R C Sproul – What’s the Difference Between the Decretive and the Preceptive Wills of God

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The secret things of God belong to Him. That refers to what we call „The hidden will of God”. Now, usually, when we’re speaking about the hidden will of God, we have in our mind the decretive will. When people say, „What is the will of God for my life?” I say, „Remember that the Bible use the words „will of God” in several different ways. The first way is what we call the ‘decretive will’.

The decretive will of God is that will of God, by which, God sovereignly brings to pass whatsoever He wills. Sometimes it’s called the absolute will of God. Sometimes it’s simply called ‘the sovereign will of God’. Sometimes, it’s called in theology, the ‘efficacious will of God’. But, normally, we talk about the decretive will of God. That is, when God decrees, sovereignly, that something should come to pass, it must needs come to pass. The Bible frequently speaks about the determinate  counsel of God, where, when God has decreed from all eternity that Christ should die on the cross, in a particular time in Jerusalem history- it must needs come to pass.

It comes to pass through the determinate counsel or will of God. That’s what we’re talking about, when we’re talking about the decree of the will of God. That will, that God brings to pass, by the sheer power of His sovereignties. It’s irresistible, it has to happen. When God calls the earth into existence, it comes into existence. It cannot not be, the lights cannot not be when He  says, „Let there be light”. That’s the decretive will of God.

We also talk about the preceptive will of God. And we understand that the decretive will of God cannot be resisted. The preceptive will of God, not only can be resisted by us, but is resisted all the time. The preceptive will of God is a reference to God’s law, to His commandments. This is the will of God, that you not have any other gods before Him.

Now, when people call me and ask me, „How can I know the will of God in my life?”  I want to say to them, „What will are you talking about?” Are you talking about the decretive will of God- the hidden will of God? If you’re talking about the hidden will of God, the first thing you have to understand about the hidden will of God is that it’s hidden. All I can do is read God’s word, and what that does for me is give me His revealed will. And that’s enough of a task to last me my lifetime- trying to sort out everything that’s in this book that God has revealed. And, if you’re asking me about that, I can help you with it. But, if you’re asking me about His hidden will, I have no earthly idea what is in God’s mind, where He has not revealed Himself.

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