Making Clear the Gray Areas

I recall a time when I was young that I began to struggle with my vision. Things in a distance became so blurry that they were unrecognizable. After a visit to the doctor, I learned that I was what she called “legally blind” in my eyesight. It wasn ’t that I could not see at all, but that my vision was hindered to the extent that I could not effectively make out what I was seeing. She suggested corrective eye-glasses. And still to this day, my glasses help me in my seeing.

In our lives, there are some things that seem blurry to our decision making. And without “corrective glasses,” we are shooting in the dark hoping to hit the target. The Bible is our corrective glasses. Many of us can quickly make out those objects nearby, but even with Scripture in our thinking, we can struggle on some of the distant ones.

The Bible is very clear on issues that are foundational truths of the Christian faith. It teaches in detail much about God; God is one (Mark 12:29; 30), God is Holy unlike any man (1 Samuel 2:2), God is just (Romans 9:14-33), God is compassionate and gracious (Exodus 34:6), and so forth. We also learn that Jesus is God (Mark 2:8), was born of a virgin woman (Matthew 1:23), is the only way to salvation (John 14:6), and more. We can be sure and confident in these truths, because they are explicitly communicated in the Bible. We refer to these teachings as “black and white” areas of the Bible. One only needs eyes to recognize them.

The list could go on and on because there are so many teachings of Scripture that are revealed with perfect clarity. But what about the other areas over smoking cigarettes, drinking alcoholic beverages, dancing, eating certain foods, or worshipping on certain days of the week? These things appear to be distant and blurry.

Among the Christian denominations are sharp disagreements on these topics. We often refer to these as “gray” areas of the Bible. They are normally taught in Scripture either through principles or types.

While one believer is persuaded that a woman should not wear makeup, jeans, or cut her hair, another believer is persuaded to allow it. Likewise, you might know someone who refuses to watch movies at the theater while another openly loves to do so.

These are all nonessential ideas that far too often bitterly divide the body of Christ. So what does the Bible say about these gray areas? And how should Christians approach them?

Apostle Peter’s second epistle teaches us that the Bible is sufficient for all things in life and thereafter (2 Peter 1:3; also Apostle Paul writes, 2 Timothy 3:16). So it is at this point that we go to Scripture in order to know and be sure of what the Bible says about gray areas.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul teaches believers to look to the Principles, Purposes, and Patterns to help us make clear the gray areas. We will work our way backwards in order to focus on the principles of decision making.

Although Paul prescribes one pattern in particular; it serves as a representation of many. In chapter 11 verse 1, Paul ends his teaching on gray areas with this short line, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

As founder of the Corinthian church, it was Paul’s duty to be the shining example before the church. Along with the other Apostles and their closest disciples, Paul was the standard for godliness and spirituality, integrity and character. At this time, the church didn’t have the Bible in mass replication with binding leather and footnotes. They relied on the Apostles and prophets of the Old Testament.

Paul commanded the church to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” He was Jesus’ apostle, appointed to train others, not only in word, but in action. This is why church leaders are called to such a high standard (1 Timothy 3).

Today, we turn to the pages of Scripture and read the words of Paul and other church leaders and we learn by their wonderful words and deeds. We look to the principles of God’s Word to direct us in decision making. Their words become the tool by which we make clear the right decisions.

Second Peter 1:20-21 reads, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

It is important that those patterns we follow are godly patterns. To follow any other kind would be a travesty to our Christian walk. Peter gives us some comforting words as we follow the examples in the Bible. Thus, we can acknowledge the fact that the patterns were not made by men with humanistic wisdom, but by God and His divine wisdom.

Suddenly, the meaning of Scripture becomes much more valuable to us. If it has never been trusted to be God’s Word, then it should be now. In our effort to know how to make righteous decisions, we can be assured that the guidance we are receiving is godly guidance.

The writer of Hebrew adds a bit more to our assurance. He writes, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Ultimately, we can trust the Bible in its message. God has preserved it throughout the years beginning with the words of the prophets and apostles. But not only is it worthy to be trusted for its divine meaning, but it can also be trusted in its sufficiency.

The writer notes that Scripture is so sharp and precise that it is able to divide even the most complicated and detailed things of life. So blurry and gray decision making is not so blurry and gray any longer. The Bible can and will discern between right and wrong in any situation. The Bible is sufficient in all areas of righteous living.

Now that we have the patterns to learn from, let us next find out the purposes, or why we should learn to make righteous decisions.

Back to our original text, Paul writes this “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The purpose is simple. But the implications get complex. It was evident by Paul’s writings to the church of Corinth that they were seeking to be glorified themselves. Paul reveals their arrogance by sarcastically comparing the church to the Apostles, “We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored!” (v4:10). He mentions them being “puffed up” or self-centered in numerous texts (v4:6, 18, 19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4). In regards to spiritual gifts, he writes, “He who speaks [in your church] edifies himself” (v14:4). They were so prideful and self-seeking that Paul stopped to dedicate an entire chapter to define love. He points out that love “is not self-seeking” (v13:5), but is God-seeking (v13:6-8). If there was something wicked going on, the Corinthian church was in it.

John, also known as the “Apostle of Love,” understood this concept. In his first epistle, he wrote about the ultimate example of love. In chapter 3 verse 16 he writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” He continues to say that “by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him” (v3:19).

In 1 Corinthians 4:6, Paul commands us “not to go beyond what is written.” Bringing glory to God can be defined as obeying God’s commands. So we can bring Him glory by doing the things that please Him and not doing the things that displeases Him. So it is imperative then, that we know if the things we do (or don’t do) are bringing Him glory – no matter how gray they may appear to us.

God would never expect us to obey Him by making right decisions if He did not first tell us how. As we have learned, God speaks through the principles, purposes, and patterns revealed in His Word. He makes clear what we call blurry.

Therefore, we are to bring glory to God in all that we do by doing all that we do in obedience to Him. The only task that lies before us then is the task of finding out what He desires that we do. This is the task of dividing the gray areas of truth.

Posted by Jacob Abshire on September 14th, 2008 - 6:36 pm
Categories: Articles

7 Comments on “Making Clear the Gray Areas”

  • Queen Brown, October 26, 20118:23 pm

    Is dancing a sin ? I asked the Ministry this question in Bible study tonight. He ask what did the Bible say ? My reply was that I could not find it in tne Bible, but I ready did not look for that question.I have not read about it in the Bible and it was not talked about in church. He said it was one of those gray areas in the Bible. I never heard of a gray area before. So here I am on the computer readung about gray ares in the Bible. I use to dance but Since I have changed my life and given it to GOD I have no desire to go dancing at all.


  • Jacob Abshire, October 27, 20118:33 am

    Hello. John Piper once said that “the essence of sin is that we choose things, love things, like things and do things that show we do not value God above those things.” David danced before the Lord rejoicing (2 Samuel 6:14). Mariam and others danced for the same reason (Exodus 15:20). The psalmist says to dance before God (Psalm 150:4). These were all cultural expressions of joy and gratefulness over the things that God did. This does not imply that dancing was good or commanded by God to do. It only says that people express themselves in a variety of ways.

    The dancing of our day and culture is all over the board. There is dancing that can be seen as pure and beautiful and appropriate for certain audiences and times. On the other hand, there is dancing that is totally based, prideful and evil. So, we cannot say that dancing is a sin equivocally. This is likely why your ministry leader said that it was a “grey area” meaning that it will require some deeper discernment and wisdom. For example, money is neither sinful nor righteous. But, the love of money is evil (1 Tim. 6:10) and gaining it wrongly is evil (Ja. 5:4) and spending it wrongly is evil (Ja. 5:5).

    Likewise, dancing is not inherently evil nor righteous. However, the how, when, and why you dance is where the matter of right and wrong come into play. So, we should aim to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).

  • Joshua Perkins, June 26, 201210:33 am

    Mr. Abshire, what is the source message of the John Piper quote you mentioned in the previous comment? I heard it in a song entitled “The Sinfulness of Sin” and have been looking for the original source ever since.

  • Jacob Abshire, June 26, 20126:27 pm

    Joshua, to be honest, I don’t know. I too heard it on the same song by Timothy Brindle. I’ll see if I can find out.

  • Jacob Abshire, June 30, 20129:09 pm

    Joshua, I contacted Desiring God and they cannot find it either – and they have nearly all things said by Piper on file. I wonder, as did they, if it was said during a conference talk. It might have been a Ligonier conference recording. They told me that they would pass the information on if it turns up. Have you tried asking Timothy Brindle?

  • Emmeline, February 11, 20137:19 am

    Just saw that quote in a video of Piper on a youversion bible study called God’s Glory and your Purpose. It’s in day 2.

  • Jacob Abshire, February 11, 20138:34 am

    Thanks Emmeline for posting this. What he says is pretty close to, but not the exact quote. Nevertheless, it is worth watching. Thanks again.