When it comes to making decisions, Scripture says to rely on wisdom from God and His Word rather than your own wisdom. Consider the following verses from Proverbs.
- “...cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding... For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (2:3, 6 NASB1995)
- “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding.... Do not be wise in your own eyes” (3:5, 7)
- “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (14:12; 16:25 NLT)
- “Listen, my son and be wise. And direct your heart in the way.... Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding” (23:19, 23)
But other Scripture indicates in both precept and practice that there are times we are to rely on our own discretion and wisdom and make our own assessments. Consider Paul’s teaching and example of using his own wisdom (italics added for emphasis).
- When deciding with matters of conscience Paul wrote, “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” Romans 14:5 (NIV)
- When making ministry decisions Paul explained the process. “So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens” (1 Thessalonians 3:1)
- “Meanwhile, I thought I should send Epaphroditus back to you. He is a true brother, co-worker, and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25 NLT)
- “When I come, I will write letters of recommendation for the messengers you choose to deliver your gift to Jerusalem. And if it seems appropriate for me to go along, they can travel with me” (1 Corinthians 16:3–4)
- In the early church the apostles made decisions similarly. “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables” (Acts 6:2 NASB1995)
Since Scripture presents both following God’s wisdom and exercising your own, when do you rely on God’s wisdom and when do you rely on your own?
The Bible contains wisdom and truth for life in its commands, teaching, and examples so that we can live God-honouring obedient lives. We all need and are directed to seek out and choose God’s wisdom because we have been totally distorted by sin. Left to our own sin-infested thinking, reasoning, and emotions we will choose what is sinful and displeasing to God—a path that seems wise and right to us but it ends in death. Ephesians 5:17 says, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” His Word tells us what He wants us to do.
But there are situations when we need to make decisions and there is no clear wisdom or explicit commands to get from Scripture. This is when we need to exercise our wisdom.
How do we do this?
Believers’ minds are to be governed by the goal of glorifying God in everything (1 Corinthians 10:31). Jesus gave His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower us to do that (John 14:17). We are commanded to live our life under His influence: “...be filled with the Holy Spirit...” (Ephesians 5:18). As we live daily under His influence, He gradually conforms us to be like Christ. Through the Word He transforms our thinking to be more Christlike rather than the sinful and selfish way it was (Romans 12:1–3).
Living “in the Spirit” means that He is influencing our thinking and thereby our behaviour. Ephesians 5:15–16 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” As we live in the Spirit and are confronted by choices not spelled out in Scripture, we are free to make the best and wisest choice we can to “make the most of every opportunity.”
The wisdom we are to exercise is defined by J.I. Packer. “Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.”1
Being wise in life’s daily decisions is the ability to figure out what is spiritually expedient in a given situation. In other words, it is doing whatever works best to get the job done as long as it doesn’t go contrary to the commands and wisdom already given in the Word of God.
The balance in daily decision-making is found when we strive to obey the explicit commands and wisdom of Scripture. When do you exercise God’s wisdom and when do you exercise your own? Where there is no clear command or wisdom we are to decide, under the influence of the Spirit, what is most spiritually expedient and glorifying to God.
1 J.I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1973), 96.