Lots of people nickname the Bible “God’s instruction manual for life” – and for good reason. The most essential truths we need to know find their home in this book. Without the Bible, we wouldn’t be as deeply aware of our need for salvation or even know where to find salvation. Without the Bible, we folks of 2015 would be left to mere speculation about pretty big things like the will of our Creator and his purpose for our lives.
But does God’s written revelation tell us everything we need to know about everything? No, it doesn’t. Is every situation I might face in this life going to be right there in this black and white “instruction manual”? Most definitely not. The Scriptures don’t specify whether or not I can do things like drink wine, smoke cigarettes, or watch The Walking Dead. On some things – on a lot of things – the Bible is silent . . . or it at least does not give explicit instructions.
Activities that the Bible doesn’t specifically commend or forbid fall into what Christians commonly call “the grey area.” I think a big mistake a lot of believers (especially millennials, like me!) make when it comes to the grey area is to jump too quickly on the back of the “well the Bible doesn’t say I can’t do it, so I can do it!” horse. Here’s one quick example of how this fleshes out in my life:
I thoroughly enjoy smoking cigarettes. Like, I really, really enjoy it. My love affair with Malboro started when I was 16 years old and continued uninterrupted for about seven years. In 2012-2013, I decided to quit (will explain why in a minute) and have remained 95% smoke free. However, I’m still often tempted at night to light one up. . . and sometimes I do. About every 6-8 months a strong craving will ignite and instead of extinguishing it by the power of the Spirit, I’ll run to Circle K, snatch up a pack of ultralight 100’s, and drive around for an hour enjoying their therapeutic effect. All the while telling myself, “Jesus doesn’t say I can’t smoke. The Bible doesn’t speak against it. C.S. Lewis, Spurgeon, and Bonheoffer all smoked! It’s not a big deal!”
Do you have anything in your life that falls into the grey area? I’ll bet my bottom dollar there’s something that your flesh loves, and while the Bible may not make a point to speak in detail against it, the Spirit convicts you anytime you get near it. Or maybe it’s some activity that in and of itself is perfectly okay – like browsing Facebook or watching Netflix – but the problem is sometimes you indulge rather than enjoy it in moderation. How much is too much? Where do you draw the line between enjoying something and idolizing something? When does a good thing become a bad thing?
The Bible doesn’t speak about every nook and cranny of life in our broken world, but it does give us something we can use to navigate through the grey areas: Wisdom. There are a lot of definitions people like to use for wisdom, but I simply view it as the Spirit-empowered ability to apply biblical knowledge to situations where the Bible doesn’t give explicit commands. We need wisdom to make godly decisions in situations where we don’t have a chapter and a verse instructing us in exactly what to do. We needs wisdom when deciding what vocation to pursue, what city we live in, whom we marry, and what church we join.
And when it comes to the grey area, when we need to know if it’s okay or not okay for us to drink wine, smoke cigarettes, or watch The Walking Dead . . . we need wisdom.
Three undeniable certainties we can draw from the Scriptures are: God wants us to love him above all else, God wants us to glorify him in all we do, and God doesn’t want us to be enslaved to anything besides righteousness. So when I encounter a grey area, I ask myself a few questions (at least when I’m in my right mind!) as I try to figure out if the activity falls in line with these biblical certainties.
- Will this activity reflect or strengthen my love for God, or will it reflect and strengthen my flesh?
- Will this activity glorify God by showing others that I value Jesus?
- Is this an activity that I can truly enjoy in moderation, or am I prone to becoming its slave?
After taking time to mull these questions over in my mind and with others, if I can honestly say the activity won’t pull my heart toward the flesh, enslave me, or portray me as not valuing Jesus, then I have no problem partaking in it. BUT . . . if I realize it will trip me up in my pursuit to live for and reflect Jesus, I believe I would be in error to continue forward in the activity. If I can’t know for sure, in a good conscience, that whatever I’m doing is okay with God, then I can’t do that thing in a heart of faith. And Romans 14:23 is clear that whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
For me, drinking wine (hard liquor is another story) poses no threat to my love for God or his glory in my life. I am careful around whom I drink it, because I would be in sin if my consumption caused a brother or sister to stumble. If I’m at all doubtful about the convictions and perceptions of those around me, I will not partake. But if I’m in the right company, I can enjoy some wine, in a good conscience, without becoming enslaved to it. But cigarettes – oh, my beloved cigarettes – they so easily master me, dull my love for Jesus, and are destructive to my physical body. Not only that, but in this era and culture, they send off mad “worldly” vibes to those around me. For me, cancer sticks have to stay off limits.
And as for watching The Walking Dead, I’m still sorting through that. I’m not watching it until I decide. Opinions are welcome. 🙂