Against Open Doors


Much that passes for Christian decision making in modern Evangelicalism strikes me as a mixture of lazy moral reasoning and illegitimate efforts to discern those "secret things" (Deut. 29:29) that God has never promised to reveal to us. Scripture has much to say about the way we approach important decisions in our lives. It tells us, for instance, to take our time in making decisions (Prov. 21:5), to consider all the relevant facts (Prov. 18:13), to seek wise counsel from others (Prov. 11:14), to make choices that will maximize, not undermine, our ability to love God and love others (Prov. 10:9), to aim at God's glory in all our decisions (1 Cor. 10:31), and so on. It establishes boundaries for what's acceptable with regard to certain decisions; it tells us, for example, not to be unequally yoked (1 Cor. 6:14), a moral imperative that bears upon, say, decisions we make relative to marriage. It seems to me, however, that such biblical advice about decision making is regularly trumped in modern evangelical circles by simplistic appeals to what God is "leading" one to do, perhaps with justification provided by significantly misinterpreted and misapplied biblical texts (e.g. Rom. 8:14).

Consequently, I find myself assuming a posture of wariness whenever I hear Christians speak of determining "God's will" for their lives. Scripture, in keeping with our finite human perspective, presents God's will to us as two discrete realities. It describes, firstly, what theologians refer to as God's preceptive will, which encompasses all God's moral commands to us (see e.g. 1 Thess. 4:3). It describes, secondly, what theologians refer to as God's decretive will, which encompasses everything that God has determined to do in relation to us and the world, and so comprises every created reality and event (see e.g. Eph. 1:11). God's preceptive will for us is readily available to us in Scripture. God's decretive will is fully known only to him, though he reveals certain aspects of his decretive will to us in certain times and places, in keeping with his purpose. So, for instance, Christ's return constitutes one yet to be realized aspect of God's decretive will that, by virtue of God's revelation of said future event, I can count on with absolute certainty.

When Christians speak of determining "God's will" for their lives, they rarely, so far as I can tell, mean by that efforts to determine God's preceptive will (which, quite frankly, they would do better to concern themselves with). They typically, rather, refer to efforts to determine God's decretive will, specifically as such infringes on their own personal lives. Whom should I marry? Where should I go to college? Should I take this or that job? These are the questions that typically prompt efforts to determine "God's will." But Scripture never invites us to pry into God's decretive will. In fact, it sharply discourages us from doing so (Deut. 29:29). Scripture invites us, rather, to frame our lives according to God's preceptive will, and to exercise wisdom and good decision-making principles (see above) when faced with life's multitude of choices.

I find myself similarly uncomfortable with the language of "open" and "closed doors" that regularly features in Christian talk about decisions. I realize the language itself is biblical (cf. 2 Cor. 2:12), and perhaps some Christians use it in more or less the way that Paul, for example, used it. But, in doing so, they forget that Paul, as an apostle, was the recipient of unique revelation and unique direction from God, and that, as a result, his experience will be decidedly un-analagous to our own at significant junctures in life. The example of an apostle (or other holder of some extraordinary office in Scripture) shouldn't, in my judgment, necessarily be considered normative when it comes to questions of decision making or navigating the relationship between divine sovereignty and one's choices in life. The balance of Scripture, it seems to me, doesn't encourage us in efforts to discern God's decretive will for our lives by providential events (i.e., open or closed doors). Sometimes a closed door simply needs to be pushed on harder. Sometimes an open door needs to be passed by. The wisdom and biblical principles that govern decision making should always take precedence over providential "signs" that Scripture never bids us decipher.

The posture of Paul and Silas relative to one literally (and by literally, I mean unfiguratively) "open door" might prove instructive on this point. In Acts 16, Paul got himself and Silas into hot water in the city of Philippi when he cast a demon out from a young slave-girl and so angered her owners who were profiting financially from her demon possession. Paul and Silas subsequently endured a beating at the bidding of Roman magistrates and were placed in prison. During their night in jail an earthquake occurred, and "immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened." Hit pause and put ourselves in Paul's shoes for a moment. How many of us, I wonder, would have interpreted the open prison doors as a clear sign from God that he intended us to escape an unfair imprisonment administered by the hand of suspect secular authorities? But what did Paul actually do? He remained in prison until daybreak (a fact that led to the jailer's conversion). He subjected himself to the governing authorities instituted by God in that particular city, just like he tells us to do elsewhere (Rom. 13:1-2). He applied some solid moral reasoning to his situation and determined that his proper course of action was to let justice run its course (even though "justice" in his specific situation seemed decidedly unjust).

Paul's passing over the "open door" in Philippi might serve, I think, as a lesson to us all. Rather than seeking to decipher what God would have us to do in given situations by recognizing and interpreting various "signs" (open doors and otherwise), we should seek to familiarize ourselves more fully with God's preceptive will in Scripture. There is ample guidance in Scripture for how we should live our lives. There's also, relative to some of life's most difficult decisions, ample freedom to choose various paths provided one let's his/her choice be governed by the biblical principles that should inform decision-making per se. We can exercise that freedom with joy, confident that all our decisions fit into God's decretive will.

Or, as Augustine put is so much more succinctly and eloquently sixteen centuries ago: "Love God, and do what you want."

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10 Habits of Discerning People

Hannah Anderson   

One glance at the headlines will tell you that the world is a dangerous, confusing place. From natural disasters to church scandals to heartbreak closer to home, it can feel like nowhere is safe. Maybe the best thing you can do is just hunker down and try to survive. But what if God wants more for you than survival? What if he wants you to thrive and enjoy his goodness despite the brokenness around you?

In John 17, Jesus prays for his followers—people like you and me—who are overwhelmed by the world around them: “I am not praying that you take them out of the world but that you protect them. . . . Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:15, 17).

Instead of retreating from the world, God intends to equip us to meet its challenges with confidence and joy. Instead of changing our circumstances, he intends to change us by making us people who can discern the difference between what’s good and what’s not. Or as Paul puts it, God intends to transform us by renewing our minds so we’ll know what is good, perfect, and acceptable (Rom. 12:1–2).

So what do discerning people know that the rest of us don’t? What do discerning people do that makes them uniquely capable of navigating a broken, complicated world? At least 10 things.

1. They live in right relationship to God.

The first thing that sets discerning people apart is that they’re humble. They know how much they don’t know. It’s tempting to rush into situations or decisions confident that we already know the answer. Maybe we think we’ve already learned the “right” answer. Or maybe we rely on our gut instinct. Either way, we don’t pause long enough to remember that our minds are limited, and our hearts are easily led astray. Scripture is clear: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7). In other words, discerning people know that God—not their experience or instinct—is the source of wisdom and ultimately the source of safety. From this place of humility, discerning people seek help from the One who gives it freely and abundantly.

2. They focus on finding goodness in brokenness.

In a sin-cursed world, we can quickly become distracted by the brokenness and begin to believe it’s more powerful than God’s goodness. But when this happens, we also begin to make decisions from a mindset of fear and self-protection. Trapped by negativity, we’ll only have eyes for what’s wrong. We’ll shrink back from any kind of risk and hunker down in our safe places, seeing anyone who is different from us as a threat. Isolated and alone, we’re unable to enjoy what goodness the world offers.

Discerning people know that God made the world good and that he sustains it in goodness. Yes, the world is cursed by sin but through Christ, God is redeeming it and us. “I would have despaired,” David wrote, “unless I had believed I would see the goodness of God in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). Discerning people have confidence in divine goodness.

3. They know the difference between the way things are and the way things should be.

As much as discerning people look for goodness in the brokenness, they don’t deny the brokenness or pretend it doesn’t exist. They’re not idealists. They know the “way the world works” isn’t always the way God intended it to work. So they evaluate everything by the authority of the Scripture and the person of Jesus, testing it to see whether it meets God’s standard of goodness. Sometimes this means rejecting the status quo or questioning their own long-held beliefs. But through it all, they know God is the ultimate standard of what is right, and they must submit all things—even their most deeply held customs and practices—to him.

4. They invest in things and relationships that will last.

Because the world isn’t yet what it should be, we all experience trouble and difficulty in this life. When we do, we can be tempted to comfort ourselves with fleeting pleasure: expensive gadgets, addictive substances, unhealthy relationships, and mindless entertainment. At first, these things may bring us a kind of relief. The new car or that third glass of wine will make you happy, at least temporarily, but you’ll quickly need another hit when the initial pleasure wears off. And you’ll be running in circles trying to find it.

Discerning people know that lasting happiness comes from eternal things. They aren’t immune to suffering in this life, but they invest in relationships and things that bring long-term stability instead of short-term relief.

5. They know the importance of truth.

In a world of #fakenews and #alternativefacts, it can seem like we live in competing realities. “Your truth” isn’t “my truth” and whatever we personally want to believe becomes truth for us. This makes for a fractured world where we’re isolated from even our friends and neighbors.

Discerning people know that truth isn’t a private matter and that we must have shared truth to flourish. They’re willing to submit themselves and their ideas to scrutiny, knowing that opinions and commentary do not replace facts. And when they encounter information they’ve never heard before, they test it, not by their own opinions or emotions, but by the larger body of shared truth. Ultimately they know we all must submit to the One who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” In this sense, discerning people are honest people. Honest with themselves, honest with the facts, and honest with others.

6. They listen to experts.

Not only do discerning people walk humbly before God, they also walk humbly before their fellow man, deferring to those who have more experience and knowledge than they do. In a world of search engines and social media, it can be tempting to believe everyone’s opinion on any given subject is equally valid. But access to information isn’t knowledge, and tips and trick aren’t skill and expertise. Discerning people know it takes years of study and life experience to become an expert, and they honor that.

They also know the difference between an expert and an elitist. An expert is someone who has expertise in a particular field of knowledge, while an elitist is someone who thinks they have expertise in every field of knowledge. In Romans 13, Paul tells us to give honor to those who deserve it. Discerning people know to honor those whose life experience or education give them particular insight—whether it’s a mother who knows her child better than anyone else or a doctor who knows her field. In both cases, a discerning person will honor the specific expertise of each.

7. They pay attention to words and actions.

One thing that makes the world so confusing is that people behave inconsistently. Politicians promise one thing but do another. Husbands and wives vow faithfulness only to cheat a few months or years down the road. It’s hard to know whom you can trust. At its root, this disconnect between our words and actions reveals a deeper disconnect in our hearts. The book of James describes this as being “double-minded” and says double-minded people are unstable in all their ways.

Discerning people know that people with mixed motives will be unstable, so they don’t trust them. They pay attention to the difference between a person’s words and actions and aren’t easily swayed by lip service.

8. They embrace goodness wherever they find it.

In the chaos of the world, we tend to cluster in like-minded groups, believing our tribe will give us a sense of safety and security. Sadly, this “us vs. them” approach can blind us to the weaknesses within our group. It can also make us miss the good things that happen outside it. Discerning people know that both good and bad exist in every space. That’s why Paul tells us to think on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and of good report” (Phil. 4:8).

Rather than toeing the party line, discerning people are committed to finding goodness wherever it may exist. “If there be any moral excellence,” the verse continues, “and if there is be anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.”

9. They pursue the best possible solution, knowing that no solution is perfect.

Because the world is broken, our decisions will be inadequate in many ways. We simply don’t have the ability or the options to find perfect solutions. But if we wait for the perfect, it’s likely we’ll miss the good. So discerning people know how to make pragmatic decisions. This doesn’t mean that the ends justify the means or that we can do whatever we what. It means learning the difference between “unprincipled pragmatism” and “principled pragmatism.” Unprincipled pragmatism takes advantage of the brokenness, using and manipulating it for self-serving purposes. Principled pragmatism, on the other hand, accepts the reality of brokenness and tries to make decisions that promote healing and wholeness, all with an eye to the day when God sets all things right.

10. They use their wisdom to help others.

Instead of seeing discernment as a source of superiority, discerning people use their insight to serve those around them. Whether it’s in their church, their family, or their neighborhood, they use knowledge to build up and unify—not tear down or create division. Sometimes this means having the patience to wait while others think through what you already know. Sometimes it means foregoing your preferences for the good of others. Sometimes it might even mean being misunderstood precisely because others can’t yet see what you do. But because discerning people know the difference between what’s good and what’s not, they also know to evaluate their own actions. They resist the temptation to flaunt knowledge or prove themselves right. They know that any wisdom they have is given to them for the common good.

God hasn’t left us alone in this world. Through the Spirit and the Scripture, he is renewing our minds so we can discern his holy and perfect will. But this process requires humility and a willingness to be changed. God isn’t interested in our being right so much as our being made right—right with him and right with each other. As we grow in wisdom and the knowledge of Christ, we’ll increasingly meet the challenges of a broken world. And little by little, we’ll experience all he’s planned for us. Little by little, we’ll be made good and discover all that’s good in the world around us.

Editors’ note: 

A version of this article appeared at Hannah Anderson’s book All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment was a winner in our 2019 Book Awards.

Hannah Anderson lives with her family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where her husband, Nathan, pastors Brookhill Baptist Church. Hannah is the author of several books ,including Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul and the newly released All That’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment. You can find more of her writing at, hear her on the weekly podcast Persuasion, or follow her on Twitter.

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You Are Not Your Own

Article by Jon Bloom

Your body does not belong to you. Do you believe this? I don’t mean doctrinallybelieve it — if you’re a Christian, you of course believe that “you are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19). I mean do you functionally believe this?

It’s not difficult to tell. How you use your body reveals what you believe. It canbe difficult to admit, if we feel exposed by our functional belief. Believe me, I know. I have plenty of functional beliefs that fall short of my official beliefs, in varying degrees at varying times.

“In what part of your life have you functionally forgot that you belong to Jesus?”

The question isn’t an exercise in shaming — for you or for me. It’s an exercise in honest assessment, in reality therapy, and, if needed, in repentance. Which, for Christians, should be just a normal, everyday experience. As Martin Luther famously said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”

Falling Forward Together

All of us fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). None of us has arrived (Philippians 3:12–13). God knows this far better than we do, and he’s made abundant provision for our shortfalls. Each time we repent — each day, even each hour — Jesus’s substitutionary, atoning death for us cleanses us from allunrighteousness (1 John 1:9). God wants us to live condemnation-free (Romans 8:1) by taking full advantage of his endless supply of forgiving, restoring, encouraging, and empowering grace.

Since all of us redeemed short-fallers are in this fight of faith together, we can keep encouraging and exhorting one another every day to press on towards the Great Goal (Philippians 3:14), so that none of us becomes hardened in deceitful, habitual sin (Hebrews 3:13).

With God’s wonderful grace in mind, we can take a good, honest look at ourselves and ask: do we really believe that we are not our own?

Do You Not Know?

Let’s look at these Spirit-inspired, Paul-authored words in context:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

When Paul asked “do you not know,” he was addressing Christians. And he asked the Corinthian Christians this question a lot in this letter (1 Corinthians 3:165:66:2–3915–16199:1324). Now, some Corinthians were probably new believers and perhaps didn’t know. But Paul’s phrasing of the question makes it clear that he was giving a firm reminder to most readers who doctrinally knew, but whose behaviors revealed that they functionally forgot.

More poignantly, they were living in functional unbelief, which was real sin and required real repentance. They knew, and they didn’t.

Who Owns Your Body?

In 1 Corinthians 6:19, Paul was specifically addressing sexual immorality among believers. Just like our society, the Corinthian society had a lot of available, accessible, culturally acceptable, and even encouraged ways to immorally indulge sexually. Very likely, many Corinthian Christians had backgrounds rife with immorality. They had habits of thinking and behaving sexually that still affected and tempted them as Christians. Some, apparently, had been repeatedly “falling short.”

“Our Master bought us with the price of his own infinitely precious life in order to make us free.”

More than this, they were actually rationalizing it with a common adage, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (1 Corinthians 6:13). In other words, Look, if the body has an appetite for food, we feed it. So, if the body has an appetite for sex, we should “feed” it. Besides, we’re free! Jesus’s sacrifice made all things lawful!(1 Corinthians 6:12).

Paul responded with a frank correction: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13). When we become Christians, our bodies become members or appendages of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 6:15–17). And the very Spirit of Christ dwells in our bodies as the Spirit used to dwell in Jerusalem’s temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). Implication: every sexually immoral behavior a Christian engages in drags the Lord Jesus Christ into that engagement.

That’s why sexual sin, in particular, is a sin against our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:18). In Christianity, there is no bifurcation of body and spirit. Both make up the human being. To defile one is to defile the other. Both our bodies and spirits, though still vulnerable to sin and the futile suffering of this age while we wait for our full redemption (Romans 8:23), are nevertheless being redeemed by Jesus and will be raised (1 Corinthians 6:14). So, our bodies must not be given over to sin’s governance (Romans 6:12), because our bodies do not belong to us.

You Were Bought

But is this how we live? Do we knowingly behave with our bodies as if Christ is engaged in our physical actions — all of them? Or do we not (functionally) know?

“Gracious as he is, Jesus must still be our Master, which means we must obey him.”

In describing the ways we are not our own, Paul used the metaphors of a bodily member, which does the will of the head; then a bodily temple, which is animated by the divine Spirit who lives there; then a bond-slave, who does the will of his Master. That’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

A bond-slave is not his own person. He has sold himself to someone else. He belongs to someone else. He does not merely do as he pleases. His time is not his own. He is not free to follow the whims of his personal dreams. He is not free to indulge the craving of his appetites as he wishes. He is not his own. He belongs to his Master. This is what a Christian is.

Freed at Great Cost

This bond-slavery of a Christian, however, is like no other — far better than any alternative of autonomy. Our Master bought us with the price of his own infinitely precious life in order to make us “free indeed” (John 8:32–36). What does that mean? It means when he bought us, he freed us from our hell-bound slavery to sin (Romans 6:6). He also bought for us the priceless gift of being adopted by the Father as his very children, which makes us heirs with Jesus of his Father’s kingdom and of infinite wealth (Romans 8:16–17). If that wasn’t enough, Jesus, our Master, both now and in the age to come, serves us beyond our wildest imaginations (Mark 10:45Luke 12:37).

But, gracious as he is, Jesus must still be our Master, which means we must obey him (John 14:15). For our master is whomever or whatever we obey (Romans 6:16).

As Christians, we know this. The question is, do we really know? Is Jesus the Master over our time, expenditures, investments, home size and location, education, career, marital status, parenting, friendships, church involvement, and ministry commitments? If not, we do not (functionally) know what we think we know.

Glorify God in Your Body

We need good, honest self-assessment. What is the Spirit bringing to mind right now? In what part of your life have you functionally forgotten, or better functionally not believed, that you belong to Jesus? What are you stewarding as if it is yours and not God’s? Follow the Spirit’s lead and repent. Your gracious Lord and Master stands with scarred arms wide open to receive, forgive, and cleanse you.

“You and I are not our own. We are Christ’s.”

You and I are not our own. We are Christ’s (1 Corinthians 3:23). In every sense, we are Christ’s — body, mind, and spirit. We are members of Christ’s body, our bodies are Christ’s temple, and we are bond-slaves of Christ, who has made us children of his Father and fellow heirs of his estate — what a Master!

He is only, however, the Master of those who obey him. That’s why it’s crucial that our functional knowing aligns with our doctrinal knowing. Or as Paul said, “You are not your own. . . . So glorify God in your body.”

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