For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Grey Areas of the Christian Life - Part Two

This is the second part of a series on dealing with the grey areas of the Christian life. These are often areas that Christians differ about because there is no clear directive in Scripture. Sometimes our assumptions are driven by our culture or church background. Wisdom is required in navigating these areas. Last week we discovered that there are core issues that must be dealt with, because often we defend what we want to do, rather than seeking God's wisdom. We act selfishly rather than out of love for others. Read that post first. 

So how do we deal with issues that the Bible does not clearly address?

First, become a student of the Bible.  You need to know what is and is not clearly taught in the Bible. All of us are influenced many things: our families, our churches, and our culture. These can influence us both for good and bad. Personal preferences can also cloud our thinking about what the Bible teaches. If I don’t like the ballet, it is easy to attempt to find "biblical reasons" not to attend! It is important for us to study the Word of God deeply so that it affects how we think about issues. While the guidance of other teachers is important, it is essential that we study God’s Word for ourselves to determine what it says and how to apply it to life.

Second, remember that the Christian life is not rule-based. Legalistic thinking views salvation and sanctification through the lens of rule-keeping rather than through a relationship with Jesus. It makes complying with a group’s rules the standard of sanctification rather than a life-imparting relationship with Jesus. 

Third, remember that the Christian life is transformational. If there is no difference between your behavior and that of your neighbor who does not have the Spirit of God dwelling within, something is wrong.

Fourth, think through whatever the issue is from a biblical perspective. What light does the Scripture shed on the issue? Does the Bible address the issue directly? Are their principles that would apply to the situation?

Fifth, consider the two questions Paul implied in 1 Cor 6:12:
·       Is it beneficial? How does the activity affect my relationship with Jesus? Is it neutral, positive or negative? This is largely an internal question that needs to be honestly and prayerfully answered. The conscience and the Holy Spirit will be your guide if you allow them to be.
·       Does it tend to dominate my life? The Greek word here refers to something that gains control over someone. Jesus is to be in control of our lives, not other things. While some things seem to have greater ability to gain control of our lives, almost anything can if we allow it to.

Finally, consider the impact that it will have on others. While you might have liberty in a certain area, others may struggle with it. If you flaunt your liberty to do something and thereby damage a relationship, or imply that they should join you in a matter that violates their conscience or what the Holy Spirit is saying to them, then you are in error.

An Example

Let’s take an example of an activity and see how we might evaluate it. While there are number of “hot topics” that we could consider, for the sake of this example I will use an unusual one: going on a cruise. There many people that enjoy going on cruises. They see it as a fun, enjoyable escape from our long cloudy winters. It is a fun way to see interesting places, have all the cooking taken care off and have tons of entertaining things to do. What objection could there be to going on a cruise? 

Well, some might object to the fact that there is a significant amount of gambling on most cruises. Others might argue that the endless buffets encourage gluttony. Others would be troubled by the number of bikini-clad women sun-bathing around the pools. The on-board nightclubs could be another objection. 

So what do we do? How do we decide if we should go on a cruise?

We begin by looking at what the Bible teaches about cruises. You won’t find “cruise” in the concordance.  Some might argue that you wanted to be on “Noah’s cruise” while others would point out that Jonah found out the hard way about cruising! No, the Bible does not give any direct guidance on this subject. It does, however, give some indirect insights that are important.

We then look at some personal heart questions that need to be addressed. 

First, why am I going on a cruise? There is nothing inherently wrong from going on vacation, but if my sense of value or worth is being dependent on going on a cruise rather than my relationship with Jesus, something is wrong. Is part of my motivation being able to boast to my friends about my great vacation? Do I want others to think how "cool" or "successful" I am because I went on a cruise?

Second, I need to ask how going on a cruise is going to affect my relationship with Jesus. This is an internal matter, and the answer could vary depending on the person. At the end of a cruise do I feel closer to Him, having been refreshed and reenergized or do I feel further from Him, having been numbed by sin and entertainment? 

Third, does it dominate my life? Gambling, alcohol, lust and gluttony enslave many people. If I am prone to these things, then a cruise might not be a healthy environment for me. Others may have no problem with endless buffet tables, but if it is going to cause me to fall into gluttony, then it is probably wiser to choose a different form of vacation. 

The other consideration is the impact my going on a cruise might have on others. Insisting that a compulsive gambler come with me is a bad idea!

As you can see, these grey areas really have to do with what is happening in an individual’s heart. The cruise does not in and of itself affect a person’s relationship with God. Nor is it right or wrong. 
True spiritual life flows at a deeper level.

A Final Word

Paul wrote that the Kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking (that is rules about what to eat or drink), but about righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees were experts at determining what behaviors were right, but missed the Kingdom of God. The gospel is concerned primarily with matters of the heart…and heart change will lead to a truly holy life. This holiness has as its primary characteristic the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. It will be marked by the presence of Jesus. As we navigate these gray areas, we must keep our focus on our heart relationship with Jesus.

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