Over the course of the last year I have heard several Christians dispense advice along these lines, “You have to do what is right for you.” I remember being a young soldier in 1990 and giving out the same advice to someone who asked me about a situation they were in. The advice has an appearance of wisdom. In every situation there are factors that only the person involved in can navigate; and only the individual can assess the consequences that will arise as a result of their choices. So, telling them to do what is right for them, i.e., what will benefit them the best, seems to be the right advice to give.
Before I came to know Christ, I saw myself as an isolated entity with no clear connections to the world around me. Sure I had family relationships, friends, and breathed the same air as those around me, but whatever I chose to do, in my mind at the time, had little impact on others and the world around me (in so far as my actions did not hurt others). That may be a bit of a simplification, but, like those around me, I made choices that I believed were best for me without giving much thought to anything else. But, when I met God, my perspective on life changed.
Before we meet God we are simply individuals trying to navigate this strange thing we call life. But, when we meet God, the purpose for life, and specifically our purpose for life, slowly becomes clear. As we grow in our faith and learn the Word of God, we begin to see our place in the world. Like our former life, we might conclude that our place in the world is small and insignificant. But, the conclusion we draw from that observation rapidly changes. Whereas before we concluded that what we did had little consequence, today, with our new life in Christ, we realize that everything we do reflects back to Christ. In the larger scheme of things I am insignificant, but I now realize that despite that reality God cares deeply about what I do. And what I do matters in His sight.
One of the amazing truths of scripture is that, despite the reach of my influence in the world, the God of creation has taken up residence in my life. The world has no idea who I am, but my Savior does. And while a simple action that appears to not affect someone else may lie before me, I am reminded that my actions, no matter how simple, does affect Christ. As we grow in our relationship with Christ we discover that we can either please Him, or we can grieve Him. I remember several years ago, shortly after I was saved, that a choice was placed before me. The choice was mine to make and would have had little impact on those around me. Because of my relationship with Christ I knew there was only one choice to make. Later, I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me. He said He was proud of me. He was pleased with the choice I made. That small choice had large ramifications for my spiritual growth.
Before I met Christ, dispensing the advice that “You should do what’s right for you” came naturally. The advice assumes that the person faced with a decision has only himself to think about. After meeting Christ I realized that I can no longer, as a follower of Christ, give that advice. I now know that the purpose for life in general is that we are all called to glorify God. The purpose for my life, specifically (and yours too), is to live a life pleasing to Him. As I please Him, He is glorified. We please Him when we obey Him. And we please Him when we follow His will for our life.
His will for my life may not be His will for your life. But, one reality all Christian’s share is that we are all called to submit to His will. Many aspects of His will are general in nature. For example, we are all called to love one another. We are all called to forgive others. We are all called to abstain from sin. We are all called to share our faith. We are all also called to follow Him – daily. When we do follow Him, we discover that there are aspects of His will that pertain only to us. God called me to pastor a specific church. That’s a call only I can answer. His call on your life is a call only you can answer. But we are all called to submit to His will as we follow and obey Him.
As a result I can no longer “do what’s right for me.” I realize that no matter how insignificant I may be to the larger world around me, I am not insignificant to God. What I do matters in His sight. And since I am called to follow His will, I can amend the original advice to: “Do what’s right in God’s eyes.” As a follower of Christ, that’s the only legitimate advice I can give. As a friend, I can help another to discover what that might look like, but I can never regress to, “Do what’s right for you.”
Sometimes that can be hard. Doing what’s right in God’s eyes does not always seem to be what’s right for me. It may not be what I initially want to do. It may require that I sacrifice something I did not intend to sacrifice. It may mean that I have to own up to behavior I do not want to own up to. It may mean I have to forgive someone I don’t want to forgive. It may mean I must repent of certain sins. It may mean a whole host of things I simply don’t initially like. I suspect Jesus faced the same dilemma. Just before He was arrested, He was fervently praying to the Father, “Take this cup from me!” The cup he was referring to was the cup of suffering that lie just before Him on the cross. But, Jesus didn’t need to ask for advice. And He didn’t do what was right for Him. He did what was right in the eyes of the Father. So, he submitted to the Father’s will and said, “Not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
As Christians, that is the only way to live. And as brothers and sisters in Christ that is the only legitimate advice we can give.