How Can We Make Decisions and Know God’s Will?
Rather than considering what makes us the happiest, is the easiest, or is the most comfortable, Christians must desire and pursue what pleases Christ.
When I completed seminary and first began pastoring, I expected the pastorate to be composed predominately with preaching, theological discussions, and hospital visits.
One area of ministry I was grossly unprepared for was helping Christians make decisions. I felt prepared to share the gospel and discussing theology, but when it came time to help members make practical decisions, I soon realized that I’m severely limited.
Through Bible reading, mentorship, and growth in understanding of biblical counseling, I learned that Scripture gives us the tools to make decisions consistent with God’s will. Though basic and conspicuous, I’ve found four questions especially helpful in leading believers to make God-glorifying decisions. (Adapted from Jay Adams’ book, The Christian Counselor’s Manual)
1. Is there sin (immoral)?
This initial question might seem obvious but is the quintessential starting point. The first consideration when Christians make decisions ought always to be whether sin is involved.
The Christian’s first priority must always be to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), which necessitates rejection of anything opposed to God (sin). Because God cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13), God cannot lead his people to sin or temptation. Indeed, the full weight of Scripture vehemently and consistently calls Christians to reject all forms of ungodliness. Paul makes this point crystal clear when he commands, “abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22). John Owen equally warned: “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Christians are to reject all forms of ungodliness, especially in the process of making decisions.
If a decision leads a Christian into immorality, regardless of perceived feelings or outcomes, the Christian must refrain from pursuing sinful directions. For instance, an employee might attempt to justify stealing office supplies from his big corporation employer. He could honestly and accurately point out the insignificance of the objects to the company. But the inherent immorality of the decision to steal negates the employee’s personal justification for the decision.
Christians must consider whether God has clearly spoken against any aspect of a decision at hand, regardless of the perceived importance of the decision.
2. Is there sin (moral)?
This second question might seem redundant to the first, but the key variation is the issue of inherent morality. While some decisions are inherently and invariably sinful, other decisions are dependent on the person. As in the example above, the decision to steal is an inherently immoral decision. Pretext does not justify the blatant rejection of God’s revealed law against stealing.
But the morality of other decisions depends upon the person and the situation. For instance, though morally acceptable for a woman to be in a women’s dressing room, it’s morally unacceptable for a man and vice versa. The morality when choosing dressing rooms is dependent on the persons involved, rather than the inherent morality of the decision. The morality of decisions not inherently immoral is what James has in mind when he claims, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
To accurately answer this second question, close examination (2 Cor. 13:5) and trustworthy counsel is paramount (Prov. 11:14). For some Christians, the temptation of greed might prevent them from taking a higher paying job, or a struggle with jealousy or pride might keep a family from buying a home in an affluent neighborhood.
Whatever the decision, we must be cautious in accurately understanding ourselves and our unique temptations.
3. Does this best make much of Christ?
If no sin is found in the decision at hand (negative), then Christians turn to the positive—what makes most of my Savior? The entire purpose of the Christian life is to make much of Christ (1 Cor. 2:2) by becoming more like Christ (Rom. 8:29).
Rather than considering what makes us the happiest, is the easiest, or is the most comfortable, Christians must desire and pursue what pleases Christ. This simple question is a seismic shift in thinking for many believers. For Christians to truly understand God’s will and calling on their lives, we must understand that we will find the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment only in obedience to Christ. Our joy and peace come from obedience to a good Father who loves us and always gives to us from his good providence. The Christian is not called to comprehensively figure out life—he is called to figure out what pleases Christ the most.
Granted, these questions are rudimentary, but they’re vital for changing our perspective away from our perceived wants to full submission to the lordship of Christ. Following God’s revealed Word removes the weighty burden of responsibility and ushers us safely to humble obedience. Usually, we can’t know the results of our decisions—we simply must ascertain what Christ requires of us in the moment.
These questions focus our thoughts after God’s thoughts. If our life is hidden with Christ, then our decisions must be for the exultation of Christ. Instead of making decisions as nonbelievers do, Christians consider God’s desires over their desires. We regularly guard against prioritizing our own perceived happiness over God’s will. We will progressively begin to desire what God desires rather than our own desires.
4. Decide, then rest in God’s sovereignty.
Finally, after honestly evaluating ourselves against the first three questions, Scripture gives Christians freedom of conscience to make a decision and trust God’s providence in the result. If God “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), then Christians are free to obey God’s revealed commands and entrust the results to the One to whom the secret things belong (Deut. 29:29). God’s sovereignty frees us to focus on the process rather than the result.
Decision-making is simply about perspectives and pursuit; are we living by faith in Christ or following what we think is best? For the one who seeks God, rejects all forms of sin, and focuses on pleasing Christ, decisions can be a joyful occasion to trust a sovereign God who always provides and cares for his people.
May Christians always make decisions for the glory and pleasure of Christ.
“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” Heb. 11:6).