Sinful or Permissible? A Deeper Look Into the Grey Areas of Life

The church is filled with people of all personalities. In it you’ll find Christians with different convictions concerning matters that the Bible does not teach explicitly as right or wrong. These practices are known as liberty issues.

BY STEVE CHA

The topic is thoroughly developed in passages like 1 Corinthians 9 and Romans 14, which talk about the proper exercise of liberty. Because they are not expressly forbidden in Scripture, these social preferences and activities fall into what are called “grey areas.” These include food, drink, clothing, holidays, jewelry, sports, movies, music, hair styles, dating, and going to concerts, etc. Whereas other religions forbid the eating of certain foods, consuming of certain drinks, and wearing of certain clothes, God gives incredible flexibility to people in many of these areas.

That is one thing that makes Christianity a joyous faith in contrast to the cultic, seclusionist, and legalistic practices of some other religious beliefs.

However, a word of caution must be said regarding Christian liberty. As 1 Corinthians 10:23 teaches, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” Though Christians have liberty, they are not to abuse it, because sometimes liberty practices have moral implications.

Christians are free to engage in activities as long as it does not cause them, or another brethren, to stumble into sin (Romans 14:12-16). Sometimes, practices can be so tainted with sinful temptation or they can be blatantly misused in a spirit of pride that is better not to participate in them. It is not only unedifying for personal growth, but it can also be a poor witness to other people.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul describes how a Christian should live. A Christian is supposed to glorify God in all that he does (1 Corinthians 10:31). If the activity dishonors God, it should be stopped. That is supposed to be the standard for which all Christian activity, whether they are in regards to liberty or not, must be measured. The way you discipline your thoughts, speech, and action indicate both your spiritual maturity and your love for God.

When examining how you should use your liberty in Christ, a couple of areas must be considered:

Personal Edification: Is the activity personally edifying to me or will it cause me to sin? Philippians 4:8 teaches, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Paul declares in this passage that a Christian must reflect on and be involved in as much good things as possible.

Sinful or Permissible? A Deeper Look Into the Grey Areas of Life

For example, movies, music, and dance are not bad. But it’s no secret that modern entertainment contains much violence, sex, profanity, and often promotes poor virtues like pride, lust, greed, and revenge. Is it profitable for a Christian to be exposed to these things?

Every time a believer watches a sex-filled movie or listens to profane music, he is taking in the material and dwelling upon it, which over time, can desensitize his conscience to issues pertaining to sexual immorality, idolatry, and profanity. To take pleasure in these activities is not wise. At best, it’s a waste of time. At worst, it tempts you into sins of lust, anger, and covetousness. That is why it is important for believers to take caution and be selective about the forms of entertainment they partake in. Some believers will definitely be a lot weaker and more susceptible than others to fall into sin.

Even if the entertainment form does not contain anything evil in it and does not lead you into any form of sin, good questions to think about are: “Is it profitable for me to be watching this movie when I could be reading the Bible?” “Should I be socializing four times a week or going on Facebook for 1 hour a day when I could be out evangelizing the lost?” and “Should I be listening to jazz music in my car or a sermon that could motivate me to further Christlikeness?”

Christians are called to be good stewards of their time and resources, because every believer will give an account of himself at the Bema Seat Judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). That is why every second counts. If there is a social or recreational activity that is severely hindering your rewards, then consider limiting liberty in these areas for the sake of your mission on earth. We should not let music or movies overtake us to the point where it replaces our affection and devotion to God.

Edification of Others: Is the activity edifying to others, or does it cause them to stumble into sin? Romans 14:19 teaches, So then, we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Paul says that in everything we do, we do it to build others up in the faith. This preserves the unity of the church. We are not to knowingly exult our liberty practices or preferences at the expense of a brethren being tempted into sin.

One such example is with food. Jesus declared all food to be clean to eat (Mark 7:19). But is it profitable to freely eat of certain foods in certain situations? For example, you might know of a Jewish person who recently converted to Christ, and is growing in the knowledge of the New Testament. But he is still quite not ready to jump out of some Old Testament practices, like eating pork. He still feels conscientious about eating it. Is it wise to eat pork in front of him just to prove your point about liberty?

Here is another case in which the Bible teaches that liberty of eating should be cautioned in front of struggling brethren (1 Corinthians 8:9). To insist on eating when you know that the brethren is offended or troubled would be a display of pride and lack of concern for his edification.

These two principles should guide every Christian’s management of their liberty. It must be said that even though a Christian is called to wisely control the practice of his own preferences, he must not force, use peer pressure, or condemn others for liberties as if confronting actual sin. When this happens, it leads to legalism, as Paul forbids in Romans 14:1-12.

Only God can judge those other brethren in their grey area practices, since he knows their thoughts and motives. On the other hand, when believers flaunt their liberty, put on appearances of evil, and cause others to stumble, it leads to licentiousness, which Paul forbids as well (1 Corinthians 8:9). God allows liberty in certain areas, but it must never malign Him, impinge on the welfare of others, and ruin the church’s testimony to unbelievers.

Steve Cha is the teaching pastor of Grace City LA.

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