John 7:17 “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”
A better translation than, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will,” would be, “If anyone desires to do God’s will” in this verse. Jesus is talking about the condition of our own hearts. Do we want what God wants?
Is it hard to see why this is so important for how we receive Jesus’ teachings? When we want something to be a certain way, we can work very hard to justify our position. If a person wants to get drunk, he can redefine what it means to be drunk, and line up all those Bible passages that tell us it is okay to have a drink, and remind anyone who tries to confront him that the Bible says “Do not judge.” I have listened to people defend their sexual sin with some of the most far-fetched and outlandish interpretations of the Bible passages that condemn the same practices. One man even tried to twist God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah into a defense of homosexuality, if you can imagine that. Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” We’ve got enemies. Do we reinterpret what it means to love them to excuse ourselves?
It’s not just the moral issues. What God says about there being only one way to heaven can be hard to accept when we know someone who died trying another way, or no way at all. Do we want what God wants then? Scripture warns us that life in this world will be hard, and painful, and full of trouble, and that God disciplines us this way for our good, because he loves us. But when life actually turns out that way, and we are miserable, do we acknowledge that God is simply being gracious to us then? Do we want what God wants? I could multiply examples.
The point is this: When we don’t want what God wants, then we don’t listen to his word with an open and receptive heart. We try to read our own ideas into his word. We may go looking for ways to defend our positions, instead of looking in the word to learn God’s positions. We may go looking for people who tell us what we want to hear instead of looking for a true teacher of God’s word. That is a heart problem. What is the status of my own heart?
If we are going to desire to do the will of God, God must first call us to repentance. That is why John the Baptist came as the forerunner of Jesus. His preaching of repentance prepared people to desire God’s will and recognize Christ. This is why the law must still be preached to us today. It breaks down our self-will, which stands in the way of acknowledging God’s will.
If we are going to desire to do the will of God, we need the gospel to give us faith. Desiring to do God’s will does not begin until after we trust in him. And trust in God does not begin until after we have been convinced that he loves us unconditionally and forgives every sin and gives us heaven. Only when we trust God and want what he wants are our hearts in any condition to test the teachers and know whether the word they speak is God’s own.