Friday, October 18, 2013

Decision Making and the Will of God (Part 1)

I posted the following article about a year ago. Currently I'm teaching a Sunday School class on this topic. If you're interested in the audio for this class and the PDF notes, you can find them here.

For some time now I have been amazed and at the same time troubled by the number of people who are trying to make decisions and are waiting on some sort of sign from God for or against the particular option they are considering. There seems to be the idea that for every decision we are called to make, God has a perfect will that He expects us to find. If we don't, we are somehow out of the will of God. He expects us to have some sign or an inner peace confirming that a decision we are about to make is the “right” one. I've always questioned this approach to the will of God, but didn't have a very good way of evaluating my concerns.

Recently I stumbled upon the book, “Decision Making and the Will of God” by Garry Friesen, published by Multnomah Press in 1980. (Amazon has it here.) The biblical reasoning that Friesen uses to counter the traditional view of the will of God struck a chord with me. What I hope to do here is to summarize the main ideas that Friesen presents along with some of the biblical support for his reasoning. I am certain that many questions will be raised that I won't have the space to deal with here and so I point you to Friesen's book for more clarification. In addition, the space here is not sufficient to clearly lay out Friesen's argument, but I think it's important enough to introduce you to the concept. Many of the principles he espouses I have used for years, but did not know how to explain. Hopefully in this short article you will get the basics of his argument and that may encourage you to investigate further.

The common view is that God has three types of wills which govern a Christian's life: Sovereign Will, Moral Will, and Individual Will. The sovereign will of God are those things that God governs and sovereignly brings to pass. These things are usually outside of our knowledge until they have occurred. God's moral will are those areas of God's will governed by the Scripture. They are the commands and precepts that God tells us to keep. The Individual Will, according to the common view, is a particular will of God that he has for each individual. It is a life plan. It encompasses essentially everything in life. Most often though, the followers of this view believe that it impacts primarily major decisions such as who should I marry, where should I go to college, and sometimes which car or house should I buy. The philosophy of the Individual Will, if truly believed, should also apply to the small decisions, i.e. which store should I shop in, which box of cereal should I buy, etc.

In his book Friesen spends a couple of chapters using a fictional scenario featuring a seminar on the will of God and in that seminar the traditional view is presented. What's interesting is that most readers will work through those first chapters nodding in agreement and saying basically, “Yep. That's what I believe. That's the way it works.” Then suddenly he begins to dismantle that view by basically saying that there is no individual will that God expects us to find. That will strike some people as almost sacriligeous.

And this is the point I have believed for a long time. There is no specific individual will for each person as to which college God wants them to attend or which person God wants them to marry. Now the fact that Mr. Friesen and I believe this does not make it true. What each person needs to do is to examine the scriptural evidence and see what the Bible teaches with respect to the individual will. Is or is there not a particular target we are called to discover when making any decision?

It's important that we come to understand that the Bible is fully sufficient to provide all of the guidance needed for a believer to know and do God's will. (page 82)

Let's take the apostle Paul for example. “In the first thirty years of the church's history covered by the book of Acts, there were at most fifteen to twenty instances of direct, personal guidance. Many of these directions were given to the Apostle Paul. Yet within the framework of his total ministry, relatively few of his decisions were determined on the basis of such leading. Most of the time he had to weigh the apparent merits of various options before settling on a course of action. In other words, when he had a decision to make, he had to decide (cf. Acts 15:36; Acts 20:16; Romans 1:10-13; 1 Corinthians 16:4-9; 2 Corinthians 1:15-2:4).”

No decision is given in the New Testament in terms of “I felt in my heart God wanted me to do it”. The apostles often gave reasons for their decisions, but never in these terms. (p. 92)

What ends up happening is that drawing the line between what are important decisions and what are not becomes difficult and sometimes stressful. Does God have a perfect will as to which brand of cereal I buy or just when the price gets up to the level of which TV to buy? Or does it start with cars? Then what do I do when two options appear to have equal validity or equal “leading”? The difficulties never stop. Some people are very stressed by this. They truly want to be a faithful Christian and they want to be pleasing to God and so, thinking that God has a specific target for them, they become stressful trying to find it.

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