From a Christian perspective…

Something that I have heard quite a few people say recently (one way or another) is:

“From a Christian perspective… What should us believers do in _______ situation?”

I have had numerous conversations like this before: should missionaries flee persecution or embrace it? Should a Christian husband use violence to defend his family or country? Is it wrong for a believer to invest in a company on the stock exchange that might be doing business unethically? I am sure you know some as well – those grey areas that we want help with. What is interesting about such discussions is that they rarely produce a satisfactory answer. Often you actually just end up frustrated by the complexity of life and how hard it is to apply general principles to real-life situations. I guess there’s nothing strange in realizing that our lives and decisions don’t fit into neat boxes – its part of growing up. But in another way it does seem very strange to me that we often carry on having the same questions about living “from a Christian perspective…”, even when it clearly doesn’t work most of the time for the many of us who are trying to do so.

When we ask these questions, it is probably because we believe that there is this blueprint for our practical lives – the “Christian perspective” – but the question is, where will we find it? Is it in the bible? If you believe this then you will probably think that a lack of clear answers is due to ignorance – that we just need to study the bible more to find the clear guidance we need. And if you don’t believe that the bible is a manual-for-how-to-do-everything, where will you turn to find God’s will for you? Is it in the counsel of many? Is it common sense reasoning? These are issues that we all face when we need to make tough (and even trivial) decisions.

But where did we we get this idea that there is a specific way that a Christian should act in situations? There are biblical principles yes, but which one should you apply – and when? There are many people who advise you – but who should you trust? Even common sense reasoning falls short when more than one option seems reasonable (or none do) – and besides, when last did God’s ways make total sense to you?

Maybe there isn’t one right answer for all believers in each situation. Maybe some missionaries should stay and others should go. Maybe one day a husband should fight and another day in the same situation he should not. Maybe some believers should invest in a company and others should campaign against it. And maybe, just maybe, there sometimes just isn’t a “should” at all…

How do you go about it?


28 thoughts on “From a Christian perspective…

  1. Hi JC,
    I agree with your argument, although I think it is very difficult to accept it if you haven’t tasted an alternative.
    I think the point is that we all want to know that we please God. For many of us we achieve this security by learning a “course” of precepts and rule of thumbs that we then race along for the future.
    I don’t think that is a bad thing though. Trying to understand how to please God is where we should all start and stay, although it is such a trap to get stuck on righteousness before God; a close but cold step-brother to righteousness in Jesus. Our righteousness in Jesus should enable us to relate to God in the same way that Jesus did – the firstborn of many sons.

    • Hi Finch,
      I remember when I was a younger believer, I was very interested in learning the rules and principles. It gave me a kind of security, probably similar to a toddler that needs firm boundaries in the home. As I experienced more of life, though, I realized that these precepts required wisdom to apply, since I was encountering situations where seemingly opposite things in the Word applied. This frustrated me initially, because it complicated my life – principles were 2D and life was becoming 3D! Recently, I have realized another thing: that principles act more as boundaries than train tracks. They do not tell so much exactly what to do – rather, they act as the limits of my freedom as a son, a freedom which requires that I exercise my own will in serving God…

      Have you ever had the feeling that Father is looking on to see what you will do?

      • Often, but not always.

        There are times when God asks my opinion, but the norm is obedience and voluntary submission to his will.

        In my experience there is a world of a difference though whether your obedience is primarily to stay the “course” you have developed, or whether there is a real and practical obedience to the communicated will of God.

        If we see God as the judge with the rigid rule book, we will attempt to eradicate the sin in our lives that will displease him.
        If we see him as a Holy Father with specific desires and plans for our lives, we can move beyond fighting sin only, and start living lives that please him – like Jesus was able to please him.

        A sin minded christianity is so unnatractive and often lifeless. A new-life and creation christianity is full of life, and with it a real dependency on God to sustain that life.

      • “…I realized that these precepts required wisdom to apply… Recently, I have realized another thing: that principles act more as boundaries than train tracks.”

        In reading “Kingdom Through Covenant” by Gentry and Wellum, I’ve recently realized a similar thing about the Torah (i.e. the content given by God to the Israelites constituting the Ten Words and the Book of the Covenant; I’m not referring to the Pentateuch).

        I’ve always thought that the Torah functioned as “the end all be all” for how to be a righteous OT person, in every aspect of life—but this is not so. If you look at other law codes of the ancient near East you’ll find that law codes like Hammurabi were characteristically not designed to be comprehensive. Instead, they functioned as exemplars which were then to be extended and applied in other realms of daily life via the principles they modeled.

        It is the same with the Torah. It is not meant to be understood as being the final word on every aspect in one’s life; rather, the manner in which specific situations are dealt with or the behavior which is demanded is to be fleshed out in other aspects not addressed.

        As such, the Ten Words (aka 10 Commandments) provide the standard, foundational manner in which one is to live one’s life in relation to God and others, while the Book of the Covenant then goes on to explain, in detail, what this standard looks like in specific situations. But by no means is the Book of the Covenant exhaustive in covering every little scenario—nor does it intend to be so. For the large part, this is not how codes of instruction operated in the ancient near East.

        All of this to say—and I know the following is a gross generalization and dichotomy—God does not want programmed robots who operate only on specific levels of code which have been deemed acceptable. I think He takes great joy in delight in having his children live out their lives, weighing decisions, making choices, all in the aim of honoring Him—and we even see this modeled in the way He first gave instruction to His chosen people.

  2. Can you guys think of any scriptures that speak about seeking to know God’s specific will for your life? What comes to mind is David enquiring of the Lord about battles, and one or two NT passages about learning to know God’s will through practice and renewing of your mind. But there doesn’t seem to be a strong theme on seeking guidance in the way we hear about it today…

    • There was a time when I thought that God had a specific plan mapped out for me (i.e. “God’s will”) that I must detect through life if I’m going to live my life with the most impact for his kingdom. This was a very draining view. It was very confusing, and restrictive. It was something my pastor told me and other speakers enforced.

      What I didn’t realize is that it was a myth constructed by Western values that the individual is supreme. I think it is ammo for the American Dream in a way, and maybe even stems back to our “grand” vision of Manifest Destiny: God, almighty, himself, wants me to covet my newfound neighbor’s land, and steal from, exploit, and abuse them.

      It’s amazing how powerful a belief can become when you assert that it’s God’s will you’re following—His divine plan.

      Now I don’t see this really anywhere in the Bible. I think I made exceptions the norm, and read the Bible too much through Western, individualistic lenses. Since those times, I’ve tried to show myself that everywhere in the Bible God grants people the freedom to choose (within a set of God-given parameters), and that the body is not to be neglected.

      In the end, I think anyone wishing to prove that God has a specific plan for your life that you must figure out through signs and inward impressions is far off the mark in both how God normally operates and has stationed us on this glob to live. In fact, many would say trying to find the will of God, in this sense, is a pagan notion.

      Check out that link, and peruse the reviews—you’ll see what I mean.

  3. Hallo Lylelife and JC,

    I think there are a lot of words that have very different meanings to different people, and this “will of God” thing is really an excellent example.

    I think it is safe to say that we all believe that God has a will, but what it is for (this is what Lylelife touches on) and how we relate to it (JC touches on this) is where the trick lies.

    I want to try and explain how i understand it, and maybe that will stimulate discussion on more specific points…

    What is the wil of God for?
    Most of us would agree that God has a plan and will for world history, maybe most significantly revealed through his revelation through John. Many of us would also agree that God has a plan for his church in this history, and even for individual churches. But does God have a plan for individuals within this greater scheme?
    I think that the lives of the “heroes of the faith” show that God had a specific purpose or function for them, and he often acted from his side to realise his intention. Now, we could adopt a sick kind of cessation theology abouth this, and claim that the same will is not excercised towards us, but I prefer to keep my faith simple… So I believe that God in principle has creatd each of us for a purpose of his choosing. (I think there are quite a few prophets who struggled precisely with that reality).

    How do we relate to God’s will?
    My guide in thinking abouth this is to also look at the examples God gave us in the “heroes of the faith” (as individulals) and in Israel (as a group). God had a purpose for them, but their response and success in acieving that purpose varied. Some achieved it perfectly (Enoch, Daniel, Ester, Jushua, and some prophets), most achieved the essential bit although they missed some bits (David, Moses, Abraham, some more prophets), some actually missed the mark hectically but by repentance were still used by God (Samson, many judges, Jonah), and finally some failed although God had launched them (Saul, many priest, many Kings, even possibly Solomon in all his wisdom).
    What do I learn from this?
    God has a will, and so I.
    They conflict some times.
    I can miss his will.
    I can also achieve his purpose to varying degrees.
    I don’t need to be perfect in every step, God has a track record of showing mercy to repentant people.
    But more tha it all, it’ amazing to achieve as much of his will as I can.

    But how do I know his will? According to my revelation and calling:
    If I’m a prostitute in Jerico, I have some instincts, maybe even a bit of rumor. But it could save my life.
    If I’m a blood frenzied supernatural warrior I try to follow the laws I understand (stay away from foreign women with hair fetishes!).
    If I’m a king I should seek to know God’s law and justice, and honor him as the one who gives victory and can make demands from me (Also it’s usually a good idea to listen to those crazy pestering prophets…).
    If I’m Moses (or many other prophets) and I speak to God directly, I have a much subtler line (don’t slap rocks whwn your angry is not the 11th commandment…).

    So what is my conclussion? – Let each one of us seek to know God’s will according to the gift, the grace, and the faith we’ve been given.
    We’re not all prophets, but we should all seek to please God as best we can according to the understanding and revelation that we have (individually and as a group).
    And we should pursue to always enlarge our understanding through meditating on the word, and reacting to the subtler instructions that we are convinced are from God.

    What do you guys think?

    “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

    • So, if my gifting is “exhortation”—what I understand as a big fancy word for kicking people in the butt when they need it, or listening empathetically and encouraging them onward—then God’s “will” for me might be that I not turn inward, living life in neglect of others, or even worse, tearing others down instead of building them up?

      But this is the case for all the family of God? Is it more so for me, though, since herein lies my special gifting?

      I can’t think of any other gifts—though there are quite a few that I want!!

  4. Some more spamming by the Finch! 🙂 This didn’t really fit with the previous responses, but here are two respnonses to JC and Lylelife specifically.

  5. JC, about that scripture on seeking God’s will for your life…

    Let me change some of your words ;o)
    “Can you guys think of any scriptures that speak about christian trances?” There is no teaching on this topic, but ample evidence that there is indeed something like a Christian trance (it is named so in Peter’s revelation in Acts, and very likely is what John effectively describes in Revelation).

    In the same way, I think the Bible is full of examples that God’s people very often did have revelation of specific aspects of God’s will and plan for them.
    I often think of old Simeon in this regard. It seems so random and trivial to the rest of scripture that God would tell him that he would see the Messiah, and yet I always want to cry when I read the moment of it’s fulfillment; a man’s life fulfilled by blessing Jesus as a baby.
    I don’t think God’s into prophetic cake decoration, I believe that he gives revelation according to his wisdom, and that we need what he wants to give.

    • Hey, I think we both agree that the bible actually has very little direct teaching in it compared to narrative. So when I said “…any scriptures that speak”…, I also meant any examples where this happens as well. I liked your example of Simeon, I’d never thought of it in the sense of it being seemingly unnecessary before. That is touching.

      Back to the point about there being many examples of experiences people had in the bible rather than systematic teaching. I think this is something very important. If I think of the bible like a manual\textbook that consists mainly of systematic teaching in a vacuum, then my response will be to think in a vacuum as well. I will have a static, general view of what it means to be a Christian. But if I think of the bible as a history book full of examples of people experiencing God in different (and sometimes seemingly contradictory) ways, then my thinking will be very different. The first one causes us to compare our thinking to the bibles “thinking”, whereas the latter one causes us to compare our experiences with the bibles “experiences”. The second one, in my opinion, is often neglected by theological types whereas the first is often neglected by the mystics (as you call them), who are into ‘trances’ even if they don’t understand them 😛

      • Hi JC,

        Sorry that I missed your point. ;o)

        I don’t know whether we can really still divide the bible into these boxes. We’re inclined to try and disect the bible like a frog into distinct parts and functions (our scientific brains, ai!), but I don’t know whether that is fair.

        I think in most of the bible we’ll find the ingredients of history, prophecy, teaching, motivation, emotive messages, and some more secret spice all mixed into a delicious cake mix, all ready to enter the oven of our minds and hearts. It needs to stay there for a while in the warmth of our attention and remembrance.
        The end result is truth in it’s most delicious form, so wonderful that it actually doesn’t require additional decoration and garnish (obviously not an american cake :op).

        I know this may seem too simple and naive for many, but my mouth and soul is drooling even just at the thought of this wholesome truth. I also think that this desire to learn truth as a whole is exactly why we blog here. We’ve all tasted some of this, and once you pop – you just can’t stop! It seems that liberating truth is quite addictive…

        You are loved brother

        • Yes, you seem unusually inspired to bake – but i love the picture 🙂 I think your picture says what I was trying to say – that stories are not formulas, that what we hold in our hands is a wild mix of experiences and events that happened to real people up there and that the craziness of it all is what makes it so interesting. The thought occurred to me today that we are living in the same story as Scripture (we’re just a bit further on in it) – that we can feel one with the prophets and the apostles and the patriarchs because we have the same God and the same Spirit – even though He’s writing a different poem in each of our lives. It’s that sameness and yet differentness that messes with our scientific brains and yet is so – as you would say – delicious 😀

  6. Lylelife,

    I think what you described is truth abused. I can totally understand how this kind of language (and the God-breathed longing in our hearts to move closer to God) can be used to guide us into many ugly things (individualism, paganism, even materialism etc.). I don’t want to justify abuses.

    What I do want to mention is that all of scripture has a prophetic quality, and that either the old or the new testament with it removed would be a pamphlet. That also applies to our lives.

    God doesn’t want us to be mystics (like many encourage us to become), but he also doesn’t want us to live lives where his Holy Spirit is not welcome to guide and teach us.
    Living a life in this balance requires faith and especially trust in God.

    • If there was a “like” button for your response, I would push it. 🙂

      Anyways, I think I know what you mean, but can you can explain anyway what you mean by saying there’s a “prophetic quality” in the Bible?

      • Hi Lylelife,
        Thank you for your response, it has really encouraged me. 🙂
        I am really looking forward to responding to you, but alas! my time and tablet battery are running out :o(.
        But watch this space! ;o)

      • Hello Lylelife,

        I was simply meaning that God has been speaking throughout the bible. It seems like a pretty normal thing for him to be doing still.

        • And something I was thinking about this morning is how it is His words, and the powers that lie therein, that hold the universe into existence and even beget change in our own lives. “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.”

          • Lylelife, do you have a different understanding to Finch of what the ‘prophetic quality’ of scripture means? I was battling to think what else you thought he could have meant…

  7. JC, I guess I was just wondering if he meant something more specific. Of course God spoke and speaks through his word… just didn’t know if by “prophetic” he was referring to a special “mode” or “purpose” of speaking. For example, “foretelling” or “forth telling”… I don’t know. I just think too analytical, I guess… I got too much “book thoughts” in my head.

    • Shame my brother, it really sounds sometimes like you are having a minor occupational crisis. Maybe God will give you a way out of all of it if you ask Him…

        • No crisis has overtaken me, except what is common to “scholars”—but God is faithful, and he won’t let me have such paralysis that I can’t move and dance… for with every potential crisis they’ll be a way out. 😉

  8. Pingback: Book Review: Kingdom through Covenant (chapter 1) « Old School Script

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