Christians of all denominations struggle with where the boundaries are in life, and what is right and wrong for us to do as Christians. Many of us do what we do simply because it's what we were taught, and we've never given any more thought to it. What many of us don’t realize is that people are watching our actions as much as listening to our words when evaluating our claim to be followers of Christ. Our decisions about right and wrong greatly impact our witness and affect our ability to carry out the Great Commission.
Fortunately the apostle Paul gives us a guideline to follow that we can apply to our own circumstances. In his first letter to the Corinthians, three chapters before the famous "love chapter," he makes it very simple for us to understand:
"Everything is permissible"-but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"-but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God-even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved." 1 Corinthians 10:23-24, 31-33 (NIV)
In this short passage, Paul tells us how to determine if something is right for us as Christians, and his guidance can be broken down into five main points:
1. Does it build me up spiritually?
In 1 Corinthians 10:23 above the issue is basically one of "I can do it, but is it really good for me?" There are many things we can do, but is doing them improving my relationship with God? In some ways, it's the old good vs. best argument, and it can be a difficult one because most of the time "good" is a lot easier to do than "best". But if we really want the right direction regarding our behavior, we must consider whether it is something that makes us grow spiritually.
2. Does it bring me under its power?
In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul makes a statement similar to that found in 1 Corinthians 10:23: "'Everything is permissible for me'-but not everything is beneficial. 'Everything is permissible for me'-but I will not be mastered by anything." There are many things we do that can become addictive, from gambling to eating to watching television. But these things do not affect every person in the same way. While one person may be able to have one glass of wine with dinner each night and suffer no ill effects, others might quickly become addicted to alcohol. So we must determine for ourselves whether a certain activity has the possibility of controlling us rather than the other way around.
3. Could it cause another person to stumble?
In Romans 14:15, Paul makes the following statement: "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died." Here Paul is talking about Christians eating food that was sacrificed to idols, and how by eating it could be a poor example as a Christian in the first century. Today the situation is much the same. If you have no issue with alcohol, yet have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic, it would be wrong to invite him to a bar to meet you. Sure, he could drink club soda or water but you, by your decision, are putting your friend in a bad position.
4. Do I have an uneasy conscience about it?
Using the same situation as above (the eating of food sacrificed to idols) Paul goes a step further. In Romans 14:23 he says: "But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." If your conscience bothers you about some activity, you would do well to take heed. Often we will ignore what our conscience tells us about something in order to fit in with the rest of our crowd. If this happens more than once or twice it's probably time to find a new crowd.
5. Does it glorify God?
This may be the most important question of the five. Do not mistake it for the much catchier "What Would Jesus Do?" that was so popular a few years ago, because if you try hard enough you can convince yourself that Jesus would have done all sorts of things. Asking if the activity glorifies God has much less wiggle room, and makes you take a much harder look at the things you do. As Paul wrote in I Corinthians 10:31 "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."
If you'll ask yourself any or all of these five questions and give honest answers, you will no longer encounter situations where you have to wonder if it was right for you as a Christian. This will make your Christian walk much more consistent and productive and will be of great benefit when sharing your faith with others.