Making Biblical Decisions: Just Because You Can Does Not Mean You Should – December 1, 2023

As a young junior high boy, I found myself and my friends once again flirting with disaster as junior high boys tend to do. On that cold winter day in Colorado, we were trying to determine how cold the flagpole had to be before a person’s tongue would stick to it. The debate raged among us as my friend insisted that it was not cold enough. We finally enticed him to prove it and lick the flagpole. As we were about to do something rather foolish, our youth pastor walked up and asked if we should be doing what we were about to do. We responded that we were allowed to do it (we could). He replied, “That is true, but should you do it?” Unfortunately for my friend, we ignored the question, and he lost chunks of his tongue, pulling it off the frozen flagpole. That day, our youth pastor taught a group of boys an important lesson: just because you can does not mean you should.

Teachers often inform us that the Bible is an instruction book on how to live our lives. As a result, there is a tendency among many Christians to look at the Bible as a book of commands and prohibitions. God informs us of what he wants us to do and the things from which he wants us to refrain. When the Christian encounters the many things that the Bible neither commands nor prohibits, he concludes that he is free to do whatever his heart desires. This idea seems to be hardwired into our DNA as children. So often, we hear them ask, “What is wrong with _______?” Suppose the parent cannot give a satisfactory response. In that case, the child struggles to understand why the parent would warn against the action. This same mentality finds its way into the hearts of many Christians. As they approach the things their passions and feelings desire and cannot find specific prohibitions or commands, they conclude they are free and obligated to fulfill their passions. They fail to consider that just because you can does not mean you should. Through this failure, many sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay.

One early church found itself in this very situation. As they considered the commands and prohibitions of God, they believed that in every other area, they were free to act as their heart desired. As a result, chaos ensued in the church, leading Paul to pen his First Epistle to the Church in Corinth. This church seemed to think that in anything Scripture did not specifically address, they were free to act however their conscience dictated. Twice in this important book, Paul addressed this foolishness. In chapters six and ten, Paul began a section with the statement, “All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient” (6:12-13; 10:23-24). Just because you can does not mean you should.

Paul begins by stating that all things are lawful. Although the phrase seems to have roots in Greek Stoicism, this statement had become a bit of a slogan among the church in Corinth. Some did not believe in a bodily resurrection. So, anything they did with their body did not matter in the spiritual realm. Others claimed that since Christ died for sin, any action that might be a sin was covered and permissible. Paul acknowledged in Romans 8:1 that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. However, Paul presses home the reality that while the blood of Christ has covered all things, not everything is best.[1] He instructs Christians that we cannot stop at the question, “Is it sin?” when making decisions. When we seek to make biblical decisions, we must also ask, “Is it best (or beneficial)?”

Yet, how can we know if the decision we make is best? At times, the situation is clear. Any mature individual could look at the group of junior high boys and know that it was not best for my friend to lick the flagpole. However, there are times when the situation may seem less clear. We must look closer at the two passages in 1 Corinthians for assistance in these situations. The Apostle Paul gives us two more critical questions to clarify our thinking in these texts. As we look at these questions in the next few weeks, honesty and humility are vital for our growth in Christ so that we don’t sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay. For, just because you can, does not mean that you should.

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018).