The Bible makes very clear that certain practices are right and others are wrong. Murder and adultery are always wrong; loving God and loving each other are always right. But there are many practices that aren’t clearly endorsed or prohibited in Scripture. The 14th chapter of Romans warns us not to argue about matters of personal conscience. (And, surprisingly, it’s the believer with the more restrictive conscience who is described as spiritually weaker.) Some things God has left between the believer and God himself. We must not take the place of God and try to determine for our brothers and sisters what is right and wrong when God’s Word is not explicit.
It’s not uncommon to hear questions such as these:
Should Christians go to the movies or watch TV?
Should Christians dance?
Should Christians drink?
Should Christians listen to secular music?
Should Christians gamble?
Should Christians smoke?
Should Christians celebrate Halloween (or Christmas, or Easter)?
None of these are scripturally ‘yes or no’ questions. The Bible doesn’t directly address these specific questions. We may draw from Scripture and arrive at our own personal convictions, but we must not impose our personal convictions on our brothers and sisters.
As an example, consider the many scriptural passages forbidding gluttony. This is clearly a practice we should avoid. But where do we draw the line between healthy enjoyment and gluttony? Can we say it’s always wrong to have a second piece of cake? Are two cookies okay, but the third becomes sin? What’s the rule for when seconds are allowable? What does become clear is that God has left some issues purposely undefined. We are not to draw these kinds of boundaries for each other.
I may have very godly reasons for arriving at my personal convictions. I may also have wonderful motives for sharing these lines of right and wrong with my brothers and sisters. But if I’m encouraging other believers to adopt my standards—rather than pointing them to God’s standards alone—then I am making myself and my convictions the standard for other believers . . . not Christ and his Word. I am taking on the role of God in the life of other Christians. This is incredibly dangerous, and it’s so easy to slip into this kind of legalism. God warns us not to be bound again to a religious law (Galatians 5:1; Colossians 2:20-23). Legalism is fatal to Christianity because it changes the gospel into something else, and because it becomes idolatrous—giving ourselves authority that only God rightly possesses.
Of course, we can and should discuss any issues with each other, and we should encourage one another to grow and mature in the Lord. But where Scripture has not spoken clearly, we do not draw lines for others. We trust God to be God, and leave the final rightness or wrongness of these disputable matters between the individual believer and God alone. Legalism is always a danger, so we diligently and intentionally walk in the freedom God has given his children regarding matters of personal conscience.