God's Will: A Diamond with Eight Cuts
Many Christians misunderstand God's will. They believe it is a monolithic, inflexible rubric they are to simply obey without question. This is partly true, but not entirely. God's will is a diamond cut eight ways, in four distinct dyads (pairs).
General Will vs Specific Will
God's general will refers to His universal rubric for all humanity. It is recorded in the Old and New Testament Scriptures. It refers to His broad expectations: that all be saved (2Pet 3:9) and baptized (Mt 28:19), that all seek Him (Ac 17:27), that the saved are vitally connected to a Bible-believing fellowship (1Jn 2:19), that they submit to practical sanctification (1Th 5:23,24), that they serve others with their spiritual gifts (1Pet 4:10), and so on.
Obeying God's general will prepares and qualifies us for His specific will, which is His plan for us individually or His tactic for specific situations we face. This is granted by the Holy Spirit's personal voice. The Spirit convicts and motivates us to obey God's general will, but He often withholds His specific will (or greater portions of it) until we are more trustworthy in His general will. Read Luke 16:10-12.
In a meeting I recently ministered in, one brother realized he had not been baptized properly, and this was limiting the Spirit's communication to him. Others in the meeting also realized areas of mediocrity or disobedience in God's general will, and how it correlated with a coolness or distance from the Spirit. You do not get a personal map if you ignore the general map.
Ideal Will vs Adjusted Will
God's ideal will refers to His perfect plan if all the variables function as desired or envisioned. Sometimes this can and does happen, sometimes it does not. When it does not, God gearshifts into an adjusted will--His new or recalibrated plan based on the new set of variables. Scripture is filled with this dyad.
Ideal will = that the exodus generation would enter the promise land (Ex 3:8,16,17). Adjusted will = it was the second generation that actually went in (Num 14:22-35).
Ideal will = that Moses would lead Israel into the promised land (Num 20:12). Adjusted will = Joshua led them in (Deu 3:28).
Ideal will = Jesus' time had not yet come to reveal His glory (Jn 2:4). Adjusted will = He revealed it early at Mary's supplication (v11).
Ideal will = Jesus sent only to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 15:24-26). Adjusted will = He gave the Canaanite woman early Gentile blessings (v28).
Ideal will = that John Mark would be a dependable ministry helper (Ac 13:5,13). Adjusted will = Paul resumed ministry without John Mark, and replaced him with Silas (15:36-41).
Ideal will = that all be saved and none perish (2Pet 3:9). Adjusted will = only a remnant or "residue of men" will be saved (Ac 15:17, Young's Literal Translation).
Know when God's ideal will is still possible in a situation, and, know when the variables have changed irretrievably, occasioning a modified plan. You can only know this if you have a deep, consistent meeting with Him every day. Get lazy on that and you will miss whether God's ideal will or adjusted will is operative.
Adamant Will vs Optional Will
God's adamant will refers to a desire or rubric of His that is inflexible and perpetual. The black-n-white absolutes of Scripture are a part of His adamant will, like praying without ceasing, not committing murder, or making disciples of all nations. His adamant will can also come in the form of a personal command or prompt from the Holy Spirit. If it is adamant, we have no choice but to submit and obey. If we do not obey, He will pause our intimacy and progress with Him and begin to pull back until we do.
God's optional will refers to just that, options He presents to you based on your personality and desires. Three times Jesus asked, "What do you want?" (Jn 1:38, Mt 20:21, and 20:32). Also read Psalm 16:6,7, a critical scripture on this subject. Within the boundary lines of his inheritance, David said his heart was free to instruct him and God would simply "counsel" (not command) him. David's word choice here is all-important. Of the eight cuts to the diamond of God's will, His optional will is probably the least understood and appreciated.
Unconditional vs Conditional Will
God's unconditional will refers to something He Himself will fulfill no matter what, hence the self-evident term, "unconditional". For example, Pharaoh's dreams revealed God's unconditional will. Joseph's language is wonderfully clear about this in Genesis 41:32 (NIV): The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
Another example of His unconditional will is in the dream He gave Nebuchadnezzar. Once again, notice the angel's language in Daniel 4:17 (NIV): The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over all...
Pharaoh's revelation was "firmly decided". Nebuchadnezzar's revelation was "the decision" and angels "declared the verdict". Unconditional plans like these spotlight God's sovereignty, that He does as He pleases, when He pleases, how He pleases.
Many more examples in the Old and New Testament could be cited, like prophecies about the last days, the maturation of the church, the Millennium, Peter and the disciples' sifting (Lk 22:31,32), the famine across Rome (Ac 11:27,28), Paul's tribulations in Jerusalem (20:22,23), etc. The driving concept here is that God will do some things all by Himself, no matter what, regardless of human or demonic variables.
Christians are less acquainted and comfortable with God's conditional will, which requires human participation of some kind to be fulfilled, hence the self-evident term, "conditional". The Word shows us plenty of examples.
Moses prophesied to Israel's elders that God would extract them from Egypt and take them to a pleasant land (Ex 4:29-31). Fastforward to Kadesh in the Desert of Paran (Num 13:26). Here God said Moses' prophecy would go unfulfilled to every individual who heard that original word (except for Caleb and Joshua), because they stopped cooperating with Him (14:22-35). They disbelieved, disobeyed, and discontinued with the Lord (Heb 4:1-11). And so the prophetic promise bounced to their children, who did fulfill the conditions of the word and entered the promise land.
One of the clearest, most direct Old Testament scriptures about God's conditional will is Jeremiah 18:7-10. Grab your Bible and read it. Here God describes conditional plans to Jeremiah in a super simple if-then formula.
One of the clearest, most direct New Testament scriptures about God's conditional will is 1Timothy 1:18,19. Read it. Here Paul explains to Timothy that, for his personal prophecies to be fulfilled, he would have to "wage good warfare" and do other things (v19). They would not be fulfilled automatically. They were contingent on some type of obedience, wisdom, or participation God would require from Timothy.