I had assumed, when I came to this conference, that we would sing a lot more songs than at most other conferences. To my surprise this has not really been the case (or it hasn’t seemed to be. I haven’t actually been counting). Rather, we’ve sung about the same number of songs as at most events. Yet the worship times are definitely longer. I think it’s just that the Sovereign Grace folk take a little longer to sing each song than perhaps I’m accustomed to!
My day began early with a breakfast with Justin Taylor. He’s one of these guys I like to catch up with whenever we’re in town and, while he’s always kind to deign to spend a bit of time with me (even though he’s always busy meeting with all the important people). And I’m always grateful. Aileen and I then wandered town a little bit to find some little gifts to take back to our two oldest children who stayed home. And then this morning’s session began. Eric Simmons, the brains behind this whole conference, began to speak on the subject of pleasing God in the gray matters.
He spoke of Gray matters such as: Is it OK just to fast-forward the sex scene and watch the rest of the movie? Should I smoke a cigar with my unbelieving father? How tight is too tight? Can a Christian play poker? Can I have a beer with dinner?
Eric recently addressed these same questions in a two-part article posted on the Boundless site. You can find the first article here and the second here. It will doubtlessly prove more valuable to read these article than this summary of them (and the message they were based on).
The talk had two parts, the first dealing with biblical assumptions for thinking about this topic and then transitioning into a process to decide and discern what is pleasing to the Lord in gray matters.
The assumptions were found in the first chapter of Colossians. First, being transferred into Christ’s kingdom has redefined your identity. You are now part of a new kingdom under a new king. In any discussion related to gray matters we need to stand at the foot of the cross and realize that our behavior does not ever earn favor from God. Rather, He gained this favor through His Son. There is no place for pride or arrogance when it comes to these issues for the cross levels the playing field. Entering into this kingdom radically alters our identity. Second, there is no such thing as gray. We are His possession and this means that our life’s direction is the pleasure of God.
He then turned to the process of discernment in gray matters and this involved three steps.
Think Biblically – The more you get to know someone, the more you get to know what they like and dislike. We need to ask how God has revealed to us what He likes and dislikes, what is wise and what is foolish. It’s not through trial and error or through conversation over time, but in His Word. If we want to learn what pleases God in every way, we must study the Bible and meditate upon it. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
He focused in on two words in Hebrews 5:14 – constant practice. If you want to be able to discern gray matters, you must give yourself to constant practice to applying the Word to every situation in life. We cannot be biblically ignorant and discerning at the same time. We cannot ignore God’s Word and then expect to make wise decisions. If you want to be discerning in gray matters you’ll need constant practice in biblical thinking.
Distrust Your Heart – Every gray matter begins with a desire. You have a desire to do something and it is typically a type of pleasure (viewing, tasting, etc). God created pleasure and pleasure is meant to bring Him glory. He wants us to enjoy His world which He has created to be pleasurable. But our desire for pleasure can easily turn to a sinful desire to feed the flesh. My heart typically wants to define the pleasure without examining my motives. We need to put the general issues aside and look at motive. We need to ask ourselves the “why” questions because the key to gray matters is asking about motives. Your motive is critical to discernment. You often require the help of others to see motives. If you’re submitted to God and are in a local church, you have these types of people who can test your wisdom and your discernment. Eric’s encouragement was for young people to find an older person, someone more advanced in the Christian life than they are, to ask about these gray matters.
Imitate Your Father – Who you choose to imitate typically defines what is good and what is evil. So we need to ask, who are we trying to be like? If we’re honest, all of us are really trying to be like someone or something. This recognition is critical to thinking about gray matters because typically, when we want to be like someone, this person can set standards of good and evil, right and wrong. They have a standard to follow if you want to remain and be accepted. In the process of discerning any gray matter you must ask who you’re imitating in this matter. The Bible gives us a standard in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Our standard is nothing less than God himself. We are called to imitate him. We are to be like God. He is our standard. We are to imitate Him in His righteousness and holiness. Imitating Him brings Him so much pleasure and honor and praise as you orient your life around His definition of pleasure. Who you imitate in gray matters is a key to discernment. Is it God the Father? Has defined what is good and what is evil, what is wise and what is foolish? Or has someone stood in that place and now you’re trying to imitate someone or something else?