10 Ways to Help Decision-Making in the Gray
Making decisions can be hard, especially when things are not black and white. Decisions in the gray often generate deeps feelings of ambivalence where two options appear equally positive and negative.
Our current pandemic has created a very gray environment. Not only has number of decisions we have to make been exponentially increased, the process of decision-making has been exponentially complicated. All people, be it pastors, parents, or parishioners, are trying to make the best decisions they can with limited or incomplete information. Decision making is hard in itself, decision-making in the gray is even harder.
There are no easy answers in the gray, even the questions themselves are difficult to discernd. Disagreement to be experienced even with the ones we find. In hopes of equipping everyone to navigate the gray, below are some biblical questions and principles to help make decisions. There are no answers provided because someone else's answers require nothing of you.
For many of us, we don't think too deeply about decisions. We just decide. Others, perhaps, think too much and, in fear, fear making a decision. Jesus has given us a tremendous amount of freedom to make a number of decisions in your life. It's not as easy as LOVE GOD and DO WHAT YOU WANT...but it's close.
Asking Biblical questions and apply biblical principles encourage us to study the Word, pray, and counsel before you make a decision. In other words, making decisions in the gray requires engagement with people and the person(s) of God.
Is this helpful to me personally
1Cor 6.12a “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything
We cannot glorify God if what we do causes us harm. The “right” to something doesn’t make it helpful, beneficial, or constructive to one’s person physically, emotionally, spiritually. True liberty demands responsibility. Freedom without discernment becomes recklessness. When asking ourselves this question, we must acknowledge our proclivity to be self-decieved. We don't always know what is most helpful for us personally and, many times, we will compromise what is helpful to get what we want. Desires are not evil, but James warns us that much of our problem comes from unrestrained desires. Simply, even if a decision is biblically warranted, we must also consider whether it is wise for us right now.
Am I promoting the good of others around me, or just being selfish?
1Cor 10.23-24 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
We cannot glorify God if the exercise of our freedom tears someone down. Our freedom must be regulated by a love for others NOT just the avoidance of harm. At the same time, don’t assume we agree on what is most loving or what causes harm (Rom 14.1). The medical community in our current pandemic has felt contradictory and confusing at times. Because we don't know exactly what is "safe" or why, we must be very careful to fault on self-denying love. There is room for disagreement here, but we should leave no room for division. Again, just because we have the "right" to do something doesn't mean our exercise of that right will build up. Here, and in Philippians 2, we are to follow Christ's example of thinking others are more important than ourselves, even if it means self-sacrifice.
Will this cause someone whom I know weak and who is in my presence to sin?
1Cor 8.9-10 9 But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
We cannot glorify God by causing another Christian to fall into sin. Cultural decision-making should always include a discussion about the weaker brother. The decisions we make not only proclaim something to the world, they teach something to other believers. We don't want to regret the lessons we teach from our "freedom" to choose. Paul plainly discusses this concern when he writes the Corinthians. He further discusses the issue in Romans 14 where he explains the importance of letting love compel all of your cultural decisions. Romans 14.21 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble Obviously, Paul is concerned with being a “stumbling-block” for other weaker Christians. The concern I have is that many take the charge to protect the weaknesses of a fellow brother in a particular situation and generalize to all situations. We have a responsibility to those around us whom we know are weak.
Will this break any laws of the land?
Romans 13.1-7 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment….
We cannot glorify God by breaking the laws of our city, state, or nation. Obviously, the meaning of Romans 13 has been a topic of debate in the church. What is not debatable is that Christians ought be good citizens (but not necessarily good Romans). This passage, and others like it, remind us of the weight and cost of civil disobedience. Such decisions not only impact our relationship with men, but also with God himself. Because there are many instances in Scripture where believers opposed government, we know that the authority of God-ordained authorities is not unlimited, and that submission to these authorities is not intended to be without exception. It is possible to "honor" the authorities and civilly disobey--but this not normative.
Will I lose self-control and be mastered by this?
1Cor 6.12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
We cannot glorify God by addiction and enslavement to sin. There are many things we can freely partake of in society; many of these things have been abused through indulgence. We must never an “I can handle it,” mentality. That is the first evidence of pride which is the last step before falling on your face. There are many things we can become "enslaved to." We have freedom to declare, but we must not become enslaved to posting every thought. We have the freedom to disagree with government, but we must not become enslaved to mistrusting every-God given authority. We have freedom to debate, but we must not become enslaved to always being the "devil's advocate." If you ever become mono-manical about one thing, be it a right, preference, or cause, it's possible your serving the wrong master.
Will I miss an opportunity to share the gospel?
1Cor 10.27-30 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
We cannot glorify God if we’re not always on mission.. There is a sense in which we must ask ourselves if partaking of an aspect of culture OR not, will in fact do more to gain a hearing. Rarely is there one-decision that fits every situation. We make decisions moment by moment. We do not partake every time because we can. We do not abstain every time because we can’t. We discern every time because we MUST for gospel-sake. Moreover, we must always ask how a decision impacts our witness.
Can I do this to the glory of God?
1Cor10.31-33 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
We cannot glorify God when we’re more concerned with glorifying ourselves or something else. By glorify God, I mean, to magnify the greatness and beauty that is God. If your participation is not glorifying God, then, it is most likely self-glorifying or another form of idolatry. This doesn't mean you have to be a "stereotypical" Christian. This doesn’t mean you have to sing hymns when you have a beer or only get crosses when you get tattoos. I believe it demands we ask whether what we’re doing every moment of our lives is driven by a desire to make God’s greatness, magnificence, holiness, excellence, power, sufficiency, grace, mercy, beauty and character known…if not, it is sinful.
Can I do this with a clear conscience?
Romans 13.5 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.
We cannot glorify God when we cannot participate joyfully without doubt. Your choice to exercise your liberty is not bound by anyone’s conscience, nor should your conscience bind anyone else’s. Think of the conscience as “self-knowledge.” Other than God, no one knows you better than you. Without Jesus, your conscience is governed by your sinful desires. When you are redeemed, your conscience is freed from sin and informed by the Holy Spirit. It will then lead you to conclude what is best for you even if it means you don’t participate in what you have the “right” to do. (Romans 7 speaks of this struggle and Galatians 6 describes it as a conflict)
Am I imitating the example of Jesus Christ?
1Cor 11.1 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
We cannot glorify God if we are trying to require more than Jesus did. People like to ask WWJD, until the answer is something they don’t want to do. Let’s be honest about who Jesus. He disturbed the religious AND confounded the irreligious alike. My guess is that Jesus' decision-making in the gray of the 21st century may surprised a few of us. Regardless of any particular decision, on the whole, we know that Jesus lived a life of perpetual self-denial. Anyone who had endeavored to live this way usually ends up suffering--which is why most of us refuse to imitate Jesus. What is most comfortable, convenient, or conflict-free is likely not the path of the cross.
Does my participation of this proceed from faith in Jesus?
Romans 14.23 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
That which does not proceed in faith is sin. If your decision to partake, abstain, participate, or not participate does not begin with a relationship with God, it is sin. Most of us make our decisions by what someone has decided for us or what is most convenient. It is not essential that our positions on doctrine or other issues need necessarily always be rationally or emotionally satisfying to everyone, as long our positions are unapologetically biblical and glorifying to God. It is not essential that we gain men’s approval or avoid their disapproval, rather, that God is honored by our decisions.