Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Decision-making and the Will of God

One of the questions I get most is, "How can I discern God's will for a decision I'm facing?" There is a lot of misunderstanding and unhelpful thinking when it comes to this question, but Sinclair Ferguson has a list of key questions that we should ask as we try to make wise, God-honoring decisions.

Here is his introduction, and the first question (with more questions to come in the next few days):

Walking in the will of God produces a distinctive life-style. There will be certain characteristics which will be true of all Christians in all places and in every age. There are abiding qualities about true Christians which would make them recognizable by their fellow believers in very different epochs of church history.

But for every Christian the question arises, not, What is true of all Christians always? but, What is the will of God in this particular, unique situation in which I find myself? We have to face the issue of the nature of the principles which govern Christian conduct. How do we discover the will of God when we are faced with a possibly bewildering array of choices?

The exposition of the Christian walk is a major theme in one of Paul's letters and this further question is also a theme with which Paul dealt at some length. We find him discussing it in his First Letter to the Corinthians. . .

Paul's principles remain valid. Not only so; they are of great practical usefulness to us in discerning what the will of the Lord is in our lives. A careful study of them gives rise to a series of questions which will help to unfold what God's guidance might be in any given situation.

1. Is it Lawful?

The Corinthians emphasized the (biblical) principle that Christ has set them free. Paul retorted that freedom is not the only principle in the Christian life. Freedom is for something. God has set us free for holiness. He has blessed us with freedom from the guilt and bondage of sin - but not in order that we might become enslaved to the very sins for [from] which Christ died to redeem us!

This is powerfully reinforced by the apostle [in 1 Cor 6:9-11]. Paul provides a long list of the kinds of sinful conduct which are contrary to membership of the kingdom of God. He does not mean that these heinous sins are the unforgivable sin. Some of the Corinthians had indulged in these very sins before they were converted. Yet they had been washed, sanctified and justified through Christ! But they had to be radically converted in order to be fitted for the kingdom of God. No anarchy is present there - it is a kingdom, a monarchy, and is governed by the great and holy commandments of God.

What is Paul's point? It is that no action which is contrary to the plain word of God can ever be legitimate for the Christian. No appeal to spiritual freedom or to providential circumstances can ever make what is ethically wrong anything else but sinful. For the Christian is free only to love and obey the law of God. Therein lies his true freedom.

We can often reduce the possible choices that face us at different times in our lives by this very simple question: Is it lawful [that is, does Scripture even allow it as an option]? How readily Satan seems to be able to blind us just here - and we lose sight of the fact that we have been saved in order to be made holy.

(This material is an adaptation of content from the book, "Discovering God's Will" by Sinclair Ferguson, published by Banner of Truth)

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