I grew up in a world of concrete good and bad. Wrong and right. Everything to my young developing mind was black and white. When I came to understand Christ and was saved through faith in His sacrifice, I went through a phase of systematically removing the bad and replacing it with the “good”. Out went my cassette tapes of Poison, Skid Row, and Genesis and they were replaced by Petra, Keith Green, and 4 Him. Everything seemed simply divided between “secular” and “sacred”. And there was comfort in clear cut boundaries.
This week I am preaching through Romans 14:1-12 where the apostle Paul makes it clear that there is a significant area of gray in our lives. There are huge swaths of our lives that are up to our own discernment. And even within the church, there will be a variety of different practices and convictions in these gray areas.
So as I prepared for this sermon I went through a process of trying to figure out how to define the gray areas. This is very important because a non-judgmental culture that values tolerance as the highest virtue, can read this passage as a “you have your truth, and I have my truth” endorsement. But Paul was very clear that the only way to obtain righteousness is through faith in Jesus Christ. And he certainly proposes uniformity regarding the principles that God gives for a holy life. So how can I know the gray areas where I am free to go act on my convictions?
I propose these three questions to determine if it is a gray area.
1. Does Scripture give a Command Regarding This Activity?
God reserves the category of sin and defines it as an affront to His holy will. He has a way he has designed things and the way he wants thighs to go. Any divergence to his revealed desires is called sin. And he has been faithful to define that divergence for us in Scripture. Anyone who has been rescued from their sins by the sacrifice of Jesus, will indeed desire to follow the loving commands that he gives us for the cause of human flourishing and His glory. We are NOT free to sin, while we claim to follow Him as our Lord. Anything defined as sin in Scripture is not a free activity. Sin is not a gray area.
2. Can I Give Thanks to God in This Activity?
This questions gets down to the core purpose of human existence. We exist to love God and glorify Him. Any activity that is within the gray area between right or wrong, becomes right when it is done with thankfulness and gratitude. To make this explicit, one family could homeschool their kids to the glory of God, while another family sends their kids to public schools for the glory of God. One person enjoys a nice cold craft brew after work (giving thanks to God) while another has never touched alcohol as a sacrifice of love to God. Both are opposite activities but for the cuss word glorifying God. But this question ties in with the first test in identifying that one cannot both SIN and glorify God at the same time.
3. Has Scripture Declared me Free in This Activity?
I enjoy bacon. According to the Old Testament the people of God couldn’t enjoy bacon. But standing between these two realities is Acts 10:9-16 where Peter was released from the Old Testament dietary code with the words, “what God has made clean, do not call common”. This requires the follow of Christ to be a student of the Word. We must carefully consider the Scripture to understand the nuanced transitions between Old Covenant Ethics and New Covenant ethics. I am no expert in this, but it is very clear that God maintains a category of sin, while also setting us free in much of life to abide by our own consciences.
On the gray areas we are called to live together in unity. The church is not to become a place of quarreling and strife about non-essential opinions. I am grateful that ReCAST is a church that demonstrates a high level of charity when it comes to a variety of issues. But I believe that we could easily fall off the far side of the table. As a pastor who would love to kick back against legalism and a strong moral code of do’s and don’ts I think we could easily fall away into an anything goes mindset.
God has given us brains so that we can stay engaged with the world around us. I am glad that it is not up to the leadership of ReCAST to define all the gray areas and turn them into rules. Go dance! Or don’t! (maybe the better rule would be “know your own skill level and calling on this one!”) Go enjoy a nice Mojito! Or don’t! But in these gray areas, be charitable and kind. If you follow answer the questions above and find yourself free, then go with your own conviction and don’t go around trying to win people to your side. And worse yet avoid judging others with different convictions in those gray areas. A church is by definition a gathering of diverse people with a common purpose; to glorify God. And I personally find it humorous that we can do exactly the opposite actions and they can glorify God based on our convictions.