A few weeks ago I had the privilege to discuss what is undoubtedly one of the most confusing and yet talked about topics among college-aged Christians: discerning God’s will. The truth is that this topic is very difficult to tackle in one sermon, and there is not one definitive scriptural passage that sums up the issue nicely. Instead, I had to pull together several threads that run throughout the entire Bible in the hopes that it would bring us some clarity on this topic. I am definitely not the first to do this. In fact a lot of the things I talked about can be found in Kevin DeYoung’s book Just Do Something and several others like it. I highly recommend reading that for some further discussion on this topic.
But I spoke with several people after my message and there was still a few important questions that got brought up so I thought I would use this blog to clarify some things. These are pretty important and common questions so hopefully they will be helpful for you, but if you have any other questions you’d like answered on the topic feel free to comment bellow or contact us at The Well.
What role does the Holy Spirit have in God’s will and decision making? Does the Holy Spirit lead us in God’s will?
Yes! The Spirit leads us in God’s will through the counsel that was written by Him in the Bible. II Peter 1:21 tells us that “…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The main way that the Holy Spirit leads is through the words that He wrote in the scripture which He alone can give us understanding or discernment of. I Corinthians 2:10-14 says:
…The Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The Holy Spirit has written and reveals the truth of the bible to His people. We then take that spiritual understanding, apply it to our decision making process, and take action trusting completely in God.
In contrast, God’s main way of revelation throughout most of the Old Testament era was through directly communicating to the prophets through signs, visions, dreams, and even audibly speaking to them. And during the Apostolic Age (approximately from Christ’s death around 33AD through the year 100AD) God was both speaking through the written texts of the Old Testament as well as establishing the New Covenant through these same kinds of signs and visions. But now the main way He guides is through the instructions that the prophets, and the Apostles have written down for us in the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2, Jude 1:3). That being said, we do believe that in our current time there is the possibility for the Holy Spirit to miraculously lead people, but those kinds of experiences are not normative like they were before the canon of scripture was established.
This is not to say that we don’t interact with God emotionally when we pray or sing to God in worship. There’s no doubt that the Holy Spirit brings to our minds wonderful truths from His word and convicts us of how we ought to live. But when it comes to the specific area of decision making, the reality of the situation is that the choices we make in our life are our own. God has called us to make our decisions based on the principles he has created which are illuminated by the Holy Spirit to us. Jesus said it best in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,”—in other words, seek to live a life according to His teaching in the word—“and all these things will be added to you.”—all the necessities of life such as a job, or finances, or clothing, or any number of things that are important in our lives.
How do we account for “feeling led” to a certain ministry or job or situation? Is that something we should even consider?
If by “feeling led” you mean that you have thoroughly considered a decision, made sure that it is an action that is pleasing to God according to the scriptures, sought counsel from good Christian brothers and sisters, and the result of all of that is that this decision seems to you like the best course of action then YES we can say we are “feeling led” to take a certain job or ministry.
If, however, we mean that we are feeling led irrespective of the teachings of the bible or the counsel of the church then that is very dangerous. While our decisions will always have an aspect of feeling to them they cannot be completely based on feelings. Joseph Smith was “led” by a vision of an angel named Moroni, and as a result the cult of Mormonism was born and thousands of people have fallen prey to that heresy.
I think often Christians just say they are “feeling led” as a short hand for all of those steps I suggested taking when making decisions, but there may not be something particularly miraculous taking place. It’s usually just people using their God-given ability to think according to the miraculous God-given guidance in the Bible.
Philippians 4:6-7 tells us that when we are anxious about something we are to pray, and the peace of God will guard our hearts. Is this the peace we receive when praying to make a decision?
This is a good question, and I think I may have been a little unclear on this point when I preached about it. I think we can confuse a feeling of peace and a sense of confidence in God. The Philippians passage encourages us not to seek a feeling of peace but rather to trust in God through prayer and the result of this will be a supernatural peace or confidence that God will “work all things together for our good” as Romans 8:28 tells us. When I was referencing various people in scripture not “feeling peace” such as Esther, Nehemiah, Paul and Jesus, I was not saying they were doubting God or letting anxiety overcome them. What I was trying to point out is that their decisions were based on what was right according to God’s word not on subjective feeling. And we should do the same. We need to be willing to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, fearful, and even terrified for the sake of fulfilling God’s will of desire—or how God wants us to act. Jesus isn’t calling us to a peaceful life necessarily but a sacrificial one that will at times be painful, but through the scary and hard things that we might have to endure he also promises to guard our hearts with a supernatural peace that is best understood as a confidence in God not a warm feeling (Luke 9:23). So, if by a “feeling of peace” we mean an assurance that we have in God about a decision after we have thought it over, matched it up with how we know God desires us to live, discussed it with wise Christians, and have prayed about it then I say that is a great thing.
This is what I was advising against: Firstly, when people use a “feeling of peace” to justify some unwise or sinful action, such as getting into a romantic relationship with a cute non-Christian or downloading stolen music or movies off of the Internet. And secondly, when people refuse to do what they know is right according to God’s will, such as share the gospel with an atheist co-worker or confess a sin that they may have committed against someone, because they don’t “feel a peace” about it. If we are talking about a peace in that sense I’d say the bible is clear that that is wrong. Jesus calls us to do hard things.
Ultimately our aim should be to put into practice the command we see in Romans 12:2:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The transforming work that renews our minds is a supernatural act of God which begins with the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to understand things that can only be spiritually discerned from the teaching God has created for us in the Bible. From there it is up to us to make wise and righteous decisions in faith. I hope that these answers helped you better understand this multi-layered topic. If you have any more questions feel free to comment bellow or contact us here are The Well.