On the Institute for Nouthetic Studies blog, Dr. Jay Adams offered up some sound biblical advice on what to do when you don’t know what to do. The gist of it? If we think some course of action we are considering might be against God’s will, or we aren’t really sure whether it is or isn’t, then we must not do it. He points readers back to Romans 14:23, and notes that the problem here isn’t the act itself – we don’t know if it is sinful or not so it might turn out to be perfectly fine – but rather our attitude.
“…you would be willing to do something that you thought might be sin — that is a sinful attitude. So even if the act — whatever it is — isn’t sin; your attitude in doing it is sin.”
JUST DON’T DO IT…
So, the principal here is, if in doubt, just don’t do it. That is the way to honor God – inaction until we are sure that what we are about to do isn’t sinful.
Or as Jay Adams puts it, “whatever isn’t done in faith is sin.”
This is a vital principal for Christians to keep in mind in our increasingly complex world. Today we face ethical dilemmas our grandparents never imagined.
- Should our floral shop make wedding bouquets for a same-sex “marriage”?
- How should we weigh the many end-of-life decisions we’re being asked to make?
- Should we consider “snowflake” (embryo) adoptions?
- What should we think of transplant organs grown in pigs?
- Is it right or wrong to take advantage of this government program/rebate/tax credit?
And then there are questions our grandparents probably were familiar with, and had to wrestle with too.
- Would God want me to date this girl or guy?
- Can I take a job if it isn’t near any good churches?
- Should we buy this house or are the payments too high for our income?
Lots of questions. And there are answers to many of them. But if we don’t know the answer and we are worried that what we are about to do might be sinful then we should not proceed until we clear things up.
…UNTIL YOU CAN PROCEED WITH A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
In the meantime, we can look into the problem – often times a dilemma can be resolved with study. We know, for example, that abortion is immoral. But what about those rare situations in which the mother will die if the pregnancy continues? We might not know what to think at first. But when we look deeper we will realize that in these circumstances abortion will be allowed. Why? Because, even as we acknowledge the baby is fully human, when two lives are at risk and we can only save one, then we should act to save that one.
But what of the ethical dilemmas in which the line is blurry? What about, for example, a situation in which the mother’s life is in danger, but only to a degree? Just how deadly a risk does it need to be before abortion is a moral option? No sharp line can be drawn here.
BUT WHAT ABOUT WHEN WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING?
Here is where we have to expand on the principal Jay Adams has presented. Adams is right, God doesn’t want us to proceed when we are worried our actions might be sinful.
But like much of what God teaches in the Bible, this rule can be taken too far – this rule could lead to incapacitating introspection, where a Christian does nothing because they are so worried that whatever they do might be sinful. Then it is important to remember that in some cases (like considering abortion to save the life of the mother) not acting is also a decision. Sometimes inaction is not an option; our dilemma is between two different actions, and we are uncertain about either. In these circumstances it may be impossible and immoral to defer our decision. All we can do then is manage what biblical study we can in the time we have, pray to God for wisdom, and make the best decision we can.
But in situations where inaction is safe/moral, and we are worried that our contemplated action might not be, we shouldn’t proceed until we are sure this action is indeed pleasing to God.