Obey God and Do What You Want
Exploring Decision Making and God’s Will
Problems with Decision Making Using the Traditional Method
A Reminder: By the “traditional method” we mean that a detailed individual will of God exists for every believer that is distinguishable from God’s decreed will and His desired will. He reveals this will to the believer primarily by means of inward impressions and outward signs. The believers task is to discover this will and then to make decisions accordingly. That the believer has discovered this will is confirmed by inner peace and/or good outcomes. However, it is possible that the believer can mistakenly identify God’s will and thus find himself/herself doomed to be outside God’s perfect will for life.
I was taught this model as a young person in my Bible believing church. I learned this model during my formal education at a a Christian college. It made sense; it even sounded spiritual. In fact, I adopted this view. One of my earliest sermons was on Romans 12:1-2 wherein I alluded to this model.
However, early in my ministry I came to believe that this model is seriously flawed. For example, the traditional method:
1. Marginalizes the only infallible resource for decision making - the Bible.
We previously mentioned two of the Bible claims ( Lesson 3, p 14): 2 Tim 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:3-9. We call this the sufficiency of Scripture. We will delve into this a bit more in when we discuss “Guidance and the Bible” next week.
The traditional method of making decisions in practical effect says, “the Bible is not enough, I need something more in order to know God’s perfect will for me.” Of course, if there is an individual will separate from the decreed and desired wills and if it is not contained in the Scripture, then one can not consult the Bible to find it. If an individual will is in the Bible then you have to perform hermeneutic gymnastics and attach your name to whatever Scriptures catch your fancy without any warrant to do so.
2. Tends to elevate the less important decisions to top priority status. DeYoung addresses this as “…focusing almost all of our attention on non-moral decisions” (p 42-43). God has addressed the critical components of His will for believers. He has spoken about things such as morality, truthfulness, worship, fidelity to Him and His word, and etc. The believer has no doubt about what pleases God in these areas. Those who adopt the traditional method often fret over far less important issues such as what job to take, how to educate children, what car to buy, and etc. And often the choice is between two perfectly acceptable options.
3. Leans too heavily on subjective factors. DeYoung addresses this as “…enslaving us in the chains of hopeless subjectivism.” (p 50-52). The point is not that intangibles such as our “sense” or “feeling” are never to be considered when making a decision. For instance, I would argue that if there is not some “spark” of romance in your relationship with that special man or woman then you should think twice about marriage. The point is rather that subjective factors should not be the primary consideration in making decisions. For instance, I would argue that you don’t need a serene sense of peace before you make a decision regarding a certain job offer. Here is the basic problem with subjectivity - it lacks any objective standard by which its claims can be evaluated. And thus, being certain that you have discovered this specific will is almost impossible. The subjective means used to discern the will of God (see DeYoung chapter 7) could just have easily originated from “God, Satan, an angel, a demon, human emotions…hormonal imbalance, insomnia, medication, or an upset stomach.” (GF p 93).
Example of not having peace about a major decision: I didn’t feel good about coming to FBC in Carmel. And Judy certainly had second thoughts.
4. Accuses God of hiding the very things we need to know to please Him. DeYoung addresses this as “…implying that we have a sneaky God.” (p 43-44). In effect, God plays spiritual hide and seek with us. He expects us to discover the hidden keys to living in the absolute center of His will. This often leads to frustration and anxiety if not bitterness with God.
5. “Undermines personal responsibility, accountability, and initiative” (DeYoung 46-50). Here’s the deal. God expects us to make decisions about how to go about our daily lives - big choices (marriage) and small ones (clothes). He expects us to make these decisions based on our available information. He does not expect that we discover some hidden information. And, he holds us accountable for our decisions. So, claiming that “God told me so” or “God led me” or “It is God’s will” shouldn’t get us off the hook. We can’t blame Him or anyone else.
6. Makes knowing the future the holy grail of Christian living. DeYoung addresses this as “…encouraging preoccupation with the future.” (p 44-46). The long and short of it is that, other than general statements of Scripture regarding the future or specific Scriptural predictions, we cannot know the specific details of the future including our individual status. So why keep trying to figure it out? Why not be content with the “"If the Lord wills (ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ), we will live and also do this or that." of James 4:15? (or the identical statement in 1 Corinthians 4:19 ἐὰν ὁ κύριος θελήσῃ; or the similar statement of Acts 18:21 τοῦ θεοῦ θέλοντος; or Hebrews 6:3 “And this we will do, if God permits” (ἐάνπερ ἐπιτρέπῃ ὁ θεός). Furthermore, obsessing over the future is unwise and sinful if it becomes worry. Matthew 6:25-34 makes this clear - “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (v 34).
7. Divides (perhaps unknowingly) life’s decisions into two separate categories - important and ordinary. These categories are treated in two different ways. Important decisions are those about which I must know God’s will (marriage, education, vocations, major purchases, etc). Ordinary decisions are those about which I must use good judgement without wasting time (dress, meals, where to park the car, what Bible Study class to attend, etc). (GF chart p 82)
8. Denies that equally good options exist. If consistently applied, the traditional model teaches that only one option is God’s will. In both the big issues and the small ones. (GF p 82-83)
Discussion: How did you react to the bogus Walter Houston story (DeYoung p 73-74)? This is the traditional method to the extreme.
9. Utilizes means for making decisions that are questionable or limited at best and pagan at worst.
Only a few advocates of the traditional method suggest using the following means to make decisions:
a. Magic 8 ball (toy used for fortune telling - see Youtube video)
b. Psychics (fortune tellers; palm readers; diviners)
Another group of methods are not pagan but none-the-less fraught with danger:
a. Daisy do (Eanie Meanie Minie Moe)
b. Chance (casting lots/dice; flipping coins)
c. Direct communication from God.
The Bible is replete with instances of God directly communicating with people by means of audible words, dreams, visions, or signs with specific directions regarding courses of actions (Jonah 1:2, Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Acts 9:10-16; 13:1-2; 16:6-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-21;23:11; 10:17-20; 10:5; 12:7-8; 8:29; 8:39-40). The question is whether we should expect that this is the normal way by which God communicates His individual will for believers to them. It seems not for several reasons: ( quotes from GF p 46-51)
i. “…The number of recorded cases is not sufficient to constitute normative experience.” For instance, Paul normally had to make his own choices.
ii. “…These examples are not sufficiently comprehensive.” The communications “…did not touch upon life’s ordinary decisions.” Normally the communication had to do with gospel ministry in the foundational era (first century).
iii. “…Most of the recipients of specific guidance occupied a special place in the outworking of God’s program.” People such as Old Testament prophets, kings, or judges and New Testament apostles or key leaders in Israel during the first century. The general populace was left out!
iv. Apparently none of those who received supernatural revelations are described as first trying to discover what they should do.
d. The flop open a Bible.
i. I’m sure we have all had the experience of reading through a book of the Bible and suddenly being confronted with a truth that cuts to your heart or seems to speak to your life situation at that moment. Or perhaps you just randomly decide to read a certain section of Scripture. The great thing about the Bible is that it is a holy book. So, it should not surprise us that God uses His Word in this fashion.
ii. The problem is that some people view the flop open method as the number one spiritual way to get a specific answer from God. This goes to far. Expecting God to have your name attached to a passage that you have randomly turned to is asking too much and borders on pagan superstition. And if consistently applied could end up in a train wreck.
iii. Discussion: How did you respond to the examples cited by DeYoung (p 79-80). Especially note 2 Sam 7:3, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”
e. Personal desires.
Are personal desires “road signs” to discovering God’s individual will for us (GF 261)?Unfortunately believers possess both godly and foolish desires. Sorting out the difference can be tricky. So, we error by assuming that our desires come from the Holy Spirit when in reality they may come from our sinful bent. The problem is created by assigning authority to any of our desires - saying that a desire is from God and thus must be implemented.
I am not talking about reasonably setting milestones that if met will be my indicator to move on the the next milestone. (For example: if I am able to do well in basic Greek grammar I will sign up for intermediate grammar and consider taking an exegesis class). I am talking about expecting supernatural phenomena to happen as a sign (similar to Gideon Judges 6:36-40). Or as DeYoung says, “expecting God to do tricks…” (p 77). The former is good; the latter is bad! At the end of the day, fleecing is all about dictating to God and/or failure to trust God (compare Moses’ objections to God plan to send him to Egypt to deliver the Israelites - Exodus 3:7-4:13).
Then there are some methods, though having some similar characteristics with those above and often abused, may have limited value. Selected methods and Scriptures from this group will be discussed in Lesson 7. They are:
g. Prayer and Fasting. If I just pray enough or miss enough meals before I make a decision surely it will be in harmony with the center of God’s will. This is almost like offering God a spiritual bribe.
h. The umpire of peace.
This notion is typically taken from Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Note that the context has nothing to do with determining the will of God. In fact, it may have more to do with peace among believers - the one body. At any rate, it is one of many imperatives associated with godly living (v 5-17).
This is perhaps a subcategory of inner impressions below. The presence or lack of peace should cause us to ask a further question, namely “why”, rather than end the discussion and assume we have the final answer regarding a decision.
On the one hand is the great “if in doubt don’t” principle based on Romans 14:23, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” This is the desired will of God! The only thing needed is figuring what “from faith” means in the context of using Christian liberty. (Probably this is very personal - what does your faith dictate to you?)
On the other hand is the oft abused Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Note the absence of any reference to the will of God. Rather, prayer seems to be the solution to anxiety and peace is the opposite of anxiety.)
i. Interpreting circumstances (open/closed doors; disasters; event timing).
There is no problem with evaluating opportunities that come our way. For example, we might say, “ACME Mousetrap Co unexpectedly contacted me with a job offer that is right up my alley. I think it is worth considering”. The problem comes when we respond to such opportunities by also saying, “this was so unexpected, it must be God’s will (or from the hand of God or…)”. This could be applied to the timing of events, disasters, windfalls, and etc. For example a person might say, “I fell asleep at the airport and missed my connection to Dallas for my third job interview with ACME Mousetrap Co. God must have been telling me not to take the job.” Subsequently he learns that the flight crashed and there were no survivors. So he concludes, “I always knew God wanted me to go to the mission field.”
To express it differently, the “the problem is determining the message that the circumstances are supposed to communicate.” (GF p 262)
I like DeYoung’s summary p 76: “If God opens the door for you to do something you know good or necessary, be thankful for the opportunity. But other than that, don’t assume that the relative ease or difficulty of a new situation is God’s way of telling you to do one thing or the other.” Remember, the door could be opened to an elevator shaft.
j. Inner impressions.
Again, we should not automatically suspect impressions, gut feelings, hunches, or nagging sensations per se. These can be good depending on the decision at hand (i.e. a choice between to equally good options). DeYoung nicely summarizes the issue with impressions, “The problem is in assuming they are from the Lord…don’t confuse (impressions) with certain words from the Lord.” (p 82).
I would also include in this category the concept of a “call”. God has called me to be a pastor, or to give my retirement savings to the poor, or to do graduate work, or whatever. Therefore, “whatever” must be legitimate and no one should question it.
A better view of impressions is outlined by Frissen (p 264-266) as follows:
- “…the origins of impressions are multiple and mixed rather than single and simple.” If all impressions were from God, then we might be talking about a means of divine revelation.
- “…since we understand that impressions lack the authority to function as divine guidance (per se), we are free to evaluate them for whatever help they might be to us.”
- “…the basis for this evaluation is to be the moral will (desired will) of God and wisdom.”
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Discussion: DeYoung wrote about Gideon, “Gideon’s request was probably an indication of cowardice and unbelief more than faithful, wise decision making.” (p 78). Do you agree with DeYoung’s conclusion?
Case Study 2 (GF 215-216): Your friend tells you that, “If someone offers me $5000 or more for my car that has a book trade value of $3700, I will take that as positive sign that God wants me to sell it.”, and then pauses for your response. You quickly process this and then suggest…
Discussion Question: If the traditional method for knowing God’s will and making decisions is unwise, where does that leave us? How should the believer make decisions? Frame your answer in 10 words or less
Assignment: Read and think about 2 Timothy 3: 14-17 and 2 Peter 1:3-11
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.