Recently, I have been confronted with some rather significant decisions.  As one who is committed to Christ as Lord and Savior, naturally these are things I have brought to God in prayer, looking for his will and guidance.  At the same time, I have had to think through ramifications of varying options and scenarios and gauge what is the reasonable thing to do given what I believe is consistent with the witness of scripture and the place where God has me currently situated.  In short, I have confronted these decisions prayerfully, with the voice of reason.

Now some might object and believe that we need to rely on what God tells us to do.  That relying on reason and engaging our mental faculties is the same as relying on human wisdom and understanding apart from the spiritual understanding that comes from divine direction.  After all, doesn’t Proverbs 3:5 indicate to not lean to our own understanding, but acknowledge the Lord in all our ways?  Most certainly it does.  But I don’t think that means that engaging in a thought process involving reason is not engaging spiritual guidance.  In fact, I am convinced that God very much operates through reason, too.

As Christians, we are told in Romans 12:2 to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing our minds.   Conformity to the world involves a mindset of identity.   Prior to regeneration, the believer can only follow the mindset that does not set affections on God or his ways (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7).  It relies on a philosophy of the pattern of this world, which is keeping with human understanding and that which is sourced in self-interest.  The renewed mind understands that life decisions must be filtered through a new lens.  We are subject to a different standard that is keeping with who we are as citizens of heaven, indwelt with the Holy Spirit who provides illumination on how to bring life into alignment with God’s will and ways.  So as we think about life and all of its decisions, we should be in touch with that identity and what is in its best interest.

It does raise the question of how the Holy Spirit works in the faculties of the believer.  Does the Holy Spirit provide guidance by bypassing our thought process and just mechanically gives us answers and directives?   Or does the Holy Spirit invade the mind and influence our thoughts so that they align with the will of God?  I suppose that answer will rest on where one stands on the composition of our humanity, whether dichotomist (body and soul/spirit) or trichotomist (body, soul and spirit).   I also wonder that if we take the position that the Holy Spirit speaks to us separate from our mental faculties, if that means we are responsible for some decisions but God is responsible for others.  That does present some difficulties that I can’t even wrap my mind around at the moment.

I honestly believe that adopting the mentality that divine guidance must come through that ‘small still voice’ or some other form of receiving a direct answer can be counter-productive to an authentic Christian life that must confront decisions on a daily basis – big and small.  I am not saying that God does not operate that way or there aren’t ‘impressions’ that are convictions of a direction that God would have us take.   But he did give us mental faculties to use that should be used to honor him.  If he just gave us the answer, how then would we grow and make choices that demonstrate our love for him?  Moreover, the fact that convictions come in the form of thoughts, I believe makes for a compelling case that the Holy Spirit very much works through out mental faculties, which we then should use for the glory of God in the decisions that we make.  In fact, I am of the opinion that the voice we ascribe to God speaking can actually be the Holy Spirit bearing on our own thoughts, which is what we may possibly hear.

If we are just listening to the voice separate from any type of mental engagement, then what is to prevent someone who is mentally challenged with proclivities towards distorted thought processes from declaring some divine directive that is nothing more than a product of that distortion?  I do believe that God can work through mental illness but that doesn’t prevent the impact that misunderstood and misapplied guidance can have those who are subject to that decision.  In fact, I have encountered ministries that I believe were either founded upon the spiritual leadership or run by someone who was mentally unstable.  As one who is not trained in this area, I can only speculate but I would bet money that this is far more prevalent than we probably think.

If the Holy Spirit can operate through the voice of reason, I suspect that the conscience very much plays a role in this facilitation.  The NT writers use the word conscience  (συνειδησις) 29 times and is associated with an inward conviction that aligns with a mindset that our thoughts, words or actions are consistent with our identity as believers in Christ.   The Greek-English lexicon (BDAG) renders the meaning of the word as “an inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong”.   A few examples are here

Romans 2:15 – in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.

1 Corinthians 8:10 – For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?

2 Corinthians 5:11 – Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.

Hebrews 9:14 – how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

It seems that everywhere conscience is used, it denotes that inward conviction that must bear on our decisions but nowhere denies the existence of decisions or having to think through what is the reasonable and God-honoring thing to do.  But several of the verses where ‘conscience’ is used indicates the need to keep it clear (Acts 23:1; 24:9; 1 Timothy 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:16).  It’s why I believe Paul warns that the spiritually wayward will have a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2) that prevents subjection to God and his ways and how it can distort decisions we make.

So the bottom line is that I don’t think we should fear the voice of reason or relegate to a product of non-spiritual human understanding.  If our thoughts are filtered through the grid of prayer, scripture and an attitude of subjection to Christ, I believe the Holy Spirit can use them to align with the very direction that God would have us take as we think through what to do.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    55 replies to "The Voice of Reason: Decision Making and Spirit-Led Direction"

    • Karen

      Just a comment…a tiny thought actually…thinking about maturing Christians, perhaps one thing that builds on a human level for a God seeker, is what people call “boundaries”. To a point, boundaries I think are a healthy human thing that humanly builds in a Christian’s mind.
      For example, see this contrast. A Christian learns how to stop lying because they want to do what is right and not grieve the Holy Spirit. So in time they learn how to deal with life and set up boundaries when people ask them to lie or they themselves are in difficult situations.Let us say a Christian is asked by a friend not to say where she is going to another person.Yes, I will not tell. Then that other person wants to know where she is going.The Christian replies I have been asked not tell or I will not tell or will say something that is needed without lying and without betrayal.And we know what Jesus said about betrayal!!! So, I know about that! But to make a point…A non-believer in contrast has not learned to stop lying because there is nothing preventing it, no God in their life, no faith, no boundaries. So a non-believer asked to do the same thing, will likely answer. No, I don’t know where she is going, when they do know, but the answer was a lie, for it does not matter to them. There is no accountability and so forth.
      The conviction, though, to answer without lying for the born again, new creature, Christian comes from either the Holy Spirit and/or the conscience that God gave that person, but the decision to not lie was their own.
      So, during the course of life that person matures in behavior, while a person who does not work on his faith or spiritual life does not grow at all, and in fact can revert into worse shape by the influences around them. The boundaries they do set up oppose.
      It kind of comes to mind what I believe is mentioned at least a couple of times in the is those that have fear of God that find salvation. Why? Because they (already?)…believe

    • Karen

      Another comment…I had a very life changing experience when years ago I was in a church that fell apart. I always took Matthew 5:23 very, very seriously. And this was in my heart. I really did not know what to do about it, but I wondered when will there ever be reconciliation among these people when a mass exodus occurred and the church split?? When. Weren’t we all supposed to do Matt 5:23? Especially, the leaders? My heart was so broken and I took this verse seriously. My heart pecked and pecked, but I did not know what to do. Then some time later an unusual event brought some of these people together, and there I was wondering why people did not say anything or have a great big forgiveness fest? It just didn’t happen but nothing right happened nor nothing wrong.
      So, then a lady speaks with me when I pondered this with her the next day, for I noticed and said to her per Matt 5:23 we can’t fix everything, time does not necessarily heal, and all that, sometimes we just can’t do anything… she said, oh, Karen, Karen it is under the Blood of Jesus. I knew she was on to something, but I asked for Biblical support. 🙂 And I thought about it 24/7 for quite a while, and the Lord showed me in the Word what that really meant. It is about believing and confessing that Jesus really put this under His Blood.

      So, I say all this to say, when it comes to human decision and spirit led, sometimes I believe that Jesus does show us, we can’t do much at times, NOT A THING, but just trust Him that it truly is under His Blood, in spite of the 1,000 plus commandments that are in the NT alone.

      So I believe that Matt 5:23 also shows us sharply that we cannot fix everything, and we need a Savior…is what it is saying as well.

    • Michael T.


      1. “You keep running by the science-of-the-gaps line, as if it compared to the God-of-the-gaps argument. It doesn’t. Outside of the approach of supernaturalism, it is actually normal to yield explanatory preference to a known class of phenomena.”

      There are so many assumptions in this statement I almost don’t even know where to begin. Few things.
      a. This assumes the one holds epistemically to methodological naturalism. Since I don’t hold to methodological naturalism I reject this statement. If a event occurs which appears to be miraculous a possible way it could be natural (i.e. the medical records got screwed up) is just as likely as a supernatural explanation in any given event.

      b. This assumes that that which is “known” is only that which is “known” through empirical methods.

      c. It assumes that the natural explanation is always the right one – can you prove this?

      d. It makes it literally impossible to ever infer something is supernatural even if there were ridiculous evidence such as a giant head appearing in the sky telling us to bow down or die and then striking dead all those who didn’t bow. I could always say it was just the result of really really advanced aliens pretending to be a god and in the view you espouse that must be a better explanation since it is a known phenomenon or at least a natural one which can be understood. Thus you once again display the inherent limitation of empirical inquiry.

    • Michael T.

      2. “These same factors play a huge role in why so many Christian converts are either poorly educated, from a cultural or familial context which encourages religion, or both.”

      a. Your discussion of cultural context and religious beliefs is of course correct to a degree. People who grow up in a religions family are more likely to be religious. However, to infer from this that a cultural or familial belief is false is to commit the genetic fallacy.

      b. You infer causation from correlation here as well. You assume that it is education which leads to lower belief in religion and of course you are correct again to a degree. The higher the level of someones education the more likely they are to be an atheist. However, this does not necessarily mean that education itself is the cause. It could be that the more highly educated someone is the more well off they are and therefore the less likely they are to see the need for God in their lives (it is easier for a rich man to go through the eye of a needle…). Or it could be that God has for whatever reason chosen to reveal Himself to the lowly (God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise….). Or it could simply be the type of personalities which pursue advanced degrees. To make a long story short there are a dozen factors which could be causative of this phenomenon, both natural and supernatural.

      3. “(And no, I wouldn’t be surprised by postmodern thought. Its just not that common in those highly educated in the sciences.)”

      Again you assume causation from correlation. You assume that you prove something by the fact that those who are highly educated in science don’t hold to postmodernism. It could be that knowledge of science made them this way. It is equally likely that those that hold to postmodernism aren’t interested in studying science in the first place. Thus again education isn’t necessarily the causative factor.

      4. Finally to the extent my argumentation has been all over the place it is because I am trying to avoid getting into an off topic debate about the existence of God. So when the debate has gone there I’ve tried to redirect it. We are already off topic now with the merits of methodological naturalism and Christianity.

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