“Is it a sin?” you wonder quietly to yourself. “The Bible never mentions it.”
It is true that the Bible doesn’t directly touch on many issues that we face today. Computers weren’t around when Jesus walked the Earth; nor were cell phones, magazines, tennis shoes, or cereal. We live in an environment that would be completely foreign to anyone living even just a century before us; and we live among temptations and ideals that even some of the adults in our lives don’t understand.
“Back in my day, if you wanted to see a beautiful girl on a truck in a bikini, you had to work for it!” reads a quote meant to be humorous in a men’s magazine. It points to a sad truth: the pathways to sin are now well-paved after years of blazing the trails; the wide path with the heavy yoke is looking easier than ever before.
According to statistics, teenagers today are faced with more sexual temptation in a week than their grandparents faced in three months; and this is just one area that’s grown more readily-accessible over the years. This is not to say, of course, that those of older generations had it easier. We can clearly see just how easy it was for the nation of Israel to stray from God–they didn’t need computers with pornography or credit cards to steal to do that. But it’s getting harder and harder to keep our children on the right path when we don’t know what kinds of temptations will be hurtling from the left field straight for them; and it’s getting harder and harder to judge whether Jesus would condone something or encourage it.
Is entertainment a fun and healthy way to relax? Or is it idle and wasting time? Can it be both? What about drugs? What about dating? What about–
I’ve been there, friend. I’m still there sometimes. If we don’t have a clear word on something, we work ourselves up until we’re full of doubt, confusion, anxiety–and all you want is a clear word. God, is this okay? Am I right in continuing to do this? Is this doubt from you, or is it from me working myself up?
Now, there are some things God has already given a word on even though it’s not named specifically. The most obvious example is pornography, visual or written or fantasized. Jesus tells us not to lust (Matthew 5:28), and even though He never says, “Don’t look at images or read text that creates arousal in you”, it’s inferred. You know that porn creates lust–so don’t do it.
Usually if this is what your question falls under, you’ll know. There will be a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, a flash of anger or defensiveness whenever you think, Well, my behavior is okay, it’s not technically what Jesus was talking about. If you’re feeling uncomfortable right now, stop and listen to that feeling. Really ponder it–even if it means something hard for you.
Other times, however, there might be nothing in the Bible that addresses it.
A perfect example is vegetarianism. Is that Biblical? you might wonder. The only place it’s really mentioned is the first bit of Daniel, where Daniel and his companions refuse to eat the unclean food of the palace and instead only eat vegetables and drink water–and they end up healthier than all the other people living under the King’s roof (Daniel 1:8-16). This instance, however, was more of an act of God to show His power and show that He could make people strong no matter what they ate–and since vegetarianism is barely mentioned elsewhere in the Bible (and since God personally appears to Peter to let him know that, Hey, it’s okay to eat meat now) we can assume that no, God doesn’t usually condone one diet over another.
And this is where it gets a little confusing and a little frustrating for most people. One of the passages that has caused me the most wrestling and the most questioning of my actions is Romans 14. Here’s a portion of that:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. (13-15)
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (20-23) (emphasis added)
I encourage you to read the whole passage (in any translation–this is ESV, but even the Message* is fine for this one.) There’s even a bit at the beginning that actually mentions vegetarians a little!** It’ll take you a minute, but it’s well worth it.
Everything in Love
After extensive review and going over this passage with other believing friends, I’ve come to believe its message is simple: If you have doubts about it, abstain–and make sure you do everything out of love.
It’s that simple. If you’re not sure about whether something is a sin… wait. If you have doubts, the Bible says you are condemned if you eat. You are condemned if you take part in something that you’re not actually sure is a sin or not. (This doesn’t mean “condemned” in the sense that “yer goin’ ter Hell!!!!1!!”, but it reveals a lack of respect for God and His commands. Think about it: isn’t it better to wait and see, rather than doing first and asking forgiveness later?)
This passage can be so frustrating because it reveals that people are going to have different convictions. I know godly women who are convicted to wear head coverings and wear skirts or dresses every day–and I know godly women who are not. I know friends who are convicted to be vegan–and I know friends who are not. Look around and you’ll find the Catholic church just across the street from the Baptist congregation–Christ-seeking people with different convictions.
This does not mean that all convictions are from God–but it does mean that we are called to pay attention to what God is telling is, and we are called to listen to what God is telling others. Like Paul says, if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died (v. 15).
So be conscious of what God has put upon others’ hearts. Don’t drink alcohol in front of a former or struggling addict. Don’t take your friend shopping at Forever 21 when you know she feels compelled to buy from ethically-employing companies only. Don’t go on and on about bacon around your vegan friends–be loving about all that you do.
And again, be conscious of your own convictions as well. If you’re not sure yet, wait. Pray and wait for God to answer you, because He will. Or maybe He already has, and He’s waiting for you to admit it to yourself.
Whatever the circumstances, remember these two things: Love the Lord your God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. Abide by these things, and you’ll be honoring Christ, whether it’s with your own convictions or through your love of others.
So is it a sin or not? You still may not have your answer–but through honoring God and others, you’ll be well on your way to finding it.