For a long time I’ve understood that there is a difference between God’s will and God’s plan, but for this post I wanted to do some more research into what exactly that difference is.
God’s will, as stated by 1 Timothy 3-4, is that all people would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. The Bible lists a few other specifics under this overarching theme such as our sanctification and avoiding sexual immorality (1 Thess. 4:3), our thankfulness in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18), and that our expressions of goodness would silence the ignorant talk of foolish people (1 Peter 2:15). God’s will is His ultimate desire for us who are created in His image; however, just because God desires these things for us doesn’t mean they’re all going to happen.
This isn’t because God doesn’t have the power to make them happen, rather it is because in His infinite goodness He creates us with free will. Though He desires all to be saved, due to free will many won’t accept the free gift of salvation and surrender their lives to Him. Though He desires for us to turn from sexual immorality, many people commit sexual sins.
So you see, God’s will is simply God’s desires according to what He knows is best for us and most glorifying to Him, but He has allowed each individual to make the choice for themselves whether or not to follow it.
Now we come to God’s plan where while free will surely exists, God’s intentions always come to pass (in contrast to God’s will).
God’s plan is mentioned many times in the Bible, the most popular reference probably being Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that is so often taken out of context and misinterpreted. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”‘ This verse is specifically directed to the Israelites who were exiled to Babylon in relation to God’s promise to bring them out of that land and back to their own.
Though this is directed to a different group of people for a specific time, place, and situation, Christians can still use this story as a whole (instead of pulling out just the verse) to help us understand God’s plan. His plan for the Israelites did come to pass and they were released from Babylon exactly when God intended them to be, so we know that God has the power and the purpose of executing His plans.
Job 42:2 also tells us that “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” So we can also gather that whatever God purposes to do is not able to be prevented. His plan overrides the plans we make while still allowing us free will, so says Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lords establishes their steps.”
All in all, God’s plan is different from God’s will because God’s plan can be global (creation, redemption, restoration) or it can be the individual intentions of God that are different for each person and always comes to fruition, whereas God’s will is His universal desires for the good of His creation and His own glory that is available to all but not forced upon anyone.
I’m grateful to be able to study God’s word and wrestle with hard concepts like this and I hope you feel encouraged to dive deeper into what God has to say as well!