By Jack Wilkie

“Christianity isn’t a list of dos and don’ts.”

I’m sure you’ve heard this said plenty of times if you’ve been around the church long enough, and it’s true. Being a Christian isn’t about fulfilling a list of qualifications. If that were the case, we’d all be in trouble as there is no way we would ever be able to follow the list closely enough. We all fall short (Romans 3:23) and we can’t be justified by trying hard enough or doing enough good deeds (4:1-4).

We can all agree on this point, and we can all acknowledge the truth of it… but then we catch ourselves so often reverting to our habit of reducing Christianity back into a list of what we can and can’t do. How? See if any of these debated items sound familiar:

Is it a sin to skip worship times, even Sunday nights or Wednesday nights?

Is it a sin to drink alcohol?

Is it a sin to gamble?

For each of these issues (and a number of others) you can make Scriptural arguments on either side. What we can’t do, however, is definitively point to a book/chapter/verse reference that explicitly says what we believe. Because of this, there are multiple sides to each of these debates (and I’m not taking any of them in this article). There are those who will say it is absolutely a sin, sometimes making laws that God never made. And, there are those who proclaim that if you can’t give them proof that a certain act is a sin, then they are free to do whatever they want.

The irony is that the two positions on either side are both rooted in legalism. Making laws that God has not made is wrong, but treating God’s Word as a checklist of duties we have to fulfill before going to heaven is wrong, too.

When we have this attitude that says, “Just tell me what I have to do and what I’m not allowed to do,” we emulate the calculated obedience of the Pharisees that Jesus railed against in the Sermon on the Mount, we show a lack of all-consuming love for God, and we remove all wisdom and discernment from the equation.

No, I can’t give you b/c/v that says drinking is a sin… but I can give you a biblical, practical explanation on why I think you should avoid it. The same goes for watching movies filled with questionable content. You’re not going to find a “Thou shalt not see that R-rated movie,” but using a little discernment from what we do know in the Scriptures isn’t wrong. Another example is the courtship/dating dilemma. Any time that subject is brought up (like in Dr. Brad Harrub and Rob L. Whitacre’s book) the first response is “You can’t bind that!” (i.e. “The Bible doesn’t say I have to”).

Yet another example is the issue of educational choices, another area in which that response of, “It’s not a sin, so we don’t need to discuss it” is routinely brought up. It’s true that those aren’t sin issues, and that direct applications can’t be bound… but just as with those other issues, can’t we have a discussion on what wisdom and a pure heart might lead to? We might even come to an honest disagreement, but that won’t ever happen as long as we only look at actions as whether or not they are sins if we do/don’t do them.

Where do we find a balance, then? The important point to keep in mind is that the Bible wasn’t written to tell us what things we have to do, but to help us understand what kind of people we should be in light of Christ’s sacrifice. Instead of asking, “Is that a sin?” when either looking for what line to draw or what we can get away with, we need to be asking ourselves if what we do glorifies God and if it helps us draw nearer to Him.

When we do that with issues the Bible hasn’t explicitly condemned or commanded, we might all come to differing conclusions, and that’s fine. The important part is that our hearts are engaged in our obedience, that we do what we do because it brings us closer to God and makes us more like Christ.