The other day, I was talking with one of the secretaries at work about a personal issue she was dealing with. I relate to the yearning and frustration in her question: “I want to do the right thing, so why doesn’t God just tell me what I should do?” On the opposite end of the spectrum, I talked with a woman at church who was very discouraged because it was impossible for her to do all the things she felt she was supposed to do, and she was exhausted from trying.

The frustration expressed in both these situations results from a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of life, that life is like a recipe for baking a cake―follow a list of instructions and ingredients, cook it in the oven of life’s adversity, and presto! You will become like God. Just tell me everything I need to do. Unfortunately, this recipe cannot create a being like God.

If we are to reach our full potential of becoming like God, we must learn to make tough choices. Just think of all of the hot political topics of the day. Each side claims the moral high ground, yet on many of these issues, only one is correct. What is more important: the right of privacy or the value of unborn life? Does executing a murderer just create more violence? The list is voluminous, and when one applies the principle on a personal level, it becomes endless.

The key is learning to be sensitive to the spirit of truth so we can not only discern right from wrong on the big issues of the day but also learn God’s will on a personal level. If we simply focus on rigidly observing a bunch of rules, God’s goal for us will be frustrated. This also leads to extremes and fanaticism, which muffle the voice of the Spirit. It also can lead to discouragement because everyone falls short and cannot personally earn eternal life on their own.

The main problem with dwelling solely on obedience to rules is that the focus is on ourselves and our own efforts instead of on Christ, who provides us the way to connect with God. We need to learn to live a faith-based life and not a rule-based one. Pure doctrine has a greater effect in changing lives than insisting on obedience to a bunch of rules.

There are several reasons people naturally get confused on this point and believe that God wants us to live a rule-based rather than a faith-based life. It is true that the Spirit of God fosters an obedient attitude. Consequently, it is natural for one with the Spirit to seek rules to comply with. But there is a risk of becoming distracted and thinking that safety is in the rules instead of in relying on the Spirit. Their focus changes from a faith-based life to a rule-based one, and in the process, they shift their eyes from God to themselves and miss the target. Consequently, this strength, carried too far, becomes a detriment.

A second reason is that the Lord does set forth some very clear commandants so we all have clear direction and a warning when we are going down the wrong path. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. In their simplest form, these are black-and-white commandments. But the Lord does not want to command us in all things. He much prefers to teach us correct principles and let us govern ourselves because that is how we develop and grow closer to Him. Unfortunately, because the Lord needs to lay down clear, black-and-white directives in major areas, some individuals try to apply this approach universally and make everything black and white, both in how they live their lives and how they impose their views on others. However, real growth occurs in the gray areas, where we learn to be sensitive to the whisperings of the spirit by putting our lives in tune with God.

Another reason some individuals live a rule-based life instead of a faith-based one―which applies more often than people want to admit―is that focusing on rules actually provides a scapegoat that enables people to appease their conscience while avoiding real change and true conversion. It is easier to obey a bunch of rules than to change our nature. So individuals often pick a number of rules to obey and then set those rules up as the standard to judge other people by. When others fall short, these people feel justified and comfortable remaining stagnant in their current positions and fail to grow. Hence, they are damned because their progress is stopped. It is also a means of passing the buck and avoiding responsibility. “Hey, I just did what I was told.” But that attitude belongs to a servant, not a joint heir with Christ.

One of the main purposes of life is to learn wisdom from our choices and thus become more like God through the process. God does not want us to turn into robots who simply obey a myriad of instructions. Instead, He wants us to develop our spiritual sensitivity. He wants us to become like Him, which will only happen as we become familiar with Him. We need to learn to recognize the voice of the spirit of truth. This comes from experience. If we are striving to do God’s will, then after we have pondered and prayed about an issue, we need to exercise our faith and move forward the best we can, trusting that the Lord will reveal His will to us before we go too far astray. We will make mistakes, but that is how we learn to recognize God’s voice. God can fix our mistakes, and our knowledge that God can make everything right gives us faith to be able to move forward. If we have made the wrong choice and are going down the wrong path, God will let us know of our mistake before too long so that we can correct it.

Through this process of trusting in God and taking action, He is able to train our spirits to become more in tune with His. Paul teaches us that even Christ learned obedience through the things he suffered until he became perfect (Hebrews 5:8). Consequently, we do not need to be told everything what we should do.

Of course, if we intentionally ignore the commandments that we unmistakably know are God’s will, then we are foolish to think we will be able to recognize His voice in the more subtle issues. Consequently, we must first be willing to change anything in our life that we know is not right with God. A key to obtaining the power to change comes from turning our hearts over to God by seeking and being willing to do His will. He will then empower us to change. We must seek to learn God’s will in order to understand it and become unified with it. God promises us that if we seek, we shall find. (Matthew 7:7). But we must seek with real intent. If we do this, then God will reveal His will to us as we follow the light and truth that we are aware of. Real intent means that we are willing to do whatever the Lord directs. Sometimes God may not reveal his will to us unless we are willing to follow it because if He did, and we knowingly refused to do His will, we would be in a worse spot than we were before because we directly rebelled against God and did not simply act out of ignorance.

The Lord’s Spirit actually fosters an obedient attitude, so if we resent direction from our religious leaders, we are often on the wrong track. It is certainly appropriate to emphasize the need to be obedient, but we also need to be careful that we do not rely on our own efforts instead of on the Lord. The scriptures direct us to rely wholly and solely on the merits of Him who is mighty to save. (Zephaniah 3:17). As we learn to rely on God, He empowers us to move forward and develop more faith. Through this process, we learn wisdom and become more sensitive to the Spirit. Our choices are not always simply between bad and good, even though we need to start there. Our real growth and development come from learning to discern between good, better, and best.

I am convinced that God structured life so that we would have many limitations, including time, energy, money, and health, so we will be forced to make tough choices. A lot of our problems and stress are caused by fighting or ignoring the limitations life naturally imposes on us. Instead, we should learn to recognize limitations and realize that they are simply part of life. We need to live in reality (truth) and deal with them. Life will then train us to set priorities as well as enhance our sensitivity to that inner voice, which will direct us to make the best choice placed before us.

As we live a faith-based life, we will learn to recognize the Lord’s Spirit through our experience in making choices. We will learn that following the Spirit is the best thing to do and is much better than doing lots of other good things. As we follow the inspiration of God’s Spirit, we will be blessed with peace. We need to rely on the Lord and not our own efforts. As we do this, we will not feel anxious, overburdened, or discouraged. The Lord wants to bless us with His spirit, which we will receive as we learn to recognize His voice by responding to it. We then will receive the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, and goodness. If we truly seek to learn and do His will and don’t just do a lot of things that will simply look good to others or make us feel good, then God will direct our paths to a life full of peace and tranquility.

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