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I said to my friend that when deciding anything, it is critical that you are “in faith” regarding that decision, which is why the most important question you will ever ask yourself when making a decision is, “Am I in faith to do what I want to do?” My friend responded by asking what I meant when I say that you “must be in faith” before you can move forward with a decision.
“But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).
The term “in faith” comes from Paul’s language in Romans 14:23. He was saying that all of our decisions must go forth from a heart of faith. Maybe a few synonyms will help you to bring more color to the word faith: trust, belief, hope, or confidence. Here are a few sample questions to ask yourself when working through the process of biblical decision-making. You’ll notice how they are five ways of asking the same thing.
All of these questions are similar in that they are asking this one thing: are you in faith to get married? I chose to use the term “in faith” because it is how Paul appealed to the Romans to think about their decision-making. My friend was in the process of deciding to marry someone. His potential decision is why I asked him if he was “in faith” to move forward—to proceed with marrying his girlfriend. I wanted to know if he was confident that God wanted him to do that.
We spent the next hour or so unpacking how to grow in faith while addressing some of the ancillary pitfalls to biblical decision-making. While I cannot recreate that discussion in its totality here, I do want to present some of the most critical points that we discussed, which are essential for any couple thinking about marriage.
Biblical Decision Making
Biff and Mable are thinking about marriage. I asked Biff if he was in faith for this new adventure with a new bride. The life of a Christian is born out of and proceeds from a life of faith (Romans 1:17; Hebrews 11:6).
In the context of this discussion on decision-making, being “in faith” means that what you are doing is the right thing for you to do. It implies that you are confident the Lord wants you to do what you are about to do. This kind of decision-making applies to the simplest things in life as well as to the more complex decisions you must make to live well in God’s world.
Biff and Mable’s decision is one of those more complex choices in life. Participating in the interactive adventure of marriage is one of the top three things we do. Family, work, and church are the three spheres where most Christians spend the bulk of their lives. You will not wrestle as much about whether you should eat at McDonald’s, Burger King, or have a meal at home, but you will spend considerably more time trying to be confident that your future spouse is the one you believe God wants you to marry.
Faith is like a stool upon which you sit. That stool has four legs: canon, community, conscience, and Comforter. If you place yourself in a context where these four means of grace give you sound advice, you will probably be safe to move forward with what you want to do.
Most poor decisions happen because the person who made the decision was not benefiting from these four powerful means of grace the Lord provides for us. They either did not know about this process, or, even more sinister, they did not want to hear what God and others had to say to them. One of the marks of humility is when a person will hold their ideas loosely while submitting them to God’s Word as well as to His community for more careful analysis.
This worldview reminds me of a time when I became angry at my daughter. After I lashed out at her, and after she had slithered back to her room, I asked Lucia if she felt that I was too harsh with her. I was not asking because I was humble. I was asking, hoping that Lucia would side with my evil motives by saying that I was not unkind to our daughter. The truth was that I did not want to know the truth. I was hoping to be justified in my sin. Mercifully, Lucia did not side with my sinister motives, but she admonished me in a loving but firm way by saying I was wrong in the way I treated our child.
I suppose there are times when we know what we should do, but we don’t want to do it (James 4:17). We can be so deceptive that we do not want to submit our ideas to others because they may not side with us. We can be even more deceptive when we present our thoughts to individuals whom we know will not have the courage or the wisdom to counter what we want. We pick certain people who have no potential or courage to offer an alternate opinion.
Such a person is not looking for God’s thoughts on the matter. They are seeking a way to justify what they have already determined to do, and they go the extra mile by finding people who agree with them.
How to Make a Biblical Decision
This deception has immediate and long-term results. The direct result is that you can get what you want. The long-term effects are twofold: (1) The outcome will not be as you hoped, and your unwillingness to cooperate with God will complicate your life when inevitable disappointment comes. (James 4:6 – God resists the proud.) (2) If you continue to deceive people to accomplish your selfish goals, you will eventually harden your conscience, which will make it more difficult in the future for you to perceive God’s truth and direction for your life (Hebrews 3:7–8).
Individuals who want to manipulate people and situations rarely consider this second point because they want to fulfill their desires. They do not understand that when you alter God’s truth, there is a proportional adverse effect on the conscience (Romans 1:18).
The conscience is our “moral thermostat” that God gave to us to alert us of right and wrong. Even the non-Christian has this gift from the Lord (Romans 2:14–15). Problems happen when we tweak our moral thermostats through justifications, rationalizations, or blame-shifting—the three main ways we alter God’s truth. As we do this, it creates a hardening effect on the conscience (1 Timothy 4:2).
If your conscience, like a thermostat, is altered, it will not give you an accurate reading. It may be 100 degrees in your home, but the thermostat says everything is fine. A conscience manipulated is worse than useless. It’s dangerous. The more you mute your conscience, the more distance you will put between (1) yourself, (2) God’s Word, (3) His community, and (4) the Spirit’s illuminating power. You will become more and more isolated from the truth with no inner voice to persuade you otherwise.
“Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:24).
One of the more instructive things I have seen about decision-making is that after we make a decision and proceed in faith, we forget to factor in future disappointment. It is like we don’t remember how our lives are calls to suffer (1 Peter 2:21). You may recall that on a dark and stormy night, the Lord asked Peter to step off a boat and walk on water. Peter did as he was asked to do (Matthew 14:28–36). He stepped off the vessel and proceeded in faith, probably believing it was going to turn out well for him.
After Peter had walked a few steps on the water, he began to notice the waves and the wind. He quickly forgot who called him, as his faith shifted from the Lord to the waves. What he could see and experience was more influential to him than the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:7). Aren’t we like this? We pray. We seek counsel. We move forward in faith. Then all hell breaks loose, and we lose faith for the process. That is what the Lord rebuked Peter for after they returned to the safety of the boat: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
Let me go ahead and state the obvious here: no matter what your decision is after you move forward with your plans, you will be disappointed in some way, whether small or large. One of the more recurring applications of the gospel is how the Lord uses the process of dying to ourselves to accomplish His purposes in our lives and relationships (Matthew 16:24–26; 2 Corinthians 1:8–9). At times we can think more like spoiled, first-world people than like Christians. We embrace the happily-ever-after worldview, which is right in a sense: we will be happy forever in eternity (Revelation 21:4), but that is not our reality for the here and now.
If you smuggle in the notion that your decision to marry someone is more about your happiness than God’s glory, you will surely be set up for disappointment. Plus, you will live in doubt, regret, bitterness, and anger as you think about your past decisions. Self-preservation must not be the driving theme of your decision-making. While you should not be foolish by blindly jumping off a cliff, you must not err the other way by trying to insulate all your decisions from potential suffering.
How to Make a Decision About Anything
Sometimes God gives us multiple options to choose from, none of which are necessarily wrong. It might not be wrong to eat at McDonald’s or Burger King or home. Decision-making does not have to be like an archer standing 100 yards from a target with one arrow trying to hit the bull’s eye. If you follow the steps outlined in this chapter, you may come to the end of the process with multiple choices from which to choose to be your future mate.
Maybe you want to go on a vacation, and you land on two options: the mountains or the beach. Perhaps there are two potential marriage partner options. They both fit within the four-legged stool metaphor:
In such a situation as this, you are free to choose one or the other. In the case of a vacation, you may want to do both—an option that is not available when selecting a mate. You should not sweat your decision. Be free. Where sin is not involved, choose while rejoicing in God’s kindness to give you more than one option. Just before I met Lucia, I had gone out with another girl. Suddenly, I had two girls in my life. After going through this process, it proved how it was not wrong to continue seeing either one of them. Then I made a fabulous choice.
There is one question that transcends all other matters in premarital counseling. It is this: “Are you sure, confident, or in faith that you are to marry this person?” The reason that question is the most important one that you can ask is that there will come a time in this couple’s future marriage when bad things will happen to them.
There may be a time when most of the reasons they had for their marriage and the things they liked about being married go away. If that is the case, there must be one thing left on the table: they believed God wanted them to marry each other.
It is essential that all premarital counseling walks through this concept of biblical decision-making while exploring the couple’s reasons, motives, and agendas for marriage. They will more than likely tell you that they are in faith to move forward to matrimony. Do not be deterred: you must explore their motives and reasons. The couple must know that being married to each other is the right thing to do, or as Paul said, they must move forward in faith.