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Decisions Series # 1
The Impact of Decisions

Decisions Decisions

by Dennis Pollock

The term "free will" is not in the Bible, but the concept of choice is all through the Scriptures. To choose is to decide, to reach a conclusion and settle on a plan of action or a path to take. We make decisions every day of our lives. Some are small and of little consequence, such as determining the color of socks to wear that day, but others are huge and will affect us for years and even decades to come. Most of us can think of some decisions we would love to be able to go back and redo. We made them too quickly without much thought, and they cost us heavily. We also probably feel pretty good about other decisions, and consider ourselves greatly benefited for having made them.

In God's eyes some decisions are good and some are bad. Some will further His work in our lives and others will hinder it. Some will lead to very pleasant consequences and others to absolutely disastrous ends. If only we could make right decisions at each critical juncture! Imagine how blessed our life would be if we could somehow choose just the right path each time the road of our lives came to a fork!

In reading a biography of James Dobson, the founder of the enormously successful and fruitful radio ministry, Focus on the Family, I was struck by one of the author's observations about Dobson. He noted that this man seemed to somehow have a knack for making dead-on decisions at each critical point in the ministry's history. This led to phenomenal growth and an influential radio ministry that was unprecedented. I do not doubt that this was true. I have always admired James Dobson greatly, and there seems no other explanation for the success and influence of his life and ministry apart from this grace in his life – the grace to make just the right decisions at critical times.

Choose!

The idea of deciding or choosing is a common theme in the Bible. One of the most famous "choosing" passages in the Scriptures is Joshua's charge to the people of Israel. As he approaches the end of his life, he dramatically declares, "And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." The decision to choose whom you will serve is life's ultimate decision, and has consequences associated with it that will endure for eternity. Joshua knew this was not a choice he could make for these people. They must make it themselves. He could only hope to inspire them by telling them of the choice he and his family had made: "We will serve the Lord."

Many of the choices of our lives are non-moral in substance. It is not inherently evil to choose to live in the city rather than in the country. It is no more righteous to choose to be a car mechanic than a computer technician. There are not spiritual brownie points given to those who choose to wear expensive slacks and dress shirts to the baseball game, rather than jeans and a t-shirt. Many of our daily choices are simply a matter of personal preference, and as long as the Spirit of God isn't leading us strongly in a particular direction, we are free to exercise those preferences.

On the other hand, some choices have a very distinct moral content, and God is very much desirous that we choose wisely. In Isaiah God tells Israel: "When I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight." Man's great folly is making choices for things in which God takes no delight. When we choose to live selfishly, when we choose to take the path that lacks integrity, when we choose to hold grudges and unforgiveness, when we choose to lie and deceive, and when we choose to break God's sexual laws, our holy Creator is not pleased.

Consistently wrong

And when we make poor choices regularly we are especially displeasing. Our "lifestyle" is essentially made up of our consistent choices that make for regular patterns of behavior. Some people are regular, consistent liars. They will lie today, they will lie tomorrow, and if you come back in five years' time, you guessed it, they will still be lying. They have chosen falsehood and deception so often it has become part and parcel of who they are. The same is true with fornicators, blasphemers, thieves, and hotheads. The choice to do wickedly is made so frequently that after a while it hardly is a choice anymore. Lying, cursing, and fornicating become instinctive, ingrained, and almost impossible to resist. Jesus addressed this when He said, "He that sins is a slave of sin."

But this is true with positive and righteous behaviors as well. Daniel chose to pray three times a day. He maintained this choice until it became second nature to him. When threatened with death for petitioning anyone save the king, the Bible tells us that Daniel "knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days." Prayer, the regular reading of the Scriptures, sharing Christ with others, and giving to the poor must start as decisions, carefully maintained until it seems the most natural thing in the world for us to do them. In the book of Acts we read of the Gentile centurion Cornelius, who "gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always." This man's choices were known in heaven, and he became the Gentile God used to demonstrate that Jesus was for all men. An angel came to his house to tell him to send for Peter, who would give him the gospel. The angel's first words were, "Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God." Cornelius had made some good choices.

Believers' Decisions

Once we have chosen God and Christ, the necessity for good decisions does not end. Just because we are saved does not mean we cannot make bad decisions. From the Bible, from church history, and from our own life experiences, we can easily see that God's people can make some terrible decisions. When David saw Bathsheba bathing on the housetop and had her to be brought to him, it was a horrendous decision that would lead to further terrible decisions, and cost him a severe price. He would go on paying the rest of his life for that hasty choice and act. There is a saying, "Act in haste, and repent in leisure," and never was this more perfectly illustrated than in David's choosing to yield to lust rather than honoring God's commandment.

When we are born again through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive a new nature, but our personality and our ways don't change all that much immediately. In truth, there is a whole lot about us that remains exactly the same – for the moment. Physically we don't look any different. A short, heavy man who prays to receive Jesus will still be a short, heavy man after Christ has come into his life. Mentally and emotionally, things seem pretty much the same as well. An introverted man who is born again will still be an introvert. A bubbly, comical individual will not lose his sense of humor after the Holy Spirit enters him. And a man who has difficulty reading will not likely become a great reader just because he is now in the family of God.

Many changes will come, but it will take time. In Ephesians we are told, "Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…" (Ephesians 4:22,23). A renewal is what we need, and Jesus is in the renewal business! Through His word, by His Spirit, and by an onrush of God's uniquely tailored, sovereignly directed circumstances, we are automatically enrolled in Christ's School of Renewal, all tuition fully paid by His death on the cross.

Wisdom the Principal Thing

looking at maze

One of the great goals of this renewal is to build in us the understanding and capacity to make wise decisions at the many crossroads we face throughout our new lives in Jesus. One of the things we soon learn is that we are still susceptible to making very poor decisions. We can still blow it! It is wisdom that we need – the divine insight and the inclination to make godly decisions. The Bible surely commends this, telling us, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7). Wisdom cannot be attained through the regular channels of knowledge and education. You can take Psychology 101, or Algebra 101, or Literature 101, or Physics 101 in college but there is no Wisdom 101.

Wisdom is more than knowledge. Many people accumulate facts in their heads until they are a walking encyclopedia, and yet cannot get along with others, and their personal lives are a wreck. Wisdom is more than intelligence. There are brilliant men and women who have no wisdom at all and some fairly simple-minded individuals who love Jesus, live godly, and are no doubt esteemed as very wise in the sight of God. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) was surely one of the most intelligent men of his day. His mind was like a steel trap, and he collected knowledge like some people collect stamps or seashells. He wrote on nearly every subject under the sun. His books and articles dealt with German Social Democracy, geometry, the principles of mathematics, philosophy, why men fight, political ideals, mysticism and logic, Bolshevism, the mind, happiness, the ethics of war, the theory of types and symbolism, the theory of knowledge, the value of skepticism, education, the atomic bomb, how to write, The Congo, the soul, relativity, Viet Nam, whether dogs think, and even the proper use of lipstick for women.

Yet the highly intelligent and articulate Bertrand Russell had no wisdom whatsoever, for the Bible tells us that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Russell was an atheist and lived like one, committing multiple adulteries and fornications, seducing housemaids and society ladies with equal enthusiasm. The wisdom to make godly choices escaped him entirely. Biographer Ray Monk wrote this about Russell: "The second thought that has come to dominate my reaction to Russell, particularly in the latter half of his life, is how emotionally maimed he was. He was, it sometimes seems, simply not capable of loving another human being."

Help wanted

A healthy starting place in our understanding of decisions is a simple respect for the power and significance of the decisions we make. Our lives at present are primarily the result of the decisions we have made in the past, and the decisions we currently make are setting in motion the paths and consequences we will experience in years to come. We are not capable of making decisions on our own. We are far too susceptible to deception, too inclined toward our own biases, and too quick to choose the easy path over the way of integrity.

We need a counselor – someone who can advise us at every turn and steer not only our minds but our hearts toward godly and wise decisions. Jesus Christ is that Counselor! When America elects a new president, one of his first duties is to select a cabinet, a group of men and women who will serve him as counselors and advisors, and provide him with the information necessary to make enlightened decisions. Imagine how a president would be seen who announced he would have no cabinet. He would gather all the necessary information on his own, and use no advisors whatsoever. All decisions would be his alone, without any input from anyone. There would be a tremendous outcry, should anyone do such a thing. We expect the leader of our nation to have enough sense to recognize his own limitations and his need of input from others.

So it is for all the rest of us. But we who are in Christ have a divine Counselor – the Lord Jesus Himself, who is to us wisdom from God. As we meditate in God's Word and fellowship with our Heavenly Cabinet – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – we are more than equipped to make wise choices. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who leads us in paths or righteousness for His name's sake. To follow Jesus is wisdom for us.

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