Imagine with me for a moment. You are on an airplane, traveling to the most remarkable destination of your choice. After settling in for the long flight, you look up and notice that the pilots have left the cockpit and nestled in to join all the other passengers. While fear of flying has never been a problem for me, I promise you I might begin to panic if the autopilot feature of the plane became the only source of keeping that 800,000-pound piece of metal in the air. While the autopilot feature has many phenomenal benefits, the intention was never for this aviation genius to fly the plane entirely. And the more I have thought about this idea, the more I see how it relates to something that appeals to me in my daily desire to follow Christ.
For as long as I can remember, the tendency to be legalistic in the gray areas, (those issues under the Spirit’s direction and therefore not scripturally right or wrong), has perpetuated an attitude that looks spiritual but buries my true motives. Set on what I believe is a course for spiritual growth, I become so focused on my list of dos and don’ts that I conveniently end up on what I call spiritual autopilot. This struggle became all the more apparent regarding a very specific gray area gone awry.
I don’t exactly remember the moment I began to enjoy wine. What I do recall is, at an early age, tasting my grandmother’s iced cold red wine straight out of the box in her fridge and thinking it was a very disgusting “grown up” drink. Somewhere along the way, though, I began to acquire a taste and appreciation for the “this no longer tastes gross” brew. Maybe it’s because I finally tasted some that wasn’t from a box over ice, or maybe it was the age in which I decided to broaden my taste buds. Whatever the reason, I started to like it, but had no idea it would lead me on any sort of spiritual journey and prompt an ongoing dialogue with those around me—and, most importantly, with God.
Set on what I believe is a course for spiritual growth, I become so focused on my list of dos and don’ts that I conveniently end up on what I call “spiritual autopilot.”
I remember going through a week where stress and emotions were particularly high in our home and I could not remember a night when I hadn’t poured a glass. While I was in no way getting drunk (Eph. 5:18), I was beginning to imbibe on a consistent basis. But the frequency wasn’t necessarily the problem. What I wanted at the end of a long, hard day was an escape, to relax, and the instant gratification brought on by something other than God. Again, though I was not drinking beyond what most would deem appropriate, I was definitely forming a new habit that left me feeling unsettled. As a result, I began to resort to what most legalistic believers do in order to get their spiritual life back in order. I established a rule. Drink on weekends, not during the week. Let myself have a glass on special occasions, holidays, but not on “regular days.”
I liked the discipline of the rule and what it afforded me—the opportunity to be on spiritual autopilot instead of searching my heart and evaluating the “why.” The rule removed me from seeking the Lord and navigating what I know it means to walk in the Spirit. My dependence rested on a rule instead of my God, who wants me to weigh a situation and ask Him if I am making the best choice.
The hard reality is that gray areas require a heart submitted to God and a biblically measured mind. Gray areas challenge me to pray, ask God questions, evaluate motives, and consider if I am going to be a stumbling block to others. (I Cor. 8:9). This reality means some situations may be okay, and others not. It means that while something may be permissible, it may not be beneficial (I Cor. 6:12). It even means that while some may not have convictions in the same situations, I have to ask what God wants of me. And it means I can’t get caught up in doing things rote and without sincerity of heart.
The hard reality is that gray areas require a heart submitted to God and a biblically measured mind.
The Pharisees certainly missed it. They were the quintessential rule followers, stuck on piety, wrong motives, and dedicating themselves to whatever they thought kept them in good standing with God. And, on a bad day, I look just like them.
So what does God want in these moments? How do we respond to the gray areas of drinking, dating, clothing, music, movies, television, birth control, spending your money, home-schooling, working moms, etc.?
First, your heart has to be willingly submitted to allow God to speak to the issue. Next, ensure the issue is in fact a gray one. Consult scripture. Then I encourage you to ask some good questions. Why are you exercising this freedom? Has it become a habit and/or idol? Does it affect your testimony to unbelievers? Does it go against the Spirit’s leading in your life? (Romans 14:22-23) Is it unwise? Will this have consequences later?
While skipping this process and relying solely on my spiritual autopilot to steer this vulnerable vessel would surely be easier, I know God desires a dependence on Him that surpasses anything a rule could ever offer.
Proverbs 16:2—“All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.”
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Image Credit: Ryan Carver, Creative Commons