In my recent interview with Anthony Calzia, I made the following statement regarding Christian liberty in the determination of a marriage partner:
“While there is ‘one person’ out there for us to marry (if we’re called to marry), the only way to be completely certain we’ve found ‘the one’ is after we’ve made our vows and tied the knot. And this is liberating – we don’t have to wait for some magical moment when we know with mathematical certainty that Jen (or Jake) is ‘the one.’ There is some Christian liberty in terms of choosing whom to marry. The person should be a growing Christian, and someone whose presence in your life helps rather than hinders your walk with God. But it should also be someone whose presence you generally enjoy, and to whom (for a myriad of reasons, physical and non-physical) you find so attractive that life without them is unimaginable.”
I then received the following question:
How are you so sure this is the “only way” and if it is, that’s a rather large commitment to make not being “completely certain.” Can you please clarify?
My friend was referring to my stating that the “only way to be completely certain we’ve found ‘the one’ is after we’ve made our vows and tied the knot.” It is a very good question. Let me be clear: I do believe that Christians can have a subjective sense of God’s leading on major life decisions, but I don’t think it is infallible. When I was deciding whether to ask Marni to marry me, I prayed for God’s subjective leading. In other words, I asked God to give me a high degree of emotional certainty that Marni was whom I should marry. I was not aware of any Scriptural basis for not marrying her. Nevertheless, since the decision was so important, I hoped that God would give me an even stronger sense that I should marry her. I think God did–through many means, including conversations with trusted friends and mentors.
But the peace I had was not mathematical certainty nor was it infallible. At the very least, James 4:13-15 warns us that we cannot know what will happen tomorrow. Marni could have died in her sleep the night before we got married. Had that happened, I hope I would have eventually married someone else. And in that case, it could not be said that Marni was “the one” for me to marry, because evidently God had something else in mind. That was what I was getting at when I said, “after we’ve made our vows and tied the knot” we can, with certainty, say that “God willed for me to marry her.” Because it happened.
But there’s more. There’s a danger to believing that I have to “know with certainty” that God wants me to do X before I do X (marry Jennifer, take a job in Dallas, spend my savings to buy a new car). Consider these words from Pastor Mark Dever:
“I do believe that God’s Spirit will sometimes lead us subjectively. So, for instance, I am choosing to spend my life here on Capitol Hill because my wife & I sensed in 1993 that that is what God wanted us to do. However, I realized then (and now) that I could be wrong about that supposition. Scripture is NEVER wrong. I was free in 1993 to stay in England, or teach at a seminary, either of which would have been delightful opportunities. I understand that I was free to make those choices. But I chose, consulting Scripture, friends, wisdom, and my own subjective sense of the Lord’s will, to come to DC. And even if I were wrong about that, I had (and have) that freedom in Christ to act in a way that is not sin. And I understand my pastoring here not to be sin. So I am free. Regardless of the sense of leading I had.”
Like Mark does elsewhere in his post, I would also acknowledge that most decisions I make are made without a subjective sense of God’s leading. Rather, several good, non-sinful options are available, and I have to choose the one I deem best. I can pray that God will lead me. However, my subjective sense of God’s leading can be wrong (I’m not yet perfected–my perception of how God is leading can be mistaken). But to pursue a non-sinful option is, by definition, not sin. This is liberating. God will unfold His sovereign will for my life through the decisions I make (does not mean I should sin so that grace may abound).