07 Mar Some Guiding Principles of Christian Conduct
All Christians, but perhaps more particularly the younger ones, are perplexed at times concerning the rightness or otherwise of a course of action we propose to follow. “Would it be right for me as a Christian to do this, or to go there?” is a question to which they earnestly desire to find an authoritative and satisfying answer. How can it be found? Many have been brought up under a series of taboos, especially on questions of worldliness, and have too often yielded to the convictions of others of which they themselves are not fully convinced.
Such an attitude is not always conducive to a virile and healthy spiritual experience since it is one derived largely at second-hand. We must by diligent study of the Scriptures, by thought and prayer, arrive at our convictions and not weakly adopt those inherited from others.
But having said that, we should guard against the idea that there is no place for prohibitions in Christian life. They are plentifully found in both Old and New Testaments—the Ten Commandments, for example. If it be objected that we are “not under law but under grace,” and that the restrictions of the law do not apply to Christians, the answer is that nine out of ten commandments in the decalogue are reiterated in the New Testament, where their application is greatly widened. Murder in the act is traced to hatred in the heart. It is true that we are no longer “under the law” as a way of justification, but we are “under law to Christ” as a new way of life. Paul is as free with his prohibitions as with his exhortations “Put off,” “abstain,” “lay aside” are characteristic of his letters.
The Bible does not legislate in detail for every matter of conduct which might arise, but it does enumerate clear principles which, correctly applied, cover every conceivable case. If God did not thus give clear guidance how can we then be held responsible for failure to do His will? It is the genius of New Testament Christianity to lay down clear guiding principles rather than to impose a set of taboos, a system of rules and regulations, for God delights to deal with His people as adult sons rather than as children under a tutor. Since this is the case, in reading the Scriptures we should constantly ask, “What are the spiritual principles propounded in this passage?”
If we are to receive guidance, absolute sincerity of purpose is essential, for God undertakes to reveal His will only to the one’ who is prepared to do it. There must be a complete willingness to accept the teaching of Scripture as final in all matters of faith and practice. To approach a doubtful matter with such questions as “Where is the harm in it?” or “Others do it, why not I?” is to indicate that it has been prejudged and it is not so much guidance which is sought as sanction. The mind is almost made up already. “If any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know…” (John 7:17) is a principle of universal application. Where there is a genuine purpose to do God’s will as soon as He reveals it the seeker will not remain long in darkness. But conversely, unwillingness to do God’s will effectively excludes the light of divine guidance.
Six Eliminating Questions
To ask and answer the following questions will automatically dispose of many problems concerning doubtful things.
Will it bring glory to God? “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God “ (I Cor. 10:31). If the chief end of man is to glorify God, this should be our first test and chief concern. If the proposed course ends on self and does not bring glory to God, it is something which can well be laid aside.
Is it profitable? Will it help me in my Christian life, my witness, my service? “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient : all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (I Cor. 10 : 23). Will it tend to make my life more profitable to God and to my fellow man?
Does it edify? Does it build me in my Christian life, my Christian character and will it help me to build up the Church of God? “For edification, and not for your destruction” (2 Cor. 10:8). God’s supreme interest is centred in His Church and we should share His concern for its upbuilding.
Does it tend to enslave? “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” (I Cor. 6:12). Even things themselves lawful can become our master and get out of proportion. They can so demand our attention that we neglect other things of more importance. For example, secular reading can so enslave a reader that it vitiates his appetite for the reading of the Word of God and spiritual books. Such a condition must be jealously guarded against by strict self-discipline both as to the quality and the quantity of our secular reading.
Will it strengthen me against temptation? It is of little avail for us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” if we voluntarily go where we will be exposed to temptation. It is one thing for a Salvation Army officer to enter a saloon to sell his War Cry but quite another for a young man to go in to “celebrate” with his friends. Any place or practice which tends to make sin seem less sinful is to be shunned.
Is it characteristic of the world or of the Father? “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust ‘Of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15). If the proposed course of action is more characteristic of the world our course is clear for “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The world and the things that are in the world are not to be the dominating objects of our affection.
But there are many relationships, pleasures and activities which, while not sins, could be termed “weights,” for they impede progress in the heavenly race and should therefore be laid aside. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan points out that “the things which hinder are not necessarily low or vulgar. They may be in themselves noble things, intellectual things, beautiful things. But if our participation in any of these dims our vision of the ultimate goal in the purpose of God, holds us in our running, makes our going less determined and steady, they become weights and hinder.”
—Taken from “Problems of Christian Discipleship”
Reprinted from The Evangelical Student March June 1969