If We Shouldn’t Do Something, We Shouldn’t Risk Doing Anything Close To It, Should We?
For the last few chapters, we’ve been trying to take away the the gray areas people pretend are there. We established that a person can either believe in Christ or not. After that, professed believers must submit to Christ’s rule. If we must submit to His rule, we must also submit to the teachings of those He chose to lead the church after His ascension.
For these previous questions, there are no gray areas, but that does not mean that there are not gray areas in a Christian life. The pharisees, whom Christ condemned as hypocrites are important to study. What was it they did that was so bad?
As I read the Bible and I read about Christ’s life, the things He most often rebuked weren’t violations of commandments. That doesn’t mean they weren’t wrong, for the record. However, why debate right and wrong? If a thing is wrong, it is wrong per se, and there is no need to invest time on discussing its wrongness. But the two rebukes I recall seeing most from Christ were, “Oh ye of little faith!” and “You hypocrites!”
The pharisees took the Holy law of God and tried to add to it, placing a burden on the backs of believers that was more then they even tried to bear and more than anyone could. The pastor at my church said something like, “You can’t be more holy than God!”
Before we try to truly understand what is wrong in the eyes of God, before we try to understand what we should and shouldn’t do, we should make sure to understand that there are indeed judgements to be made in our lives.
As an example, Ephesians 5:18-29 plainly says “do don’t get drunk with wine.” There are some who seek to add to that command and turn it into saying, “do not drink.” That’s not the same thing. A man drinking a beer with his dinner isn’t sinning. Even in the Christian faith the celebration of the Lord’s Supper may include a small cup of wine. The hard and fast line is. “don’t get drunk.”
So what about getting a solid buzz? What about drinking here or there? I imagine if we ask 100 self-identified Christians, we’ll get a pretty diverse range of answers.
First, we fall back to the greatest commandment. “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 23:37).’”
Readers, when in doubt, refer to rule number one. If everything you do is done to honor and love God, then it is well. We say this because we already understand we can’t sin and love God any more than a boy can say he honors his father and then steal from his father. So if you’re drinking for you, there may be a problem there. If you’re drinking because God blessed you with fermented drink, and you’re enjoying the gift he gave you, you might be OK, so long as you don’t get drunk. Remember, that’s the hard and fast line.
Why am I using this? Because I use to drink. I’d maybe go out on the town for a special occasion here and there, but I didn’t just get drunk. I got hammered. On a human level, I always made sure I wasn’t driving. I told friends where I was going, and I always had someone around to make sure I didn’t do anything too stupid. I won’t go into a tangent about how unkind and irresponsible any of that was. It’s not the point. What happened is I eventually came to realize two things. First, I got hammered so that I could dampen my judgment enough to do things I knew God didn’t want me to do. I wanted to drown the Holy Spirit. Second, even if I began innocently (which didn’t happen very often), I realized I lacked control. I’m an impulsive person.
So after too many days realizing I was humiliated and ashamed by whatever I’d done the night before, I realized that I, as an individual person, don’t have any business drinking. Since then, I’ve maybe had a beer here or a beer there. By this I mean I’ve probably consumed a total of five alcoholic beverages in the last, oh, three years, maybe four. I steer clear of it in most situations.
But this extra restriction I placed on myself was an effort of discipline to ensure I never drifted into that particular sin. I made this choice to control myself, and no one else.
The problem comes when people place themselves on God’s throne, adding restrictions because they could, maybe, at some point, lead one to an actual sin.
Assertion: Placing an extra restriction on yourself to avoid temptation is just fine, but that does not allow one to then mentally assign those restrictions to others.
That assertion, I think, is supported by Paul’s letter in Romans 14:1-8.
There are certain areas where my faith is weak, and so I work harder to avoid temptation. There are other areas where my faith is strong, so I can confidently steer clear of violating expressed commandments. Our journeys are unique in that regard.
What happens though is sometimes people become misguided. The transfer their own weaknesses of faith to others and then judge according to that weakness of faith rather than the expressed command of God.
No one of us is God.
Just as I put so much effort into explaining that one can not follow Christ and sin, so too will I speak against the idea that one can follow Christ and then judge others wrongly, thus placing themselves on Christ’s throne. Note the critical adverb in the previous sentence. There is wrong judgment, and there is good judgement. My church is doing a study on that as I type this. Most of this chapter summarizes the critical points of those sermons. If a member of my church commits adultery, and I find out about it, I’m Biblically directed to rebuke him in person (in person, not in public).
If I drift into sin because I’m blinded by my flesh, I would want someone to tell me just as I’d want someone to tell me if I break a rule in a game or do something at work I shouldn’t do. We make mistakes, and when were are lovingly corrected, we have the opportunity to grow.
So when we correct someone, even this we do to glorify God. We shouldn’t call someone out on their sin so we feel better about ourselves. That’s not the function of a rebuke. Instead, we seek to inform a person of their sin, hoping they will realize they’ve committed the sin and stop doing it. The goal isn’t to elevate yourself above anyone; it’s to ensure all eyes are fixed on God.
There are indeed areas in the Bible, wisdoms and proverbs, that are great and useful, but they are not actually commands. The work is studying to ensure you know the difference. Even in violations of commands, there are some which are far more severe and were punished much more firmly than others. So we can look at God’s example and know which sins we might be more patient with and which should be punished severely by those with the authority to exact that punishment. This doesn’t mean that those sins God is more patient with aren’t bad and won’t absolutely lead to eternity in Hell if the person never stops. For instance, I might be able to wait awhile before I change the oil in my car, but if I never do it, my car is doomed. The same is true for these lesser sins.
Even in my own walk of faith, I know I have far more sin in me than I want. The very existence of any sin in me is enough to drive me mad sometimes, but among those sins are things I think are far more concerning to me than others. I’m far more concerned with the pride in my heart than I am about most of the other things I do at the moment. I’m far more concerned with adopting a humble approach than I am fixing other things. I absolutely want to exercise all the sin from my life, but my pride is the one I currently have the most concern with.
As we work to sanctify ourselves, we may need to take measures to avoid temptation. That would be wise. However, we should be careful no to elevate precautions to commandments.
For our panel: What are some common precautions you’ve seen elevated to commandments? Is there ever a point where one might reduce his personal restrictions? How does one distinguish the difference between personal restriction and God’s commandments? What should one do if he’s rebuked for something that isn’t actually sinful? Why does Paul call some weak of faith and others strong of faith?