By John MacArthur
Life is full of gray areas—the daily matters, issues, and choices
that aren’t inherently good or bad, and to which Scripture doesn’t
specifically speak. How believers navigate those areas has a major
influence on their spiritual growth, their testimony, and their
usefulness to the Lord.
To help you develop biblical criteria for the gray-area decisions you
face, we’ve been looking at some key instructions and exhortations from
the apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians, Paul told his readers, “All things
are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are
lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (6:12). Again,
the apostle underscored the fact that he wanted to do only those things
that are spiritually profitable. Part of that entails avoiding those
activities that might result in personal enslavement. Paul knew that his
only Master was Jesus Christ, and he would not allow himself to be
mastered by anyone or anything else.
The immediate context in this portion of 1 Corinthians 6 is sexual
sin, which is uniquely enslaving. However, the principle extends beyond
sensuality to any habit or behavior that might become life dominating or
Spirit quenching. In Ephesians 5:18,
Paul commanded, “Do not get drunk with wine . . . but be filled with
the Spirit.” Though the context there is different, the idea is similar
to what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: Don’t allow yourself to become
addicted or enslaved to that which is sinful or potentially destructive.
When faced with a gray-area decision, one of the questions we must train ourselves to ask is, Will this activity bring me into bondage? Will it develop such an appetite in me that it forms a pattern of behavior I cannot control?
It’s ironic that man—the pinnacle of God’s creation—can so easily be
enslaved by such simple things as computers, televisions, sports, games,
hobbies, and even food and drink. And yet, we don’t seem to care—or
even notice—that these insignificant things can so often and so easily
gain complete mastery over our lives.
Smoking is a good example. From an objective perspective, what sense
does it make to shove dry leaves into your mouth and light them on fire?
What possible benefit could you derive from that? And yet countless
people are enslaved to their smoking habits—it’s an addiction that
effectively runs their lives.
And while you and I might disassociate ourselves from the stigma of
certain well-known addictions, the truth is we are equally susceptible
to becoming just as thoroughly addicted to anything in our lives.
Some people are addicted to entertainment, whether it is movies, music,
or sports. Others are addicted to clothes and shopping—they’re habitual
consumers. Still others are addicted to a specific hobby or recreation,
with all their time and resources going to fulfill and expand their
ability to enjoy that activity.
Paul wasn’t merely warning his readers about immoral
addictions. He wanted them to be on guard against anything that could
take control or focus away from the Lord. And specifically, he is
warning us against the kinds of activities that can become controlling
desires that dictate and direct the rest of our lives.
And Paul was well aware that we are creatures designed for
habits. Before we were saved, we were habitual sinners. And after
salvation, we have to work hard to break those old, sinful habits and
cultivate new, righteous ones in their place. In fact, in Ephesians 2:10,
Paul says we’ve been saved for the purpose of good works. Through God’s
transforming work, we’ve been set aside for the purpose of
righteousness. And as long as He allows, we need to put our maximum
effort into building habits that fulfill and accomplish His righteous
That also means we must guard against the kinds of activities that,
even if they themselves are not sinful, could lead to a sinful
preoccupation with them.
Personally, that means that while I might be free in Christ to do
something, I’ll nonetheless avoid it to confirm I am still in control of
my desires (1 Corinthians 9:27).
It’s not that the activity is wrong—it’s that I want to make sure I’m
still able to turn it down. It might even be something as simple as a
steak or a hot fudge sundae. Regardless of what it is, I don’t ever want
to allow myself to get into a pattern of not being able to say no to
it. Not being in control of your body and mind—even in the most
seemingly insignificant areas—always spills over into your spiritual
When it comes to life’s gray areas, it’s important to evaluate the
long-term effects of the decisions you make, and how even the smallest,
most unimportant things can exert control over you. If what you are
considering can be sinfully habit forming, why pursue it? Don’t allow
yourself to fall into bondage to anyone or anything. You are a slave of
the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone.