What is Practical Christianity?
Today we are starting a new series called “Practical Christianity” which discusses how we can walk worthy of our Lord in our day-to-day lives. If I had to choose a theme passage for this series it would be Colossians 1:9b -10 which says
“We also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with knowledge of His will in all wisdom and understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
This sums up our goal in the Practical Christianity series: to prepare for every good work and to increase in the knowledge of God. We will be looking at different topics dealing with how we should carry ourselves as Christians as we interact with others and participate in society for the glory of God.
Where to Start?
There are many topics we could discuss when starting a series about creating a practical application of Scripture but for the sake of setting out the groundwork, I would like to start out with something I like to call “The Amoral Principle.”
What is the Amoral Principle?
The Amoral Principle is principle found throughout Scripture that teaches that nothing is intrinsically evil on its own. This principle is most clearly seen in Romans 14 when Paul discusses eating what some considered to be unclean foods. At the time of Paul’s writing, many Jewish Christians were telling new Gentile believers that they were sinning by eating foods that were unclean by Jewish law. There was confusion on both sides so this is what Paul had to say about it.
“I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean”
From this passage, we can see that the Apostle Paul is explaining to the believers that they’ve got it all wrong. Specifically in this verse that certain foods could be a sin to eat. Although if we look back at the previous verses in the passage we can also see that Paul wasn’t limiting this lesson to food because he also brought up how people were disagreeing about whether or not failing to honor the Sabbath day was a sin. Back in verse five, he said,
“One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be persuaded in his own mind”
From this, we can see that the passage isn’t exclusively about eating meat, but rather a general application for our Christian living. Later on in verse 20, Paul leaves a concluding remark, to sum up his statement,
“All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.”
So what can we get from this? Is nothing a sin? Is everything acceptable? Paul addresses this question in 1 Corinthians 6:12
“All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
In this passage, Paul is specifically speaking in regard to sexual immorality. The basic concept here is that we are allowed to do anything, but not everything is beneficial to us. This is where it becomes necessary to have a proper perspective on sin. It’s important to realize why God classifies certain things as sin and other things as okay. God didn’t give us a list of sins because He wants us to not have any fun. He gave us a list of sins because He wanted to protect us from ourselves. God lists two types of sin: sin against Him and sin against our fellow man. Interestingly enough God considers actions against our fellow man also as actions done against Him. (Matt 25:41-45) I think we all can recognize that the most common sins against God are actions that we do that hurt others. When we commit these sins against others we are actually harming ourselves, by ruining our reputation and the fellowship we have with other people. So in our best interest, God gave us instruction on how to live our lives the most fulfilling way. God made His rules to help us, he didn’t make us just follow His rules. As Jesus says in Mark 2:27, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:” In the case of the Sabbath law, God told humanity it was a sin not to take Saturday off every week. Why though? Isn’t it better to get more stuff done than to relax for a day? In the case of the Sabbath, God recognized it was unhealthy for a human to be in a constant state of work, so He ultimately established the Sabbath as a day of rest for man’s benefit.
Understanding the Amoral Principle
So the application of the Amoral Principle is that nothing on its own is wrong. Whether or not something is evil depends on the context in which it takes place. After all, God said everything He created was good in Genesis 1:31. So we know the things He created must not be evil on their own. Let’s look at some examples. Is sex wrong? No, Hebrews 13:4 says “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled” Can sex be wrong? Yes, because the second half of the verse says “but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” What's the difference here? It’s the same action of sex, it’s just in different contexts. Sex in marriage is a good thing because it encourages intimacy and builds up the marriage relationship bond, but sex outside of marriage is considered bad because it uses others to fulfill a personal lust. This pursuit of personal lust eventually harms others when things don’t work between the two parties, causing emotional betrayal, regret, shame, or sadness. It becomes a sin because it is not about building others up, but rather serving one’s self at another’s expense. Therefore we can conclude that sex itself is amoral because it can be done both morally and immorally
Another example is a computer. Is using a computer wrong? Well of course not I’m using a computer right now to write an article that is meant to help Christians understand their Bibles better. That's a good thing! It could also be used to read the Bible, message people words of encouragement, and many other positive things. Yet the answer to “Is using a computer wrong,” can sometimes be yes. A computer can be used to lust after others by watching pornography, to cyberbully people, to participating in criminal activities or to do many more things that are considered evil. Does that make using a computer wrong? No, so once again we can conclude that computers are amoral because they can be used both morally and immorally
What about the Bible? Can using the Bible be wrong? You are probably saying, “Of course not!” but let’s see if it’s truly the case. We can definitely say it's good to use the Bible to teach others about God, to encourage us in our spiritual walk, or to meditate on God’s instruction, but we can also use the Bible as a justification to lift ourselves up in pride because of our righteousness, to bash hatred on people who don’t believe like we do, or to twist its words to justify our actions. Once again we can conclude that the Bible is amoral because it can be used both morally and immorally.
Get the picture yet? No action is evil or good on its own, all is amoral outside of context. Killing is wrong if it’s murder, but to kill to defend someone’s life is permitted. Dancing to make someone lust after you is wrong, but a little celebratory dance isn’t going to increase your sin debt. Even some specifically stated sins have exceptions depending on context, For example, David ate bread from the table of showbread. The Law that God gave at Mt. Sinai specifically stated that only the priests were permitted to eat from the table of showbread, yet in Matt 12:3-4 Jesus states that David’s breaking of this Law was acceptable given the situation. David clearly broke the Law of God, yet Jesus says it was okay. Why? Because David was hungry, had no food, and there was no other option but to eat it to survive. Even something specifically stated in Scripture as a sin can have an exception.
Judging if Something is a Sin.
You might think I’m teaching Moral Relativism, but that’s not my intent. Moral Relativism says that culture defines what is moral, but the truth is God determines what is moral through His revelation to us. Throughout all time, right has been right and wrong has been wrong and this has never changed. The Bible does give us clear guidelines in how we judge if things are a sin. As we already stated, anything that purposefully harms others, or uses them at their expense is clearly a sin. But there are also other situations that are clearly sins. Let’s get back to Romans 14. In this passage, we were discussing how people thought eating unclean food was a sin. In verse 19, Paul encourages the believers to make peace with those who have this lesser understanding of the freedoms given in Scripture. He follows up that thought in verse 21 by saying,
“It is good neither to eat flesh, nor drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended or is made weak”
It is wrong for us to do something we know will trip up our fellow believers. We should never intentionally do something that another believer would consider sin in the presence of that believer. The fact he considers it a sin makes it a sin for him to do it. (Romans 14:23) For this reason, it becomes a sin for us to do that action in his presence when we have the knowledge that he considers it a sin. Why? because it would discourage him in his Christian walk if he saw us doing it. When we disagree on where we set the standards we are always to respect the one who has the stricter standards, not get upset with them about where they draw the line. As verse 14 says, we are to keep it to ourselves before God.
Lastly, if we don’t know whether or not something would be considered a sin, then it is a sin. I mentioned this in the last paragraph but let’s look at verses 22-23
“Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he allows, and he the doubteth is damned if he eat because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin”
If we don’t know if it’s a sin, we have doubt, and if we have doubt, we don’t have faith, and if we don’t have faith we have sin. So when in doubt, just don’t.
One last thought before we close out this post. Because God gives us so much liberty in our walk with Him, it is inevitable that Christians will differ on their personal standards and preferences. It’s not a sin for someone to have a different standard as long as they aren’t way off track and completely ignoring Scriptural principles. As Christians, we are to be understanding and loving. This doesn’t mean we never confront people about something they are doing that we believe is wrong, it just means that we should do so kindly and with their best interest at heart. We need to remember Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” Just because someone believes slightly different doesn’t mean they aren’t saved or living in open rebellion with God. If we have the stricter standard then we shouldn’t be offended by their actions. We should be more concerned that we are having a proper walk with God in our own life. One day they will have to answer to God for their actions, not us.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed this post, and it has helped you understand the Amoral Principle. In later posts in the Practical Christianity series, we will look deeper into specific topics such as drugs, alcohol, money, sex, entertainment and many others to see how the Bible says we should respond to them in certain situations. Be sure to join in next time as we continue to dive deeper into practical Christian living.