Question: "What is God's good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2)?"
Answer: Romans 12:2 reveals that the believer who is being transformed by a new, godly way of thinking “may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (NKJV). This three-fold description of God’s will can teach us more about who God is and His plan for us.
God’s will for the believer is good. It is good because He is fully good (Luke 18:19) with no evil or darkness in Him (1 John 1:5). Every “good and perfect gift” comes from God (James 1:17), and “He withholds no good thing from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). God’s good will is revealed for our benefit and the benefit of those we serve.
God’s will for the believer is acceptable. God’s will is acceptable, or pleasing, in that it is approved by God and fully pleasing to Him. Those who obey the will of God are acceptable to Him (Matthew 12:50). The believer who serves the Lord in a spirit of deference, love, and righteousness is “acceptable to God and approved by men” (Romans 14:18, ESV).
God’s will for the believer is perfect. His perfect will has no defect and fully reaches the goal, purpose, or end that was intended. Following God’s perfect will makes us better reflections of God’s perfect nature. God’s perfect will leads us to spiritual maturity. Scripture was given to make the believer “perfect” in the sense of “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
In Romans 12:2, the words good, acceptable, and perfect can also be taken as nouns that rename the will of God; in other words, God’s will equals that which is good and acceptable and perfect. This appositional construction is brought out in the ESV: “You may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Viewed this way, if you are doing good things that are pleasing to God and leading to your maturity, then you are doing God’s will.
At times God’s will does not seem to us to be good, acceptable, or perfect. If His will includes suffering, or if it doesn’t make sense to us, we question it. When God called Moses to go to Egypt and rescue the Israelites, he questioned God’s will, wondering if the people would believe him (Exodus 4:1). Moses gave excuses for why he could not do it, saying he was not “eloquent” of speech (Exodus 4:10). God reminded Moses that God made man’s mouth and that He would help Moses speak and teach Moses what to say (Exodus 4:11).
God’s will revealed to Joshua probably didn’t seem to be good, acceptable, or perfect, either. What human sense did it make to walk around Jericho for seven days (Joshua 6:1–27)? What sense did it make for the widow of Zarephath to give Elijah her last meal (1 Kings 17:7–16)? For Naaman to bathe in the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5)? For Peter to cast his net on the other side of the boat after a night of fishing in vain (John 21:1–14)? When Jesus revealed His will that the disciples feed 5,000 people, Philip remonstrated: “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to have a small piece” (John 6:7). Jesus told the people at Lazarus’s tomb to roll away the stone, a seemingly pointless thing to do, since Lazarus had been dead for four days (John 11:17–44). In each of these cases, people obeyed the Lord, with the result that God’s plan was fulfilled perfectly. In our limited thinking and strength, God’s will seems strange, but it truly is good, acceptable, and perfect.
Romans 12:1–2 tells us how we can know and fulfill God’s will. The process begins by consecrating ourselves to God: “In view of God’s mercy, . . . offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (verse 1). As we offer our whole selves to Him, He transforms and redirects our lives. Verse 2 continues with setting ourselves apart from the world and allowing our minds to be transformed: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Then comes the ability to discern God’s will: “You will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). As believers renounce the ways of the world and submit to Christ, their minds, hearts, and wills are renewed by God’s Word and Spirit. This is how we can test and approve God’s will.
By His divine power, God “has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3). Following God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will allows us to enjoy life abundantly (see John 10:10). May we echo the psalmist’s words in Psalm 119:111–112:
“Your statutes are my heritage forever;
they are the joy of my heart.
My heart is set on keeping your decrees
to the very end.”