Decision Making and the Will of God
We all have to make decisions every day. Some are big decisions, like “What career should I pursue?” “Where should I live?” or “Who should I marry?” Others are smaller decisions like “What should I do on my day off this weekend?” “Which cell phone should I buy?” or even “What should I eat for lunch?” As Christians, we seek to do God’s will in all that we do, as well as in the decisions that we make. But how are our decisions connected with the providence and will of God? Once again there are two extremist views of this question: Some say that all things happen by chance, and that God has nothing to do with the things that happen in our lives. Others say God has planned and appointed the lives of all people, and we can change nothing. We just follow in that plan. How are our actions related to God’s will, and how should we seek to know God’s will for our lives?
First, let’s remember that things don’t happen in our lives by chance. Scripture assures us that God is at work in our lives, and is directly involved in our lives. The apostle Paul told the Gentiles in Athens, “And He [God] has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord” (Acts 17:26-27). The apostle Paul also writes, “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
At the same time we have to be careful that we don’t blame God for the bad things that happen to us or for the mistakes that we make in our lives. Fatalism seeks to release human beings from responsibility for their sin, and make God accountable for it. We can be sure that God does not want us, nor does he lead us to sin. James makes a clear separation between our sin and God’s will for our lives, “Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:13-17). While God does permit us to sin, He does not lead us into sin. We were created with a will which is free to make decisions, and God has made us responsible for those decisions.
Knowing God’s providence, and knowing our sin, we should seek to do the will of God in the decisions we make and the things we do. The apostle Paul spoke of the will of God in his decision making: “Now I beg you, brethren, through the Lord Jesus Christ, and through the love of the Spirit, that you strive together with me in prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you” (Romans 15:3-32 - cf. Romans 1:10). James also spoke of the will of God in decision making saying, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15). We should seek the LORD’s will for us in our lives, but how do we do that?
Once again we find within Christianity the danger of going beyond what Scripture says. There are many within Christianity who teach (based on the doctrine of God’s providence) that God has already determined everything that we are going to do and everything that is going to happen to us while we are here on this earth. He has a “blueprint” for each of us to follow and we need to find out what God’s blueprint for us is. Connected to this are several ways in which Christians are taught to find God’s will for them in their lives and in the decisions they will have to make. Here are some of them:
• Inner peace - They are taught that they should seek peace from God in their decisions. For example, we are familiar with Paul’s words to the believers in Philippi, with which we conclude our sermons every Sunday: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 - cf. Colossians 3:15). So we should seek peace in our decision making. If we have that peace then we have made a God pleasing decision, and if we do not have that peace, then we have not. The problem with such a philosophy is that it is based on our own subjectivity. In the verse above, Paul is not referring to our subjective feelings, or how we feel about decisions we have made. He is speaking about the objective peace that has been won for us through Christ’s victory on the cross - objective peace in being reconciled with our God. Our feelings about our decisions, past or future, are largely based on our conscience. If a person’s conscience is corrupted (or misguided) that person may feel good about a bad decision. Certainly this is not the answer.
• Open Doors - Another suggestion is to look for open doors in your life. The apostle Paul spoke of how the LORD opened doors for him in his work in Ephesus and Troas (1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12 - cf. Revelation 3.8). Based on these passages Christians are taught to look for open doors and make their decisions based on the doors that the LORD opens for them. Once again this becomes very subjective. How are we to determine whether something is a door that the LORD has opened? As we look at the life of the apostle Paul we see that there were times when there were no open doors, yet he did not give up (Acts 9:23-25); and other times when doors were opened for him, and yet he did not go through them (Acts 16:25-32). While the LORD does open doors for us, we should not base our decisions on what we feel might be an open door.
• Divine appointments - Closely connected to the previous is the idea that God directly sends people into our lives for a specific purpose. We might think of the example of the meeting of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) or the meeting of Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10. In both cases the LORD directed things to happen so that these individuals would meet. Does the LORD direct others into our lives, and direct us into the lives of others? Certainly! But this can again become subjective as we try to determine for ourselves what meetings or situations are divine appointments and which ones are not. Looking for divine appointments in our lives is not the answer to determining God’s will for us.
• Supernatural signs - Another popular thought is that the LORD directs us to find His will through supernatural signs. This has its basis from the story of Gideon (Judges 6:36-40), where Gideon asks for assurance from the LORD (in the form of a sign) that He would deliver the Midianites into his hand. Based on this, people are taught to seek and look for signs from the LORD in their lives, upon which they can know God’s will for them and so make their decisions in accord with God’s (now revealed) will. What is the problem with this? We have no promise from God that He will reveal his will to us in such a way! As a result, this also becomes subjective and even superstitious! Once again, this is not the answer to finding God’s will.
• Being led by the Spirit - Somewhat related to some of the previous thoughts is the idea of being led by the spirit, a phrase that the apostle Paul uses in two of his epistles (Galatians 5:18 and Romans 8:14). Here people are taught to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, asking Him to reveal to them God’s will for them in the decision they are about to make. Often this again becomes inward focused and turns us back to how we feel about the decisions we make.
The idea that God has a plan for me and I have to find out what it is by one of these means causes a big problem. The problem with all the above ideas in seeking God’s will for our lives is that it leads people to look for something subjective and within themselves, or it leads people to seek a special revelation from God about His will for their lives. This leads people in the wrong direction. God’s will for our lives is revealed to us, not by such subjective forms as were mentioned above, but through His Word in the Bible. Paul says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God has revealed His will to us, and we need only search out His will in His Word which He has given to us.
It’s true that the Bible will not always give us a specific answer for every situation we may face or every decision we will make. But in His Word (and in addition to the clear statements of His will for us) God has also given us general principles which we can use in seeking out His will in our lives. Let us seek God’s will for us and our lives through God-given wisdom which comes through the means of Grace. Yes, God wants us to do His will, but He leads us to do His will through the direction and power of His Word!
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew .
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