How do we make decisions? How do we judge? How do we choose between two or more alternatives? How do we figure out if something is or should be one way or another?
Much of the time we just go with the gut. We all have sensibilities that have been shaped by our family, upbringing, education, and culture. We almost immediately know how we feel about something, but what we think about something, or should think about it, is another matter.
First, let me give you two reasons why I say that we more often make decisions intuitively rather than thoughtfully. One is the typical way we use our time. The 2009 American Time Use Survey studied how the average American spends an average day. Regardless of our class, religion, gender, etc. everyone has 24 hours in a day. The average American spends about 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working, 2 hours on work around their home, and 6 hours on leisure. The time spent on leisure includes an average of about 3 hours watching television and the rest is divided among sports, recreation, internet, reading for pleasure, etc. The sad reality is that the numbers for the average professing Christian in America are not much different, except that we have to squeeze in the 3-7 minutes on average they spend in prayer daily.
Based on the way we use our time, we are not regularly taking any significant amount of time to read, study, pray, think, and consider. These are activities that cannot be done properly in multitasking. Now, the time spent on weekend days does look a little different, but the main difference is the time spent working goes down and the time spent on leisure goes up.
If we are not taking time regularly to think and consider, how are we making choices and determinations? We are going with our gut most of the time. Granted, some decisions can be made intuitively because they are relatively unimportant, but can we say the same for eternal truths and the spiritual state of our souls and the judgment to come?
The second reason is anecdotal, based on my own experience, though I think it will resonate with many. I grew up a pastor’s kid, so I have been around church people my whole life. Whenever there are discussions about the Bible, one of the most common phrases to come up is, “I feel.” I have been shocked to hear this phrase spoken in direct contradiction to even plain Scripture. “Yeah, but I feel . . .” “Well, I feel . . .” People don’t want to think through the real meaning of God’s Word and they end up with their feelings. “I feel God is this.” “I feel God is that.” I feel God would never do that.” “I feel God is actually saying this.” It should come as no surprise that our feelings are often wrong.
Is this how we understand what is really true?
Let’s turn to the Scripture and find an answer to this question. Here is what Paul wrote to Timothy in a letter:
Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
– 2 Timothy 2:7
The first word would seem to answer our question. Paul said, “Consider.” The word means to perceive with the mind, think about, ponder. Paul is telling Timothy to think about the things he has written to him to the end of understanding them.
There is a certain profile of person who is dying to object at this point. “Read the rest of the verse,” they would say. Paul said, “The Lord give thee understanding in all things.” Their logic runs thus: The Lord is the one who gives us understanding. Therefore, it is not our mental exertion that brings understanding. We see this premise incarnated whenever someone refuses to read and heed the Word of God, opting rather for the subjective, “I just have to live my life and, if I’m wrong, God will have to show me.”
So, which is it? Does the Lord through His Spirit give us understanding, or do we think and consider our way to understanding?
When we go back to the text to think about the two statements, we notice the conjunction joining them. This means that Paul did not view Timothy’s considering and the Lord giving him understanding as mutually exclusive. Paul affirms both as operative in our coming to understanding.
An objector might now point to particular verses. Such as:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
– 1 Corinthians 2:14
The objection would be that man cannot know spiritual truths unless they are revealed to him. On the surface, this is true enough. But the unspoken premise of this objection is that the working of the Spirit and the working of our minds are mutually exclusive. Paul rejects this premise, and so does Peter but we’ll get to that in a moment.
How do we reconcile Paul in 1 Corinthians and Paul in 2 Timothy? We begin by taking both verses as true. Paul affirms the necessity of the Spirit in giving us understanding and he affirms our mental process in coming to understanding. The problem with the objector is that he is overstating Paul’s case to preclude any thought on the part of man. That is not Paul’s point. He asserts that man’s thinking is not ultimately decisive in understanding truth, but that does not mean it is wholly excluded. He asserts the absolute necessity of Spirit revelation in understanding truth, but that does not mean thought is not required.
Think about what Peter said relevant to this subject. He wrote of Paul in his second epistle:
As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
– 2 Peter 3:14
Peter affirms there were some things Paul wrote that were hard to be understood. The question then is: Where does the difficulty in understanding lie? Is it difficult for the Spirit to give understanding in these things? Or, is it difficult for man to comprehend what he wrote? If we think that man’s mental process is excluded from understanding truth, then we must say the Spirit has difficulty in communicating certain truths. If, on the other hand, we think that human thinking is operative, though not ultimately decisive, in understanding truth, then the difficulty lies with man in understanding hard things.
The writer of Hebrews affirms this when he writes:
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
– Hebrews 5:11
Those things were hard to be understood because the people were dull of hearing, not because the Spirit was struggling to reveal the truth to them.
The fact that our minds are involved in understanding truth is one reason why we are told our minds need to be renewed and we are commanded to renew them.
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
– Romans 12:2
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
– Ephesians 4:23
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
– Colossians 3:10
We are supposed to think and renew our minds continually with the Word of God. We need to check our gut and be willing to think hard about the ultimate realities of life. And this we do in utter reliance and dependence upon the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth.