Discernment: Decisions and Discernment
Published October 16, 2023
As we conclude our study of a vital topic in our church and world today, spiritual discernment, we are understanding how Scripture calls us to practice discernment.
In our opening posts of this series, we looked at discernment and our feelings. Discernment is not something that is guided by our feelings, but rather a matter of using God’s Word under the guidance of the Spirit to determine what is right and wrong or good and evil. Our decisions, then, should not be the result of having a peace about something, or feeling some type of emotion or sense leading us to do ‘this or that.’
However, we cannot deny the reality that we do have feelings, or that the Spirit of God gives us emotions. The fruit of the Spirit involves love, joy, and peace, which we experience emotionally. How, then, do we know if the Spirit of God is leading us to do something or not, especially if Scripture is not clear?
Here’s a plan we can use to practice discernment as we make decisions in our lives.
When Christians think of making a decision, we should seek to know God’s will about a certain choice. The believer is concerned, not just to make a good or wise decision, but to execute a decision that accords with God’s will, which we must think about biblically.
There are two things commonly meant when we speak of God’s will. The first refers to God’s divine decree as His will. God’s divine decree is what He determined would happen in history before anything existed, which we read in Isaiah 46:9-10. Some people refer to this as the secret will of God because we, as mortal beings, only have a general picture of our past, current, and future; God knows all the details and holds the future in His hands.
The second aspect is God’s divine commands. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul gives us three examples of things God commands us to do – or things we know God desires from us. Anything commanded in Scripture of God’s people is the Lord’s will of command, which can be equated with the law of God. These are the things that please God, and they are not a secret; they are revealed to us in the Bible by God.
We have no way to know the content of the Lord’s divine decrees when we are faced with a decision, which is a problem we run into as we think about making decisions that conform to God’s will. Believers cannot know what God has decreed from all eternity past until those events unfold in history – nor are we commanded in Scripture to figure these out. God’s decrees are not a mystery we are called to solve, and God has intentionally hidden these things from us for His own purposes and reasons.
Tim Challies wrote, “Nowhere do we attempt to discover and make decisions upon the basis of God’s hidden will. We do not need to wait for a prophetic voice or inner promptings or a vision to guide us.” Many Christians run around concerned, flustered, and anxious about their decisions because they don’t know the eternal decree of God – and they want so badly to do God’s will. However, there is no reason to be concerned about what we do not know. There is a better way to make decisions that accord with God’s will than waiting for some mystical inward experience to guide us.
Let me present a method of making biblical decisions to ensure we are doing God’s will in all situations.
First, follow clear biblical commands.
If we have a decision to make, and the Bible gives us clear instructions, we don’t need to go any further down this list. If someone has wronged us, and we are deciding to forgive them or to be bitter, the Bible clearly commands us to forgive – case closed, end of discussion. Now, not everything is so simple in life, so what if we have a decision to make but we can’t find a clear biblical command to resolve the issue?
Second, follow biblical principles.
In this step, we are looking for situations in the Bible that are like ours, when God has not given us a crystal-clear command. We want to find something in Scripture that is either a principle of wisdom or an example where we see the outcome of the decision that was made, whether it went well or poorly. Additionally, if we don’t think there is a biblical principle or command involved in our decision, we should get a second opinion – as Proverbs 28:26 tells us. Our desires may cloud our judgement in these cases, which is why we should double check with a trusted brother or sister before we proceed.
Third, if there are not biblical commands or principles that give us clear direction on what to do, then follow our conscience.
God has given us a conscience – that part of us that says, “This is good, proceed,” or “Danger! Danger! Danger!” If we are in the situation where we have to make a decision, and our conscience is uneasy about it, then we should not move forward until our conscience is clear. We must make a decision based on faith or knowledge of the right thing to do in our conscience.
Fourth, if our conscience is clear with multiple options we could choose, then follow our desires.
Please note this is last in our list. We have to get through a number of tests before we get here. One of the areas where this scenario often presents itself is in job searches, when people try to decide what occupation would best fit them and their families. If there is nothing in the job opportunities that would violate God’s commands or run afoul of biblical principles – and our consciences are equally fine with the options, then any of those jobs would be fine to take!
When we think in terms of our decisions and God’s will in the light of this method, it brings us so much freedom. We’re not trying to solve some inscrutable mystery. We are trusting that God will work for His glory if our desires are within the bounds of His Word and our consciences. Through each step, we need to be in prayer for wisdom, discernment, and faith that He is answering our prayers because of Christ; and prayer that we aren’t missing something or that God would shape our desires the way He wants them to be.
Discernment is not a word we should fear, but a skill we should develop and practice in our life. As we make this effort, we will experience the power of the Spirit of God helping us to use His Word to know the difference between truth and error and between right and wrong. This will equip us to live a life that pleases Christ for the glory of His great name.