As a long-time educator and minister to youth, I have heard thousands of questions that all start out similarly, “As a Christian, can I…?” and you can fill in the blank with any number of things. Can I smoke? Can I drink alcohol? Can I play poker? Can I watch rated R movies? Can I get tattoos? On and on the list goes. It seems as though the Bible doesn’t give clear direction for all the things that a person living in 2019 could have concerns about. Or does it?
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of Christians get excited about a popular television show that is based off a series of books set in a more ancient time period where sex and violence was the normal way of conducting everyday life. Due to all of the hype, I was curious as to how bad it was. When I’ve asked, I’ve had numerous people (especially my soldiers) tell me to stay away from it because it isn’t something they think a Christian should watch. Yet, I see so many Believers shouting its greatness from the rooftops (of social media anyway). So, what should followers of Jesus do; shut themselves away from the world completely or just enjoy what culture has to offer because Jesus has forgiven us? How do we know what is and is not acceptable to God as far as the things we do?
Thankfully, this is not a new problem. There are a great many examples of this in the New Testament during the time of the 1st century. Some had problems deciding whether they should be circumcised. Others wondered if they could eat meat that had been sacrificed to a pagan god. Some had issues after coming to Christ as to whether they should get married while still others tried to figure out what to do about drinking alcohol. All of these issues were struggles that a young and newly converted Church dealt with. How could a person who was set free from the Law of Moses decide what was right and what was wrong?
The Bible gives us this answer in the words of Jesus and the Apostle Paul:
 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Explain to us the parable that says people aren’t defiled by what they eat.”
 “Don’t you understand yet?” Jesus asked.  “Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.  But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you.  For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.  These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matthew 15: 15-20 NLT)
 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.  For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”—eating in the temple of an idol, won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience by eating food that has been offered to an idol?  So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed.  And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ.  So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13 NLT)
By reading the Bible in context, we can draw out three fundamental principles:
- Nothing we eat/drink is sinful in and of itself.
Jesus clearly teaches us that nothing we put in our body makes us unclean spiritually in itself. What we eat/drink goes through our system and is removed through natural biological processes. If a person ate meat that was sacrificed to a false god (idol) then it is still meat and okay to eat because that false god is not real. The same is true of things like alcohol, different types of meat (such as non-kosher items like bacon), sodas, candy, etc. They are not, in and of themselves, evil.
- Our heart intent is what makes something a sin.
What does make something a sin is our heart intent when we do/eat/drink/etc. it. For example, if I am in a foreign country (let’s say Rome) where drinking wine is part of a nice dinner am I sinning if I drink the wine? I must ask myself, what is my heart intent? Do I want to drink it to get drunk? Or do I drink it to be polite? If my heart is in the right place then it is not a sin to drink the alcohol. I have to be responsible and not get drunk but the wine itself is not a sin.
Here’s another example. Food has always been a struggle for me. I really enjoy cooking good meals and eating good food with friends and family. My problem is that I enjoyed it so much that I would overeat and get pleasure out of excessive eating. I would often go to buffets and spend long periods of time eating as much as I could and “getting my money’s worth” out of it. The problem wasn’t the food itself, the problem was my heart. I was getting pleasure out of eating too much and abusing food that could go to someone else who needs it. This selfishness is the heartbeat of the sin of gluttony. I was going to excess when someone else who needed it could have had it.
- In our freedom, we must not cause another person to stumble spiritually.
When I was a youth pastor one of the students asked me if it would be a sin for them to get their naval pierced. I asked them what their heart intent was. When she got honest about it, she admitted that she wanted to pierce her belly so that she could show off her midriff in cute swimsuits and crop top shirts. She wanted to use her body to attract men and she admitted she wanted men to look at her lustfully. In her situation, getting the piercing was a sin because she wanted to use her body to cause others to stumble.
Okay, last example. Let’s say that, in my freedom from the Law of Moses, I was drinking alcohol in my home with the proper heart attitude. I wasn’t drinking to get drunk but I was simply enjoying it for its taste and craftsmanship. However, when I had some young Believers over for a Bible study they saw it in my refrigerator and it misled them into thinking that getting drunk was okay for followers of Jesus. Then, they got into a lifestyle of drinking and excess because my example led them down the wrong path. I caused them to stumble because I was taking advantage of my freedom in Christ.
Jesus also spoke about this:
 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting!  It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.  So watch yourselves! (Luke 17:1-3 NLT)
Simply because we have freedom in Christ doesn’t give us free reign to do whatever we want because we are the salt of the Earth and the light of the world (see Matthew 5). It is our duty to bring the Kingdom of God here on Earth as it is in Heaven. This is our top priority and anything that compromises that, no matter whether it is okay or not, should not be part of our lives. Therefore, the next time a questionable situation arises we should ask ourselves 3 questions:
- What is my heart intent?
- Will it cause other Believers to stumble?
- Will it bring the Kingdom or hinder it?
If the answer to these is positive, then do it with a clear conscience. However, when in doubt, it is better to stay away from something if it will cause someone else to stumble in their faith or hurt the cause of the Kingdom.