You Can’t Know God’s Will: Decision Making and God’s Will

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Mark_Smith's picture

is that "We live in the age of the maturity of God’s people." I understand what he is trying to say...but to say that because believers have been given the Holy Spirit and the Bible that people develop their walk in Christ and the Spirit of God is simply not the case. If anything, it is worse than in the past...perhaps.

Mark_Smith's picture

on this general topic of "God's will" in our lives. This is the new one, so I'll make some more general comments here. Since last week I have read 2 books on finding God's will for you life. One is John MacArthur's Found: God's Will. This is a short book and very profound. It says a lot but not too much. I recommend it to be given to all Christians seeking God's will for their lives. The second was the one recommended by several SI readers, Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung. I had earlier made comments on another thread about the second book as I read it. I have now finished it so let me make a few thoughts.

The basic idea is very similar between MacArthur and DeYoung. To me MacArthur makes a simpler argument and therefore avoids the pit falls of saying too much. In a nut shell both authors argue that there are some things that God definitely does without our input, and other things that He tells us through His word that we should do and it is our responsibility to do them. Examples of the latter are basically our sanctification (we should not sin, live holy lives etc), we should marry believers, not get divorced except for specific cases, be thankful, get planted into a church, fellowship with believers, have a job, study the word, pray etc. To do God's will we should focus on those things God has decreed, do them well. If we do those things, then we will be in a place to make godly decisions.

At this point the two books deviate slightly. MacArthur basically stops here. Doing the known will of God enables God to plant His desires into your heart a la Psalm 37:3-6. By prayer, meditation, and counsel of others your desires will be God's desires. So, you are free to make decisions because they are godly, assuming you keep up on the known will of God. DeYoung means to say the same thing, but how he says it irks me. He at times implies that it is even silly to wonder what God's will is, since it is unknowable before hand. He brings in his grandpa several times, a man who was successful but insists he never even once wondered what God's will was...he just acted. To be frank, that simply scares me and is HORRIBLE advice. It is one thing to acknowledge that God has given us freedom of choice in certain areas of our life so we are free to choose, it is another thing to imply that seeking God as to what to do is somehow wrong. DeYoung gets real close to saying NOT TO EVEN WONDER what God wants in your life. It implies that God is distant and not interested in the details of your life. It also rejects the believer's walk in Christ to NOT EVEN WONDER what God's opinion, as your heavenly Father, might be. 

To be fair, DeYoung several times insists in his manuscript that he is not saying the things I am concerned about, but he follows that with examples and advice that say that we shouldn't even wonder what Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, as our savior and advocate and teacher think about our situation. That goes too far in my estimation. Without making it clear that ONLY when our lives are dedicated and sanctified to God will our decisions please the Lord it smacks of self-rule of our lives.  DeYoung, perhaps unintentionally, implies that we can do whatever we want and not even blink in God's direction. WOW, it gets a little scary to think about the implications of that since I have yet to meet a person who is perfectly obedient to God in this present life!

dmyers's picture

Mark Smith:  So what did you think of the article that is the subject of this post?  It takes the same position as DeYoung and (I assume) MacArthur.  Is it any more persuasive or presented less objectionably to you?

I've read DeYoung's book and I think you're overstating his repeated references to his grandfather's experience.  In part, it was a different generation, as I think you or someone else pointed out in one of the other threads.  In part, DeYoung is highlighting the paranoia that we have engendered in the more recent generations with the "traditional view" that God's will for at least their "big" decisions is knowable in advance (and can therefore be "missed," even unintentionally, with lifelong adverse consequences).  This is a paranoia that was foreign to the grandfather; hence, the frequent contrasts to him.

It appears that there is an additional theological difference between you and DeYoung that plays into this.  You say (criticizing DeYoung):  "Without making it clear that ONLY when our lives are dedicated and sanctified to God will our decisions please the Lord it smacks of self-rule of our lives.  DeYoung, perhaps unintentionally, implies that we can do whatever we want and not even blink in God's direction. WOW, it gets a little scary to think about the implications of that since I have yet to meet a person who is perfectly obedient to God in this present life!"  

But DeYoung recognizes, as I wish you would, the fundamental error of thinking that "ONLY when our lives are dedicated and sanctified to God will our decisions please the Lord."  We are in Christ, whose active righteousness is imputed to us.  In Him, as far as God is concerned, our lives in fact already are and always will be dedicated and sanctified to Him; we are already and always will be pleasing to the Lord.  The "self-rule" you are concerned about is actually inherent in the view that we have to perform (including knowing God's will in advance and then doing it) to please the Lord.

Mark_Smith's picture

didn't even wonder what God's will is, why is the way that asks it called the "traditional view"?

 

dmyers, see my first post for a question about a comment the thread article makes.

So dmyers, what you are saying is don't wonder about your decision, do what you want, you can't do wrong? You can't pick a bad choice?

 

What I actually think I think ( Wink ) is that we are free in Christ to make choices. We are told God's will for certain things like I outlined above, beyond that, we choose. I think with a relationship that we develop with God through prayer, worship, Bible study, etc, we will seek a relationship with God and want His opinion. DeYoung suggests to skip that (at least it seems to me). Now, with freedom comes the possibility that we will choose poorly...DeYoung seems to suggests, along with you dmyers, that that NEVER happens. Are you saying that?

dmyers's picture

Mark Smith:  You're right, I missed your first post.  I'm not sure I understand your comment 100%.  If I'm right, you're saying you disagree with what the quoted statement appears to say but you're not disagreeing with what you think the quoted statement was meant to say.

As for the generations issue, I'm not a church historian, and you may have raised an interesting question about when the "traditional view" became the traditional view.  What I can tell you is that Friesen's book is 25+ years old, which I think means that it came out approximately one generation ago.  I am inclined to consider it an event of my generation, because I read it when I was 22-23 and the book was still relatively new.  (In fact, Dr. Custer of BJU reviewed the book in the school's Faith for the Family magazine the same summer I read the book.  I remember being very disappointed in the review because I had taken a class with Dr. Custer and admired him, but I thought he had treated the book very superficially and simply gotten it wrong.  It was said that Dr. Custer read a new book every day; I assumed Friesen's was one that he read on one of those days, and as a result hadn't given it the time it deserved for a proper review.)

It is my understanding that the majority of my generation was taught the traditional view, and it was taught then as the settled traditional view rather than as a departure from some previous view.  I heard the same thing in my family's denomination (Nazarene -- Wesleyan/Arminian, holiness), at my Independent Fundamental Baptist Christian school (grades 8-12), and at BJU, so it was not merely a Nazarene or Baptist or BJU view.  Friesen called/calls it the traditional view for a reason; perhaps he even discusses some history at the beginning of his book, I don't remember.  DeYoung's grandfather, assuming DeYoung is of my generation rather than my father's, would have been 2-3 generations before Friesen's book.  So it makes perfect sense to me that what Friesen calls the traditional view was not necessarily the traditional view in the '20's or '30's but became the standard view somewhere in the 40's, the 50's, or (maybe) the '60's.  There was certainly a lot going on in those decades in the Bible-believing branches of the church.

I suppose it's possible that it's not a generational thing at all, but more of a denominational thing.  DeYoung's grandfather was, I believe, RCA or some other type of Reformed -- a branch of the church I had no exposure to growing up.  Perhaps the wisdom/sovereignty view of Friesen/MacArthur/DeYoung/Smith was always the traditional view in the Reformed churches.

Either way, the point is that as of the writing of Friesen's book, what he calls the traditional view was in fact the traditional or common or standard or majority view, whatever you want to call it.  And, whether generational or denominational, it was different from what was taught in DeYoung's grandfather's circles.

As for your series of questions to me:  You can certainly "wonder" about your decision, in the sense that you think about it, you do research, you seek wise/experienced opinions, you evaluate your motives, you consider the glory of God, you pray for wisdom, and you may even pray for divine intervention -- "Lord, this looks like the wise thing to do, and I want to do it for the right reasons, but I may be missing something.  If I shouldn't do this, please let me know by closing the door or something."  But you don't have to "wonder" about your decision in the sense that you agonize about it because if you make the wrong choice you'll permanently be on Plan B for your life.  You count on God's promise that He will work all things together for your good (Christ-likeness) and for His glory.  You can "do wrong," in the sense that you choose something immoral, something contrary to God's will as revealed in Scripture.  You can also "do wrong" or "pick a bad choice" or "choose poorly" in the sense that you make an unwise choice.  You can buy a car (or a house, or whatever) impulsively or emotionally, only to realize later that you overextended financially or were too status conscious, or whatever.  (If it weren't an outright financial impossibility for me right now -- and into the indefinite future -- I might well throw wisdom out the window and sign up for a 2014 Corvette Stingray convertible.  Nice!)  You might choose a college or a job or a career or a church that turns out not to be a good fit.  But you learn from your mistakes and you try to be more wise the next time, and you rest in God's provision.  You don't bemoan the lost time or money or resume value; you don't beat yourself up for having missed God's "perfect" will; you don't pay attention to people who think they can judge you for "abandoning your calling"; etc.  You aren't frozen; there's little or no paralysis by analysis; there's little or no waiting on (or ginning up) "internal peace" (in large part because you have peace about what will happen whether you pick the wisest option, the second wisest option, or the least wise option; you can "just do something."

Here's another very personal example:  According to either the traditional view or the wisdom view, there's a high probability that I married the wrong woman (i.e., not "God's choice" for me and/or not the wisest choice).  We're now divorced, after 29+ years and 4 kids.  I don't even need the benefit of hindsight to know that there were factors evident at the time we got married, in her and in me, that arguably counseled strongly against the marriage (even the courtship).  To a great extent, those negatives and incompatibilities came home to roost, including in what was ultimately her unbiblical insistence on divorce (and a subsequent rushed remarriage).  Under the traditional view, I'd be doing some hair tearing and repenting; I'd be mourning the Plan A that I missed all those years (and presumably will never recover); I'd be struggling to reconcile the unequivocal blessings that are my 4 kids with my violation of "God's will."  Instead, under the wisdom view, I can be much more sanguine (which is not to say that there isn't an unbelievable amount of pain involved).  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God deliberately used my lack of wisdom or discernment and any other errors in my decision-making regarding that young lady from 1978-1982 for probably thousands of purposes, not least of which were those 4 unique kids.

I could go on with the contrast, but I hope you get the idea.  The approach taught in the article to which this thread is linked is not a frivolous or careless approach.  It is not an approach that discounts God, His will, sin, or the Bible.  Properly understood, it elevates God's sovereignty, His Word, His provision, and His glory.

JohnBrian's picture

I was taught Friesen's "traditional view" as a young man (I'm 57) and have referred to it as one school-one wife-one ministry for life. The point was that God had 2 possible wills for your life, a perfect and a permissive. You were (as a teenager) supposed to figure out the perfect will and do it, but if you made any mistakes along the way you would be relegated to the permissive will and would be a 2nd class Christian.

I went to Tenn Temple as an 18 yr old and managed to get expelled at the end of my 1st semester. Based on the trad view (and the way I was treated by some) I had missed out big time on the perfect will and was going to have to spend the rest of my life riding in coach on the Gospel train.

When I returned to Temple 10 years later (1985 - married with kids), my dearest professor, Preson Philips, recommended Freisen's book. I read it and it had a tremendous impact on my life. If that was all that I had gained from returning to college, it would have been well worth it.

It had not been the view of my parents when they were growing up, so somewhere between their generation and mine it became, as dmyers said, "the settled traditional view."

I believe there are a host of Christians that are my age that have struggled (and still are) because they feel they missed out on the perfect will. Some of those are members of my extended family. They have never recovered from a bad choice they made as a young person.

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Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Johnbrian,

Not just your generation. I am 42 and raised the same way. Providentially, my first pastor in ministry gave me a copy of Friesen's book as well, so I did not languish as long as you. I will say, the latest addition has some troubling additions that I don't like. Particularly, Friesen has opened the door to direct communication from God via some inner feeling in the new addition. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

pvawter's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

Doing the known will of God enables God to plant His desires into your heart a la Psalm 37:3-6. By prayer, meditation, and counsel of others your desires will be God's desires. So, you are free to make decisions because they are godly, assuming you keep up on the known will of God. DeYoung means to say the same thing, but how he says it irks me. He at times implies that it is even silly to wonder what God's will is, since it is unknowable before hand. He brings in his grandpa several times, a man who was successful but insists he never even once wondered what God's will was...he just acted. To be frank, that simply scares me and is HORRIBLE advice. It is one thing to acknowledge that God has given us freedom of choice in certain areas of our life so we are free to choose, it is another thing to imply that seeking God as to what to do is somehow wrong. DeYoung gets real close to saying NOT TO EVEN WONDER what God wants in your life. It implies that God is distant and not interested in the details of your life. It also rejects the believer's walk in Christ to NOT EVEN WONDER what God's opinion, as your heavenly Father, might be. 

Mark,

Aren't you glad that the men discussing this with you do not approach your words with the same attitude? I mean, you get real close to saying THAT YOU CAN'T MAKE A DECISION UNTIL GOD HAS SPOKEN TO YOU DIRECTLY TO REVEAL HIS PERFECT WILL.

Of course, I know that is not what you mean, but it concerns me. (Please read a great deal of friendly sarcasm in the above statements, since you can't hear my tone of voice.)

Seriously though, your complaint about DeYoung's book and the entire idea of making decisions according to godly wisdom is how these views are presented? Do you actually find DeYoung (or anyone here for that matter) suggesting that you ignore God's Word or live as if God did not exist or does not care what you do? I don't think so.

I have not read DeYoung's book, but I have read and enjoyed both Macarthur and Friessen on the subject. Both men propose that every decision we make ought to first be judged according to God's moral will, and if God has declared it to be immoral, we must not do it. This, of course, leaves a myriad of other choices which are morally "right" or are amoral. Second, we apply Biblical wisdom to discern the wisest course of action, and this step includes rather than excludes praying to God for wisdom (James 1:5). While this removes many "right" choices from contention, it leaves many still available. Once these two standards have been used, we are free to choose according to our wishes, interests, opportunities, or the flip of a coin if we like. None of the choices would be wrong (see step 1) or contrary to wisdom (see step 2). I would strongly encourage you to read Friessen's book, because he deals with almost every Scripture reference which even tangentially applies to decision making and God's will. 

Since personal anecdotes seem to be popular on this topic, let me share one of my own. After college I was searching for a Christian school math/science teaching job. I had interviews at 2 schools, one in IL and another in NJ. Neither presented any violations of God's moral will, and as far as I could tell, there was no way to distinguish between them according to wisdom. Both schools paid well enough for a single guy to live modestly, and both had ample local church ministry opportunities available. As I flew back home from NJ, I tried to list all the pros and cons for each school, but I ended up with identical lists for each. At that point, according to the traditional view, I should have laid out a fleece or asked for a sign or sought some revelation from God as to which one was His will for me. Fortunately, I had never been taught the traditional view (or had rejected it as unbiblical prior to that point), so I did none of those things. For me, the deciding factor was something personal. There was a girl from college who had taken a job in IL, and I thought that maybe living in the same state (albeit some distance away), I might be able to pursue a relationship with her. So I took the job in IL. Of course, as soon as I moved there, she quick taking my phone calls and nothing came of it. Instead of moping around and second-guessing, however, I simply began to pursue ministry and personal growth right there in IL, and within two years I had met and married my wife. Following the wisdom method of decision making also strengthened my faith in God's sovereign ability to use my choices for His glory and my good, even without telling me in advance what He was going to do.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

pvawter,

Excellent, concise summary and personal application. I would only elaborate that Friesen includes the step of evaluating decisions in light of our purpose on earth - what is to the highest known glory and pleasure of God - as part of the elimination process in between the moral test and the wisdom test. You may have included that in the moral aspect, but I thought it might help Mark (and others) better understand the application process to spell it out. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jim's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
the latest addition has some troubling additions that I don't like. Particularly, Friesen has opened the door to direct communication from God via some inner feeling in the new addition. 

If true, it would see that this would be the very antithesis of his earlier work! Do you have any relevant quotes to substantiate this?

JohnBrian's picture

pvawter wrote:
There was a girl from college who had taken a job in IL, and I thought that maybe living in the same state (albeit some distance away), I might be able to pursue a relationship with her. So I took the job in IL. Of course, as soon as I moved there, she quick taking my phone calls and nothing came of it.

Following girls will always get you in trouble!

pvawter wrote:
God's sovereign ability to use my choices for His glory

I have a family member who quite frequently references the sovereignty of God. It seems however, they only reference it when they are getting something that they want. I'm not quite sure they understand sovereignty!

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I recently taught a teen Sunday School class on "finding God's will for your life." I was worried that these teens were troubled, or perhaps worse - paralyzed, by the need to "find God's will" for themselves as they got ready to leave home.

I essentially taught them to (1) pray diligently, (2) seek counsel, (3) consider whether your decision is violating a specific command or general application of Scripture, and (4) act and do what you sincerely feel is best. I told them they were wasting their time waiting for a cosmic revelation or a theophany from God to guide them.

I told them to consider the talents, gifts and abilities God has given them and how they can use them for Him in some capacity. I told them they didn't need to be "super Christians," and that if they didn't want to go to the Amazon jungle to witness to native tribes, that was fine. I told them it was just fine to be an "ordinary" Christian, hold a good job, attend a local church and be involved in various ministry opportunities in the church as the opportunity arises. I emphasized the need to love God, which will lead to a sincere love for others (Deut 6:5; Mk 12:30).

This topic of "God's will" is very important. I am not certain I made much of an impact with the teens. I'm not sure I've really gotten it right about "God's will." I am certain, however, that the tendency to condition people to expect an almost miraculous "inner peace" or divine in-breaking of God into their lives (e.g. Paul on the road to Damascus) to reveal His will is certainly wrong.

Appreciate all the book suggestions from the various threads. This is something I'm going to take a harder look at.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Mark_Smith's picture

I NEVER used the words perfect will. NEVER. I don't think one mistake and you are off the perfect train to God's will. I do think that we can ask God what He thinks would be good in a situation. My read of DeYoung is that he seems to minimize that idea and that seems strange to me. To me, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit is my friend and Father. In prayer I talk to Him like I am talking to you. I expect Him to "talk" to me through the word of God, thoughts I have, counsel, etc. Of course all is tested by the word of God.

 

Second, yes, my complaint with DeYoung is mostly his presentation. As I mentioned I largely agree with MacArthur and even stated that in substance MacArthur/Friessen/DeYoung are nearly the same. I read Friesen years ago but lost the book. I have reordered it and will reread it when I get it. I have some memory of its presentation though.

 

I appreciate that Friesen goes into immense detail. It is a converted ThD thesis. DeYoung does not do that as much.

 

Mark_Smith's picture

Using your four step progression, I guess my concern is that we need to EMPHASIZE that step 4 relies upon steps 1-3 being done diligently. I am concerned that people will just "do what they think" in their life without serious attention to steps 1-3.

 

My concern is that people, being people, will take this method and interpret it as "do what you want" rather than do the hard work of staying in God's revealed will. Get my point?

Mark_Smith's picture

 Have you read DeYoung's book, or are you merely responding based upon Friesen?

Mark_Smith's picture

let me be clear, I am NOT an advocate of looking for words in clouds, putting out fleeces, counting cars driving by, randomly picking Bible verses, etc. That is silly.

 

I am not an advocate of not acting until you know in advance what God wants you to do.

 

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

 Have you read DeYoung's book, or are you merely responding based upon Friesen?

No, I haven't read DeYoung yet. It sounds interesting though, and I have put it on my wish list. I have read MacArthur's and Freissen's books. I have four copies of Frieessen on my shelf right now; I also have a copy of MacArthur. It seems very similar to Freissen, just in a much more simplified form.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

pvawter's picture

Mark, I never put words in your mouth, I simply treated your words the way you have admitted you treated DeYoung's. He never said to leave God out of it, in fact, by your own admission, he said just the opposite. Coming close to saying something is not the same as actually saying it.

Mark_Smith's picture

OK. Have a nice day.

dmyers's picture

@Mark Smith:  "My concern is that people, being people, will take this method and interpret it as "do what you want" rather than do the hard work of staying in God's revealed will. Get my point?"

But you acknowledge that DeYoung explicitly said the contrary, and if you've read Friesen you know it's not possible to attribute that danger to his view or his presentation of it -- he repeatedly makes the point that his approach requires more familiarity with God's revealed will (the Bible), not less.

This sounds like the kind of objection Paul anticipated to his teaching about grace -- shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Of course people, being people, can take the truth and interpret it as "do what you want."  That's always been the case.  That's a flaw in people, not the truth.  In fact, as some theologians have pointed out, if our teaching about grace doesn't prompt the objection that we're risking encouraging sin, we're not teaching it right.

Mark_Smith's picture

First, I find it interesting that you and others keep commenting about my responses to a book you've never read using as a basis another book (Friessen) that I am not commenting on in particular.

Second, while I said DeYoung paid lip service to some things, I found his examples to imply other things.

Frankly, without you reading the book, I feel there is no point in continuing. Some of the basic questions I have asked no one has answered. All people have done is focus on me inferring what DeYoung implied. So, I'm moving on.

For the record, I have learned a lot by reading DeYoung's book, though I think his examples and logic at times are flawed. I learned more from MacArthur's book, though that is not drawing attention. I wonder why?

dmyers's picture

Mark Smith:  You're confusing me with someone else.  I have read DeYoung's book.  (I also subscribe to his blog.  I considered making the point earlier that if you'd read anything else of DeYoung's, you'd know that it is silly to accuse him of minimizing God's role in our lives or our responsibility (and blessing) to maximize His role, but I did not because I decided that wouldn't be fair; it would be beyond the scope of this discussion.)  I appreciated DeYoung's book enough that I gave it to my two oldest sons on the occasion of the oldest's college graduation a year ago.  I would love it if they would read Friesen's book too, because I valued the detail, the scripture saturation, and the vigor of his presentation.  But they are busy (and still younger than I was when I read it); I knew they wouldn't or couldn't read Friesen's book as their first full book on the subject; and, because I have never taught them the traditional view, I thought DeYoung's more conversational (and brief) approach would suffice for the time being -- they didn't need to be convinced of the opposite of what they'd been taught their entire lives like I did.

Now that we've disposed of the erroneous presupposition of your flippant response, can we get a substantive response?  Contrary to your third point above, I think I've responded to every basic question you've asked.  What questions do you think have gone unanswered?

As to your final point, there's no reason that your having learned more from MacArthur's book would draw attention; I'm not disagreeing with you about MacArthur's book, I'm disagreeing with you about DeYoung's book (and also trying to answer your "basic questions").  What would you like someone to say to you about your reactioin to MacArthur's book?  How about, what does having "learned more" from MacArthur's book mean?  That you were persuaded?  Or that you were not persuaded but you haven't formed any questions or counter-arguments regarding his approach?  Or how about, if you understand that MacArthur and DeYoung are saying essentially the same thing, why are you making such a big deal about DeYoung's grandfather, particularly when many here have tried to illuminate for you what DeYoung was doing with that example?

You still moving on?

Mark_Smith's picture

I'm done.

 

I guess I did get you mixed up with others, but no matter. I'm moving on.