Setting Your Course

I noted Sunday, in an ongoing discussion of J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God, that I have been writing study materials to enhance the efforts of our men’s study group. This morning I want to address one of the introductory questions I used for Chapter Seven: God Unchanging. That question is “What do you (personally) set your course by? Why?”

The idea in this question is to examine what we use to set the course of our lives and then to ask ourselves why that is our choice for the decisions we make. The introductory questions for each chapter are not usually directly related to the text of that chapter, but instead touch in some way on its theme. I use these questions (there are normally two of them) to stretch everyone’s thinking, to get them to think outside the box of Packer’s arguments to his larger points. For the answer to these questions I usually have an insight of my own that I share after everyone else has had their say and if no one else has already used it in their own thoughts.

The two main answers presented by the study group to this question, “What do you (personally) set your course by? Why?” were God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. The why was as Christians, God’s Word is our God-given guide and the Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus Christ to be our counselor and to lead us into truth, which is a necessary part of making good decisions. Both of these are good answers. My thoughts fleshed things out a bit and included those two elements. My thoughts were

Scripture Conscience Common Sense/Reason Habits
God-given God-given God-given/Learned Learned

Yes, scripture is our starting point, because it is God’s handbook for living our life. As Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” But our use of scripture within the decision points of our lives is guided by our conscience. We are born with that God-given still small voice that constantly tries to steer us in the right direction, unless they are damaged as Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:2, “Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” We call people without consciences sociopaths because we consider it an abnormality. So as Christians, we rely on the Holy Spirit to power the lamp of scripture and inform the voice of conscience so that our path is clear and God-honoring.

Common sense and reason are two things that are linked together and are both God-given (we all have a modicum of common sense and reasoning ability) but they are also developed over our lifetimes and can grow into formidable aids. However, they always need to be subservient to scripture and our consciences, since both common sense and reason are subject to error and are influenced by sin and false instruction.

Lastly there are the habits we develop to assist us in making everyday common decisions. It you had to think through every movement you made, you couldn’t walk, let alone drive a car, type this little essay, or make the myriad little decisions that move you through your day. As a Christian it is exceptionally important that we develop good habits, habits that reflect the truth of scripture and a good conscience. We can train ourselves to habitually react with Christian virtue, with what Galations 5:22-23 calls the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” We can also train our love to be discriminating as Paul demands in his letter to the Philippians (1:9-11) “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” These are the kinds of habits we as Christians should develop, with the aid of the Holy Spirit to help guide the course of our day, our week, our lives.

So dear friends, may scripture, your conscience, and common sense and reason empower in you Godly habits that will help you find your way through the many twists and turns of this life. And, may God’s Grace and peace be with you today and everyday.