The Attributes of God – Secret Will and Revealed Will

Yesterday my family and I continued reading about God’s will in Chapter 13, “The Character of God: ‘Communicable’ Attributes (Part 2),” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), which we’re reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time. In the previous two days we’d read about God’s will in general and about His necessary will and His free will. Yesterday we read about His secret will and His revealed will.

Like us God can will some things secretly and later make this known to others. This is indicated by Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we do all the words of this law” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).

God’s revealed will contains His will for our moral conduct and His commands for us, and His secret will contains the hidden decrees by which He governs the universe and determines what will happen. His revealed will is sometimes called His “preceptive will” (a precept is a general rule of action or behaviour), and His secret will is sometimes called His “decretive will” (a decree is a decision or order made by an authority).

Some Bible passages that refer to God’s revealed will are:
– “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of the Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
– “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his will'” (John 4:34).
– “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’ (Romans 12:2).
– “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Some Bible passages that refer to God’s secret will are:
– “But Joseph said to them [his brothers], ‘Do not fear…As for you, you meant evil against me [by selling Joseph], but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:19-20). “Meant” here means “willed.”
– “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35). King Nebuchadnezzar is speaking.
– “He [God] has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Romans 9:18).
– “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go up to such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’…Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’ (James 4:13-15).

Grudem closes his discussion of God’s secret and the revealed will with a warning to be careful in speaking about evil events happening according to the will of God even though the Bible sometimes speaks of them that way. He gives two reasons for His warning. The first is that we might begin to think that God takes pleasure in evil, which he doesn’t. The second is that we might begin to blame God rather than ourselves for our sins. He notes that he’ll discuss the relationship between God and evil further in Chapter 16, “God’s Providence.” I’ll consider it with my family and here when we read that chapter in our family Bible reading.

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