Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Do all the decisions a Christian makes have to be divinely directed?

There are two views on the topic of decision making and the will of God. The view you learn in the church is called “the traditional view”. I call this view the feminized/postmodern view. The more practical view is called “the wisdom view”. I call this view the battlefield/military view. I am a proponent of the wisdom view.

Let’s learn about the two different views:

[The traditional view is] that God has a plan for our lives and that we receive guidance through methods such as “open and closed doors”, “feeling led” and “the still, small, voice”. Once the view has been well explained, through the foil of a fictional seminar, the book continues to critique this view, explaining how it is based on a poor use and understanding of scriptures, and how some of the reasons given in support of the view do not apply.

[The wisdom view] holds that God does not have an “individual will” for our lives, but rather that all of God’s will can be summed up within two categories, God’s sovereign will and God’s moral will. Basically God’s sovereign will is all the things that god decrees will happen. It is hidden (mostly) from us, and does not play an active part in our decision, although some of it is revealed in the bible. God’s moral will is the part that we must concern ourselves with in making decisions. It is fully revealed in the bible and our decisions must be made within it. We may use wisdom in applying god’s moral will to our lives, or we may be in an area not covered by god’s moral will. We must finally submit in advance to God’s sovereign will, being prepared for him to sovereignty intervene and redirect us through whatever means he wills (see James).

Here’s a bit more from someone else:

Regarding the view that God has a personal will for us individually that we have to discern and find, J.I. Packer says, “The first thing to say is that the idea of guidance is actually a novelty among orthodox evangelicals. It does not go back farther than the last century. Second, it has led people to so much foolish action on the one hand, and so much foolish inaction on the other, as well as puzzlement and heartbreak when the ‘hotline’ to God seems to go silent, that it has to be discredited. Third, it must be said that Scripture gives us no more warrant constantly to expect personal ‘hotline,’ ‘voice-from-the-control-tower’ guidance than to expect new authoritative revelations to come our way for the guidance of the whole church.” (Hot Tub Religion, page 118).

As to the point of the question, how do I make decisions, I attempt to make decisions in light of three factors: God’s moral will, wisdom, and my personal desires. If something is opposed to God’s moral will, then I should obviously flee from it. If it’s not opposed, then I consider the wisdom of the choices. For example, would it be wise for me to marry a woman who loves Jesus, though we have nothing else in common? Probably not. If the options pass the criteria of wisdom, then I’m free to choose how I wish. If I’m offered two jobs, and both are honoring to God, and both would be wise to take, then I’m free to choose the job I would like more. I don’t need to put out a fleece or await some other confirmation from God. If it’s moral and wise, then the only question as to whether or not it will honor Him is my attitude.

Some examples of this model used in the Bible (in theological circles referred to as the Wisdom Model) are in Paul’s planning of a mission to Rome in Romans 1:9-15, 15:22-24, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29), and Paul’s instructions for legal disputes (1 Cor 6:3-6).

The best book on this topic is Garry Friesen’s “Decision Making and the Will of God”. In it, you’ll find a full assessment about what the Bible teaches on this topic.

When I am trying to decide what will be effective, I look at Christian scholars, at their papers, books, and public debates. That’s effectiveness because it is addressed to a non-Christian audience in public with the force of reason and evidence. It is persuasion and it is addressed to rational minds. I want to change the minds of people who have a large influence on society on the whole. I don’t think that offering Christianity as life-enhancement or self-help is really “having an influence”. I think that offering Christianity as truth, with support, is “having an influence”.

So let me be clear about what I believe:

  • I don’t think that God normally talks to people directly
  • I don’t believe that life is an Easter egg hunt, filled with clues accessible only to emotion and intuition
  • I don’t believe that God expects people to discover a specific will for their lives using non-rational means
  • I think that people make up their own life plan that is consistent with the Bible
  • The goal of the life plan is to be effective, and there are no other considerations
  • I think that there are many good things a person can do, but that some are more effective than others
  • I think that with respect to the goal of serving God effectively, my happiness is expendable
  • I don’t think that the purpose of doing something for the Lord is to feel good about ourselves
  • I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they like them
  • I don’t think that people should choose ineffective things to do just because they are good at them
  • I think people should do hard things that they don’t like – as long as it’s more effective
  • I don’t think that any course of action is as effective as any other – some plans accomplish more
  • I don’t think that life is totally unpredictable and irrational and subjective
  • I think that we can know what is or is not effective by studying and learning about the world
  • I think life is like a battlefield that must be surveyed, understood and acted upon deliberately

I think that every person is the commanding officer of his or her own life, and each person must study everything they can, make a plan that is consistent with the Bible’s moral prescriptions, execute the plan and achieve whatever they can achieve for the Lord. And the goal is not comfort or happy feelings, but real achievements. Life is more like a war than a vacation resort or a buffet or a shopping center. God’s will for us is not have happy feelings, but that we freely choose to sacrifice ourselves out of obedience and service to him. In my case, that means studying hard things, making money, saving money, and giving money away to good scholars, sponsoring good events and being persuasive to non-Christians. I cried when I had to learn calculus, because it was so hard. But who cares?

I think that it is very important to realize that God is not impressed by our not being smart and not being effective. If we have the ability to be smart, then we should be smart, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability to make money, then we should make money, whether it makes us happy or not. If we have the ability have a great influence, then we should have a great influence, whether it makes us happy or not. There will be plenty of time for happiness after we’re dead. With respect to God’s purposes in the world, my happiness is expendable. The thought about what “I want” doesn’t enter into my mind.

Whenever someone questions my plans by saying that I am asserting my will over God’s will, the first question I want to ask that person is this: “how do you know what God’s will is?” and “what is your basis for thinking that my plan will not be effective?”. I want to know if I have misunderstood something about the way the world is, or miscalculated in some way. I want someone to look at my calculations and show where they are going to produce a less optimal result for the Lord. That’s the only concern I have – effectiveness.

This article by Greg Koukl may be helpful.

And I also found this summary of the Friesen book useful:

In nine parts.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

24 Responses

  1. Mary says:

    Good post!

    I had a chuckle at the calculus. ;-) My favourite maths course was sets and logic. It was difficult but fun! I didn’t mind calculus, but the abstract algebra course gave me a headache. I was also rotten at it. :-P It was valuable to study, but I’d have been a lousy “algebraicist”. (Not sure if that’s a word!) We tend to enjoy the things we are good at and be more effective in them.

  2. Jared says:

    I agree with you Wintery. I believe the “wisdom” view is the correct and biblical view. A lot of “fluff” came into evangelicalism in the last century and a little earlier, that needs to be removed. Most of it is in the charismatic circles, e.g., feeling led to do action x,etc.; look at ihop; crazy “worship” services, etc.

    I’ve had little elderly ladies come up to me and “feel led” to pray for me and none of it had anything to do with my life and most likely won’t. She (elderly lady) put her hand on my stomach and ask me if I felt heat, I told her that I didn’t and that I actually felt a little cool. She more or less told me that I was wrong and that I was on fire, yadda, yadda, yadda; I didn’t fall out like I should have. Obviously, God had not “led her” to do anything.

  3. Jared says:

    This is a really good post for folks to read because we do tend to look at life as an Easter egg hunt and life is not like that at all. We have one life to be the most effective person we can and that’s it. I studied Information Technology in college, not because it made me happy, but because I knew that I would be an efficient Network Admin/Support Technician. My job doesn’t make me happy, but helping folks with their technological needs puts me in place to be salt and light, which is what we (Christians) are supposed to be. I didn’t “feel” like God wanted me to be in IT. IT is interesting, puts me in place to communicate with others, and that’s why I chose it, not because I had a feeling.

  4. Mara says:

    Jesus said, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
    He also said, “I am the Vine and your are the branches, and My Father is the Vine Dresser. Every branch in me that bears fruit, He prunes it, and every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes away. All the branches that are not attached to the Vine dry up and are burned.” (deeply paraphrased from memory. John 15)

    I also believe in effectiveness.
    I believe in producing fruit.
    But I see it as coming from the abundance of what is inside of me.
    And it appears that Jesus saw it that way too.
    And we all know how feminized He is, (NOT!)

    Jesus wasn’t feminized. He was oriental rather than western. But we’ve had that discussion here before. So all I’ll say is, take care and don’t over westernize Jesus who was born in an oriental culture because you fear feminization. Over westernizing Him is distorting Him.

    AFA happiness is concerned. People running around chasing happiness for the sake of their own pleasures are chasing after wind and squandering their lives on selfishness.

    Joy, on the other hand, is completely Biblical and ALSO comes from inside rather from than outside. (Happiness comes from outside.)

    So, really, I do agree with you, our happiness isn’t really what we should be pursuing.

    But the joy of the Lord is. It is referred to as a fruit of the Spirit along Love, Peace, Patience etc (Galatians 5)

    Another thing, in my book, Joy and Wisdom are pretty much dependant on each other. You kind of get this idea from reading Proverbs and Psalms. If you are walking in wisdom, joy cannot be far behind.

    But wisdom is not all intellect and logic. They are a part of it, but not all of it.

    I’ve met people with high IQs that didn’t have a drop of common sense. I’ve met people so smart it got them into trouble because they lacked wisdom.

    Again I see you trying to do this, masculine vs feminine thing, when really there is so much more involved.

    There is a rigidity and even legalism in pure logic and intellect that true wisdom softens.

    And don’t forget, Wisdom is referred to as a she in the Proverbs, so you should think twice before you start trying to make wisdom a masculine attribute.

  5. And I also found this summary of the Friesen book useful:

    Each part above links to a different post.

  6. Tina says:

    I’ve not read the book, but I can’t help wonder while Paul speaks of using wisdom where does Paul’s guidance to “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” fit in. There are numerous examples of being led by the Holy Spirit. I understand being led by the Holy Spirit as walking in the Will of God. Or do you believe we are not “led” by the Holy Spirit in modern times?

    • No I do think that the Holy Spirit leads people to understand and apply what the Bible says. But not with quirky accidents like driving on the road and you see a license plate, or having a feeling of peace, or stuff like that. I wish (oh how I wish) that you could listen to the Greg Koukl lecture I am listening to right now…

      Oh my. There are lots of things that Holy Spirit does in the Bible, Greg is going through them in the third part of the lecture that I am listening to right now.

  7. So I feel that God has called me to mission work in the middle east amongst muslims there. I have a real burden for the people of the middle east and that’s where I feel God is drawing me to preach the Gospel. Do you think that I’m just deluded about that?
    Most of the missionaries that I know (and I know a LOT!) felt a particular calling to do long-term mission work, and God had placed a burden on their heart for PARTICULAR country. What do you make of that?

    • I were you, I would dream higher of a PhD and then be a professor in one of their universities and deal with the students. You can do the missionary stuff in your spare time. If you have the ability to do more, then you should do more.

    • Mary says:

      I have to disagree with WK on this one. The Great Commission gives us a biblical mandate to spread the Gospel. You also have particular experiences that fit you well to do this sort of work. And I would NOT suggest waiting too long, so long as you have the skills to do the work required. It’s much harder to risk things for the Gospel (as you might well need to do) when you have a wife and kids to consider. I really do think that the Holy Spirit can work to put this sort of thing on your heart. He has done so for centuries. You can be a professor when you’re older very easily.

    • Mary says:

      And a PhD is NOT “higher”.

    • Well of course I would have to do some kind of tent-making work, and teaching is definitely an option. My dad did that and it worked out well.
      But I would first want to try and learn arabic fluently and be doing ministry whilst doing that. After that I dunno what I would do but teaching is an option. PhDs are expensive, and if I were to do one I’d probably prefer to stay here in oxford and do one here. And I can get people to support me for mission work but phds are more expensive and people are unlikely to support me to read books!
      And as mary said, I can get a PhD anytime, especially when I’m older. Learning arabic, however, becomes harder as you grow older and get more and more set into certain ways of thinking. So learning arabic and getting my turkish better is my priority (apart from my degree of course).

      And I agree that there is no “higher” jobs. If Jesus taught us anythign it was about servant leadership, the first shall be last and last shall be first. The places that man looks at as glorifying and magnifying God often sees as filled with pride. God looks at the heart!
      God loves the little people.

      • But of course I do dream of getting a PhD in philosophy, not because of it being “higher” but because I love philosophy and think it would better equip me to preach the Gospel the next generation.

  8. Amy says:

    I would be interested in your thoughts about John Piper’s thoughts on what he calls Christian hedonism. From his website desiringgod.org –Christian hedonism is the truth that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Therefore, if we are going to glorify God as we ought, the pursuit of joy is not optional—it is essential. We not only may, but ought to pursue our maximum pleasure—in God.–

    Here is one of his articles:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/we-want-you-to-be-a-christian-hedonist

    I have been listening to his DVD series on “The Blazing Center” (this is not related to the emergent church movement or their idea of the center in any way) but that everything revolves around Jesus. The third lecture was really outstanding but I couldn’t find free mp3 files on the website of it.

    http://www.desiringgod.org/Store/Books/554

    • Right now, I am wondering what Jesus would say to Piper’s ideas. In particular, when he was in the garden of Gethsemane crying blood. I find it difficult to equate the model that Jesus provides in his life with “hedonism”. I think self-sacrificial duty would be a better phrase.

      • By Christian hedonism he just means being satisfied in God and enjoying Him. We are called to LOVE the law, to Love the Lord you God, to LOVE your neighbour. And how can you love something if you don’t enjoy it in some form of another?
        So do you think heaven will be about duties and there won’t be any rejoicing? Do you think you’re going to enjoy heaven?! ;)

        But Jesus was certainly not having a good time according to secular hedonism, but according to Christian hedonism he did that because he was satisfied in God. I don’t see a conflict there at all, how is it a contradiction that at the moment Jesus was suffering, he was satisfied and contented in God and enjoyed being in God’s presence?

  9. Dina says:

    God’s sovereign (hidden) will directs the course of our life, in providence, heritage, situation etc. We are to live according to His permissive (revealed) will, which we fail miserably at on account of our sins. This doesn’t excuse us, but it is permitted according to God’s sovereign will (Is 45:7).
    God is mostly concerned with our holiness. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess 4:3) No matter the cost, we are to be holy as He is holy. We cannot even come close to this standard in this life, which is where repentance and the power of the Holy Spirit come in.
    God most certainly does speak to His people, and decisions should be made accordingly. When you read the bible, the Holy Spirit applies it to you and your life as directly as if being spoken to. Having the grace and discernment to acknowledge this is a blessing. We also have the privilege of being able to pray, if this was a one way communication it would be pointless and fruitless. Having the resolve to act on what God tells us, takes discipline and sacrifice but should be done gladly. We know all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.
    God speaks to us through His word. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Ps 119:105).
    Sadly today, there are so many churches with preachers and people inside who dont believe the Word. No discipline and all wishy washy ‘God is Love’ preaching with no warning of the wrath which is to come. This leads to people doing that which is right in their own eyes.
    God may direct us a certain way, and we have to ensure we spend time searching the scriptures before we determine what we should do. It may be that we have more than one solution which would all be permitted within the parameters of God’s moral law and in that situation, we are free to choose which option we prefer.
    In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths (Prov 3:6).

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