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Principles for Decision Making and the Will of God

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If God never says anything to me audibly about His will, I would still have more clear instruction in Scripture than I could ever hope for.

Most believers have wrestled with knowing and doing the will of God. It’s hard to know what guidance from the Holy Spirit looks like, or which decisions we should place before Him and which we are expected to make ourselves. Today I’d like to suggest some principles for decision making that I have found life-giving in my Christian walk.

In my first post on decision making and God’s will, I raised hard questions and asked for feedback. Many people affirmed that this is something they’ve struggled with. In my second post, I tried to give reassurance from Romans 12:1-2 that God’s will is not something He has hidden from us. There are two major mental models when it comes to God’s will: On one side we have hidden and hard and on another we have revealed and joy-filled. We often find what we expect to find, so let’s have our expectations shaped by Romans 12:1-2, where Paul confidently says that we will know God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.

I’ve taken the title of these posts from Garry Friesen’s book Decision Making and the Will of God. It has helped me more than any other resource on this subject (apart from the Bible!), and I constantly recommend it. It’s a long read; Kevin DeYoung’s Just Do Something is basically the shorter version. Friesen’s book is exhaustive because he covers as much Scripture as he can.

Here are Friesen’s basic principles on knowing and doing the will of God:

  1. Where God commands, we must obey.
  2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose.
  3. Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose.
  4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good.

You may want to read these four principles again, slowly, and think about your initial reaction. Do they strike you as true or as mistaken? Why? Do they bring any Scripture to mind? Can you think of Scripture that contradicts them? Do you have personal experiences that either validate or go against these principles?

Friesen works these out in great detail in his book, and he’s written a short summary of the book on his website. Rather than trying to explain them in depth, I want to tease out a couple of the assumptions behind these principles.

Scripture is sufficient.

This does not mean Friesen denies that God speaks today. I work for an international missions organization and hear stories from all around the world about people hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit as they do their ministry. However, the key question is, Does Scripture teach that we are to expect or look for a special revelation from the Lord in decision-making? Friesen’s answer is no:

“It should be noted…that God certainly could reveal His will for a particular decision not directly addressed in Scripture. He has done that in the past, as Scripture records, and His ability to do so now remains unchanged. So if His purposes warranted, God could directly communicate specific guidance today. If He were to do so, it could be expected that the revelation would be crystal clear—and that the means would be on the order of an angelic visit, supernatural vision, or audible voice. However…biblical decision making does not anticipate such divine intervention. True, it does not rule it out. It just assumes that the Word we already have is adequate for all our decisions. And if it is not enough in some situations, it is up to God to provide what we need.” [source]

If God never says anything to me audibly about His will, I would still have more clear instruction in Scripture than I could ever hope to faithfully carry out in one lifetime. We can anticipate that the Holy Spirit will use His words to shape our minds and our decision-making.

Growing up in Christ happens through decision-making.

Consider Adam and Eve. Their one act of disobedience brought the fall of the entire created order. It would have been easy for God to arrange things such that they didn’t really have the freedom to make that mistake—but it seems that God views freedom as a significant part of our development.

Can you remember when you started becoming more aware of your own freedom to choose, or when you had to start making “adult” decisions? Freedom is a scary thing. I am convinced that there is a kind of growing up that God has ordained to take place through the exercise of our freedom and responsibility to choose. A parent’s goal for their children is that their children need to ask them less what to do in every decision. Good parents want their children to become mature enough to make decisions on their own. We know that God never leaves us “on our own,” and that if we are obedient it is really the Holy Spirit empowering us. But God has ordained our limited human perspective such that we must make decisions without always knowing if they are “right”—and this is all part of our sanctification, not something to fear.

Conclusion: Pillars of fire

When I was single, I often envied the Israelites in the desert. At least they had a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud showing them where to go. I would pray: Lord, please (gently) drop a pillar of cloud on my future wife’s head.

It’s tempting to look at such stories and wish that God would do the same thing for us. But the truth is that in Christ we have something that the Old Testament saints longed for. In Hebrews 11:1, the author says that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” The point is that these saints did not see God’s promises. The chapter conclusion makes clear: “…none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (11:39-40).

That “something better” is Jesus, who endured the cross and was raised to God’s right hand, now interceding for us and making a way for us to follow Him. If we look longingly at Old Testament examples of spectacular and specific guidance, we forget that in Christ, and with the indwelling of the Spirit, we have “something better.” It may seem less clear, but it is indeed better.

I’m interested in your feedback in the comments. What do you think of Friesen’s principles? Would you recommend different resources on knowing and doing God’s will? What would change about your life if you acted on these principles and assumed that God’s will is not hidden but is abundant and available? Would it change how you view any of your responsibilities, and if so, how?

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