Obey God and Do What You Want
Exploring Decision Making and God’s Will
God’s Guidance and Extra-Biblical Means
Last week we learned that the Bible is all we need for living a life that pleases God. I hope you got the point that we need to be content with the scope of the Bible, we need to know the Bible, and we need to apply the Bible. Decision making flows from this rudimentary spirituality.
I pounded hard on the doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture because it is desperately needed in our day. However, we all know the the Bible doesn’t speak to every issue of life. But, just because the Bible doesn’t cover every contingency doesn’t mean that Sufficiency is negated. The Bible also tells us what to do when it doesn’t give us a definite word or implication for a given issue. And further, the Bible alludes to certain “extra-Biblical” phenomena that may be valid in decision making.
Thus, you may also remember that two weeks ago we discussed in a positive light some secondary or extra-biblical methods that are sometimes referenced in decision making - things such as peace, prayer, circumstances, and inner impressions. Today we what to return to this subject of secondary sources for decision making by posing a direct question:
Does God guide believers by means other than the Bible?
I do understand that God can use secondary sources of information to guide and lead His people. Some legitimate additional sources might be the counsel of others, books and articles, family history, church tradition or authority, cultural trends or practices, personal preferences, inner impressions, providence, prayer, and etc.
I conclude this because several passages teach this idea. Romans 8, a rich chapter dealing with life in the Spirit, will give us a flavor for this. There I see three methods of God’s guidance:
- Romans 8:14-16 - Inner Promptings NAU Romans 8:14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
- Thus, with confidence we can say that the Holy Spirit guides Christians 14
- The leading of the Holy Spirit is presented here as a mark of someone who is a Christian v 14
- Compare NAS Galatians 5:18 “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law”. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the Holy Spirit will lead us. In other words, how do I know I am a Christian? Well, one of the reasons is that I perceive that the Holy Spirit personally leads me. And I know that the Holy Spirit only leads Christians.
- We desperately want to make good decisions; to make wise life choices. Even if we are reluctant to admit it, we know we are prone to making bad decisions. Thus we hope for guidance beyond our innate means – the guidance of God himself. So this promise that the Holy Spirit will lead us is of great encouragement for today’s Christian.
- Of course, there is a problem. Just how does the Holy Spirit lead us? v 14-16
- First, I find it fascinating that the language is the language of gentleness and persuasion. He leads. He does not drive. It is shepherd terminology. He is our protector. He does not grab us by our throats, threaten us with mayhem, and then drop us shaking in our boots (though I am sure this might be helpful sometimes!).
- Second in v 14, because agw means literally, “to conduct or accompany someone” and thus “to bring or take along” it might metaphysically infer to the influence of the Spirit (Friberg). Or as Hodge says, “…the constant and effectual influence of the Holy Ghost in regulating the thoughts, feelings, and conduct of believers.” (265).
- I take it to mean that He directs our movement though not tangibly. I cannot touch his hand or hear His voice. Hence we are talking about a subjective experience! It is something that cannot be fully explained.
- I take this to mean that the Holy Spirit is in the business of leading me in ways of which I am not cognizant. I don’t doubt He is doing it! In fact, I’d make a mess of my life if He didn’t do this. How about you? In other words the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts and wills. This is a ministry that we cannot perceptibly verify. It defies my logic. But I know it to be true.
- Now third, we are told in v15-16 that the Holy Spirit confirms our view that we are genuine children of God. (“Bears witness is the present active indicative of συμμαρτυρέω meaning to to testify along side of or in support of someone, Gingrich 189). This is a subjective ministry of the Holy Spirit to “our spirit”. We cry “Father”; the Holy Spirit responds with “yes”.
- But fourth, we do know for certain that one of ways the Holy Spirit leads us is by means of the objective truth of the Scripture. John states it this way, NAS “John 16:13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” Thus we can conclude that the Holy Spirit will never subjectively lead believers contrary to the written Word.
- And fifth, it is also true that the Holy Spirit normally guides us by rational understanding and application of the Word rather than by mysterious inner impressions. The Holy Spirit affects our minds. We agree with Lenski, “ Only by means of the written Word do we know that the voice inwardly prompting us is, indeed, the “Spirit’s own and not some hallucination that is afflicting our mind.” (520). So, is the Bible alive for you?
- On the other hand, think of a difficult situation that turned out all right. You cannot believe you survived that mess. Or a perplexing circumstance in which you made an agonizing but, as it turned out, good decision. As you reflect back on it you conclude that the Holy Spirit must have been guiding you. It wasn’t your brilliance! It had to be the direct intervention of God, didn’t it?
- Well, this is a distinct possibility, but not so fast. How do you know? The Holy Spirit does guide, but can you rightly interpret providence?
- Case Study: Many a Christian who has boldly declared that the Holy Spirit has “led” him to quit his job and move across country (or whatever) has to eat his words or explain that he “misunderstood” the Spirit’s leading. So be careful here. Circumstances can always be interpreted more than one way.
- Yet the truth of the matter is, the Holy Sprit does subjectively lead those who are his. Hallelujah! We are not adrift in life. We must not deny this. To admit this is not mysticism. I am not talking about an audible whisper or prompting. But I am talking about something that cannot be fully explained.
- Romans 8: 26-27 - Intercession NAU Romans 8:26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
This is an incredible passage; “unbelievable” is not too strong of a description. I would label anyone who taught this “insane” if it were not recorded in the Bible! We can only skim the surface today.
- First, the Holy Spirit helps believers overcome human frailties through general support of them 26a.
- To begin with the basic idea of the word “helps” is “to take up with”. The word is one word built from three words: sun anti lambanw = with, against, take or receive. The literal sense is thus to grasp or appropriate together. Also, the addition of anti “against” adds a vivid feature to the meaning. It is a picture of one person facing another person. The idea: moving a piano to an upstairs apartment with a friend - he on one end and three of us on the other.
- The larger point is this: the Holy Spirit helps us; he doesn’t do it all. He does grab one end! He helps by joining in. God expects us to work hard in our struggles!
- Second, Holy Spirit helps believers overcome human frailties by specific intercession for them 26b-27.
- Our problem as stated here, is not so much that we don’t pray but that we don’t know what to pray (to = accusative article, the thing plus ti= what or what sort of). It is not even how to pray per se, it is what to pray! So, the emphasis is on content. We don’t know “what” to pray. We are really sorry at the practice of prayer!
- This is further described as not knowing what to pray “as we should’. And just what does this mean? Well, literally it could be either we don’t know what to pray “according to obligations” or “according to lack”. The term dei could be taken either way. The context of our weakness makes it likely that it should be taken as stating that we are so ignorant that we don’t even know what to pray regarding our needs and defects!
- Underlying this is a much bigger issue. Christians are committed to the glorious accomplishment of God’s will here on earth (remember the Lord’s Prayer – “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”). The problem is that we don’t know God’s mind. So just what do we pray in any given situation? We are to pray specifically are we not? Generalizations won’t do. We are in a real pickle. We don’t see our needs and those of others as God sees them!
- Well, take heart. God knows that we don’t know what to pray!! So, the Holy Spirit is commissioned to fix this dilemma by means of intercession.
- But, the Holy Spirit uses unintelligible sighing! “Groanings too deep for words”; or “groans that words cannot express.” (NIV). These internal expressions of feelings without words are that same as the groans of the creation (8:22) and the Christian (8:23) in anticipation of the future glorification.
- The Holy Spirit intercedes for us by expressing sighs that are not put into words to the Father, yet the Father understands.
- Please note. This has nothing to do with our prayers! It is not our sighing in prayer. It is not a special prayer language. And it has nothing to do with speaking in tongues. It is the groaning of the Holy Spirit.
- The Father is described as the “searcher of the hearts.” He conducts a thorough and complete “internal” investigation. Nothing is overlooked. Everything is “discovered.” This examination is of the believer’s heart. And there He finds unintelligible groans that the Holy Spirit implanted there in the form of his own thoughts. His requests. His intercessions on our behalf.
- Romans 8:28 - Providence NAU Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
We briefly mentioned this in conjunction with God’s decreed will (p 9). God’s sovereign acts of providence control the universe. Providence is the notion that God manipulates every thing, event, and circumstance in the entire universe in order to accomplish His eternal predetermined plan (will). This is rudimentary. Every believer should be familiar with this (“we know”). It is not a deep dark secret reserved only for mature believers. So, it should surprise us to learn that God may guide us by means of what we call providential circumstances - things over which we have no control and appear “just happen.”
The providential control of God is universal in scope. It is obvious that we must come to terms with “all things”. Though the term may primarily refer to difficulties of life implied in the previous context (take heart because God is in control of your trials) the term undoubtedly is unrestricted Therefore we conclude that there is no limit to the things that work together for our good! But what does this imply? “All things” includes:
- Good things. Good beings such as other Christians and good events or circumstances.
- Bad things. Bad beings, namely Satan, demons, and evil humans (think Stalin). Bad events or circumstances to include difficulties, sufferings, and tragedies. But also including sinful acts of both believers and non-believers (think 20-49 million killed under Stalin’s rule).
- Can you imagine the absolute providence of God in directing the affairs of the entire universe so that they culminate in good for God’s people? This is what makes this verse so incredible. Only believers have everything working to their good. For non-believers, the opposite is true. Everything is working toward their final ruin..
Other relevant passages might be Ephesians 1:11; John 16:8, 13; 17:17; Galatians 5:16-18, 25; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:2-3; 3:5; 2 Peter 3:2; Jude 1:17
Decision Making in Light of the Sufficiency of Scripture and Extra-Biblical Sources (Lessons 6 and 7)
- I will rejoice that God is interested in my daily life and that He gives help and guidance. I may not completely understand how it works but I am grateful for the Scripture and for the multifaceted ministry of the Godhead on my behalf.
- I will focus on finding out what God says. In short, I have come to realize that when making a decision, I will first ask if God has anything to say about the issue at hand. This means I must ransack the Bible to see if he has spoken directly about the issue or if there are principles that are indirectly germane. As you might guess, in matters of decision making as in other matters of Christian living, a premium is placed on knowing the Bible.
- I will consider all extra-biblical sources of information as secondary to the Bible. In fact, I will research these sources only if the Bible is unclear. As a matter of practice, I will not be on constant alert for extra-Biblical means of knowing God’s will. And I will never elevate them to the level of Scriptural authority.
- I will evaluate extra-biblical sources in light of Biblical teaching. If they do not square with the Scripture, I will reject them out of hand.
- I will ask God for and use wisdom as I consider extra-biblical sources that are not in conflict with the Bible. More on this beginning next week.
- I will strive for balance in responding to subjective experiences in my decision making process. This means my experiences are not necessarily normative for other believers. Thus I will not attempt to bind others to my life situation and decisions nor will I lord it over them spiritually if they disagree with me. I will not be shocked if other believers place more emphasis on extra-biblical factors in decision making than I do. It also means that I will embrace my emotions but at the same time I will check them against wisdom and reality.
- I will gladly ask a Biblically informed Christian if I am wrongly interpreting providence when I am making a decision about a matter about which the Scripture is quiet but circumstance are loud.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
”I Heard God’s Voice Telling Me to Go to Africa”
(The Christian Counselors Casebook p 10, Jay Adams)
“You say that they had you arrested when you tried to force your way on to an airliner heading for Africa?” “Yes - and I’m going to get there yet! I know I was wrong in trying to serve God as I did. I now know that I should have earned the money for my ticket instead of acting so impulsively upon His call. But God has called me to Africa. I know that. I heard His voice as clearly as I hear yours right now. And this was after three days of continuous earnest prayer to discover what God wanted me to do with my life. Surely then, it could not have been of the devil.”
Twenty three year old Richard, a seminary student, who had never acted erratically before, who was a fine student, and who seemed doctrinally sound, suddenly raced out of hi room, hailing a taxi to the airport. Gleeing from the taxi without paying the cabbie, he escaped into the crowd, only to be arrested when insisting hat the allowed to board - without a ticket - a Florida-bound plan that he claimed was headed for Africa.
- To what could Richard’s (behavior) be attributed?
- What line of questioning would you pursue?
- How would you deal with his behavior?
Case Study: As a product of her own childhood history and her sense of the current circumstances with her children, your friend Josie has decided to educate her children at home (or by whatever method). She is now urging you and several other families to do the same. How should you respond?
Assignment: Read textbook through p 84; become familiar with James 1:2-8
© Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2016. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.
Posted on Sun, May 22, 2016
by Joe Flatt filed under