It’s become a go-to answer to justify our actions.
Sarah is a high-school senior trying to determine where she will go to college. After four campus tours, she tells her parents that she “just feels a peace” about a certain school. Or a businessman considering a new career venture might quip, “I know it’s risky, but I just feel a peace that this is what I should do.”
When an internal sense of peace becomes the ultimate rationale for decision-making, no one can question you. It’s the ultimate mic drop—akin to saying God told you to do something.
Who’s gonna say God didn’t, or that your sense of peace is wrong?
This might not be a big deal in morally neutral decisions, like selecting a college or our next entrepreneurial venture. But it’s a massive issue when it bleeds over to choices in other areas of life—which it almost always does.
What about when a sense of peace serves as the basis for choosing a church, even if the church preaches an impoverished gospel or lacks godly leadership?
Or when we justify a decision to end a contentious marriage because we simply “feel peace” when we’re apart?
Or when we assume a homosexual relationship must be God’s design because we have peace?
It sounds like a virtuous practice. After all, doesn’t God want us to experience peace? Isn’t internal clarity a sign of his blessing? Would he really want us to make a decision that didn’t yield immediate peace? Surely not.
Unfortunately, our internal compass is fundamentally broken due to the fall. Apart from Christ, our feelings are wildly deceptive (Jer. 17:9). Our depraved natures can align feelings of peace with actions that betray God’s good design. We feel peace when we embrace our fallen nature, because we are acting consistent with that nature when we sin.
Responding to the gospel through the power of the Spirit, our nature is transformed. We are given new hearts that long to obey God and worship him rightly. When believers sin, then, they are acting against their new nature. Sin will increasingly feel grotesque and will fail to bring peace.
So, does this mean that those of us who claim to be Christians can trust our sense of peace? Maybe. But maybe not—for at least two reasons.
1. We may not actually have a new heart.
A sense of peace about ungodly actions may reveal that a person hasn’t undergone the radical heart reorientation that comes through genuine conversion. Regardless of someone’s religious pedigree, if they remain dead in sin, their internal compulsion won’t be in the direction of righteousness. Peace, then, becomes an ungodly fruit that unmasks a person as a false believer.
2. Christians may be deceived by sin that clings closely.
Regenerate believers should find a distaste for the sins that once brought joy and peace. Yes, they will remain susceptible to sin, and will often fall prey to its lure, but they will also respond differently. Sin will bring pain where it once brought pleasure. It will produce genuine repentance where it once brought mere momentary change.
Imagine a true Christian who rationalizes a certain sinful practice. At first the sin may bring conviction, but over time this inner sense of disquiet begins to wane. Sin may even seem justifiable, particularly if obeying God brings discomfort or pain.
Take the classic case of a Christian teenager dating an unbeliever. She knows the relationship is doomed—he doesn’t love God, and he’s leading her down the wrong path. But to not date him is to be alone, and who wants to be alone? The pain of loneliness outweighs the pain of an ungodly relationship, so she travels down the path so many have walked before her. Over time, she sears her conscience to the Spirit’s urging, and trains her heart to feel peace in an unhealthy relationship. We all know how that story ends.
There must be a better foundation for the decisions we make. Two questions are far more helpful in decision-making than simply “Do I feel peace?”
1. Does God’s Word Speak to This Issue?
If the Bible authoritatively speaks to an issue, then it doesn’t matter how we feel—the Bible is always right. Certainly, those who desire to pursue aberrant behavior will seek to reinterpret Scripture to justify their situation and the moral uprightness of their actions. But God’s Word must trump every sense of exceptionalism we feel.
For example, since Scripture speaks clearly on issues of sexuality, we must heed its counsel, deny our longings, and repent of our sin—even if embracing sin gives us peace. Since the Bible speaks clearly on issues of Christian love, we must seek our enemy’s best interests and love them as Christ loved us—even if doing so brings heartache and pain.
2. Do God’s People Speak to This Issue?
Christian community is a second checkpoint to help clarify our actions. We must be careful here, though. Just as we can always twist and distort the Bible to rationalize our actions, so we can always find a professing Christian or two who will justify our actions. Ironically, such support may come from those seeking greater comfort for their own sin.
If mature believers challenge our actions, we should heed their warning—even if doing so doesn’t bring peace to our hearts.
And yet the church is where believers train their hearts to find joy, peace, and contentment through obedience to Christ, where they can walk alongside one another to encourage holiness and discourage sin. In the church, we should find others who love us enough to point us to the forgiveness found in Jesus. If mature believers challenge our actions, we should heed their warning—even if doing so doesn’t bring peace to our hearts.
Right Order, Right Peace
This is where our internal compass may come into play. If the Bible encourages our choice (or at least doesn’t forbid it), and if fellow believers say it’s in our best interest, then we can ask, “Do I have a sense of peace about this decision?” or perhaps better, “Does God’s Spirit within me confirm this is the right thing to do?”
The problem isn’t the question, then; it’s the order. If we first ask what brings us peace, then we will make Scripture say what we want and find other people who agree with us. But, if we first ask what God’s Word says, then what his people support, we can put our sense of peace in its proper place—and walk confidently into decisions that will shape our lives.