Too often, it seems to me, that Christians ask the wrong questions about how to live. We rightly desire to follow Christ and live consistently with Scripture. Unfortunately, we often arrive at questionable conclusions about what is good and right. I want to share a few observations and thoughts.
First, I think we have a propensity to think only in terms of what behaviors are prohibited. We ask things like "does the Bible prohibit premarital sex, smoking marijuana, pornography, gambling, etc.?" We seem to approach God's word with an attitude that says, "just tell me what I can and cannot do and I will seek to live in those boundaries."
Second, we unfortunately think only in terms of behaviors. It seems to me this was one of the primary issues with the Pharisees and Scribes in Jesus' time. They were well-versed in the law and tried to shape their behaviors accordingly, but they ignored the heart and ignored relationships.
Third, we proof text. In other words, we try to build a behavioral code upon verses pulled out of context. Eisegesis is associated with proof-texting. Eisegesis is the process by which we read meaning and our own biases into a scriptural text as opposed to exegesis, which involves trying to arrive at the actual intent of what the Bible is saying.
Finally, we engage in mental gymnastics to justify behavior. We think or say things like "well, I may be looking at pornography, but at least I am not committing adultery." We also live with the attitude that says, "well, I'm saved anyway, so it is okay if I get drunk. God forgives."
So, if those are the wrong, or at least incomplete, approaches, how then shall we live? First, let's stop thinking just in terms of behaviors to avoid. It seems to me that was part of Jesus' point in the Sermon on the Mount. He was teaching his followers that we must go deeper than just avoiding negative behaviors. We must go to the heart. In Luke 10, we read a summary of the law, which tells us to "love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves." We need to get into the habit of asking "am I being loving?" Another question to ask ourselves in this vein is "Am I living in a self-obsessed, self-centered way OR am I living in a God-obsessed, other-centered way?"
Second, it is important that we try to think not only in terms of isolated verses, but in terms of the whole biblical narrative. Plucking a verse out of Malachi to justify a position is not only unwise, but it can be dangerous. Rather, while considering what specific verses teach, think about it in terms of the whole biblical narrative that recognizes the realities of God's creation, our fallenness, Christ's redemption, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit through the body of believers.
Third, if you find yourself having to do all sorts of interpretive gymnastics to justify your position rather than a plain reading of the text, understand that you may be engaging in eisegesis rather than exegesis. Approach Scripture humbly and seek to grow in wisdom. Sit under God's holy word rather than standing above it.
Finally, and this is ultimately my goal, that we would start thinking in terms of positive behavior. In Galatians 5, we read of the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Get into the habit of asking questions like: how can I be most loving in this situation? How can I act kindly? Rather than living from a mindset of finding what behaviors we must avoid, we should get into the habit of asking how can I be most loving toward others and is my behavior glorifying God? Am I seeking to put on the mind of Christ and living in the reality of the indwelling Spirit?
As we seek to grow in Christ let's learn to ask the right questions--not, "is this prohibited?" or "am I allowed to do this?" but rather "is the loving?" and "does this bring glory to God?"