Are there really “gray areas” in the Christian’s life?

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all things to God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

Often people ask about “gray areas” which, they say, are not mentioned in the Bible. They think that they may do whatever they want in these areas, because they think their decisions in those areas will not affect their morality or their spirituality and their relationship with God. But are there really “gray areas” in the Christian’s life where our decisions to one direction or another are not so important?

Actually, the Law of God contains everything for the godly walk, but it should be understood by the Spirit, spiritually, in the light of the Gospel. We have seen this when we studied tattoos and body piercings which many consider a “gray area” (see here). In that article, we have seen how the Law was not abolished, but the Old Covenant, and we have seen how the Law gives us the principles that a Christian should follow in order to glorify God and not sin in what people may consider “gray areas”. We have seen how people may commit great sins in those areas which they call “gray”, because they actually despise God’s authority over those areas and they do not understand the real issue involved in those practices. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, the Apostle Paul summarizes this principle of studying the Law spiritually to understand how to glorify God in what people call “gray areas”; he says: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all things to God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Things like eating and drinking may seem very “gray” for people, but Paul says in those areas we may glorify God or we may not. And know this well: not glorifying God in all areas IS a sin; it’s not just a “no problem”. The Lord Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn stone to bread when He was hungry (see Matthew 4:3). From the first and quick sight, people may say: “What would be wrong if Jesus turned the stone to bread and ate? Where was the temptation there? Is eating wrong after 40 days of fasting?? Is eating a sin? Is it not a natural function of life?…” But in fact, a great violation of an important principle would have occurred if Jesus turned the stone to bread there and then: the right and authority of God to decide when and how the fasting should end, and when and how Jesus would eat. This also applies to everyone of us. Many people just ignore God in all these areas, and they think what they do is just a “no problem”, and they often ask: “How far can we go in the wrong direction and still be okay with God?”… This is really a blasphemous question, because the godly man does not ask how much I may unglorify God and still be okay… The godly man asks: “How much more should I come closer to God and know His mind in order to love Him more and glorify Him more?” Indeed, our only goal and occupation is God’s Glory, i.e. our holiness, i.e. reflecting God’s Holiness in our lives: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) The Apostle Peter did not say we should be holy only in what the letter of the Law says clearly, thus being legalistic, but he said: “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”” (1 Peter 1:15-16) “All your behavior” includes what people call “gray areas”. In everything we do, we either shine God’s Light and Glory, or we do not; there is nothing between light and darkness.

And in 1 Corinthians, in the same context where Paul said what we read in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul gives us the principles that summarize how a Christian should apply the Law spiritually in what people call “gray areas”, and to abstain not only from what is clearly evil, but also “from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22) in order to glorify God in all things. Let’s see together in short seven of those principles explained in 1 Corinthians which help us glorify God in what people consider “gray areas”:

1. Will it benefit me and the Church spiritually? Will it edify?
“All things are lawful, but all are not profitable; all things are lawful, but all do not edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

Of course, in this verse “all things” does not mean everything in the world, but all the things considered in the context, the things that people consider as making part of the gray areas. The other things in the world are clearly mentioned in the Bible, like stealing and murder and adultery, etc. In those clearly black areas one does not need just to look whether they edify or not, but to obey God’s clear commandment about them, because they surely destroy and do not edify. This usage of “all things” for particulars in the context is not new for Paul, especially in 1 Corinthians; he has used “all things” in the same way in 1 Corinthians 13 where he wrote that true love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) Of course Paul did not mean that true love believes lies, but he meant by “all things” everything that does not violate what he has already mentioned in the same context. For example, Paul already mentioned in the context of 1 Corinthians 13 that love “does not rejoice at iniquity but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6); so it goes without saying that “all things” does not include what is not truth and is iniquity. In the same way, Paul uses “all things” in the context of 1 Corinthians 10:23 where he considers what people consider “gray areas” where the Corinthians may say “all those things are lawful; the Law does not say anything against them” or “we are free, so we can do whatever we want in these areas, because it doesn’t really matter”. In all those things, Paul explains the principle that we learn from God’s Law by the Spirit: that we should seek what benefits us and the whole Church by edifying.

2. Will it put me in bondage?
“all things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)

I should abstain from any solely hurtful and questionable practice that may form a habit in me.

3. Will it defile God’s temple?
“Do ye not know that your body is [the] temple of the Holy Spirit which [is] in you, which ye have of God; and ye are not your own? for ye have been bought with a price: glorify now then God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Many easy-believists or liberals argue that the context of this passage is about fornication, therefore they say that this passage cannot be used against any other sin than fornication. But this is legalistic; this is what it means to be attached to the letter of God’s Law and forgetting the Spirit. It’s like saying for example: “because the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is talking about fornication, then sanctification involves only abstaining from sexual sin…” The objector fails to see that in such passages as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 God gives us general principles that should apply always, and not only in the context where those principles are given.

So the principle in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 is that we should not do anything with our bodies that would dishonor the Lord. We wholly belong to the Lord, spirit and soul and body, so we should not do anything that may hide the Glory of God which should shine in everything we do with our body. Our bodies should be living sacrifices to God in Christ: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the compassions of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, [which is] your intelligent service.” (Romans 12:1)

4. Will it cause other believers to stumble?
“But meat does not commend us to God; neither if we should not eat do we come short; nor if we should eat have we an advantage. But see lest anywise this your right [to eat] itself be a stumbling-block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:8-9)

Many Christians today are so “free” that they are in slavery to sin in many so-called “gray areas”, because they insolently disrespect the weak brothers’ conscience with many practices they do. They think that as they are free in Christ, so if they take care of the weak brother’s conscience, then they are not free. But Paul clearly addressed this issue: “But if any one of the unbelievers invite you, and ye are minded to go, all that is set before you eat, making no inquiry for conscience sake. But if any one say to you, This is offered to holy purposes, do not eat, for his sake that pointed it out, and conscience sake; but conscience, I mean, not thine own, but that of the other: for why is my liberty judged by another conscience? If I partake with thanksgiving, why am I spoken evil of for what I give thanks for?” (1 Corinthians 10:27-30) What Paul is practically saying is this: we know that eating or not eating meat offered to idols will not affect our relationship with God, so it should not violate our own conscience; but we should not stop at this selfish point! The unbeliever’s conscience may be offended if we eat after he told us that this meat was offered to idols, because he may take a wrong idea about repentance and Salvation from idols and sin. And what if there is a brother there who, if we eat, will be offended because of his weak conscience? It is true that his weak conscience does not affect my own conscience and does not make eating meat a sin, but if it offends that brother’s conscience, then it IS the sin of the lack of love towards that brother! Lack of love and of respect towards the weak brothers IS a sin, a sin at the same level with fornication! So while many Christians think they are “free” in so-called “gray areas”, they actually commit some horrible sins in those areas, as we have seen. And interestingly, in 1 Corinthians 10:27-30 (quoted above), the Apostle is telling us that even if we are the guests of an unbeliever and we do not want to offend him by not eating from the meat that he offers, yet it is better to offend the unbeliever and not eat for the sake of the weak Christian who would be offended if we eat, because the unbeliever does not know God and may be offended by anything godly, including our love for the brethren, while our love for the brethren is what distinguishes us as Christ’s disciples (see John 13:34-35). The sad fact is that many who call themselves Christians today prefer not to offend the unbelievers in such cases, because, according to them, that will make them refuse our gospel (as if the Gospel and Salvation depend of man’s decisions or will…), and they prefer to offend the brethren…

One should refrain from using his freedom in an area which might cause others to sin. In such cases, not refraining from using our freedom IS a sin, although our freedom in itself is not a sin. For “Now, thus sinning against the brethren, and wounding their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore if meat be a fall-trap to my brother, I will eat no flesh for ever, that I may not be a fall-trap to my brother.” (1 Corinthians 8:12-13)

5. Will it help the cause of evangelism? What kind of testimony will it give to the unbelievers?
“Give no occasion to stumbling, whether to Jews, or Greeks, or the assembly of God. Even as I also please all in all things; not seeking my own profit, but that of the many, that they may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33)

We must think of the effect any practice might have on our testimony to the lost. We have seen an example in the previous point: that if eating meat offered to idols may make an unbeliever take a wrong idea about Salvation from sin and about separation from idols, then we should not eat that meat. Eating meat in this case is as sinful as fornication! But if anyone would make it a law that Christians should not eat meat, then we should oppose that error boldly, just as the Apostle Paul did (see 1 Timothy 4:3). Another example: we can’t just criticize a person if he makes the sign of the cross before and/or after prayer, because in this case making the sign of the cross or not making it will not change anything, while criticizing it may make the unbeliever legalists or traditionalists or formalists think we disrespect the cross. But if the making of the sign is defended as essential in our relationship with God, then we should be careful to boldly and clearly explain the error so that we may not be preaching false doctrine.

In all cases, we should make sure not to hinder the true Gospel of Christ.

6. Will it violate my conscience?
1 Corinthians 10:25-29 contains three references to abstaining from a certain practice “for conscience’ sake.” And Romans 14:23 says: “But he that doubts, if he eat, is condemned; because [it is] not of faith; but whatever [is] not of faith is sin.”

If we doubt that an action in a so-called “gray area” is pleasing to God, we should not do it. That way our conscience will remain clear and our relationship with God will not be hindered. Note that in this case, if despite the fact that our conscience is not clear with some practice, we still do it anyway, then it IS a sin (as the Apostle clearly said), even if it is not a practice clearly forbidden by God’s Word. Whatever is not of faith IS sin. Faith should be built on God’s clear Word, without any shadow of doubt.

7. Will it bring Glory to God?
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all things to God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

This summarizes all the principles that we have seen above. If you have studied the Law of God deeply, you may have noticed that all these principles are contained in the Law, and we should follow them by the Spirit and not according to the flesh, according to the New Covenant’s principle of faith and not according to the principle of the ordinances of the Old Covenant, as we have seen in this article.

Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ

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