By Tom M. Roberts
Should a Christian smoke? Should a Christian dance? Should a Christian drink alcoholic beverages? Should a Christian gamble? Should a Christian. . . . (insert your own particular question here)? These, and many more questions, are met by anyone trying to teach or preach as he confronts questionable practices among members of the church. On many occasions, these practices have become a battle ground between those who advocate their innocence and those who warn against their evil influence. Not only young people, but disciples who have been members of the church for years often wrestle with such areas of daily practice. When preachers oppose participation in these and similar actions, they are often accused of binding where God has not bound, of substituting their own opinion for God’s, or of being stricter than the Bible.
Since some of these issues are not addressed directly in the Bible (there is no “thou shalt not” regarding smoking, gambling, dancing, etc.), are we to understand that the word of God doesn’t speak to some areas of temptation? Is a practice to be considered sinful only if specific condemn nation is found, or can a thing be adjudged to be wrong based on biblical principles? Surely we must understand the Bible to speak concerning general statements of truth that have an application beyond the immediate subject. Consider that whereas the Bible states clearly that it is a sin to commit fornication (Gal. 5:19ff), it also warns against “lusting in the heart” (Matt. 5:27,28), a statement that would cover many situations in principle that are not stated directly. Is this generic statement in Matthew 5:28 not as much a statement of truth as that in Galatians 5:19? Is it not possible to lose one’s soul over “lusting in the heart” as surely as actual fornication?
With this in mind, we must realize that the Bible addressed temptations of life in methods beyond specific condemnation. The Christian who forms a walk of life based solely on avoiding specifically condemned sins may well be lost eternally because of involvement in practices that are condemned in principle. We need to be sure that our decisions and practices are such that we would never violate the will of Christ, however it may be expressed, in principle or precept.
Please notice that this paragraph heading puts an emphasis by italics on the word “Christian,” rather than on the quesiton of “should?” Many times, we seem to get bogged down in “should I” or “shouldn’t I” without really understanding another, and more important, emphasis: “I am a Christian.”
According to Thayer’s Lexicon, a Christian is “a follower of Christ” (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16). Perhaps this noun and its definition offers a principle that may answer a lot of our queries about proper conduct concerning debatable practices.
If I am to be a follower of Christ, it seems reasonable to understand that I would be comfortable doing only what Christ would do in similar circumstances. I would also be uncomfortable doing what Christ would not do in similar circumstances. Realizing that Jesus lived a perfect life and that he has become our example to follow should make a powerful imprint in our daily life.” For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). A Christian follows in the steps of Jesus.
Would Jesus have smoked, knowing that it is addictive, harmful to one’s health, harmful to others’ health, is wasteful, and is a bad influence? Can you picture Jesus with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth? Would Christ have smoked? Now, answer the question, “Should a Christian (a follower of Christ) smoke?”
Would Jesus have danced? Knowing that dancing invites lust in the heart, leads to adultery, leads your partner to lust, and provides a bad influence, would he dance? Can you really imagine Jesus on a dance floor, making indecent bodily gestures, or gyrating to the beat of sensuous music? Would Christ have danced? Now answer the question, “Should a Christian dance?”
Would Jesus gamble? Knowing that gambling violates the principle of honest work (Eph. 4:28), covetousness (Col. 3:5), is addictive, supports an evil industry, and is wasteful of one’s stewardship (Lk. 12:42; Matt. 25:14-30), would Jesus have gone to Las Vegas and played the slots, gambled on sports and led others to do the same? Would Christ have gambled? “Should a Christian gamble?”
Can we not also apply this to modesty, types of companions we keep, places we frequent, or, in fact, any area of doubt? Why not try to see if the life of Christ would support, in principle, his participation in the doubtful practice and then make your decision based on what the Lord would have done in similar circumstances. I don’t think we would be far off the mark at any time if we would conscientiously and faithfully mold our lives into the form of the perfect life of Christ. Perhaps we will find that the real reason why we are having such difficulty in making the right choice in these areas is that we have not really put Christ into our hearts (Phil. 2:5). Our moral life cannot be measured in feet or inches (the length of a skirt, one’s hair, etc.) but in likeness to that of the Lord. Our daily practice must not be to see how much we can get away with without crossing a specific command, but how closely can I follow the path of the Savior.
When Jesus becomes our pattern, our mold, our example, we will be able to find the answer to our question of “Should a Christian. . . ?” on every occasion. And unless he is our pattern, mold and example, we will continue to struggle with rules and regulations (however clear they may be), always looking for loopholes, exceptions, and inconsistencies in other people that would seek to justify our self-indulgence. We need, like Paul, to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 22, pp. 674, 695
November 21, 1991