These were the reasons Jennifer (not her real name) gave to her mother for having sex. Jennifer knew what the Bible teaches about sexual activity, and at youth group she had even signed a purity pledge. But that was before she met Aaron, and he was different.He was the one. The new relationship had gradually led Jennifer to make some new and significant decisions. A heated discussion with her mother was now forcing Jennifer to justify those choices.
In the life of every Christian, there will eventually be a struggle between “oughts” and “actions.” Every day has a way of forcing choices upon us. When it comes to decision making for the Christian, following God is the only real option. Sometimes we forget, but God has our best interests at heart. After all, God made us, so it is likely that He knows what is truly best for us. But at one time or another, we have all been influenced by less-than-godly sources of guidance.
The person who desires to walk with Christ will experience challenges big and small, significant and trivial. Here are nine things not to consider when determining what is right or wrong:
- The feelings test. Many people today (even some Christians) have made feelings the ultimate standard for measurement in life. Actions are assumed to be okay, as long as the behavior in question feels right to us. Personal preference is fine when ordering lunch or picking out clothes. But moral truth is in no way determined by feelings. The assumption behind the “feelings test” is that changing emotions are an accurate test for unchanging truth.
- The authority figure test. Influence. Reputation. Honor. We’ve all been around people who are leaders. Certainly, it is proper to show respect to persons of authority and to acknowledge the accomplishments of others. But all of the professors, teachers, elected officials, scientists—and even peers whose acceptance we crave—should not force us to accept things that we know are wrong.
- The pragmatics test. The word pragmatic simply means “practical.” A pragmatic person wants to know what works, what action or thing will yield a good result. Jennifer defended her sexual activity partially by appealing to pragmatics. She said, “My friend did this, and she turned out okay.” The assumption here is that it can (in some cases) be right to do wrong.
- The pragmatics test, part II. Jennifer also could have turned the argument around and said, “My friend abstained from this, and did not turn out okay.” The assumption behind this is that it can be wrong to do right.
- The economics test. For some people right and wrong cannot be decided until one sees the “price tag.” The opinion here is that something is right only if I think it is affordable. Should you pay back the friend who lent you some money, even though they have forgotten you owe it to them? Morality for some is like a business proposition, and one has to “crunch the numbers” before deciding what is right. But God says do right even if it costs you (see Psalm 15:4).
- The popular-opinion test. People of all ages struggle with this. How many of us have changed our minds about something because “Most people I know seem to think that ____________ is okay.” However, truth is not determined by how many accept or reject an idea, or agree or disagree with a position. The question should be, “Is this true or false, right or wrong based on the Bible’s teachings?”
- The age test. Here is where Christian values have possibly suffered the most. Some say that the Bible may be a moral guidebook, but what is says is old-fashioned. After all, it was written hundreds of years ago. But while humans and cultures do change, God and does not. Many things in life do have an expiration date (like deli meats or concert tickets), and can reach a point where they are no longer useable. But God’s truth is timeless, and recognizing this will always be worthwhile. What was right, is still right. If God said something was wrong, then it is still wrong.
- The reputation test. I also call this, the “Ego Protection Test.” Maybe you have said to yourself, “If I take a stand for what I believe, the people around me will not understand.” That may be so. Jesus was the embodiment of everything right, true, and good, yet He was misunderstood by some people. A Christian must never put popularity before faithfulness.
- The autonomy test. What is “autonomy”? It is independence, the quest to be free of control by anyone or anything. Sounds good, right? Look all the way back to Adam and Eve, and it is clear that humans crave autonomy. We often make choices as if we didn’t have to answer to anyone but ourselves. Situations may prompt our autonomous side to cry out, “I am free to do whatever I want, whenever I want.” But autonomy can have an unexpected downside. Spend money too freely, and you might end up in debt. Liberate yourself from driving the speed limit, and your state may free you from the burden of possessing a license! Ironically, the world is full of people who chased autonomy, but found themselves enslaved by their own behaviors. We long for true freedom and peace, but this only comes when we submit ourselves to God.
Sometimes people grudgingly go along with what is right only if they can see some immediate benefit. But believers are called to do what is moral and right—period—because we represent Christ. The peace that comes from maintaining a clear conscience before God is a reward in itself.
There was once a minister whose best friend was a well-known actor. While having lunch together one day, the frustrated minister said, “You know, our jobs are kind of similar. But only a handful of people come each week to hear me share God’s Word, which is true and eternal. Yet thousands pack the theater to see your plays, which are made up by men, and will eventually be forgotten. Why is that? I just don’t get it!”
The actor, who knew the preacher well, replied, “I think the difference is this: I present fiction, as if it were fact. But you share fact, as if it were fiction.”
Christians have a responsibility show the reality of our faith in the way that we live. Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us to face life’s battles on our own. God’s plan your life is as close by as the pages of your Bible. His presence and power are as near as a whispered prayer. A life of consistency rather than conformity is possible for all Christians, and is something that will touch those around you in a positive way.