There Are Options

There is a sort of legalistic view that misunderstands and, therefore, misapplies the doctrine of predestination by failing to allow for human agency. It turns out to be very close to fatalism.

I’m talking about the sort of teaching that says, “Well you’ve got to find the right girl (fellow)—the one God has for you. If you don’t, you’ll be in misery the rest of your life for having missed out on “God’s perfect will” for you. You will be saddled with a second rate existence as the result.”

You see, there just isn’t any such thing in Scripture as “missing out on God’s perfect will.”

God’s decretive will is always accomplished. And it is established by the use of responsible, human agency. Sure, many Christians make bad choices about their life companions—and some do live in misery. But they are not “stuck” in some lesser-than-best situation about which nothing can be done to remedy it!

No genuine Christian is doomed to live on some sort of a second level existence. There is always the possibility for change through repentance, sanctification, and the blessings that accrue from it. If I didn’t believe in such possibility for radical change, so as to turn bad choices into good outcomes by the grace of God, I wouldn’t have counseled anyone. There is no perfect one for you—the options are always there so long as the other persons considered are genuine believers.

But even then—if one happens to be married to an unbeliever (not a legitimate option) God, according to 1 Corinthians 7, can save and transform the unbeliever. And if He doesn’t, a repentant believer, living according to the Word of God, can lead a joyous life.

Guidance

I once visited the Sunday School class of a Bible believing church. The study that morning was on Joshua 9, the story of the Hivities who came from Gibeon. Because they were afraid of the Israelites, they sent delegates requesting Israel to make a treaty with them. These delegates disguised themselves as travelers from a distant land outside the area Israel had been commanded to occupy. They wore old sandals and threadbare garments, carried old sacks and wineskins, and brought food that was dry and crumbly. They spoke only of victories that had taken place far in the past, not recent ones.

The teacher did a good job of reiterating the facts of the incident. Then he went on to apply it to us. Rightly, he showed that God had forbidden His people to make treaties with the people of the land of Palestine (Deut. 7:1-5; 20:16-18). Rightly, he pointed out that the people were deceived by failing to inquire of the Lord (Josh. 9:14), and rightly, he warned us of the deceptions of Satan in leading God’s people to violate God’s plain commandments. Then he asked, “How can a Christian know he is making a decision in accord with the will of God?” It was the question of guidance. The question was appropriate, and Joshua 9 has something important to say on this vital subject. His answer was something like this: “I asked my Christian friends and consulted some Christian books, and what I have come up with is that there are six ways in which you can know God’s will in reaching a decision.” Then he wrote the following six guidelines on the chalkboard:

  1. Scripture
  2. Prayer
  3. Advice of Others
  4. Circumstances
  5. Reason
  6. Peace

It is time Christians stopped following such advice!

Items 1 and 2, rightly understood, must stand. In his explanation of item 2, however, he did not properly tell us the place of prayer in the process of receiving guidance from God. His idea (a very common one, unfortunately) was that when you pray, you must be still and listen for some sort of answer from God. If that is true, why were the Israelites to consult the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21)? Moreover, if God whispers answers in stillness, why bother with the other five items? Such replies would be better even than Scripture since they would be in English (we wouldn’t have the translation problem from Greek or Hebrew), and they would be directly applied to our individual situations. No, any such idea, even ideas of deep impressions or feelings received in prayerful waiting, must be eliminated, since they would render the Bible’s teaching either unnecessary or negligible. You would also face the problem of distinguishing impressions from God from those that arise out of your own prejudice.

Prayer to discover the Lord’s will should be that you may understand and use the Bible in a proper way. It should be prayer for ability and strength to do whatever you discover God wants of you as you study the Scriptures. We are not given the Urim and Thummim for our day, but we have been given an inerrant and infallible Book, which contains all we need by way of precept and example for living a life pleasing to God. All that is necessary to love God and our neighbor is found, in one form or another, in the Bible. Today we consult God by turning to His written Word.

What of the other four items the teacher listed? Is seeking the advice of others or looking at circumstances helpful when making a decision? Look at what happened to the people of God when they did just that. Joshua listened to advisers who investigated the claims of the Gibeonites, and sinned (Josh. 9:14). Looking at the circumstances—old wineskins, crumbly bread, etc.—was precisely what deceived them. Surely, their reasoning in the situation failed them. And their peace, or assurance that they were doing the right thing, was utterly false. Indeed, if the teacher had stayed with the Biblical passage itself rather than consulting his friends, he would have seen that the text is totally opposed to the notion that divine guidance is found by these procedures.

Consider the idea of “open doors” (another way to speak of circumstances). Suppose I apply for a visa to India and am turned down. That is a “closed door.” But what does that tell me? I can interpret it any number of ways. I can say, “OK, that means God does not want me to go to India; I’ll try somewhere else.” Or, I can say, “God is testing me to see if I mean business; I’ll go back to India if I have to swim!” Just what guidance does an open or closed door give? Absolutely none. The position of the “door” must be interpreted, and in the circumstances itself there is nothing to tell you just how to interpret it. So circumstances do not guide; they require careful understanding and are factors in decision making because the Bible applies to circumstances, but they are not sources of guidance. Some open doors lead to elevator shafts!

In the matter of advice from others there can be help, just as commentaries and other biblical expositions can assist in making a Scriptural decision; but that advice must be evaluated. Other’s opinions are no more valuable than, and can be just as misleading as, those of Joshua’s advisers who were deceived by the Hivites. It is not their opinions on what you should do that you want; what they can give you that is of value is help in discovering and in using Biblical principles that apply to your situation. Also, others may be of help in assisting you to understand the parameters of the situation about which you must make a decision. But when you discuss this matter with them and think about it yourself, be sure the problem and the situation are described and understood in Biblical terms.

Reason must be used in moving from the Scriptures to the problem as you apply Biblical teaching to your decision. But the effects of sin on the human mind have been considerable, and you must pray that God will enable you to interpret, to apply, and to implement His Biblical principles that converge on the issue at hand. Help from the consensus of commentators at this point, when it can be found, ought to be of some value too.

As for peace, let me clarify a passage that has been so frequently misunderstood and misused. That passage, to which the Sunday School teacher referred, is Colossians 3:15: “Let Christ’s peace have the final say in your hearts, to which you were called as parts of one body.” Because peace is to have final say or act as an umpire in our hearts, many have concluded that Paul is teaching that once we have peace about a decision we can know we have made the right one. Nothing could be more wrong. The passage has nothing to do with guidance or decision making. It has to do with love and getting along with other Christians as members of the body of Christ (cf. vs. 12-14 for context). When all is said and done, Paul writes, in the final analysis you must let the principle of peace among the members of the body control your words and actions. There is nothing whatsoever in the passage about individual peace. Your heart (the place where you think about such matters, and the source of your words and actions) is to be influenced by considerations of what will bring about and maintain peace among the members of the body. That is Paul’s concern.

Guidance comes from the Bible, prayerfully used. Circumstances affecting a decision must be evaluated with the Biblical parameters, and the conclusions of such evaluations must be stated in Biblical terms. The advice of others is to be sought, not for their opinions but for their assistance in using the Bible to help you make a decision that honors God. Your reason is not to be trusted and must always be subjected to the Bible at every point. Peace has no relevance whatsoever to the matter. Questions about other aspects of guidance, especially concerning the application of general principles to particular cases, cannot be discussed here. The Bible is the source of revelation from God and the only sure guide to pleasing God. Nowhere else can we find His inerrant Word: why then should we turn to other sources?

What to Do About It

“What do you do when you don’t know what to do?”

Are you serious, or are you presenting me with a conundrum?

“No. I’m dead serious. I have a decision to make as to whether or not to do something. I’d like to do it but I don’t know whether its something that the Lord would approve of.””

Ah. I see.

“And it’s been bugging me for days. I can’t tell you what it is, either. I have to keep the matter quiet until I decide. Without any data, do you think you can help?”

Possibly. Let’s consider the matter abstractly—strictly from the side of the principle involved.

“You mean, in something like whether or not I feel a prompting in my spirit or not. Or whether I feel peace about the matter? Both of those ideas have been suggested. But the problem is, I don’t feel anything but confused,”

Good!

“Good? What do you mean good? Do you approve of me being confused?”

Certainly—I’m glad you haven’t had any feelings that you interpreted as God’s direction. Those ideas are never taught in the Bible, and have led many people into serious trouble. To try to follow feelings as a guide is like trying to catch a wave. They’re never the same. Feelings are up one day and down the next with the weather, or what you sate for lunch. Even apart from not being a Bible instruction, it’s on its foolish when you think about it.

“It didn’t feel right, I’ll admit.”

Didn’t feel right? There you go—depending on feelings anyway!

“What I meant is it didn’t seem right.”

A bit better. But what if you had said, “I considered the matter, and I didn’t find any biblical basis for proceeding with it?” Don’t you think that a statement something like that—where you are looking for an objective answer from God’s Standard would have been better? Of course, you would have had to do so to be honest.

“Well, I did look at the Bible, and I couldn’t find anything to help.”

There is a biblical principle that may fit your case.

“Tell me about it.”

It’s found in Romans 14.

“I thought that book was all about theology, and stuff like that.”

Well, there’s certainly allot of theology in Romans, for sure, but that’s not all that’s there. Some very practical matters are there which—rightly so—are based on theological principles.

“Oh. Well tell me about Romans 14.”

O.K. Here’s what he writes in verse 23,

But whosoever doubts is condemned if he eats, because he doesn’t eat in faith; and whatsoever isn’t done in faith is sin.

“But my problem has nothing to do with eating.”

I didn’t think that it would.

“Well, then, why bring it up?”

I told you we were going to examine a principle that might help you. The principle is “whatsoever isn’t done in faith is sin.”

“How does that help?”

Just this way. There were Romans who didn’t know whether or not they should eat certain foods—we needn’t go into that here—because they thought that doing so might be sin. Paul says, until you are sure that it isn’t sinful to do so, don’t. It’s that simple. I like to call it the “Holding principle.” You put the matter on hold until you can determine biblically whether or not it is or isn’t sin to do something.

“Hmmm I think O see it now: to move ahead in this matter would be sin if suspect it might be. But what if it isn’t sin?”

At this point, that doesn’t matter. Until you determine from the Bible (not from feelings) that it isn’t sin, you should take no further action. Of course, if you determine it is, that settles the matter. But of you’re not sure, you shouldn’t go ahead because if you do, you are doing something that you think might be sin, can you do that in God’s sight ? Of course not! To so what you think might be sin (even if it really isn) is sin on your part because of your attitude . . .”

“What do you mean my attitude?”

Simply this, you would be willing to do something that you thought might be sin—that is a sinful attitude. So even if the act—whatever it is—isn’t sin; your attitude in doing it is sin.

“Got it! I put it on hold until I’m sure, biblically, that it’s OK to move ahead.”

You did.

Blessings!

Peace of Heart

“Having peace about a matter” is what many people think is the deciding factor about whether it is wrong or right to do something. And they base their opinion on Colossians 3:15,

let Christ’s peace have final say in your hearts . . .

Is that a fair understanding and application of the verse? Is it the way to determine what is right in answer to questions about which you need guidance? Are those who say, “I have peace about it,” right in concluding that God sends peace if a decision is correct, and that He sends a disturbed heart if it isn’t? That’s what many have been taught.

But “peace” can come from a conscience that has been seared so as to no longer effectively warn about what is wrong. So, how could you distinguish between the two? Moreover, we have all known those who said that they had peace about a matter, and the “peace” turned out to be the wrong way to go.

Well, the fact of the matter is this: the idea that this verse is speaking of guidance is wrong. Paul is not talking about some subjective peace that you have in your heart. Rather, in the context (see v. 14, and the rest of verse 15), Paul is talking about believers in the “body” (the church) getting along by showing love for one another. The peace, therefore, is an objective peace that you should promote among your brothers ands sisters in Christ.

Peace among the members of the body ought to have final say in your actions. If what you want to do or say will upset that peace, then don’t do it, even if it seemed right (of course, he’s not speaking of matters of clear biblical obligation). If what you are thinking of doing promotes peace among the members of the body, then do it. That is the true force of the passage.

It is not peace in your hearts, but that which you determine in your hearts will promote peace among the brothers. That ought to determine whether or not your should do something or other. That it will assure peace should be the determining factor in your heart (the place where such decisions are made).

So, let’s be careful about the way that the verse is used. Otherwise, “having peace about” something may cause disturbance among other believers—exactly what the verse is intended to avoid.

How He Does It

God guides—but not by supernatural visions, hunches, whispers, hunches, etc., etc.

How then?

Listen to Psalm 73:24:

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards You will take me up in glory.

Who counsels the counselor? God counsels us. And we have that counsel in the very book from which this verse is taken—the Scriptures!

He is the One Who guides believers throughout their lives by His wonderful truth, and this guidance is leading them through the tangled web of the present evil world-order to Himself—in a destination “above.”

Jesus said to the believing thief on the cross that, upon their deaths, they would be together in “paradise.” According the Paul the third heaven is where Paradise[1] is (2 Corinthians 12: 2, 3). But that isn’t all. According to Paul, true Christians shall eventually be resurrected and given new bodies (1 Corinthians 15). In these we will dwell for all eternity (see Revelation 21, 22). But that isn’t all either! Some day we shall live in these bodies in a new heaven and earth! How wonderful that all His saints may look forward to such a marvelous future! [These facts deserve those three exclamation marks!]

[1] A Persian loan-word for “Park.”

“I Feel It’s So”

Can you give me even one good reason?

“No, I don’t need reasons—I just feel it’s so.”

That short exchange might take place many times a day between Christians. But it never should.

You may be wondering what the subject is that the two parties are discussing. It doesn’t really matter. I left it out for a good reason—to show the bare outlines of the issue.

The issue being, of course, how we know anything about God to be true or false.

There is no biblical precedent for basing the truth or the falsehood of any belief upon how one feels; yet many do so.

Our faith is one that can be objectively set forth—and has been—in a Book from which God expects us to learn what is/isn’t true.

What Jesus told us that Abraham said to the rich man suffering in hell was that people won’t believe even if someone rose from the dead (which, of course, He did). Experience and feelings won’t cut it! Instead, if a person wants to discover the truth he should turn to the Bible: “they have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them” Jesus said (Luke 16: 29).

It’s the same today-to learn the truth, and benefit from it—one must turn to the Scriptures. Stop listening to feelings; start listening to truth.

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Decisions

In making  a decision it is always wise to check out what the Bible says about the matter,  Often, you will find a direct, specific command: “You shall not commit adultery.”  There will be no doubt in your mind as to what God’s will is in the matter.

There are, however many decisions about which there is no biblical command.  If you read that you are not to commit adultery and you happen to be involved in that very sin when you read the command, and are convicted, you may (should) want to stop immediately.  Now comes another decision—how should you break off the sinful relationship?

About this latter decision there is no specific command. Should you go personally to the other party and tell her/him your decision? Send an email?  A letter? Perhaps phone? Possibly go together with your pastor to break the news?  How will you make this decision?

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Matters of Preference

There are possibly good reasons for it; but, of course, there may not be.

“For what?”

For choosing the green one over the blue—or the other way around.

“Do there have to be good reasons?”

No, of course not—basically, the choice of a color is a matter of indifference, a matter of preference, all other things being equal. There are no biblical reasons for one option over the other if it doesn’t involve  stewardship of the Lord’s money or something else like that. Then something additional is at stake.

“Is every choice one in which one either chooses for Christ or against Him?”

In one sense “yes”; in another “no.”

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