Robert Jeffress - Good Grace Decision-Making
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. We've all had questions about so-called gray areas of the Christian life. By gray areas, I'm referring to moral issues that are neither black, nor white. For example, are Christians allowed to watch r-rated movies or smoke or drink alcohol? The answer to those questions has to do with a proper understanding of grace. Today, I'm going to give you three practical tips for godly decision-making when facing the gray area of life. My message is titled, "Good Grace Decision-Making" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
Well, we are halfway through our series, "Grace Gone Wild", and so it's time for a midterm exam. Those are going on in colleges right now, we're going to have a midterm exam, are you ready? It's actually quite simple, only five questions, true or false. You have a 50% chance of getting these right so here we go, ready?
Question number one, true or false, it's best for Christians not to shop on Sundays? True or false.
Second question, Christian parents should discourage their children from celebrating Halloween, true or false?
Question number three, Christian schools are preferable to public schools, true or false?
Question number four, Christian hymns are usually more worshipful than contemporary Christian music, true or false?
Question number five, Christians should abstain from any alcoholic beverage, true or false?
What all of those questions have in common is this. They deal with what we call the gray areas of Christian living. Issues about which the Bible issues no specific commands. The question is, how does a proper understanding of grace impact the decisions I make about those gray areas, the areas the Bible doesn't specifically address? Do I have the right, for example, to ignore the prejudice and ignorance of other people when it comes to my own behavior? Does grace give me a license to thumb my nose at those who decry drinking, dancing, and reading harry potter novels? What role does grace play in the decisions I make in my everyday life.
In our series, Grace Gone Wild, we've seen that they're really two perversions equally dangerous of the doctrine of grace, legalism and libertarianism. When it comes to the gray issues of the Christian life legalism says there are no gray areas of the Christian life. The Bible addresses every topic that you just addressed and asked about. That you can find a verse that tells you everything you ought to do about every area of life. And if you just study the Bible hard enough, or you learn to read between the lines, you can know what the Bible says. And I'm going to tell you what it says. That's what the legalist says. The other extreme, in viewing these gray areas is what we call libertarianism. The libertarian says, every issue is a gray issue. There are no one-answer-fits-all decisions on any topic whatsoever, that's libertarianism. Or what standards should govern our conduct in the gray areas?
Paul rejected the legalist. He had no use for man-made systems of conduct that applied to everybody, but he also rejected the feeling of the libertarians that I'm free to do whatever I want to do regardless of how it affects other people. Then what is the standard? Well, he gives it to us in 1 Corinthians 8. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to 1 Corinthians 8 as we talk about good grace decision making. Today for a few minutes we're going to take a trip back through the time tunnel, 2000 years ago, to the meat market in the city of Corinth. In the city of Corinth, they had a raging debate in the church at Corinth, in the first church of Corinth. And their debate was not about whether or not to celebrate Halloween. It wasn't about whether or not to have a glass of wine before your meal at night. The real question that was raging in Corinth, the gray area, if you will, had to do with whether or not to eat meat that had been offered to an idol before.
Now, today, obviously that's not a question. You don't go to Albertsons and see a section that says meat offered to idols. That's not an issue but we have equally contentious issues in the church today. Here are some of them. Is it permissible to worship on Saturday evenings rather than Sunday mornings, many churches do that, is that permissible? Should Christians practice birth control? Should those who have been divorced and remarried, even for biblical reasons, be allowed to serve in leadership positions in the church? Is it permissible for a Christian to consume alcoholic beverages in moderation? Should Christians participate in Easter egg hunts? For each of those questions, there's some of you who are shouting, "No, under no circumstances should you do that". Some of you are saying, "yes, yes, yes, we've got the freedom to do that". What does Paul say about it? He doesn't say yes or no, he says "it depends". It depends.
What does it depend upon? I'm so glad you asked, because the answer is found right here in 1 Corinthians 8. There are three principles Paul gives us for decision-making about the gray areas of the Christian life. Three principles, principle number one, write it down. Good grace or proper understanding of grace elevates love above knowledge. Those who were pushing bad grace in the Corinthian church said that their doctrinal knowledge was the basis and the only basis for making a decision. And they said, we had the knowledge that there is no such thing as an idol, that's why we're free to do it. We know there's no such thing as an idol. Okay, shut. "No, it's not shut," Paul says.
There are people today who say, well we know from the Bible we're not under the Old Testament law anymore, so we're free to break all those regulations. Or somebody says, we know there's nothing inherently sinful about alcohol. Therefore we are free to drink without consideration of how it affects anybody else. In Paul's day they said, we know there's no such thing as an idol. Interestingly, Paul affirmed that truth. In verse 4 of 1 Corinthians 8, he said, "Therefore, concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there's no such thing as an idol in the world and that there is no God, but one". He said, we agree with you on that. But, Paul goes on to say, but knowledge, what the Bible says is not the only question to consider. What else could there be? It's how it affects other people.
Look at 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, he says, "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge, but knowledge makes arrogant," literally it puffs up, "But love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he is not yet known as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by love". The Bible says, when we consider whether or not to do something, it's not just what the Bible says. It is, how will this affect another person? You have to love God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength. And if you really do, you're going to love other people like you love yourself. And therefore you're not going to do anything that would harm another Christian. That is what good grace does, it elevates love above knowledge. Just because I have the knowledge that I'm free to do this, doesn't mean I necessarily should do it.
And that leads to a second principle about decision-making from this passage. Good grace elevates the welfare of others over my freedom. You see these new converts in Corinth, they didn't possess the same understanding that the more mature Christians did. They didn't know that there was only one God. Wait a minute, you're saying they could become Christians and still believe that there were a multitude of Gods? Oh yeah, yeah. You see, when they became Christians, they were acknowledging that there is only one right God, but they had not yet come to the position that they understood there was only one real God. And so when they were eating meat that had been offered to an idol, it reminded them of their own pagan lifestyle. To them, that was sinning against the right God by eating something that had been offered to a pagan God. We need to understand that today. We get this idea that there are all these things you have to believe in order to become a Christian.
I've actually heard people say, you can't be a Christian and believe in evolution. You can't be a Christian and deny the virgin birth of Christ. You cannot be a Christian and not embrace the inerrancy of the scripture. Of course you can. You can be an ignorant Christian, an untaught Christian, a disobedient Christian. There's only one thing though you have to believe to be a Christian, Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved". That's the one thing you have to believe. And when you trust in Christ as your salvation, if you've really done, that the Holy Spirit comes into your heart and he will lead you into truth and these other areas as well. These were baby Christian. They didn't know there was only one God, they believed there was only one right God and they were committing themselves to him.
Look at verse 7 of 1 Corinthians 8. "However, not all men have this knowledge that there's only one God. But some being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol and their conscience, being weak, is defiled". You see, when you exercise a freedom that you have, it could leave somebody else who doesn't have that freedom to have his conscience defiled. And that's why we need to be very careful about doing anything that hurts another Christian. You say, what does all of this have to do with eating meat offered to idols? When these new Christian converts in Corinth were tempted to eat a meal, they were warned by their internal system, don't do that. But then some of them were falling into sin because of the example of the so-called mature Christians.
I need to stop here and point out a misunderstanding that many people have about this passage. In every church, there are legalists who misuse this passage they don't like something you do and so they say, "You can't do that because that offends me. And I'm the weaker brother and the Bible says you can't do something I object to". That's not what this passage is talking about. I remember my old professor, Howard Hendrick, said in every church, there's a whole group of professional, weaker brothers. They love to try to impose their opinions on you by saying, "If I object to what you're doing, you can't do it". No, that's not what this passage about. The weaker brother is not somebody who objects to your behavior, the weaker brother is somebody who follows your behavior, who is led to do what you're doing and ends up defiling his own conscience.
The Bible says good grace elevates love over knowledge. And not only that, it also elevates the wellbeing of others over personal opinion. And that leads to a third characteristic of good grace when it comes to deciding on the gray areas of life. Good grace elevates God's interests above my desires. It elevates God's interest above my desires. Bad grace always exalts personal freedom over every other consideration. The good grace elevates God's in first among my desires. Do you remember the poet, John Donne, who said every is an island unto himself. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially for Christians. We are not individual islands unto ourselves, we belong to one another.
Remember the most common image in the New Testament of the church is the what of Christ? The body of Christ. When you trust in Christ for your salvation, you are not just joined to the head of the body, Jesus Christ, you are joined together with other Christians in a mystical, spiritual, but very real sense. That's why 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, "For you are Christ's body and individually, members of it". What you do affects other Christians, just like what one body part does affects other parts of your body as well.
Now let me ask you a question. Can you ever imagine in any situation in that you would take our hammer and smash your left thumb as hard as you possibly could. Is there anything that would ever lead you to do such a thing? Why would you do that? Why would one hand do something that brings such pain to another part of your body? And the only thing more ridiculous than that would be to take the hammer and hit yourself in the head with it. Would you do that? Of course not. And yet, when you sin against another Christian, you cause him harm, you're not only hurting yourself, you're hurting the head, Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 8:12, "And so by sending against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak," you're not only sinning against them, "You sin against Christ". And that's why good grace understands that God's interests are more important than my desires. If you're a Christian, the only question is not, what do I want to do, how does it affect me? The question is how does my behavior affect other people? And the Bible is very clear. My freedom ends when it ends negatively impacts somebody else. Don't fall into the trap of saying, it's all about me, it's about my freedom. God is interested in something more than your freedom. He has interests that supersede your freedom. And his interest is the wellbeing of other people. Good grace understands that.
So how do I go about then making decisions about these gray areas of the Christian life? Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:13, "Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble," if alcohol causes my brother to stumble, whatever causes brother to stumble, "I will never eat meat again so that I will not cause my brother to stumble". Paul gives us three final questions to ask whenever we're trying to make a decision about these gray areas. They're actually found in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24. "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor".
First question you ought to ask yourself about an activity is first of all, is it actually lawful? That is, does the scripture give you the freedom to do this? I mean, not everything obviously is lawful. Committing adultery is not lawful, unbiblical divorce is not lawful, stealing from your neighbor is not lawful. Paul is talking about behavior that is not prohibited in scriptures. What he's saying is, you have to ask yourself the question, are you talking actually about something that is lawful?
Now, remember in the Old Testament, there was a command about just about every area of life. It was very strict what you could do, what you couldn't do. In the New Testament, there are some laws, but there are more principles that God gives you. For example, you can look all through the New Testament from Matthew to revelation, you won't find any word about r-rated movies whether you ought to go to r-rated movies. So does that mean you're free to? There is a principle in 2 Timothy 2:22. "Now, flee from youthful lust and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart". God is concerned with what you put into your mind. That's the principle, you have to allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in how to apply that principle.
By the way, I get to asked about this all the time, but there are situations in which you are required to obey regulations that aren't in the Bible. Teenagers, your parents may say you've got a 10:00 pm curfew on school nights. You can argue, "That's legalism, that's legalism. There's nothing in the Bible that says I have to be in at 10:00 pm". You're right, there's not. But there is something in the Bible that says you're to obey your parents. Maybe you're in a workplace where there is a prohibition men against wearing a mustache or a beard. And you go into your employer and you say, "That's legalism, that is legalism. God has given me the freedom to wear a mustache or a beard if I want to". Your employer may say, "That's fine, but God doesn't sign your paycheck, I do. And I'm telling you, you can't do it".
So the question is, is it lawful? Secondly question, is it profitable? Some behavior may be allowed in God's word, but that's not the only question, is it profitable? Does it help move you towards your God-given goal and passion in life? For example, if I wanted to, I could spend three hours a day in my office playing video games on my computer, and nobody would be the wiser for it. I could do it, but do I want to do that? No, because that doesn't help me accomplish my goal in life, to share Christ with as many people as possible, to be an effective pastor of this church. It's not just pastors who have that goal, God has given us a limited amount of time and energy to spend in transforming the world with God's word, to share the good news of Christ with as many people as possible. And the legitimate question is, does this activity help me or hurt me in pursuing that goal in my life? Paul said all things are lawful but all things may not be profitable. The third question to ask yourself, and this is all important is, is it helpful? Is this behavior helpful?
And Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 10, edify. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. You know what the word edify means? It means to build up another person. This is the question about others. How does this decision, even if it's lawful, even if you can come up with a way that it's profitable, does it edify, does it build up or tear down other people? Specifically, does my behavior make a person want to follow God more closely? Or does it motivate them to fall away from God? The fact is what we do impacts other people, people we don't even know who are watching what we're doing. We're not an island unto ourselves. And that's why the Bible says a proper understanding of grace will always lead you to ask the question, not only how does this affect me, but how does this behavior affect us?