Legalism (and a lot of the hypocrisy that goes with it) is one of the most destructive and divisive dangers in the body of Christ today. The church is already filled with so much false teaching as it is; the last thing it needs is false and unsubstantiated systems to hold its members captive. Unfortunately, legalism has discouraged and disgusted such a large number of believers that many have left the church and denied the faith altogether (inexcusable as that may be).
For example, it is not uncommon to hear many of the younger generation running away from the church because their whole lives were controlled and manipulated by false belief systems to some degree. No, there is no excuse for any Christian to deny the faith because all believers are accountable to God and not man. People who give up on biblical Christianity do so because they trusted in people instead of God. Whatever happened to putting God’s views and opinions above others? As Christ’s children, we think, speak, and act according to what is written in His Word and by what the Spirit commands us to do (Galatians 5:25).
Legalism is not a good witness to the world because it turns biblical Christianity into a set of rules of dos and don’ts. Thus, it is entirely understandable why many Christians get a bad rep. Unbelievers don’t see Christ’s love; they see religious and ritualistic people bent on making up their own set of rules whenever and wherever they please. They don’t see love and unity among brothers and sisters, but rather, individuals attacking and chasing each away. As Revelation 3:14-22 shows, this problem comes back to the issue of lukewarmness so rampant in the church today. Truth is not a priority, and for that reason, often twisted and misunderstood.
It is true that just because something isn’t mentioned and condemned in Scripture means it’s good and right. But the opposite is also true. If the Bible doesn’t condemn something, then we must use discernment and discretion when making personal applications in these particular areas. We can find the truth if we rely on the Spirit to guide and convict, for if we are heeding His still small voice, then we will know to stop doing a particular activity. Proper spiritual growth is the solution to discovering what we can and cannot do in certain areas of life. But if believers bite and devour one another, they cannot thrive as a church, for no kingdom divided against itself can stand.
25 But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Regarding discernment and discretion, there are things that, though not wrong in and of themselves, are not necessarily the best things to do or practice either, as our passage below shows. Certain activities can lead to sinful behavior if taken too far, leading to other believers stumbling.
23 All things are permitted, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted, but not all things build people up.
Additionally, mature believers must consider their weaker brethren when participating in certain activities, not wrong by themselves. So the issue, in this case, lies not in the activity itself but when and where we practice it. Love is not selfish and does not seek its own (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). The right thing to do in a situation like this is to do whatever we like to do by ourselves (unless there is nothing we can do about that—there are exceptions) or with other believers who will not stumble over our behavior. But we must avoid doing certain things around our brothers and sisters who may struggle over what we do because they may try to mimic us with a disturbed conscience leading them to sin.
13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 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. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 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. 23 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.
So the question we may pose then is, “doesn’t the above passage mean legalism will still be present in the church if it is wrong to do specific things around others? Doesn’t this passage support legalistic behavior?” Absolutely not! The stronger believers in the congregation know that many things aren’t wrong. The weaker believers just need time and patience to outgrow and unlearn some of their past beliefs. Our passage in no way forbids doing perfectly fine activities; it warns against doing them in front of people who will stumble because of them. Legalism causes disunity, but so does selfish behavior where we do whatever we want wherever and whenever we decide to the detriment of others. Causing others to stumble creates disunity. The more mature believer needs to exercise patience and longsuffering with their weaker brother because spiritual growth takes time. Just because someone believes something is wrong now doesn’t mean they will hold to that belief forever. People change, and if they are growing as they should, they may come to the truth sooner or later. Like the apostle Paul, we need to learn to become everything to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) to win more when that is appropriate (without compromising our values and beliefs while letting others bully and push us around).
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. 5 It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, 6 it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7 it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Regardless of whether a church is more traditional or contemporary, the issue of lukewarmness remains a common problem in the majority of them (Revelation 3:14-22). So, in all reality, there really isn’t much of a difference between them.
When we say liberal, we do not mean it in a wrong way, as if these particular churches are apostate and teaching downright heresy. Those are not the churches we refer to here but congregations that are less strict in their beliefs (is this activity right or wrong) and practices regarding them. We would consider these as more contemporary churches.
Unfortunately, many believers tend to divide into two camps regarding what we will discuss below. More conservative and legalistic Christians claim that certain things (whatever they may be) are wrong when they aren’t and accuse others of sin with no biblical support to back up their claims. On the other hand, less conservative and more contemporary believers tend to “wing it” with their decisions with little regard on how it may reflect Christ to the world. “Lawful” but not “profitable” practices are believed to be perfectly fine regardless of time, location, and other circumstances. Unfortunately, a lack of spiritual maturity has led to improper discernment and, therefore, adverse witness to others. “I’m allowed to do this, so I mine as well do it whenever and wherever I want regardless of the effect it may have on the person sitting next to me!” This doesn’t mean we have to restrict our behavior everywhere we go just to cater to others. However, (and this requires discernment), there will be times when staying away from certain things will be necessary. Lawful behavior can suffer abuse if we don’t handle it wisely.
Considering our topic, let us now survey a list of things often misunderstood in Christian circles. This list is far from comprehensive but consists of some of the church’s most controversial issues (all doctrinal disagreements aside). Hopefully, this small list will suffice to demonstrate the idea we have discussed thus far.
I do not believe smoking is a good idea. However, by itself, there is nothing sinful about it. But the believer should consider the following below.
Smoking isn’t great for one’s health
Smoking is detrimental to our health and causes various issues, including premature deaths (for example, see here). Those who choose to partake in this activity have chosen to harm themselves. However, all addictions start somewhere, and a single activity can lead to a flurry of problems. Therefore, Christians should avoid this habit altogether because it is not worth the risk of falling into addiction and destroying themselves. All believers can have health problems, but the issues brought on by ongoing smoking are preventative. In the end, this all comes down to choice.
Smoking can have a bad witness and influence on others
Smoking can harm our walk with the Lord (by destroying our health) and demonstrate a poor witness before others.
Caring too little for our health can indicate that we care little for the Lord
Believers need to act differently from the world. A very obese man once said, “I’ll just eat till I die!” For a believer to continue smoking in full knowledge that they have health problems is a subtle form of suicide if their health continues to worsen. If a person doesn’t care about their health and does nothing to take care of it, let alone prevent it from worsening, do they care about living for God? Do they care about the testimony they are giving others?
We should not abuse our bodies because they belong to God
Our body is not our own. Taking care of our physical sustenance may help to increase the length of our lives and perhaps the length of our ministry as well. You see, a good walk with the Lord will often show itself even in these areas of a person’s life. We don’t want to become legalistic about these matters, but if a person has constant health problems due to taking poor care of themselves, that does say something about them. Again, legalism is to be avoided, for no person is perfect in their application in any of these things (we all eat unhealthily from time to time). But we don’t want to take things too far -we are talking about extremes here. God never wants us to abuse anything, and He desires us to have the right attitude and mentality in everything we do.
B. Tattoos and Piercings
The Bible does not say tattoos or piercings are wrong. There is nothing wrong with a believer getting a tattoo. However, we need to make some points here.
A tattoo should never be anything inappropriate
A tattoo should not contain an inappropriate image (sexual, demonic, etc.), slang, or word. But if it is harmless, say a butterfly as an example, or better yet, edifying, such as a Bible verse, then that is perfectly fine.
Anything not done in faith is sinful
If the believer feels inner convictions not to get a tattoo, it is suitable for them to follow their beliefs. To do something without faith is a sin (Romans 14:22-23)
Our outward appearance shouldn’t be our biggest priority
Although tattoos and piercings are not wrong in and of themselves, believers need to be aware that they may give some people a false impression. We don’t want to distract people and display the vibe we are attempting to detract from godliness (even if we aren’t). Depending on the situation, they may or may not help the believer’s witness (1 Peter 3:3-4). Our outward appearance should not be the emphasis or the priority. It certainly isn’t a bad idea to have a smaller tattoo and as few piercings as possible. The decision is between the individual and the Lord.
The Bible nowhere forbids or condemns tattoos or piercings
Though the command of Leviticus 19:28 was to a specific people (the Israelites) during a particular time thousands of years ago, this passage should not escape our attention. We can’t take this command to have been given to all believers of every age because the context doesn’t support that notion. Additionally, there are no passages in Scripture that forbid or condemn tattoos and piercings. However, Israel was to rid themselves of these things to show they differed from the surrounding pagan nations. Though certain things aren’t sinful, they may not profit us or others very much.
C. Movies and Sports - Entertainment
There is nothing wrong with watching movies, sports, or going to movie theatres. However, it depends on the film and the effects it may have on us. Hollywood is polluted with all kinds of anti-God films that promote idolatry, lust, and the list goes on. These things should disturb us. Also, how much attention do we give to entertainment? It is unwise for members of the body of Christ to expose themselves to films with inappropriate content. Films with excessive nudity aren’t much different from pornography and will be impossible to watch without causing the believer to stumble. There is no justifiable reason to expose ourselves to such things. If we continue to do something that causes us to stumble in whatever way because we watch and read things our eyes shouldn’t see, we sin.
The difficult part in all of this (known as a grey area) is determining which films to watch and which ones to stay away from. This decision is an area of application that will require discernment on the believer’s part. It is also true that we should know ourselves well enough to know what we can handle. Some believers can take more than others without it causing them to stumble. But even if one does not stumble, is watching this or that still a good idea? Again, that is a judgment call the believer must make.
Giving our minds over to some entertainment (assuming we balance it) may actually be a good thing for us as we all need breaks and time to relax and enjoy ourselves. But what if we are watching tv and movies constantly, leaving little time for more important things? In that case, we have to ask ourselves, “Is this a good use of our time?” Time is short, and Scripture commands us to redeem it and think on things above (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 3:2). Secular matters should never prioritize our life and dominate our thinking (Philippians 4:8; Romans 8:5).
Anything that takes our attention off God and becomes a chief priority will only damage our relationship with Him. Also, firm believers should be aware that just because they think they stand well doesn’t mean they won’t fall (1 Corinthians 10:12). It is a common trap for many to deceive themselves into thinking they can handle something when they really can’t. That is how sin creeps in. Some believers do have good self-control and can do just about everything with moderation. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be wary. Satan isn’t stupid, and he will use everything and anything at his disposal to trip us up.
The Devil has used the entertainment industry to his advantage in distracting and leading many people astray. We live in the cosmos diabolicus, or Satan’s world system. Even things not sinful can become a cause for stumbling if we don’t handle them carefully. So the issue is not whether or not this or that is wrong, but whether it is something the Lord would want us to do.
However, I am confident that the more a believer grows, the more discerning they will become. If they are living their life for the Lord as they should, they will not stumble into sin because of the world’s distractions. Mature believers know how to handle all things in moderation and, with Spirit’s help, make the best use of their time and personal decisions.
The New Testament does not mention any restrictions on what Christians can or can’t eat. Ever since Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, things have changed. Scripture is clear that believers may eat what they wish. We must never judge others based on their diet.
9 The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance 11 and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. 12 In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. 13 And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” 15 And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” 16 This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Other passages that pertain to our discussion include 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 7:14-23, 1 Timothy 4:1-5, and Colossians 2:16-17.
Refraining around the weak does not mean stopping altogether
In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul did not mean a believer could never eat meat again because of a weaker brother. Despite what Paul may have chosen to do, he didn’t lay down a rule that a person had to stop eating meat for the rest of their lives. On the contrary, he encouraged his listeners not to eat meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of less mature brothers and sisters who could stumble because of it. In our modern world, especially in the west, it is unlikely we will ever have to deal with these kinds of situations.
We should not judge others based on what they eat
At worst, some members of the church may criticize others for eating less healthy than themselves. But to find fault with others over what they eat isn’t right. Plus, this case has nothing to do with food sacrificed to idols. Therefore, believers should not judge others based on their diet, whether some are vegetarians or eat various foods.
All things in moderation
There is nothing wrong with eating unhealthy food. However, just as in the case of smoking, we must avoid extremes. If a person’s eating habits get so out of control, leading to extreme obesity and other health issues, they fail to honor God with their bodies. God didn’t create us to abuse ourselves! This behavior will then endanger our ministry and effectiveness for Christ. Anything that hinders our growth, progress, and production for God must go! We demonstrate a lack of fear and reverence for the Lord by failing to rid ourselves of destructive hindrances by throwing up our hands and saying, “oh well, I don’t care.”
Good Food and health choices are not always within our control
Additionally, we must remember that many people in third world countries do not have access to good nutrition. So their health issues are not always to be attributed to their own poor choices. This example is not the same thing as someone in a wealthy country who chooses to disregard what and how much they eat despite the fact their life is in danger because of their poor decisions. It is not a sin to eat unhealthy food, nor is it wrong to be overweight to some degree. But, again, we are discussing extremes where someone possesses a careless attitude amid terrible health problems threatening to destroy their life.
E. Music and Dancing
Regarding how believers should relate to secular music, please see the section above “Movies and Sports-Entertainment. “I believe that section answers this one as well. So with that said, we will instead discuss Christian music/ worship below.
Christian music has been among the most controversial topics in the church today. Should we listen to contemporary, traditional, or no music at all? When and how often should believers assemble for music? What kind of music is appropriate for the church? With this, we will reply with the points below.
Praising and worshipping God must always involve the truth
All Christian music should contain nothing but truth. The believer must exercise discernment when singing/listening to various Christian songs. It is ok to listen to traditional and contemporary Christian music for enjoyment as long as the lyrics are biblical. Those who worship Christ must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24).
How we worship matters
Christian music must be taken seriously and not handled like any other type of music because it involves our dear Lord and Savior! We are to proclaim HIS truth, not falsehood and whatever we want to say. Our worship as believers is based entirely on what God has to speak to us! We then take that truth and offer it as worship to God. This principle applies even to those who listen to Christian music for enjoyment/encouragement and not just for worship purposes.
All worship is about God and not ourselves
All worship music, whether traditional or contemporary, is about God and not ourselves. The whole point of singing praise to the Lord is to bring glory to Him. Therefore, any music that stresses self over Christ should be avoided at all costs.
Musical worship is not about our feelings and emotions
Christian music is not about feelings and emotions. Just because we feel a certain way does not mean we are bringing glory to God. Praising Christ Jesus is just that! It’s about glorifying Him! It is all about the Lord and His truth because you cannot separate Christ from His Word. They are both one (John 1:1). If we rely on our feelings and emotions during worship, we are controlled by our flesh and not by the Holy Spirit. Whoever worships must do so in spirit and truth (John 4:21-24). We do this by giving our attention to the Lord, who will then direct our thoughts, words, and actions in the right direction. But when we follow our feelings and emotions, we are not worshiping in the Spirit, and the truth will mean little to us. Nothing we do (apart from the Spirit) in the power of our flesh means a thing to God.
There is no doubt that many Christians in many churches do worship as they should, in spirit and truth. Many people are sincere in what they say, but not everyone. In the end, only the Lord knows who is worshiping as they should, so it is never a believer’s right to judge the sincerity, motivations, and intentions of another brother or sister. However, we don’t sing praises to God or go to church for entertainment.
Musical worship is allowable and can have its place in the believer’s life if approached the right way
Just because many people allow their feelings and emotions to carry them away during worship time does not mean music has to be thrown out or avoided entirely (even though it can be easy for feelings and emotions to take over). Many of the great believers in the Bible learned how to manage it well (Acts 16:25) as just one of many examples), proving without a shadow of a doubt that anyone can if they so desire (since we all have free will). These people simply need others to stress the priority of the Word and the importance of the Spirit’s control while they worship. We, as individual believers, have the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of us to control our thoughts and emotions. It is our responsibility to surrender to the Spirit’s control so that we do not fall into this trap. Instead of discouraging an individual from singing a song or listening to music (assuming it is biblically sound), it is advisable that we prepare our hearts and minds to partake in this spiritual and godly activity just as we would before any other (such as reading our Bibles). It is unknowable to anyone else whether it is a good or bad idea for any one believer to express worship to God through song. That is between them and the Lord. Only He knows what is best for every individual. Assuming we do it right, praising God through our words is always a good thing!
Musical worship has some benefits
Whether traditional or contemporary, biblical music is fine and has some benefits. Music helps to focus the believer’s mind on God and meditate on the truths of Scripture. Philippians 4:8 commands us to think on Christian virtues as often as we can, and music with biblical lyrics can help us achieve this goal by praising God and taking our minds off worldly human cares and concerns. To put it this way, we can take inner scriptural truths in our hearts and express them to God through song. I do not believe that music has no benefit whatsoever to spiritual growth, for I think it can contribute (albeit indirectly) to some degree. Reflection and virtue thinking, can occur while we praise God. 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us to be alert and of sober mind, something we can only accomplish through dwelling on things above. Music is a great way to get our focus on God’s truth—our eternal hope, our Savior Himself, and all other promises contained in Scripture. By focusing on and thinking about these things, we strengthen our hearts and minds for any spiritual attacks that may come our way. Biblical worship music is an acceptable way to get our hearts and minds on heavenly things. However, it is not the only or the even the best way, as we shall see in our next point.
There are multiple ways to worship and musical praise is but one of those options
Despite everything we have said above, music is not necessary for the Christian life but just another option we can employ to worship our Lord and Savior. Those who add music to their routine should not look down on those who don’t and vice versa. There are multiple (not to mention more meaningful) ways to worship God that do not involve music. We can meditate (virtue think) on truth without expressing or singing it out loud. A simple prayer of praise and thanksgiving to Christ is a great way to worship the Lord. But above all, spiritual growth, progress, and production is the best and most important way to honor and bring glory to our Savior. Those aren’t options; they are mandatory! Music, on the other hand, is not. Living a righteous life as a pleasing sacrifice to Christ is what brings our Lord the most glory of all (Romans 12:1).
Music should not take up too much time or be the priority in a gathering
Although biblical music (whether sung or listened to) is a good activity, it should not be the priority in the church. The truth is the primary issue and comes before everything else. That is not to say that believers can’t sing a song or two during their gatherings but that most of a church’s meeting time needs to involve the learning, growing in, and dispensing of the truth. That is the whole point and meaning of assembling ourselves (Hebrews 10:23-25) for mutual edification in the realities of Scripture. All believers need truth to grow, and this will require the person to study it themselves and under the ministry of a qualified teacher. Music takes up a lot of time, WAY TOO MUCH, in so many churches today. Since the truth of God’s Word is more important, more time needs to be set aside for the pastor/teacher to feed his sheep and other believers to minister to one another (prayer time is another important consideration). Additionally, believers don’t always have to sing worship songs with other believers (though assembled worship is better). If a brother or sister wants to worship in song more often, they can do so independently.
The what, how and where are areas of application
What about worship with specific instruments and with a particular beat? As long as the words are in accord with the truth of God’s Word and not misleading, there should be no wrong. However, believers need to consider what kind of witness these approaches (specific instruments and melody in music) may have on others. Again, this is a gray area where dogmatism is impossible. But as we have mentioned earlier in our discussions on different application areas, just because something isn’t wrong doesn’t make it profitable and edifying. The church will have to make these decisions themselves. Everyone should strive to agree on what music they will use (whether during an official gathering or off the side with a smaller handful of brothers and sisters), assuming there will be any at all (there is nothing wrong with no music). Even if it isn’t unbiblical, certain music should be kept for some individuals and reserved for other times and locations. And seeing how much of a distraction it has been for many years, it may be best for some churches to throw it out if they feel the need. Again, that is a judgment call.
Enthusiastic praise and worship don’t necessarily say much about a person’s spiritual maturity
Outward manifestations of praise to God don’t determine a believer’s spiritual maturity. Many unbelievers attending church today are all enthusiastic about the music and sing their hearts out. Unfortunately, for those less genuine, music has become a dominant ritual in most congregations, just as how the sacrificial system in ancient Israel became more religious and less spiritual. The truth of God’s Word should be the priority of every believer in assembly.
The whole purpose of assembly is to be fed the Word and for mutual encouragement and ministry
The whole point of “church” is not music but rather to hear the Word taught and to minister it to others in the spiritual gifts the Lord has given everyone of us.
Dancing is a perfectly fine activity as long as it is not an inappropriate ritual
Dancing (along with the music that goes with it) is another area of Christian liberty that believers need to handle with care. This activity is harmless unless it becomes an inappropriate ritual (the music one dances to also needs to be considered). This is another perfectly fine activity.
F. Believers and Mental Illness - Antidepressants, Counselors, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
There is no denying the fact that many believers have and continue to suffer from mental illness. But, of course, not everyone who believes they have an issue is suffering from a disorder per se. For example, everyone has a little OCD in them, just as how everybody gets anxious from time to time. But this is not the same as a disorder. People who have disorders suffer so severely that it interferes with their daily lives (depending on the severity).
But there are many Christians who do have conditions and are either aware or unaware of the fact. People can go for years suffering from various complications and not even realize it at all until many years later. However, this can vary depending on the individual.
There are believers that suffer from a disorder(s). It can be challenging for these people because many of their brothers and sisters in Christ (especially close family members) will not understand them and may deny their condition, leaving the sufferer feeling worse than before. Of course, believers must be careful when assessing themselves for these situations because we don’t want to develop paranoia regarding other people. Not only that, but many take medication for a condition they don’t even have. Prayer and discernment are needed for the believer to examine their mental stability. We don’t want to wing it and go through a lot of trouble over nothing.
On the other hand, we don’t want to continue deceiving ourselves into thinking that we don’t have a problem when we do. And yes, some problems will require us to seek out help! I am no medical expert. And Scripture is silent on SSRIs, biblical counselors, and cognitive therapy because such things did not exist during Bible times. Nonetheless, we can come to the correct conclusions on these issues because God intended us to make these personal applications ourselves if they apply. Below is a non-comprehensive list of points that I believe are true regarding how Christians should relate to and treat mental illness. The main goal in commenting on these things is to help the believer make the right decisions without feeling condemned. What other people think in these areas matters little. Only the person in question can tell if they have a condition or not, and only they can make the right application between themselves and the Lord.
Mental illness can be a test or discipline from God
God’s grace is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). There is nothing the Lord cannot do or handle. However, this does not mean He will keep us from developing certain diseases and illnesses. These can be a form of testing and/or discipline meant to benefit the growing believer. No, we aren’t suggesting that mental illness is always a result of sin. But God can still use psychological illness and physical disease to discipline His own. Of course, God can do anything! He could take the least coordinated person in the world and turn them into the best basketball player faster than a blink of an eye. Yet, just because our Lord can perform this does not mean He will. Mental disorders are a thorn in the flesh that God allows some to live some of or the rest of their lives with. You may think, yes, so isn’t taking medication and participating in cognitive behavioral therapy demonstrating a lack of faith in God by relying on human solutions rather than the Creator’s? In other words, isn’t it a slap in God’s face? We will do our best to address these questions below.
Some believers do need professional help for their conditions
Even though not every believer suffering from mental illness requires help, some believers suffer so severely from their diagnosed conditions to the point where it negatively affects their everyday life. So there are people out there who do need to get help, no doubting that.
For example, some brothers and sisters who served in the military have such terrible post-traumatic stress disorder that they contemplate suicide. Yes, suicide is a sin because it shows a lack of faith in God to work things out. All things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). It is not our job or right to take our lives into our own hands.
However, what is not a sin is seeking help for something out of one’s control (this can apply to all different types of disorders). That is the right thing to do. Some believers need a biblical counselor or (in rare but most extreme cases) a psychiatrist (if the case is severe enough) to keep them from doing irrational things such as hurting themselves or others. And post-traumatic stress disorder is not the only issue that may require aid. Other psychological disorders (OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.) can have terrible effects on the brain and affect sleep so badly that the person struggles to function. Again, some things (depending on the severity) require help. Yet this is still God helping in His own way (sometimes He uses doctors to help with these sort of things). But as far as the believer’s inner spiritual condition is concerned, they must make sure they are responding to God as they should. That will always be their responsibility and nothing that any medication or outside source can do. We will elaborate below.
God often works through people to heal others
God is sovereign and could solve our problems immediately. But He has granted doctors the knowledge to perform many of the great things they do today. Of course, no person can take credit for their physical or intellectual abilities. And we should never trust in medicine but in the Creator who works through it for His own glory. Of course God can and does heal, sometimes with prayer only (James 5:14-15). But He often works through people to help His own. He used ravens to feed Elijah and the Assyrians and Babylonians to discipline His sinning people Israel. What God has chosen to use (assuming it is in His will), no man should scrutinize (especially if we are outsiders and not the sufferers who have a better idea of what is going on). And if God calls something clean and non-sinful for those who approach whatever those things are in a godly way, who dare question His judgment by arguing otherwise? Acts 10:9-16 is a good loose general example (albeit having to do with food and people (the Gentiles)). That principle still applies here though.
We should not judge or condemn others for seeking help through doctors and medicine
All this means is that it is wrong, judgmental, and legalistic to condemn antidepressants and biblical counselors as if they are always a sin or bad idea for any and every single believer to utilize. Why? The Bible never mentions or condemns them, so to do so ourselves is to argue from silence. Second, God is sovereign, and He may choose to use whatever means He wishes to help us out. We cannot limit our Lord by boxing Him up. So if He is going to use antidepressants to help a believer serve Him better, all for His glory, then said individual needs to submit and do what is best for them to do. Did said sufferer make the right decision? That is only something God and the person in question can know. We would have to get in someone else’s heart to know what the Lord was leading them to do.
Our trust should always be in God and not the people and treatments themselves
“Was it the ravens or God that fed Elijah?” “Did Elijah trust in God to provide bread or the ravens?” The answer is obvious. Although the ravens did bring Elijah bread, it was God who provided it. Yet the Lord used these birds to supply his prophet with food. Many believers who take advantage of medication don’t trust in the medication itself. Yes, they believe these treatments will help to some degree, but they trust that God will work through and use these means to help alleviate their suffering (their mental or physical symptoms). Their trust is still in God and Him alone. However, not all believers are like this. Many do put too much faith and trust in doctors and medicine. That is when we run into sinful habits.
There is nothing inherently sinful about antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy
If it is wrong for believers to use antidepressants and therapy, then we would have no choice but to randomly (without God’s authorization) pick and choose what other medical aids to throw out as well. God could quickly heal a broken leg or cure a person in a wheelchair faster than a blink of an eye if He wanted to (Jesus performed many miracles during New Testament times, after all). However, almost everyone goes to doctors for help for most critical health issues. This truth doesn’t imply we don’t have faith in God to heal us; it simply means we trust Him to work through people to aid our recovery (something the Lord does all the time). Either way, God always gets the glory no matter how He chooses to accomplish His work.
We cannot see and judge the heart of another person
It is wrong to automatically say a person isn’t trusting in God because they are on an antidepressant or seeing a biblical counselor (if their illness is severe enough). This attitude stems from a presumptuous attitude and argues from silence. It is not our job to judge another person’s faith and motives if we don’t know the facts because it is unsubstantiated (Matthew 7:1-2). If we knew them, then we could make a righteous judgment (John 7:24). But making judgments without proper knowledge is sinful.
Our trust is in God and we should seek His desire before our own
It is wrong to trust in medicine as if God’s hand is uninvolved. Israel often yoked themselves with other nations thinking that their chances of deliverance were more likely. They did this because they trusted more in men instead of in Yahweh. Their actions were unauthorized. We know how that all went. Nothing could stop the judgment that God pronounced on His chosen ones. But, again, this doesn’t suggest the Lord can’t use people to help us, for that He most certainly has, does, and will. But we aren’t to take matters into our own hands without God’s consent. We seek His will for our lives FIRST and FOREMOST before our own. Should we take SSRIs? Do we believe our condition is severe enough for us to see a biblical counselor or a psychiatrist in more extreme cases? That person should go to the Lord FIRST before making any decisions. With that, we will make our next point.
Our decisions aren’t always based on what God wanted us to do
Just because a believer has chosen some form of treatment does not mean God wanted them to. This idea comes back to the fact that not everyone on, for example, medication should be on it. There are undoubtedly many believers who do not have a severe enough case of a particular disorder to justify taking SSRIs and attending counseling. We should only seek professional medical help (cognitive therapy, SSRIs, and biblical counselors (assuming they are sound in their beliefs)) if we ABSOLUTELY have to.
Spiritual growth alone should probably suffice for most
Many, if not most Christians who have a mental illness, probably shouldn’t need medication or counseling if they are growing spiritually and progressing as they should. The reason is that many cases (without a doubt) are not severe enough to warrant medical assistance. We must “think before we leap.” Spiritual growth comes before all other decisions. We go to God first, who will then direct our paths from there (Proverbs 3:5-6). Whether a believer is on meds, counseling or not, our trust is in God and Him alone, not man-made solutions (Hebrews 11:6). Only spiritual growth can alleviate any inner spiritual issues a person may have. Medication and other treatment are only there to help relieve and physical and/or mental symptoms. Medication, counseling, and cognitive therapy, by themselves, will not grow anyone spiritually! No medicine can fix sin in our lives and make us productive for Christ. Sanctification is God’s work, not man’s!
The suffering believer has options
Suppose a believer is suffering from a very severe case of mental illness. In that case, the best treatment combination is spiritual growth (prayer, Bible reading, teaching), good diet and exercise, medication, and perhaps (if needs be) cognitive therapy or biblical counseling. The individual must consider their own time and circumstances to make the best choices for themselves. Making the right decisions will come down to discerning God’s will, so it is best to seek the Lord’s solutions before our own. These things (especially spiritual growth, progress, and production) take commitment, so the believer must carefully consider these matters.
Medical treatment may not work well for everyone
Medication (or any other form of treatment) may not work effectively for everyone. The doctor (many primary care physicians can prescribe antidepressants and other meds for basic mental health concerns) will start the patient with a safer but less effective SSRI. If more powerful meds are required, then your physician may prescribe something of greater effectiveness. Some people I know have benefitted quite well on medication. The downside is that many (though not all) may need to continue taking them for the rest of their lives with bad side effects when attempting to withdraw.
All decisions should be thought-out
The believer considering SSRIs should pray before they make their decision. All mental health drugs will have side effects. Again, results will vary based on the individual and the particular drug in question. The believer should never continue using a med if it begins to interfere with and damage their relationship with the Lord! They need to consider other health issues. They must contemplate their circumstances carefully in addition to consulting the Lord on the matter first. If a Christian chooses to see a biblical counselor, they must make their choice carefully. The Christian counselor must be someone they trust and must approach their case with biblical truth. If they do not practice their work on solid biblical principles (and this goes for psychiatrists as well), then the client must avoid them. Unfortunately, there are very few good counselors and psychiatrists out there. So the times when the Lord may lead someone down that path are probably rare indeed, though still existent no doubt. Again, if the case of whatever disorder is severe enough, then further measures may need to be taken.
The Bible nowhere states that it is wrong to drink. In other words, a believer who drinks a beer hasn’t committed some sin. The Scripture condemns getting drunk, i.e., drinking too much to the point of intoxication. The verse below in no way forbids taking a drink.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
With this said, what does 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 mean?
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Drunkenness is a sin because it clouds proper judgment. Getting drunk takes away much of the believer’s free will (depending on how much one drank) and can (and often does) lead to all kinds of sinful behavior, from physical violence, swearing, aggressive driving, and the list goes on. Getting drunk is a sure way to risk harm to oneself and others and give oneself over to a lifestyle of sin leading to apostasy if continued. If no repentance comes, the apostasy leading to eternal death will result because alcohol addiction is the same as idolatry. When a believer puts sin over their relationship with God and refuses to repent, then they have taken a most dangerous path indeed.
Should a believer drink? There is nothing wrong with a little here or there, but getting drunk is a sin. As with smoking, all addictions start somewhere. If a believer is strong enough not to stumble over the occasional drink once in a while, then there is no harm in that. However, some can’t handle even the slightest exposure to such beverages because they may become hooked quickly. In that case, they should stay away from alcohol altogether. Additionally, the stronger believer should avoid drinking while a weaker brother is in his midst (Romans 14:13-23).
Clothing is a more difficult gray area to discern than many of the topics we have discussed above. However, we will make some points below.
Our outward appearance should not be the priority
A believer’s appearance (clothing and jewelry) should not be their priority (1 Timothy 2:9-10). Instead, it is the inner spiritual condition of a person that defines and characterizes them. What matters is our spiritual health and how we “look” inwardly. Change begins on the inside and works its way outside, not the other way around. However, there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and to “dress for success” and “for the occasion” when it is appropriate to do so.
Additionally, what we wear may cause others to stumble, especially regarding scanty clothes. Finally, women need to be considerate of men because they are more sight orientated. Men must carefully consider what they wear as well. It is a sin to wear scanty clothing to provoke people; that much is for sure (the attitude is what matters). Everything a believer does should be for God’s glory and not ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:23-33).
What we wear can affect people
Clothing should not have any inappropriate, sexual, or demonic images. What we wear can and does affect people. Believers don’t want to send the wrong message.
Considering all the apparel on the market today and the difficulties of interpreting what is appropriate and inappropriate (much no doubt because we are dealing an area of application), there is not much we can say about what other people wear other than what we have mentioned above. However, the following points below should be considered. A few considerations for the believer contemplating perhaps more questionable clothing—should I wear this or that? When, if, and where to wear certain clothes should depend on the following factors—
- Reasons and motivations
- Time and circumstances
- The testimony it will have on others (believers and on unbelievers).
Like many of the things mentioned in our paper above, when it comes to wearing things we aren’t as sure about, the question, again, may not be, “is this right or wrong” but “is this something the Lord wants me to do?” The believer needs to seek God’s guidance and counsel before making their own decisions.
Many gray areas in the Christian life will require the believer to exercise discernment. Time and space do not permit us to examine all or even most of them because that would be impossible. However, this sizeable list of things we have mentioned in our study should have given the believer an idea of how to go about handling other areas of Christian application (that was the goal of this entire examination). We must not judge and condemn each other over things that are not wrong in and of themselves. Family members in Christ should not manipulate one another like that. Brothers and sisters in Christ need to build each other up, not tear and devour one another. The same goes for believers who exercise more liberty in their lives, for taking things too far can be equally dangerous. Even in moderation, some things may be lawful but aren’t profitable. In everything we do, let us do it with discernment in the power of the Holy Spirit, all for the glory of our Lord and Savior. Let us go to Him first and act based on what He would have us do.
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.