1. To say, "This man is an Arminian," has the same effect on many hearers, as to say, "This is a mad dog." It puts them into a fright at once: They run away from him with all speed and diligence; and will hardly stop, unless it be to throw a stone at the dreadful and mischievous animal.
2. The more unintelligible the word is, the better it answers the purpose. Those on whom it is fixed know not what to do: Not understanding what it means, they cannot tell what defence to make, or how to clear themselves from the charge. And it is not easy to remove the prejudice which others have imbibed, who know no more of it, than that it is "something very bad," if not "all that is bad!"
3. To clear the meaning, therefore, of this ambiguous term, may be of use to many: To those who so freely pin this name upon others, that they may not say what they do not understand; to those that hear them, that they may be no longer abused by men saying they know not what; and to those upon whom the name is fixed, that they may know how to answer for themselves.
4. It may be necessary to observe, First, that many confound Arminians with Arians. But this is entirely a different thing; the one has no resemblance to the other. An Arian is one who denies the Godhead of Christ; we scarce need say, the supreme, eternal Godhead; because there can be no God but the supreme, eternal God, unless we will make two Gods, a great God and a little one. Now, none have ever more firmly believed, or more strongly asserted, the Godhead of Christ, than many of the (so called) Arminians have done; yea, and do at this day. Arminianism therefore (whatever it be) is totally different from Arianism.
5. The rise of the word was this: JAMES HARMENS, in Latin, Jacobes Arminius, was first one of the Ministers of Amsterdam, and afterwards Professor of Divinity at Leyden. He was educated at Geneva; but in the year 1591 began to doubt of the principles which he had till then received. And being more and more convinced that they were wrong, when he was vested with the Professorship, he publicly taught what he believed the truth, till, in the year 1609, he died in peace. But a few years after his death, some zealous men with the Prince of Orange at their head, furiously assaulted all that held what were called his opinions; and having procured them to be solemnly condemned, in the famous Synod of Dort, (not so numerous or learned, but full as impartial, as the Council or Synod of Trent,) some were put to death, some banished, some imprisoned for life, all turned out of their employments, and made incapable of holding any office, either in Church or State.
6. The errors charged upon these (usually termed Arminians) by their opponents, are five: (1.) That they deny original sin; (2.) That they deny justification by faith; (3.) That they deny absolute predestination; (4.) That they deny the grace of God to be irresistible; and, (5.) That they affirm, a believer may fall from grace.
With regard to the two first of these charges, they plead, Not Guilty. They are entirely false. No man that ever lived, not John Calvin himself, ever asserted either original sin, or justification by faith, in more strong, more clear and express terms, than Arminius has done. These two points, therefore, are to be set out of the question: In these both parties agree. In this respect, there is not a hair's breadth difference between Mr. Wesley and Mr. Whitefield.
7. But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, "He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:" And in order to this, "Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;" that is, for every child of Adam, since "in Adam all died."
8. The Calvinists hold, Secondly, that the saving grace of God is absolutely irresistible; that no man is any more able to resist it, than to resist the stroke of lightning. The Arminians hold, that although there may be some moments wherein the grace of God acts irresistibly, yet, in general, any man may resist, and that to his eternal ruin, the grace whereby it was the will of God he should have been eternally saved.
9. The Calvinists hold, Thirdly, that a true believer in Christ cannot possibly fall from grace. The Arminians hold, that a true believer may "make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience;" that he may fall, not only foully, but finally, so as to perish for ever.
10. Indeed, the two latter points, irresistible grace and infallible perseverance, are the natural consequence of the former, of the unconditional decree. For if God has eternally and absolutely decreed to save such and such persons, it follows, both that they cannot resist his saving grace, (else they might miss of salvation,) and that they cannot finally fall from that grace which they cannot resist. So that, in effect, the three questions come into one, "Is predestination absolute or conditional?" The Arminians believe, it is conditional; the Calvinists, that it is absolute.
11. Away, then, with all ambiguity! Away with all expressions which only puzzle the cause! Let honest men speak out, and not play with hard words which they do not understand. And how can any man know what Arminius held, who has never read one page of his writings? Let no man bawl against Arminians, till he knows what the term means; and then he will know that Arminians and Calvinists are just upon a level. And Arminians have as much right to be angry at Calvinists, as Calvinists have to be angry at Arminians. John Calvin was a pious, learned, sensible man; and so was James Harmens. Many Calvinists are pious, learned, sensible men; and so are many Arminians. Only the former hold absolute predestination; the latter, conditional.
12. One word more: Is it not the duty of every Arminian Preacher, First, never, in public or in private, to use the word Calvinist as a term of reproach; seeing it is neither better nor worse than calling names? -- a practice no more consistent with good sense or good manners, than it is with Christianity. Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly of it? And is it not equally the duty of every Calvinist Preacher, First, never in public or in private, in preaching or in conversation, to use the word Arminian as a term of reproach? Secondly. To do all that in him lies to prevent his hearers from doing it, by showing them the sin and folly thereof; and that the more earnestly and diligently, if they have been accustomed so to do? perhaps encouraged therein by his own example!
Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (October 2012)
Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
The name Joshua may also be pronounced as Yeshua or Yehoshua, and means “Yahweh is Salvation”. It is the same name as that of the Messiah, Jesus. Initially, Joshua was the assistant of Moses (Num. 11:28), later on his army commander (Ex. 17:9-10), and ultimately his successor as the leader of Israel (Deut. 1:38).
Joshua played an important role in Israel after they had been delivered from Egypt, thereby preparing him for his future role as leader when they crossed the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. His conquests in Canaan rendered proof that he was a special instrument in the hand of the Lord. Joshua was an Old Testament type of Jesus, who was sent by the Father to accomplish a much greater purpose, i.e. to deliver people all over the world from the bondage of sin.
By virtue of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross His disciples are enabled to share in His victory and be filled by His Holy Spirit. They are thus empowered to remain standing against the wiles of the devil, and also to proclaim the gospel of salvation to all nations in a hostile world. While Joshua’s leadership in Israel only brought preliminary and limited benefits to Israel, Jesus’ redemptive work was complete and on a worldwide scale, offering people from all nations the opportunity to become believers in Him and members of His kingdom.
The life and works of Joshua were a mere shadow of that which Israel’s great Saviour would do much later. But from a typological study of his leadership role and achievements we can learn much of that which Jesus Christ accomplished for New Testament believers. In this study, much attention will be given to the manner in which spiritual principles in the book of Joshua were fulfilled after the coming of Christ.
The most significant characteristic of Joshua’s life was that he was filled with the Spirit of God (Num. 27:18). He honoured the Lord and availed himself to Moses with a view to playing an active part in carrying out God’s plan for Israel. For Joshua, Israel’s exodus from Egypt was not only the physical liberation from slavery but also spiritual deliverance from domination by an evil, pagan nation. His objective was that Israel would be enabled to serve the Lord as a free people in their own land. Because Joshua honoured and served the Lord, God had chosen him as a special instrument to perform mighty acts of salvation for His people.
At their deliverance from Egypt, Israel did not play any part in the termination of their bondage – they were only expected to be faithful in obeying God’s instructions on the slaying of the paschal lamb. The Lord delivered Israel by His strong power. This act of salvation is a type of our deliverance from sin – we should only believe in the Lord Jesus and confess our sins to Him. He will then cleanse us by the blood of the Lamb and we will experience how the Lord breaks all the cords of sin and unrighteousness in our lives.
A continuous aspect of Joshua’s life was that he was involved in a physical battle which only preshadowed the spiritual battle in which all believers are engaged before receiving their full heritage in the Lord. Shortly after Israel had been saved from Egypt, they waged war with the powers of Amalek at Rephidim (meaning Resting Place). Israelites who made slow progress and lagged behind the main group were overtaken and killed by hostile horsemen. The enemy thus infiltrated the camp and attacked those at the back as they were easy targets. Amalek is a type of the devil who attacks the people of God from inside, and as such he depicts the internal sinful nature that must be conquered. Pharaoh is a type of the devil who attacks us from the outside with a view to dominate, enslave and kill us. After the Lord had delivered Israel from Pharaoh by breaking his power over them, they urgently also had to defeat their other foe, Amalek. Joshua was appointed commander of the army for this battle:
“And Moses said to Joshua, Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand. So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. Then the LORD said to Moses, Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; for he said, Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Ex. 17:9-16).
The war against Amalek was particularly fierce. When Moses held up his hands to bless the army, Joshua and his men prevailed; but when Moses let down his hands, Joshua had to retreat from Amalek. As a solution to this problem, Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses until Amalek was utterly defeated. Aaron, the high priest, personifies prayer, while Hur, meaning white, represents purity and holiness. There is no victory against the flesh without continuous prayer and a commitment of holiness unto the Lord.
It is clearly stated that the war against Amalek does not end at a certain point in time but continues from generation to generation. Every new generation of people are faced with the responsibility to overcome their sinful nature. To every generation this is a continuous struggle because the flesh must be kept in a crucified position by not allowing it to regain lost influence and domination of our lives. The Lord Jesus said: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). After defeating Amalek and entering into the victorious life, we should always be conformed to the death of Christ so as to be able to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
Joshua gained this victory but he was dependent on Moses for spiritual involvement in the battle through unbroken intercession. In the present time, Jesus is the Commander of the Lord who gives us victory but it is expected of us to watch, pray and persevere in holiness. If we neglect these duties, Amalek can re-establish his control over us and cause us to backslide.
How does our Joshua, Jesus, deliver us from Amalek (our sinful nature)? This deliverance obviously has nothing to do with a physical confrontation! At Rephidim the secret of spiritual victory was revealed. Moses was commanded by God to strike the rock in Horeb, after which water would flow from it to quench the thirst of the people (Ex. 17:1-6). This rock pointed to the Lord Jesus. Paul said that Israel drank from a spiritual Rock, “and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). When Moses struck the rock it was cleft and a stream of water flowed from it. The water is a type of the Holy Spirit, as confirmed by Jesus Himself: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive” (John 7:37-39).
The cleaving of the rock alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus. On that basis alone can we be born again and also receive the victorious life of Christ. He does not only forgive our sins by virtue of His atoning death, but the cross is also an instrument of death which enables us to mortify the flesh. For this reason Paul glories in the cross of Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to him and he to the world (Gal. 6:14). After the crucifixion of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit was poured out to give us life and life abundantly. He empowers us to lead the victorious life by walking in the Spirit, for then alone will we not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). Is Jesus Christ only your Saviour or also your Sanctification?
Joshua was always closely involved in the spiritual aspect of his people’s salvation, and for this reason he played a supporting role in the leadership of Moses. He truly had a changed heart, and that was the reason why he always thought about God and entertained a spiritual perspective on all matters. When Moses went up to the mountain to be instructed by God on how Israel as His people should conduct their lives, Joshua accompanied him (Ex. 24:13-14; 32:17).
During the absence of Moses and Joshua the people committed idolatry: “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him. And Aaron said to them, Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me. ... And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Ex. 32:1-4).
Apostatised believers usually become involved in idolatry because they look for an alternative form of religion which is non-offensive, tolerant towards sin, less prescriptive, and socially more acceptable. Idolatry in modern times is not only the reverence of certain gods or images but can also take on the form of addiction to power, earthly riches or misuse of liquor. Such persons serve the wine god (Bacchus), the money god (Mammon), or other similar “gods”, though in reality they are their own gods and the masters of their own destiny as they simply do what personally pleases them.
Israel made for themselves a golden calf and worshipped this lifeless object as the god who led them out of Egypt towards a free and uninhibited existence. They found a religious leader without strong principles who was willing to make this golden calf. The same situation prevails in the religious sphere today. Apostate believers who are intent on lowering the standards find theologians who no longer believe in the triune God of the Bible, and then leave it to them to invent another God and another Jesus who are more acceptable to the crowd.
The alternative God is the universal god of all faiths who also reveals himself through other religions and their holy books. The alternative Jesus is the historical Jesus who was not born from a virgin, is not God, did not pay the penalty for our sins on the cross, did not rise from the dead and did not ascend to heaven. These new gods offer humanity the liberty to do as they please without any qualms. All of them can join hands and become one, since none of them have strong, biblical convictions. This is the falling away against which Paul had warned, when people will not endure the sound doctrine of the Bible but heap up for themselves teachers who will turn away their ears from the truth and openly proclaim fables (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Moses and Joshua strongly denounced Israel’s idolatry. This sin provoked the wrath of God, which led to the death of 3 000 Israelites (Ex. 32:28). The question is: how do we act in cases of large-scale apostasy among our own people, and particularly also among pastors and theologians? Do we take sides with the few men of God who express themselves against deception, or do we follow the popular opinion of the majority through whom false, man-made doctrines are condoned? An explicit choice should be made between the truth and the lie. The honour of the Lord is at stake and our future depends on it. Do not, to your own ruin, be carried away by the current of apostasy but rather take a stand against it and defend the integrity of God’s Word at all times.
At the border of Canaan, Moses sent out twelve spies to explore the land and then report back. Joshua was one of these explorers (Num. 13:17-20). The large majority of the explorers (ten of the twelve) were terrified by the inhabitants of the land and dissuaded Israel from trying to conquer and possess the land. After the 40 days of their explorations they reported as follows to Moses and the nation:
“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan. Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it. But the men who had gone up with him said, We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are. And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Num. 13:27-33; NIV).
Joshua and Caleb, however, encouraged the people and tried to restore their trust in the omnipotence of God: “Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them. But the whole assembly talked about stoning them” (Num. 14:6-10; NIV).
Moses also confirmed what Joshua and Caleb had said: “The LORD your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place, Yet, for all that, you did not believe the LORD your God” (Deut. 1:30-32).
The large number of Israelites who did not believe that God could give the land of Canaan to them, forfeited God’s promises because of their unbelief. The entire generation of adults who did not trust the Lord, died in the wilderness. Joshua and Caleb were the only members of that generation who survived the wilderness wanderings. Members of the next generation, who surrendered themselves anew to the Lord under the leadership of Joshua, were worthy to take possession of the land. The Lord said to the disobedient generation: “Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in” (Num. 14:30). The Lord said to them: “They shall surely die in the wilderness” (Num. 26:65).
Exploring the Promised Land was a serious and very important stage in Israel’s spiritual development since their exodus from Egypt. After their deliverance from Egypt, they passed through an intensive learning-school for 18 months to strengthen their faith and establish them on the way of victory. They did not, however, take these lessons of faith to heart, and still harboured fear and unbelief in their hearts. Forgotten were the blood of the paschal lamb under which they took shelter in Egypt, the Lord’s mighty deeds of salvation at the Red Sea, His miracles in the wilderness, the great victory which Joshua gained over the powers of Amalek, and the year at Sinai where they received the laws and precepts of the Lord.
If Israel would have accepted the Lord’s instruction and adapted their life of faith accordingly, they would by then have been spiritually strong enough and well prepared to accept the ensuing big challenge. With fearful hearts they assessed the situation with regard to the road ahead, and then made a decision. Twelve spies were sent out but their report confronted the nation with a difficult choice. The problems appeared to be very big and insurmountable, and their trust in the Lord’s power was like a faraway dream that might never materialise. Israel’s dwindling faith in the God who does wonders was so low that they even considered stoning the two God-fearing spies who tried to convince the nation towards engaging in the battle against evil forces in the Name of the Lord.
To unbelieving Israel it was preferable to permanently remain in the wilderness, rather than to take possession of their heritage across the Jordan with the help of the Lord. Many of them were even prepared to return to Egypt and again become slaves of Pharaoh. They preferred the easy way out with the least resistance, and because of that they greatly impoverished themselves spiritually – even to the point of becoming unworthy recipients of the promises and blessings of the Lord.
Modern Christianity is in exactly the same situation. We regard ourselves to be Christians who have already been saved from the “Egypt” of our sinful past. As in the case of Israel, many members of Christian churches only have a form of godliness without a testimony of being born again. They are fellow-travellers who mostly act contrary to God’s Word. The others may be saved but are still babes in Christ. Only a small group is spiritually mature because they have a testimony of sanctification after salvation, and are therefore well disposed to accept all the promises of the Lord in faith.
The spiritual problems and lack of insight among the majority of believers cause them to be inherently dependent on religious leaders to show them the way. As in the case of Israel, they also send out people to explore the way ahead and then give appropriate advice to their followers. These explorers are theologians, pastors and Christian authors. They study the Bible, give guidance, formulate doctrines and make suggestions on how to move forward. Some of them became very influential and were even recognised as church fathers, e.g. Augustine, Calvin and Luther.
Under these circumstances the devil has gained considerable influence by deceiving millions of people, robbing them spiritually and leading them on the wrong way. As in the case of Israel, the majority of modern explorers are offering completely wrong counsel to the people. They do not focus on salvation in Christ and therefore regard the land of Canaan, which represents a life of victory over sin, as an unattainable ideal and convince their followers that, being altogether weak, they will never be able to overcome sin and fleshliness in their lives. They must abide by the idea that they are unalterable sinners and therefore be content with life in the wilderness. They have been delivered from Egypt and should accept their present position as being a final stage. They should not seek after the deeper life as they are not destined for it.
Do you recognise spiritual counsel of this nature, which is not only fatalistic but also promotes disbelief in various biblical promises? Such theologians and church fathers undermine the credibility of the Bible as they are mainly in denial mode. Not all of them deny all biblical doctrines, as some of them do recognise the doctrine of salvation as depicted by Israel’s exodus from Egypt. However, they keep to this teaching while denying that there is a further progression to the Promised Land, thereby excluding themselves from various biblical promises. Because of their self-imposed theological limitations the following doctrines and promises in the Bible are denied by many of them, by openly declaring that: there isn’t a deeper work of grace leading to a pure heart and filling with the Holy Spirit as all Christians are regarded to be Spirit-filled; there is no such thing as carnal believers who mainly walk according to the flesh; there is no rapture, nor a personal Antichrist or a literal tribulation period of seven years; Israel is no longer God’s Chosen People and the restoration of modern Israel is not a biblical phenomenon; the throne of David will not be restored in Jerusalem and neither will there be a millennial reign of peace after the coming of Christ. This group of theological explorers mostly do recognise Jesus Christ as Saviour, but they are not filled with the Holy Spirit, they do not understand the full counsel of God, and are consequently content with the wilderness life with its poverty and limitations. They do not have a clear future expectation.
As the falling away increases, the list of denials become longer and the apostatising more profound. The following are new additions to this list, by which the very foundations of the Christian faith are destroyed (cf. Ps. 11:3): There is no such thing as rebirth since people are saved in ritualistic way during infant baptism; Christ was not born from a virgin; He is not God; His crucifixion was a political act which has no bearing on the forgiveness of sins; He did not rise from the dead and consequently did not ascend to heaven; He is not the only Saviour because there are also various other messiahs such as Buddha, Krishna and Mohammed; there is something good in all faiths; the Bible is not the inspired and inerrant Word of God; there is no heaven or hell and also no devil; and sin is a relative concept, allowing everyone to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. This group of explorers are of the opinion that it was a mistake for Israel to move out of Egypt and confine themselves to a miserable existence in the wilderness. Their advice is to return to Egypt and to adopt an interfaith religious orientation. This view represents a transition from a little faith to complete unbelief. Apostatising of this nature is the consequence of demonic-inspired deception (1 Tim. 4:1).
Contrary to the large group of deceived people, there is a small group of faithful explorers who give proper counsel from the Word of God. They do everything in their power to promote faith in the omnipotence of God and the truth of His promises. There is indeed a promised land to take hold of, and it amounts to a motion of no confidence in God if we refuse to trust Him and to accept His promises on full salvation and complete sanctification (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23). Why would He promise to us a land (or life) where we can have rest from all our enemies if it were impossible to achieve victories in His Name? We will, to a very large extent, impoverish ourselves spiritually if we do not wait on the Lord to endue us with power from on high.
The two faithful spies were rejected by the people, and they risked being killed. The same situation prevails today. Those who are strongly committed to evangelical principles, including sanctification as a second work of grace, are not popular preachers or counsellors. In their exploration of the spiritual landscape they have become fully aware of the great power of the enemy. But that has not deterred them in their convictions on the best way forward, as they are fully aware of the much greater power of God to fulfil His promises to Israel. He still wants to make all of us more than conquerors.
Who led Israel through the Jordan to the land of promise and victory? One of the two faithful witnesses, i.e. Joshua. We are also followers of Joshua, who is Jesus, on our way to the victorious life. John says the following about Him: “Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 1:5-6). Will He promise anything to us and not do it? We must make sure that we listen to the correct counsellors and explorers. Most of them are not faithful, and for that reason they cannot repeat what Paul has said: “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27; NIV).
The land of Canaan was to Israel the fulfilment of many promises. That which true believers had hoped for would become a wonderful reality there. When we carefully follow Israel’s long history it is obvious that apart from the backsliders and unbelievers among them there were two groups of believers. The one group was spiritually shallow and did not serve the Lord with all their heart, while the small core group of believers served the Lord in a true, dedicated and convincing way. This same distinction between carnal and spiritual believers is encountered right through the Bible. The well-known holiness preacher, A.B. Simpson, said in his commentary on Joshua: “Even the most superficial observer must have noticed in the records of Christian experience, and the observation of life, that there are two very distinct types of Christians in the world, in every age; one representing an experience of despondency, anxiety, doubt, inconstancy and frequent declension; a life so unsatisfying as to make one question whether it is really worth all it costs; and the other full of confidence, victory, joy, satisfaction, power and stability” (Christ in the Bible: Joshua, by A.B. Simpson).
As far as Christians who were delivered from the bondage of sin are concerned, there also definitely are the further promises on sanctification and victory over the flesh to be pursued. There are, therefore, the first promises on salvation which we have to accept to come over from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. But we should not content ourselves with this experience because it is the express will of God that all His children should also be fully sanctified: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
The grace of the Lord Jesus over us extends beyond salvation: “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16; NIV). When we have received salvation as a first work of grace, we are born again but are still like a small child in Christ who has not yet grown up to spiritual maturity. We must grow up to become a perfect man or woman in Christ, “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:13-14).
Salvation can also be described as initial sanctification, but that is only a preparatory experience leading to the deeper work of complete sanctification: “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). The command towards complete sanctification is not beyond our reach because the Lord does it for everyone who trusts Him for this blessing, and who is prepared to comply with the condition of self-mortification. If we are prepared to fully surrender ourselves to be crucified and die to the world and to sin, we will be imbued with the resurrection life of Jesus Christ.
It was essential for Moses to die before the people could inherit the Promised Land, as he was a type of the law and Israel could not receive the promises through the works of the law. They needed Joshua, a type of Jesus, to lead them in crossing over to the land of promise. Paul reminded the Jews that their sins could only be forgiven by Jesus: “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).
When we follow Jesus on the way to our spiritual destination, we must first be delivered from the prescriptive power and condemnation of the law, as well as its inability to justify any man before God. Although the law has set an impossibly high standard to fallen humanity, it nevertheless gave rise to a form of self-justification among the Jews, based upon human efforts towards law observance (cf. Luke 18:11-12).
A completely new form of religion was revealed to Israel with the coming of Christ. They were subsequently not convicted of sin by the law but by the Holy Spirit, and were no longer under the obligation to bring sacrifices to atone for their sins. Jesus Christ fully observed the law, and through His crucifixion He fulfilled all the shadowy sacrifices of the old covenant. Jews, as well as all other people, are convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit, who measures each one against the standard of Christ’s sinless life. Any contraventions on our side are forgiven by grace because of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. However, He offers us more than only forgiveness of sins as it is His wish that we will also die to sin by fully identifying with His cross. That is the second work of grace.
The first work of grace is typologically depicted by Israel’s deliverance from Egypt when the paschal lamb was slaughtered. The second work of grace is depicted by Israel’s entry into the land of promise when, after the burial of Moses, they crossed the Jordan under the guidance of Joshua. The old generation of Israelites died in the wilderness, and only the new generation could be led through the Jordan by Joshua.
The Jordan represents death because it flows into the Dead Sea and ends there. The old man (our old, sinful nature) should also come to its end by dying. Each one of us should make a full surrender to be able to say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Later in the same letter he says: “I glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).
The responsibility rests on me to continually reckon myself to be dead to sin (Rom. 6:11). I should always regard the old man as crucified, and never allow him the opportunity to get off the cross. I therefore have to maintain my crucified position, since the old Adam is not dead although he is crucified. That is the reason why I should daily identify with the cross of Christ by taking it up and following Him (Luke 9:23). As I develop spiritually I must be united together with Christ in the likeness of His death (Rom. 6:5). If I die with Him I will also live with Him.
The new generation of Israelites who inherited the land represents the new, reborn person whose heart has been fully changed by the Lord. The old man with his inclination towards sinning cannot inherit these promises. During Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, they acted contemptuously towards God and did not even circumcise their children. Because of their unbelief they were not worthy to inherit the land of Canaan, and that is the reason why the unbelieving generation had to die in the wilderness:
“For the children of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, till all the people who were men of war, who came out of Egypt, were consumed, because they did not obey the voice of the LORD; to whom the LORD swore that He would not show them the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers that He would give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way” (Jos. 5:6-7).
Directly after crossing the Jordan Joshua arranged for the circumcision of the uncircumcised. But that was only an outward sign of the Abrahamic covenant. The true purpose of the Lord was a spiritual surrender during which the hearts of people are to be circumcised: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, which you may live” (Deut. 30:6).
The New Testament counterpart of circumcision is the cleansing of people’s hearts during a full surrender: “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:9-11; cf. Rom. 2:28-29).
Joshua was a worthy leader to guide Israel towards this full commitment to the Lord. He and Caleb were the two explorers who were rejected by the entire congregation at Kadesh after insisting that Israel should cross over and possess the land in spite of the hostile nations in Canaan. The other ten explorers were just as fearful as the people whom they represented, and insisted that it was an impossible task to conquer the land (Num. 14:1-10; Deut. 1:28-30; 9:1).
A spiritual surrender to the Lord, who saved Israel out of Egypt by His mighty power, was the only way in which Israel could be used by the Lord to take possession of the Promised Land.
The new leader of Israel was Joshua. The Lord informed Moses as to who would lead His people to the Promised Land: “Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” (Deut. 1:38). The Holy Spirit equipped him for his important mission: “Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him” (Deut. 34:9).
After the death of Moses, the next generation of Israelites crossed the Jordan and renewed their covenant with the Lord. They were faced with a very big problem as they did not know how to conquer and force into submission the enemies who lived in fortified cities. Jericho was the first of these cities which they encountered, and possibly the most securely entrenched one. Israel had never fought against enemies in walled cities and their spears, swords, bows and arrows were not suitable for this type of warfare.
It was here, at Jericho, where they had to learn the important lesson that the battle belongs to the Lord. It was also in this humanly impossible situation when Israel realised that their true leader was not Joshua the son of Nun, but the Commander of the Lord who later came to Israel as Yeshua, the Son of His heavenly Father:
“And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, Are You for us or for our adversaries? So He said, No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, What does my Lord say to His servant? Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy. And Joshua did so” (Jos. 5:13-15).
We must also remember that, even after being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are merely servants of Christ. We can only be more than conquerors in Him. He said: “For without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He must always receive the glory for every achievement, and we should never seek personal glory for what we have done.
Through supernatural intervention by God the walls of Jericho tumbled, allowing Israel to capture and destroy the city. The same principle still applies today in the spiritual sphere if we wish to conquer evil strongholds in our lives: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Do you use the spiritual weapons of faith (1 John 5:4-5; Eph. 6:16), prayer (Jas. 5:16; Eph. 6:18), the sword of the Word (Eph. 6:18; Heb. 4:12), the blood of the Lamb (Eph. 1:7; Rev. 12:11), and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:11)? Have the strongholds of sin been pulled down in your life and do you testify of the fact that the Lord Jesus has saved you? Our testimony should be such that people will give glory to God, and not to us, for what has been achieved in our life (Matt. 5:16).
There are two key concepts in the book of Joshua which are at the basis of Israel’s victories and the securing of God’s promises, i.e. faith and obedience. We will first review the role of faith.
The Promised Land was conquered by faith. Every step of the way was taken by faith: the Jordan was crossed by faith, the walls of Jericho fell by faith, and likewise every subsequent victory was achieved by faith. Faith does not refer to a supernatural power which may be manipulated by man, but to a firm trust in the Lord that He will do what He has promised.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. ... He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:1, 6). Faith means that we actively trust the Lord for the fulfilling of His promises, and also immediately accept them in faith. If you trust and receive the Lord Jesus as your Saviour, you will be saved at that very moment. When you accept Him as your Sanctification He will, without any doubt, deliver you from your carnality and fill you with His Holy Spirit.
However, there are also unbiblical forms of faith in which people decide for themselves what they want to have, and then use “faith” in an effort to obtain whatever they desire – but that does not work. A pure faith cannot be equated with human desires, regardless of how good and noble these desires may be. The Lord gives us faith through the Holy Spirit to believe in His Son, and also in all the promises in His Word. When our lives are in agreement with His Word, our desires and ideals will also be in harmony with Scripture: “And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things which are pleasing in His sight. ... Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 3:22; 5:14).
Israel had firm promises on the land of Canaan. The old generation did not accept these promises of God and died in the wilderness. The new generation of Israelites believed in the promises and acted accordingly. Their hearts were circumcised – they truly believed God – and that made it fitting for God to fulfil His promises to them. The period under the leadership of Joshua was a spiritual highlight in Israel’s long history which spans four millennia.
When people are fully obedient to God’s Word by honouring it in their daily walk, and also by believing it and praying in accordance with it, it will always be well with them. The Lord said to Joshua: “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Jos. 1:7-8).
We should guard against observing only certain commands and neglecting the others. There are not only commands and promises in the Word with regard to salvation, but also to sanctification, vigilance, spiritual warfare, persevering prayer, fruitful service, humility, steadfastness during trials and afflictions, as well as many others. The more obedient we are to these commands, the more we will grow up to spiritual maturity. People who abide by salvation without moving ahead, are running the risk of leading a worthless and unfruitful life, and will consequently appear before the Lord empty-handed, saved as through fire (1 Cor. 3:15).
Unfortunately, there are servants of the Lord who do not use their talents and time in His service, and hence they stagnate spiritually. They leave their talents unused and plan to return them to the Lord one day (Matt. 25:24-26; Luke 19:20-23). These are the people who did not commit themselves to holiness, and therefore did not cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.
Disobedience does not only refer to the neglect of certain commands and promises, but also to actively engaging in sinful acts which are contrary to God’s Word. During the capture of Jericho, Achan’s actions were in direct conflict with God’s Word as he took some of the accursed things and hid them in his tent (Jos. 7:1). Because of this, the blessing of the Lord departed from Israel and they were defeated when they attacked the city Ai (Jos. 7:11-12). Only after Achan and his family members were stoned by the entire Israel, and burnt together with their possessions, the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger and the inhabitants of Ai were defeated.
Despite the promises to Israel on a God-given land which flows with milk and honey, there were a few of the tribes that preferred not to receive their inheritance in the Promised Land, but rather east of the Jordan. They were the tribes of Ruben and Gad, as well as the half tribe of Manasseh. These tribes did join with their brothers in fighting to liberate the Promised Land from pagan occupation, but afterwards returned to their habitation east of the Jordan (Jos. 1:12-18). They fully recognised Joshua as leader and also served in his army without murmuring, but in their personal lives they made other choices.
This is a strange situation, but in its spiritual application it is not an uncommon phenomenon. There are many Christians who fully recognise and proclaim the evangelical gospel of salvation and sanctification, but in their personal lives they do not honour its principles. What they say and what they do are not in harmony. With their lips they testify to the authenticity of the Lord’s promises but in practice they find themselves east of the Jordan in a spiritual wilderness.
There may be various reasons for this contradictory situation, e.g. people’s importance in their own eyes, excessive love of money, wrong relationships, or other secret sins. Because of this, they do not come to the point where they completely die to themselves (the crossing of the Jordan) and continue with a life of fleshliness in spite of their knowledge of the biblical doctrine on full salvation. Throughout the years, these hypocritical believers have often been admonished with the words: “Preacher, practise what you preach!”
The land which the Lord promised to Israel had to be liberated from evil occupation and then occupied by them. The power and grip of the kingdom of darkness had to be broken in the entire territory before the kingdom of light could be established in its place. In Joshua 12, mention is made of 31 kings who were defeated by Israel and driven from their land. However, this did not comprise all the land that was promised to Israel; consequently, the struggle would continue in Canaan as long as there were still heathen nations. Joshua did not finish his appointed task:
“Now Joshua was old, advanced in years. And the LORD said to him: You are old, advanced in years, and there remains very much land yet to be possessed” (Jos. 13:1). The territories which he did conquer were allocated to the twelve tribes, but because of the continued existence of evil strongholds the struggle in Canaan against pagan nations persisted.
Apart from the fact that Israel did not conquer and destroy all the evil strongholds, they also made the serious mistake of concluding a covenant with the Gibeonites who were a pagan nation in their midst. These people purposely deceived Joshua by pretending that they came from a far country and wanted to conclude a non-aggression pact with Israel. But they were inhabitants of Canaan who devised a crafty plan to, by means of an oath, refrain Israel from attacking them. They came to Joshua with worn clothes and patched sandals, as well as dry bread and other provisions, having the appearance of people who had come from very far (Jos. 9:3-27).
Joshua did not investigate the matter any further, neither did he ask counsel of the Lord (Jos. 9:14), but assured the Gibeonites that they would not be attacked. Because of this, Israel weakened their own position and also diminished their inheritance. This is yet more evidence on how the Evil One, through changed strategy, often achieves his purpose of undermining God’s people. He comes in the guise of an angel of light to deceive unsuspecting believers.
In New Testament times, we are also involved in a continuous war after we have crossed the Jordan of dying to ourselves and starting with a new life under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, the war which we wage in the Canaan of the abundant life takes on a different form and is predominantly against an enemy from the outside. Before that time our struggle was primarily against an enemy within us, i.e. our old, sinful nature which still dominated us after we were saved from Egypt. This foe was intent on confining us spiritually to an inconsistent and unfruitful life of falling and rising again in the wilderness. This life was more often characterised by defeat than by victory.
In the new situation in Canaan, everything has changed. Israel achieved one victory after another because the Lord fought for Israel (Jos. 10:14). But in spite of all their victories Israel did not reach the point in which they captured all the land which the Lord had promised to them (Jos. 13:1-7).
The physical wars which Joshua and his men waged in Canaan were a type of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged against sin in New Testament times. To win this war, we do not need physical but spiritual weapons. Paul says to the Corinthians: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
From this Scripture it is evident that sin originates from wrong thoughts which have not been subjected to the obedience of Christ. These thoughts, or suggestions to commit sin, may influence us from three different sources:
Temptations to sin can, in the first instance, come directly from the devil and his evil spirits. John refers to the devil as the deceiver of the nations (Rev. 12:9; 20:3), while Paul refers to people who departed from the faith, as “giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1).
Secondly, temptations to sin can influence us from the depraved world in which we live. The whole world with its sinful practices is lying in the sway of the Evil One (1 John 5:19), and for that reason it is characterised by narcissism, competition for status, corruption, double standards, deceit, power struggles and the pursuit of wealth. If we desire and pursue these things, we turn our backs upon the Lord and His kingdom of righteousness: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
In the third instance, sin may emerge from the uncrucified flesh of a person. Even in the lives of believers, the fallen flesh tries to escape from its crucified position to again assert its control over a person’s life. When a believer no longer identifies with the cross of the Lord Jesus on a daily basis, he effectively allows the flesh to again instil sinful desires in him. James says: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (Jas. 1:14-15).
We should put on the full spiritual armour of God and resist temptations. The devil can directly tempt us by aiming his fiery darts at us, and also influence us through the depraved world or the sinful flesh, and therefore he is the final enemy who should be overcome. Paul says: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:10-12).
Are you an overcomer in the struggle against sin? If not, you should become skilful in the use of spiritual weapons such as faith, (Eph. 6:16: 1 John 5:5), prayer (Eph. 6:18; Jas. 5:16), the Word (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), and the blood of the Lamb (Eph. 1:17; Rev. 12:11).
As in the case of Joshua and the Gibeonites, the possibility also exists that believers may be deceived into compromising with sin because of their ignorance and naivety. In a way reminiscent of the Gibeonites, the devil often comes in an innocent guise like an angel of light to deceive people into receiving him as an apostle of God who only desires the best for them. The great number of sects, false prophets and false religions in the world are evidence of the success with which the devil has deceived millions of people. The Lord Jesus did not warn us in vain: “Take heed than no one deceives you” (Matt. 24:4).
Deceived people have opened the door to the enemy, invited him in, and opened their hearts to his message of delusion. One of the immediate consequences of this situation is that their minds are blinded to the truth and that they are transformed into devoted advocates of one or other form of the lie. These lies influence the rest of their thinking because “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:6). Such people lose their spiritual power and insight, and unwittingly promote the ideologies and works of darkness.
Joshua had to conquer a clearly defined land which the Lord had given to Israel (Jos. 1:2). The Chosen People and their land always had to be in a holy state before the Lord, and for that reason all pagan nations were to be driven from the land to ensure that no defiling rituals such as idolatry would be practised there. God’s kingdom on earth was represented by Israel, and for that reason they had a theocratic form of government with God as the Head of the nation. Israel’s leaders always had to consult the Lord before important decisions were taken. When they wandered away from the Lord they were disciplined.
In a New Testament context, the arrangement with regard to the kingdom of God on earth has completely changed. Because of Israel’s extended periods of disobedience towards the Lord, they not only rejected His prophets but eventually also His Son. This situation gave rise to their long international dispersal, against which the Lord had already warned them during the time of Moses: “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste” (Lev. 26:33).
During this dispensation Israel would not be the representatives of God’s kingdom on earth, and consequently there would no longer be a geographic boundary between God’s kingdom and the heathen kingdoms on earth. During this time, all believers in the world would find themselves in a hostile world which is predominantly inhabited by unsaved people, and therefore under the power of the devil (1 John 5:19). In the midst of this spiritually dark environment the gospel of the saving grace of Jesus Christ has to be proclaimed to all people on earth, despite the fierce opposition and resistance that it might evoke (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15).
People who are saved during this time, become members of a heavenly kingdom which is not physically revealed on earth: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). During Christ’s bodily absence on earth we find ourselves in a hostile territory in which we live as strangers and sojourners (1 Pet. 2:11). Everywhere on earth the truly saved people are a minority (Matt. 7:13-14).
It is, therefore, completely unfitting to proclaim a form of kingdom-now theology in terms of which it is endeavoured to reveal the kingdom of heaven physically on earth. True Christians should rather expect oppression and persecution by the majority of unbelievers and deceived ones. The Lord Jesus said: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). In our hearts we have the peace of the forgiveness of sins, but as far as our relationship with the external world is concerned, we are in a situation of confrontation. We have to fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12).
There is no way in which we, like Israel in the previous dispensation, should exercise a divine mandate to drive pagan nations from certain territories to demonstrate the kingdom of God to the world. We are not allowed to persecute and kill our enemies, but instead we should proclaim the message of salvation to a lost world. We should therefore love our enemies and desire their salvation. We are committed to be the light in a dark world and the salt of a corrupt earth. During the church dispensation, believers and unbelievers are living together like wheat and tares that have been sown in the same field (cf. Matt. 13:24-30). It will only be during harvest time, when the Lord Jesus comes, that the wheat and the tares will be separated to each reach their final destination.
After the Messiah has come, a perfect Sabbath-rest will dawn for Israel and all believers of all time: “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:8-9; NIV). There are many promises on this future time of complete rest in the Messiah:
During the reign of Joshua, Israel experienced rest in their hearts and served the Lord. After they had defeated the pagan nations and driven them out, they also had rest from their enemies (Jos. 23:1; 24:31). But Joshua realised that his people’s hearts were not perfect with the Lord as they should be, and that the new generation would again wander away from the Lord and His Word. Before his death he earnestly warned them against such a turn of events:
“Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, but you shall hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day. ... Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the LORD your God. Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations; these that remain among you; and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, know for certain that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the LORD your God has given you” (Jos. 23:6-8, 11-13).
Unfortunately, it was only Joshua’s contemporaries who served the Lord, because the next generation lapsed into widespread apostasy: “Now Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died when he was one hundred and ten years old. ... When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; and they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the LORD to anger. They forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies” (Judg. 2:8-14).
Israel’s long history since this time was dominated by extended periods of apostasy. The Lord often surrendered them to their enemies: during the Assyrian exile of the northern kingdom of ten tribes, as well as the Babylonian exile of Judah and Benjamin’s southern kingdom, they were taken captive by their enemies and removed from their land. All these things happened to them because of turning their backs on the Lord and failing to serve Him:
“But this is what I commanded them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. ... You have forsaken Me, says the LORD, You have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting!” (Jer. 7:23-24; 15:6).
God was faithful but Israel became unfaithful and turned away from the Lord. If the righteous commits unrighteousness towards the Lord and does not repent from it, he will die in his sin (Ezek. 18:24). This is a biblical principle which also applies to the New Testament dispensation (John 15:4-6). Every new generation of people have to make a choice on their own spiritual life.
Because of their unfaithfulness to the Lord, Israel became involved in endless wars against their enemies. In the Promised Land they were often attacked by pagan nations and at times forced to surrender, all because they failed to defeat and drive away their enemies as the Lord had commanded them to do when they entered the land. Because of this, they did not enjoy the blessing and protection of the Lord. Their spiritual apostasy and blindness eventually caused them to reject the Messiah, Yeshua, thereby forfeiting their divine right to occupy the land which God had promised them. The consequence of this situation was a self-imposed exile which lasted for almost two millennia.
Modern Israel is still involved with continuous conflicts with and wars against their enemies because, as a nation, they have not yet entered the rest of the Messiah. According to biblical prophecies they will, however, accept the Messiah when He comes again (Zech. 12:10; Matt. 23:39) and then only will they enter into the rest of the Lord and have a peaceful existence in their own land during the millennial reign of the Messiah.
The church of Christ should learn from Israel’s mistakes. We must clearly understand that Jesus is the Lamb of God who saved us from Egypt, but also the great Conqueror who leads us through the Jordan of dying to the flesh and entering into a life of victory and joy in the Lord. If we have not experienced salvation as the first work of grace, then we are still unsaved slaves of sin. If we are saved but have not yet experienced sanctification and parting from the old life as a second work of grace, we are still in a spiritual wilderness of an unfulfilled life which is characterised by many defeats, as well as a lack of fruitfulness.
If we did cross over to Canaan, but failed to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the spirit and flesh, then we ourselves open the door to the devil to again force us into a life of failure and worldliness because of surrendering to sin. We will then be stripped of our joy and strength to overcome and eventually, in a self-imposed exile, be carried away into a wilderness life of falling and rising again, or even further back into a life of unbelief in Egypt.
Why is there such a high degree of spiritual confusion among Christians worldwide? The answer is obvious: if people are not explicitly called to repentance and rebirth, they are still in Egypt and only have a form of godliness. If they have been called to repentance but not yet to a complete surrender to holiness, they will still be spiritually immature, on a journey to nowhere in the wilderness of confusion, where they will be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). That explains the existence of hundreds of different churches, each with its own doctrines – some of them further from the truth than others. Even many of those who did cross the Jordan do not maintain a perfect walk with the Lord and later again lose their heritage of the fullness life. Then, they again find themselves back in the wilderness together with other carnal believers.
We should clearly understand that there is only one way to the land of promise, and that is under the leadership of Joshua and through the Jordan of dying to self. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the Author of our faith and our holiness, and He leads us through a surrender of self-mortification and full identification with the cross of Christ, thereby becoming conformed to His death. After that, He will fill us with His Holy Spirit to become strong in the Lord and able to put on the full armour of God to remain standing against the wiles of the devil. In Jesus alone we will be able to move forward from victory to victory while growing up to the measure of the fullness of Christ.
In the life of victory we must keep on making decisions on a daily basis, and that applies to all people during their entire life. The decisions and choices which we make, determine the direction of our lives. If we are guided by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, we will not turn away from the Lord’s way to the left or to the right, and prosper in whatever we do (Jos. 1:7). It is, therefore, imperative that we have a clear grasp of man’s free will, because we are fellow workers of God who should be able to rightly divide the word of truth (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Tim. 2:15). Wrong choices will, to a lesser or larger degree, cause us to deviate from the Lord’s way.
The principle of man’s free will is clearly depicted in the book of Joshua. The general calling of the Lord to Israel also included a personal calling to every individual, which required that every Israelite had to respond to the Lord’s calling. This principle did not only apply to the determining of their basic status as believers and members of God’s people, but also to their continued obedience afterwards. Even if they were circumcised covenant children who slew the paschal lamb and were led out of Egypt by God, all of them still had to make moral and spiritual choices on how they wished to conduct their lives. In this regard the Israelites greatly failed, even to the point of denying God. They had experienced all God’s great deeds of salvation, “but with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5).
Israel’s extended wanderings through the wilderness were the direct consequence of their spiritual backsliding. The Lord said: “For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways. So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest” (Ps. 95:10-11).
The new generation of Israelites who conquered the land of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, also had to make choices for themselves as to where their loyalties belonged. Initially, they made the right choice but Joshua was certainly aware of hypocrisy among many of them, as well as the possibility that the next generation might make wrong decisions, leading to apostasy. Joshua respected their right of free choice:
“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. ... If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good” (Jos. 24:15, 20). Man does have a free choice but he is not free from the consequences of his choices.
The same principle also applies to us, and that is the reason why we, in the light of Israel’s wrong choices, are warned not to make the same mistakes: “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted” (1 Cor. 10:6). Like Israel, it will be of no use for us to hide behind covenant signs as well as a name that we are God’s people. Many people indeed argue that they are Christians by virtue of their baptism and confirmation as church members, and now have the liberty to live as they please. They are making a big mistake as the Lord is not satisfied with lip-service to Him – he insists on a changed heart (Mark 7:6-7).
Israel’s mistake in the wilderness was that they only rationalised mentally with regard to God’s intervention in their liberation from Egypt, arguing that they were God’s people. They did not really react spiritually to what He had done for them – they were only circumcised in their flesh and not in their hearts. Because of this state of affairs, the old generation of nominal believers died in the wilderness, and we should seriously search ourselves lest we fall into the same trap: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: So I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest” Heb. 4:1-3).
We must truly believe in the Lord Jesus, while confessing and forsaking all sin, as then alone we will be able to enter His rest. As committed believers in Christ we can, through the guidance of His Holy Spirit, pass through the Jordan of death, and thereby be transformed into victorious Christians who can overcome in the struggle against sin, unrighteousness and temptations. In this life we will find rest for our soul, although the war against evil may at times be very fierce. In this position of victory we will be worthy to inherit the Sabbath-rest of the Millennium.
In his commentary on Joshua, A.B. Simpson says that there are basically two classes of Christians, e.g. the carnal and spiritual ones. However, he adds to this classification that the spiritual ones may be further subdivided into two groups, depending on the level of obedience and faithfulness which they have achieved. He described the three groups as good, better and best:
“There is in all things, a good, a better and a best. That is especially true in our spiritual life. The story of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers is the good, unfolding Israel’s redemption from Egypt, and foreshadowing our salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Deuteronomy and the earlier chapters of Joshua introduce us to the better, Israel’s entrance upon the Land of Promise, the type of our sanctification through the Lord Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Ghost. But there is something more than even this, and the later chapters of the Book of Joshua unfold the highest and the best possibilities of our spiritual life. There were choice possessions in the Land of Promise. There were victories to be won, even after all the land was subdued and the thirty-one kings were conquered. Hebron, Kirjath-Sepher, and Timnath-Serah represented something more than ordinary victory, and point us forward to the prizes of Christian life and the special inheritance of glory awaiting the few, even in the sanctified host of God who are willing to be more than conquerors through Him that loved them.”
The first step on the Lord’s way is to discontinue all forms of sin and rebellion towards Him by repenting from sin. This experience is represented by the journey through the Red Sea, which was the beginning of a new life. After that, the saved person must become conformed to the will of God in all his conduct. That calls for mortification of the self, by which we cross the Jordan towards the Promised Land. After that, the challenge remains to the sanctified believer to do everything which the Lord expects of him, and to overcome in every aspect of his life.
There is, therefore, a starting-point with regard to doing God’s will, thereafter a full surrender towards sanctification, and ultimately the possibility of progressing to the level of all the fullness of God. Paul said: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2; emphasis added). In this Scripture there is clear reference to three levels of God’s will, i.e. His good, acceptable, and perfect will which should be pursued by us.
To be able to do God’s good will calls for repentance and entering into His will from an unsaved life which was led outside of His will: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4). He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
It is, therefore, God’s express will that you should be saved. In Acts 17:30 Paul says: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all men everywhere to repent.” Since you have a free choice whether to accept or reject God’s command to be saved, you have the liberty to resist and reject it; but then you will have to face the full consequences of your decision. The Lord Jesus said to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23:37-38). Everlasting desolation and destruction await those who reject Jesus as Saviour.
Stephen charged the unsaved hypocrites in Israel of having the same unrepentant attitude: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). Do not resist the Holy Spirit who comes to you with a friendly invitation to confess and forsake your sins, to settle your case with the Lord and to follow and serve Him (John 16:8; Matt. 21:28-32). Without His conviction you cannot be saved, and it is only He who can regenerate you.
Will you start doing the will of the Lord by surrendering yourself to Him? “Our Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:3-4).
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires [or will] of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (Eph. 2:1-3). Humanity is divided into only two families – the children of God and the children of the devil. If we do the good will of God, the Lord Jesus calls us His family (Mark 3:31-35), and also sons and daughters of our heavenly Father (2 Cor. 6:17-18). The unsaved people, including all who only have a form of godliness, are called children of the devil (John 8:44; Acts 13:10). Do God’s will and become a member of His family! That is His request, desire and command to us.
A saved person has a biblical command to lead a holy, fruitful and acceptable life. That is the only form of religious worship which is pleasing to the Lord, and He is not satisfied with anything less than that (Rom. 12:1). A marginal Christian life of carnality and unfruitfulness is regarded as unacceptable. Such people will one day appear before Him with empty hands, saved as through fire (1 Cor. 3:1-3, 9-17). Do you do the Lord’s acceptable will with regard to holiness and service to Him?
A sanctified life – spirit, soul and body – is needed to fully comprehend further aspects of God’s will, and to living a life which is acceptable to Him. Has your heart and life been sanctified and do you bear fruit for eternal life, or do you grieve the Holy Spirit by not offering yourself to God as a living and holy sacrifice? Subject yourself to God’s will in this matter, and know that it will be pleasing for Him to equip you for service: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality. ... For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 4:3, 7-8).
We must be cleansed from all filthiness and be holy in all our conduct (1 Pet. 1:15). The emphasising of sexual immorality confirms its widespread prevalence. The fleshly lusts and desires of people are exploited by Satan, and sexual temptations are experienced by most. The whole world is strongly disposed towards sensuality, and the producers of pornographic films and magazines, including those with porn websites, have become very wealthy.
Another very common stumbling-block in the way of a sanctified, Spirit-filled life is liquor abuse. These people’s behaviour is also at variance with God’s will: “Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:17-18).
Tobacco, drugs and many other things can also defile you, “for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him” (2 Pet. 2:19; NIV). The solution of bondage to sin is obvious: “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Do not compromise with these sins, but cleanse yourself from all filthiness and offer yourself as a holy sacrifice in the service of the Lord. If you fail to do that, then you do not do His acceptable will and will not experience the blessing of a Spirit-filled life. An inconsistent spiritual life of falling and rising again is not to the honour of God.
A person who has committed himself to sanctification by completely surrendering himself, and who is growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, will inevitably start striving after the perfect will of God for his life. This will, among others, lead to more clarity on your calling, as well as the best way in which it can be performed. Paul says: “I beseech you to lead a life worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph. 4:1). You will have to determine how and where you can best serve the Lord.
We should not be content with rendering intermittent service to the Lord and pleasing Him only on certain occasions; neither should we be satisfied with little fruit if there is a possibility that more can be achieved for the Lord. We should pursue the perfect will of God for our lives to completely fulfil our calling as Christians. Paul’s prayer for the Colossians was: “that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
The purpose of this prayer for the Colossians was: “... that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12). They should strive to become acquainted with God’s perfect will and also to be doing it – not only His good and acceptable will.
Have you discovered the Lord’s perfect plan for your life? Paul prayed that the Ephesians may gain the same knowledge which alone can lead to deeper levels of dedication: “... that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:17-18). He also prayed that the Father: “... would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).
The period of Joshua’s leadership was followed by the Judges’ period of great apostatising in Israel’s spiritual life. At times, under die leadership of a God-fearing judge, the situation improved, only to deteriorate again more than before after his death (Judg. 2:11-23). This pattern of inconsistency and repetitive periods of backsliding is also typical of New Testament Christianity.
The fact that you may do the acceptable and perfect will of God is no guarantee in itself that you will always keep on doing it. As never before, you will experience fierce opposition in your life. The devil will attack you in various ways and try to discourage you from continuing with the Lord’s work. He will temp you to sin, and also actively try to deceive you by means of false doctrine. It will depend on your steadfastness, honesty, obedience and dedication to the Lord whether you will maintain your position in His perfect will.
Just as we can move forward in our spiritual life to become perfect and complete in all the will of God, we can also move backwards and lose what we had. It is possible to backslide from God’s perfect will without radically abandoning your calling. You will then bear less fruit, no more sixty or hundredfold, but still keep on serving the Lord and doing things that are pleasing to Him. But you will know that everything is not in order in your spiritual life.
Through examining and rededicating yourself you can be completely restored. Conversely, you can become largely uninvolved in God’s work, but still uphold your testimony as a Christian (God’s good will). At one stage, Peter and his fellow disciples decided to abandon their calling and to revert to their former occupation as fishermen. But they had no success with this endeavour, and the Lord Jesus visited them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to reconfirm their calling as fishers of men (John 21:3-17).
The Galatians also moved away from God’s acceptable will when they yielded to spiritual deception. Paul was surprised that backsliding could occur so easily, and pointed out that they were deceived: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7). This congregation was warned that if they continued along the way of doctrinal defection from the truth, they would completely fall from the grace of Christ (Gal. 5:4).
The Ephesians were also warned that if they did not turn away from humanly motivated works and a self-imposed form of godliness, their lampstand (the symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church) would be removed from them. Spiritual darkness would then prevail in the church, and members would be followers of men, and no longer of the Lord Jesus.
It is of the greatest importance that we always persevere on the narrow way upon which the Lord Jesus has put us through regeneration, and never deviate from it. The Lord counselled Joshua that His Word should always be the guide of his life, and that he should never deviate from it. If he honoured this principle, he would have a safe journey through life (Jos. 1:5-8). In a disposition of trust in the Lord he would receive power to overcome and would never have to fear any foe or be bogged down by problems. If the Lord was for him, who could be against him? Joshua was given this assurance: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Jos. 1:9). It is equally important to us to have absolute clarity on God’s will and to conform to it in all our conduct.
Within the wide framework of God’s will we have to determine the finer detail concerning it on a regular basis and observe it. How should I make the decisions through which I give expression to my calling and what should I do if I am faced by a crossroad or a closed door? For these and various other matters I have to gain clarity in terms of God’s will. In some cases the answer is clear and obvious, but in other cases one often doubts whether the right decision has been made. The following guidelines are suggested to determine God’s will in specific situations:
The Bible. The Lord talks to us through His Word and often gives clear instructions that should be followed. In many cases we are only given broad principles which should be observed in the best possible way. But we should also be prepared to take no for an answer and refrain from continuing to read portions of Scripture until we find our own predetermined answer. Start doing what your hand finds to do – the Lord will guide you and give confirmation through His Word.
Prayer. We should inquire of God and know Him in all our ways (Prov. 3:6). Do not take one-sided decisions before you have prayed over a matter and acknowledged the Lord. He has promised that those who seek will find (Matt. 7:7). That also applies to our need for wisdom to be able to make decisions in accordance with His will: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God ... and it will be given to him” (Jas. 1:5).
The Holy Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:2). He will guide you into all truth (John 16:13), thus enabling you to discern between the truth of God’s will and all the dangerous forms of deception. Also in this regard, much prayer and humbling before the Lord is needed in order to arrive at the correct decision and understanding of God’s will.
Circumstances. The Lord also guides you through circumstances. He says: “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it” (Rev. 3:8). Keep your eyes open to opportunities which are open doors. Also be conscious of circumstances and opportunities which are contrary to the will of the Lord, and avoid them. Do not try to force open a closed door by imposing your own will upon a situation.
Peace in your heart. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). You will experience peace in your mind when you do the right thing according to God’s will. The person who does not have this peace of mind will be anxious and will experience an inner struggle. Such a person will then know that whatever he plans or does is not pleasing to God. Let peace always be your judge and do not continue with your plans without it: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15).
Common sense. If you love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, your heart and mind will be sanctified and inclined to the Word of God. Through His Holy Spirit the Lord gives us enlightened eyes of the mind to understand His will and to honour it in the best possible way. He teaches us to use common sense while serving Him (Titus 2: 11-12; 1 Pet. 1:13), but that can only be done in a proper way if we strictly observe Christian principles.
The desires of your heart. The Holy Spirit instils noble desires in your heart which are to God’s glory, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to work on behalf of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). An indication of God’s will may be the desires that He Himself put in your heart. You are obliged to desire the things of the Lord: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2). When your desires are sanctified the Lord will give you an open door to realise them. But be mindful of the fact that temptations to sin will always be there, and you should continue to resist worldly desires and evil passions.
The right time. Do not make hasty and impulsive decisions. The Lord does answer our prayers on His own appointed time: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Be patient and wait on the Lord.
When seeking God’s will, we should strictly avoid situations of blindly accepting other people’s counsel, particularly when these people (usually self-appointed prophets) allege that the Lord has revealed something about your calling to them which He did not reveal to you. There are many such “prophets” today who would try to influence you in a particular way to suit their own ends. Why would the Lord communicate directly with them on matters related to your future, and not with you? We are not living in Old Testament times when we need mediators to approach the Lord on our behalf. Good advice from Spirit-filled friends may be considered, but can never be the final indication on what you should or shouldn’t do. God’s Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the final authority for harmonising your life.
As Joshua led his people to accept all the Lord’s promises on a new life in the Promised Land, far away from Egypt, the Lord Jesus is our Leader who does not only forgive our sins but wants to make us heirs of all the promises on the victorious life. We should follow His guidance without deviating from it to the left or the right, be filled with His Spirit, and never compromise with the world. Then alone will we be securely on the right way leading to the New Jerusalem where we will always walk in the light of His presence. That will be the final rest in Yeshua which has been promised to all believers.
Bringing Biblical Sanity to the Insanity of Dating
Copyright © Joel James, 1999, 2001 Revised Edition
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE ®, © Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995. Used by permission.
I'm glad to be married; if for no other reason than I no longer have to think about dating. My dating experiences before I met and married my wife were not exactly the highlight of my youth. Take my first date, for example. Everything that could have gone wrong did.
I had asked a girl to accompany me and some friends to a Christian concert. She was kind enough to accept. When the afternoon of the concert came, the girl, Julie, called me from work and said she was feeling ill, but she still wanted to come. When she came by just before our departure time she looked awful. Drawn, pale, she was clearly not in top form.
I told her she didn't have to come, but she obviously felt she had given her word and needed to keep it. I am sure she felt a lot better when we met her former boyfriend on our way to the car. I hate it when that happens.
Ready to depart, we loaded into my friend's car. I didn't own a car and thought a 200 kilometre ride on the back of my bicycle might be a bit uncomfortable for her. There were five of us in the car. Three guys who were my friends, me, and Julie. Nice. Romantic.
As soon as we loaded into the car, I unloaded. I had forgotten the tickets in my room and had to go back and get them. Organised, that's me.
The concert was in another city about an hour's drive away. Just before we arrived at the concert hall, my friend's car started to smoke slightly. We didn't think much of it. We were too eager to see the show.
Julie had tried her best to make small talk on the way, but clearly wasn't up to it. You can imagine how much better three hours of thunderous music made her feel. After the concert we piled back into the car. On the freeway on the outskirts of the city where the concert was held, my friend's car blew up. Smoke started rolling in all the vents, and eyes tearing, we pulled over.
While my friends went for help, I spent the next three and a half hours sitting in the car by the side of the freeway watching Julie slowly freeze to death. My only hope was she might get cold enough to forget how sick she felt. I considered stepping out into the path of an oncoming truck to remove at least one of her three miseries. By the time we actually reached home it was two in the morning.
Needless to say, we didn't go out again. In fact, Julie got married about six months later. One date with me was enough to convince her that she needed to take herself out of the field, and quickly.
Dating is crazy sometimes, isn't it. But to be honest, car fires in the middle of the night are the least of it. I believe the real insanity of dating has nothing to do with crazy things like what happened on my first date.
The real reason dating is often "insane" is Christian young people and parents have never consciously shaped their understanding of "dating" with the Bible. Unfortunately, dating is one of those areas where many Christians have blindly followed the path beaten by the world.
Paul told the Romans, "Do not be conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2). If ever there was an area where this command needs to be followed, dating is it.
The goal of every Christian should be to guide his or her life by the Bible. However, there are some daunting problems that a Christian faces when he or she tries to discover what the Bible says about dating.
One problem is the hordes of conflicting opinions on how to handle dating. Normally, a plethora of useless and conflicting information doesn't concern a Christian. All we have to do to silence the babble of opinions is open the word of God and let it speak.
However, the Bible seems to have lost its voice when it comes to dating. Dating as we practice it simply isn't found in the scripture. Our current western culture differs dramatically from the biblical culture in its approach to obtaining a husband or wife.
For example, when Isaac wanted to find a wife, he didn't borrow Dad's camel and take a girl to the drive-in. You remember what happened (Genesis 24). Dad thought it was time for Isaac to get married. But Abraham didn't like the looks of the local, Canaanite girls. Therefore, he sent one of his servants back to Mesopotamia to find Isaac a wife from among his own people.
By God's providence the servant picked Rebekah out of the crowd. Will she return with him to Canaan to marry a man she has never met? Yes, of course, she will.
The servant and Rebekah got back on the camels and travelled all the way to the southern tip of Canaan. As they were riding up to Abraham's camp, Isaac walked out to meet them.
"Who is that?" asked Rebekah.
"Your new husband," answered the servant.
So Rebekah put on her veil, and she and Isaac were married. That's dating made easy, isn't it! Dad and Mom chose when and whom you would marry (by the way, you might recall that Isaac was forty years old when this took place!).
As a parent, I am beginning to think Abraham's method is not such a bad system. In fact, when I was single , I didn't think it was such a bad system. I was willing to risk my parents' choice in order to skip the dating scene altogether.
The point is, however, arranged marriages were the order of the day in the biblical world. Dating as we know it would have been a foreign concept to them.
Perhaps, then, the first question we need to answer when considering dating is this: Is dating as we practice it legitimate at all? We just reviewed an example of the practice of arranged marriages. Is that the biblical approach to finding a husband or wife?
While the parental appointment method is described in the narrative sections of scripture, it is never prescribed or commanded. It is impossible to assert that arranged marriages are the biblical method. If nothing else, the interaction between Ruth and Boaz shows that there was a certain amount of freedom in this area.
I do not believe parental arrangement is wrong (gasp!), but we can't say it is the
biblical practice either. That means "dating" in and of itself is not unbiblical. The Bible does not define the method for finding a husband or a wife. Considering that, we have two options. We can return to the practice of arranged marriages or we can reshape our current cultural practice with biblical thinking. I will assume that the vote goes to reshaping our current cultural practice.
So far we have established that a Christian does not have the luxury of turning to the
biblical passage on dating and reading ten verses of God's final word on the issue. But, in spite of that, we do know that God's word is sufficient for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Therefore, we can be sure as parents or singles that all we need to guide us regarding dating is in God's word. We just need to find it.
When we do, then we can apply biblical wisdom to dating. To do that we must avoid mere opinion, experience, or commonly accepted standards. Scripture must guide us to the real issues and give us God's answers.
Over the course of these pages I would like to give you some principles which will bring biblical sanity to the insanity of what the world calls dating . Let's begin by looking at an example that highlights the importance of dating in a biblical manner.
One of the ways to learn how to do something is to watch someone else do it poorly. When I swam in triathlons, I had a friend who worked out in the same pool. He had a habit of putting his hand in the water too far toward or even across the centre of his body in his freestyle stroke. This turned his body slightly sideways with every arm stroke. Instead of gliding arrow-straight through the water, he "snow-ploughed" water by being slightly diagonal in the water.
I learned a lot by watching him. I learned how not to swim. His mistake helped me correct a similar error in my own stroke.
Perhaps we can use that same learning technique as we begin to discover how the Bible can re-shape our understanding of dating. Although there are no direct teaching sections in the Bible on "dating," the Bible does contain examples of seeking a spouse.
One such example is Samson. I once heard of a dating talk entitled "The do's and don'ts of dating." Unfortunately, Judges 14-16 can only be called "the don'ts of dating." There are no "do's" in the account of Samson. He didn't do anything correctly in his search for a wife. We can learn from Samson in the same way I learned from my friend's freestyle stroke: watch it, and then make good and sure you don't ever do it yourself!
Samson, you recall, was a special man. His birth was announced by the angel of the Lord in Judges 13:3. The angel promised that God would use the child to deliver his people from their perennial oppressors, the Philistines.
One day the young man Samson was out visiting and he saw a girl.
Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife. (Judges 14:1-2)
Samson had seen girls before, but this one was a real knock-out, so much so, he decided he wanted to marry her. What's wrong with that? Boy meets girl. Boy flips his lid. Boy asks girl to marry him. Love at first sight. How romantic...sigh.
What was wrong with Samson's approach to dating? Everything. In three verses (vv. 13) Samson made three disastrous mistakes.
Verse one says that Samson was visiting Timnah and saw "one of the daughters of the Philistines." What was the problem with that? Israel had been commanded by God not to marry the daughters of the idolatrous, demon-worshipping peoples around them (Deut 7:3-4). God didn't want His chosen people being led astray by the perverted worship and occult practices of the Canaanites.
Samson had no business going to Timnah with a roving eye. Every girl there was off limits. Unfortunately, Samson never learned his lesson. If it wasn't a sweetheart in Timnah, it was a prostitute in Gaza (16:1). When he grew tired of her, it was delectable Delilah, another Philistine cupcake (16:4). If you wanted to summarise Samson's life with a theme song, it would be "Looking for love in all the wrong places."
The land of the Philistines was a place of wicked and immoral people. Every time Samson went there his lust pulled him into another disastrous relationship.
But Samson was too self-willed to back down even in the face of God's word.
Then his father and his mother said to him, "Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?: But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me, for she looks good to me." (Judges 14:3)
The translation "for she looks good to me" significantly understates the Hebrew original. It actually says, "she is righteous" or "she is upright to me." The Hebrew word yshr was the word "straight." It meant something was according to the accepted standard.
Now, what was the standard in Israel supposed to be? God's law, right? And Deuteronomy 7:3 commanded Israel not to marry idol worshipers. This pagan Philistine girl definitely was not
righteous according to God's standard. But Samson was adamant: "She meets the standard." When the girl Samson wanted did not measure up, Samson changed the rules. Not even God's commands stopped him from pursuing the girl he wanted.
Besides looking for love in all the wrong places, Samson had another major problem in his dating technique. How did Samson determine that a girl would be a good partner for him? "I saw a woman in Timnah... get her for me as a wife" [emphasis added] (14:2). Samson's measure of a woman was her profile. Always the human hormone, Samson thought only of sexual appeal when he searched for a wife. Her faith and character were inconsequential. If the curve of her face and the cut of her hair were right, then it was full steam ahead.
Samson's third don't is in verse three of Judges 14.
Then his father and his mother said to him, "Is there no woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?: But Samson said to his father, "Get her for me, for she looks good to me." (Judges 14:3)
Proverbs says, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child" (Prov 22:15). Certainly that was true of Samson. His parents tried to warn him. They strongly encouraged him to reconsider his course of action. Samson's response? "Dad, Mom, you're idiots. I know better than you do."
Blinded by infatuation, Samson rejected his parents' biblical counsel. In so doing, he trampled one of God's most important lines of defence protecting us against foolish decisions. Samson's third classic blunder was refusing to consider counsel (especially from his parents) in regard to his relationship.
It's a sad scene. It is not unlike the drunk at a party arguing that he is sober enough to drive when his friends can plainly see he can hardly stand up. Samson, befuddled by infatuation and lust, was in no condition to make a fair evaluation of his "relationship" with the Philistine girl. But he stubbornly refused the help of those concerned for him.
You know the rest of the story. Before the wedding feast was over, Samson's beautiful bride had manipulated and betrayed him. She nagged and whined out of him the answer to the riddle he had invented to stump his wedding guests.
And Samson's wife wept before him and said, "You only hate me, and you do not love me; you have propounded a riddle to the sons of my people, and have not told it to me." And he said to her, "Behold, I have not told it to my father or mother, so should I tell you?" However, she wept before him seven days while their feast lasted. And it came about on the seventh day that he told her because she pressed him so hard. She then told the riddle to the sons of her people. (Judges 14:16-17)
Samson was furiously angry and stormed out of town. Eventually, after revenge and counter-revenge, Judges 15:8 tells us that Samson ended up living in a cave like an outlaw. His wrong approach to dating didn't bring him the happiness and pleasure he thought it would. It only brought manipulation, distrust, faithlessness, in-law squabbles, anger, vengeance, and loneliness. In fact, Samson obtained nothing out of marriage that he wanted.
The Bible may not speak to the issue of dating specifically, but we can certainly learn something from Samson's example. He did everything wrong, and the results were disastrous.
Samson was looking for love in all the wrong places. That was his first mistake. He continually put himself in situations where he could become emotionally and physically entangled with an unbeliever. And, inevitably, he did.
In the case of his marriage, only when they were at the wedding feast did the wickedness of his fiancée, her father, and her friends become apparent. But Samson should have known. She did not serve the true God. He should have avoided her from the beginning.
Samson also measured a prospective companion by her physical attractiveness, rather than her commitment to the Lord and her godly character. That was his second
mistake. And when his parents tried to shine the light of wisdom on the situation, Samson turned a blind eye to their counsel. That was his third mistake.
The wreckage of Samson's marriage illustrates for us the importance of pursuing a husband or wife in a biblical manner. However, having seen how not to do it, we must now consider how to do it. How can we bring biblical sanity to the insanity of dating? Where should we begin?
Simply defined, dating is a relationship between a man and a woman, regardless of age. They might be sixteen. They might be sixty. It doesn't matter. Dating is still a relationship between a man and a woman. There is, then, an obvious place to begin biblically. What is the defining verse in the Bible regarding a relationship between a man and woman?
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." (Genesis 2:18)
That is probably the most important verse in the whole Bible explaining human relationships. Think about it. How much of human behaviour is shaped by the reality of this verse? Dating certainly is, isn't it. Therefore, to bring biblical wisdom to dating we must understand the implications of this verse.
The first implication of this verse is this: God designed incompleteness into Adam. "It is not good for the man to be alone." There was a God-designed loneliness and a need for help in Adam that none of the animals could satisfy. Adam was in need of a companion suitable to him as a human being and a man.
Therefore, God created Eve as the suitable helper, the necessary companion for the man. Although some men and women have been given a gift for being single and satisfied (1 Cor 7:7), the vast majority of men and women on the face of the earth have Genesis 2:18 resident within them.
This immediately tells us something important about dating. People, regardless of age, "date" because they desire a marriage-kind-of-relationship. That doesn't mean people always date because they want to get married. That's not necessarily the case. But they do spend time together because God has built into them a desire for intimacy and companionship in a unique man/woman relationship.
That definition of dating is significant. It tells us the goal of a legitimate dating relationship is Genesis 2:18: companionship. Those involved in the relationship may not want to get married. However, their desire for a marriage-kind-of-relationship is what motivates them to spend time together.
This is an enlightening thought. Marriage, according to God, is a relationship of friendship or companionship. Dating is pursuing a marriage-kind-of-relationship - unique companionship with a member of the opposite sex. Therefore, biblically speaking, where do you think the emphasis should be placed in the dating process? That's right, on friendship or companionship.
When I was at varsity, there was a girl in our church who was bright, attractive, and genuinely loved Christ. As you can imagine, she was like a car radiator - the bugs were all over her.
The pastor of our group made an interesting private comment about her once. "Poor Jill," he said, "everybody wants to marry her, but nobody wants to take the time to be her friend first." That was an insightful comment from a man who understood what "dating" should be.
The basis of a good marriage is first a right relationship with God, and then, a strong friendship with your spouse. If you take away the romance, sex, children, and anything else we associate with marriage - if you still have a friendship - you still have a strong marriage. If that is what a Genesis 2:18 relationship is about, then that is what dating should be about.
The companionship principle of Genesis 2:18 is the critical starting point for bringing biblical sanity to the practice of dating. Understanding what motivates dating makes us realise what dating should be like. A desire for companionship is the legitimate, Goddesigned reason for spending time with a person of the opposite sex. Therefore, everything we do in "dating" should be guided by the companionship principle.
That biblical concept of dating takes a lot of the pressure out of the whole concept of dating. I know how it is with the singles in our church. They are afraid to sit next to a guy or girl at church because we will have them married off by the end of the announcements.
Starting with a friendship relieves the pressure. Both the well-meaning pressure applied by others, and the emotional and sexual pressure a dating couple can put on each other are negated by the companionship principle.
People date for prestige, the sense of being wanted, sex, and so on. However, the biblical reason to spend time with a girl or guy is to build a lasting friendship. That might turn into a marriage commitment one day. It might not. There is absolutely no need to worry about that at the start. Eventually, if marriage does not appeal to one or the other, nothing has been lost. A valuable friendship has been forged. That, and the experience of building it, will be beneficial for a lifetime.
As I look back at my single days, outside of a love for Christ, there was one common characteristic in the few girls I was ever really interested in. It was not their looks, hair colour, education, talents, or anything of that nature. Besides their love for Christ, the common factor was this: I found it easy to talk with them. We had an easy, natural friendship.
A Genesis 2:18, friendship approach removes a lot of the game playing that often goes with dating. Nobody has to pretend or be someone they aren't. You don't have to play the does-he-like-me game. The guy doesn't have to do the knight in shining armour routine. She doesn't have to worry about how much she will have to give away physically in order to keep his attention.
So much of dating is just game-playing. Consider the average date. You spend three hours with a person doing your absolute best to be someone you aren't. The girl sits there pretending she always looks like she stepped out of a fashion magazine. And the guy - when's the last time he went three hours without belching out loud?
On our first "date," Ruty (my wife) and I rode bicycles and ate fried chicken - sweaty faces and greasy fingers. How could any relationship survive that? Simple. We had been friends already for a year. We didn't have to play games to impress each other.
A "dating" relationship guided by the companionship principle of Genesis 2:18 is radically different than what the world promotes. To our shame we have conformed to the world's practices. Paul said, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." (Romans 12:2).
Our culture feeds us a standard view of dating and, unfortunately, most Christians swallow it without a second thought. The world tells young people that dating is about romantic emotions and the kissy-huggy game. That has totally obscured the biblical concept of pursuing a mutually beneficial friendship.
You know how the typical dating scenario goes. Boy meets girl. Boy asks girl to a movie. They sit in a dark theatre for two hours and don't say a word to each other. During the week boy sends girl roses with a note saying her eyes are "sapphire blue."
The next weekend they see another movie. The sit silently for two hours in the dark. This time he holds her hand and steals a kiss on her front steps. The next week it's a necklace instead of flowers and a romantic moonlight walk in the park. They spend half their time trying to suffocate each other (if you know what I mean).
And there you have it. They are dating . But how is their friendship ? A mist of emotions and a cloud of lust obscure the lack of any real commitment, sharing, and friendship.
Of course, you know what usually happens in those dating relationships. In six months their "love" has fallen apart, and they break up, only to start all over again with someone else a month later.
Or worse yet, they actually get married. A year or two into their marriage they look around and think, "I don't even know this person. And I don't really enjoy spending time with him or her now that the novelty of the romance and the physical relationship has worn off."
To bring biblical sanity to that type of dating scenario, we need to transform our thinking about dating. It starts with Genesis 2:18. Dating is a marriage-kind-ofrelationship. God defined that kind of relationship as companionship . So must we.
The companionship principle has many applications. We will see some of them worked out in the coming pages. For now, consider one important example. Apply the companionship principle to the issue of physical involvement. A biblical definition of dating immediately calls into question the usual practice of getting all romantic or physical in dating. Why would a guy and a girl do that in a friendship ? Those things are marriage activities, not friendship activities.
Based on the companionship principle of Genesis 2:18, I would venture to suggest that most dating relationships, even in the church, should be backed down to the friendship level, and stay there. Permanently. The incorporation of romantic distractions and physical temptations into dating is merely conforming to the world.
Romance and physical affection (of a carefully limited nature) should not come until friendship, commitment, and trust are already well established and marriage is just around the corner. Why take a dating relationship up to the point romantically and physically where marriage is the next step when you cannot or have no intention of getting married soon? That kind of pressure is a forked road. One path leads to a painful break-up, the other to sexual sin.
I believe the key to handling dating in a godly way is to let Genesis 2:18 shape your concept of dating rather than the world. If there is someone you are interested in, go out and bury all those romantic images you have been fed by the world, and just work on being friends with the person. If that doesn't "click," then there is no reason to bother clouding the issue with the frills and thrills of romance and playing around physically. All that will do is deceive you into thinking you have a meaningful friendship when you really don't.
Instead, practice developing godly friendships with members of the opposite sex. Who knows, without the pressure of "dating" you might even enjoy it! Then, as you practice building strong friendships, eventually you will find a friendship too good to lose. That is where a strong, God-honouring marriages starts.
Many dating couples want practical advice on where to go and what to do to have fun together. To be honest, you probably don't want my help with that. Most people don't consider browsing through theological books at a used bookstore a cool date.
However, on the practical level, there is one piece of counsel I would like to give you about dating: do nothing from selfishness . That is the most practical and helpful advice I can give you regarding a dating friendship.
The biblical basis for that counsel is found in the book of Philippians. Next to Genesis 2:18, I believe Philippians 2:3-4 is the most important biblical guideline for dating. It says this:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
That's a great guideline for a Genesis 2:18 friendship. Too often what singles do in dating is controlled by just the opposite. Their motives are self-centred and vain. They think only of themselves and not the concerns, interests, and feelings of their "friend."
I remember a situation from high school which illustrates this perfectly. Jeff was the best athlete in our school. Jana was the prettiest girl. It was the classic high school dating relationship. They had been dating seriously for about a year when Jeff decided they should break up.
Jeff told Jana at her locker during lunch break. Naturally she was devastated. She cried her way through the next three class periods until school was done for the day.
That's a sad example of unbiblical dating. The timing of Jeff's announcement was thoughtless and inconsiderate. He didn't regard his girlfriend and her feelings as more important than his. Had his first thought been for her, he would have told her his decision at a time when her disappointment would not have been a public spectacle.
So many things done in dating are selfish. They are un-Christlike. Verse five of Philippians 2 says "Have this attitude [i.e., of self less ness] in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus."
Paul wrote this opening section of Chapter 2 to the Philippian church in order to bring peace and unity to their church. However, verses 3-4 can be applied equally effectively in bringing peace and unity to dating relationships.
If you are wondering exactly how to handle any situation in a dating friendship, this is the best counsel I can give you: do nothing from selfishness . It might be scaling back the relationship as in the case of Jeff and Jana. It might be asking someone out for the first time. It might be planning activities to do together. It doesn't matter. If you do nothing from selfishness, you will have gone a long way towards handling that situation rightly.
Let me give you four examples of how applying Philippians 2:3-4 can help you handle any dating situation in a right manner.
1. Do nothing from selfishness (v. 3). Philippians 2:3-4 won't tell you what restaurant to go to on a date. But it does tell you whether you should go to a restaurant you like or a restaurant she likes.
2. Do nothing from …empty conceit (v. 3). Philippians 2:3-4 won't tell you whom to date. But it does tell you that if you are dating a guy because his clothes, car, money, and profile impress your friends, you are dating with sinful motives. You're not giving to a friendship; you're constructing an image. That's empty conceit.
3. Regard one another as more important than yourselves (v. 3). You have probably seen dating relationships in which a girl, for example, acts as if the guy is her personal property. She tries to order his life so she is the centre of it. She manipulatively tries to influence and control all his decisions. She is not regarding him more important than herself. She clearly considers herself the most important person in the relationship.
4. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests (v. 4). "I need you. I love you. I can't live without you!" When a guy says things like that to keep a relationship going, is he looking out for his girlfriend's best interests? Certainly not. He doesn't love her. His words prove the only one he is concerned about is himself.
The applications of Philippians 2:3-4 to dating are endless. You can probably think of dozens of others as you consider your past. When Genesis 2:18 controls your concept of dating, self less ness is a lot easier. Being selfless and considerate comes naturally in a friendship.
However you can make sure you are doing nothing from selfishness by pouring every thought and action toward your friend through the strainer of Philippians 2:3-4. It will filter out all your selfish motives, prideful actions, and manipulative words.
It won't tell you directly whether you should go to the opera or the zoo on your first date. But indirectly, it will guide every word, decision, or action in your friendship.
That kind of universal guideline is the best practical advice you could ever receive on dating. Apply it and you will have peace and unity in all your friendships with the opposite sex.
Having established that dating should be based on Genesis 2:18, we need to address the question, "Whom can I date?" Of course, the world emphasises what she looks like, how prestigious the person is in the eyes of your friends, how much money he has, and so on. Those are the standard considerations.
Applying the companionship principle of Genesis 2:18 allows us to throw out all those peripheral things. Instead, we ask, "Can I be a good friend to him or her? Will our friendship be mutually profitable and enjoyable?"
Naturally, the first consideration is the other person's spiritual condition. It is impossible to have a spiritually profitable relationship with someone who is not a Christian. 1 Corinthians 7:39 helps us by laying down an absolute guideline.
A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
Paul's principle is clear: a Christian is to marry only in the Lord . But, you say, "That is talking about marriage, not dating." Yes, but think of the application. Why would you even consider pursuing a marriage-kind-of-relationship with someone God's word says you can't marry?
Why start down that disastrous path? All you will have to do is suffer through the emotional agony of extracting yourself from that relationship later on. Or, worse, you might never come to your senses. Then you will be enslaved to a lifetime of spiritual solitaire. There is nothing more lonely than a spiritually unequal marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:39 and the companionship principle of Genesis 2:18 (not to mention Samson) team up to voice a pretty clear message: don't even consider dating a person who is not a Christian.
Let me add a second consideration under spiritual companionship. Dating unbelievers is clearly off limits. However, the companionship principle warns us against something else as well.
Beware of dating a professing Christian whose level of spiritual interest is markedly less than it should be. Companionship means shared interests, especially a mutual love for Jesus Christ. If the person you are interested in professes Christ but lingers behind in actual spiritual interest and activity, reconsider. You will never find true spiritual companionship with him or her.
A friend of mine named Michelle sat me down once and explained to me with tears in her eyes that this was exactly her situation. She said, "I love Jim and I want to marry him, but he just doesn't lead our relationship spiritually. I think he is saved, but he just doesn't have the same desire for Christ, the word, and serving in the church that I do. I can't take the lead for him," she said. "But if I marry him I will end up growing backwards spiritually."
They were very serious in their relationship, but she was willing to call it off completely. She was a very wise girl. Marrying someone who has little spiritual interest will suck your own spiritual vitality dry. What we did was this. Michelle and I set a time frame within which Jim had to show discernible spiritual growth. If by the end of that time he had not started to grow, Michelle committed to breaking the relationship.
Some of us also started to spend time with Jim, specifically challenging him in key spiritual areas. Jim's spiritual progress soared. He became the spiritual leader Michelle hoped he could be. Less than a year later they were married.
But, if Jim had not changed, Michelle would have called the whole thing off. Whatever else was desirable in their relationship, she was not willing to sacrifice the spiritual companionship implied in Genesis 2:18.
So, the first answer to the question, "Whom can I date?" is spiritual equals . The second answer to that question is don't date a fool . Proverbs 13:20 wisely points out that,
He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.
According to Solomon, if you choose to pursue a marriage-kind-of-relationship with a fool, you are dooming yourself to misery and harm. How, then, can you know a fool and avoid him or her? Let me give you a list which will dramatically narrow the dating field for you.
He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool.
A fool spreads slander. He or she speaks evilly of other people, saying hurtful things intended to strike at others or their reputation. If the person you are interested in has a sinful habit of speaking harshly or hurtfully, scratch them off your list immediately.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
The fool always thinks he or she is right. They refuse to be corrected, receive reproof, or counsel.
A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother.
A fool will often have a bad relationship with his or her parents. If someone speaks disrespectfully of his parents or treats them poorly, stay away. How he treats his family is how he will probably treat you, once he drops the facade of dating politeness.
A fool's lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows.
A fool brings strife between people. His or her mouth is a weapon skilfully used to produce conflict with and between other people. Have you noticed an increased level of conflict with your friends and family since you started dating someone? Is the person you are seeing often the centre of those conflicts? He or she might be a fool. Get out while you can.
Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel.
A fool often quarrels. Why would you want that in a companion?
He cuts off his own feet, and drinks violence who sends a message by the hand of a fool.
A fool is untrustworthy. You can never quite be certain whether he will do what he is supposed to do (in this case, deliver a message).
A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.
Don't let some good points blind your eyes to the person's true character. If you continually have to excuse your boyfriend or girlfriend's behaviour to your parents or your Christian friends, it could be they are a fool. Call their sin "sin" and call off the relationship. The example here is anger. Don’t kid yourself, eventually you will be the target of that person's temper. The companion of fools will suffer harm.
The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.
The “folding of the hands” terminology connects this verse to the sluggard of Proverbs (6:6-11; 24:30-34). If a person has never held down a job, doesn't carry through on responsibilities, or doesn't work consistently before marriage, then he will not afterwards either. Walking up an aisle, mumbling "I do," and walking back down the aisle doesn't transform a person’s character.
If the person you are considering a marriage-kind-of-friendship with is exhibiting a number of these characteristics, or even one very prominently, then Proverbs 14:7 says, “leave the presence of a fool.” Don’t let some good points blind your eyes to who the person really is.
Here is a question that should spark some controversy! We will obviously have to consider this from both the child's perspective and the parents' perspective. Depending on which one you speak to, the answer will be either thirteen or thirty-nine.
Let's start with the young adults. You may not know it, but there is a verse in the Bible which tells you exactly when you can start dating. It pinpoints it down to the day . Well, that relieves a lot of the pressure, doesn't it. No arguments with Dad and Mom - just let the Bible tell us. Are you ready? Here is the verse:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother... (Ephesians 6:1-2)
Okay, so you hate me. I know. But that's what it says. For the young adult, this issue is easy: honour whatever your father and mother decide. They are your God-given protectors to rescue you from the foolishness bound up in your heart. You can be glad they and God are looking out for you. It's a full time job. Trust me.
Now, for the parents, the issue is a little more complex. There is no Bible verse that says when your young adult should be allowed to date. You are going to have to decide that leaning on prayer and biblical wisdom.
But, don't despair. There is some biblical direction. When in doubt about dating, go back to the Genesis 2:18 companionship principle. Friendship with another spiritually vital person is the key issue in the kind of relationship we are talking about.
If you take the huggy-kissy thing and the emotional bunjee-jumping out of it, is there any problem with your child having friendships with members of the opposite sex? I don't think so.
However, you are going to have to help your young adult understand what a friendship is. You will need to help them avoid drowning in an emotional flood. You need to help provide an environment where there will be no temptation to get physically involved.
Parents need to help their young adults build the skill of having a friendship with members of the opposite sex. The parents' task is to train their child to be ready to "leave father and mother" in a marriage relationship (Gen 2:24). Therefore, parents, be diligent to teach your children about friendship. You may choose never to let them "date" (as the world conceives of it) while they are in your home. But teach them to value companionship and to avoid emotional and physical traps in their friendships with the opposite sex.
How many young couples who want to get married have heard that? It makes the perspective couple grind their teeth, but finances are a legitimate concern. The Bible says this about a man's responsibility to provide for his family:
But if one does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
The context has to do with caring for elderly widows in your family. However, Paul also makes a general principle clear. Under all normal circumstances it is the man's responsibility to provide for his household.
That affects the timing of progress towards a serious dating relationship, doesn't it. It pains me to see fifteen or sixteen year olds hanging on each other like newly-weds. There is very little chance a sixteen year old will be able to provide a living for a family. Therefore, there is no place for that relationship to go. Marriage is probably not a realistic option for them for three or four years. It is foolish to pursue a relationship to a level where marriage is the next step when marriage is not a financially realistic option.
I don't mean by that what many people in our culture seem to mean: you have to have a car, a house, and your career all sorted out before you even start to think about marriage.
However, I do believe that if you are pursuing a serious marriage-kind-of-relationship, the guy had better be able to provide a realistic minimum income should things work out. Otherwise a young couple is left in a relationship that is at a very high level of intimacy, but with no outlet. Who wants to live with that kind of frustration?
It is much wiser to keep that relationship at the friendship level until marriage is an option financially. If you are at varsity, that might mean working on a friendship until graduation. Or, it might mean re-ordering life and priorities so you can get married, work full time to meet your family's financial needs, and go to school part time.
That probably runs against the thinking of our culture, but I find nothing especially biblical about interminably delaying marriage to pile up educational and career achievements. Genesis 2:18 doesn't say anything about a degree or a career. But, it does make it clear that those whom God has gifted to be married will do a lot better if they are married.
Under the question, "When can one start to date?" we have several principles. If you are a young adult under your parents' authority, then the decision is easy: honour your parents. Parents are free to set their own guidelines regarding when their children can "date." But whatever they decide, they must be diligent to train their children to have meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex. We also noted that marriage should be a realistic option financially before you start to pursue a serious marriagekind-of-relationship.
I once had a friend who was part of a large, well-known evangelical church in the United States. She was at varsity at the time and attended their youth meetings. She told me once that she was shocked to find that virtually all of her friends in that group were or had been sleeping with their boyfriends.
Unfortunately that is a story that is all too common. You have heard all the excuses: "We are going to get married anyway," or "We thought we could stop before it went this far." Christians, however, are supposed to live differently. Paul said to the Thessalonians:
This is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality. (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
To be sanctified meant to be set apart from common use for special service. It was the word used of the bowls and implements employed in the worship of God in the tabernacle and temple of the Old Testament. Those bowls were not used for common tasks. The priests didn't eat their oatmeal out of them in the morning. They were set apart to God for special service.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, when Paul said believers are to be set apart or sanctified, he was not just speaking generally. He told them that they were to be sanctified or set apart sexually . They were to be set apart from the defiling practice of sexual immorality.
The word translated "sexual immorality" meant any sexual activity outside of marriage. It is used in Hebrews 13:4 in that manner.
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge [emphasis added].
Sexual relations within marriage are pure. They are a gift from God. However, any sexual activity before marriage or outside of marriage after the wedding is a perversion of God's good gift. Therefore, Paul's command to abstain from sexual immorality tells us that purity is a goal that every Christian dating couple needs to set and achieve.
It is a difficult standard to maintain these days. The pattern of the world is to become very physical in dating relationships. It is the expected thing. I had an unbelieving friend complain to me once that a girl was "cold" because she would not give him a "good-night kiss" on their first date!
It is not surprising that such an attitude toward dating prevails. Our culture furiously promotes sexual immorality. By the time he or she is twenty, the average person in our culture has probably seen immorality sensually acted out on a television or movie screen hundreds, if not thousands, of times.
Battling against external pressures and even stronger internal desires, how can dating couples maintain their purity? How can they avoid the temptation and trap of playing around physically?
There is a book in the Bible that is deeply concerned with sexual purity. It is the book of Proverbs. Chapters 5-7 are the focal point of this concern. In those chapters, we find four principles which will help Christian singles maintain dating purity.
The first way that a dating couple can maintain purity is to remember their divine
For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress, and embrace the bosom of a foreigner? For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord and He watches all his paths. (Proverbs 5:20-21)1
Why was Solomon's son to avoid (literally) " going astray with an adulteress"? Why was sexual sin of any kind to be completely avoided? Because "The ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord..." (v. 21). The Hebrew could be translated, "God is continually weighing the habitual patterns of a person's life."
The guy and girl who mess around when their parents are out or when they are alone in their flats might think no one knows. But their sin is done in the full light, right in front of the throne of God.
The greatest motivation for purity is accountability to God. Remembering that God always knows exactly what you are doing is a compelling motivation to keep your dating relationships pure.
The second way to maintain purity is, logically, human accountability. If you fail to restrain yourself sexually, here is what you will end up saying.
1 Speaking to his son who was or would one day be married, Solomon naturally personified sexual temptation as a woman or an adulteress. However, the application of these principles is broad enough to include those single or married, male or female.
And you say, "How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof! And I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to my instructors." (Proverbs 5:12-13)
The person here has failed to listen to counsel and instruction. The consequences of his sin are great. He cries out, wishing he had listened to those who told him not to play with sexual pleasure. Had he listened to his instructors, he would have been spared.
One of the God-given ways to avoid sexual temptation is to have human accountability and counsel (i.e., instructors). We are accountable to God, but sometimes a hormoneseared conscience is deaf to God's promptings. We can also be helped by having someone who can look us in the eye and say, "Don't do that... Avoid that situation... Stop seeing him or her."
Such accountability can be a saving restraint if you are gradually succumbing to temptation. If you know that you are going to have to go back and tell your mom or dad or some spiritual advisor the nature of your physical relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend that week, you will be much more likely to exercise self-control.
I would strongly suggest you make this kind of arrangement with someone if you are wrestling with purity in a dating relationship. Humble your pride and stay pure.
A third encouragement to maintain purity in these chapters of Proverbs is considering the consequences of not exercising self-control. Personifying sexual lust as an evil temptress, Solomon wrote this:
Do not desire her beauty in your heart, nor let her catch you with her eyelids. For on account of a harlot one is reduced to a loaf of bread, and an adulteress hunts for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Or can a man walk on hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? So is the one who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whoever touches her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:25-29)
Although the exact meaning of the Hebrew idiom "reduced to a loaf of bread" escapes us, but it is certainly not positive. And the closing statement sums it up perfectly: the one who strays into sexual sin will not go unpunished .
When a dating couple is getting hot and heavy on the couch, they aren't thinking about the consequences of their sin: the shame of being caught, the guilt if they are not. But that is typical of all sin, especially sexual lust. The temptress who personifies lust in these chapters of Proverbs is pictured as heedless to consequences.
She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, she does not know it. (Proverbs 5:6)
The physical excitement of the kissing and touching which is typical in many dating relationships, starts a physiological process in the couple's bodies that is not intended to be stopped. Once a couple has chosen to give themselves over to those physiological forces, thoughts of the consequences of their actions are not even a distant cloud on their mental horizon. The urge to satisfy their desire for pleasure takes over completely.
These chapters of Proverbs, however, warn of the devastating results of a lack of selfcontrol. Hidden behind the language of 5:7-14 are consequences which range from enslavement to lust, a seared conscience, blackmail, pregnancy, the financial drain of child-support, sexually transmitted diseases, public shame, bitterness, anger, and incapacitating guilt.
The powerful temptation and hidden consequences of sexual sin in dating are expressed perfectly by Solomon in 5:3-5.
For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of Sheol [i.e., the grave].
Paul warned the Thessalonians that Christ Himself takes vengeance on the man or woman who steals the purity of another.
[Let] no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things… (1 Thessalonians 4:6)
Although pleasing God is the most important reason to stay pure, the consequences also provide a significant motivation to abstain completely from any form of sexual immorality.
After divine accountability, human accountability, and considering the consequences, a fourth principle of maintaining dating purity is summarised in Proverbs 5:7-8. Again, sexual temptation is personified as woman of loose morals.
Now then, my sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house...
The principle is pretty clear. The way to stay pure sexually is not to go near the door of sexual temptation . Do a Joseph (Gen 39:7-12). When sexual temptation reaches out a hand to grab you, put on your athletics spikes and get out of there. Flee youthful lusts. Or far better , don't even allow yourself to become entangled in a situation where you and your date will have opportunity to play around.
To illustrate the importance of not going near the door of sexual temptation, or "making no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Rom 13:14), Solomon did a very interesting thing in Proverbs 7. He left us a movie script, a one act play if you will. The title of this play could be The Seduction . It is a model exemplifying how one can fall into, or walk open-eyed into sexual sin. It will be profitable to analyse Solomon's model of how someone can stray into sexual sin. From its negative example, we can learn how to stay pure. There are two characters in this play, The Seduction : a foolish young man and a looseliving woman (Solomon's personification of sexual temptation). We meet the foolish young man first.
And I saw among the naive, I discerned among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing through the street near her corner; and he takes the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the middle of the night and in the darkness. (Proverbs 7:7-9)
A young man passing through the streets at evening seems innocent enough, but the narrator informs us that there is an underlying motive. The Hebrew verb which Solomon used indicated this young man had an aim to his walking. It means he "stepped with a cadence." He was marching quickly, with a purposeful stride. His goal was to pass by the house of the woman who personified sexual temptation.
Notice how ingeniously Solomon portrayed the process of sexual seduction. The young man was not planning to stop at the adulteress's house. In verse 13 and following, one finds he had to be persuaded to enter. So, at this point in verse 8, he was going to walk by just to see what would happen.
Like many dating couples who struggle with sexual temptation, this young man was not planning to sin. But, he was not planning not to sin either. He didn't go straight to the adulteress's house and bang on her door. He was just going to walk by. What that really meant is he was making himself available for immoral activity if the opportunity arose. The nervous excitement in his step gave him away.
And notice when he "innocently" walked by: after dark, in the late evening (v. 9). He was going at a time when he knew no one would see him. His activity would be hidden. He would not be interrupted (notice how heavily that is emphasised in vv. 18-20). He was not directly planning to sin, but he was building a situation in which he would have every opportunity to do so.
Sound familiar? Christian dating couples rarely plan to commit sexual sin. But how often do they put themselves in situations where the opportunity to fool around is eminently available? That is what the young fool of Proverbs 7 was doing. He was not quite ready to sin. But he was knowingly putting himself in a situation where he might have opportunity to live out his fantasies. That way later he could say, "I never planned for this. I never expected it to go this far."
Dating couples often plan situations where temptation is virtually impossible to avoid. A dating or engaged couple comes to me for counselling. They say, "We are struggling to maintain purity in our relationship." I ask, "When do you most struggle with this?" "Oh, when we are watching romantic movies on the couch late at night when our parents aren't home."
I think we found the problem! That is a couple that isn't necessarily planning to sin, but they aren't exactly planning to avoid sin either.
Solomon warned of the danger of allowing your "heart" (your thinking and planning) to be controlled by sexual temptation.
Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths. (Proverbs 7:25)
Dating couples that want to be pure will plan time together in places where they will have accountability. If they want to be alone at times, that's fine. They should, however, plan to be alone in a public place - a park, a restaurant, or something like that. A distant bedroom with the door closed or his or her flat is not the place to spend time together. That is a recipe for disaster.
Unfortunately, like so many dating couples, the leading character of The Seduction
had succumbed. He had stopped planning to avoid sin. His downfall was virtually determined.
There is another very important point in this text regarding "not going near" the door of sexual temptation.
And behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot ... [emphasis added] (Proverbs 7:10)
This principle has to do especially with the ladies. It can apply to the guys as well, but probably its most obvious application is for the women. The girl in a dating relationship can contribute significantly to the on-going purity of that friendship by taking care in how she dresses. Verse ten literally says the temptress wears a "garment of adultery." How she dressed expressed her availability.
Every young woman wants to look attractive; there is nothing inherently wrong with that. But, our culture, through magazines and movies, bombards her with this thinking: the more of your body you show, the better you look.
Many Christian women fall for that line, having no idea how their clothing (or lack thereof) can affect men. What they as women think is "fashionable" or "sharp," is sending a message to men: "My body is available. See, just look at it."
I had a friend at varsity who said when she was in high school her brothers acted as her inspectors each morning. When she came down the stairs for school in a new outfit, sometimes they just shook their heads and pointed back up the stairs. They wouldn't let her out the door until she changed. As you can imagine, it used to frustrate her immensely. But as she looked back several years later, she valued their policing. She began to understand they were protecting her and her reputation. They understood, even if she didn't. Her clothes sent a message: my body is available, just look and see.
I knew her for three years at varsity. She was a very good looking girl who received a lot of attention from the guys. And you know what? I can't recall one time seeing her dressed in something questionable. Her brothers had taught her well. As young men, we all respected that about her. She was a godly young lady and was to be treated as such. The way she dressed made that clear.
Right now, you girls are asking, "Do I have to throw out my whole wardrobe? What is 'appropriate' dress? I don't want to lead men to think sinful thoughts!" Knowing how men think, the legalist in me would like to say "Ankles, wrists, and earlobes - everything else must be covered."
Seriously, here is the test I use for my wife. It doesn't even require a tape measure. I call it the "preposition test." If you can see up it, down it, or through it, then dump it. No matter how "stylish" the world says it is, get rid of it.
If you have to pull it down or super-glue your knees together to keep someone from seeing up it, if you have to pull it closed to keep someone from looking down it, if it has to be at least 40 degrees in the shade to wear it, or if it looks like it was put on with a paint brush, then I can guarantee it is out of line.
Some women's fashions look as if the seamstress ran out of material halfway through the pattern. Others are so tight that while they cover everything, they still reveal everything. Don't capitulate to the world when it comes to fashion.
The question is not "How much can I show?" The question is, "How far will I go to make sure I am not wearing what might be considered an advertisement for the availability of my body?" Save your body for your husband's eyes. That is the attitude toward dressing that God values and men respect. It will also help your date keep his mind on your friendship and not on averting his eyes every time you cross your legs or lean forward.
We're still working on our fourth principle of dating purity: don't go near the door of sexual temptation . To live this out, we must plan to avoid situations where we might have opportunity to play around. And we must, as highlighted through the negative example of the seductress, take care in how we dress.
We find another point of application in verses 10-13.
And behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart. She is boisterous and rebellious; her feet do not remain at home; she is now in the streets, now in the squares, and lurks by every corner. She seizes him and kisses him... (Proverbs 7:10-13a)
Did you notice how the actual enticement of the young fool began? With a kiss. Now, a kiss can be a relatively harmless thing. In many cultures it is a standard form of greeting. That's not what this text was speaking of. Verse 13 says she "seized" him. She grabbed him and kissed him. That's a passionate embrace.
We have already developed this under the companionship principle. If friendship is the biblical concept of dating, then where does kissing and passionate embracing come in? Does the girl hope the frog she is dating will turn into a prince if she kisses him? Does the guy have such an dull personality that he has to kiss her to wake his sleeping beauty?
Seriously, here is how the seductress of Proverbs 7 used her kiss: it was a promise of greater pleasure to come. It was a tool in her bag of alluring tricks.
Now, probably most Christian dating relationships are not typified by such coldblooded manipulation. However, Solomon's warning must be heeded. Kissing and embracing are a promise of greater pleasure to come. They set off physiological processes in one's body that are extremely difficult to suppress or stop.
If you are doing that to your date, you are betraying him or her. If your expressions of physical affection are making it difficult for your "friend" to restrain the progress of his or her natural physical desires, then you are acting just like the seductress of Proverbs 7. Regardless of your intentions, you are enticing another to sexual sin. You are promising what you can not (or at least should not) deliver until marriage.
God's standard for sexual purity is plainly evident: "This is the will of God, your sanctification; that is that you abstain from sexual immorality" (1 Thess 4:3). The pursuit of sexual pleasure outside of its God-ordained place in the marriage relationship typifies dating in the world.
However, understanding the priority of companionship or friendship in dating helps the Christian overcome that temptation. Proverbs 5-7 also gave us four principles to help maintain purity in dating:
1. Remember your divine accountability .
2. Establish human accountability to help you stay pure.
3. Remember the consequences of sexual sin.
4. Keep far from any opportunity for sexual sin by...
When I saw my wife for the first time I was dumbstruck. A classic example of infatuation at first sight. She didn't walk, she floated down the steps from her second floor office and passed me with a dazzling smile. I choked out a greeting of some sort and then collapsed weakly against a convenient wall after she had passed.
A few days later I told my best friend I had met the girl I was going to marry. Being the objective type, he asked me "What do you mean by that?"
I said, "I mean by that she is gorgeous, and if I find out her name, and if we get to know each other, and she loves the Lord, and we develop a godly friendship, and our parents and spiritual leaders approve..." Well, you get the point.
My friend was concerned that I might be swept away in a rush of infatuation. Rightly so, I was using that kind of language. My response to his question assured him that I had not completely lost my mind (only mostly). There is a little more to determining the person you want to marry than sparkling eyes and a quick smile.
Therefore, the last question I want to deal with in this booklet is this: how do I know if he or she is the right one for me to marry? Oh, the agony of that question. How it torments the young and in love. "How can I be sure???"
I think there has perhaps been more nonsense propagated about this than about anything else in dating. "You'll just know she is the right one," people say. But what does that mean? What if I know she's the right one, but she doesn't?
"Make sure she is the right one," people counsel. But how do you know that? Do you lift a tag at the back and see if your name is on it?
"If you really love him, then he's the one." But what is the difference between kind-oflove and real love? Does a flaming heart descend from heaven and touch you both on the forehead? Do you glow in the dark? Do you hear violin music whenever you are together?
The mystical ways people have of determining whom to marry is one of the things that adds "insanity" to the dating process. In their place, let me give you six basic questions to ask yourself as you determine whether the person you are spending time with is "the right one."
What do your parents say? Don't pull a Samson and ignore your parents' counsel. They are your God-given protectors. Believers or not, their perspective on your relationship is of critical importance. Parents usually have a way of bringing a young couple back to earth with questions about finances and other items of a practical nature.
What do your spiritual leader s think of your relationship? Hebrews 13:17 says that the spiritual leaders of the church are there to "keep watch over your souls." Their counsel needs to be sought and heeded. As spiritual leaders, they should be wise and insightful. Therefore, they may discern spiritual issues you are overlooking. They may have doubts about the spiritual condition of your prospective partner which you are refusing to acknowledge. It is your responsibility to make sure they have an opportunity to shepherd you in regard to choosing a lifetime partner.
What do your spiritually-minded friends think? When I pose that question, I sadly think of a friend of mine. He was seeing a girl who was the personification of the contentious woman of Proverbs (21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15-16). She was the queen of contention. In public she was polite and refined. In private she was bitter and bossy.
When they started to talk about marriage, my friend's roommates (all Christians) sat down with him and encouraged him from the scripture not to marry this girl. My friend chose to ignore their biblical counsel. Three years later he had to drop out of seminary because his marriage was such a disaster.
As a couple, they had fooled their parents and spiritual leaders because they saw the two of them only in public. But my friend's roommates saw them together every day. They knew what the relationship was really like.
Although spiritually-minded friends don't have the same implicit authority as parents and spiritual leaders, they might know your relationship better. Therefore, their honest, biblical appraisal of your relationship is valuable. However, beware of friends who just tell you what you want to hear or do not have biblical standards. They might do more harm than good if you seek their counsel.
When I was dating my wife, it was critical to me that my parents, spiritual leaders, and spiritually-minded friends give me an honest evaluation of our relationship. I specifically sought their counsel. I knew what I wanted to do, but I also knew that my eyes might be totally blinded by emotional intoxication. To put it bluntly, I didn't trust myself to think straight. Had any of those three groups of people had a problem with our relationship, I would have put the brakes on immediately.
Are the basic biblical commands regarding ma rriage in Ephesians 5 working relatively smoothly in your relationship? As the man, am I leading the relationship and loving her sacrificially (Eph 5:23, 25)? As the woman, am I submitting to him and respecting him (Eph 5:22, 33)? Can I see myself doing that for a lifetime?
Dating is not marriage. A girl is not required to "submit" to her boyfriend's authority. However, if leadership and submission are not being developed as the relationship proceeds, then a couple should be very wary of getting married. Sacrificial love and submission are the biblical commands regarding marriage. If they are not functioning relatively smoothly, then marriage is going to be a very rough haul indeed. That is exactly what happened to my friend (mentioned above) who stubbornly chose to pursue marriage with a woman who refused to submit to him.
Don't marry someone for what you hope they will be. Get married on the basis of who the person currently is and what your relationship currently is. Marrying hopes is a dangerous proposition.
Is the other person interested in marrying you? That's kind of important, isn't it! I can hear you moaning right now, "But how do I know if they are interested in marrying me?" It's more simple than you might expect. Discuss it with them.
"Oh," says the guy, "but how can I talk to her about that ?"
You're friends, aren't you? If you can't talk openly about serious matters concerning your relationship, then maybe you don't have the kind of friendship you thought you did.
As we said earlier in this booklet, friendship takes all the game-playing out of dating. Just be honest. "I really enjoy our relationship. If things continue to go this way, I would like to think about the possibility of marriage some day. What do you think?" She might say, "I'm not sure I'm ready to think about that yet." Then you say, "Okay, I won't pressure you about it. Let's just continue to enjoy being friends."
If, however, she says "I'm interested, keep talking," then go have pizza and talk about marriage and see if your ideas are similar.
By not "popping the question" out of the blue, you are considering the other person more important than yourself. Patience, honesty, and openness have always been the hallmarks of a godly friendship. I have no idea why that is set aside when we contemplate marriage.
Sometimes I hear girls say, "I never expected him to ask me to marry him." When I hear that, I think: "And you said yes ? You are going to order your whole future based on an emotional whim? Don't you think you should talk about it with him before you give your word to marry him?"
When considering whether you want to marry someone you are dating, it is important to know if they want to marry you. Be open. Talk about it. If your friendship can't bear that, then it is not strong enough to be the basis of a marriage anyway.
Do you want to marry this person? If all the other questions have been asked and answered satisfactorily, and you want to marry the person, then my counsel is go for it . "But what if it's not God's will?" you wail.
I suspect that if all the other factors we have just discussed are lined up and you want to marry the person, then God has no problem if you marry him or her. Don't get caught up in all kinds of mystical and emotional methods of decision-making when it comes to marriage.
The six questions we have listed will make deciding whom to marry a lot more objective. It forces you to see your relationship with the person as it really is. That kind of straight, biblical thinking is always the basis of good decision-making. It should be when you consider marriage, too.
As with everything in life, the Bible must guide our practice of dating. Starting with Genesis 2:18 will remove the worldly insanity that has infected many Christians regarding how to seek a husband or wife. Develop selfless friendships with Christian singles of the opposite sex. Find a companion too good to lose. Once your friendship has progressed, ask and answer the questions we just listed. Then enjoy his or her companionship for a lifetime.
In the meantime, I'm sure things will go better for you than they did on my first date. How could it get worse than that? Well, actually it can get worse. Some day I'll tell you about my second date. But until then, don't worry. Dating can be biblical. It can be pure. It can be enjoyable. If you work hard at applying the word of God, it will be all those things and more.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE You may distribute this booklet in electronic format or printed format on the following conditions: (1) It must be distributed free of charge, (2) No alterations are to be made to the text, (3) All copies must contain the following: Copyright © Joel James, 1999, 2001. Revised Edition. Used by permission.
by Joel James
Copyright © Joel James, 2001. Used by permission.
You know the feeling. You're running late, so you stop at a fast-food establishment for lunch. At least half the phrase "fast-food" is a lie, but convenience is king. You enter the glass-enclosed monument to cholesterol and sodium chloride, and then it happens. Decision overload.
"Burger, chicken, fish, or salad?" asks the clerk. "I would like a burger." "The deluxe edition or the stripped version? One patty or two? Cheese or no cheese? Tomato sauce or mustard? Pickles or onions?" "I would also like some chips." "Small, medium, large, or jumbo? With or without salt? Microwaved, fried, or still slightly frozen?" Your mind is starting to feel like a computer hard drive just before it freezes up.
"Something to drink?" asks the attendant. From a list of twenty more options, you select the world's most popular carbonated stomach solvent. "Regular, classic, diet, or lite?" asks the smiling clerk. By now the pain in your stomach has changed from hunger to decision-overload acid burn. But you're still not done.
"Serviettes? Tomato sauce packets? Straw or no straw? To eat here or take away?" Quickly your tray arrives. Should you sit inside and get mauled by the 17-member, five-year-old birthday party or sit outside and enjoy the diesel fumes? Decision overload.
Some decisions are relatively unimportant: pickles or onions. Others, like which job to take, where to stay, where to attend church, and whom to marry are life-changing.
As a Christian, you want to honour God with your decisions. You would rather not make a scrambled egg of your life by making bad decisions. But exactly how should you go about making good, God-honouring decisions? Should you just do whatever feels right, study the stars, or read tarot cards?
Apparently some think a Christian's decisions are found in the cards. A woman in one of the large denominations of our country recently published a set of cards which are supposed to help you find God's will for your life. She did so with her minister's full support. Is that how Christians should make decisions?
Surely there is a biblical method for deciding whom to marry or what job to take. Making a bad choice about what to wear—brown pants and pink socks—will make you look like a nerd. Making a bad decision about a marriage partner will have rather worse consequences. Surely God has said something about decision-making. In fact, He has.
Unfortunately, many Christians have never taken the time to study what God has said. I once heard of someone who determined he needed to study what the Bible says about decisionmaking because of the following situation.1 He was at a Christian varsity, and, as is the habit of many twenty year-old men, he was thinking about marriage. Growing desperate, one day he prayed, "God, let the next woman I see be the one I am supposed to marry. Let that be the sign that she's the one."
At that moment, the elderly, rather large, near-sighted, and already married secretary of the school administrator walked around the corner. "Okay God, let the second woman I see be the one." Maybe we do need some more study on the issue of decision-making!
There are two basic (wrong) approaches to decision-making among Christians. One is a purely pragmatic approach, the other, a mystical approach.
The purely pragmatic approach to decision-making is a rational approach. Pros and cons are weighed. The pragmatist reviews all the practical factors and consequences before he makes his decision. There is nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. However, the one factor he gives little or no consideration is what God says in the Bible.
The pragmatist claims to be a Christian. He will tell you that the Bible is important to him. But he makes decisions like a pagan. He is a practical atheist. God exists on Sundays and in his doctrinal statement, but might as well not exist on Monday through Saturday or when he considers his bank statement.
Before buying a house, the purely pragmatic person will research interest rates, prices, and styles. He is practical. However, he won't bother to research what the Bible says about debt. He is a practical atheist; he makes decisions as if God did not exist. When deciding if the wife should work outside the home after they have children, the pragmatic couple will weigh income and career aspirations against time with the kids. They are practical. However, they won't go to the many Bible verses on that subject and discover what God has said about ordering a family. They are practical atheists.
It's not that purely pragmatic Christians are against the Bible. Out of ignorance, they believe it has little to say about the practical decisions of life. They believe the Bible is too old-fashioned to be of any use in today's world. Or it might be that they are afraid God will reorder their life in a way they don't like if they really read and apply the Bible.
Are you a purely pragmatic decision-maker? They often make sharp businessmen, orderly housewives, or efficient elders. However, their wisdom is merely a worldly wisdom. They make decisions based on "what works" in their experience, not on what God has said. Because of their thoughtfulness and caution they often seem to be good decision-makers. However, until they actively search out what God says in the Bible about their decision, they are not biblical decisionmakers.
We usually think of a mystic as a starry-eyed eccentric who wears long robes and meditates under a pyramid. Actually, a mystic is anyone who believes he has special, personal knowledge from God that others cannot know or evaluate.
The terminology of your decision-making probably reveals if you have a mystical bent or not. "I just want to know God's will so I can make the right decision. I just want to do what
God wants ." Many Christians speak of decision-making in exactly that way. They assume their decisions are to be based on a special, personal, unverifiable, mystical knowledge from God. "I'm praying to know if it is God's will for me to take this new job…to marry Bill…to go to varsity."
The purely pragmatic approach to decision-making has little concern for what God wants and great concern for practical matters. The mystical approach is just the opposite. It focuses on what God (presumably) wants and gives little attention to practical details. The key to the mystical approach to decision-making is acquiring secret knowledge regarding God's plan for the future. "If I can just know God's will, then I can make the right decision." The following five techniques are some of the many ways that Christians try to obtain that secret, unverifiable knowledge.
When facing a decision, the person using this method dips into his Bible at random until he finds a verse or phrase which spurs him to make one choice or another. For example, you are considering emigrating, and one morning you read Genesis 12:1, "Go forth from your land." There it is, God's will. "I used the Bible to make my decision," you say. One wonders, however, if this is exactly what God had in mind when He said,
Present yourself to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth [emphasis added]. (2 Timothy 2:15)
Would the God who demands accurate handling of His word sanction a rape of the context of Genesis 11-12 which turns Abram into you? I doubt it.
"But God led me to this verse," you argue. Are you sure? Genesis 12:1 tells you a lot about what God wanted a Mesopotamian named Abram to do in 2000 BC. But on what basis do you assume it tells you what to do? No one else would read that verse in its context and conclude God was speaking to someone in South Africa today. The person lucky-dipping is claiming to have a secret interpretation from God that no one else can see or evaluate. That's mystical thinking.
To be honest, any decision can be proclaimed as God's will if this method of arbitrarily selecting small phrases out of the Bible is used. For example, Joshua 1:15 says, "You shall return to your land." Which verse is the emigrant to heed?
In the same way, a younger brother who is angry at his sister for telling their parents he spray painted her cat purple could justify his revenge against his sister with, "Arise, kill!"—God's words to Peter in Acts 10. The modern sluggard could defend his refusal to get a job with Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing." The worrier could defend her sin with Philippians 4:6, "Be anxious."
Ridiculous? Of course it is. But once you start ignoring the context of God's statements and arbitrarily snip out only the words you want to hear, then you really can make the Bible say anything.
Some Christians make significant life decisions by consulting people in the church who they believe are prophets. Others claim to be prophets themselves by saying, "God told me to do this." That is a claim to direct, verbal revelation from God. Consulting a prophet—yourself or others— would be an excellent option for discovering God's will if there were any genuine prophets around today. However, there aren't.
In the Bible, when a prophet spoke in the name of God, you could be sure that what he said was God's word and God's will. We know that because God gave His definition of a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:18:
I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth.
Since a true prophet spoke God's very words, you knew what he said was God's will. However, because a prophet spoke God's very words when he prophesied, he was also never wrong when he prophesied.
You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deut 18:21-22)
According to God, a prophet who claimed to receive revelation but occasionally "missed one" was a fraud and a liar, not to be feared. Understanding that, we must note that even the leaders of today's prophecy movement admit that they are often wrong. Ed Traut, a well-known South African "prophet," has said, "Anyone who flows as a New Testament prophet or in the gift of prophecy and believes he never misses it is in error."3
How different from Paul's attitude when God told him in Acts 27 that all his companions would be saved from an impending shipwreck: "Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told" (Acts 27:25). Paul spoke with a certainty today's "prophets" admit they can't. Why? Paul was a true prophet; his prophecies never went wrong. Today's prophets aren't; theirs often do. Here's God's view of that kind of "prophecy."
An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely…and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it? (Jeremiah 5:30-31)
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:16)
Interestingly, Traut admits consulting today's prophets is a rotten way to make decisions.
One should never be led by just one prophecy … In decision making each one of us is answerable before the Lord for what we have decided. We can never use prophecy or a prophet as an excuse for making decisions.
That sounds like the words of a man who has seen too many people make crazy decisions based on the words of a "prophet," only to have that supposed prophecy fall on its face along with their decision.
Since God said not to listen to a prophet who "misses it," making decisions by seeking God's will through one of today's so-called prophets is not an option.
This method assumes that God communicates His will through a sense of inner calm. "I have peace about this decision, therefore, it must be God's will. It must be the right decision." The problem, of course, is that inner peace may have nothing to do with a decision being a good decision. I have known people who were completely at peace with committing adultery. Does that mean it was a good decision for them to do so?
The wife of a seminary student once told me this amusing story. Just after she and her husband married, she decided to surprise him by rearranging his theological books. He had them arranged by topic and books of the Bible. She thought the bookshelves would look much more attractive if the volumes were arranged by colour and size (i.e., all the blue ones on one shelf, descending in size from left to right, then all the green ones, etc.). She worked all day moving the books. Her arrangement was so much more attractive than his. By late afternoon, her task was done, and with a glowing sense of accomplishment she waited for her husband's arrival. She had a lot of peace about her decision to rearrange the books…until her husband arrived home and went into cardiac arrest when he saw the bookcases.
Having peace about a decision might say nothing about whether it is a good decision or a bad one, a godly decision or an ungodly one. In fact, as popular as the seeking-peace method is, the Bible never speaks of peace as a ground for decision-making.
If you use this method you probably say things such as "God opened all the doors for me to get this new job. It must be His will." What you mean is, "If circumstances make it easy for me to do something, then the decision to do that thing must be the right decision." That's interpreting circumstances.
As with all the mystical methods of decision-making, "finding God's will" by interpreting circumstances is completely arbitrary. It is not the situation itself, but your state of mind which determines how you "interpret" the situation. The road-weary, prospective missionary says, "We are having so much trouble raising our support. It must not be God's will for us to go." Really? Maybe God is just testing your perseverance.
If Paul had decided whether to be a missionary or not based on how easily things went, he would have quit as soon as he started. In Philippi he was beaten and put in stocks. In Thessalonica there were riots. Those riots followed him to Berea. In Athens he was mocked. It is completely arbitrary to decide that something is not "God's will" because it is difficult.
Does an "open door" indicate God's will? Biblical counsellor Jay Adams has wisely warned, "Open doors can lead to elevator shafts." The fact that something is easy to do doesn't mean it is good or wise to do. David's adultery with Bathsheba "just worked out." The circumstances came together in such a way to make his decision easy. Surely it was God's will! Welcome to the spiritual elevator shaft, King David. Water may follow the path of least resistance, but imitating it can result in disastrous decision-making.
God does control circumstances. But it is unfounded speculation to decide that certain circumstances mean God wants us to make one decision rather than another.
This method for finding God's will looks for special events or coincidences, assuming God secretly shows one what to do through that event.
The problem with sign-seeking is that it also is completely arbitrary. For example, someone might say, "I was crossing the street thinking about what to do with my life when a bus nearly ran me over. When I looked at the bus, there was a picture of a giant globe on its back panel. It must be a sign from God that He wants me to be a missionary! God wants me to "go into all the world."
A missionary? Why not a map-maker? Or, since the bus advertisement was for a newspaper, why not a journalist? Or maybe you weren't supposed to focus on the globe at all. It was the bus God wanted you to notice. God wants you to be a bus driver. Or perhaps a traffic officer to hand out tickets to reckless bus drivers. Who's to decide?
The interpretation of signs is completely arbitrary. You will interpret them in the way you want to. Moreover, there is no way of determining if an event really was a sign from God or not. It's allarbitrary. To be honest, reading signs borders on divination. It's not quite like sacrificing a goat as the Canaanites did, and examining its liver to decide what to do, but it's not so very different either.
I should say one more thing about sign reading. One of the most popular ways of seeking a sign is "putting out a fleece." This terminology comes from Gideon's actions in Judges 6. Gideon asked God to do a miracle—dry grass, wet fleece; wet grass, dry fleece—to prove that He would keep His word to protect Israel. "Putting out a fleece" is a demand that God do a miracle (i.e., intervene in some special way) to indicate which decision to make. Unfortunately, those who "put out fleeces" haven't read the Judges 6 account very closely. As is often the case with behaviour in the narrative sections of the Old Testament, Judges 6 is a report of what Gideon did. It's not necessarily included in scripture for the purpose of imitation .
In fact, Gideon's fleece routine was motivated by doubt . Gideon didn't believe God would keep His word until God did a miracle to prove it. Gideon's fleece-laying is no more to be imitated as a decision-making method than Saul's seeking out of the witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28:7ff.).
The truth is, God frowns on demanding miracles from Him. Two times, after being asked for a sign, Jesus said, "An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign" (Matt 12:38-39; 16:1-4). In Deuteronomy 6:16, God said, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test." That command was in reference to Israel's demand in Exodus 17:1-7 that God do a miracle (water from a rock) to prove He was leading them.
If you are like many Christians, you probably go about decision-making in one of two ways. The first is the purely pragmatic approach. You carefully weigh the options and try to make a wise decision based on your experience of what works and what doesn’t. However, since you haven't actively considered what God says in the Bible about your decision, you are not a biblical decisionmaker.
Or you might use one of a variety of mystical approaches. You believe you have a special pipeline of secret knowledge from God, a special way of discovering God's will in advance. However, all such methods involve completely arbitrary interpretations of an event or feeling. Ten people might come up with ten different interpretations of your "sign"—remember the globe on the back of the bus? We got a missionary, map-maker, journalist, bus driver, and traffic officer out of that. There has to be a better way to make decisions.
Are the purely pragmatic or the mystical approaches to decision-making biblical decision-making? It's obvious that being analytical, but ignoring what God said in the Bible about a decision, is not biblical decision-making. God's word is a "lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path" (Ps 119:105). The pragmatist needs to turn on the light and stop stumbling around in the dark of his opinions and experience. But what about the mystical approaches to decision-making? They are not biblical decisionmaking either. It's hard for many Christians to accept this. They have been indoctrinated from their youth that the spiritual way to make decisions is to "find" God's will. But did they get that practice from the Bible?
The answer is no. There is no verse in the Bible that directs New Testament believers to make decisions based on whether they have inner peace or not. There is no text that gives us God's method for interpreting circumstances so we can be sure of finding His will rather than our own. There is no verse that commands us to seek a miracle from God so we'll know what job to take or investment to make.
The mystical methods of decision-making—lucky-dipping, fallible prophets, peace-seeking, interpreting circumstances, and sign reading—are all methods made up by men. They seem spiritual, but God never said in His word that He would direct us in those ways. We have decided He should, but those ideas about decision-making are ours , not His.
Can I take it a step further? All the mystical methods of decision-making have one goal: finding God's will. However, the concept of finding God's will— as we usually use it— is not biblical. Need oxygen? Can't believe I said that? It's true. In the next section you'll see just what I mean.
All the mystical approaches we just outlined assume that finding God's will is the key to decisionmaking. But finding God's will, as we usually use that phrase, is not biblical. It is not God's will that we find His will. Let me explain.
God's will comes in two different forms. The first can be called God's revealed will , the second, God's unrevealed will.5 Let's first consider God's revealed will. The key to this category of God's will is that it is knowable. God has made it known to His creatures in His word, the Bible.
The first sub-category of God's revealed will is His commands .
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. (Matt 7:21)
In everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you.
(1 Thess 5:18)
This is the will of God, your sanctification, that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality. (1 Thess 4:3)
A second sub-category of God's revealed will is His broad intentions for all believers.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)
This verse is not a command, none-the-less, it reveals God's broad intention for all believers: nonconformed, transformed, renewed living.
A third sub-category of God's revealed will is His plan for human history . For example, it was God's plan to rescue certain sinners from the condemnation of their evil.
5 Theologians speak of God's prescriptive and decretive will. His prescriptive will is what He has prescribed or commanded—do not steal. His decretive will is what He has determined or decreed will happen—the events of daily life. Those are accurate and useful theological terms. However, when discussing decision-making, I find it more useful to use different categories: God's revealed and unrevealed will.
[Christ] gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. (Gal 1:4)
God's plan for human history includes not only past events, such as the death and resurrection of Christ, it also includes future events, such as the return and reign of Christ.
He made known to us the mystery of His will…that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. (Eph 1:9-10)
Paul said that God has "made known" or revealed His plan for the universe. That plan is to sum up or culminate all the events of human history in the person of Jesus Christ. That includes Christ's return, judgement of evildoers, Millennial reign, and so on.
God's commands, broad intentions, and His biblically revealed plan for human history are the three sub-categories of His revealed will . However, when Christians talk about "finding God's will," they usually don't have those things in mind. Do you? No. You are thinking about decisions not specifically mentioned in the Bible: "Should I marry Bill or Ted…pursue a career in accounting or computers…wear a red tie or blue tie?"
In those situations, what you want to know is the second major category of God's will, His unrevealed
will . Proverbs acknowledges that God has an unrevealed will or plan for every individual. "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps" (Prov 16:9). "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand" (19:21). "Man's steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way?" (20:24).
When you are seeking God's will for a decision, it is usually God's unrevealed will that you are after. You believe Christ will return at the end of the age (His revealed will). But what you really want to know before you make a decision is which investment will give you the best return at the end of the year (His unrevealed will).
We want to know how God is going to direct our steps tomorrow or next week. Those things weren't important enough for God to include them in the Bible, but they are important to us! Therefore, we seek signs, lay out fleeces, listen for inner voices, seek peace, wait for God's leading, or use the lucky-dip method. Here's the question: does the Bible ever tell us to find God's unrevealed will?
In the previous chapter we concluded that techniques like lucky-dipping are arbitrary and unacceptable. Here we are asking if the whole idea of finding God's unrevealed will is off target.
Are we told in the Bible to make decisions based on finding out beforehand what God has ordained for tomorrow?6 Are we told to "find" God's unrevealed will before we make a decision?
As popular as the practice of trying to find God's unrevealed will is, that concept isn't found in the New Testament. That might come as a surprise, but it's true. The New Testament never tells believers to find God's unrevealed will before they make a decision. That is clear as one studies the New Testament's use of the phrase "God's will."
We have already seen that "God's will" is used in the New Testament of the three categories of His revealed will: 1) God's commands, 2) His broad intentions for His creatures, 3) and His biblically revealed plan for human history.
The phrase "God's will" was also used occasionally of God's unrevealed will —future, daily events in the lives of individuals. However, when it was used in that way, the concept of finding God's will was notably absent. The New Testament authors assumed that God does have a plan or a will. But they also assumed that His will for future, daily events in the lives of individuals is unknowable .
For example, Paul believed that God had a plan for his life, and hoped that it included a ministry trip to Rome.
Strive together with me in your prayers to God for me…so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God. (Rom 15:30-32)
Paul, however, considered God's will for a future trip to Rome to be unknowable.
…I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you [emphasis added]. (Rom 1:9-10)
Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach the gospel. He knew, however, that his going depended on whether it was God's will or not. "Perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you." Notice what Paul did not say. He didn't say he was trying to find God's will about going to Rome. He wasn't seeking peace, or laying out fleeces.
6 OT kings sometimes made decisions by consulting a prophet of God. But when they consulted, say, Isaiah, they were seeking God's word from a 100%-accurate, genuine prophet. We don't have that option. Today's prophets are not 100% accurate. God forbids seeking His will from such charlatans (Deut 18:18-22).
"I want to come, and if it's God's will, I'll make it. If it isn't, I won't." For Paul, a visit to Rome was in the unknowable future. Paul didn't know if God had ordained it or not. He made his plans and let God guide his steps (Prov 16:9).
Paul spoke the same way every time he used the phrase "God's will" in connection with his future plans.
When they [truth-seeking Jews in Ephesus] asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills ,” he set sail from Ephesus [emphasis added]. (Acts 18:20-21)
Now some have become arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills [emphasis added]. (1 Cor 4:18-19)
Paul considered God's future, daily plans for his life to be unknowable. Paul did, in fact, return to Ephesus and go to Corinth. However, he didn't speak of those decisions in terms of finding God's unrevealed will before it happened.7
The New Testament book of James also spoke of God's will and an individual's plans or decisions.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “ If the Lord wills , we will live and also do this or that” [emphasis added]. ( James 4:13-15)
If ever there were a text that should speak of finding God's will before making a decision, this is it. We might want to rewrite James' words this way: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city'…You should first seek peace, put out some fleeces, wait for God's leading, or look for a sign to tell you if it's God's will."
Is that what James said? No. He said, "You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow … If the Lord wills , we will live and also do this or that [emphasis added]." The New Testament authors never considered what most Christians today consider standard practice. While they commended seeking God's revealed will—searching the scriptures—they never mentioned "finding" God's unrevealed will. What does that tell us? It is not God's will that we find His unrevealed will.
7 As a true prophet, Paul was occasionally given revelation about future, daily events (i.e., the shipwreck in Acts 27, etc.). However, these verses show that Paul did not consider seeking divine revelation to be the normal means of decision-making for him or others.
The implications of this are shocking. The New Testament considers God's plans for future, daily events in a believer's life to be unknowable . Christians assume "finding God's will" by seeking inner peace, looking for signs, interpreting circumstances, or fallible prophecy is biblical. It isn't.
In the closing chapters of Deuteronomy, God revealed some of His will or plan for the broad scope of Israel's history. If Israel obeyed His law, they would flourish in their new land. If they disobeyed His law, they would languish, and be expelled from their land. In fact, God declared in Deuteronomy 30:1 that national disgrace and exile wasn't just a potential development, it would happen. God had revealed His will or plan for the future of Israel.
The curious Israelite was sure to ask when and how Israel would be humbled. However, God wasn't giving out details. In fact, God had Moses tell His people not to attempt to discover the detail of future events. Instead, they were to focus on what He had commanded them to do in His law. In a context of future events, Moses said,
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law. (Deut 29:29)
When Christians today try to find God's will before making a decision, what are they looking for? The secret things. The things that God says belong to Him alone. We speak as if God's will for future events in our daily lives is lost. It isn't. It's hidden . And God told us not to look for it.
A study of the phrase "God's will" in the New Testament is revealing. It was never used—as it is so often today—of someone trying to discover God's design for tomorrow before making a decision. The Apostles considered God's plans for tomorrow to be unknowable: " If God wills…" Not surprisingly, then, God gave no special technique in the New Testament for discovering His plans in advance. We, not God, have made up and promoted such decision-making techniques. The whole idea of trying to discover God's unrevealed will for future, daily events in one's life is illegitimate, man-made, mystical thinking.
If finding God's unrevealed will before one makes a decision is not biblical, why has it become so popular? There are several reasons. The first is that Christians genuinely want to please God, but are misguided regarding how to do it.
Trying to find God's unrevealed will is like robbing a bank so you can please Him by putting more money in the offering at church. We aren't to please God by doing what He said not to do. God said, "The secret things are the Lord's." God never intended that we torment ourselves trying to guess His unrevealed plan for the future. It is right to want to please God; "finding" His unrevealed will isn't the way to do it.
Here's a second reason "finding" God's will is so popular. Let me put it in the form of a question: when someone wants to know God's will before making a decision, is he trying to walk by faith or by sight? Wanting to know God's plan for tomorrow is walking by sight , isn't it. That's the second reason finding God's will is so popular, even though the Bible doesn't teach it. We want God to spell it out for us: take this job, marry this person, go to this school, buy this car. We'll trust God to take care of us tomorrow—as long as we know His plan in advance.
Fearful of taking responsibility for a significant decision, we childishly want God to lead us by making the decision for us. There was a time when God led Israel in that way, with spectacular signs. It was during the Exodus. He led the nation with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Did God do that because of the maturity or immaturity of Israel's faith?
Expecting God to make decisions for you by giving you a sign is demanding to walk by sight, not faith. It is spiritual immaturity, not maturity.
A third reason finding God's will is such a popular method of decision-making is this: we want success guaranteed. For example, what does this question mean? "Do you think it is God's will for you to marry Bill?" It really means, "Do you think your proposed marriage will last and be enjoyable [i.e., successful]?"
We are eager to find God's unrevealed will because we believe it is a way of guaranteeing the success of our decisions. We feel better if we can convince ourselves that our choice is a divine choice. Often it's a subtle attempt to manipulate God. "If you gave me peace about moving to Durban to start a business, then, God, You better come through!"
If you have used mystical methods to find the unfindable—God's unrevealed will—check your motives. Was it a misguided desire to please God? Was there a deeper problem—a desire to walk by sight rather than faith or a desire to guarantee success?
If God's unrevealed will for daily, future events in our lives is unknowable, then just how are we to go about making decisions? Proverbs puts it most simply.
The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Proverbs is the decision-making book of the Bible. It shows us the normal way God's people are to make decisions.8 Its not-so-common, common sense is the key to biblical decision-making.
Solomon understood decision-making (even if he personally made some bad ones). He knew that the key to making good decisions wasn't seeking perpetual signs or revelation from God. Do you remember what Solomon requested in 1 Kings 3 when God told him to ask for anything he wanted? The young king didn't ask for perpetual signs so he could find God's will for every executive and judicial decision. Solomon asked for wisdom . Even as a young man, Solomon was wise enough to know that God intends His people to make decisions based on thoughtful wisdom, not perpetual revelation.
In Proverbs, Solomon shared that wisdom with us. You will seek in vain for mystical, find-God'shidden-will kind of advice in Proverbs. Instead, it encourages thoughtful, cautious decisionmaking.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. (Prov 21:5)
While he encouraged planning, Solomon also wanted us to realise that God often writes over our plans in red ink.
Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the Lord will stand.
And he tells us that there is no way of knowing beforehand what the Lord has ordained for our daily lives (i.e., His unrevealed will).
Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, how then can man understand his way? (Prov 20:24)
8 Exceptional ways in ages past included 100%-accurate, biblical prophecy and the Urim and Thummim of the high priest. Hebrews, however, makes it clear that God has narrowed the funnel of revelation: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Heb 1:1-2a).
The key to decision-making isn't finding the unfindable—God's unrevealed plan for your life. What does Proverbs teach instead? Let me show you five proverbial principles for biblical decision-making. They are practical, but avoid the error of being purely pragmatic. They depend on God without crossing into arbitrary mysticism. They are God's way for making God-honouring decisions.
Difficult decisions begin with prayer. We must ask for God's wisdom right from the start. Solomon spoke of it in terms of committing your works to God.
Commit your works to the Lord, and your plans will be established.
If you commit your works to the Lord, as a rule, God will establish your plans. He might, and often will, direct your steps to a different path than you planned (16:9), but the establishment of a decision always starts with humbly committing it to God. We do that through prayer .
Here's the tricky question: what should we pray for? Don't pray for a supernatural sign—internal peace or a dramatic coincidence. Pray for wisdom. Hoping God will make the decision for you by means of a sign is just trying to avoid the hard work and responsibility of decision-making. Therefore, don't pray for a sign. Pray for wisdom to make a wise decision, and then apply what you asked for.
God's working is always primary in any situation. "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord" (Prov 21:31). Therefore, start the decision-making process by acknowledging He is in control and asking for His wisdom. Humble prayer for wisdom (not a sign!) is the first principle of biblical decision-making.
Proverbs loves careful, thought-through, informed decision-making. Without information, you can't know or weigh the options open to you.
Every prudent man acts with knowledge.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.
The naive believes everything, but the sensible man considers his steps.
This is the practical, no-nonsense side of biblical decision-making. Solomon warned the shepherd-businessman of his day, "Know well the condition of your flocks, and pay attention to your herds" (Prov 27:23). Good decisions are based on knowledge. Decisions are like big American cars: they need lots of fuel. To be a biblical decision-maker, you're going to have to feed a lot of information-fuel into your decision before you start it up and drive it onto the highway of life.
One of the ways you can gather information is by seeking counsel. "Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counsellors they succeed" (Prov 15:22). Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." We all have limited information or blind spots. Therefore, it's helpful to have someone else contribute some thought to our decision as well.
Seeking counsel also helps when evaluating the information after we get it. We may have forgotten or are unfamiliar with Bible verses that apply to our situation. We may have become stuck in a rut, blindly pursuing one idea without considering other legitimate options. You know what that's like. You've tried for hours to get your new computer to work. Finally, in defeat, you call a friend and pour out your insurmountable problem. He says, "Did you try plugging it in?"
Seeking counsel is also important because sometimes your perception of a situation can become distorted. You've seen the girl who wants to marry a guy she thinks is Prince Charming but everyone else thinks is Attila the Hun. Seeking counsel from her parents and spiritual leaders would save her from her wilful blindness. It can save you as well. Seeking counsel is a good tool to help you gather information and evaluate that information. But make sure you go to people who have proven themselves to be stable, prudent, biblical decisionmakers. Avoid going only to people you know already support what you want to do. That's lying to yourself. If you take someone's counsel, take responsibility at the same time. Don't point fingers if things don't work out.
Seeking counsel is part of Proverbs' plan for making good decisions. It can help you avoid overlooking the obvious, getting stuck in one-track thinking, or forgetting a biblical principle.
So, up to this point we have prayed in genuine dependence on God. We have also gathered information so that we can develop and evaluate options. What's next?
We mentioned the purely pragmatic approach to decision-making in the opening section of this booklet, but haven't given it much attention since. Here is where we start to correct that error.
The pragmatist approaches decisions analytically. However, his puddle of "wisdom" is only as big as his experience. He ignores the ocean of true, authoritative wisdom in God's word.
The mystic is no less guilty. Believing he has a special pipeline of knowledge from God, he often ignores what God has said in His word. The mystic would rather interpret his feelings or circumstances than interpret and apply God's word. He too sits in a puddle of human speculation, ignoring the ocean of God's truth.
Both of them need to become biblical decision-makers. When faced with a decision, they must ask the question: does God, in the Bible, speak directly to my decision? Before making a decision, we must first check the Bible—God's revealed will —to see if God has told us what to do. Why do I say that?
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law [emphasis added]. (Deut 29:29)
Rather than spend time guessing at what is hidden, God wants us to spend time searching His word to discover and apply "the things revealed."
There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the Lord. (Prov 21:30)
No matter how practical a decision seems, it is never right to make a decision contrary to what God has commanded. No matter how convinced we are God is leading us, it is never right to do what God said not to do. Therefore, we must always check the scripture to see if God has revealed His will for the decision we are facing.
For example, a young man might debate whether he should marry a girl who is kind, exciting, attractive, intelligent, but not a Christian. However, 1 Corinthians 7:39 lays down a divine principle regarding marriage: a Christian is to marry "in the Lord" (i.e., another Christian).
That young man might seek signs or weigh his alternatives, but it's all a waste of time. God has revealed His will: believers are to marry in the Lord. God has spoken directly to that situation, and there is no wisdom or counsel against the Lord.
In the same way, God doesn't say in the Bible that you should work for business X or business Y. However, if one boss expects you to cook the books so he can cheat on his taxes, you know God's will for that situation. God revealed it already in the scripture. Romans 13:6 says, "Pay your taxes." Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matt 22:21). There is no wisdom or counsel against the Lord, therefore, you know you can't accept or stay at a job which demands you to disobey God or to help someone else disobey God.
If God has spoken directly to an issue in His word, then there is no decision. Just do what God said. Here's another example. A man might debate over which job to take, but there is no debate whether he needs to look for a job or not. 2 Thessalonians says,
We hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work... (2 Thess 3:11-12)
God has made some decisions easy. They are directly addressed in His revealed will , the scripture. In that case, we can find God's will. It's written down in black and white. All it takes is a little work studying God's word.
It's easy when the Bible says, "Don't steal." That's a divine directive on whether to continue at a job where you are asked to cheat your customers. But situations in life are not always so clear cut. The Bible may not directly address your decision—"Should I make this difficult phone call now or tomorrow?" However, the Deuteronomy 29:29 principle of seeking the revealed things still applies. God's word is still the lamp unto our feet, even when the path of life seems to have faded right out.
Whatever decision we face, it is certain that God has, at least indirectly , addressed it in His word. It is here that a lame, blind, and stumbling "knowledge" of God's word cripples us. We know the basic "Do this, don't do that," commands of scripture. But beyond them, we're floundering in deep water. Unfortunately, that ignorance leaves us thrashing in circles and gasping for breath in decision-making. To be a wise decision-maker, we must be familiar, not just with the obvious direct statements of God, but also biblical instruction which might indirectly guide our choices.
For example, a young man is debating whether to spend the night at his girlfriend's flat. He knows that 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality." Therefore, he plans to sleep on the couch. He doesn't want to violate God's direct command regarding sexual purity.
But is, "Don't fornicate," the only thing God has said about sexual sin? No. For example, Romans 13:14 would certainly apply. In a context of sexual purity Paul wrote, "Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Proverbs warns, "Do not go near the door" of the house of sexual temptation (5:8).
The Bible is bluntly realistic about sexual sin: don't give yourself unnecessary opportunity to fall into it. Indirectly, God has said a lot about that young man's decision to spend the night at his girlfriend's flat, even if there is no command, "Thou shall not sleep on your girlfriend's couch."
Here's another example. God's word doesn't directly say which car you should buy. But does that mean God's word doesn't have any input on that decision? Indirectly, it does in many ways. God's word doesn't say, "Buy this car or buy that car." But it does say a lot of grim things about debt ("The borrower becomes the lender's slave" Prov 22:7b). If you want to take out a Ferrarisized loan on your Ford-sized income, God has commented on your decision to buy a car. God doesn't say, "Buy this car or buy that car," but He does say a lot about doing things to impress others. That might reshape your decision to buy a hot sports car to "Wow" the guys at the office. God doesn't say whether to buy a blue car or a red car. But what if your wife hates red? God did say, "Husbands, love your wives," and "Do nothing from selfishness." Indirectly, God might have said more about your car-buying decision than you think. We often get into trouble by not applying this fourth principle. The fact that God hasn't directly said, "Do this, don't do that," doesn't mean God has said nothing that would guide your decision.
What things should you check to see if God has indirectly commented on your decision? Let me list four:
That check list comes from Proverbs 1:10-19. In that text, Solomon's son was considering going out with the gang on a Saturday night. That decision might or might not be bad. God never said, "Thou shalt not go out with thy friends." Notice, however, how Solomon encouraged his son to reject that option based on the source of the suggestion.
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent [emphasis added].
The source . When his son faced a decision, Solomon warned him to weigh biblically the source of the various options. The source in this case was "sinners," and consulting them is about as wise as asking a hungry shark, "Is it safe to swim at this beach?" In decision-making, the source of an option might tell you a lot about whether it is a good option or a not.
Apply that in another realm. A husband and wife are deciding whether she should stay home with her children or pursue a career outside the home. She feels pressure to be a career woman. Question: what is the source of that pressure? God's word always emphasises that a wife and mother should pour her time, effort, and attention into her family. The pressure to pursue a career outside the home is from the world . Weighed biblically, the source of that option makes it dubious from the start. "If sinners entice you, do not consent."
The goal . After the source, the goal of a decision needs to be weighed biblically.
If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us ambush the innocent without cause…my son, do not walk in the way with them." (Prov 1:11, 15)
The initial invitation was, "Come with us." God never said, "Don't go out with your friends." But what do you suppose God thought about the true goal —ambushing the innocent—of their apparently innocuous plan? In the Mosaic laws on assault in Exodus 21, God had commented on the what-to-do-on-Saturday-night decision of Solomon's son. The true goal was ungodly, even if the decision itself seemed innocent.
In the same way, a businessman might decide to transfer his personal investments into his wife's name. On the face of it, there is nothing immoral about that decision. But what if his business is failing, and his goal is to hide that money from the creditors whom he gave personal surety? Because of his sinister goal—hiding money that rightly belongs to others—his decision is contrary to God's revealed will: "Render to all what is due them…Owe nothing to anyone" (Rom 13:7-8).
To discover God's indirect instruction about your decision, it is important to ask, "What does God's word say about the true goal of my decision?"
The motives . A third question to ask in order to help you find God's indirect comments on your decisions is, "What is my motive?" Notice how the motives of the friends of Solomon's son were highlighted in Proverbs 1.
Come with us…We will find all kinds of precious wealth, we will fill our houses with spoil. (Prov 1:11, 13)
God may not have said, "Don't go out with your friends," but He has said a lot about a lust for money, i.e., greed. In the same way, God might have commented indirectly on your decision to resign and take a new job. Your salary will double, but your time with your family will be halved. Church involvement will be pressed out of existence. Some of your responsibilities will push the line of integrity. In that case, your desire for a larger salary might be a love of money. Indirectly, God has addressed your decision by frowning on your greedy motives for making it. "But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare…the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Tim 6:9-10).
Here's another example of weighing a decision based on its motives. "If we move to Durban," a resentful husband thinks, "I'll be farther away from my interfering, insufferable mother-in-law." Do you think God is honoured by a decision whose motive is bitterness?
Hidden consequences . A fourth way to consider how God might have indirectly commented on a decision is by asking this question: what are the obvious and hidden consequences of my decision? Notice Solomon's warning to his son about the hidden consequences of the gang's Saturday-night behaviour.
But they lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence. (Prov 1:18-19a)
Wisdom sees how things really work. Therefore, Solomon advised his son against going out with the gang. There were hidden consequences (self-destruction) tied up in their behaviour. This is what the young man who wanted to sleep at his girlfriend's flat missed. He didn't see the hidden consequence of giving sexual lust unnecessary opportunity.
The hidden consequences of decisions are an important theme in Proverbs. In Proverbs 7:1-23, you meet the naïve youth who decided to take an evening stroll past the house of the town prostitute.
And I saw among the naive, and discerned among the youths a young man lacking sense, passing through the street near her corner; and he takes the way to her house…With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him. Suddenly he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter. (Prov 7:7-8, 21-22)
The Bible doesn't tell you what route to take on your evening stroll. Or does it? "Keep your way far from her [i.e., the adulteress] and do not go near the door of her house" (Prov 5:8). If that young fool had considered the hidden consequences of walking past the prostitute's house, he might have avoided disaster.
One of the consequences we often don't consider is how our decisions will affect others. I had a friend in seminary who had to drop out and return home halfway through his first year. He hadn't considered how the move to a huge city like Los Angeles and a move away from her family would affect his wife. She was struggling to cope, and so—"Husbands love your wives"—he made a good second decision and moved back to Colorado.
Considering how the Bible indirectly comments on a decision is critical to biblical decision-making. Like Solomon in Proverbs 1:10-19, you must be able to see not just the options before you, but their source , their true goal , your motives , and the obvious and hidden consequences of each option. I can guarantee you that God has said something about them .
The first four principles of biblical decision-making are…
That leads us to our fifth principle. Let's say you have prayed for wisdom and gathered as much information as was reasonably possible. You have considered God's direct and indirect statements in the Bible about your situation. Now what?
Often the direct or indirect principles of God's word will make even complicated decisions obvious. The friend I mentioned earlier thought moving to Los Angeles to go to seminary was a good decision. But when he saw how it affected his wife, he realised it was a bad decision. God's principle for considering his wife more important than himself (Phil 2:3) made the decision to move home obvious.
But what if there is no clear-cut favourite? What if biblically and practically there are two (or more!) options you could choose? In that case, all other things being equal, do what you want.10 It seems shocking, but that's what it comes down to.
You can't know God's unrevealed will in advance—no use doing a war dance trying to find it . If God's revealed will (the Bible) doesn't directly or indirectly rule out all options but one, if practical considerations are essentially equal, then all that is left is your desire. It's a carefully scrutinised desire to make sure it isn't selfish or ungodly. But if all other things are equal, then you are free to do what you want.
Freedom, of course, is never a license to be sinful or selfish. "You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Gal 5:13).
Proverbs 14:23 says, "Mere talk leads only to poverty." When everything has been evaluated biblically, there is a point where you just make the decision. God's will will happen. Don't worry about that. Your job is to think through matters wisely and biblically.
10 Dr. John MacArthur explains this principle well in his excellent book, Found: God's Will , Victor Books, 1999 (first pub. in 1973 as God's Will is not Lost ).
Sometimes decisions go bad. They smell like a dead fish simmering in a trash bin on a summer afternoon. Often there is an obvious reason for that: lack of information or an outright disobedience of God's revealed will. At other times we may not have weighed carefully enough the biblical principles that indirectly applied, i.e., my friend who didn't consider how his wife would respond to moving halfway across the country to a city like Los Angeles. In those situations we need to learn from our mistakes or repent from our sin (whichever is necessary), and then make a decision to correct the situation.
Sometimes you do your best and things still fall apart. You tried to be biblical, careful, and informed. But the whole thing collapsed like a house of cards. When decisions go bad, we need to trust God's sovereignty.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. (Prov 3:5-6)
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (James 1:2-3)
God's will is not defeated by our puny decisions. When a decision doesn't work out, it was God's will for it to fall on its face. Some of God's lessons can be learned only through failure.
Rest in God's sovereignty when things go wrong. Of course, it would be wrong to assume you did everything rightly. Do a careful self-evaluation to see if sinful or foolish decision-making on your part unnecessarily contributed to the failure. And then make a good second decision—one that corrects the errors of the first one.
When my wife and I decided to come to South Africa in 1995, the decision-making pattern outlined in Proverbs was the one we followed. We prayed for wisdom, and in gathering information we found that Grace Fellowship wanted us to come. I could preach in English the first day off the plane and be understood. The opportunity seemed to match my gifts—shepherding and training men for ministry.
As far as God's direct and indirect comments on the decision, we were on solid ground. The elders of our church were in favour of it. Our families were supportive. We weren't running away from any problems in the States, and the church we were moving to was biblically sound. Practically speaking, the money to pay for the move was available. And we wanted to go.
Was it God's will for us to come? Yes. We're here. But we didn't torment ourselves trying to find the unfindable—God's unrevealed will—beforehand. The secret things are the Lord's. We just did our best to apply God's biblically revealed wisdom, and trusted God to guide our actual steps.
God wants you to make wise, biblically guided decisions. First, pray humbly, asking for wisdom. Next, put the wisdom you asked for into action by gathering information. Then evaluate the options. Has God directly or indirectly commented on your decision in His revealed will, the Bible? After weighing the spiritual and practical implications—seeking counsel if necessary—do what is biblically right or wisest. If there is no clear-cut course of action, all other things being equal, do what you want.
It's practical without falling into the error of the purely pragmatic approach. It's dependant on God without the arbitrary, find-the-unfindable approach of Christian mysticism. Most important, it's biblical. It's what Proverbs, the decision-making book of the Bible, teaches us about making decisions.
COPYRIGHT NOTICE You may distribute this booklet in electronic format or printed format on the following conditions: (1) It must be distributed free of charge, (2) No alterations are to be made to the text, (3) All copies must contain the following: Copyright © Joel James, 2001. Used by permission.
"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." - Psalm 119:105