Below are 15 actions that some people see as sinful and others do not. Count how many of the following you deem sinful.
1. Making out with your boyfriend/girlfriend
2. Watching R-rated movies
3. Listening to non-Christian music
4. Drinking alcohol
6. Getting a tattoo
7. Attending a Halloween party
8. Using social media
9. Bingeing on Netflix
10. Driving five mph over the speed limit
11. Skipping church one Sunday to attend a sporting event
12. Sending your kids to public school
13. Betting on sporting events
14. Spending money on luxury items
15. Playing video games that contain violence.
BONUS: Allowing your kids to do any of the above.
Interpreting Your Score
How many did you answer “yes” to?
If you scored 10 or more, you’re a legalist!
If you scored 5 or less, you’re an antinomian!
If you had trouble answering these, finding yourself answering “it depends” for many of them, that might not be a bad thing.
Many Christians would label at least some of these issues as “gray areas”—a category we might define as actions that Scripture doesn’t clearly identify as “sinful” or “non-sinful” for all people in all places at all times.
To say it another way, a gray area (biblically speaking) is any matter that is not clearly commanded, prohibited, or permitted in Scripture.
Moral gray areas have always existed for believers (see Rom. 14:1–23). New technology and modern social issues certainly provide unique manifestations of gray areas, but Christians have always needed to exercise wisdom and discernment in myriads of life situations.
A gray area . . . is any matter that is not clearly commanded, prohibited, or permitted in Scripture.
My purpose here is not to offer my opinion on the morality of these specific potential gray areas, but to offer questions to help you make moral decisions about the gray areas in your own life in a biblical and God-honoring way.
Whenever you aren’t sure if a particular action is sinful, ask yourself these questions before proceeding:
1. Is the Holy Spirit convicting me that this is wrong? (Rom. 14:23; James 4:17).
2. Is this action causing a brother or sister to stumble? (Rom. 14:20; 1 Cor. 8:9–13).
3. Is this action harmful rather than beneficial to my faith? (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).
4. Is this action mastering or controlling me? (1 Cor. 6:12; 9:27).
5. Is this action causing me to be disobedient to someone whom God has put in authority over me? (Eph. 6:1; Heb. 13:17)
6. Am I judging others who don’t agree with me in this gray area? (Matt. 7:1–5; Rom. 14:13).
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it’s likely this behavior is sinful or at least unwise. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of all the Bible says about gray areas—and there are countless caveats we could add (e.g., how to tell the difference between Spirit-led conviction and legalistic guilt-tripping, how to respond to abusive authority)—but this list serves as a starting point.
How Will I Be Judged?
God has two kinds of “will”: his hidden will and his revealed will (cf. Deut. 29:29). There’s a real sense in which God has kept some of his sovereign will hidden from us (e.g., whether to marry Christian A or Christian B and whether to live in Greenville or Dallas), whereas he has clearly revealed other aspects of his will to us (e.g., you should love your neighbor and repent of your sin).
So which aspect of God’s will are we going to be held accountable for obeying?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism (question 39) is helpful here:
Q. What is the duty which God requires of man?
A. The duty which God requires of man is obedience to his revealed will.
The last two words are key: God requires obedience to his revealed will.
Deuteronomy 29:29 provides both the language and the justification for the Westminster divines’ assertion: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
God wants us to obey his commands in the black and white areas, and to seek his wisdom in the gray areas.
God is not playing games with you, seeing if you can “guess which hat” the sin is under, and if you guess wrong, you lose. He isn’t secretly wanting you to buy the red car—without telling you—and then punishing you for buying the blue car. This is not the kind of Father our God is.
God wants us to obey his commands in the black and white areas and to seek his wisdom in the gray areas. He knows we don’t know his hidden will (Ps. 103:14), and he doesn’t condemn us for that. But with what we know from his revealed will in Scripture, we’re well equipped to make wise, God-honoring decisions—even in the grayest of areas (2 Tim. 3:16–17).