In our recent feature lessons we've talked about the importance of having a proper attitude toward the Bible as well as some important qualities in being a good Bible student. Both of those lessons were preparing us for this lesson and the one to follow. You see, our goal is not to simply believe that the Bible is God's word. Our goal is not to just be good Bible students. Those things, although important, will not help us much in and of themselves. Our goal ought to be to faithfully apply God's word in our lives on a daily basis. Just gaining knowledge and properly interpreting the Scriptures is not enough!
There were those in Jesus' day who called Him Lord, yet they must not have really meant it. How do we know? Because they didn't obey Him! Jesus asked them in Luke 6:46 - "But why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" Jesus' message is still the same for us today: "Don't call Me your Lord if you aren't willing to obey Me! Don't call Me your Savior if you are not applying the Bible in your life daily!"
A student may learn a great deal about the Bible through a systematic study of its text, but real understanding only comes when a person applies the word to his life. Consider the following analogy to illustrate this truth. If a person learns moral and spiritual truths without applying them, it is much like eating food without digesting it. Food is of little value to the body until it is digested. The knowledge of God's word is of little value to a person until it is implemented in his life.
The Bible, when properly interpreted and applied, will provide the means for solving any of life's problems. God gave us the Scriptures that we may be "thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:17). Admittedly, we may not always like the solution God's word sets forth, but that doesn't change the fact the solution is there. If you're struggling with a certain problem or issue, I guarantee that the Bible contains the answer! If the Bible doesn't deal with the issue directly, then it most certainly addresses it implicitly through principles. The word of God is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psa. 119:105), but we must be willing to follow it and apply its message personally.
I'd like us to spend our time together today considering how we can properly apply the Bible when we're faced with moral issues. Facing various situations and determining what is right and what is wrong is generally not difficult, if one has a good understanding of God's word. Typically, the difficult part is actually following through with what we know to be right when we are being strongly tempted to pursue a different course of action.
We're going to look at some principles from God's word that I hope will be helpful to you. These principles should serve as guidelines in helping Christians determine if they should do a particular thing or not. Now, to really use these principles, you must have a situation or question you are considering. For a teenager, maybe the question would be: "Is it okay for me to attend the prom?" or "Is it okay for me to make out with my boyfriend or girlfriend?" Adults might be asking other moral questions, such as: "Is it okay to vote for a candidate who supports abortion?", "Is it okay to lie if it makes someone else feel good?", "Is it okay to play the lottery?", etc. We could go on and on with these moral questions, and perhaps you have some of your own that you are contemplating presently. I only used these examples to get you thinking. Let's now look at the principles (which are, in fact, questions).
SEVEN QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF REGARDING WHETHER A CERTAIN ACTION IS RIGHT OR WRONG:
1. Am I commanded not to do this?
This is the first question that we should always ask. Does the Bible explicitly prohibit this behavior? Of course, we need to realize that the Bible is a relatively short book and that God has not attempted to make an exhaustive list of everything we should not do. He has specifically mentioned some things, but most moral issues He addresses indirectly through principles. For instance, is it wrong to get on your computer and look at pornographic images? Of course it is wrong, but how do we know? After all, there isn't any verse that says: "Thou shall not download pornography from the internet." However, the principles of the Bible clearly demonstrate that pornography is wrong because: (1) it promotes the worst type of immodesty possible (cf. I Tim. 2:9) and (2) it causes others to lust in a sinful way (cf. Matt. 5:28).
Consider Galatians 5:19-21 at this time - "Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like, of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." God gives a fairly extensive list of sins in these verses, but He doesn't list everything specifically. Did you notice the phrase in verse 21 that I emphasized--"and the like"? God knew He hadn't listed everything that was sinful, so He clearly stated that anything else similar to these sins was also prohibited. Those who practice any thing of this sort will not go to heaven.
I believe that a lot of Christians do ask themselves this question before determining whether they should or shouldn't do a particular thing. However, if they know that the Bible does not explicitly condemn something, then they often assume that it is acceptable! This is not necessarily correct. There are many other questions that should be considered before concluding that something is right.
2. Is this of the world?
I John 2:15-17 declares - "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." If the action in question is something that is of the world and not of God, then Christians ought to be content to abstain from it. For example, Christians is it proper for you to attend social gatherings where there will be alcohol and drunkenness? One might argue, "Well, that's not really a big deal Stephen, as long as I'm not drinking!" Friends, I hope all can agree that this is a worldly situation and one that is dangerous for a Christian. We should not look for ways to justify our participation in this sort of situation but rather avoid it as a thing of the world.
3. Will this be a spiritual burden for me?
Is this activity I'm considering going to weigh me down spiritually and be a hindrance to my Christian life and development? Hebrews 12:1 addresses this point - "Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." As Christians we are running a race called life. We must run this race faithfully if we are to go on to our reward. Now, think about this--what kind of runner would desire to add weights to his body to slow himself down during a race? No one! Spiritually, why would any Christian engage in activities that are going to slow him down spiritually and make it harder for him to get to heaven? Don't engage in any activity that will be a spiritual weight or hindrance to you.
4. Is there any doubt in my mind as to whether this is right?
Regardless of what the activity is, if there is doubt in your mind as to whether it is right, you must not engage in it. If you believe that it is wrong to drink Pepsi, and you go ahead and drink one, then you've sinned! How so? Because you've violated your conscience. Paul wrote in Romans 14:23 - "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin." In the first century, there were those who believed that eating meat was sinful. In reality, it wasn't--but they believed it to be wrong. Thus, if they ate meat, all the while having doubts as to whether such was right, Paul said that they sinned! If our conscience doesn't approve of something, then we have no right to do it, even if the action is acceptable to the Lord.
This is a very important question to ask when we're trying to determine whether a certain action is right or wrong. Be honest with yourself--do you have any doubts about whether or not it is a proper thing for a Christian to be doing? If you have any doubt, regardless of how small, that should tell you to not engage in the activity. God gave us all consciences, and He expects us not to violate them. Of course, the conscience is not an infallible guide. It is only reliable to the extent that it has been properly trained. If we learn God's word, our consciences will be helpful to us. When we have doubts about the correctness of something, there is probably good reason for such. We may strongly desire to do something, yet we are somewhat hesitant because, in the back of our minds, we suspect it may not be right. When you find yourself thinking this way, decide right then that you will not engage in the activity because of your doubts--at least not at this time. Perhaps after further study you will learn that there is really nothing wrong with it. But, don't just talk yourself into something that you have genuine doubts about.
5. Could this become a stumbling block to someone else?
This question is closely related to the previous one. Not only must we be mindful of our consciences but also the consciences of others. If I know that a brother in Christ thinks it is wrong to drink Pepsi, then for me to drink one in his presence would be inappropriate. I don't want to pressure him into doing something that he genuinely thinks is wrong. Now there wouldn't be anything wrong with me lovingly trying to teach him the truth on this matter so that someday his conscience would approve of it, but for now I must disregard my freedom to drink a Pepsi for the sake of my brother's soul. That is the loving thing to do!
Let us resolve "not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way...It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak" (Rom. 14:13,21). I Corinthians 8:9 is also helpful on this point- "But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak." Just because something may not be intrinsically wrong, I must not do it if my influence would cause others to sin.
6. Is this a form of evil?
I Thessalonians 5:22 states - "Abstain from every form of evil." That's pretty plain, isn't it? If the action you are considering is a form of evil, then don't do it!
7. Will this cause me to be conformed to the world?
According to Romans 12:2, this is another good question to ask ourselves - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Let's face it, most people in this world are in love with things, and living in a culture that is so materialistic rubs off on even the most devoted disciples. A Christian who is not growing and maturing spiritually, will, with each passing day, think and act more and more like the world. He is gradually conforming to it. May we have the spiritual sense to see when a certain activity will lead us in the wrong direction. Our goal must not be to blend in with the world. We must be distinct and endeavor to renew our minds regularly with the pure word of God.
If you answered any of the above seven questions with a "yes," then you know that you should not do whatever it is you are considering. But, what if you answered "no" to all of the questions? Does that mean that the action under consideration is acceptable to God? Not necessarily. There are some other questions that should be raised, and we will do such in our next feature lesson. Between now and then, however, I want you to seriously reflect upon your life and the things you do. If you are a Christian, are the actions and words of your life appropriate? I entreat you to thoughtfully and prayerfully ask the questions we've introduced today and be honest with yourself. If you go through these questions and conclude that the activity is not something that you should be doing, then don't do it! Don't allow improper desire to overrule righteous judgment! In other words, don't talk yourself into something merely because you really want to do it. After evaluating yourself, you may need to make some changes. It is especially difficult to change if you have been involved in something for a long time or if other Christians are engaged in the same practice. But, faithful children of God will apply God's word and abstain from actions they cannot prove to be acceptable to God--regardless of what others may do.
To respect the Bible as God's word and to affirm that it is truth is necessary but not sufficient. To study the Bible as God's word and to learn the truth is necessary but not sufficient. It is only by putting God's word into practice in our lives that we can experience its real power and blessings. We must apply the Scriptures personally and be doers of the word!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.