The big decisions of life (and even some of the smaller ones) can put us in a place where we need wisdom and guidance. When I’m faced with difficult decisions or simply need direction on how to handle a challenging issue or topic, I try to consider six sources of authority that are available to all Christians in pursuit of solid answers.
The first thing I do when faced with a problem or challenge is attempt to consider the issue clearly, concisely, carefully, and cogently. Though my emotions may run high initially, I try to use my logical training to think as objectively about the issue as possible. My own reasoning isn’t necessarily my supreme or final authority when it comes to decision-making, but it is my initial check in the process. Often, an appeal to reason helps to frame the problem—then I can look elsewhere for further objective guidance.
As a Christian, I want the Triune God to direct my thinking and decisions in life (Matthew 4:4). Since the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20–21) I can appeal to them as a reliable source that carries God’s supreme authority (2 Timothy 3:16–17) and allow them to shape my basic beliefs and values in life (1 Timothy 4:16). I try to approach the Bible according to sound principles of interpretation so that I avoid reading into the Scriptures my own private thoughts or beliefs.
Practicing sound interpretation allows the Bible to speak of its own accord. First, I look for direct or explicit teaching that addresses the issue with which I am dealing. If the Bible doesn’t address my concern explicitly, then I look for indirect or inferential principles that may provide help in thinking through the matter. A study of Scripture may lead me to other books outside of the Bible that provide insightful and authoritative wisdom on the topic I’m pursuing.
Someone once asked the great theologian Benjamin Warfield, “What is more important: prayer or Bible study?” Warfield replied, “Prayerful Bible study.” As I dig in to God’s Word in search of inspiration and direction I also prayerfully ask God to lead and guide me in my thoughts and decisions. For the Christian, prayer should be as natural as breathing (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). And sometimes just spending time with the Triune God in prayer and study is answer enough to life’s questions and challenges.
Prayerful study of Scripture and Christian doctrine allows the Holy Spirit to shape my conscience. Thus, I can appeal to it as a guide and authority in life. According to Scripture, God can speak powerfully through one’s conscience (Romans 2:12–15), which can be a powerfully important moral check when it comes to testing motives and decisions.
Christian traditions and practices through the ages can be powerful tools in helping a believer to decide how to approach difficult or controversial issues. While tradition doesn’t carry the same authoritative weight as that of Scripture, nonetheless, I’ve found it to be invaluable. After all, believers of the past inevitably faced similar issues and challenges as we do today and their wisdom and experiences can be a helpful guide of what to do.
According to Scripture, love is the greatest of the Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13) for it reflects the very character of God (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). Everything the believer does should be motivated by love and our actions should reflect it. Our love for God and our love for others is the underlying value that should guide all of our decisions and pursuits in life.
Oftentimes, I don’t need to consult all six sources to gain wisdom or derive guidance for life decisions. But it is good to know that God has provided these authoritative resources for His children’s benefit. Moreover, there are other reliable sources found in trusted friends and advisers as well as in the authoritative writings of trustworthy people.
Allow me to close this article with words from that fount of practical, everyday biblical wisdom, the book of Proverbs:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5–6).
You can also get my thoughts on Christian guidance in a recent episode of my podcast, Straight Thinking.