Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
“Who can know, in the moment of temptation, the terrible consequences that will result from one wrong step?” Patriarchs and Prophets, 61
Many times a day, a person encounters a situation in which he/she has to make a decision of some sort. Most of the time, we do so without too much effort or anxiety. Often the consequences of the decision are not life-changing, though they may affect the way the day ends for us. However, there occasionally comes a time when we have to put some serious thought into what we are going to do next, because the decision we make has eternal consequences.
One decision we are told about in Scripture had eternal consequences, not only for the person who made the decision, but consequences for every person who has ever lived since that fateful decision was made. It is arguably the second most critical decision ever made in the history of this world and perhaps the universe.
“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden”?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” ’
“Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:1–6.
Here in six relatively short verses, consisting of only 171 words in the NKJ version, lies the story of what I consider to be the second most critical decision that was ever made in the entire history of the universe. Although Scripture describes the fall in only 171 words, Inspiration fleshes out the story in far more detail, using several thousand words to help us understand more clearly what an ill thought-out and fateful decision our first parents made when they chose to act contrary to the instructions the Lord gave them.
We know from inspired writings that Adam and Eve had been warned that Satan would tempt them. We know that they were not hungry. We know that Eve had wandered away from Adam, contrary to the counsel she had been given. We know that this test was the easiest, mildest, test that could have been given. And we know that this was to be the only test that they were to be given. If they successfully passed this test, there would not have been another.
Nevertheless, they failed the test. Eve took of the fruit—and note that she took it. She made the fateful decision. Then when she offered it to Adam, he likewise took it. Both failed on this critical decision point, and the world has not been the same since.
Let’s look at another example in the Old Testament of a decision point at which one’s fate was determined for eternity.
“The Lord showed me, and there were two baskets of figs set before the temple of the Lord, after Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and the princes of Judah with the craftsmen and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good figs, like the figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very bad figs which could not be eaten, they were so bad. Then the Lord said to me, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ And I said, ‘Figs, the good figs, very good; and the bad, very bad, which cannot be eaten, they are so bad.’ Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: “Like these good figs, so will I acknowledge those who are carried away captive from Judah, whom I have sent out of this place for their own good, into the land of the Chaldeans. For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart. And as the bad figs which cannot be eaten, they are so bad”—surely thus says the Lord—“so will I give up Zedekiah the king of Judah, his princes, the residue of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them, till they are consumed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.” ’ ” Jeremiah 24:1–10.
There is a great deal worth studying in these texts. One obvious conclusion is that when one decides to cooperate with the Lord, even if the initial result may be unpleasant, the eventual outcome will be a blessing. Note the promise given in verses 6 and 7: “For I will set My eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land; I will build them and not pull them down, and I will plant them and not pluck them up. Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart.”
In Jeremiah 27:17, Jeremiah tells the children of Israel in no uncertain terms: “Do not listen to them [the false prophets]; serve the king of Babylon, and live! Why should this city be laid waste?”
Did they listen? Did they decide to abide by the instructions the Lord gave them? Or did they, like Adam and Eve, decide to follow their own inclinations? Unfortunately, it was the latter. And the consequences? Inspiration provides the answer.
“Why did the Lord permit Jerusalem to be destroyed by fire the first time? Why did He permit His people to be overcome by their enemies and carried into heathen lands? It was because they had failed to be His missionaries, and had built walls of division between themselves and the people around them. The Lord scattered them, that the knowledge of His truth might be carried to the world. If they were loyal and true and submissive, God would bring them again into their own land” [which is just what we read in Jeremiah 24]. The Publishing Ministry, 176.
This lesson of obeying divine counsel—of deciding to follow the Lord regardless of the immediate consequences—is oftentimes a tough lesson to learn. But if we remember that we have a loving God, One Who is fair beyond our ability to comprehend, we can have the faith we need to trust in Him completely, to trust that what He has promised, He will deliver. He explains that in many places to us, perhaps most frequently in the book of Psalms. The word “trust” or some form of it occurs 69 times in the book of Psalms in the NKJV. A study of those occurrences makes for a pleasant and uplifting personal devotional.
The promises in God’s word are abundant, uplifting, reassuring, comforting, and give us great hope, but if we don’t have faith in them, why do we, as Seventh-day Adventists, bother to worship on the day He has told us to?
Let’s read one of the wonderful promises God gives us in the fascinating book of Jeremiah. Although Jeremiah is often referred to as the prophet of doom, his writings contain some of the richest promises in the entire Bible for those who choose to obey.
“ ‘For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,’ says the Lord, ‘thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.’ ” Jeremiah 29:11–13.
If there were no other promise in the entire Bible, that one alone would be sufficient to gladden the heart of any believer. But there are others—lots of others.
As Christ was nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount, He gave a promise similar to the one we just read in Jeremiah.
“ ‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.’ ” Matthew 7:7, 8.
In verses 9–12, Jesus explains again how loving and fair God is. Then as He concluded this most wonderful sermon ever given, He gave three separate examples of contrasting outcomes or critical decision points at which we have the opportunity to decide for ourselves our ultimate fate. And as is the case in every example, the choice is up to us as to which path we choose to follow. Let’s continue in Matthew 7 and look at these examples.
The first fork in the road that Christ discusses as He concludes His sermon is in verses 13 and 14: “ ‘Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.’ ”
I would submit that because you are reading this article, you have at some point in the past chosen the narrow gate and the difficult way that leads to eternal life. However, it is very important to realize that because you chose that narrow gate yesterday does not mean that the wide gate is closed today.
In the Review and Herald, April 1, 1875, is this statement: “Vain philosophy is employed in representing the path to hell as a path of safety. With the imagination highly wrought, and voices musically tuned, they picture the broad road as one of happiness and glory.”
“Come on over and join us on the broad road,” they say—perhaps not in words, but in action. “It’s wide and easily traveled and there are many folks headed to the magic kingdom on it. Snow White, Cinderella, Tinkerbelle, Mickey Mouse—all are waiting to greet you. It will be fun. Come on over.”
That wide gate—much to our detriment—is always open. Remember that Inspiration tells us that people will fall off the path all the way to the Holy City. We must be on our guard at all times.
“Tests are placed all along the way from earth to heaven. It is because of this that the road to heaven is called the narrow way. Character must be tested, else there would be many spurious [false, fake, counterfeit, imitation, illegitimate, phony, inauthentic] Christians who would keep up a fair semblance of religion until their inclinations, their desire to have their own way, their pride and ambition, were crossed. When by the Lord’s permission sharp trials come to them, their lack of genuine religion, of the meekness and lowliness of Christ, shows them to be in need of the work of the Holy Spirit.” In Heavenly Places, 266.
In The Youth’s Instructor, we are given a description of the journey of those who remain on the path, following the light that streams so faithfully from the cross.
“We are pilgrims and strangers on this earth, looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. The path in which we travel is narrow, and calls for self-denial and self-sacrifice. We meet with trial and conflict. But God has not left us to travel without help.” The Youth’s Instructor, January 23, 1902.
Let’s look now at the second decision point Christ discussed as He concluded the Sermon on the Mount.
“ ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.’ ” Matthew 7:15–20.
The fruit that one bears is of such significance that Christ mentions it again in Matthew 12:33. “ ‘Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.’ ”
It’s important to note that, unlike a tree in an orchard, which always bears the same kind of fruit, man has the ability to decide what kind of fruit he bears. That’s clear from this text in Matthew 12: “ ‘Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad.’ ” [Emphasis supplied.] Give some thought to what kind of tree you have decided to be—and recognize that the decision is indeed yours to make.
Christ follows this contrast between the good tree and the bad tree with one of the scariest warnings in all of Scripture:
“ ‘Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” ’ ” Matthew 7:21–23.
Imagine how devastating it will be to hear those words from Jesus.
Let’s look now at the third decision point that Christ presents to His listeners as He concludes His sermon.
“ ‘Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.’ ” Matthew 7:24–27.
In alluding to these verses, Sister White wrote in the Bible Echo, November 5, 1894: “It is not a matter of little consequence to us as to how we hear and how we treat the truth of God. To misunderstand the truth, or fail to appreciate it, because we do not cherish light that comes to us, will be to build upon the sand. The wise builder builds upon the Rock Christ Jesus, no matter what may be the inconvenience. He builds not upon human, but upon divine merit, accepting the righteousness of Christ as his own, and as his only hope of salvation. The foolish builder built upon the sand, and through his carelessness, or prejudice, or through the deceptions of the natural heart, he cherishes a self-righteous spirit, and places human wisdom in the place where God’s wisdom should have the supremacy; and how terrible are the consequences!
“There are many unwise builders, and when the storm of temptation comes and beats upon them, it is made evident that their foundation is only sliding sand. They are left in gross darkness, without faith, without principles, and without foundation.”
Let’s look now at another of the clearest examples of two different outcomes in Scripture, again from the book of Matthew: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ … Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ ” Matthew 25:31–34, 41.
In this parable, Jesus explains very clearly the difference between two character types—one that is centered on self and one that is centered on the great commandment of love to God and to the brethren.
In verses 35 through 40, Jesus explains the decisions one must make to be among the sheep: feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, cloth the naked, give shelter to the stranger, visit the sick and shut-ins and those in prison. In principle, manifest toward others the same degree of disinterested benevolence that Christ manifested to mankind when He was here on earth and which He continues to manifest to His children today. Remember that the sun shines and the rain falls on the unjust and evil just as it does on the just and the good.
It is important to realize that it is up to each of us individually to determine whether we will be among the sheep or the goats, just as it is up to each of us individually to determine what kind of fruit we will bear, and just as it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves whether to travel the broad road or the narrow way.
References have been made earlier to the second most critical decision ever made in regard to the fate of mankind. Now let’s look at that decision which may be the most critical. This decision is referred to only tangentially in the Bible, but—praise God—we have the Spirit of Prophecy to provide wonderful detail about it.
The Bible calls it a “counsel of peace.”
“Yes, He shall build the temple of the Lord.
He shall bear the glory,
And shall sit and rule on His throne;
So He shall be a priest on His throne,
And the counsel of peace shall be between them both.”
In the third chapter of Patriarchs and Prophets, “The Temptation and Fall,” we are given amazing detail about the second most critical decision—really a series of decisions—that Eve and Adam made in the garden of Eden … an account that includes details that could only have been provided by someone who was shown the details by an all-knowing and all-wise God through divine vision. (Are we not blessed as a people to have this account?) Here we see in greater detail than the sacred canon gives us the points made earlier—the lightness of the test, the error made by our first parents in allowing themselves to be separated from one another, the fact that if they passed this first test, there would be no further temptations, the folly and the absolute danger of engaging in controversy with the enemy of souls.
In the following chapter of Patriarchs and Prophets, “The Plan of Redemption,” we are provided detail about what in my opinion is the most important decision ever made. This, it seems upon study of the details, was a decision that had to have been made once and then reaffirmed when it became necessary to implement it, as this paragraph seems to tell us.
“Before the Father He pleaded in the sinner’s behalf, while the host of heaven awaited the result with an intensity of interest that words cannot express. Long continued was that mysterious communing—‘the counsel of peace’ (Zechariah 6:13) for the fallen sons of men. The plan of salvation had been laid before the creation of the earth; for Christ is ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Revelation 13:8); yet it was a struggle, even with the King of the universe, to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race. But ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ John 3:16. Oh, the mystery of redemption! the love of God for a world that did not love Him! Who can know the depths of that love which ‘passeth knowledge’? Through endless ages immortal minds, seeking to comprehend the mystery of that incomprehensible love, will wonder and adore.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 63, 64.
May it be your decision to be among those who have the privilege of wondering about and adoring that incomprehensible love through endless ages.
Bible texts are from NKJV unless otherwise noted.
John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps team. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com.