God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 6

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

9). Will this action honor my body which belongs to God?
Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body. – 1 Cor. 6:19-20

We touched on this principle in an earlier post, but let’s look at it again from a slightly different angle. In these verses Paul declares that we are not our own and have been bought with a price. Therefore, we should honor God in all we do with our bodies. Chuck Swindoll says our bodies are: 1) a physical extension of Christ, 2) a moral illustration of the Lord, and 3) a spiritual habitation of God. John Piper says 6 things are true because Jesus bought your body:

1) God is for the body not against it. 2) The body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. 3) The body will be resurrected from the dead. 4) The body is not to be mastered by anything but Christ. 5) The body is not to be used for any immorality. 6) The body is to be used for the glory of God. What is the result? “Use your body in ways that will show that God is more satisfying, more precious, more to be desired, more glorious than anything the body craves” (John Piper, “You Were Bought with a Price”). I don’t know about you, but I like this. Use my body to show how satisfying God is? Now that’s a life in the body worth living!

10). Will this action glorify God?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. – 1 Cor. 10:31

This climatic and over-arching principle has been called “the joyful duty of man.” It is right in its God-focus for He is the most beautiful and valuable person in the entire universe. It is right in its human perspective for it makes clear why we are here: to live for God’s glory. John Piper is right: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!” (John Piper, Desiring God, 9). No part of life is exempt from this principle. It is comprehensive and it is satisfying! So, seek His glory, and do it with passion!

Putting Our Ten Principles into Practice
When making ethical choices, world Christians will not wed their cultural and personal preferences to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will vigorously keep them separate and distinct. They will not insist on their rights or their special interest that could cloud the beauty and purity of the gospel. How can a devoted Christ follower stand beneath the cross of their Savior and insist on their rights? To give up our rights for the spiritual and eternal blessing of others will be a joy and not a burden. It is our calling in Christ (Mark 10:35-45).

How will this influence the way we live as Christians? I believe the following theological paradigm applied to the Corinthian correspondence can give us some additional guidelines to consider. Several years ago, when I served at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my good friend Al Mohler and I often discussed how the church should worship. He developed the following model that also provides insight for how the church should live out the gospel in today’s cultural context.

A Theological Paradigm for Being the Body of Christ

Bad Church (Christian)

+ Good Way

+ Good Church (Christian)

+ Good Way

Bad Church (Christian)

Bad Way

+ Good Church (Christian)

– Bad Way

Obviously, we want to be in the top box on the right. We want to be a good Christian in a good way. It is not difficult to discern a good Christian, because we have a perfect manual called the Bible to instruct and guide us. We can go to the counsel of the Old and New Testaments and discover God’s ideas for gospel ethics. Some things are non-negotiables. Some things are transparent. However, being a good Christian in a good way is not always as easy to discover. The good way is more subjective in nature. Cultural context plays a significant role at this point. There are many gray areas in life that are not always clear. How can we discover the good way? I believe the ten principles found in the Corinthian correspondence, provide tremendous help. Complementing them with six affirmations or axioms that take into consideration our 4-fold paradigm, I believe we can gain some insight into how we can find the “good way.”

Six Guiding Axioms for Finding the “Good Way”

  1. Love will regulate liberty.
  2. Love will rein in legalism.
  3. That which detracts from the gospel will be avoided.
  4. That which distracts from the gospel will be avoided.
  5. Follow the witness principle.
  6. Follow the wisdom principle.

In my last article in this series I will present a test case in which we can apply these principles. I suspect it will get your attention: the issue of alcohol.

Guest Blog by Central Asia RL: Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 1)

Biblical Foundations and Guidelines for Contextualization (Pt 1)

Editor’s Note: This guest blog is written by the IMB’s Regional Leader for Central Asia. It is a six part series, giving the biblical foundations and guidelines for contextualization, and making application to Christian ministry in the Muslim world. This series will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book “Look What God is Doing in the Muslim World.”

Every Christian Contextualizes

Contextualization is one of the hottest topics in Missions today. Simply put, contextualization is the word we use for the process of making the Gospel and the church as much at home as possible in a given cultural context. American Christians have a tendency to think of contextualization as something missionaries and overseas Christians do “over there,” and many serious Christians in the Western world worry about how far non-Western churches go in their contextualization efforts. However, in reality, every Christian alive today is actively involved in contextualization. Every American Christian worships in a contextualized church. As much as we like to think of our churches as “New Testament churches,” there actually are no New Testament churches in existence today.

Contextualization in a Western Context

Our cultural context is dramatically different from the world of the New Testament, and as a result, any modern church would look bizarre and alien to a first-century Christian. This is true at every level. The first century church met on the Temple porch in Jerusalem, or in places like the school of Tyrannus in Ephesus, or most often in private homes. There were no specific church buildings during the New Testament period.

Our buildings, with their modern construction materials, their style and appearance, and their electronic gadgetry, would look like they had come down from outer space if they were plopped into a first century setting. Our seating arrangements, with people sitting on pews or chairs rather than on the floor, and with unrelated men and women sitting side by side, would seem strange (and perhaps a bit scandalous) to a first century Palestinian believer. The programs that make up so much of modern church life – Sunday School, Youth Group, RAs and GAs, Awanas – all came into being in recent centuries, and were unknown to the early church.

The music we sing is based on a totally different tonality from that of the ancient Mediterranean world, and it uses very different instruments. (The piano was not invented until the modern era, and the organ was originally a Roman circus instrument, considered unfit for Christian worship.) Our music would have sounded strange and unpleasant to them, and vice versa. (It should be noted that all Christian music, at some point, has been “contemporary Christian music,” and that even the most traditional songs today were probably regarded as risqué by somebody when they first came out!)

The language we speak did not even exist in Biblical times. English as we know it developed during the Middle Ages, centuries after the New Testament was completed. First century Christians worshiped in Aramaic, Koine Greek, or Latin. And the social customs and cultural practices of the first century church were much closer to the modern culture of the Middle East or Central Asia than to contemporary North America. Our culture is radically different from the culture of the New Testament, and as a result, our churches are radically different from New Testament churches.

In countless ways, every believer alive today, whether in North America or South Asia, contextualizes the Gospel and the church. The question is not whether or not we are going to do it. The question facing every believer and every church is whether or not they will contextualize well. Anyone who fails to realize that they are doing it, and who fails to think it through carefully and Biblically, simply guarantees that they will probably contextualize poorly. Syncretism can happen as easily in Indiana or Iowa as it can in Indonesia!

Contextualization in a Muslim Context

Those working in the Muslim world have taken a variety of approaches to contextualization. These approaches are typically classified along a spectrum designated C1 to C5 (or sometimes C6). C1 is the label given to those who simply reproduce their own (foreign) culture on the mission field. If a foreign worker were to reproduce First Baptist Church of Anywhere, USA somewhere overseas, complete with architecture, hymnal, order of service, style of worship and teaching, and church programs, this would be an example of C1 contextualization.

At the other end of the spectrum, C5 contextualization aims at a phenomenon sometimes referred to as an “insider movement.” In this approach, new believers in Jesus are encouraged to maintain a Muslim community identity and to continue Islamic practices. Often, such movements affirm that Islam, its prophet and its book are of divine origin, but simply need to be completed in Jesus. C2, C3 and C4 represent intermediate stages between these two extremes.

This classification system is widely used, and it provides a useful common language for the conversation about contextualization. However, there is a problem inherent in this approach. This system implies that we are the standard. It measures the distance from us, as though our cultural expression of Christianity is what God actually intended, and others are to be evaluated by how much they are like us or different from us.

We have to admit that every Christian everywhere instinctively tends to think this way. What we have always done feels to us like the “right” way to do things, and we have a hard time not reading our own experience into the Bible. However, given the fact that all of us practice contextualization, we need to remind ourselves constantly that Scripture, not our experience, is the standard by which all things are to be evaluated. Scripture is inerrant, authoritative and sufficient. Where Scripture gives a command, or a prohibition, or a binding model, the issue is settled. When Scripture sets a boundary, we may not cross it.

However, within those boundaries, there is nothing particularly sacred about our cultural ways of doing things. Throughout the ages and across the globe, there have been other cultural expressions of Christianity that are just as faithful to Scripture as our own. Indeed, in the case of the Muslim world, their culture is actually closer to the culture of the New Testament than is ours, so their churches may actually look more like New Testament churches than ours do. At the same time, every culture, including our own, has its besetting sins. In every setting, there are points where cultural orthodoxy contradicts the Word of God, resulting in cultural pressure toward compromise and syncretism. The key is to let the Bible be our judge, and for all of us to allow the global Body of Christ to speak the Word of God into our particular blind spots.

games mobi

Alvin Reid on the Southern Baptist Convention

At the heart of the Great Commission Resurgence is a burning desire to see God draw countless worshipers unto Himself, both in North America and abroad, through the ministry of Southern Baptists. Few people embody a passion for the Great Commission like our colleague Alvin Reid. Alvin occupies the Bailey Smith Chair of Evangelism at Southeastern, where he has taught since 1995. He is the author of numerous books, including a widely-used evangelism textbook and a forthcoming book (co-authored with SEBTS ethicist Mark Liederbach) devoted to living missionally in an emerging culture. Alvin is a devoted churchman and a popular evangelist and Bible teacher, with a particular passion for teenagers and collegians. He is a gift to Southern Baptists.

One of the things that I appreciate about Alvin is that he is a man who loves the Southern Baptist Convention. He does not love our Convention out of a blind sense of institutional loyalty, but out of a deep-seated conviction that God has done, is doing, and will continue to do much for the sake of the gospel through the people called Southern Baptists. Alvin is not uncritical when it comes to the SBC, but he is always constructive. He is a role model to all of us who love Jesus, love the lost, and love the people, churches, and ministries of the SBC. He recently posted an article on his personal blog titled “Why I Am A Southern Baptist.” We commend it to you as we continue to pray together and labor for the sake of a Great Commission Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention.online rpgs