How to Make Good Choices
Our world is a complex place. Life’s choices have become increasingly challenging to make. Discernment is harder than it used to be. Rather than life presenting us with clearly black and white issues, it seems that society lives more in the marginal grays– where what is right and wrong, or best for us, isn’t always obvious.
That led me to begin searching to find out how many choices we actually make in the course of a day or week. What I found surprised me.
Every day we make an enormous number of decisions. So many, in fact, that the matter has caught the attention of social scientists.
It may surprise you that, according to researchers at respected Cornell University, a whopping 226.7 decisions are made each day by the average American… on food alone! (Would you like fries with that?) What’s more, when taking into consideration all of the choices we make– whether conscious, subconscious,impulsive, logical, and complex decisions– up to a staggering 35,000 choices overall are reportedly made every 24 clock hours of the day for the average person!
We Make “How Many” Decisions Everyday?
Possibly 35,000. And if you think about it, it makes at least some sense.
After all, we decide things like when we will get up and whether we will snooze the alarm or not. choice of toothpaste, if and when to brush our teeth, whether to use mouth wash, when to use mouth wash, and what brand of mouthwash to use– and how much. Then there’s what we’ll wear. Considering the fact that the average person wears at least 8 articles of clothing, that racks up another 6-8 decisions, depending on how you count it. And that’s just before breakfast!
So if this 35,000 choices per day statistic is even remotely true, that calculates to past 2 Million in the average lifetime! And even if it were much less, you’re still talking in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands per person!
Making Good Decisions is Critical. But How?
With this many choices on the line, we had better learn more about how to make good ones. This is especially true for the Christian, as we are told in scripture to be discerning about everything (Phil 1:9-10) and to pay close attention to our thinking (2 Cor. 10:5). With these truths in mind, let’s look at some helpful perspectives on how to make decisions as a disciple of Jesus.
1. Identify Whether the Issue is a Matter of Choice, Conscience, or Conviction
2. Then determine the correct course of action, based on the following decision-making grid.
Though I have heard a number of approaches to decision-making, I felt more work needed to be done to help us in areas where believers often disagree and where important life choices must be made. Decisions, overall, and issues of ethics and morality in particular, are becoming tougher and tougher to discern.
There seemed to be times when the choice models to which I’d been exposed simply didn’t get the job done. Either the situations required so many exceptions and entailments that the issues overwhelmed the model– or the categories provided for decision-making weren’t a good fit. Here’s an alternate decision-making model I hope will help.
Everything begins by figuring out what type of decision is being presented to you. That is what dictates how you will approach the situation. And if this seems complicated– it really isn’t. This simply involves working to classify everything into one of three simple biblical categories. Let’s look more closely at the grid I created that builds off of earlier models I have seen. What follows isn’t inerrant, but it’s a start and the best insight I have at this point in my thinking.
Here we go.
Three Classifications of Choices
I separate choices into three categories: Matters of Conviction, Conscience, and Choice. I think these closely mirror what we see in scripture.
- Matters of Conviction are issues that the Bible addresses clearly and/or explicitly, and where prohibitions or principles are obvious to Christians who take the Bible seriously. In these cases, there is no discernment needed as to God’s Will or what to choose… just the decision to be obedient.
- Matters of Conscience are issues that may or may not be addressed explicitly in scripture, or that are left purposefully without specific prohibitions or commands, and are especially instances when ‘principles’ need to be clarified and weighed out. Often these are issues that depend on a myriad of circumstances or mitigating factors that, when those variables are taken into consideration, make a decision a good one or bad one. But because discernment is needed, and since believers are all at different levels of maturity and Bible knowledge, these are issues where devoted believers can differ (especially when certain groups’ teachings on these issues seem to conflict with scripture) and when, despite the issue being clear to our understanding, a significant group of Christians can knowingly differ on the issue.
- Matters of Choice are issues where scripture is silent or provides no directives. It is when the Bible’s teaching is not obligatory and when believers seem to be given permission to do as they choose.
These are quick sketches of each of the three categories explored below. Their brevity is helpful in some ways, but the simplicity itself raises more questions. So let’s do a deep dive in each category to see how this approach might help our decision-making, so we can make better choices!
Making Good Choices in “Matters of Conviction”
Matters of Conviction are clearly important. These are issues where we have genuine and deeply-held beliefs.
Matters of Conviction involve decision-making on issues of moral or theological importance. Non-moral or theological choices aren’t relevant here because, since they aren’t moral or theological– they do not rise to the level of a biblical conviction. That is why these matters are so important.
Two Components of a Matter of Conviction
Matters of Conviction are issues that the Bible addresses clearly (say it with me) “when proper Bible interpretation occurs.” So there are two issues that dictate what I consider to be a Matter of Conviction: (1) Any serious Christian would consider the issue to be one clearly addressed in scripture. The Bible addresses the matter and teaches on it, usually explicitly– or in such an implicit way that the biblical teaching can’t be missed. That’s the first issue: That the issue is clearly addressed in scripture, be it by implicit principle or explicitly.
The second issue (2) related to a Matter of Conviction is that, when proper biblical interpretation occurs by persons who have a high regard for the authority of scripture, the issue is considered clear to all. Note that, because of the continual, even incessant assault on the authority of scripture in society and, indeed, in our pulpits and even some seminaries, matters that should be considered clear issues of “conviction” are harder to identify than they should be. Even so, the position taken in this blog post is that scripture is authoritative and binding, specifically inspired, infallible, and yes– inerrant. This model of making choices begins to break down when scripture is questioned, simply because the standard is then relativized and the goal posts are moved. So let’s assume, at least for the purposes of this discussion, that scripture is “true” (an assumption, by the way, that I always make).
Matters of Conviction include a great number of decisions in life. These “should be” easy for Christians, and are for committed Christians. These “Matters of Conviction,” being both clearly taught in scripture AND when understood by a person who holds to the authority of scripture, are nothing more than areas of obedience or disobedience to scripture. There is no real question as to whether the action or issue is moral or immoral, right or wrong, good or bad. There is no question whether the teaching or doctrine should or shouldn’t be honored, because it is explicitly taught from the authoritative source of Christian revelation: scripture.
Possible Examples of Matters of Conviction
Any list such as this is bound to cause some people trouble. That’s the nature of such things. But leaving the issue to guessing is even worse.
One can only speak from his or her own perspective, so following is my personal perspective on what would constitute a Matter of Conviction and, as the Apostle Paul says, let each be “convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
- Matters of Conviction includes areas where certain behaviors are scripturally forbidden, such as in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). It doesn’t get much clearer than “Thou shalt not…” And of course, there are others. The Ten Commandments are not the only behaviors or issues specifically forbidden or prescribed in the Bible. A great number of other behaviors are also identified throughout scripture, things such as human sacrifice, practicing divination, being a medium (all in Deuteronomy 18). In these cases, both the explicit thing forbidden and things that flow from them, are clearly considered Matters of Conviction. So, in this instance, it would be clear (a) in explicit and implicit scriptural teaching and also (b) to anyone committed to the authority of scripture, that everything directly forbidden (cold-blooded murder, theft, adultery, and others) in addition to those things explicitly implied in scripture (fraticide, cheating, consulting a spiritual medium, and the like) are legitimate Matters of Conviction. But there are others.
- Matters of Conviction aren’t only issues that are “illegal” and “immoral.” Sometimes the Bible considers certain things wrong that are civilly legal. The fact that these exist show how far culture has “slouched toward Gomorrah” in the words of former Supreme Justice nominee, Judge Robert Bork. In this case, some laws (or absence of laws) in our society allow certain behaviors that, for Christians, are Matters of Conviction and clearly beyond the pale. These, though sometimes debated by some, would include issues legal in some places, but nevertheless in clear or implicit violation of scriptural authority, like: marijuana use and the abuse of drugs and medication, drunkenness, abortion on demand, suicide or doctor-assisted suicide, unfair business dealings, sexual activity with deceased persons (on the rise in some places and not always outlawed) or the like.
Interestingly, agreement by Christians on what constitutes a Matter of Conviction isn’t necessary– though most Christians happen to agree. This is seen in Galatians 2, and can be extrapolated in other instances, where scripture was clear but believers’ behavior and convictions differed. In that passage, Paul challenged Peter who was “clearly in the wrong” and whose actions were hypocritical, in that Peter’s actions threatened Christian fellowship and even Christian doctrine. Scripture was clear– and the issue was one of obedience, not a crisis of conscience.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon for believers to differ on issues like these which should be “slam dunks” scripturally, but disagreements still happen. Even so, when the Bible is clear about certain issues, choices, or decisions, no discernment is needed. Christians should be obedient to scripture and to the Lord, and stand one’s ground, in spite of whether others disagree. The Holy Spirit will settle the rest. No one made that more clear than the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:15 who said, “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”
Making Good Choices in “Matters of Conscience”
The second category in making good choices, it seems to me, are Matters of Conscience.
Matters of Conscience are as follows: (1) decision-making issues that may or may not be directly mentioned in scripture, and that (2) Christians may feel very strongly about, but that (3) reasonable Christians can conclude are either not explicit nor clear in scripture, requiring patience and humility toward others on such matters.
It’s important to keep in mind that Matters of Conscience are very much “important.” The fact that devoted believers may disagree on some of these issues does not lessen their importance most of the time. These are issues where right and wrong are (or apparently are) in play. These are deeply personal issues of one’s conscience and stir our hearts profoundly in some cases.
When a Matter of Conscience exists– even if a person might agree that “good Christians can disagree” on the matter, that does not require the believer to weaken their own conviction…. but it does require us to “live and let live.” In other words, these are issues that require both personal conviction on one’s values and interpersonal grace and humility at the same time.
Matters of Conscience are issues that trigger the conscience and that good biblical Christians can differ upon. These are areas where important issues are involved, including issues that may have some moral connotations, but that lack sufficient biblical clarity, or where nuances of language, cultural considerations, or challenges of interpretation might exist or are perceived to exist.
The danger here is that, because of people’s increasing lack of conviction about the authority of scripture in some areas of Christendom (among believers, churches, and theological institutions), there are those who would like to push nearly every issue into this category or lower. Some Christians have even relegated things like “Jesus being the only way to God” (John 14:6) to an unnecessary and unbinding issue. Even so, lest we drift into moral subterfuge and amorality, this category should be clearly defined and carefully understood.
On Matters of Conscience, the individual believer isn’t or shouldn’t be confused. Because they are matters of “conscience,” the issues are mostly straight-forward, at least in our mind. They evoke and stimulate our consciences, so we feel strongly about these issues. That is not the issue. The issue is that “our conviction is not shared by most/all.” And, if pressed, a mature believer would admit that there may be room in these issues where scripture “could have been more clear” and, because it isn’t, there was an intentional decision to leave them as they are.
Possible Examples of Matters of Conscience
- In the New Testament, though scripture seemed to be clear to many, still other believers with a different background had different opinions. Some believers, primarily Jewish, sought circumcision (Galatians 5:1-4) while others did not. Another instance was where some believers felt free to eat meat sacrificed to idols (Galatians 2:11-16) and others didn’t. In other words, their consciences were each triggered differently about the same issue. Though scripture was, over time, understood and increasingly clear, there was a time when devoted Jesus followers did not share the same view. Both loved Christ and were committed to scripture. Both thought they were right about the issue, but they generally gave other believers freedom of conscience. And that’s why these are called Matters of Conscience.
Other issues about which Christians disagree, though scriptural teaching in some form or another exist, are:
- Choices about social drinking
- Immigration issues
- Some (perhaps not all) political planks in different political parties’ platforms (minimum wage-fair wage disputes, social justice causes, etc.)
- Psychiatric Care issues
- Stances on ‘Climate Change’ as an ideology
- About a million more.
Personally, I have strong convictions, one side or the other, on these issues. And I believe that scripture touches these matters. But I also understand these issues, at least “some of them,” can be understood differently by other well-meaning and devoted believers. And while they may strongly believe I am wrong on some of these choices, and me-them, I still extend to them courtesy, mercy, and grace– even though these can remain areas of disagreement and even debate.
What should we do in these instances?
• Know their positions on these issues
• Uphold-live their beliefs and honor their consciences
• Be prepared to discuss their positions
• Patiently give love and honor to those who differ (1 Cor 8; 1 Cor 10:29)
Making Good Choices in “Matters of Choice”
The final category in my thinking about “making good choices” is called “Matters of Choice.”
In Matters of Choice, we are faced with issues where no clear scriptural issue is at play. These are general issues of importance to some people, including strong importance, but that are not addressed in scripture or that scripture gives freedom of expression. Some people feel strongly enough about these issues that they seek to elevate their status to higher levels, but in truth, they aren’t.
Note here that– being a Matter of Choice doesn’t mean that these aren’t important, or that they’re not worth sweating, or that I am undervaluing them. Indeed, almost every (not all, but many) decisions– even Matters of Choice– are important, at least to the person making the choice…. but here, I’m not saying “Matters of Insignificance,” but rather, Choice. And as such, this simply means that there are no explicit or implicit scriptural prohibitions or commands that require our obedience.
Think of it this way. God leads us in choices. Sometimes God even gives us freedom in what to choose, without much or any direction. But these can still be important decisions. Where OR IF you go to college, for example, is an important decision. But it’s not a scriptural one. What you wear is important– but it is a matter of choice. Only if issues of modesty enter in does it move to another category, such as a Matter of Conscience or Matter of Conviction. Normally, things like these, though important, are matters of choice. You are free to do what you want. And as the Apostle Paul said, these things shouldn’t all be taken lightly (though some choices can and should be taken lightly).
Paul’s admonition was to say:
“I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial (1 Cor. 10:23).
Possible Examples of Matters of Choice
- Whether women wear pants or skirts/dresses or makeup or jewelry (some take issue with this based on certain scriptural passages that are misunderstood as prohibitions)
- Whether you buy expensive items or not (meaning, cost of something isn’t necessarily a sign of materialism in and of itself)
- Choosing to be vegan-vegetarian (or Paleo or any other version of food intake) (Mark 7:15-19; simple video explanation on why it is a choice and not a doctrinal issue of conviction or conscience)
- The choice of using “paper or plastic or a reusable shopping bag” at a grocery store (as some have made all environmental issues issues bearing more importance than given in scripture)
- Celebrating Christmas and one’s position on Santa Claus (important to many, but not scriptural issue per se)
- One’s approach about handling the Easter Bunny issue with their children or church (important to many, but not scriptural issue per se)
- Dressing up or not dressing up for Halloween (important to many, but not scriptural issue per se)
- Where you go to college and if you go to college (not a true moral issue, but an important decision or matter of choice)
- Whether you go to one Bible-believing church or denomination or a different Bible-believing church or denomination
- Whether you use one type of Bible translation or another (any situation where a ‘translation’ is seen as the accurate one that “cannot ever be changed” like was discussed with the ESV recently and that is held by some KJV-only groups)
- And all other issues of choice
What to Do: Believers should:
• Ensure the issue is indeed only a matter of choice (Rom 14:5)
• Live in freedom (Gal 5:1)
• Don’t allow your freedom in Christ to be taken by others who self-righteously judge your legitimate freedom in Christ Col. 2:16-17
• Personally decide if and when to temporarily and situationally suspend your freedom for weaker Christians (1 Cor 8:9)
• Be patient with immature believers and don’t argue over the issues (Rom 14:1)
• Don’t accept or tolerate the self-righteous judgment of others in these areas where no accusations should exist (Rom 14:10)
• Central in all these issues is that Christians love one another (John 13:34-35) and not judge one another (Col 2:16-17)
These are principles of how to make good choices. By using this one or by creating your own that corresponds with scripture, you can quickly assess how to approach different decisions, especially when you have the opportunity to think about choices that need to be made.
By simply asking yourself, “Is this a Matter of Conviction (a truly non-negotiable biblical truth issue), a Matter of Conscience (an important issue that the Bible addresses, but that we must carefully weigh using our conscience and discernment of broader biblical principles), or a Matter of Choice (either a trivial issue or a more important issue, but one that the Bible provides no compelling prohibition or command for, providing you the opportunity to decide for yourself, without the need for others’ condemnation), you can then go into each category and use the suggested principles to help you in decision making– so you can make good choices!
If you found this helpful, please share it!
Food and Other Choices Made Daily: (Wansink and Sobal, 2007)
Total number of choices daily: (https://go.roberts.edu/leadingedge/the-great-choices-of-strategic-leaders)