You Can’t Trust Yourself: Why Your Sense of Peace Is A Terrible Basis For Decision Making
It’s become a go-to answer to justify our actions. Sarah is a high-school senior who is trying to determine where she will go to college. After four college tours, she tells her parents that she just feels a peace about going to a certain school. Or a businessman considering a new career venture might quip, “I know it is risky but I just feel a peace that this is what I should do.” Our internal sense of peace serves as the ultimate rationale for decision-making and, the great thing is, no one can question us. It’s the ultimate mic-drop—akin to saying that God told you to do something. Who’s gonna say that God didn’t tell you this or that your sense of peace is wrong?
This might not be such a big deal in morally neutral decisions like where we go to college or what entrepreneurial venture we are going to undertake next. But it’s a massive issue when it bleeds over to our choices in other areas of life—which it almost always does.
Our sense of peace may serve as a basis for our choice of church, even though the church may preach and impoverished gospel or lack godly leadership. We may justify a decision to end a contentious marriage through divorce because we just feel peace when we are not together. We assume a homosexual relationship must be God’s design when we stop resisting our internal urges and embrace the actions that make us feel at peace.
This sounds like a virtuous practice—after all, we assume, wouldn’t God want us to feel a sense of peace? Isn’t this internal clarity a sign of God’s blessing? Would God want us to make a decision that doesn’t give us an immediate sense of peace? Surely not, right?
Unfortunately our internal compass is fundamentally broken due to the fall. Apart from Christ, our feelings are wildly deceptive. Our depraved nature actually aligns our internal sense of peace with those actions which betray God’s good design. We feel a sense of peace when we embrace our inherited sin nature because we are acting in line with our fallen nature when we sin. We are acting out who we are—rebels destined for destruction.
In Christ, our nature is transformed. We are given new hearts that long to obey God and worship him rightly. True believers, when they sin, are now acting against their nature, so that sin will increasingly feel grotesque and will fail to bring the peace it once provided.
So, does this mean that those of us who claim to be Christians can trust their sense of peace? Maybe. But, maybe not—for at least two reasons.
First, we may not actually have a new heart. An internal sense of peace towards ungodly actions may demonstrate that a person hasn’t had the radical reorientation of their sin-drenched hearts that comes through genuine conversion. If someone is still dead in sin, regardless of their religious pedigree, their internal compulsion will still be towards godlessness and not righteousness. Peace becomes an ungodly fruit that substantiates that a person does not truly belong to Christ.
Second, we may be deceived by the sin that clings so closely. A person who is truly given a new heart should find a distaste for the sin that once brought joy and peace. Yes, this person will still be susceptible to sin, and will sometimes fall prey to sin’s lure, but a genuine believer should sense a difference in the way he or she now responds when they do. Sin will bring pain, where it once brought pleasure. It will be a deep sense of God’s love and forgiveness, where it once only brought shame and guilt. It will produce genuine repentance, where it once brought only momentary change.
But, imagine a true Christian who rationalizes a certain sinful practice. At first the sin may bring conviction, but over time this inner sense of disquiet begins to wane. Sin may even seem justifiable, particularly if obeying God brings discomfort or pain. Take the classic case of a Christian, teenage girl dating a fool. She knows the relationship is doomed—he doesn’t love God and he’s leading her down a bad path as well. But, the opposite of dating him is to be alone, and what kind of girl wants to be alone, right? The pain of loneliness trumps the pain of an ungodly relationship and so, she travels down the path that so many have walked before her. Over time, she sears her conscious to the Spirit’s urging and trains her heart to feel peace in an unhealthy relationship. We all know the end of her story.
There has to be a better foundation to shape the decisions we make. We may use our internal sensibilities to supplement or clarify our actions but there are two questions that are far more helpful in determining our actions.
Does the Bible Speak to This Issue?
If the Bible authoritatively speaks to an issue then it doesn’t matter how you feel, the Bible is always right. Certainly, those who desire to pursue aberrant behavior will seek to reinterpret biblical counsel to justify the uniqueness of their situation and the moral uprightness of their actions. But, at the end of the day, the Bible serves as an authoritative guide that must trump every sense of exceptionalism we may feel. Since the Bible speaks clearly on issues of sexuality, we must heed its counsel, deny our longings, and repent of our sin—even if embracing sin makes us feel at peace. Since the Bible speaks clearly on issues of Christian love, we must seek the best interest of our enemies and love them as Christ as loved us, even if doing so brings heartache and pain. There’s simply no other option.
Do Other Christians Speak to This Issue?
Christian community is the second check-point on the way to clarifying our actions. We have to be careful here, though. We can always twist and distort the Bible to rationalize our actions and we can always find a professing Christian or two who will justify our actions as well. Ironically, such support will likely come from those who are seeking greater comfort for their sin. Yet, the church is designed to be a place where genuine believers, who are seeking to train their hearts to find joy, peace, and contentment through obedience to Christ, can walk alongside one another to encourage holiness and discourage sin. In the church, we should find others who love us enough to point us to the forgiveness found in Christ and the righteous lives He died that we might live. If mature believers challenge our actions we should heed their warning, even if doing so doesn’t feel very peaceful.
This, then, is the place where our internal compass may come into play. If the Bible encourages our choice (or at least doesn’t forbid it) and if those who love us in the church feel it is our best interest, then we can ask, “Do I have a sense of peace in making this decision?” or perhaps better “Does God’s Spirit within me confirm that this is the right thing to do?” The problem isn’t the question, it’s the order. If we first ask what brings us peace, then we will make the Bible say what we want and find other people who agree with us. But, if we first ask what the Bible says, then what true believers support, we can put our sense of peace in its proper place and walk confidently into the decisions that will shape our lives.