In many areas—more cases than what most people in today’s society care to admit—what’s right and wrong is actually pretty clear. There is absolute truth. And if you’re a Christian, then the Bible provides clear instructions on what you should or shouldn’t do. (Christianity’s not about following rules, but the things that God calls “sin” should be avoided because they don’t lead to life, happiness, or God.)
But there are some things that aren’t quite as clear. Alcohol would be a classic example: it’s 100% clear that we shouldn’t become drunk (Ephesians 5:18), but it’s also clear that we have the freedom to drink moderately (1 Timothy 5:23)—except that some people struggle with alcoholism and can’t safely drink at all.
Since the answer to “Can I have this drink?” depends on the situation and the people involved, you could possibly call that a gray area. The Bible does give us guidelines for how to handle such gray areas, and I keep a list of questions written down that I use to clarify whether something is a good idea or not.
(I got this list of questions somewhere, but I don’t remember where. A Google search shows that they might have originally been put together by John MacArthur.)
Don’t do it if…
If the answer to any one of these questions is “yes,” you shouldn’t do whatever it is you’re considering.
Will it have negative long-term consequences? Two things immediately come to mind here. One is unwise and unaffordable debt, which can put you in financial bondage. The other is addiction, which is why some people are OK having a single drink (for example) while other people have to abstain. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Could it harm my body (God’s temple)? Anything that’s likely to bring bad health or disease should be avoided. Often this comes down to moderation: a cigar every once in a while might not be a problem, but cigars every day could lead to cancer or other ailments. For other things, like shooting up drugs, even once would be defiling. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Romans 6:13)
Will it give me a guilty conscience? Basically, if you think something is wrong, don’t do it. For example, I know some people think it is a sin to drink any alcohol at all, even though the Bible doesn’t say that. If you take a drink while thinking that it’s wrong, that means you’re choosing to do what you think God has forbidden. You’re choosing to disobey, and that’s wrong. (Romans 14:23; 1 Corinthians 8:7)
Will it cause someone else to sin? This is where we can lovingly sacrifice a little bit of our freedom to help our brothers and sisters. An example would be a friend who I know is a recovering alcoholic: I would choose not to drink when around him or her, so that there’s no temptation for them to join in. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13; Romans 13:10)
Will it hurt my witness? We don’t want to hinder the spread of the gospel, and you never know who may be watching. As a believer, your life should stand out as different, but in a good way. (1 Corinthians 10:32-33; 1 Peter 3:15-17)
If the answer to all five of those questions is “no,” then it seems the action won’t cause any harm. It’s not clearly a bad idea. But is it a good idea?
Go ahead and do it if…
For these questions, you’re looking for a “yes” answer:
Will it benefit either myself or others? Some things may not have a negative impact, but may not be positive, either. Preferably, you’d want to spend your time doing something beneficial. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
Will it bring glory to God? Whatever you do, your goal should be to glorify God, not to glorify yourself. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
If you can answer “yes” to those questions, and “no” to the others, then the gray areas become pretty clear.
What gray area do you struggle with?
(With help from Kevin McConaghy)
Originally posted on October 13th, 2014