Making Biblical Decisions: Only God Should Control You – December 8, 2023

We noted last week that Biblical decisions require that we seek to do what is best. We do not sacrifice what is best on the altar of what is okay. Just because you can does not mean that you should. Yet, how can we know if the decision we make is best? At times, the situation is clear. However, there are times when the situation may seem less clear. The Apostle Paul gives us two more critical questions to clarify our thinking in the two texts from 1 Corinthians we referenced last week (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23). This week, we will examine the first of the two texts and the question: “Will this control me?”

As 1 Corinthians 6 progresses, Paul addresses the challenge of Christian’s lack of love for one another. They took each other to court and sought worldly satisfaction over eternal good. In the middle of the chapter, Paul reminds the church that it should be marked by holy living. The practice of blatant sin formerly marked believers. However, Christ washed, justified, and sanctified the believers so that they should now be marked by a desire for holiness. Christ’s sacrifice frees the believer from sin.

Some in the church argued that this freedom meant they were now free to act however they desired. As we noted last week, they took up the mantra, “All things are lawful.” The church Father Augustine summarized their spirit with the statement, “Love God and do what you please.” All too often, Christians today echo this same mantra. We believe that as long as we “love God,” we are free to act however we desire. However, the truth of the Christian faith is not that it frees us to sin, but rather that it frees us not to sin.

As Chapter 6 progresses, we learn that the Corinthian church used this mantra to justify rampant sexual immorality. They justified their actions by claiming this was simply the body’s natural use. They rationalized that just as the stomach needs food, so also the body desires sexual relationships. However, Paul zeros in on an important point: the Christian should not be controlled by anything but God. In verse twelve, Paul notes that while they claim that all things are lawful, the Christian should not be controlled by anything. We should “refuse to be shackled to anything, even if it might of itself be something that in some circumstances could be useful.”[1] Even though all things are permissible in that all sin has been forgiven through the cross, and we are no longer under condemnation, not all things are beneficial. There is a danger of being mastered by what is allowed.[2]

As the Christian considers this principle, there are many ways this principle works out in everyday life. The text references sexual immorality. We live in a culture that worships sex. Christians often pay no heed to the sin in their midst. When an unmarried couple engages in sexual relationships, the Christian rationalizes that it is natural, loving, and consensual. These actions reveal the control that the sexualized culture is exercising in the Christian.

Certainly, the obvious controlling substances come to mind. Why should a Christian refrain from drug use? While other principles apply to this question, the appeal of drugs stands in the control the chemicals exert over the body. Thus, drug addiction has become the standard among drug users. Perhaps more concerning in the church is the problem of alcoholism. While the Bible does not condemn alcohol outright, the danger lies in the control that alcohol exerts. The Christian must ask, “Will this control me?”

Yet, the challenge this principle supplies travels much deeper. The Christian may rationalize that they do not have a problem with the controlling substances, yet allow food to rule them. They reach a point where they can no longer resist the urge to overeat and enable food to dominate their life. After all, “The stomach is for food, and food is for the stomach.” Food is necessary for life and is lawful. However, when the desire for the pleasure of food rules life, we cede control over our life to the table.

Allow me to finish with a personal testimony of how I worked this principle out in my life. As a teen, I discovered a love for Mountain Dew. Very few people argue that carbonated beverages are sinful. They are certainly “lawful” and most definitely enjoyable. Close to both my home and my job was a convenience store that sold sixty-four-ounce mugs that could be refilled for just a few cents. As a result, I would stop on my way to work and fill my mug with Mountain Dew. Sometimes, I refilled the mug at lunch. And there were days when I would also refill it on the way home after work. Soon, the caffeine in the drink began to control me.

The day arrived when I headed off to play college soccer. A few weeks before my departure, I learned that the team did not allow the players to drink carbonated beverages during the season. Immediately, I recognized that I had a problem. I stopped drinking Mountain Dew and realized how much it exercised control over me. My caffeine withdrawal was an unpleasant experience. More convicting was the realization that I had ceded control of my life to a beverage instead of God. Few would argue that drinking the beverage was a sin. However, it controlled me.

Decades later, I look back on that stage of my life with shame. While I still love Mountain Dew, I have learned that I must carefully avoid its control. For several years, I refused to touch it. While today I will occasionally enjoy a drink of Mountain Dew, I take active steps to avoid its control. I do not keep it in my house. I allow others to keep me accountable and welcome the comments when they see me with it. While it is lawful, it is not best because it controls me.

Just because you can do something does not mean that you should. Suppose that something will control you instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to control you. In that case, Biblical wisdom calls you to refrain. Each person will struggle with different controlling influences in their life. So, a set of rules cannot be foolproof. Instead, the Christian who seeks to make Biblical decisions should learn to ask, “Will this control me?”

[1] Paul Gardner, 1 Corinthians, ed. Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Volume 7 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2018), 278.

[2] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, vol. 7 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 126.