How is a Christian to respond to illegal immigration? What is or is not appropriate to watch on TV? Can we let our children go to public school? Can you wear jeans to church? Is it OK for a wife or mother to work? Can a man serve in the military (or hold any other job) if it means he is gone from his family and home church for months at a time?
Christians will face questions like these in their lives, but many issues don’t have an explicit biblical chapter and verse to give us an answer. Yet, they are very real and very important questions! What do we do in these situations? Is God silent about these things?
Last July, David wrote two articles about God’s will. The first addressed the theological and practical aspects of it, and the second showed how we can discern God’s will through the Scriptures, personal conviction, prayer and discernment, open doors, and common sense and decisiveness. This current article fits into the second article by making sure we are asking the right questions as we search Scripture.
When we face a question or decision that isn’t explicitly addressed in Scripture, we can too quickly think, “well the Bible doesn’t address that.” Alternatively, we may struggle to find an adequate solution or may find several, equally viable but contradictory solutions. Second Timothy 3:16–17 says that Scripture equips the believer for every good work. Standing as we do on the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, this means that, even if we don’t find an exact verse for our situation, we still diligently search for God’s will in each situation, asking that He will lead us in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:24).
But there are also practical things we can do to help our searching. First, we may “zoom in” and break the question down into smaller, more precise questions. Doing this brings greater clarity to the issue and recognizes that there may be different answers based on different roles, situations, or perspectives. Secondly, we may “zoom out” and identify a principle which relates to the issue. This recognizes that, while the Bible may not address every single question we may have, it likely contains principles which bear on the situation.
To give some clarity to these methods, let’s take a look at some examples.
Zoom In and Break Down
For the first one, let’s ask the question, “How is a Christian to respond to illegal immigration?” (I acknowledge that immigration, both legal and illegal, happens across the world in many contexts, but I’m referring to the situation in the United States, where there are millions of illegal immigrants and almost as many views on how to handle the situation.) If you’re anything like me, after pondering for a bit about The Wall—what it would have looked like, whether it would have been effective, whether it could have been seen from space—your thoughts may turn to various passages of Scripture, such as 1 John where it talks about how we are to love one another, 1 Peter 1:17 which talks about us as sojourners on this earth, and then that one verse in Deuteronomy (or was it Leviticus?) that talks about how Israel was to treat the stranger and alien. We recognize that our next step should be to search these and other verses, study them in context, determine the truth that applies to our situation, and then apply it. But the question is a broad one with many facets, relationships, and perspectives relating to immigration and immigrants. Before you search and study, let’s see if we can zoom in and ask some more questions that will help our search. Here are some examples:
- As a Christian, what am I to do if an illegal immigrant moves in next door?
- As a Christian employer, can/should I hire an illegal immigrant?
- As a Christian serving a neighborhood where illegal immigrants might live, can/should I provide food or clothing to them if needed?
- If I am a Christian police officer, do my answers change to any of the questions above?
- If I am a Christian politician, do I seek to enact/remove laws that make illegal immigration more difficult? Do I allocate federal funding from U.S. taxpayers to provide shelter for illegal immigrants?
- If I am a Christian who lives outside of the country, should I try and cross illegally into the U.S.? What if I am almost certain my family will not survive if I stay where I am?
These are just some of the questions that refine the original question. The answer may be different if we are a government official who enforces laws verses a regular Joe or Jane who sees an immigrant child in need of food. In proposing this method, I am not downplaying or disregarding objective biblical truth or our need to submit to it. Rather, breaking the question down recognizes that the objective biblical truth may not address the question as originally asked, but its truth may become clearer as we consider the issue in more detail.
We must seek for precision in asking these questions, and this will help us accurately apply the Scripture we find. If nothing else, it helps us understand the various challenges we and others face in answering these tough questions, leading to greater patience and graciousness as they work through it.
Zoom Out and Recognize a Principle
For this second method, let’s ask, “Is it appropriate for me to watch _____ TV show?” To answer this question, you may supply any range of TV shows that, while perhaps not explicitly bad, aren’t explicitly good. Now, we could potentially zoom in and break down this question too, but it is probably better to zoom out and recognize a principle. The Bible doesn’t address TV, let alone specific TV shows, but are there still principles that apply? Some questions for this could be:
- Will this show cause me to dwell on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute? Is it excellent and is it worthy of praise? (Philippians 4:8; See also David’s recent article on this passage)
- Will it affect my testimony if others see me watching it, either by tarnishing the reputation of Christ or by giving license to another believer which may cause him or her to stumble? (Romans 14:13–23; 1 Corinthians 9:19–23)
- Will this show lead me into temptation? (Matthew 6:13; after all, how can we pray this and then walk into evil voluntarily?)
- Will it conform my mind to the world or inhibit the renewal of my mind? (Romans 12:2)
- Even if it is innocent, is this show a good use of my time? (Ephesians 5:15–16)
- Lastly and all-encompassingly, will watching this show glorify God? (1 Cor. 10:31)
If we ask and answer these questions honestly, we will likely come to a fairly certain answer to our question. In cases like this, we may also recognize that the principle can be extended to other areas of our lives, such as music or books (in this specific case). We need to be careful not to make explicit rules where the Bible is not explicit, but this does not mean that these principles should not impact how we live our lives. Even thousands of years after it was written, God’s Word is still living and active and pierces our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). We must continue to search it, know it, and apply it to our lives.
These two questions are just some examples of how we can approach situations in our lives that don’t seem to be covered by explicit biblical teaching. As with everything, we must continue to ask for God to guide us into His will and for Him to soften our hearts and open our eyes to His truth. May we have deep wells of God’s Word in our hearts and minds as we walk through this life!
Encouragement and Exhortation
Any time we think of the duties and obligations of our walk, we must remind ourselves that the foundation for our acceptance by God is not in our actions, but in Christ. Ephesians 4:1 instructs us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. In calling us to action, this verse also reminds us of the gracious nature of our calling: we were dead in sin, and yet God made us alive through Christ (Eph. 2:1–10). We do not deserve to be His sons and daughters, and yet He has redeemed and adopted us in Christ (Eph. 1:3–10). Therefore, we cannot earn our way to God, but through faith in Christ we can rest in His work!
But the verse also urges us to walk worthy of this new identify we have in Christ. How ridiculous would it be if we were to rescue a starving child off the street—one who is eating scraps from a dumpster—and when we lay before them the bounty of our table they instead go straight to the trash and begin to eat an orange peel! They would not be living in accordance with their new status! As silly as that would be, we often do this with God. We often think of how close we can get to sin, not remembering that God has rescued us from the wretched desires of our old lives and has given us the rich bounty of His immeasurable blessing. When God gives direction and guidance in His Word that restrains us from doing something, it is not to deprive us of good things but to keep us from the poisonous filth that seeks to destroy our fruitfulness, peace, and joy. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, and though he may knock us on the head to restrain our fleshly desires, He does it to protect us and to direct us to green pastures. Let us therefore seek to know His Word, that we may walk worthy of our calling in the peaceful pastures of His bountiful goodness!
Lastly, as we find and hold fast to our convictions, let us be aware of the pride that often comes with growth. It seems as though the devil, if he cannot keep us from learning God’s Word, will entice us to abuse others with our newfound knowledge. How often is this the case! We learn about patience, and then we get upset with others who are still learning it. We learn humility, and we immediately spot the pride in everyone else. We abstain from the sin of excess and then abound in judgment upon our brothers and sisters. Oh, how desperately the flesh seeks to pluck the Spirit’s budding fruit! How subtly it follows us and how cleverly it seeks to turn our victory to defeat! Praise God for growth, but be watchful for the sin that still crouches at the door.
Brothers and sisters, may we grow in the knowledge of God and His will for our lives, and as we do, may we also increase in our love, humility, gentleness, and patience with others. As we pray for their growth, may we seek opportunities to help them grow, and may we trust in the timing of God to bring forth the fruit in their lives, just as He did in ours.
Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.