The story of the Pharisees is a cautionary tale for Christians. We need to be careful that ostensibly good desires aren’t proceeding from sinful motivations. This is a difficult thing to do, and it requires much heart searching. Were the Pharisees wrong to desire certainty about some things? No, they were not. We are certain, of course, about what God wants us to do in some regards. For example, we know that He has said, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts” (Col. 3:12). We know that He has said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12), and, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). These are examples of God’s will. He has said other, even more specific things. For example, He has called us, if we marry, to marry only another Christian—not a non-Christian (1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14). He has also called us to work (Col. 3:23; 1 Tim. 5:8).
These passages and others tell us God’s will. But we’re actually looking for something more specific, right? We’re often not so worried about His moral will, that is, His commandments (theologians often call this God’s preceptive will). We’re wondering, specifically, what to do next among an array of morally good options. God’s moral will can give us more certainty in regard to some options, but it doesn’t narrow it down to a specific choice. When we talk about specific choices that God hasn’t revealed, we are talking about His secret will—that will that God has chosen not to reveal to us. God’s secret, or hidden, will is mysterious. It involves everything He has not told us regarding exact decisions (What would God choose if He were me?), about the future (Will I marry this person?), and pretty much everything else that God keeps to Himself (Why was I born now rather than a century ago?).
As we search for what God hasn’t revealed—His secret will—we often employ a variety of methods. Sometimes we take biblical injunctions, which are good, and twist them to use them for our own purposes. For example, getting counsel about decisions is good (Prov. 11:14; 15:22). Pastors, family members, and friends often highlight and affirm God’s love and direction for us in particular situations. They can and do help us as we make decisions. But sometimes instead of simply seeking wisdom from counselors, we use counselors as a way to “find” God’s secret will. We take our pastor’s opinion on a matter as though he were God directly telling us His will, or we trust that our friend has heard “a word from the Lord.” Prayer is also a commendable thing to do, and we are called to ask for wisdom (1 Thess. 5:17; James 1:5). We can—and should—pray for direction. But sometimes Christians go even further. They ask God to give them a divine sign, such as sending them a phone call at an exact moment or ordaining that a billboard with a particular message for them appear on their morning commute.
These sorts of practices are often done with a sincere desire to know and do God’s will, and many have made good and right decisions by using strange practices. Our decision, for instance, might meet with success if we confirm God’s secret will by seeing a billboard with an unusual message. However, seeking confirmation of God’s secret will in these peculiar ways isn’t biblical. Scripture doesn’t say that we can find God’s secret will through counselors, peaceful feelings, unusual coincidences, or other things. His secret will is, by its very nature, hidden.