From time to time I will hear someone extolling the virtues of "thinking for yourself." We should be thankful that we live in a country where we have the right to our own opinions and to express them. And while it is true that no other human being can do our thinking for us, the idea of "thinking for yourself" has been taken to an extreme to defend open disagreement with and disobedience to divine standards of authority. The continuing breakdown of the moral fabric of our society is defended as people having the right to "think for themselves." Secular humanists who style themselves as "freethinkers" mock God and religion. Even in the church today, biblical facts and literal truths are being questioned and rejected in the name of "thinking for ourselves."
God Must Direct Our Thinking
It is argued that no one has the right to do your thinking for you. Yet God has the absolute right to direct our thinking and we must submit our thoughts and ways to him. God told the wicked and unrighteous people of Israel, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways" (Isa. 55:8). These people were "thinking for themselves" and were not thinking the thoughts of God. What were they to do? "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (vv. 6-7a). There is a time when we should not "think for ourselves," but submit our thinking to the revealed thoughts of God. To do otherwise will put us in danger of erroneous thinking and deceiving doctrines.
Examples of Naaman and Paul
When Naaman, the Syrian commander afflicted with leprosy, was told by Elisha to dip seven times in the Jordan, he decided to "think for himself." The Bible says, "Naaman became furious and went away and said, 'Indeed I said to myself, "He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy." Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?' So he turned and went away in a rage" (2 Kings 5:11-12).
Some today would congratulate Namaan for rejecting the prophet's command and not letting anyone do his "thinking" for him. Yet, he would have remained a leper if he had not eventually humbled himself and submitted to the command of God (vv. 13-14). One can fuss and fume about what the Bible says, but he will not please God until he is willing to think the thoughts of God.
The apostle Paul recalled the time when he, as Saul of Tarsus, did his own thinking: "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9). He admitted that the consequences of his own "thinking" were the punishment and persecution of Christians (vv. 10-11). Was Paul proud of his "free thinking" days when he did what he thought was right, even though it was contrary to the thoughts of God? I think not. "Thinking for yourself" is never an excuse for believing and acting contrary to the revealed will of God.
The Thoughts of Men vs. The Thoughts of God
Peter told Simon the sorcerer, "Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!" (Acts 8:20). Simon did not have "freedom of thought" when it came to the truth about the nature and work of the Holy Spirit. In religion today, many think that one church is as good as another, but the Bible says there is one body (Eph. 4:4). Some think God will save all sincere, honest people in all religions, but the Bible says that salvation is available only in Jesus (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Many think that we are saved by faith only and a sinner's prayer, but the Bible teaches that salvation is granted by God after we believe, repent, confess, and are baptized (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:9-10). Many think that we can worship God with mechanical instruments of music, but Christians are only commanded to sing and make melody in the heart (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Some think that we can follow latter-day revelations, but we are not to add to or take away from God's word (Rev. 22:18-19). There are those who think that we can have ongoing fellowship with those who teach error on subjects such as marriage, divorce, and remarriage, but the Bible says we are not to receive one who does not bring the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11). These examples illustrate the fact that many today do their own "thinking" in religion and have gone contrary to the will of God.
As people move further away from God's word, the calls for "independent thinking" increase. Instead of clearly pointing out biblical truths that unify, false teachers put forward several "interpretations" with the explanation that the Bible lacks "clarity." We are told that each person must "decide for himself" what the truth is. Instead of understanding the Bible alike, those who have rejected the thoughts of God promote and defend unity-in-doctrinal diversity. This is being taught to a new generation and applied to the creation account, marriage and divorce, worship, modesty, gambling, social drinking, etc. Of course, those opposing this error are regarded as "narrow-minded" simpletons with "tunnel vision" who oppose "independent thinking." Regardless, the Bible still tells us "not to think beyond what is written" (1 Cor. 4:6).
There is no virtue in "thinking for ourselves" when it results in rejecting the thoughts of God. We need the attitude of David who wrote, "How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand" (Ps. 139:17-18). The weapons of our warfare against human wisdom are described as "mighty in God, for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Our thoughts must be God's thoughts!
The word of God is described as "living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword . . . and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Next time you want to "think for yourself," remember that the word of God will discern those thoughts and intents of your heart. Will you be found thinking the thoughts of God? Or will you let the thoughts of human wisdom move you away from the Lord Jesus "in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3)?
~Marc W. Gibson
— Via Truth Magazine, October 2, 2003, Vol. XLVII, No. 19