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The Decision

"What about you, Hank? You’re an atheist, too, aren’t you?"

"Well, I kind of like to think there might be a God, but I don’t believe in Jesus."

So went the conversation between a couple of intellectual types that I encountered the other day. I didn’t have an opportunity to enter this discussion, but there have been times when I’ve launched into lengthy debates armed with an array of Christian apologetics files tucked away in my mind’s computer. In not one of these encounters have I ever known a skeptic to relinquish his ground…unless there was a personal stake to be claimed by doing so. Persuasion by logic and wisdom is not sufficient to bring about repentance and submission. A person must morally choose to submit his will to God’s and may or may not be convinced that this choice is the intellectually sound thing to do.

Mathew gives an example of this citing the religious leaders’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: "And hearing this, they marveled" (22:22). Yet mere marveling alone wasn’t sufficient to prompt them to submit their lives to Him. Only God’s Spirit and a willful capitulation by man can bring this about. These leaders challenged Christ, going head-to-head with Him over issues concerning the Law. Jesus answered their questions and posed some others while they marveled by offering no reply.

One would imagine that they would return home and wrestle with the inescapable fact that they had been tied in an intellectual and religious knot; they might return to ask more questions, if not to satisfy their incertitude, than in an effort to be intellectually honest. One would like to believe that any thinking person would abandon a sinking ship full of spiritual holes. Such is not the case.

If a relationship with God could be achieved through intellect alone–like say a mathematical equation–the world would quickly accept Christianity. We have a credible faith that will stand against the closest scrutiny and challenges the brightest mind. But yielding your life to Christ is not an intellectual decision; it is a moral one. You must want to submit yourself to Him.

Intellectual decisions take place on a cognitive and emotional level. In the 1988 presidential election, I voted for George Bush because I believed intellectually in his basic political ideology. In addition, I felt emotionally that he would make a good president. A moral decision, on the other hand, is made from the heart. I voted for President Bush, because I wanted (morally) to have him as our Chief Executive and believed that to vote otherwise would violate my personal character and values.

You’ve heard it said that you can die and go to hell with your intellectual belief in God; even Satan himself believes. For your belief to do any good you must morally submit yourself to God. The Pharisees and Sadducees may have believed and marveled at Christ’s teaching and wisdom, but they clung to tradition and their peers, all the while sacrificing the chance of a lifetime and eternity to be god of their own lives.

When it comes to spiritual matters, making a decision involves much more than giving mental and emotional assent to the idea. Do you recall the old story about the chicken and pig who were discussing whether or not to throw an appreciation breakfast for the farmer? The chicken volunteered to provide the eggs and challenged the pig to bring the bacon, to which the pig replied, "For you that is a mere contribution; for me it is a total commitment." That portrays the difference between an intellectual assent and a moral decision.

Christians have made a moral decision to accept Christ. It simply isn’t good enough to believe He’s Savior; you must appropriate Him, take Him at His Word and make Him your Savior. This principle of decision-making holds true for all spiritual truth. You can believe you are a new creature in Christ, but if you don’t massage this into your heart, the truth will go no deeper than your head.

Jesus said it was hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God, implying that because he has money to meet his needs, he has difficulty needing God. Likewise, the person who has been successful (or feels successful) manipulating the world’s system to get his needs met will have difficulty needing Christ. In other words, if I’m getting my identity needs met in the world, I’m not motivated to grasp my identity in Christ. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This ministry has a background in counseling and ministering to hurting people. Time and again, more times than we can count, a hurting individual’s life has been changed once he grasps who he is in Christ and comprehends how to let Christ live through him. However, the percentages drop dramatically when looking through the mail for letters from the successful, the stable, and the secure. Why? Sadly, most of us have to experience crisis and failure before we make a moral decision. It’s not that there is some great intellectual barrier; the issue is moral and it rests on one or both of two points: a) not being aware of my personal need, or b) not wanting to relinquish control of my life.

For the rich man in the Bible, the blockade to making a moral decision for Christ was seeing his need. "Lord, why do I need to sell my belongings?" He thought as well, "Is my need to follow Christ strong enough to justify giving everything for this cause?" For the Pharisees and religious leaders, the hurdle was to scrap a system of self acceptance through law-keeping and opt for dependence upon Christ as their sole source of acceptance.

Had I been living in Jesus’ day, I probably would have been a Pharisee. I have U.S.D.A. Choice Flesh. I made the system work for me. I was successful in getting my needs met by performing well. I came to understand my need for allowing Christ to live through me by seeing it in God’s Word and making a moral decision to appropriate it. The same was true for understanding who I am in Christ. Intellectually I saw these truths, but emotionally I didn’t need them. However, I did understand that if they were in God’s Word, then I needed to morally accept them. And I did so, with a basic prayer confessing them to be true and applicable for my life. I began setting my mind on these principles just as I was doing with the great truth of letting Christ live through me. By letting my heart get involved in the process through setting my mind on the truth, the transition from intellectual understanding to heartfelt knowledge was made. In time the Lord allowed my decisions to be tested, which solidified them and established an emotional value for the commitments I had made.

Not all of us have to grapple intellectually with whether or not Christ lives in us and us in Him, but all of us must wrestle with this morally. Decisions of the heart come much harder than decisions of the intellect. It isn’t hard to find the evidence for Christ’s living on earth and teaching the things He did. Anyone capable of reading or using a library will find plenty of information to make an intellectual assent to this. If it is so easy then why don’t more folks become Christians? Because you can’t stop with an intellectual conclusion. God demands a moral decision. He will not be satisfied with having your intellect when your heart is the center of your being.

It struck me as tragic that the religious community of Jesus’ day repeated their mistakes. We read earlier about the Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus, marveled at how He sidestepped their trap and hemmed them in with truth. The very next verse repeats this scenario: "On that same day, some Sadducees came to Him and questioned Him" (22:23). The wise man learns from history while only a fool repeats it. Spiritual truths and principles require a moral decision. Men through the ages have tried to ignore this fact only to find that they were sadly mistaken, having lived with less than God intended–or they have been broken trying to live life independently.

I was on a flight to Washington not long ago and was sitting next to a man roughly my age. During the meal he began asking me questions about the purpose and meaning of life. He shared about growing up in a Christian home, about making a decision to follow Christ only to become disillusioned later in life. He wanted to know: "Have you found anything of value that might shed some light on my predicament?" (How’s that for an opener? That door was so wide I fell through it for five minutes with all thumbs and big toes!) We talked about his disillusionment and misconceptions, eventually coming around to what Christ had in mind when He introduced Christianity in the first place. Along about the Shenandoah Valley the mist began to clear and he saw the hope and meaning he’d been missing by running life himself.

After tying a nice intellectual ribbon around our flight time discussion, I prodded him with the need to go beyond his fresh understanding and make a moral decision. "It will be easy, Joe, to lapse back into the status quo after the emotional warranty of our talk has worn off. At one time you made a commitment to Christ and followed Him wholeheartedly. But you left yourself vulnerable and disillusionment has preyed upon you. Joe, you must learn the lessons of history played out in your life. It would be tragic to come to the end of your days and find you had only repeated the past."

We, too, must learn from history and experience especially if we are among the group whose needs are not screaming for attention. Apathy is our nemesis and information alone gives a false sense of security. I must invest my heart in a moral decision for the truths of God’s Word. This will determine whether I simply reach a conclusion or establish a set of heartfelt values.

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.