The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1Jn.2:17).
Two questions arise in our minds when we consider this verse: “What is the will of God that John is referring to?” and “What is my response to God’s will?”
‘Wishing’ and ‘willing’ are not the same thing. One who wishes something does so either for oneself or for someone else, in writing or verbally, whereas one who wills something (e.g. his property or wealth) always does so for others, usually his heirs or loved ones. He states his express intention in a legal document and names the heir or heirs who are entitled to his property or wealth after his (the benefactor’s) death. On the basis of the legal document, the heir can claim or take possession of whatever has been bequeathed to him.
So, when we consider the will of God we are looking at a legal document from God – the Holy Bible – in which He expressly states His will for us who are His ‘crown’ of creation – created to live forever with Him. It is with eternity in view that 1 John 2:17 was penned - an eternity in heaven for those who know and execute the will of God for their lives here on earth.
Knowing God’s Will
God out of love takes personal interest in us by providing for our temporal and eternal needs (Matt.6:25-34). However, we are in grave danger of forfeiting God’s eternal inheritance if we get caught up in a relentless pursuit of the temporal things of life, such as education, career, profession, marriage and business, with scant regard for what God desires for us in these areas (Matt.16:26). To avoid getting into this dangerous trap, we need to set our priorities right. The first step in this direction is to know God’s will for us concerning the life beyond and set our affection on the things of that life. Only then can we enjoy the privilege of being divinely guided in our choices and decisions of this life, fulfilling God’s purpose, plan and desire for us in this world.
How can we know that God has included our names in His will and that we are His ‘legal heirs’?
A close look at God’s word (in the context of 1 Jn.2:17) reveals that God has documented His will in two distinct stages – His will for all people of the world and His will for the disciples of Jesus Christ. Until I am included in God’s will at stage-1, I have no part in His will at stage-2. Why? Because, stage-1 refers to God’s ‘will’ that I accept His offer to be His child and thus acquire the right to become an heir of His heavenly, everlasting inheritance.
God’s Will – Stage-1
God has willed that all of us come to Jesus by a simple act of faith to receive His gift of salvation and be saved from eternal death which is the inevitable result of our sin. Paraphrased versions of John 3:16,36 reveal God’s will for me in these words. “God loved me so much that He sent His one and only Son (Jesus Christ) into this world so that the moment I believe in Him I receive eternal life” and “If I believe in Jesus, I have eternal life, but if I reject or ignore Him, I will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on me.”
Having known God’s will that none in this world should perish in hell, I need to respond to Him by believing in Jesus – receiving Him into my heart as my personal Saviour and Lord. In doing so, I willingly give up sinful desires and surrender my life to Him. When I take that step, I become a child of God and a disciple of Christ who tells me to follow Him (Jn.1:12;Matt.4:19a)! I also become an heir of God and co-heir with Christ (Rom.8:15-17)!
God’s Will – Stage-2
Matthew 12:46-50 records an incident that reveals God’s will for the disciples of Jesus Christ. “While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, His mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to Him. When someone told Him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you,’ Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Then, pointing to His disciples, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matt.12:46-50).
The twelve whom Jesus chose to be His disciples obeyed the will of God when they gave up everything and followed Him. The disciples and their Master were like a close-knit family! Judas Iscariot was the exception who chose to leave the family by betraying and deserting his Master for monetary gain. Are there Judas Iscariots in God’s family today? Sadly, there are!
In His high-priestly prayer, we see the Lord’s desire for those whom God had given Him, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (Jn.17:24-26).
Note the words, “and will continue to make you known…” Knowing God is a continuous process in the life of a disciple of Christ as he reads, meditates and obeys God’s word. As we know God progressively, He fills our hearts with His love and the Holy Spirit enables us to love God and our fellow-humans. “…that the love you have for me may be in them…”
Knowing Jesus Christ is knowing God. The apostle Paul declares, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…” (Phil.3:8 emphasis added).
Christ’s prayer to the Father for us who would believe on Him was that we would be united with Christ and with one another in love and that our unity would be like that of God the Father and God the Son. “My prayer is not for them (the first disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their (Christ’s disciples’) message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn.17:20,21 emphasis added).
The Transient And The Eternal
1 John 2:17 refers to two kinds of people – (i) those who are preoccupied with themselves and with the transient things of this world: the world and its desires pass away, and (ii) those whose first priority is knowing and doing God’s will as described in the two stages above: the man who does the will of God lives forever.
The first part of our text refers to death (‘pass away’) and the second part refers to eternal life. Jesus came into this world to give us eternal life. My eternal destiny depends on the choice I make here on earth – the choice between eternal death and eternal life; the choice between worldly desires and God’s will. Therefore, my choice determines whether or not I am included in the will of God and in His ‘Book of Heaven’ (Lk.10:20).
When I give first priority to God and His will for me, everything else I need for a contended and fruitful life in this world will be my portion (Matt.6:25-34).
The Lord Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt.7:21).