Many good souls still fall into that same error. As mentioned earlier, many (perhaps most) Christians believe God uses subjective promptings to guide believers in making major decisions. A thorough search of church history would undoubtedly confirm that most believers who lean heavily on immediate “revelations” or subjective impressions ostensibly from God end up embarrassed, confused, disappointed, and frustrated.
Nothing in Scripture even suggests that we should seek either the will of God or the Word of God (personal guidance or fresh prophecy) by listening to subjective impressions. So how are we supposed to determine the divine will?
Virtually every Christian grapples with the question of how to know God’s will in any individual instance. We particularly struggle when faced with the major decisions of adolescence—what occupation or profession we will pursue, whom we will marry, whether and where we will go to college, and so on. Most of us fear that wrong decisions at these points will result in a lifetime of disaster.
Unfortunately, many of the books and pamphlets on discerning God’s will are filled with mystical mumbo-jumbo about seeking a sense of peace, listening for a divine “call,” putting out a “fleece,” and other subjective signposts pointing the way to God’s will.
That kind of “discernment” is not at all what Scripture calls for. If we examine everything the Bible has to say about knowing God’s will, what we discover is that everywhere Scripture expressly mentions the subject, it sets forth objective guidelines. If we put those guidelines together, we get a fairly comprehensive picture of the will of God for every Christian. We can summarize them like this:
• It is God’s will that we be saved. “The Lord is … not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “God our Savior … desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3–4).
• It is God’s will that we be Spirit-filled. “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.… Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:17–18).
• It is God’s will that we be sanctified. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3).
• It is God’s will that we be submissive. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men” (1 Peter 2:13–15).
• It is God’s will that we suffer. “Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19). “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Phil. 1:29). “And indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
If all those objective aspects of God’s will are realities in your life, you needn’t fret over the other decisions you must make. As long as the options you face do not involve issues directly forbidden or commanded in Scripture, you are free to do whatever you choose.
Whatever you choose? Yes, within the limits expressly set forth in God’s Word. If those five objective principles are consistently true in your life—if you are saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering for righteousness’ sake—you are completely free to choose whatever you desire.
In fact, God providentially governs your choice by molding your desires. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That doesn’t mean merely that He grants the desires of your heart; it suggests that He puts the desires there. So even when we choose freely, His sovereign providence guides the free choices we make! What confidence that should give us as we live our lives before God!
This is not to suggest that we should attempt to try to decipher God’s will through what we can observe of His providence. That would thrust us right back into the realm of determining truth subjectively. But we can be confident as we make choices that God will providentially work all things together in accord with His perfect will (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11). We needn’t be paralyzed with fear that a wrong decision might ruin our lives forever.
There are some caveats that need to be stressed here: obviously if your desires are sinful, selfish, or wrongly motivated, then you are not really Spirit-filled, or else you are not pursuing sanctification the way you should. Your first responsibility is to set those areas of your life in order. In other words, if you are pursuing self-will and fleshly desire, you have stepped out of God’s will with regard to one or more of the major objective principles. You need to come into line with the objective, revealed will of God before you can make whatever decision you may be contemplating.
And again, our freedom to choose extends only to issues not specifically addressed in Scripture. Obviously, no one who is truly saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering for Christ would willfully disobey the Word of God. No Christian has the freedom, for example, to violate 2 Corinthians 6:14 by marrying an unbeliever.
Above all, we must use biblical wisdom in the choices we make. We are to apply wisdom to all our decisions. Look again at the beginning of Ephesians 5:17: “Do not be foolish.” To be Spirit-filled is to be wise—to be discerning (see Ex. 35:31; Deut. 34:9; also see Eph. 5:18 with Col. 3:16). The biblical wisdom that is the hallmark of the Spirit-filled person is the platform on which all right decision making must be based. We are to consider our options in this light and pursue the choices that seem most wise—not merely what feels best (Prov. 2:1–6).
This means that if we contemplate God’s will biblically, we will remain in the realm of objective truth. The Bible never encourages us to try to determine God’s will by subjective impressions, “promptings” from the Holy Spirit, the “still, small voice” of God, or miraculous signs like Gideon’s fleece (Judg. 6:36–40). If we seek to be led in subjective ways like those—especially if we neglect objective truth and biblical wisdom—we will surely run into trouble. Making decisions based on subjective criteria is a subtle form of reckless faith.
 MacArthur, J. (1994). Reckless faith: When the church loses its will to discern (188–191). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.