In faith, everything isn’t black and white.
The church is plagued by two extremes in living a Christian lifestyle. On one side, there are serious people adorned with impressive frowns who remind us of all the dos and don’ts. So Christianity, our faith in Jesus, gets reduced to a list of things we may or may not do. Our Christian walk resembles a course in legal proceedings, where many things are illegal and punishable in court. We must carefully avoid them in the hopes of staying out of jail, or rather hell.
On the other end of the spectrum are the people who seem much happier. Their frown has been turned upside down. Compared to their brothers and sisters, they aren’t quite so burdened with all of the rules and regulations. They don’t see the Christian life in legal terms at all. Instead, in a misunderstanding of what we call the grace of God, these people play fast and loose with the rules. Their attitude is, “If God’s grace covers our sin, why worry?” These believers typically don’t spend too much time thinking about holiness or wondering if their actions align with biblical teaching on the choices and actions of the believer. They live by a mantra oft described by the more legalistic folks as “anything goes.”
Unfortunately, neither of these approaches to holiness captures what the Bible teaches in terms of how we should live our lives. The legalistic people miss the power of God’s grace in our lives. The anything-goes people overlook the power of God’s grace too. Other things, however, are not so clearly defined in the Bible. Should we use the latest app on our phones or spend our money on the latest trends.
The Bible certainly doesn’t address TikTok in the letters of Paul. Here are some tools for walking through the gray areas of faith and culture and making decisions empowered by grace.
Absolutes are firm and unchanging. In philosophy, an absolute is a value or principle regarded as universally valid or may be viewed without relation to other things. The Bible teaches us many absolutes, defined as commands given by God that apply to all people at all times. So while some things in the Christian life are gray, other things are plainly black and white, whether we like it or not. Examples of a biblical absolute would be forgiveness and giving. On the other hand, a negative absolute would be sexual immorality or pride.
Although there are, in fact, many gray areas the believer must navigate, there are nonetheless absolutes by which we must abide. Everything isn’t gray, nor is everything black and white. The Bible has both. There are some things God commands us to do, including being generous with our giving and offering forgiveness. We could also add showing compassion, submission, good deeds, and loving our enemies. In addition to sexual immorality and pride, the Bible also forbids idolatry, lying, and gossip.
In each case, God commands that we live in a particular way, doing what He forbids and abstaining from things that war against our souls. There’s no debate about these things. Make no mistake: these absolutes can only be followed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thankfully, though God has given us absolutes by which to live, He’s also given us the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us live holy lives.
Unlike absolutes, believers face many choices that don’t come with a directive or clear command from Scripture. This may be because the Bible discusses these culturally restrictive, or perhaps because the issue at hand is particular to the 21st century. When the Bible was written, the world didn’t have smartphones or the Internet. That’s not to say that the Bible leaves us without instruction. It does, but not in an evident command relative to the particular choice.
For example, how should Christians approach their social media usage? Can Christians play video games? If so, are there any off-limits? What do we make of the rise of social media influencers, including Christian influencers in the church? Of the three examples, this one is most easily identified as a gray area if for no other reason than the Bible never mentions Twitter, Pinterest, or Call of Duty by name.
Still, just because the Bible doesn’t address modern apps and entertainment doesn’t mean it’s left us without wisdom to guide our decision-making. A host of principles are given in the Scriptures that may help us in these choices. God, Himself lives within us, working to perfect holiness.
As for tattoos, the Bible specifically warns against them in Leviticus 19:28 in plain text. Still, Leviticus is part of the Old Testament that contains the law given to Israel. Though there are three types of laws given, the church today doesn’t follow all of the laws given in the Old Testament equally.
No matter which country singer is singing about it, the very word “tequila” is enough to send shivers down the spine of some saints. A substantial portion of the Christian world is teetotalers, to use the older word, totally abstaining from the consumption of alcohol. This isn’t a theoretical exercise or a matter of preference for some denominations. In many cases, one cannot be a member of a local congregation, serve in leadership, or pastor a church if their lifestyle includes drinking alcohol.
How did a group of people who follow a Man known for turning water into wine end up with such an aversion to alcohol? Wine was widely used in the ancient Near East as it enabled people to safely consume fluids in an era before refrigeration when clean water wasn’t always available. Given the extreme stance some groups take on the issue, there must be clear biblical teaching on avoiding alcohol.
If Jesus is turning water into wine, He doesn’t oppose alcohol. The Bible mentions alcohol multiple times, but only in terms of abuse. The consumption of alcohol is one of those topics where the Bible gives us both an absolute and notes a gray area. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” It’s hard to get much blunter than that. The challenge with drunkenness is that we lose control of ourselves and rarely make the best decisions.
Instead, Paul teaches that we should give control of ourselves over to the Holy Spirit, who will always lead us into good decisions, and actions that reflect the character of Christ. Voluntary loss of control via intoxication is unbecoming for the follower of Christ, who is regularly encouraged to remain sober, watchful, and careful in speech and action. Unlike abuse and drunkenness, consumption is a gray area. Therefore, the fact remains that believers may, in good conscience, consume alcohol responsibly.
Every day, we all face situations to which we must respond and the knowledge that those responses may or may not advance God’s kingdom. Although at first glance, some of these decisions seem to have little or nothing to do with God, a closer evaluation will lead us to an understanding that, as believers, our choices are often more meaningful and have more profound applications than we recognize. The importance of a relationship with the Holy Spirit, who is instrumental in guiding us through life, and, as Jesus said, teaching us all things.
We must learn to differentiate between absolutes and gray areas, but in all things, we must glorify God. With the Spirit’s help, we’ll live holy lives by grace, walking in God’s commands that are scriptural absolutes and making excellent choices in those areas we understand to be gray.