The events of chapter seven of John’s Gospel strike me as being all about that difficult issue of judging and discerning God’s will. How does one determine what God’s plan? How do you know what God wants you to do with your life? How do you decide what is from God and what isn’t?
Throughout the chapter, we see the crowds of people debating whether Jesus is of God or not, if He is a “good man” or just “leading the people astray.” As time passes and they hear more and more from Jesus, their respective positions are merely solidified. Many grow to believe that He is the Messiah, but the others simply continue to think He is a trickster. Apparently, more is needed than our judgment.
When Jesus brothers try to give Him “career advice” and have Him head to the festival to increase His image, Jesus counters that He must follow God’s plan. And in God’s plan, timing is everything. The brothers are not followers of Jesus. Jesus tells them that their plans and their ideas are inconsequential. Therefore, their plans and their timing all equally irrelevant. Jesus must act when God wants Him to and no sooner or later.
Over the course of the chapter, Jesus gives three important teachings about doing God’s will.
First, in verses 16-18, Jesus tells us how to recognize God’s will. God shows His will to the willing. It is only those who are prepared to follow God’s plans that can see what His plans are. This is a crucial teaching. In God’s Kingdom, we do not even receive our instructions until we have surrendered to following them. We don’t hear from God and then decide whether to obey or not. We hear once we have decided.
Secondly, in verses 19-24, Jesus points out the flaw of simplistic legalism. God’s will is not a list of simple rules that we follow or prohibitions that we avoid. Real life is more nuanced than that. In God’s Kingdom, we follow the rule of love. We do Good, which sometimes involves the better over and against a good. In such a complicated reality, we do not trust our own judgment on its own. Real discernment is knowing when to look to God for guidance.
Finally, in verses 37 and 38, Jesus teaches that His followers will not be required to figure things out all alone. Those who surrender to follow God’s will have the Spirit within them. They have God with them every step of the way, and God will lead them in following His will.