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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will - Part 6

(This is the sixth article in a series.  To read the other articles, click:  Part 1   Part 2   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5)
What are some of the unreliable methods that believers use to make decisions? 
1) Misusing the Bible.  While it has been the contention of this series that God’s Word is sufficient to help us make every decision in life, that does not mean that we may use the Bible however we choose.  Some people treat the Bible as if it were a ouija board, taking random verses out of order and considering them to be a “word from the Lord.”
There is an old joke about a man doing this and getting some pretty bad advice. He closed his eyes opened the Bible, and dropped his finger on the page. Opening his eyes, he found he was pointing to Matt 27:5b: and he went and hanged himself.  To get a clarifying “word from the Lord,” he repeated the process and this time ended up on Luke 10:37b:“You go, and do likewise.”  With his heart pounding, he did it one more time and arrived at John 13:27b: “What you are going to do, do quickly.”  It’s an absurd illustration, but demonstrates a good point.  When we use the Bible to help us make a decision, we need to study to find the intended point of a given passage, not taking words, phrases, or thoughts out of context.
2) Relying on personal advice. This is not to say we shouldn’t get advice—there is safety in an abundance of counselors (Prov11:14). But all counsel should be weighed against Scripture.  Even godly people can advise you wrongly.  The best advice is biblically informed.  The only way to know whether the advice you are getting is biblical is to study the Scriptures.
3) Reading the circumstances/results.  Some people make decisions based upon interpreting their circumstances, saying things like “look how things are coming together.”  Or they may decide based upon the results of a certain decision: “Look at how the Lord is blessing this.”  Or they may rely on “opened doors” and “closed doors”.  Circumstances should not be our guide when we make decisions; commands and principles should.  Paul used the phrase “door” four times and it always referred to opportunities to share the gospel.  Yet he even refused one of these open door, and the text mentions nothing about God being mad at him (2 Cor2:12).
It is a dangerous thing to try to read Providence in order to make a decision.  When Paul asks the question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” in Romans 11:34, the implied answer is, “no one.”  Remember that God does not routinely reveal His sovereign will, so we should not try to discern what it is based upon how it looks like things are shaping up. 
4) Setting up conditions or “putting out a fleece.” We may be tempted to use Gideon’s method for making a decision, however, Judges 6:36-40 is not intended to teach us how to make decisions.  That passage is about the patience of God in the face of Gideon’s unbelief.  You see, God had already told Gideon explicitly what to do: “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian…I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Jdg 6:14-16).  Putting out the fleece was Gideon’s fleshly way of delaying obedience and of reassuring himself that God would keep him safe.  Gideon is not the model for biblical decision-making.
Rather than setting up hoops for God to jump through to guide us in our decisions, we should trust that He has already given us in His Word everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4).
5) Misusing prayer.  Some people think of prayer as a two-way conversation with God.  They pray and then wait for the Lord to speak to them through inner impressions.  However, in Scripture prayer is always people talking to God, not listening to Him.  The Word is how God talks to believers, so that is where we should look for His guidance.
6) Relying on ideas, inner feelings, desires, and impressions.  These are not given in Scripture as ways that God infallibly leads His people.  If we have an impression, we have no way of knowing where it came from.  There is also the popular advice that you should “follow your heart.”  But that’s about the worst counsel possible.  Jer 17:9 reads, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  Don’t trust your heart; trust Scripture.   
7) Relying on reason.  Sometimes we make a list of pro’s and con’s and just go with whatever side outweighs the other.  But Scripture warns us not to lean on our own understanding (Prov 3:5).  There is nothing wrong with engage our reasoning, but we shouldn’t rest on it. Search the Scriptures.
There are certainly other faulty ways of making decisions, but there is one good rule of thumb that will help us to evaluate them all.  Any decision-making method that removes from us the responsibility to search and follow the Scriptures should be avoided.  
Next time, in the final article of the series, we'll address some of the common objections to the decision-making method we've proposed here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will, Part 5

(Previous articles in the series:  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4
Last time, we covered some presuppositions and principles necessary for taking a biblical approach to decision-making.  This time we will propose a process for decision-making.
When faced with an important decision the first thing we should do is pray for wisdom. James 1:5 reads, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. Manifold similar exhortations as well as the existence of wisdom literature in Scripture indicate that when we have decisions to make, we are not expected to wait for God to dictate the “right” path, but we are make decisions based upon wisdom.  So we should pray for that wisdom.
Second, we should gather all the information necessary to make a wise decision. Proverbs 18:13 teaches that it is foolish and shameful to make a conclusion without having all the information. So we should do the necessary homework to investigate our options. For example, if a man is deciding whether or not to take a job in another city, he should determine as best he can the ramifications of the move. Are there good churches and schools there? What is the cost of living compared to where he is now? What benefits are there to moving? What detriments?
Third, we should study all the direct proclamations in Scripture concerning the particular issue. Are there any positive commands or negative prohibitions that directly relate to the decision? For instance, if a woman receives a marriage proposal from an unbeliever, a look at Scripture would reveal that it would not be biblical for her to accept (1 Cor 7:12-16,39). Scripture addresses the issue directly.
Fourth, we should study any principles in Scripture that would apply to the decision.  Let’s say that a man has been given an opportunity to go into business with a successful businessman, but the man is not a Christian.  To my knowledge, there are no passages in Scripture that give a direct command that would pertain, like “don’t go into business with an unbeliever.”  However, 2 Corinthians 6:14 does say, Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? This verse yields the principle that it is inappropriate for believers to enter close partnerships with unbelievers. While there is no direct command regarding going into business with an unbeliever, there is a principle that applies.
Fifth, we should weigh the purposeful use of freedom.  The following questions may help us to think through the issue:
Is there anything wrong with this activity?  Is it lawful?
Is it self-serving at the expense of someone else?  (Rom 15:1-2; 1 Cor 10:33; Gal 5:13; Phil. 2:1-4)
Is this something for which I can thank God? (Rom 14:6; 1 Cor 10:30; Col 3:17)
Is this something that will glorify God? (1 Cor 10:31; 2 Cor 5:9)
Is this following the example of Christ? (Rom 15:7-8; 1 Cor 11:1; 1 John 2:6)
Will my choice affect others around me?  If so, in what way?
Is it beneficial?  Does it promote my spiritual life?
Is it a practice that over time will tend to master me?  Will it stimulate a desire that will be difficult to control?
Is this an occasion where my flesh is seeking to indulge itself? (Gal 5:13)
Is it loving to others?  Will it promote the spiritual well-being of other believers if they engage in this practice that is permissible for me?
The answers to these questions should lead us to a conclusion regarding whether or not a particular course of action is wise.  If it is not wise, we should choose another path.
Next time, we’ll look at a few unreliable and unwise methods of decision-making.  Until then, consider taking the proposed method above and applying it to a decision currently before you. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will, Part 4

This article is the fourth part in a series on decision-making and the will of God. The previous articles can be found here:    Part 1   Part 2   Part 3
Having covered the Bible’s teaching on the will of God and having demonstrated the problems with the prevailing view, we are now ready to move on to a Biblical model of decision-making.  There are several presuppositions and principles that we want to keep in mind as we make any decision.
The first presupposition is that the Holy Spirit’s role is to conform us to the image of Christ through the Word and to convict us of sin (John 16). We do not find any straightforward teaching in the New Testament that the Spirit provides normative guidance in non-moral decisions. 
Second, because of the secret nature of God’s sovereign will, we cannot know His will ahead of time.  Because He inevitably accomplishes it, we do not need to know God’s plan ahead of time.  He alone is responsible and capable of accomplishing His secret plan.  We can trust that His plan will always be done.
Third, Scripture is sufficient for all matters pertaining to life and godliness (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2Pet 1:3-4).  There is nothing outside of Scripture that is necessary in order for us to walk faithfully with the Lord. 
Fourth, it is essential to know God’s Word.  Scripture is the guidebook for the Christian life and provides all the laws and principles that should guide us in decision-making.
In addition to these presuppositions, there are several principles that should guide us in decision-making.  First, in those areas specifically addressed by the Bible, the revealed commands and principles of God (His moral will) are to be obeyed.  Again, this necessitates knowing the Word.  We can’t obey the word if we don’t know the Word.
Second, in those areas where the Bible gives no command or principle (non-moral decisions), the believer is free and responsible to choose his own course of action.  Any decision made within the moral will of God is acceptable to God.  For example, Scripture gives us several principles that provide a framework within which we may choose whom to marry.  A believer should marry someone who: (1) is not already married (this follows from the prohibition of remarriage in certain cases - Matt 19:9; Rom 7:2-3; 1 Cor7:10-11); (2) is of the opposite sex (Lev 20:13; Rom 1:26-27; 1 Cor 6:9-10); and (3) is a Christian (1 Cor 7:39; 2 Cor 6:14-16). The believer is free to marry anyone inside that framework (1 Cor 7:39).
Third, in non-moral decisions, the objective of the Christian is to make wise, loving decisions.  More will be revealed about this in the next article, but the existence of the wisdom literature in the Bible indicates that God expects His people to use wisdom in their decision-making.
Fourth, in all decisions, the believer should humbly submit, in advance, to the outworking of God’s sovereign will as it touches each decision.  James 4:13-15 reads, Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"-- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
Next, time we’ll look at a suggested process for making decisions biblically.  Until then, consider how the above presuppositions and principles would guide you in the decisions you are considering today.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Decision-Making & God's Will, Part 3

(This is the third installment in a series on God’s will and its relationship to Christian decision-making. To read the first two articles click here and here.)
Last time, we looked at the two concepts of God’s will found in Scripture – His sovereign will and His moral will.  God’s sovereign will is His secret, predetermined plan for everything that happens in creation.  His moral will is His commands and principles fully revealed in the Bible that teach us how we ought to live and what we ought to believe.  These are the only two concepts of God’s will found in Scripture.   
Remember that the prevailing view is that for the life of every person, God has an ideal, best-case blueprint that the believer may actually miss if he doesn’t correctly discern it.  It states that it is the responsibility of the individual to correctly discern God’s will in important decisions so as to be “in the center of God’s will” and not “miss God’s best.”  In other words, God has an individual plan for me, but it is my responsibility to make sure that it happens. 
This prevailing view is incompatible with what we have learned from Scripture regarding the sovereign and moral wills of God.  What it refers to as “God’s will” does not fit the characteristics of either biblical concept of the will of God.  For example, the Bible teaches that God’s sovereign will is secret (it cannot be discerned) and it cannot be thwarted.  Yet the prevailing view holds that the believer must discern God’s will and if he doesn’t he could potentially miss God’s ideal best for him (thwart God’s plan).  On the other hand, the Bible teaches that God’s moral will is fully revealed in Scripture.  Yet, the prevailing view holds that Scripture is merely one of several tools necessary to discern the will of God. These other tools would include inner impressions, personal desires, signs, circumstances, human counsel, and common sense. 
But the prevailing view’s incompatibility with the biblical concepts of God’s will are not its only problems.  It has several other devastating flaws:
1)            There is no biblical mandate to seek God’s will in non-moral decision-making. Every proof-text used to show otherwise is defeated by its own context.  All biblical exhortations to “know the will of God,” when studied in context, clearly refer to His moral will, which is fully revealed in Scripture.
2)            There is no instruction in Scripture on how to go about seeking “God’s will.” This is glaring. One would expect this to be a crucial subject to be covered in the New Testament if we were required to discern God’s will in non-moral decisions, but there is nothing there.  Instead, we are taught over and over what to believe and what to obey.  Rather, many texts presuppose freedom in non-moral decisions (Rom 14, 1Cor 8, 1 Cor 7, Gal 5:13).
3)            The prevailing view undermines the sufficiency of Scripture.  The prevailing view teaches that we need something outside of Scripture in order to be “in God’s will.”  This leads to the untenable position that the Bible is sufficient for everything but decision-making.  In the end, the prevailing view draws people away from Scripture in search of extra-biblical revelation. 
4)            The prevailing view downplays the sovereignty of God and promotes the sovereignty of man.  It portrays man as having the ability to thwart the will of God and places the lion’s share of the responsibility for accomplishing God’s plan on man’s shoulders. Clearly Scripture teaches that noone can thwart God’s will and He is the one who accomplishes His plan. 
5)            Practically speaking, it is impossible to live this way.  All big decisions are the culmination of countless smaller decisions.  If this is the case, there is no such thing as a decision too small to “seek God’s will.”  Therefore, if you mess up any of these “smaller” decisions, you could prevent yourself from even being in a position to consider the “big” decisions.  This would make it necessary to seek God’s will on even the smallest of non-moral decisions, such as what color socks you should wear and how much toothpaste you should use.  Obviously, this is absurd and could not possibly be followed without life grinding to a halt as you wait for God to give you a word on issues like whether or not to stretch when you get out of bed.
6)            The prevailing view leads to an inevitable, irreparable chain-reaction caused by “missing God’s will” in a single decision.  For example, one man marrying “the wrong woman” could end up ruining the lives of everyone on earth.  Imagine that it was “God’s will” for John to marry Sarah, but John misread the will of God and married Gertrude.  John has not only missed God’s ideal plan for his life, but he has also caused Sarah to miss God’s ideal plan because she was supposed to be married to John.  Now, if Sarah marries at all, she will inevitably marry “the wrong man” because the right man was John, but he married Gertrude.  Likewise, John has ruined Gertrude’s chance at God’s best – it was “God’s will” for her to marry Bob.  Like Sarah, if Bob marries at all, he will inevitably marry “the wrong woman” because “the right woman” was Gertrude, but she married John. 
Try to concentrate.  The only way at this point to prevent this mess from spinning out of control is for Bob to marry Sarah.  Sure, they weren’t meant for each other, but at least the damage will be confined to these two couples; everyone else in the universe will at least have a chance to marry “the right person.”
Unfortunately, Bob is a Reds fan and for that reason, Sarah can’t stand him, so she marries Leopold instead, who of course was supposed to marry someone else.  Now, the situation is irreparable.  No matter who Bob marries, he’ll ruin her chance for “God’s best” and the chance of the person she was supposed to marry. This sets off a chain-reaction that reaches the farthest corners of the globe. 
Now, consider the ramifications for God’s will concerning the children all these people were supposed to have.  It was God’s will for John and Sarah’s DNA to combine to form three specific individuals.  Those individuals now have no chance to ever exist.  Instead, John and Gertrude will have children that God never intended, as will all the other couples whose lives have been destroyed by John’s inability to discern the will of God!  One decision has led to countless wrong marriages and the birth of countless unintended people.  And this example only takes into account one kind of decision – whom to marry!  The chaos is compounded when all other decisions are taken into account.
The absurdity of this example demonstrates the absurdity of the prevailing view, for the example is but a logical outworking of it.  The prevailing view seems to take God’s sovereign will and place man in charge of assuring its fulfillment.  But if the accomplishment of God’s will rests on man’s ability to discern God’s plan and follow it perfectly, clearly we are all in serious trouble.
But as we have already noted, the Bible teaches that God’s sovereign will is secret, it cannot be thwarted, and He alone is the one who assures its fulfillment.  What that means is that God does have a definite plan for everything that happens, but He does not need you and me to know what that plan is in order for Him to accomplish it. 
So how do we go about making decisions biblically?  We’ll see in the next article.