You decide. Are the following five statements true or false …
- It’s best for Christians not to shop on Sundays.
- Christian parents should discourage their children from celebrating Halloween.
- It is best for Christian children not to read Harry Potter novels.
- Homeschooling is preferable to the public schools.
- Traditional Christian hymns are more worshipful than contemporary Christian music.
There is so much diversity of opinion among Christians today concerning those issues and other “gray areas” of Christian behavior … meaning those subjects for which the Bible does not give clear direction.
Those who pervert the doctrine of grace usually go to one of two extremes when it comes to the gray areas of Christian behavior. First of all, there are legalists who believe there are no gray areas of Christian behavior: only black and white, right and wrong. Furthermore, they always have the “right” answer … and the right answer just happens to coincide with their personal opinion!
That’s the problem with legalism. Max Lucado says it well when he says, “Legalism makes my opinion your burden. It makes my opinion your boundary. And it makes my opinion your obligation.”
On the other hand, there’s another group in the church called libertarians. They believe every area is a gray area—and God has given you the freedom to make up your own mind about it. To the libertarian, freedom in Christ is freedom to do “whatever I want.”
However, the Scriptures clearly reject both the legalist and the libertarian. So where does that leave you? What standards should govern our decision making about these questionable areas of the Christian life? For example:
Is it permissible to worship on Saturday evenings instead of Sunday mornings?
Should Christians practice birth control?
Is it permissible for Christians to consume alcoholic beverages even in moderation?
Three Important Principles
Every one of those questions I posed to you isn’t a definite “yes” or “no.” In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul gives us three principles we need to keep in mind when it comes to the gray areas of life:
First of all, Paul says, good grace always elevates love over knowledge. We know that there is nothing inherently sinful about that alcoholic drink. We know that we have the freedom to view this movie or that movie. But Paul reminds you to always balance your knowledge with love for other people. When answering the question “should I or shouldn’t I?” consider how your actions will affect another believer, especially a new believer.
Second, good grace always elevates the welfare of others over your own freedom. One of the most serious things you can do as a Christian is to violate your conscience, or cause someone else to violate theirs. Nothing will hurt your relationship with God any more than acting contrary to what you think is right. First Timothy 1 says the two essentials for living the Christian life are faith and a clear conscience.
Finally, good grace always elevates God’s interests above your desires. No Christian is an island unto himself. God says we are not individuals. We are a part of the body: The Body of Christ. And we have a responsibility not only to other members in the body to whom we are connected, but we have a responsibility to the head, who is Christ.
Lawful. Profitable. Helpful.
Let me suggest three filters that we ought to use anytime we have a question about a particular practice or behavior. In 1 Corinthians 10:23, Paul says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”
- The first question we ought to ask is: Is it lawful? That is, does the Bible really give me permission to engage in this behavior or not? And does this particular practice draw me closer to God … or push me further away from Him?
- The second filter: Is it profitable? It may be that whatever you’re thinking about or questioning doesn’t directly violate any general principle of Scripture, but answer this: Does it help you fulfill your God-given purpose in life?
- Third: Is it helpful? Paul uses the word “edify” which means to build up, to encourage another person. When it gets down to it, this is the bottom line question about the gray areas of life. Yes, what I do may be lawful. It could even be profitable if for no other reason than it allows me to relax and enjoy life. But how does this decision or action affect another Christian’s walk with God?
No one of us lives in a vacuum. What we do has an impact on other people. What we do is either encouraging people to become fully devoted followers of Christ or it’s discouraging people in their walk with God. That realization goes a long way in answering the question of should I or shouldn’t I when it come to the gray areas of life.