If you have been in the faith anytime at all, you have heard Christians claim their decisions are in line with God’s will with the simple words, “I have peace about this decision.” This common Christian phraseology is often used in the context of decision-making as a guidepost for God’s will. Is God's peace subjective? Or is this philosophy more akin to Buddhist pageantry? The question should arise, does trusting the feeling of "peace" about a decision provide evidence that it is God’s will? Can we trust attributes of our fallen nature, in this case emotions as a means by which the Holy Spirit chooses to communicate and direct us?

There are many New Testament passages that promise peace to the believer. These passages, however, are not primarily concerned with an emotional feeling but with an objective fact. As the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” According to the Scriptures, believers experience objective peace as a result of being reconciled to God in Christ and not as a result of making the right decisions.

In all seriousness, as a Christian when you say you “have peace” about something it means nothing more than you “feel well” about it or there is an absence of emotional conflict. Some Christians refer to a “supernatural peace” taking their cue from Philippians 4:7, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is a comforting passage, but one that is often mistakenly called upon when trying to determine God’s will. This is a mistake because the scripture never gives us instruction to use “peace” as a method for determining God’s will—rather, the scripture uses conviction.

We should look at the letter to the Philippians for the context in which Paul was speaking when he briefly made his reference to the “peace of God which surpasses all understanding.” First, look at when Paul said what he said, as it will aid our understanding of Paul’s context. Paul wrote this epistle while imprisoned by Rome awaiting judgment by Caesar for his evangelism activities (1:7). This was equivalent to a charge of political treason, punishable by death. Paul had peace about what he was doing and about what he would suffer because he had already made a decision—in advance—that it was right for him to set his face toward imprisonment and suffering.

During Paul’s time in Ephesus he set his face to go to Jerusalem knowing full well that if he preached Jesus while there (and being Paul he could not avoid it) he would be confronted and arrested. Look carefully at Paul’s words to his Ephesian brothers. “I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself…” (Acts 20:22-24).

Did you notice that phrase, “constrained by the Spirit?” This is Paul’s way of saying, “I’m not really sure I like this idea, but God is moving me in this direction so I must do it regardless of my personal feelings.” Paul did not look to his feelings of “peace” to make his decision about God’s will. Paul didn’t need supernatural peace for the decision-making process; he used conviction provided by, as he said, the Holy Spirit. Revealed truth was his guide post.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem Paul attempted to appease an angry mob of Jews that God had given the same blessing of salvation to Gentiles (Acts 22:21-22). At every step making his defense over a period of years Paul upped the ante saying things to his prosecutors and accusers that were all but assured to get him into further trouble. It was as if Paul was orchestrating things so that he could get to Rome, under Roman guard, to force a hearing for Christianity before the Roman emperor himself (Acts 25:11-12, 26:31-32, 28:18-20).

It was in this environment of difficult, sacrificial, painful choices and imprisonment that Paul wrote to his Philippian brothers, urging them to sacrifice themselves for one another, writing that his own life was nothing apart from Christ, even noting his suffering and many sacrifices to get to where he was. Isn’t that an interesting notion? I’ve sacrificed a lot to get to prison where I can suffer and be mistreated for the sake of Jesus, and possibly cause you more suffering.

In the midst of all of this, when Paul knew that great suffering awaited him still, then and only then does Paul refer to the “peace that surpasses understanding.” In fact, Paul went on in the same chapter to describe how to attain that peace: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace shall be with you” (4:9). What example did Paul set for his Philippian brothers? He was an example of a man who lived godly as he embraced suffering and imprisonment with both arms for the sake of the Church and the sake of Christ. It was in that context that Paul wrote about peace – a context where Paul intentionally chose to intentionally suffer though he could have if he wanted, intentionally avoided it.

In this context what do we learn from Paul’s admonition of peace? It is that “peace that passes understanding” isn’t something that is given to make decisions. Where will I live, where will I go to school, what will be my job, who will I marry, etc.? Paul didn’t even use the emotion of "peace" to make decisions about the persecution of the church. He used conviction. The peace that Paul refers to is supernatural because extreme circumstance requires extreme conviction, and sometimes extreme encouragement. Emotions as a guide will fail to direct according to God’s will in the face of adversity.

Peace in the biblical sense is that exceptional, “how does he do that” sense of security and firm conviction in the face of absolutely overwhelming odds and opposition where no sense to accept it. It is what the Apostle Peter had when he walked calmly to his own execution and purportedly begged to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy of his Lord. It is what the early martyrs experienced when they smiled at the flames alight under their feat as the kindling began searing their flesh. It is what Paul experienced after he resolutely, firmly, and purposefully with deep conviction set his face to go toward imprisonment and suffering and embraced it at every step of his journey until the butcher’s axe severed his head from his neck. It is not to stand when the world demands you sit. It is the conviction to stand when the world cuts off your legs, when your conviction persuades others to stand with you.

The night before the Lord Jesus was led away to be crucified he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane asking the Father to, “remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). Yet at the same time his resolution was set, “not my will, but yours be done.” Did Jesus have “peace” at this momentous moment of decision – the decision to embrace the cross? Not in the slightest. Look at the following passages: “And there appeared to him an angel from Heaven, strengthening him" (22:43).

Rhetorical question: Why would Jesus need strengthening? Answer: Look at the following verse, even more revealing: “And being in agony he prayed even more earnestly” (22:44). It has been said that Jesus’ stress was so great that it brought about hematohidrosis, causing blood vessels around sweat glands to burst so that he “sweat drops of blood” (22:44). Was this a Jesus “at peace” or was this a Jesus resolute in his decision regardless of his feelings? Clearly, the latter.

He was suffering great mental and emotional stress knowing what was to come. Yet remarkably he embraced the cross anyway. In stark, almost violent contrast Hebrews 12:2 paints the picture of Jesus’ kind of peace this way: “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame…” Jesus didn’t embrace the suffering of the cross because he “had peace about it.” He embraced the suffering of the cross for the peace it would bring us later.

We can find multiple stories in the Bible that directly contradict the commonly held "peace" divination concept. For example, consider the story of Moses (Exodus 3:11 – 4:13). God spoke to Moses and made his will for Moses known. Yet Moses did not feel peace about the decision God was calling him to make. To the contrary, Moses was using every excuse he could find to get out of it! First he tried, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” When God didn’t accept that excuse Moses tried a second: “Suppose they ask me who sent me? What should I tell them?” When that excuse didn’t work Moses looked for another: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” When God refused that excuse Moses tried another: “But I have never been eloquent. I am slow in speech and tongue.” Finally, with no plausible excuses remaining, Moses directly asked God for an out: “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

As God’s prophet, Jonah knew with certainty God had called him to go to Nineveh. Yet Jonah did not feel peace about that decision so he fled in the opposite direction. In doing so, Jonah was going directly against God’s revealed will. He was so at peace with his decision that he was able to sleep soundly on his get-away ship in the middle of a violent storm. While everyone else on the ship was concerned about their life, Jonah was peacefully sleeping below deck! Jonah knew precisely what God’s will was. Yet he did not feel peace about making that decision. Instead, he felt peace as he fled — in willful rebellion — from the decision God told him to make.

God’s Word often provides explicit instructions about what decisions we should and should not make and, even where it does not, it still supplies us with sufficient information to make a decision, confident that it is God’s will. The Word does this by revealing to us who God is, what he is like, and what he wills. Like it did Moses, though, sometimes peace can evade us even when we know we’re acting according to God’s will.

When you make decisions about what course your life will take remember that the emotion of “peace” so-called, is not God's guide for decisions. If that were the case then all of our decisions would flee from suffering and toward safety. Rather, peace is the byproduct of decisions that are pleasing to God, regardless of suffering or joy. Yet also remember the suffering of the Lord Jesus who did not experience peace in the immediate aftermath of his decision. Instead he set himself resolutely to go to the cross because of his conviction and love for us.

In contrast to the worldview that runs from suffering, that makes it decisions through escapism, the scripture encourages times when we must embrace suffering, for out of it and through it great deeds are done, lives are transformed, and heroes of the faith are forged. There is nothing admirable about a person who embraces their personal peace at the expense of doing the right thing.

In conclusion, "peace" is the effect of being in God's will, but not the criteria for personally defining it. Therefore "peace" in itself is not erroneous when it is a result of a correct choice.

Pastor Voddie Baucham delivered an exceptional sermon in 2011 on this topic called, "Modern Spirituality and Your Mind." The sermon outline is as follows, "Have you ever asked someone for advice about a specific situation only to receive the clichť response: "Just pray and the Lord will give you a "peace" about what you should do." Is that really a Biblical response? How does that fit in with Romans 12:2 which state that we are supposed to have our "minds" engaged in what we are doing? In this sermon, Pastor Voddie exposits this text and gives the church the implications behind this line of reasoning." http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/se...and-your-mind/