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The Decretive and Preceptive Wills of God

We look once again today at helpful comments from Scott Christensen, taken from his excellent book, What About Free Will? Reconciling our Choices with God’s Sovereignty (P&R, 2016). Here we take note of an important distinction in Scripture between two senses in which God may be said to “will” something. Continue reading . . . 

We look once again today at helpful comments from Scott Christensen, taken from his excellent book, What About Free Will? Reconciling our Choices with God’s Sovereignty (P&R, 2016). Here we take note of an important distinction in Scripture between two senses in which God may be said to “will” something:

“Scripture indicates at least two senses in which the “will” of God is spoken. Consider first of all what theologians call God’s decretive will. This is God’s sovereign will whereby he ordains or decrees all events that transpire in space, time and history including all human actions and insures that they will certainly take place . . . God’s decree is his blueprint for history. He doesn’t usually tell us what he determines to happen so sometimes this is called God’s secret will (Deut. 29:29). However, prophecy is the unusual case in which God’s decretive will is disclosed for us to see beforehand. Ephesians 1:11 speaks of God’s decretive will when it says he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” In this passage God labors (“works”) to accomplish “all things” that transpire in creation. Nothing escapes his meticulous providential guidance. He does all this “according to the counsel of his will.” This of course indicates his unswerving decree. This means nothing can thwart God’s decretive will including human choices (Dan. 4:35).

Secondly, theologians speak in terms of God’s preceptive will. This is the revealed will of God in Scripture which declares or instructs us what God has established as righteous, wise, good and true. Some call this God’s moral will, instructive will or will of command. For example, Ephesians 6:6 speaks of believers “doing the will of God from the heart.” When we “do” the will of God this obviously cannot refer to his decretive will. We have no providential power to execute God’s plan for history. Paul talks about something that can be obeyed or disobeyed. When he adds, “from the heart” this shows that the “will” spoken of here has a moral dimension to it. God is concerned that we do his will with the right motives. Thus, God’s decretive will speaks of what actually happens while his preceptive will speaks of what ought to happen” (pp. 85-86).

What’s most important for us to remember is that our rule of duty and moral responsibility is God’s perceptive, moral, or revealed will. We must never act or refrain from acting based on what we think or speculate might be God’s decretive, secret, or sovereign will. Our actions must always be in response to what God has revealed and commanded in Scripture. Whether or not what he has commanded is also what he has decreed is not for us to know, and certainly cannot and must never be the basis for our decisions.

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