Whether we recognize it or not, grey areas are a huge part of a believer’s life. We face them all of the time. When we drink a soda, drive a car, interact at work, we are always making decisions that are considered grey. We usually take them for granted considering that we are free to do those things. In some cases, we even use our freedom to do wrong. How many times have you heard the phrase, “There’s no excuse”? I use it myself.
A certain memory comes to my mind while thinking on this. I would say that it was not just one time, but many. In fact, it was probably once a day. There was a rule in my parents’ home – “My room must be clean before I play with friends.” It was a simple law. It didn’t require much thought. It meant to hang my clothes, make my bed, straighten my desk, and a few other things before I ran off for the rest of the evening with my friends. It was not a tough command at all. It was probably a ten minute task at the most.
But of course, I was young and I simply had to have my play time. Fun was on my mind more than anything else. All through school I focused on the recreation I would have afterward. On the bus ride home, my friends and I were already compiling a list of activities. And as soon as I would reach home and drop off my bags, I would hear my mother say from across the house, “Make sure your room is clean, before you run out there.” At these moments, temptation would pounce. I was so anxious to sprint through the front door as I would notice my friends had already made it to their bikes and scooters. They were waiting on me. My heart would begin beating repeatedly. I had to make this room look right because I was too scared not to. So with quickness I shove everything under the bed and pull the covers over. “Bye mom, my room is clean.” I’m out the door.
Knowing that my mother wanted my room in order, I seemingly excused myself with a quick pick up. How often do you find yourself excusing in order to budge a bit? The word “equivocate” means “to use evasive or misleading language.” Budging (or misleading others) is a way of covering or hiding our real intentions. We sort of cloak our responsibility. Sometimes, our Christian liberties can be used as an excuse to do what we desire although it may be sinful. And while they may cover for a while, they never end well.
Peter wrote that we should live “as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). He was teaching about submission to government, masters (managers), husbands, and more. It reminds me of something that I have heard quite a bit. “Since I am late to church, I can speed.” Speeding is clearly illegal. Going to church is clearly righteous (moreover, arriving to church on time is likewise righteous). So the Christian who equivocates a breaking of the human law in order to obey the spiritual law has in turn broken both laws by equivocating his sin.
Let’s look back at Peter’s writing. Here is a bit of background. At this time in history, Rome was full of Christian and Jew persecution. But it was not for their faith. It was for the ethnicity. What happened was a destructive wild fire had spread throughout Rome utterly destroying Rome’s history and culture. The burn was devastating. In fact the Roman people were so angry that the Emperor Nero’s life was threatened. Nero used the Christians as his scapegoat. He told the people that the Christians started the fire to destroy the Roman religious antiquities. This came to no surprise to them, because they had already considered the Jews to be hostile. And they associated the Christians with the Jews. This caused the persecutions.
Peter wrote this letter to those believers in Rome who were hiding for their lives. He was writing to encourage them in the faith. He reminded them to look forward to Heaven and not their surrounding circumstances. He implored them to live righteously in the midst of so much torment. He called them God’s people, and loved ones.
As we embark in chapter two, he commands them to obey the governmental laws and authorities. It was very natural and tempting to act in retaliation or vice. When the entire city is behaving like angry avengers, it almost makes sense to blend in for survival. But not according to God. Peter tells them God’s way. In the midst of strong temptation, be Christ-like (v2:21). He says that obedience to the Lord will silence the persecutors (v2:15).
The verse begins with “as free” and is followed by “using liberty.” Peter is actually saying that his audience is “free” and that they must not use their “freedom” in the wrong way. The Christians were likely tempted to retaliate against the Roman persecution – maybe “an eye for an eye” sort of thing. But Peter tells them not keep humble and endure suffering while being submissive.
The word “cloak” here is the same word used for the over coat used during those times (2 Timothy 4:13; Matthew 5:40). It was a piece of clothing that covered your entire body. Peter was using it to illustrate the abuse of using liberties to cover or hide sin. As the over coat hides the body, so the liberty hides the sin.
Paul wrote some truths that would be helpful to this concept. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, he wrote, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
As we already know, Paul was aware that believers were using the freedom in Christ as a license to fulfill their fleshly desires. In his first letter to the Corinthians, he said that although “all things are permitted” there are principles to govern them. In this letter, written to Timothy, Paul is making him aware of these types of people.
Timothy was to carry on Paul’s work (v2:2). It was becoming evident to Paul that Timothy was in danger of weakening spiritually. This was during the same era that 1 Peter was written. The persecution was wide spread. And believers were falling under it. Paul encourages Timothy to “be strong” (v2:11) and continue to “preach the word” (v4:2). It was Paul’s concern that believers be obedient to God no matter the circumstance. He was exhorting Timothy to teach all people the truth of God and not to give into their cries for easier, fun, and watered down truth.
Where are the helpful nuggets of truth as we look at the principle of equivocation? It is the description of the equivocators. They seek to find “themselves teachers” who preach unsound doctrine that is “according to their own desires.” The Bible provides truth that must be obeyed. So either the listener will hear it and obey it, or hear it and disobey it.
Those who give into their sinful desires face the guilt that their conscience lays upon them. The conscience, not acting alone, is informed by Scripture. So the more it is informed, the more it can alert and convict the Christian. Paul says that there are some professing Christians who will be so led by their desire for sin that they will be attracted to preachers who twist the Bible in order to relieve them of their guilt. In other words, if the Bible condemns your sin, then interpret it in a different way. This is the art of equivocating – cloaking your sin.
When grey areas arise, our Christian liberty can easily be used as a license to do wrong. More than often, confessing believers use their freedom in grey areas to do anything they want. The Bible teaches us otherwise. Peter explained that God’s grace is to never be used in such a way. Rather, we are bound to obey Christ and to keep our reputation above reproach. We are saved not just from sin, but unto God. In other words, we are free to do what is right, rather than wrong. Will you do what is right? Will you use God’s grace to live righteously and holy?