Live Free / Love Free
Many young people spend a lot of time worrying and wondering about what God wants them to do with their life. Often, this is a concern about what school to attend, what subjects to study or major to take, and what career path to follow. Or perhaps other times, it's the question of finding the right person to marry. In any case, the general theme has to do with life plans - looking ahead to the future and figuring out things that God wants us to do.
The Bible does talk about God having these kinds of plans for our lives and giving us specific personal gifts for certain kinds of work or relationships. But this is not the only element of "God's will" for people's lives. In the book of Romans, Paul highlighted another important dimension of God's will - the part that deals with the everyday lifestyle of Christians in their communities. God has a clear will for all of our lives, and it looks something like this:
“Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” Romans 12:9-13 NLT
This kind of lifestyle is just as important, perhaps even more important, than the kind of job someone pursues. The early Christians understood that God’s will for their lives had less to do with what kind of profession they worked in or what schools they attended, but was mostly about them becoming like Jesus. That’s God’s will for all of our lives: for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. Because God wants to save all of humankind, the way we live is our greatest calling. How we live in our church family and in the world around us is part of our message.
For some people who are specifically asking questions about what career they should pursue or when they are going to find someone to marry, this might perhaps seem like a definition of "God's will" that avoids those specific questions. But Romans 12 also spends time in its earlier verses connecting these moral principles to personal calling. Paul says:
"In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly." Romans 12:6-8 NLT
Look at your life and observe where you have been gifted. Even if you think your gift is small, or that there are others who have the same gift, or that perhaps there are others who have sharpened and perfected their skills more than you have, your gift still matters and represents part of God's plan for your life. That gift is yours to use as a tool, and simply following that gift to where it is needed will give you the opportunity to live out God's will for your life. Take your teaching, your singing, your designing, filming, researching, writing, editing, building, repairing, counseling, advising, speaking, drawing, networking, or other skills and use them in a way that looks like who Jesus is.
That's the whole goal of your life - to take whatever resources, opportunities, challenges, gifts, and lessons you have been given, and to let them make you more like Jesus.
For the early Christians, this was a difficult and lifelong challenge. The world they lived in made living out their calling difficult. There's a reason that Paul focused so much on values, attitudes, and lifestyle rather than on calling or career: the early Christians had a lot of enemies who misunderstood them and often wanted to harm them. Following Jesus and using personal gifts as a way to serve him was a life-or-death issue.
Paul told them: “Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.” (Romans 12:14 NLT) For Christians, loving even our enemies is one of the main ways we demonstrate that we are following God’s will and becoming more like Jesus.
Paul talking about persecution was not an exaggeration. The early Christians lived under the Roman Empire, a violent and oppressive power that kept peace and order only through threats with a sword. When Christians began preaching that there was another true King of the whole world besides Caesar, the empire felt threatened and began to persecute Christians.
Despite this, Paul instructed these Jesus followers to live as peacefully as possible under the Roman powers, to love their enemies, and to show through their lifestyle that they were not dangerous criminals or revolutionaries, but people who believed in a Kingdom of God. They lived as good citizens not because the empire was always good, but because they wanted to honor a much higher King than Caesar.
Following the way of Jesus, the early Christians were free to focus only on loving others like Jesus would. In spite of their difficult circumstances, they knew God would handle the rest. Their right as Christians was to live freely and love freely.
So what do you think God's will for your life is? The answer, as it turns out, has everything to do with living the way that Jesus lived - to be compassionate, patient, forgiving, merciful, just, understanding, kindhearted, helpful, and at peace with God. Your skills and gifts simply give you a path to walk on while you pursue that higher goal. And as you walk the path God sets before you, you will probably run into other people who are walking the same path, who share the same values, and want to join together with you in living out God's will.
- Read Romans 12:6-8. What skills or gifts has God given you? Is this something you observed in yourself or something that other people pointed out to you? How do you think God wants you to use that gift?
- Read Romans 12:1-2. What does it mean to conform to the ways of the world? How might a renewed mind help us to understand God's will?
- Read Romans 12:17-13:7. How are Christians supposed to behave when government or cultural leaders are corrupt? How should Christians respond to evil in the world? Also, does forgiveness mean being inactive against evil?
- Read Romans 13:8-10. How does love fulfill God's law? Can you think of other examples beyond the ones listed in the text?