“I know I’m making the right decision because God has given me such a peace about it.”
If you’ve had any connect point with the evangelical church in the past thirty or forty years, you’ve most likely heard such an appeal. In a world where human beings are constantly searching for moral justification for our actions and words, the “inner peace” has supplanted other sources as uncontested moral authority. We’re all searching for what the Eagles call that “peaceful easy feeling,” and once someone has claimed to find it, the rest of us are supposed step aside and celebrate the discovery.
But what if you feel peaceful about something that is objectively wrong? What if your peace leads to another person’s pain? Most troubling, what if you’ve trained yourself to feel peaceful about something that violates the will of God? While feeling peaceful can be an indicator that all is right in your inner person, it does not inerrantly lead to righteousness, truth, or human flourishing.
In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman argues that how a society understands the “self” has massive consequences for that society’s culture, politics, and values. He labels the current dominant understanding of the self “expressive individualism.” Expressive individualism defines human beings according to our individual psychological core. The goal, under our current scheme, is to get in touch with our authentic self, and we expect society to allow us to express that self without hindrance. If you challenge its free expression, in fact, you are oppressive. The highest authority in our culture is the individual giving expression to his or her inner feelings. The one thing that must not be tolerated is anyone violating that authentic expression.
Expressive individualism does not stand under close biblical scrutiny. Our understanding of the human person begins with humanity created in the image of God, which indicates both dignity of every person and accountability before God. However, we also recognize that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Because of the universal tendency to sin, our inner feelings cannot always be trusted. In fact, if we follow our inner selves, it will lead away from God to death. The answer for our plight is not found within; we must look outside ourselves to Christ. Christ, the perfect unfallen God-man, has come to save us through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. We are saved and restored only through him. The peace we’re seeking is not one we can find on our own. He has made “peace” by the blood of his cross (Colossians 1:20).
The Christian claiming to have “a peace” about a decision may mean that he or she has searched the Scriptures, prayed, and sought counsel from pastors and other mature brothers and sisters in Christ. In that case, the peaceful feeling may indeed indicate that the right decision is about to be made. You’ve considered everything God calls you to consider, and now you must act.
However, in two decades of ministry, I’ve more often heard the “peace” appealed to when someone desires to make a decision that clearly violates the Bible and contradicts wise Christian counsel. It’s played as a trump card to prove that everyone else is wrong. How could I be wrong when I have such a peace about it? How dare you violate my inner peace? Its considered oppressive to contradict such a claim. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s merely the Christian version of expressive individualism. As we do too often, the church has again adopted secular values and baptized them in vague Christian language.
The New Testament refers to the conscience twenty-five times. The conscience serves as the inner witness to our moral value system and is the reason for inner peace. When we violate our conscience, an alarm system goes off that makes us feel turmoil and discomfort. When we make decisions that align with our conscience, we experience peace and relief. But here’s the thing: conscience is not always right. It’s possible to calibrate one’s conscience to the wrong moral value system. Conscience only works correctly when calibrated to truth and righteousness as God defines it. We all have things that should violate our consciences that do not and other things that violate our consciences that should not.
Thankfully, none of us are stuck. As we grow in Christ through the means of the Word and the Spirit in fellowship with the church, our consciences are conformed progressively to God’s revelation. The Christian has entered the process of recalibrating the conscience back to the Creator. Once that process is completed in Christ, our obedient decisions will lead to a peaceful easy feeling.