We get loads of email questions about decision making, like this question today from a longtime listener to the podcast named Zach. “Pastor John, please help. Should there always be a peace and calm about decisions before we make those decisions with confidence?”
I’m not sure Zach is asking this exactly the way he wants to. Not to read Zach’s mind — I know I could be misunderstanding him. But it sounds like he wants to know whether he can choose “with confidence” that something is right to do if he doesn’t have peace and calm before he chooses.
“We should have perfect peace all the time, and we don’t. But we should fight for it, pray for it, aspire to it.”
But acting with confidence, by its very nature, seems to imply the conscience is clear. That’s how you have this confidence. There is a kind of peace if you’re acting with confidence. The way he puts the question seems already to contain the answer. You can only act with confidence if your action is untroubled by doubt and guilt. That’s what “with confidence” means.
But I won’t be too picky, because I don’t think that’s what Zach is really asking. I think what he means is, and this is a harder question, should you choose an action if there is a lack of peace? What should you do if there is a lack of calm in your heart about the decision?
I think that’s what he’s asking, and that’s a good question.
My guess is that behind that question are a couple passages of Scripture that he has been taught or read over the years:
- “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).
If we put those two texts from Colossians and Philippians together, then it seems like the “peace of Christ,” or the “peace of God” should function in our minds and hearts and hold sway there. It should protect and guard the mind and the heart from forces that would ruin the ability of the mind and the heart to trust God and to think rightly about his character and his will.
Zach is right to connect the peace that Christ gives to his followers and the decisions that we have to make. There’s a connection. So the question remains, and it now it has some biblical support behind it to make it all the more crucial: Should we act on an action if there is a lack of peace or a lack of calm in our heart about the decision?
Let me make just several observations to point to an answer.
Obeying Without Peace
First, what Paul does not say in those two texts is that peace and calm are the only factors in determining what one ought to do.
“Peace and calm are not the only factors in determining what one ought to do.”
The point of peace ruling in the heart is not to help you decide whether to obey explicit commands of the apostle. For example, when Paul says in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them,” he does not mean that this command is optional when you happen not to have peace about it.
The explicit commands of Scripture are to be obeyed. Yes, ideally with a heart of great peace and great calm. But in the absence of that peace, we should confess our sinful anxiety and obey anyway. So that’s the first observation.
Peace and the Conscience
Second, when it comes to choices that are not explicitly commanded or prohibited in Scripture but depend on wisdom in the situation, the state of our hearts and our minds — the presence or absence of peace and calm — does matter. For example, Paul said in Romans 14:23, “Whatever does not proceed from faith” — whatever behavior does not proceed from faith — “is sin.”
Now, I think that means that if you act against your conscience, even if what you do is not objectively wrong, it is sin for you to do it.
Insofar as peace and calm are missing as a fruit of faith, when you have doubts about a decision, then going ahead with the decision is sin. Let me just throw out a recommendation here for a book by Andrew Naselli and J.D. Crowely called Conscience. It tackles this topic.
Peace in Danger
Third, remember that our peace and calm can be disturbed as we make a decision. Our peace can be disturbed not only by whether the decision is right or wrong, but our peace and calm can be disturbed by whether the decision will be costly or not.
If you’re about to make a decision to do something good for somebody, and you’re conscience is not disturbed that it might be wrong, but your heart is disturbed that it might be painful, do it. Lack of peace over possible danger and lack of peace over possible sinning are not the same.
Longing for Peace
Finally, it is always right to be free from anxiety, if you can be. You should be. We are commanded not to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6). We will not arrive at this perfect state in this life. That’s my view of sanctification.
We should have perfect peace all the time, and we don’t. But we should fight for it, pray for it, aspire to it. It should be something we lay hold on, if we can, by faith. In fact, the closer we come to peaceful, cheerful, loving acts — even in the face of loss and pain — the more clearly the light of Christ’s worth will shine through us.