16 February, 2018

I Thessalonians 4:3—“For this is the will of God … that ye should abstain from fornication”

For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication (I Thess. 4:3).

This text is often thought to be an example in Scripture of an “unfulfilled desire” in God, and therefore further ground to bolster the case for “the well-meant offer” (i.e. the notion that the Almighty has an earnest and fervent desire, will, wish or want for the salvation of the reprobate—a notion which implies a failing, foolish and frustrated God).
The key word in this text is “will,” and this word is presumed by some to be synonymous with “desire;” and therefore the argument is this: God “desires” the holiness of men and for all to not sin … and yet men (both believers and unbelievers) still sin. Therefore there is a sense in which God really does desire something which for the most part doesn’t come to pass.


Rev. Angus Stewart

[Source: Public lecture: “God’s Saving Will in the New Testament”]

God’s will has historically and very helpfully been spoken of in chiefly two ways: there is the “will of God’s decree” (i.e. what God shall do—this refers to His eternal counsel which determined absolutely everything that shall come to pass) and there is the “will of God’s command” (i.e. what He tells us we should do—this refers to His moral, ethical requirements which are summed in the Ten Commandments).

I Thessalonians 4:3 is referring to God’s will of command. This is what He demands people to do, what pleases Him, and that fornication is what He is awfully displeased with and punishes (Heb. 13:4).

But, someone may ask, does not a ‘command’ of God entail a desire of God? When we come to the will of God’s decree, that definitely is what God desires, wishes and wants to happen—and therefore it comes about. When we deal with the commands of God, on the other hand, they don’t tell us what God desires or wishes or wants to happen—they tell us what God is pleased with.

If a command of God means that God wants every individual person to do it, what does that do to God? Thomas Aquinas [described] God as “the unmoved Mover,” [but the] view of a ‘command’ of God requiring that God desires that it take place makes God “the most frustrated Desirer ever.” Think of it this way: The unbeliever, because of his total depravity, cannot do any good (“There is none that doeth good”—Rom. 3:12). [If we follow the idea that God’s commands tell us what God ‘desires,’ then you end up with] the majority of people, all of their life, frustrating a desire of God. Think of the [elect child of God]—some are regenerated as infants and others are regenerated later: Let’s say there’s someone who’s effectually called when he’s thirty years old, so that everything up to that thirty years was only sinful and nothing righteous and pleasing to God in [anything] that person did. Then, after that person is converted, the good that he would, he does not, and the evil that he would not, that he does (cf. Rom. 7:14-16)—i.e. even in the good that he does, there is always sin; and, for use of a better phrase, even in the evil that we do, there is always a little bit of good in it—for you always hate it as a believer. So if every command means that God desires it (e.g. the Ten Commandments: “no other gods before Me; worship Me only in the way that I tell you; don’t take the name of the Lord God in vain and remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy; honour all authority over you; no killing, adultery, stealing, lying or coveting …”)—you end up with God’s desires with regard to the reprobate and all their lives … thwarted; and then all the life of the elect before they’re saved (more unfulfilled desires), and then with regard to the believer, as he never seems to do anything perfect either … This view ends up with God just incredibly frustrated, failed desires—all these things He wished and wanted to happen never happen (the opposite happens), and that He decreed these things so that they would never happen (He decreed the fall, He decreed reprobation, He decreed that Christ wouldn’t die for the reprobate, He decreed that He wouldn’t regenerate them or reveal Christ to them, or preserve them or keep them, or glorify them, or raise them up at the resurrection …) What does that do to God? [The] Bible talks about God’s will being sovereign, gracious, saving, etc.

A command of God doesn’t show what God desires. It shows what pleases God. So you can say to an unbeliever “You should repent, because your life has been totally displeasing to God and wicked. And this would be the first thing you do that has ever pleased God.” And you can say to someone who’s a Christian, “You need to change the way you are living in this area of your life because that’s dishonouring to God. This pleases Him. This is the good, perfect, acceptable and pleasing will of God (cf. Rom. 12:2, which is dealing with the will of command).”



More to come! (DV)

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