How to Handle “Grey Areas” in the Christian Walk

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Hello everyone! I’m new to posting, so hopefully this is the appropriate forum! Yesterday, I made a post regarding Romans 14:23, but I realized there was a much better way to frame my question. How should believers approach “grey areas” throughout their Christian walk? I’ve noticed in my spiritual journey there are countless things—such as going a few miles over the speed limit, watching certain movies, the use of contraceptives in marriage, etc—that don’t have a clear answer. Normally when faced with making a difficult decision, I will try to reach the most Biblical conclusion I can, but I often deal with a nagging anxiety that I have made the wrong choice. When I read verses such as Romans 14:23 that states “whoever has doubts is condemned,” I struggle to know if I should re-think countless ethical choices due to possible doubts and fear of making the wrong decision, or if I am simply misunderstanding how to deal with “grey areas” in the Christian life. I appreciate any thoughts!
You need to be more specific. What kind of movies? Things like contraceptives include your spouse in the consideration of it also. List out all your grey areas and link them to the Ten Commandments and to see if there is any link. Build on from there. Read a good book on ethics also.
Thanks for your reply! In regards to the areas that I’ve struggled with, I’ve definitely done a pretty significant amount of studying in the Word as well as outside research from Biblically sound pastors and theologians. Even after I make a decision, however, I tend to deal with a nagging anxiety that I’ve made the wrong choice and struggle with how to handle lingering doubts. I’ll read verses such as Romans 14:23 and feel my persistent worry is a sign of condemnation.
This is definitely something that is best left to be asked to your elders as they are the ones who have been given charge to watch over your soul. They will take this type of question much more seriously and with thoughtful consideration more so than anyone else.

What I will say though is God has given each of us our own unique conscience, and He alone is Lord of the conscience.
Hello Madison,

Wm. Hendriksen, in his commentary, says this:

The apostle was certainly giving excellent and inspired advice when he stated: Romans 14:22. Whatever you believe (about these things) keep between yourself and God. Note strong emphasis on the pronoun you, in the original occurring at the very beginning of the sentence. It is as if Paul, in his imagination, is listening to a “strong” believer; one, however, who delights in hearing himself talk. That loud talker is saying, “I insist on my freedom; and I say that I will not allow anyone to interfere with that unrestrained freedom of mine, ” etc. So Paul, as it were, answers, “You better keep between yourself and God that conviction you have!” He adds, Blessed is the person who does not need to condemn himself over what he approves; meaning, Inwardly happy is that person—namely, that “strong” believer—who avoids bringing God’s judgment upon himself by insisting on the exercise of his “liberty” even though such insistence results in harming his “weak” fellow-believer.

Over against the person who does not need to condemn himself stands the one who “has misgivings,” and accordingly “is condemned.” Says Paul: 23. But the one who has misgivings when he eats is condemned, because (his eating does) not (spring) from faith …The “weak” believer—that is, the person who is not sure that he is doing the right thing but “wavers” (cf. 4:20) when he eats (meat)—stands condemned. This is true because his eating “does not spring from faith,” that is, “is not in harmony with an inner conviction that what he is doing is in line with his Christian faith.”

This person is sinning because he is trying to silence the voice of his conscience. He is convinced that what he is about to do is wrong, yet he does it. Accordingly, he is sinning. Says Paul: and everything (that does) not (spring) from faith is sin; that is, whatever thought, word, action, etc. does not spring from the inner conviction that it is in harmony with a person’s faith in God; or, stating it differently, whatever action is contradicted by one’s Christian conscience, is sin. To be sure, a person’s conscience is not the Final Judge of his actions, whether past, present, or contemplated. That Final Judge is God, or, if one prefers, the Word of God. But this does not alter the fact that even for that individual who may not have become fully informed about the will of God as revealed in his Word it is wrong by means of his actions to oppose the voice of his Christian conscience.​

This is a very fine line, and easily used by accusing spirits to trip up a saint, "And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). As WH says, "This person is sinning because he is trying to silence the voice of his conscience... etc"

In my own past, when I was under the delusion I had to fast in order to please God (per a Wesleyan perfectionism, and performance-orientation as opposed to grace-orientation), this verse was used against me – in my ignorance – and caused me great grief, and spiritual failure. When one's faith is faulty, often from bad teaching, one can err in such matters greatly.

It was the Reformed understanding of grace that freed me from such crippling shackles: In Christ, abiding in His word, I am covered in His righteousness, spotless and pure in God's sight. This provision of perfect righteousness for the wretched is the antidote to our admittedly flawed and stained "righteousnesses".

Sometimes I am confused as to what is the right path, amidst accusations from conscience or spirits, but if I am abiding in His clear word (not vague, condemning applications of it), I joy in God's favor as I seek clarity.

If you have elders or brethren exercised and clear in such things, consult them.
Madison, if you want to toss this about further, feel free. This matter of condemnation is extremely important. "Grey areas" and doubts concerning them are not what Paul is talking of here.
Thank you so much for your response! I found the commentary you shared very helpful. Would you mind expanding on how “grey areas and doubts concerning them are not what Paul is talking of [in Romans 14:23]?” I think I’m having a little trouble grasping the difference between silencing one’s conscience and general struggles with grey areas/uncertainty. Most commentaries I have read regarding this passage essentially state if you have any doubts whatsoever regarding if something is biblically acceptable, don’t do it, or you are condemned. This greatly concerns me considering there are many instances in which I still feel “doubt” after trying my best to make a biblically informed decision.
The fact that you have done something and then have worries doesn't make you condemned. You would be condemned if you are convinced by the word of God and the Holy Spirit that you have sinned and you are impenitent. If you are trusting in Christ for your salvation, and genuinely want to please the Lord above all else that is evidence enough there is now no condemnation for you (Romans 8:1).

Don't underestimate the power, goodness, and generosity of God in asking for help and wisdom in these matters - James 1:5-6.
I would advise abstaining from things you are unable to do in faith until you are convinced in your own mind. Do not force yourself to do anything you are uncomfortable with. There was a time earlier in my Christian walk when I did not eat pork or shellfish because I had been listening to a Judaising teacher and even after I realised it was false teaching it took some time before I was happy in my conscience in eating.

Others more qualified may advise further, but as mentioned before you likely will need to be more specific for specific counsel.
It also might be of interest that the Puritans wrote a lot of cases of conscience.
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Hello Madison,

You noted some "grey areas" : "going a few miles over the speed limit, watching certain movies, the use of contraceptives in marriage". I generally keep to the speed limit [I seek to observe the law], although when the rest of the traffic – en mass – is going faster than I, I will keep pace with the traffic so as to avoid causing danger (I've been a professional driver in the past).

Watching certain movies: conscience is involved here. Is God's name being used in vain? Are worldly sexual mores flaunted? Is ungodly violence involved (some action movies of law and order prevailing are not in this class). As a poet, and writer – a creator of artistic works, and observer of the creative works of others which strongly impact cultures and individuals therein – I will sometimes watch movies (or read books) to see what is going on in my world, and respond to such, either positively or critically. I like to keep abreast of what is going on; though sometimes just watching a trailer (or reading a book review) I get a sufficient idea to shun something. I guard my mind against garbage, and images that mesmerize or defile. Nor do I like to let much of "the world" into my heart – it is an enemy, and I a stranger and alien in it.

The use of contraceptives in marriage: there are differing views of this in the Christian community; some say (including the Reformed and Presbyterian) it is sin in that it interferes with God's prerogative of giving children to couples, giving life; others say they "are not to be yoked in the breeding house" in violent and dangerous times (and other reasons) and make a strong case for it. Seek out views of godly persons, and weigh them.

You will hear differing views on all these, and other areas of Christian conduct. I see these are not really "grey areas" as in adiaphora cases (the opinion that certain doctrines or practices in morals or religion are matters of indifference because they are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible) – as in what make of car shall I buy, or what sort of winter coat shall I get, etc; but rather genuine matters of conscience.

In which case you would be wise to not only consult commentaries and sources of ethical wisdom, but field friends you respect for godliness and good judgment to get their views.

Prov 11:14, "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety."​
Prov 24:6, "For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety."​

I will often consult my wife, or others whom I trust for their judgment and godliness. In major matters, I have often gathered the views of pastors or other older and wiser believers – sometimes eight or so of them – and get their views. For the wisdom of God dwells in His church, among His people, as well as in His word, rightly understood.

So if you have doubts about such matters of conscience, cultivate a group of peers you may ask counsel of, and this may help you alleviate your doubts and fears. And of course, ask the Lord your Saviour for His wisdom in the matters, and He will surely give it to you, one way or another.

My own conscience is a fearsome thing; I would rather get hit by a truck than have a violated conscience; the former may send me to the hospital – or even the grave – but the latter can crush my soul.

The devil knows this, and seeks to make me over-scrupulous on the one hand, and careless on the other. Both are dangers. And you have a godly heart, Madison, to be concerned in keeping it at peace.
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