Understanding God's Grace

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There can be "gray areas" in the Christian life. If you are like many Christians, you probably struggle with the balance between grace and legalism. You want to please God, yet you're not always sure where the line is between sin and what is acceptable. How much freedom do we have with regard to behavior not explicitly forbidden in the Word of God?

It is easy to fall into the temptation of lopsided faith — becoming too legalistic or taking license with God's grace. Legalism places rules above faith. It says keeping rules is more important than our relationship with God. At the other extreme, too much grace leads to sinfulness and excess, all the while saying "God's grace covers my sin."

Christ did not die on the cross so that we can take sin lightly and flaunt our freedoms without consequence. He also did not die in order to give us a constricting and rigid life. Either extreme is a limited version of the Christian faith.

We must balance both legalism and grace. When we fully understand the cost of our sin, we choose not to take God's grace for granted. When we fully understand Jesus' sacrifice and love, we begin to cherish our relationship with Him above all else. When we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we will hate sin and crave a closer relationship with Him.

This balanced faith helps discern how to handle those gray areas of life. But even with balance, we must be cautious in using the freedoms of grace. What may seem inconsequential to us may wound the conscience of another person. What we may think of as a harmless action could damage the spiritual walk of another believer.

The Corinthians also struggled with these gray areas. In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul addresses the issue of food. The Corinthians lived in a polytheistic culture which offered animal sacrifices to the pagan temples. Whatever prime cuts of meat the priests could not eat, they would simply sell at temple markets.

Some Christians viewed this meat as no different from any other. Other Christians could not separate the meat from the idol worship, causing them great distress. Because of the predominance of this meat in their culture, Corinthian Christians could not escape this dilemma.

Paul warned those who ate the meat not to flaunt their liberties. "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak" (1 Corinthians 8:9). The more mature Christians may have had the knowledge of what was right or wrong, but they did not act in love toward their new brothers and sisters in Christ. "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love" (Romans 14:15). They understood biblical truth, but they did not relate it to other people.

We may think we have all the answers. We may be well-grounded in our beliefs regarding the gray areas. But if we put our knowledge and desires above the welfare of other Christians, then we act out of selfishness and pride instead of love.

The apostle Paul warns: "So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall" (1 Corinthians 8:11-13).

Are you putting your knowledge and desires above the welfare of other Christians? Are you acting out of selfishness and pride or love? Offer the gray areas of your life to God and submit to the Holy Spirit's leading. Ask Him to show you how to love God and love your neighbor as yourself today.

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