This article is excerpted from Tim Lewis’ new book The Domino Effect, available here.
Decisions. You make hundreds of them every single day. You will make hundreds of thousands of them in your lifetime. Some will be much easier to make than others. Not every decision is life-altering; but some are. In fact, some decisions are so important they not only alter the course of your life but they also dramatically impact your relationship with God. Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” When you come to a fork in the path of life, the decision you make and the course you choose to follow will not only affect your personal life and faith but it may also change the direction of someone else’s life as well.
My father is what you might describe as a modern-day prodigal. His return to the Father’s house gave birth to my faith. Dad dropped out of high school the summer after his junior year. He enlisted in the Air Force and was stationed in Roswell, N.M. While he was there, he met a member of the Main Street Church of Christ who taught him the gospel and baptized him for the remission of his sins.
Just six months after his conversion, he moved back home to Pennsylvania and gradually fell away from the church. After 20 years in the “far country” of sin, he took me, my mom and my two brothers to vacation Bible school at the Fourth and Arch Street Church of Christ in Sunbury, Pa. We went to Bible class every night that week. We thought my dad had lost his mind because we were not “church-going” people.
My dad was a drinking man. He hosted beer-drinking parties in our home. I do not have any Bible school memories from my early childhood, but I do remember those parties. I remember how much fun it was to have all those interesting characters in our home. I also remember how lonely I felt when the party was over, and we were left in our empty house with our empty lives and our guilty consciences. I had seen and heard a lot of things in my young life, but nobody had ever told me the story of God’s redeeming love. My father knew that story, but he never made any effort to share it with me or any of the rest of my family until that one week of VBS. That was the beginning of a whole new life for us.
Alcohol slowly disappeared from our home. Many of my father’s rowdy friends must have figured out they could no longer find what they were looking for at our house. One by one they all disappeared; even some of our relatives were no longer as comfortable around us as they once were. We started going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night. Eventually my dad was restored. My mother, my two brothers and I were all baptized. In time, with great patience and careful instruction, my family grew in faith and practice. My dad served as an elder. My mother has taught children’s Bible classes for more than 30 years and is still active in her service. My brother Jeff serves as a deacon. My brother Mike and I are both gospel preachers.
It took remarkable courage for my dad to change his life the way he did. I have often wondered how different my life would be right now if he had not made the decision to repent and be restored. That one decision changed the course of my life. It was a defining moment, a turning point. So many of the good things I have experienced might never have happened without that one influential decision. His return to Christ was like the tipping of the first domino. It set off a chain reaction of countless blessings. If I have learned anything from my father’s example, it is that decisions are extremely important. Just one key decision can radically change the direction of a man’s life.
Decisions Affect Character
Decisions are important because they affect your character. The decisions you make today determine the person you will become tomorrow. In a sense you are writing your life story one day, and one decision, at a time. Your character and personality are the direct result and the sum total of every decision you have ever made. In other words, whoever you are right now is exactly who you have decided to be.
Some will resent that implication. Others, I am certain, will protest that such a statement is judgmental and unfair. An appeal might be made to the irresistible forces of nature and nurture. Some will claim they cannot help who they have become because they were genetically predisposed to be that way or because their environment made it impossible for them to be anything else.
This mindset not only removes all personal accountability but it also makes every one of us a victim of circumstance. Yet we see examples all the time of people who have overcome the odds by coming out of an almost impossible situation and accomplishing something meaningful with their lives. Take for example the two sons of an alcoholic. One grows up to follow in his father’s footsteps, and the other does not. When asked how such a thing is even possible, both point to their father. One sees his father as an excuse and claims, “I drink because my father did.” The other sees his father as his greatest motivation saying, “I was determined never to take a single drink,” and then explains, “I didn’t want to become like my father.”
Judas is a biblical example of how decisions affect character. He had so many advantages. Jesus selected him to serve as one of the 12 apostles. He had intimate access to Jesus for the duration of His earthly ministry. Think about that. Judas had a front row seat to the ministry of Christ; more than that, he had a backstage pass. He heard the sermons, saw the miracles and enjoyed private access to Jesus, a privilege many were not afforded. And despite all of those undeserved advantages, he sold the Savior for 30 pieces of silver. How could such a thought enter his heart? It seems unthinkable if you look at it as an isolated event; but in reality, it was not an isolated event. It was the culmination of a series of character-forming decisions.
John tells us that Judas was a thief. He had charge of the money box, and “he used to take what was put in it” (John 12:6). According to Matthew, Judas “went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’” (Matthew 26:14-15). The chief priests didn’t come to Judas; he went to them. The idea of paying someone to betray Jesus was not their idea; it was his. That small detail is subtle but significant. This tragic and concluding chapter of Judas’ life did not destroy his character; it revealed his character. A lifetime of previous decisions had warped his personality, which is what made it possible for him to betray his friend and teacher for personal gain.
You must be careful not to allow the same kind of thing to happen to you. The decisions you make each day are leaving an indelible imprint on your character. You are either growing closer to God in your character or drifting further and further from Him.
When the late Bishop Taylor Smith was a young man, he took as his motto four simple words: “As now – So then.” This is an important concept, and the sooner you learn and apply it the better chance you will have of making meaningful and lasting changes to your character and personality. Far too many Christians are under the mistaken impression that they can be one thing now but then somehow, almost magically, grow to become something entirely different and significantly better in the future.
I want to warn you that it is not easy to change your personality or to improve your character. You can’t wake up one morning, flip a switch and suddenly become a different person. Many have tried this and discovered that sinful habits are much easier to form than they are to break. Jeremiah wisely asked, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23 NKJV). Jeremiah is only saying what many of us have already learned from personal experience. Habits that have been developed by consistent practice in the course of many years are hard to change. Habits have deep roots.
Daily decisions are so important because they affect your character. In reality, whoever you are right now is most likely who you are going to be to an even greater degree later in life. If you don’t like the implications of that painful reality, now is the time to start making better decisions.
Decisions Have Serious Consequences
Decisions are important not only because they affect your character but also because they almost always have inescapable consequences. In the first chapter of Proverbs, Solomon described the fools of his age as those who hated knowledge, chose not to fear the Lord, respected none of Solomon’s counsel, and despised his every rebuke (Proverbs 1:29-30). Of such people Solomon declared, “Therefore, they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies” (v. 31). He was basically explaining that people who hate God’s Word and despise God’s counsel will suffer the consequences that inevitably accompany that life choice. In fact, Solomon actually goes so far as to declare, “Because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes” (vv. 25-26).
To some people, any talk about harsh consequences has the strange ring of being somewhat unchristian. After all, Christianity is the religion of forgiveness and second chances. It is a wonderful thing that sinners can be forgiven. Prodigals can always come home. The blood of Jesus is greater than all our sins. There is a reason we call the gospel good news – it is good news. But let me remind you that although sin can be forgiven, consequences cannot be avoided.
Paul explained it this way in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” In other words, no matter how hard you try you cannot sin and avoid the consequences. Some negative consequences of sin will be experienced in this life. Others are reserved for the final judgment, but man will always have to face the painful consequences of sin.
King David stands out as the most powerful example of this principle. No other Bible personality better illustrates the fundamental truth that a man reaps what he sows. King David was a man after God’s own heart, but in a moment of weakness he committed adultery with Bathsheba. In a failed attempt to cover up his sin, David also became guilty of deceit and murder. He eventually acknowledged his sin and was ultimately forgiven, but he still had to live with the painful consequences of his actions. He was given this message from God, “Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:10).
The painful consequences of David’s sin began with the tragic death of his infant son, but they clearly did not end there. His son Amnon raped David’s daughter Tamar. Then Absalom, Tamar’s brother, conspired to have Amnon murdered. Soon after that, Absalom was estranged from his father and then reconciled – but not fully. In the course of time, Absalom sought to win the hearts of the people and even tried, unsuccessfully, to usurp his father’s throne. Eventually he was killed in battle. When David heard the news he wept, “O my son Absalom – my son, my son Absalom – if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).
David was forgiven, but he still had to endure the painful consequences of his sin. His family life was riddled with one problem after another including incest, rape, murder, rebellion and grief. I urge you to learn from this example. When God forgives, He removes the threat of spiritual punishment, but He does not rescue us from the natural consequences that come as a result of sinful choices.
For example, if you get drunk, you can be forgiven. But if you drive drunk, have a wreck and kill somebody, that decision will haunt you for the rest of your life. God will forgive the drunkenness, but He will not remove the legal and emotional consequences.
If you start experimenting with drugs and pornography, there is no doubt that God can forgive those sins, but you might have to battle an addiction to those habits for the rest of your life. Such addictions might negatively impact your marriage or career.
If you engage in sexual immorality, God can forgive that sin also, but you might have to deal with the consequences of sexually transmitted diseases, an unwanted pregnancy or a tarnished reputation.
Christians are serving time in prisons and penitentiaries all over this country. They have been washed in the precious blood of Jesus; they are forgiven, but they still have to pay their debt to society. The blood of Jesus does not wash away the negative and unwanted consequences that come as a natural result of regrettable decisions.
There was a girl I had the privilege to study with many years ago. She obeyed the gospel by putting on Christ in baptism. She came up out of that water a brand new person. All of her sins were washed away, but she wakes up every morning and thinks about the baby she aborted when she was young, single and afraid. She is forgiven; but she still has to live with the painful memory of that lamentable decision. She has to live with regret and questions of what might have been for the rest of her life.
“Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared?” (Proverbs 6:27-28). The answer to both questions is: “Absolutely not!” If you play with fire, you are going to get burned; if you experiment with sin there will always be painful and long-lasting consequences.
Decisions Determine Destiny
Decisions are important because they affect your destiny in life and in eternity. When I pull out of my neighborhood, turn west on Edmond Road, drive approximately two miles to MacArthur Boulevard, and turn south, I know from the very beginning of that road exactly where it is taking me. If I stay on that road for six miles, without deviating from my course, it will take me to my office at the North MacArthur Church of Christ.
You don’t need a GPS to tell you that certain decisions are going to lead you away from God. When Achan took the devoted things after the battle with Jericho, how could he have expected things to turn out any differently than the way they did? He must have known from the very beginning how that decision would end. He had to know that he was taking a very precarious course in life and that acting as he chose could only end badly, just as it did. Achan and his entire family were executed (Joshua 7:24-25).
When Samson gave way to the affection of his heart and revealed the secret of his strength to Delilah, he had to have known, or at least suspected, the risk he was taking. She had betrayed him on three previous occasions. It is almost inconceivable to believe that this man could not have guessed the end from the beginning; yet he foolishly gave in to her nagging request. He told her the secret of his strength, and that reckless decision cost him his supernatural strength, his eyesight, his freedom and eventually his life (Judges 16).
I want to urge you not to make the same foolish mistake that Achan and Samson made. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the road you are on will end somewhere other than where it is so obviously leading. If the path you are currently traveling is not taking you where you want to go, then the wisest thing you can do is change your direction now. Just remember this, when you pick a path in life you are also choosing a destination.
Jesus simplifies this truth by reminding us of only two roads in life: one is wide, and the other is narrow. Those two roads are leading to one of two destinations – destruction or life (Matthew 7:13-14). You are on one of those two roads. You are steadily moving toward one of those two destinies, and your decisions will direct you there.
Tim Lewis is the minister at the North MacArthur Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, Okla.