I get a little annoyed with the concept of “balancing the Christian life,” though I have to admit that to some extent I do balance a lot of things in my life. But when should I strike a balance, and when am I to see black and white? Is life a series of black and white judgments, or are we to live in moderation in all things? I think about this often. Does the Bible teach absolutes? Does the Bible teach some principles that are merely suggestions?
I suspect that in reality, life is more black and white than we like to think. When I hear good Bible expositors talk about gray areas or having moderation in a particular area, they are mainly talking about things that are not explicitly addressed in Scripture. After all, the Bible is not exhaustive, but it is comprehensive. I understand that terminology, but once a person has evaluated something, social drinking let’s say, and then he makes a decision on what to believe, then that is the point where he is choosing either a right or a wrong action. What about causing a brother to stumble, or violating his conscience, or glorifying God? All of these factors and more determine whether he is sinning or not in the gray areas. Once a choice has been made, it’s not a gray area any longer. This is what I mean when I say, there are no gray areas in God’s eyes. We as humans may not be able to make a completely accurate judgment here because we cannot see the heart as God does, but it doesn’t negate the fact that either a right or a wrong choice has been made and acted upon and a consequence determined.
What is absolute?
I tend to think in black and white, so this part of my discussion is easy for me, and maybe this is why I cringe when someone says that I need to have a balance in life. To me, something is either dirty or clean, beneficial or not beneficial, opened or closed, safe or dangerous, etc. Our world does not like to believe in absolutes. It’s too dogmatic, too harsh, too restricting. The Bible does outline for us many dos and don’ts, so let’s look at that.
There is right and wrong. Things do not become wrong, or grow to be right. God has a heavenly, perfect standard. Holiness is God’s standard (1 John 1:5; 1 Peter 1:15; 2 Peter 3:11). That means even if there is a miniscule speck of black on that white tablecloth, then it’s not pure. The hard thing about right and wrong is that we are sinful creatures, and even after salvation we still battle our sin nature (Rom. 7:14-24). We cannot reach perfection until God calls us to heaven. So the harsh reality is that much of the time, we will be dealing with wrongs, not rights. In order to deal with reality in our sinful world, we often have a hard time seeing what is right and what is wrong.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a line between right and wrong in God’s eyes. Even though we are blinded by sin, it’s not our standard that counts. It’s God’s standard. God does not see any gray areas because a particular sin in an individual’s life cannot be both good and bad at the same time.
The good news is that Christ did not leave us “comfortless” (John 14:15-19). The Holy Spirit gives us power and strength and discernment to continually win the battles over sin in our lives if we are yielded to Him (1 Cor. 2:10-13). And that’s good news! We are stuck in a fallen world, but we can strive to behave as citizens of a heavenly country. We can be in the world, but not of it. We can have peace and joy because in the end, it’s not all up to us to overcome sin. It’s God’s promise to us that sin is already defeated, not only in our lives, but also in the world (John 16:33).
So, as I’ve explained, in reality God doesn’t have any gray areas. Things are either right or wrong in His eyes. We aren’t always so good at seeing things accurately, though. What if we just can’t see exactly what God’s standard is? Where is the line between right and wrong? What if there is another issue that crops up if I hold to a particular standard, and it makes me think twice about whether I’m right? Is there really room for give and take? Are there practices that I may abstain from which may actually be ok for someone else? What about issues of conscience? For instance, if I listen to a particular song, am I pleasing God? Truly? Many factors go into that determination.
Perhaps what we mean by balance or moderation is simply a system of priorities. We know that in this sinful world and with our sinful natures, we have limited time and ability to even strive for holiness (Phil. 3:14). So we work on pieces of ourselves and others (I’m thinking of our children or students or those for whom we are accountable) rather than expect perfection all the time. We seek to put our personal relationship to God first, and really our whole life is a series of moments of seeking to please Him (Gal. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:15; Heb. 11:6). Maintaining family relationships is a necessary and joyful priority. Fulfilling our responsibility to church and serving our brothers and sisters in Christ is also important. There is hardly enough time in the day to “balance” it all, but we must.
So is it therefore right to neglect one area of life for a moment in favor of another that is higher in priority or has already been neglected too long? I think yes and no. No, it is wrong, in the sense that the standard is to keep all of our lives in every way pleasing to God. We’ve missed the mark. But yes, it is also right in the sense that if we are truly doing the best we can do, then that’s good. Aggravating isn’t it? Where does grace and mercy come in? Many like to point to 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful unto me,” (which was a common saying in Corinth) but then miss the second part of that verse in which Paul retorts, “but all things are not expedient . . . I will not be brought under the power of any.”
You see, grace and mercy allows for consequences of sin to be postponed. Not because it’s ok, and not because it wasn’t really sin, but it is giving the erring one time to grow. When a new Christian is learning and growing in the Lord, how do we handle it when he acts selfishly, or continues in a worldly practice? Is what he is doing wrong? Yes. But should we jump on him in a heap and demand perfection? Of course not. Why? Because sanctification is a process, and the best kind of growth comes when a believer can figure things out on his own with the aid of the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures to guide him. Should we pick a vegetable from the garden when it is yet budding? Only God knows when the great harvest of souls will be, but for now we balance when to demand mature fruit from a person. Becoming more like Christ is a process. Those who are spiritual and more mature in the faith are to teach and admonish and encourage those who are young in the faith to grow, just as an adult does with a child.
True grace from a longsuffering God lifted me above where I could not lift myself, and I am now a child of God in spite of my sin because of Christ’s love for sinners like me. Not because my sin was ok, but because it wasn’t! In turn, I can exercise grace and mercy to those around me and to myself, not exactly in the same way Christ did, but in a lesser way. I cannot remove sins as far as the East is from the West. I cannot take away final punishment because of someone’s sin. But I can withhold personal judgment long enough to see if he will change his mind and grow. I can extend help and accountability to a sister in Christ who is struggling with sin. We are to be longsuffering to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. Times do come when sin must be dealt with, and punishment must be followed through, but it doesn’t have to happen right away. It does not mean that the behavior or attitude is suddenly ok, in fact it means the opposite. We are talking about simple graciousness extended because there is time to grow.
Time is almost up
Moderation, or balancing, becomes difficult because there does come a time when a line is crossed and we are found in sin. In practical terms, how much time do we have to decide where the line is? How much time do we have to repent of it and get right with the Lord? How much time do we have to allow others to find that line? How much time do we have before it’s too late, and time is up? In the end, we really do not know how much time we have to be the most pleasing to God that we can be (2 Peter 3:10-11). Someday, time will be up. The angel told John, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Revelation 22:11). At the end of time, those who are found just will be so forever, and those who are found filthy will remain filthy forever.
It’s a sobering thought. No more time to decide whether the music I’m listening to is pleasing God or pleasing myself. No more time to forsake the pleasures that draw me away from Christ who gave His all for me. No more time to progress in my sanctification. No more time to purify myself before I stand before the Bema Seat (Rom. 14:10-13) to see if I’ve done all I can in my body for the Lord.
So perhaps the balancing act is between patience and urgency. We give people space to let God work in their hearts, and then pray for them as they grow. I work on my own inner attitudes and outward actions continually, knowing that I sin often. We can extend mercy and grace to those who are sinning, but there may not be much time left. Waiting to change that habit until you are more comfortable doing so is not wise. Remember that old test of whether your current activity is right or wrong: If Jesus were to come for us at this very moment, would you be ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28)? Or would you be found joyfully serving Him?
Ah, but He could come at any moment. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
*This article appeared on MostlySensible.com in June 2014.