The third truth we have exchanged may be one of the most pervasive and dangerous of the 4.
God and his Word are absolute! We have, just like the other truths, bought into this one. And we have every reason to. That statement is entirely truthful. But, let me tell you what it doesn't mean. Just because God and his Word are absolute doesn't mean they allow no room for margin. When Scripture tells us that God and His Word are absolute, we tend to believe that this means everything, with God, is black and white; however, I don’t see this to be the case. I see a God who can function in the vague and yet remain absolute.
For this discussion we will turn to the 14th chapter of Romans. If you have time, read it! But for the sake of this post, let me give you a summary. Paul lays out a teaching on two types of people. We find the two types of people he mentions are the "weaker brother" and, through our powers of observation, we see the second person inferred is the "stronger brother." A few key things to keep in mind about these individuals. First and foremost, I find it interesting Paul refers to the individual that cannot eat certain things, worship on certain days, etc. as the “weaker brother.” So, the individual who is so constrained by these boundaries, these “absolutes,” is the weaker brother. Why? Because this individual doesn’t see that God is much bigger than all of that. And Heaven forbid, there might be more to Christianity that what is in black and white. It is highly probable there are some gray areas...which we will get into in a bit. The second important element of this teaching to take note of is in reference to the "stronger brother." To them, Paul warns not to condemn the weaker brother because it is very possible God has accepted them as well. (I realize I am oversimplifying all of this, but bare with me.)
Reading through this passage, it seems to me, the logical conclusion is that there are certain areas God will speak to each of us about differently. Believe it or not, people within the same denomination, the same church, or even the same household may have differing “convictions” regarding food, drink, worship, or any other number of things. If you didn't believe that last statement, what I'm about to say next will totally blow you away. This might be hard to swallow, but it is entirely possible for people to have varying beliefs, still be Christian and, catch this, get along. It's a shocker, I know!
God is large and in charge! So much so, that he may tell me it is fine to do something or go somewhere all the while telling someone else the exact opposite. Does this mean God and his Word are not absolute? Absolutely not! To believe otherwise would show a blatant disregard of Scripture. Furthermore, it would make God very impersonal.
Here's the deal, God knows my past experiences, my present circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams. And given the fact that he is God and knows what he is doing, he is able to utilize all of that in a way he sees fit. Andy Stanley offers some great insight on this topic; "In light of my past experiences, my present circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?" Let me illustrate this point. I may have a past that doesn't allow me to participate in certain behaviors that Scripture does not condemn. For example, if my past involves addiction, drinking (not condemned by the Bible) would not be a wise thing for me to do. If my present circumstances involve some sort of purity battle, dating (perfectly legitimate way to interact with the opposite sex) may not be a wise thing for me to do. Perhaps my future hopes and dreams hinge on being debt free; buying that brand new vehicle would not be a wise thing for me to do. As I hope you see, there is nothing wrong with any of these things in and of themselves--until they are put under scrutiny and we ask ourselves, "What is the wise thing to do?" There may be things that are perfectly acceptable or not Scripturally forbidden that I need to abstain from…simply because they are not wise.
Therefore, when it comes to the gray areas, God advises that we establish Biblical convictions. (And, contrary to what some believe, you should have several Biblical convictions.) Know that if you take a stand, you will have to be ready to offer an explanation. In addition to that, be on guard that you don't look down on others with varying convictions nor should you presume they need to follow or agree with you. God, in his sovereignty, has given some people the freedom (or grace) to fulfill his purpose in their life. But here is the key: While your convictions may be personal and may vary from everyone else, they are in no way ambiguous! The more you are in God’s word, the more you will know what your convictions should look like.
Following is a list of questions to help determine what convictions may or may not be legitimate in God's sight:
1. Does the Bible prohibit this conduct in specific or in general terms?
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.” ~2 Timothy 3:16
2. Will this conduct be an example of good stewardship?
“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.” ~Matthew 25:29
3. Will this conduct help or hurt me with the mission God has given me?
“We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God.” ~2 Corinthians 6:3-4a
4. Does this conduct align with the standards I profess to uphold and expect of others?
“So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” ~Matthew 23:3-4
“You may believe there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right…If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.” ~Romans 14:22-23b