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.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Grey Areas of the Christian Life

There are some life issues that the Bible is very clear about.
There are things that are clearly sinful and should not be a part of anyone’s life, particularly those that claim to be Christ followers. Let's call them black. There are other things that are supposed to be a part of our lifestyle. These things are clear positive directives. Let's call them white.

In between the two are behaviors which the Bible gives no clear direction about. Some believe that a particular behavior is perfectly acceptable while others believe it is sinful and should be avoided. Should a Christian drink coffee? Go to the movies? Take out a mortgage? Dress up for church? Tithe? Work in a bar?

The Bible gives no explicit instructions about these areas. You won't find coffee in the Bible. The fact that sincere, honest, Bible-believing Christians hold differing opinions means that they are grey areas.  (Yes, there are earnest Christians who think drinking coffee is a sinful waste of money). We need discernment to deal with these grey areas wisely. We want true holiness!

One of the incredible things about Trinity International Church is the opportunity to rub shoulders with other believers from around the world. Every country has its own "flavor" and sometimes its own customary ways of doing things. These seem obviously right to us and it is hard to imagine someone thinking differently. Not only that, we come from many different church cultures. The way we do things seems right and "discipleship" easily becomes trying to get everyone to "do things the way we did in the church I came from".

In order to navigate these difficult waters, we need the grace and wisdom that comes only from God. Fortunately, he willingly gives both in abundance if we seek him. He has given us the Bible to be our guide and it truly needs to become the authority of our life together as a church.

There are two foundational ideas that need to be considered before we deal with the grey areas.

Two Essential Preliminaries

First, is Jesus the Lord/Ruler/Decider of your life? Regardless of whether you want or do not desire to do a particular activity, are you willing to submit to the rule and wisdom of Jesus regarding that issue? This means being willing to listen to what Jesus says rather than seeking to defend our way of thinking.

We need to honestly and faithfully submit ourselves to the Scriptures. We may find something that we thought was acceptable is actually sinful. Perhaps we will discover that our constant criticism of others is sinful. Are we willing to stop?

We may discover that an activity you thought was “wrong” because of our culture is actually okay. Are we willing to accept that? Are we willing to to give up your judgmental attitude that would give us  a feeling of superiority because we avoid something that is actually perfectly acceptable?

It is important to remember that one of the common things that the church in every age gets wrong is making refraining a badge of spirituality even if the activity is not condemned in the Bible. For example, at one time it was considered spiritual to have a beard ("God created men to have beards, you know! Only worldly men shave!).

Are you willing to submit to God's Word in every area of your life? This is a key question!

The second issue we need to deal with is whether we understand the true basis of the Christian life.

Following Christ is not about avoiding a list of don'ts while attempting to accomplish a list of dos. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ. True life is found in and through our relationship with Him. He has given us the Word and the Spirit to guide us and to give us life. John 15 in one of the most important chapters in the Bible when it come so how to life the Christian life. We are to abide in him. We are to be connect to him so that his life flows into ours. We get our value, meaning, and pleasure through our relationship with Jesus.

Sin frequently has its root in trying to seek value, meaning or pleasure through something other than our relationship with Jesus. Don't rush over that sentence. When we are not connected to the vine, we will be tempted to drill for life in other places.

For example, a person desires a new coat because of the status that it brings. They don't have money, so they steal the coat. That's clearly a sin because the Bible says we should not steal. However, it is also a sin because they were seeking to get life out of something that could not give it: status (value or meaning) through a coat.

Here's where it gets even more complicated: sometimes we seek value, meaning or pleasure out of doing something on the list of dos. That is also sin. Let's say you are teaching Sunday School because that is what "good Christians do"and you receive personal validation for being a "good Christian" from the people at church because you teach. You enjoy being looked up to and thought well of in your group of Christians. You are seeking life from something that cannot give it: teaching. That, too, is sin. Only Jesus can give life. It flows through a vital vibrant relationship with Him. Obedience is required, but it is obedience within the context of a deep and joyful relationship with Him.

A New Testament Hot Topic

Let's start by looking at one of the most divisive issues in the New Testament. Should Christians eat meat? It wasn't a meat-eater versus vegetarian argument. Instead it was a spiritual issue. Much of the meat that was available had been sacrificed in pagan temples. This caused a number of people to reject eating meat on for several reasons. First, some people had come out of paganism and had a strong personal association with eating meat and idol worship. When they ate meat they felt like they were worshipping an idol. Second, there were those that felt that by buying meat they were supporting the pagan temples economically. Others felt that they were somehow more spiritual by avoiding meat. They thought, "I am so spiritual I would never participate in anything remotely connected with idolatry."

Paul deals with the issue in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. In these passages he lays out several important ideas. First, he states that the Christian has nothing to fear from eating meat sacrificed to idols. Christ has broken the power of the evil one. Idols are powerless. Not only that, but Jesus taught that it is not what goes into a person's mouth that makes him unclean, but comes out of the mouth. Second, Paul says that those whose conscience is bothered by eating meat should avoid eating it. For those people, the eating of meat may lead them back into idolatry and meat-eating should be avoided. For others, eating meat is fine! Third, Paul cautions those who have liberty to eat meat to be concerned about who their actions affect other believers. Flaunting your freedom to eat meat in a way that harms your brother is wrong. Finally, he makes it clear that we should not make what we can or cannot eat the center of our Christian life. The Christian life is not about eating and drinking, but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Most Westerners don't think about meat sacrificed to idols. It isn't an issue for them. But how can we take what Paul taught and use it in other areas of life? That's what we will look at next week.

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