How to develop biblical and balanced convictions
By Dr. John Brock
Do you wonder why Scripture is sometimes surprisingly silent on certain issues, perhaps in contrast to that list of rules from employers, parents, or school authorities? Maybe you find yourself struggling between the thinking that if it’s not in Scripture, it’s okay, or that the rule book you’re following is identical to God-given inspiration.
The truth is that it is possible to learn how to apply Scripture and to develop biblically balanced convictions. God doesn’t expect you to rely on the beliefs of others or shrug your shoulders and say, “Anything goes.” In fact, He tells us to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) and “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2). That doesn’t mean the rule books get tossed. God calls us to obey the authorities over us, but as you head into adulthood, He also expects you to work through a proving process.
So what’s the process? It is kind of like a trial in which you try to prove something is “innocent” or “convicted.” Over the years, I’ve used the following steps to develop standards and convictions on activities or practices in my own life.
1. Pick the Issue
Pick a topic that authorities in your life have been discussing with you or one that interests you. Then give it a name—movie attendance, video viewing, contemporary Christian music, dancing, gambling, tattoos, participation in Little League, Sunday work, etc.
2. Define the Issue
Define the issue by carefully examining its context. For example, if I say you shot a gun, does this mean you were hunting? Target practicing? Committing murder? Exhibiting self-defense? Or fulfilling a soldier’s duty? Even if we use the term “kill,” it is the context that differentiates between murder, self-defense, and a soldier’s duty. Failure to define the context can lead to odd conclusions or positions that seem contradictory.
Next, you must also consider the ideology/reality of symbols. If I write the letters “B O O K” on a chalkboard and say, “What is that?” you might say the word book. But is it really a book? No, it is really chalk dust on a green surface. The only reason we say and think the concept book is that our language system is based on a system of letters, words, signs, and styles. Our symbols are defined by culture and must be respected.
Because symbols communicate meanings beyond themselves, they can have important scriptural and testimony implications. The challenge with symbols is that their meanings can and do change with context, situation, and culture. To Winston Churchill, two fingers shaped into a “V” meant victory; to a 1968 hippie, it meant peace and “Down with the Establishment.” The same symbolic sign has dramatically different moral significance in different contexts and cultures.
Sometimes one generation identifies a symbol with “bad” connotations; in later generations, though, this connotation may completely disappear. Failure to know the contemporary meaning of symbols can cause a fossilizing of convictions until the issue becomes a meaningless taboo. For example, in the 1970s, mustaches were considered a “poor testimony.” Now, pastors, fundamental college personnel, and even seminary presidents sport one. Is this a sign of moral decay? Not necessarily. The question to ask is “What does a mustache indicate to this culture?” Answering that question will help you discern more accurately what God says about the issue in the next step. Defining the context of an issue involves a careful analysis of the issue’s relation to its culture and time, and it must be done because we are accountable for the message communicated through symbols, whether in speech, written language, or gestures.
3. Submit Your Will to God’s
Submit your heart to God’s heart (Prov. 4:23). The Bible speaks of yielding yourself to God (Rom. 6:13, 14), walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), and being led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:18). Living by faith means you submit to the Father’s will before you are even sure of His will. Perhaps you can demonstrate this openness by praying something like the following before you start studying: “Heavenly Father, in this issue I want nothing more than to know and do your will.” Before you start, though, examine your motive for studying this issue. Do you want to please God? Do you want to justify your actions? If your motive is pleasing yourself, then you have bias or prejudice, which clouds and complicates sound judgment. This will pollute the “proving” process—the process of developing biblically based convictions. Remember, it’s not about what you think or want. It’s all about what God thinks and what He wants. And you can know, if you search with an honest heart.
4. Examine the Issue in Scripture
Examine the issue in the light of Scripture to determine God’s view on the matter. Search the Scripture for biblical revelation (commands, principles, and examples) on the issue.
5. Organize the Issue into Categories
Gather evidence (mostly collected from step 2) that defines the nature, character, advantages, and disadvantages of the practice. The goal is to investigate truthfully the nature of the practice, its consequences (possibility of abuse, addiction, etc.), associations, or symbolic messages that the practice sends to an observing world.
6. Get Wise Biblical Counsel
Gather opinions, ideas, experiential anecdotes, or beliefs of respected Christians with spiritual discernment.
7. Develop a Biblical Conviction
Evaluate the biblical evidence, the issue’s definition, and godly advice to formulate a conviction on the issue. State the issue in sentence or paragraph form. If you are having a problem laying aside your own bias and preferences, ask God to help you. Let the evidence persuade your mind and conscience.
8. Develop Biblical Indicators (Standards)
Develop some standards that will keep you from violating your convictions. Example: My conviction is that “baseball participation is permissible as long as testimony is maintained and it does not interfere with more important matters.” Therefore, my standard is that “I will participate but not argue against authority. I will not forsake church (including youth activities) to participate except in emergency situations (to maintain my commitment to team membership). If I can expect team participation to interfere significantly with more important commitments, I will not participate unless I make sure in advance that the coach and team members are willing to support the choices I must make.”
After the proving process, we are commanded to “let the peace of God rule in our hearts” (Colossians 3:15). While it is possible to have a false “peace,” convincing ourselves that an activity is okay, we should never participate in any practice for which we have doubt (Rom. 14:14, 22, 23).
Because current convictions and standards are sometimes based on current perception of the issue, it is wise to periodically review your stand on an issue. God’s mind does not change on issues, but sometimes our applications will change with time.
Students and graduates do not need to straddle the fence between a God who is open to anything and lists of human dogmas derived from traditional standards or college handbooks. Determining what God wants requires active work, but its consequence is a God-pleasing life, based on a reasoned, evidence-based decision or conviction regarding any issue or practice.
Formulating My Biblical Convictions and Standards
Follow these steps to work through an issue. Here’s an example:
Issue Name: Playing the lottery
- Issue Context/Situation: tickets sold in convenience stores, gas stations
- Issue Symbolism: gambling, luck, chance, get rich quick
- for believers: Christians have usually considered this a negative practice
- for unbelievers: used to be more negative and many laws used to forbid it
- for believers: negative, varied
- for unbelievers: more acceptable as laws permit; the cultural stigma of participating is changing, but being addicted is still often considered “too far”
Submission to God
- My motive for studying this issue: friends buy lottery tickets; should I?
- My biases that need to be yielded to God: It looks like fun and could make me rich
- Scriptural Commands: Exodus 20:17; Psalm 24:1; 103:19; Proverbs 20:21; Isaiah 65:11-12; Daniel 4:17, 25; Matthew 25:14-30; Romans 6:1-2; 1 Corinthians 4:2; Ephesians 4:28
- Scriptural Principles: Belief in luck denies that God is sovereign. Throwing money away is bad stewardship of God’s resources. Gambling is based on greed and covetousness. Christians should not participate in sinful activities. The Biblical means for acquiring wealth is to work: I Thess 5:11
- Scriptural Examples: God condemns the lazy steward (Matt. 25:26) and promotes honest labor (Eph. 4:28; 1 Tim. 5:8)
- Nature/Definition of the Issue (from step #2): Gamblers buy a lottery ticket to be entered in some type of drawing to have the chance to win something—usually money.
- Advantages to Issue: You could win the lottery and make lots of money.
- Disadvantages to Issue: If I won, other Christians may question why I participated; if I lost, is this the best way to spend God’s money? Would my participating suggest I have a “love of money”?
- Parents: Have always avoided the lottery
- Pastors/Teachers: The lottery (and gambling in general) is anti-God
- Godly Adults: The Moores don’t buy lottery tickets, but I know Mr. Papier does
- Godly Peers: Some of my friends are starting to buy them, but several of my close friends don’t think it is right
- My Conviction: I am convicted that spending God’s money playing the lottery is wrong because . . .
- My Standards: Based on the above, I will refrain from playing the lottery . . .