If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. John 7:17 NASB
These are incredible words: my understanding of the Kingdom of God and of his teaching is based on my personal willingness. It is a two-part equation: my will aligning with God’s will. But at the most basic level my grasp about Jesus, God, heaven, the Bible, and life begin with and depend on… me.
My will is the first half of the equation. There are often times when my heart and mind explode with the light shining from his words. Understanding pours into my spirit. I sometimes wonder why others struggle to understand things that from my perspective make complete sense. Then I realize it’s personal. It’s what his Spirit is teaching me at the moment. It is what He is sharing as a friend and as a confidant. The more I press into His kingdom, the more He teaches, unfolds, and reveals Himself. He delights in me knowing all about Him. Asking tough questions, pursuing answers. None are too difficult for Him. As I open myself in vulnerability to Him, He opens Himself in vulnerability to me. Yet, I know He went first — for which I’m forever indebted and grateful.
In John’s description of Jesus’ interaction at the Feast of Tabernacles, people had ideas about his identity that were all over the map. Was he the messiah? a good man? or a deceiver? It’s easy to conclude that it’s impossible to know what is true when I approach a difficult topic with so many opinions. Sometimes the number of different views seems to give me permission to be lazy — throw up my arms and say, “How could anyone know?” Yet in the very confusion about a topic is God’s invitation to understand, to seek an answer. Jesus taught so that his disciples would know the secrets of the kingdom — while it was obscured from others.
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” Matthew 13:11 NIV
The reason there is a disconnect between people about what is true is because there is a God-created filter on our understanding — allowing only the willing to proceed—others are stopped abruptly.
As I read the Gospels, it’s clear that there is a qualification between those who believe and those who don’t. When speaking with the Pharisees who were challenging him, Jesus again showed how this kingdom filter worked.
Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. John 8:42-43 NASB
You “cannot hear,” meaning, you won’t accept it. You are not willing to open your heart to the possibility it is true — and because of the impact it may have on your way of life, you reject it. In another situation a little later, a man was healed by Jesus who was born blind. Afterwards this man with fresh sight saw the true state of Israel’s leaders who were investigating what happened. They kept asking him the same question, getting the same answer. The man was exasperated and possibly a little amused that those who should see were really blind:
He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” John 9:27 NASB
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes more about the filter:
(We) are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:13-14 NASB
Our understanding of the kingdom is unlocked, the veil over our eyes are removed — in Christ. He is the way, truth and life. I may only know the Father as Jesus opens him to me.
All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 NASB
It is simple to come to him and know the secrets of life, but we must walk through the gate — which is Christ.
I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9 NASB
My willingness is not the only qualifier, but my willingness: to do His will. And this is the second half of the equation. Unpacking what it means “to do his will” is important.
In the Greek according to Strong, the sense of this word means: his choice or preference. By implication, his wish, with an idea of something in which he delights in. Every person has a wish or preference and something that is intrinsically delightful. When my wife takes time to know me, and me her, we enjoy deferring to each other’s preferences. This picture of God’s will then is not that of an over-controlling despot willing to subjugate others at any cost, but rather a father, a friend, hoping you value him enough to pay attention to what he values and considers meaningful.
To better understand the distinction Jesus is making between wills, I must travel back to the beginning. God made this world and everything in it so that I may revel in it. Learn about it. Play in it. Joy in the minutia. In the process I learn about God, the artist who created it. He made it for my pleasure. And in this discovery my God enjoys the fellowship of the experience, just like a parent enjoys the child’s first encounter with snow, or a bug. Then came the fateful day when man stepped sideways and did the one thing he was told he shouldn’t: he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The adversary was fishing with doubt and mistrust on his line, and Eve bit. Then Adam. Satan generated enough mistrust that they questioned the very goodness and intent of God. The enlightenment they sought, through this act, became hidden. God would have offered them this knowledge—when they could have handled it—just like a parent waits to explain details of love and babies when the young adult is ready for it. Could you imagine a child pulling a gun on mom and dad and demanding it at age eight?
Is it any wonder that the first and most important commandment that God gave to Moses was to “love God first, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?” Another lover had caught man’s eye. So many loves tug on my heart every day. But the love God wants is singular, jealous. Why? Because there is a snake in the weeds, and without absolute devotion to him first—and to the exclusion of others—man will continue to be beguiled. Just like my eye may only focus on one thing even though I see many, my heart only has capacity to offer unfettered devotion to one, even though I love many. As I love him and follow my gentle shepherd, he turns me around and leads me away from the path I have travelled where my flesh and desire have run me ragged. There is a curse on my life and the only way to escape it is through death. Denying myself. Picking up my cross daily to follow him. Killing every competing love. The symbolism of baptism releases something very powerful in our lives. It marks a new beginning. Only when this death occurs in my heart am I able to hear, know, and follow the voice of my loving Father.
When contrasting God’s will with mine, it is important to know God is not a megalomaniac — He is not pulling my strings as though I am a puppet in order to accomplish a mysterious “will.” He is not mindlessly using me as though I am simply a body available to fulfill a calling which he pulls out of a bag when I sign up. On the contrary, he wants me to be redeemed and fully restored. Only when I am again whole, may I know the richness of life in him and his kingdom and the choices he freely gives to me to make. I’ve been born with God-given gifts and abilities. His plan and “will” is to see me fully living them out, integrated as part of the whole body of Christ, and contributing my unique and important part. When I do, I am allowing the light of God to shine through me and radiate his person in only the way I can. I am a piece of God. Not a puppet.
This Christian walk is similar to children growing up. We all start as babies, but in time we mature. We are transformed from one place to another. The do’s and don’ts given to children make way for more choices as teenagers, then independence as adults. A child’s relationship with their parent is nothing like a lover’s relationship with their spouse. But one precedes the other. And in his kingdom, it is no different.
Knowing his will is personal. And just as Jesus indicated in this verse, our understanding is based on personal willingness to follow it. No matter how many well-meaning people tell me what God wants for my life, I am the gatekeeper of what that is. No one knows or is responsible for my life but me. In my many years in fellowship with the church, I have seen individuals who have been impacted by their personal calling. Yet, in their enthusiasm, they loudly encourage everyone to follow the same path. Not everyone is called to be God’s salesman—the evangelist. Nor is everyone called to be God’s teacher—the preacher. And for those who are insecure about hearing God’s voice, it’s easy to accept another’s calling instead of hearing what God is speaking to them. There is one voice, and it is personal, and it is directed perfectly to my heart—if I’m willing to hear it. A quick scan of the New Testament and we see that God has given many gifts and ministries. Paul uses the analogy of the church being a body with many parts, with vastly different functions. How we fit in, what we do, is highly individual and based on one thing: his word spoken to me, personally.
They were asking Jesus, “How do we know that what you are teaching is from God? How do we know that you are the Messiah? Can we really believe in you?” And Jesus answered, “Yes, you may believe and know if you are willing to accept the truth and will take the needed actions.” There are many examples of those who knew exactly who Jesus was without lots of debate: when he was dedicated in the Temple at eight days old. Who told Simeon (Luke 2:25) or Anna (Luke 2:38) that he was the Messiah? When Jesus called his first disciples, how did they know he was the Messiah (Matthew 4:20-21)? They clearly were willing to follow. When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to be baptized and said, “Here is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:35-37) how did he know? They knew when they were full of the Holy Spirit.
Today, regardless of the issue with which I am confronted or how complicated the choices which perplex me, I may know God’s heart, mind, and direction. They are my invitation to know. We know, because we hear. And if I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m unwilling to hear. Which brings me to the key to the secrets of the kingdom: I must start at the most basic point of humility, lowliness, picking up my cross with a willingness to love and follow him. No matter how obscure my way forward, he directs my steps. Hears my requests and is willing to answer.