And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom… (2 Timothy 4:18)
Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world! (John 18:36) His disciples were to have eternity in mind, and not be bound by the things of this world. He knew that we would be tempted to partake in the delights this world has to offer, and that we would frequently succumb to those delights. Yet, He told us that if we tenaciously hang on to Him as our way to eternal life (John 14:6) He would deliver us into His kingdom.
When the Apostle Paul wrote the verse of Scripture that precedes this article he was in the Mamertine Dungeon! There were no stairs in dungeons, so the prisoner was pushed twenty feet below ground. It was damp, cold, dark, and lonely.
Paul was twenty feet below the bustling city of Rome, where giants of power, prestige, wealth, and pleasure were engaging in their enterprises. He was alone and largely forsaken.
He could easily have questioned if he was in the will of God as, clearly, he didn’t plan on winding up in prison. Quite the contrary! In a letter written from Corinth he had hoped for a prosperous journey to Rome and then continue on to spread the Gospel message in Spain. (Romans 1:10; 15:24)
All too often, I do things that I know are sins! I confess them to God and repent of them and then do the very same sins again, with subsequent confession and repentance. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m even in the will of God, or if I’m deluding myself that such a sinner as me has been chosen by God to proclaim His Gospel.
That’s one of the reasons I take comfort in the fact that Paul called himself the chiefest of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), his unstated “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), and his confession, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.. O wretched man that I am: who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:15, 18-19, 24-25)
Paul was able to reconcile his sins and sin-nature with his knowledge of being in God’s will, despite the circumstances of prison, because, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2Timothy 1:12) What did Paul commit to Jesus? His very self!
Notice, this commitment doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t sin! It means that with his mind and heart, he committed his life to Jesus, though his flesh all too often betrayed him.
Having made his commitment, he knew that God is not a game-player and that whatever happens to God’s elect is filtered through His hands. Therefore, Paul confidently wrote, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content.” He wasn’t necessarily content with the circumstances, but he was content that he was in the will of God, regardless of his sins and circumstances.
In this dungeon, Paul could easily have questioned whether he was in God’s will; he could even have easily questioned whether a loving and merciful God even existed. He could have come to view his Damascus Road experience as a mere hallucination!
However, he laid his life down on the altar for God to use and he trusted God with the life that God gave him. If that meant prison and execution, so be it! If it meant ostracism, defections, torture, beatings, shipwrecks, stoning, and death for the cause of Christ, he knew he was still in God’s will.
How did he know he was in God’s will? He knew he was in God’s will, because he trusted God! He knew that God could be counted upon to deliver on His many promises; Paul’s vision was focused on the “eternity” of God’s kingdom, and not on the things which he saw and experienced in “time.”
You and I are in this same situation of having to make a cold-turkey choice: do we trust God or not? Do we look to “eternity” or to “time” for our ultimate rewards? Do we trust God or man? Do we trust in God’s many promises to us, or do we trust in our seen life-circumstances? Do we trust in God’s grace or in our own inadequate performance?
When we finally decide the answers to those questions, we will know for certain whether or not we are in the will of God!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.