The Devil in Outcomes-Based Living


Off the road and into a ditchI’ve spoken about politics lately far more than I ever have in my life. It seems to be getting me in trouble too. This means I should probably stir the pot more.  😉

But really, this post is about faith, not politics—though it doesn’t start that way.

One of the most perplexing aspects of this current election cycle is the extent to which it reveals some Christians have no qualms at making strange bedfellows. Solid believers who would ordinarily argue against certain courses of action are willing to forget their arguments because they have a goal in mind. To them, the outcome matters more than anything else. How they achieve that outcome and their justifications for their actions are inconsequential. What is foundational becomes secondary to the result.

What I see happening is many Christians aligning behind a candidate whose worldview basis is completely at odds with God’s Word. In a different context, we would call those beliefs “doctrines of demons,” and God, through the Scriptures, has nothing good to say about such worldviews. But because this is “just politics” and the candidate supposedly supports certain outcomes that align with what many Christians hold to as the core of “values voting,” many excuse the worldview that informs those outcomes. To them, the outcomes matter more.

The problem with an outcome-based line of reasoning is that it produces unintended consequences. God says as much, and the Bible is filled with people who desired a certain outcome, ignored what God said was all that He asked of them, and instead pursued that outcome.

Consider this verse:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
—Jeremiah 17:9 ESV

The heart is always depicted as the seat of longings. And longings are about the outcomes we desire in life. We want something, and it can even be something noble and good, but we can go down wrong paths to find it.

The Bible warns about this from its first book and shows the perfect instance of how outcomes-based thinking leads to error:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when 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, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
—Genesis 3:1-6 ESV

That final sentence shows outcomes-based thinking at work. Eve justified her behavior because the outcome was, in her limited understanding, desirable.

Eve’s error began when she glossed over a critical reality: God said no. Eve did not stop her subsequent actions at God’s injunction. While God said no, Eve concerned herself with the outcome alone.

In my life, I have seen far too many solid Christian people crash and burn because they did not stop at what God says. Whether God speaks through the Bible or through the Holy Spirit, our imprimatur as Christians is to heed God regardless of possible outcomes. If God says no, there is no further argument. If He says yes, then we proceed.

You see, outcomes are always God’s and His alone. He alone is Sovereign. He alone directs the lives of men and women. He is the Master of Time and Fate. We all know the verses. They are indisputable. If anyone questions this, read the Book of Job.

Few thing sidetrack and cripple the Church more than focusing on desirable outcomes. We simply cannot make an outcome foundational and work backwards toward a justification for it. This is a recipe for error and has destroyed churches and their people. Instead, God says to start with Him and proceed to do what He says. Understanding who God is and how He can be known matters. The Bible and the Holy Spirit tell us. We begin there, do what God says, and leave the outcomes to Him. Period.

The embodiment of this is found in this beloved verse:

…for we walk by faith, not by sight.
—2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV

What God calls us to do is to be faithful to Him by trusting His revelation to us. If we are faithful to do what He wills, He is faithful for the outcomes, even if on the surface those outcomes appear negative.

And the truth is, the Christian life lived faithfully will often end negatively—at least negatively by the world’s assessment of outcomes. Don’t believe me? Then ask the great saints of our Faith how well they enjoyed their martydom.

It’s funny, though, how God turns the negatives into positives when we do what He says and leave the outcomes to Him.  The Kingdom of God always seems upside-down. The world won’t understand, but we know better, right?

One of the realities the Bible shares is that in the Last Days almost everyone on earth will accept the mark of the beast. I don’t know for certain what that mark may be or when it will come, but this I know: People will rationalize taking the mark because they desire a specific outcome more than they desire to abide by the words of God. And we all know how that turns out for them.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
—Proverbs 16:25 ESV

Outcomes-based living has no other end. When we live only to achieve a certain outcome, we are bypassing the most essential understanding of how God wants us to live by what He tells us to do. None of us can see the future, but we know in the present what God has said.

Do what God says, then leave the outcomes to Him.

I end with this: Every evil perpetrated on earth since the dawn of time has been justified by what appears on the surface to be a desirable and proper outcome.