Do the Right Thing: Biblical Help for Decision-Making, Part Two

As followers of Christ, we want to live in a way that pleases our King. We want to do the right thing. The problem is, the "right thing" isn't always so easy to discern. In fact, in all my years of Christian ministry, this has been the practical question I have seen people wrestle with more than any other: How do I know what the right thing is? While I acknowledge this can be a difficult question to answer, I have also found two pieces of guidance in Scripture that have freed me from the stress and fear of choosing the wrong thing. In fact, they have made decision-making in the moment easier than I could have ever imagined. In part one of this series, I explained that, when faced with a decision, our first response should be “How can I best reflect the image of God in this situation?” In many cases, asking this simple question will be enough to know what to do. In other cases, though, the “right thing” is less explicit and appears much more relative. What do we do in those moments? That’s where the second piece of guidance comes in.

@@We want to do the right thing. The problem is, we don't always know what the right thing is.@@

“The right thing” is relative from person to person or situation to situation only when God’s nature and character as revealed in Scripture do not provide us with guidance on either the what, the when, the how, or a combination of the three. For example, all people are to be generous because God is generous. This is the what, and it is clearly revealed in God’s Word. But Scripture does not provide explicit guidance on the how. Thus, while generosity is an ethical absolute, the manner in which one practices generosity is ethically relative. However, this does not mean that all expressions of generosity are equally pleasing to God or equally reflective of his image. Some expressions of generosity are more pleasing to God and more reflective of his image and, consequently, more ethical. Thankfully, we are not left to our own devices and forced to simply make an educated guess on the matter and hope for the best. God has given his people his Holy Spirit to (among other things) provide us with additional guidance in ethically-relative situations.

To continue with the illustration of generosity, Paul trusts that the Holy Spirit will help each Christian identify the most ethical way to express that generosity. Rather than requiring a specific uniform amount, he states, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give” (2 Corinthians 9:7). In ethically-relative situations, we can make the most ethical decision by seeking the Spirit’s guidance. Paul assumes this guidance is accessible to all Christians and will protect them from living in an unethical way that displeases God. “If you are led by the Spirit,” he promises, “you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). 

We have already noted that we “are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory…” The remaining words of that verse reveal that this is the work of “the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, emphasis mine). The Holy Spirit is uniquely able to shape us into God’s image because he is God himself and, as such, knows who God is and what God thinks to a degree that no one else can and desires to share that knowledge with us. Paul says, “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11) and prays that God will give us the gift of the Holy Sprit “so that you may know him better” (Ephesians 1:17). Thus, when we are in a situation that requires a decision, and we cannot find explicit guidance from what God has revealed about himself in Scripture, we can turn to the Holy Spirit for direction. He can and will lead us to the most appropriate decision, which is the decision that most reflects God’s image. God promises, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14). To say it differently, as you increasingly follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will increasingly resemble God the Father in your actions and motivations. It is those actions and motivations that are “the right thing.” 

These two simple pieces of guidance have been what I have personally relied on for years in moments of decision. I have found them to be very useful in protecting me from the anxiety of “not knowing what to do.” It does not mean that my decisions are always perfect. But when I fail to “do the right thing” it has much more to do with my sinful desire to do what I want to do in that moment than it does an inability to discern what is the right decision. This is why the process of being shaped into God’s image will not be completed until Jesus returns, fully and finally freeing me from the effects of sin so that I will have perfect knowledge on what is truly the right thing; a perfect desire to do what is truly the right thing; and the perfect power to accomplish it.

Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook