The Will Of God: More Abstractions So We Can Avoid Following Jesus

My title says it all, I probably don’t have to say another word… but I will. 😉

I have grown up hearing Christians talk a lot about aligning themselves to the ‘will of God’. People wrestle constantly over whether they are aligned with God’s will’. This is the most sacred of tasks for many people. If one can be sure they are walking in the will of God, all is well. And so we try to ‘discern’. We try to discern if the church we are currently attending is the right one to feed us and our faith. We try to discern if that someone special is ‘the One’ for us. We try to discern if a particular ministry opportunity is what God is calling us to. If someone asks us to commit to help serve others because we are capable of doing so, first we need to pray about it. We pray about it because we need to know if it is in God’s will for our lives.

Following this logic, people amazingly tend to hear from God through the Spirit. The Spirit just so happens to lead most people into living lives that are self centered, apathetic, and in pursuit of the American Dream. But, one ought not question it, because it is God’s will, and the Spirit ‘led them’ to this point. Right?

In the New Testament, the primary motif for determining the life and lifestyle of a Christian is based on the call to follow and imitate Jesus. Consider Luke 9:23, 1 Pet. 2:20-21, 1 Cor. 11:1, 1 John 2:6 for just a few samples of this. What I am saying is that the Christian life is not a blank slate, upon which we need to discern how to fill it all up. Instead, the Christian life  is defined by a concrete lifestyle and ethics which demands following. We follow the life of Christ. Jesus is never on route to the American Dream (or the Imperial Throne of Rome), but to the cross. In fact, to choose to not live a life of the cross is to choose to no longer be Christ’s follower (Luke 14:27).

So back to discerning the ‘will of God’. Before we make the Christian life an abstract,and hence meaningless thing, we ought to start off by faithfully following and obeying Christ. However, I still do believe that we ought to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading. Yet, we must insist that there is only one Spirit, and it is always guiding us concretely in the steps of Jesus. We can know the Spirit of God is alive in our lives and truly guiding us when our lives are aligned with the work and life of Christ. Jesus understood very well what the Spirit was leading him to: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Let’s not use the ‘will of God’ as an excuse to avoid following Jesus and obeying his commands. To follow Jesus is the will of God for our lives.

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

10 thoughts on “The Will Of God: More Abstractions So We Can Avoid Following Jesus

  1. Blessings! Do you know that the Bible absolves us from bothering with living a Christian life of a concrete lifestyle. Jesus’ “work on the cross” sets us free from doing what’s right, because if we are sinners saved by grace, and Christ’s shed blood saves us from the beginning of time to the end of time, then it matters NOT if we do what is right by each other, by family, by friends, by strangers, by foreigners, by ANYBODY. Christ’s “finished work” on the cross saves us from having to be God fearing.
    Thus someone like Eddie Long can stand before the people and declare “I am who God says I am” or “I have 5 rocks and haven’t thrown one yet”
    This is why sodomy and child sexual abuse runs rampant in the CHURCH! No one is required to live by right principles, nor develop their higher spiritual selves. Jesus paid it all. It’s the fatal flaw of Christianity.

    1. I deeply disagree. If the whole New Testament calls us to follow Jesus, then we are not free to live however we would like. I think we should take Jesus seriously and not Western theology that seeks to avoid his lifestyle. My thoughts.

    2. Anna,

      I think you are confining your definition of sin to just a list of things we did at some point or another, so that Jesus takes the blame for it and we get off scot free. But Christians don’t think of sin as just your actions – we believe sin is a power that grabs hold of our lives and distorts us into a selfish and inhuman shape. That means our lives are about struggling with this power through faith in Jesus, not just going around thinking we’re given a blank check to do whatever we want because it’s “forgiven.” If we live in sin, that means we are ruled by death, and we need to repent (which doesn’t just mean asking for forgiveness – it means turning to embrace a new lifestyle). Jesus’ death doesn’t just forgive the bad things we’ve done – the reason it even does that at all is because the Holy Spirit unites us with him in that death, so that the old identity we all naturally live in that’s dominated by sin gets put to death, and we start living life out of a new identity formed by faith, that rejects the power of sin over our lives and enables us to spend the rest of our lives rooting out and throwing away everything in us that twists us away from God and keeps us from loving others as ourselves. The cross doesn’t “let us off the hook” – it invites us to come and die to ourselves, to give up an old way of life that’s “all about me,” and embrace the way of the cross. When we do that, life becomes about loving and serving others in the name of Jesus, and refusing to pay back the harm that is caused to us, because the worst the world can do to us is what it did to Jesus – kill him – and God raised him from the dead. (He will do the same for us when Jesus appears again.) The cross actually tells the world more clearly than anything else, “This is how serious your sin is, and you need to get free of it.” The cross is also is God’s way of saying to each and every one of us, “I love you so much that I’m willing to let my Son endure this power that enslaves you in agony and death, to set you free from it, if you’re willing.” When we love Jesus and place our faith in God his Father, his Spirit actually does that – we’re set free to live a new life that looks like Jesus’ life, and if we sin, we keep returning to him for freedom from it. You’re welcomed into that freedom too, if you’ll have it.

      Hope that was clear,

      David

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