Biblical Studies

Knowing God’s Will Apart From the Law

Right now I’m reading Brian Rosner’s Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God, where Rosner argues that “Paul undertakes a polemical re-evaluation of the Law of Moses…” whereby he repudiates it as law-covenant (law as covenant), replaces it with other things (faith in Christ), and re-appropriates it as prophecy (pointing to the gospel) and as wisdom (for Christian living).

Right now I’m in chapter 3 called “Not ‘walking according to the law'” where Rosner shows what Paul doesn’t say about believing Christians and the Law compared to what is normally said about Jews under the Law of Moses. I found the section on God’s will very intriguing. In Romans 2:18 Paul says, “and [you, Jews] know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law.”

There is a connection between the will of God and the Law of Moses as found in the Psalms:

I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.
+++++++++++++(Ps. 40:8)

 Yet when Paul speaks of God’s will to Christian believers through his letters, he never says they know God’s will through the Law.

References to God’s immutable (eternal, sovereign) will appear in seven of Paul’s letters (Rom. 1:10 and 15:32; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1) which deal with Paul’s own plans, his apostleship, and the plan of salvation all under God’s sovereign will.

There’s another aspect of God’s will which Paul refers to: God’s moral will. Back in Romans 2:18 we see the Jews were to “approve what is excellent” referring to God’s moral will. Through the Law the Jews were to learn how to live a life pleasing to God. If Christians are not under the Law, how are we to know how to live a life pleasing to God?

Paul gives seven passages on God’s moral will to his Christian readers.

1-2). Believers know God’s will through other means (though no clues as to where to ‘find’ this will)

  • Ephesians 6:6,“not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,”
  • Colossians 4:12,“Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.”

3-4). Two passages give clearer understanding to a specific aspect of God’s will. 

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3,“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;”
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18,“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

It seems the Thessalonians would know God’ will through His appointed messenger, the apostle Paul.

5-6). Two passages create a bridge between wisdom and knowing the will of God.

  • Ephesians 5:17,“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
  • Colossians 1:9,“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

7). Finally, we come to the seventh passage on how to be able to discern/know God’s will.

  • Romans 12:2,“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:1-2 follows a long theological exposition in chapters 1-11, but for Paul to switch over to ethics is hardly surprising. “Here’s the Gospel, now what do we do with it?” For after showing 11 chapters worth of God’s mercy, total dedication to God is what is required of the believer. Paul calls for both reasonable worship and for renewed minds (contrast that to what he says in Romans 1 on false and foolish worship [vv21-23] and corrupt minds [vv28ff]). Romans 12:1 also recalls what believers are to do with their bodies in Rom. 6:13 and 19.

If the Jews know God’s will (sovereign and moral) through the Law, how do Christians who aren’t under the Law know God’s will for their lives? They know/find God’s will in apostolic instruction, wisdom, and in response to the Gospel, believing in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation and living a totally dedicated life that is pleasing to Him.

Paul and the Law

Paul and the Law is the 31st book in the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series (found here). It can be found on IVP UK and Amazon.

My review here.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 


    1. I’m really liking it. Like I said, I’m only into chapter 3, but I like what he’s been saying so far about how Christians aren’t under the Law, why that is, and what Paul means by it. I feel he’s a bit wordy at times, and there were a few times I had to re-read bits, but that’s to be expected with a series like this. I blame it on the jet lag anyway. Either way, this isn’t a quick read!


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