-black.

The guide said to everyone, “Are you sure you want to dive in?” Seeing that nobody was backing off, he said, “Think again. It’s dark, it’s windy, it’s raining.” Still no one withdrew. So he told us to put on our masks and tanks. One by one we went into the water, des­cending fifty feet down, to explore the sunken ship. As each person took his turn to dive in, he or she was given a flashlight. It was not the powerful type that I had expected, but a tiny thing about six or seven inches long. I thought to myself, “How are we going to explore the ocean with this tiny flashlight?” But at this stage there was no time to ask questions, each person just took a flashlight and dived in.

After entering the water, I was amazed that this light could throw a long, effective beam. I could see objects forty feet away. Looking at the flashlight, you could see that it was a weak source of light. Yet it could do amazing things in the murky ocean because it was focused into one sharp beam. Had the beam been scattered, out of focus, we couldn’t have seen much in the ink-like waters.

What can we Christians do with our weak light? If it is focused into a sharp beam, it will do wonders. If your life is sharply focused on God’s will, the power of that light will amaze you. God’s light has indeed come into our lives, but it’s up to us to focus it into one single concentrated beam.

4. Jesus’ life: Focused on God’s will

If you study the life of the Lord, you would see the secret of his earthly ministry. His light is far brighter than ours, and when it is focused into one sharp beam, we can scarcely fathom its awesome power. Jesus came into the world with one intense, focused goal: “I have come to do Your will, O God” (Heb.10:7). His intense desire to do the Father’s will is seen in all four gospels.

Wherever Jesus shone his light, many turned to God. Some hated the light, but many others were attracted to it. In this world, some will love the Lord, and some will hate him enough to crucify him. His intense light will frighten off anyone who wants to hide his own sins. But for people who are searching for a way out of the darkness, how welcome is the light that points the way to God and to salvation.

Once when Jesus was twelve years old, his parents were searching for him all over Jerusalem, but couldn’t find him even after three days (Lk.2:46). They then decided to look for him in the temple, which is where they should have gone to in the first place. Finding him there, they said, “We’ve been anxiously looking for you everywhere.” Jesus then said to them, “Don’t you know that I had to be in my Father’s house? That I must attend to His affairs? That I must do His will?” Already at that early age, Jesus was focused on the will of the Father.

Later, when he began his ministry, one of the first things he did was to cleanse the temple of religious commercialism (John 2:14-17). Con­sumed by a fiery zeal, he fashioned a whip with which he drove out the animals, and overturn­ed the tables of the money­changers.

Nothing is as abhorrent to spirituality as com­mercialized relig­ion. Commercialized religion is crass and abominable. Churches tend to be caught up in the business of raising funds and construct­ing church buildings. Non-Christians rightly accuse the churches of being fund-raising organizations.

After Jesus cleansed the temple, one verse stuck in the minds of the people who observed him: “Zeal for Your house con­sumes me” (Psalm 69:9). His heart was consumed by a fiery zeal for God’s will.

In today’s wishy-washy Christianity, where do we find Christians with a fiery zeal like the Lord’s? Brothers and sisters, in this generat­ion we will accomplish absolutely nothing with the life that God has given us unless it is concentrated by God’s grace into a single-minded spiritual zeal for God. May He deliver us from a superficial, commer­cialized, easy-going Christianity.

If your Christian life is not focused, it will be feeble and direct­ionless. In that case, it may be better to forget about being a Christian. A wishy-washy Christian life will only disgrace the Lord; it cannot reveal His glory or accomplish His will. If we are not doing God’s will, we are living in disobe­dience, and will have to face the judgment.

The four gospels provide us with a comprehensive four-dimension­al view of the life of Christ. In them he resolutely sets his face to fulfill­ing God’s purpose. His absolute com­mit­ment to his Father, and his fiery zeal to accomplish His purpose, inspired the disciples as they observed him. Can our lives bring similar inspiration to others too?

The preoccupation with God’s will is seen in Jesus’ own teaching. He says that not everyone who believes in him and acknowledges him as Lord will enter the kingdom of hea­ven, but only he who does the will of the Father (Mt.7:21). He also says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accom­plish His work” (Jn.4:34). What sustains me, says the Lord, and strengthens me like food, is doing my Father’s will. It is his nourish­ment and delight.

“I do not seek my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn.5:30). Jesus also says, “I always do the things that are pleasing to My Father” (8:29).

His intense desire to please the Father may be hard for us to fath­om. His whole being is imbued with a fervent love for the Father. How weak is our love for God, how little we care to please Him, how puny our concern for His glory. We are at risk of passing through this life without leaving a mark on the sand for His glory. The choice is ours. If we live for ourselves, we will be blown away like dust. If we live for God, we will live forever: “he who does the will of God abides forever” (1John 2:17).

As he approached the end of his earthly ministry, and as the cross was looming large before him, the Lord Jesus said to his Father, “What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour” (Jn.12:27). Amidst the encircling gloom of his impending death he declared, “Not my will but yours be done” (Lk.22:42). Even in that final dark hour, his heart and mind remained wholly focused on his Father’s will.

5. Gethsemane

We tend to think that because Jesus was sinless and dedicated himself to doing the Father’s will that it was easy for him to do God’s will. This erroneous notion is refuted by the account of Gethsemane and the wrenching struggle that Jesus went through there, which wrung from him “sweat, like blood”. The whole verse reads, “And being in agony he was praying very fervently; and his sweat became like drops of blood, falling upon the ground” (Lk.22:44).

Such was the depth of the suffering in his innermost being that the sweat that poured out from him was as if what came forth was blood. His sweating was equivalent to bleeding. When the nails pierced him, he bled. But before the nails ever pierced him at Golgotha, his heart was pierced at Gethsemane. Blood flows from a physical wound, but sweat flowed in lieu of blood from his pierced spirit.

We are not told what actually transpired at Gethsemane, and what the cause of Jesus’ intense agony was when he was confronted with the imminent actuality of doing God’s will — to be crucified for our sins. Yet it is possible for us to deduce at least a tiny particle of it.

When I was a child, I was once required to swallow a spoonful of castor oil. Even though I knew that it was being administered for my good, the struggle to get the oil into my mouth and down my throat was exhausting because the repulsive smell and taste of the oil caused me to retch. Knowing that it was a good and necessary remedy did not make it any easier for me to swallow it. If this little example could be magnified to the nth degree, it may give us a glimpse of what Jesus went through at Gethsemane.

What if the horror of “being made sin for us” on the part of him “who knew no sin” (2Cor.5:21) was beyond what even he could cope with? What would have become of our salvation? In a real sense, our salvation hung upon his final “not my will, but Yours be done” (Lk.22:42). Without that final decisive submission to the Father’s will, there would have been no cross and therefore no salvat­ion for us. With­out Gethsemane there would have been no Golgotha. The question of man’s salva­tion was assured in these decisive words in which Jesus embraced his death in embrac­ing God’s will.

Gethsemane, which forever uniquely exemplifies the doing of God’s will, was therefore every bit as important for our salvation, and perhaps even more so, than Golgotha. The cross followed from that decisive acceptance of God’s will. The act of doing the Father’s will reached its climax in the Garden of Gethsemane, and then went on to its full expression at the cross. At Gethsemane his sorrowful agony had already brought him to the point of death: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mt.26:38; Mk.14:34).

Our eternal well-being was lost in a garden, Eden, where Adam and Eve fell as a result of disobeying God. Appro­priately, it was regained in another garden, Gethse­mane, where our precious Savior already began to shed his blood for us in the form of sweat wrung from him by “the travail of his soul” (Isa.53:11), which represented the “blood” of his inner most being.

His agony is seen in the fact that “an angel came and strength­ened him” (Lk.22:43; cf. 2Cor.13:4). The intensity of his suffering in the course of doing God’s will uniquely qualifies him to be a high priest who can sympath­ize with our weaknesses (Heb.4:15).

Though we are unable to fathom the depths of Gethsemane, the crisis he faced there — in weakness, then in strength — makes it so much easier for us to turn to him for help when we too wrestle with doing God’s will in difficult circumstances.

Jesus commenced his ministry with the prayer, “I have come to do Your will, O God”. He concluded his minis­try with the prayer, “Your will be done”. The Father’s “good and ac­ceptable and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) was determinative for him from the beginning to end.

How do we know God’s will?

You may say, “I don’t know what God’s will for my life is. If you could tell me what it is, I would be ready to do it.” Is it possible not to know what His will is? Every page of the Bible reveals something about His will. If we read the Bible searching for an answer to the question, “Lord, what is Your will for me?” the answer will call to us from every page.

George Mueller, that faithful servant of God, was once asked how he knew God’s will so clearly. He answered, “From the start I seek to get my heart into a state in which it has no will of its own in a given matter.” Ninety percent of the time the problem lies in our self-will. If our hearts are ready to do God’s will whatever it may be, the door of our heart will be open to knowing His will. As Mueller tells us, the reason you don’t know God’s will is that you don’t really want to do it. Many want to know what God’s will is, to see if it coincides with theirs before deciding whether to do it or not. But God’s will is not subject to our inspection and approval. Unless we are com­mitted to doing His will, and sincerely say, “I have come, O God, to do Your will,” we wouldn’t know what His will is.

A challenge

If you are a non-Christian or a nominal Christian, I have a challenge for you: Stand up and say, “I don’t know if God exists, but if He does exist, I will do His will totally and uncondition­ally.” If you say that in all sincerity, I guarantee you that He will reveal Himself — and His will — to you as clear as is day from night. But if you start playing tricks with the living God, you will be in deep trouble.

The Christian life is not a matter of religion or philosophy, but walking with the living God. If you are serious about knowing Him, I challenge you to say, “I have come, O God, to do Your will.” That declaration of commit­ment is exceedingly powerful because the one who does the will of God will experience the reality of God.

You will also know whether Jesus is from God, for you will know whether his teaching is from God. Jesus says, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17).

Whether you are a Christian or a non-Christian, I hope you can see the power of the words, “I have come, O God, to do Your will.” If you say to God from your heart, “I am willing to do Your will what­ever it may be,” you will surely be on the road to eternal life, and will experience the living God along the way.

Unworthy as I am, I can testify from long experience that God reveals His will to those who are willing to do it totally. Many profess the Christian faith, yet God is not real to them because they are still struggling over whether to do His will fully or not. I stress “fully”. We must do God’s will fully, or we are not doing it at all. As we have seen, partial obedience is partial disobedience, and ultim­ately disobed­ience. We cannot tell God that we want to do only this part or that part of His will. We must do all His will or we don’t do it at all. God does not accept half measures.

6. Jesus came so that we may know God intimately

Some may think: “Jesus could do his Father’s will because he enjoyed intimate communion with Him. If I had this level of intimacy with the Father, I might do His will too.” But we too can get to know God very well, as I shall explain in a moment.

You might say, “Your situation is different from mine. You know God because you have been following Him for over four decades. It is easy for you to stand there and talk about focus­ing on His will.” That is not quite the correct picture because in the begin­ning I didn’t know God either. But our know­ledge of God increases with time.

As I was meditating the other day, I came to a startling conclus­ion: I know more about God than I know about my wife in terms of her biographical details! That may sound incredible, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it is true. I know more about God’s character and dealings than I know about my wife, Helen, who is the person closest to me. I know little, for example, about the first twenty years of her life. I know she was born in Shanghai, where she lived in Hong Kong, and which school she attended. I have met her parents, her brother, and a few of her friends. But if I were to write down every biographical detail I know about her in her first twenty years, I am not sure that I could even fill one sheet of paper.

Yet I know a lot about God, and in detail. From the Bible I have learned a lot about what He said and how He dealt with certain people and certain nations. By contrast, I don’t know of a single statement my wife had made in her first twenty years. I have pages and pages on what God said and did, but I have nothing approaching that amount of material regarding my wife.

In a given situation, I can more accurately pre­dict what God will do than what my wife will do. I can guess what she might do, but not always accurately because human beings are not always consistent. But God’s ways can often be predicted with aston­ishing accuracy when we know the principles by which He did things in the past as recorded in the Bible.

My wife is a witness to that. On one occasion, in a particularly problem­atic situation, I predicted the exact timetable of what God will do in the next few days to resolve the problem. I said to Helen, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this; the next day the Lord will do that”. I gave her the whole timetable of the four days during which the Lord will resolve the prob­lem. I told her, “I am telling you all this in advance so that you will be a witness of how our God will work out everything wonderfully.” And she is my witness that the events did come to pass exactly as I predicted they would.

You may wonder how this is possible. We can know God’s mind and character to the extent He helps us, by His indwelling Spirit, to discern His actions on the basis of His Word. That is why the Bible is given to us. The realiza­tion that I know God better than I know anyone else in this world filled me with joy as I was walking around the kitchen. Because God’s character does not change, and because the Bible reveals Him in great detail, it is possible for us to know Him better than anyone else in the world.

This is not to say that we can presumptuously assume we can predict everything that God will do with perfect accur­acy. Although we know Him, we do not know Him perfectly. At the present time we only “know in part” (1Cor.13:12).

7. He came to bring us into union with God

In regard to doing God’s will, there is yet one more truth that is of great significance: The union of wills is the closest possible union between two persons. In what way can two persons be more closely and permanently united than in the union of their wills?

We often speak of love as that which unites. But human love is a fickle emotion that can dissipate like a morning mist. Only a love that results in a true union of wills can typify the relationship we are called to have with God.

When we say, “I have come, O God, to do Your will,” what will be result? The union of our will with Jesus’ will and the Father’s will. It also means that through doing His will, we become united with God! This fulfills what Jesus prayed for in the words, “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us.” (Jn.17:21)

But we must bear in mind two things. First, while God’s will is unchanging, man’s will can change. If there is any parting of the wills, it will be from man’s side, not God’s. This weakness of man’s will, which arises from the weakness of his flesh, is the main reason for Paul’s exhortation to live in “fear and trembling” (Phil.2:12). Even though “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1Cor. 6:17), that union with him can be threatened by sin. This drives us to depend utterly upon God.

Secondly, this union with God through the union of wills is not our achievement, but the result of the work of the Holy Spirit within us “to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil.2:13). God wants to bring us into union with Himself. It is His desire that we be united with Him, that we be one with Him. This fills us with unspeakable joy and thanksgiving.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church