Discerning God's Will and Embracing Our Freedom
"O, Lord. Just give me a clear sign. Should I or should I not marry this woman?"
God's response was a impenetrable silence.
That was me eight years ago agonizing over one of the most significant decisions I would ever make - to marry my wife Julie. I agonized over many decisions like this because I believed that God had a specific plan for my life and that part of my job was to discern his specific plan so that I didn't miss it and end up way off course.
And then I realized that this wasn't true and a great burden was lifted from my shoulders.
The Westminster Confession of Faith says in chapter 1, article 6:
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.
This is a wonderfully liberating truth. According to the WCF, everything that we need to know about what God wants us to do with our lives has already been made clear in Scripture. We do not need anything more than Scripture in order to discern God's will, make decisions that are pleasing to him, and end up exactly where he wants us to be. But how can this be? Scripture does not tell me which specific woman I should marry or which career I should choose. So don't I need a clearer, more specific word from God in order to know what I should do with decisions like these?
No. And here's why:
1. Scripture gives us all the general, moral guidance that we need in order to make wise decisions that are pleasing to God. Scripture does not tell us who to marry and thus may not give us all the guidance that we want. But it does give us all the guidance that we need concerning marriage. For example, Scripture says that marriage is good (but so is singleness), that marriage is between one man and one woman, that marriage is a life-long covenant bond, and that we should not marry a non-believer.
The same is true for other major decisions. Scripture does not tell us which career to choose but Scripture does say that we should work six days, that we should provide for ourselves and for others, and that we should use the gifts and talents that God has given to us. According to the WCF, such guidance is enough. Any decision made within these boundaries is pleasing to God. But this implies one other point...
2. Scripture has left us with a great deal of freedom. Where Scripture has not spoken clearly and precisely we have freedom. In Genesis 2 God told Adam that he could eat from any fruit of any tree in the garden except one. This is a picture of amazing freedom. Adam had hundreds of good decisions he could have made and all of them were within the will of God for Adam. The same is true for us today. Because God has not clearly revealed who we should marry or what career we should choose we have the freedom to choose - so long as our choice concords with the things that God has made clear.
Our God certainly places restrictions on our lives. But his commands are not burdensome. Indeed, the restrictions he does place on us are only for our good. And the permissions that we have far exceed our restrictions. Our God has given us an immense amount of freedom.
But this means that in order to embrace our freedom we've got to know God's word very well. Paradoxically, the better we know God's word and the more we submit ourselves to the word of God, the more we understand our freedom. If you don't know God's word or don't submit to it then you'll end up stumbling around in a fog of confusion in decision making or submit yourself to a different standard that is invariably more demanding than God. In other words, you'll end up enslaved to a false god who takes your freedom away.
As our Lord has taught us:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Mt 7:13–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.