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Shades of Gray


By Richard W. O'Ffill

From time to time you will hear someone say that nothing is for sure except death and taxes. Is this true? Of course death and taxes are for sure, but are they all that is for sure? More and more frequently we are hearing people refer to something as being in "the gray area". When we hear this it is often something that has to do with faith and yes even morals.

It is my understanding that when someone says that something is in the gray area they mean that they are not sure whether it is right or wrong. When something is considered to be in the gray area these days we tend to tilt it into being ok. What I mean is that when we are not sure whether something is right or wrong there is often the tendency to go ahead and do it anyway.

There was a time when things were considered to be either right or wrong. We used to say that it was cut and dried, but more and more often those days seem to have past. Now when we say that something is in the gray area it can mean that although we are probably going to go ahead and do it anyway we know that it is probably not the right thing to do.

This mind set which institutionalized itself in the last century doesn't make a lot of sense. It would seem more reasonable that if in doubt don't but we have, as it were become accustom to living dangerously. We will sometimes pass on a hill or on a curve. Though the speed limit says 70 there are some who read this as 80. Though we know that if we consistently break the laws of health there will come a day of reckoning but then it makes no difference because tomorrow never comes.

It is interesting that in dealing with certain things there is no gray area. People who handle explosives for a living know that if you don't do it right you can end up dead wrong. There are also the people who work for NASA. They are really particular. A simple O ring was bad on the Challenger and tragedy was the result.

I have been giving a lot of thought to the matter of what we call the gray areas of our lives. For some reason that I don't understand we take more risk in matters having to do with our eternal destiny that a person in their right mind will do with things having to do with temporal things.

What I would like to know and what I intend to discuss in this sermon is specifically are there gray areas as such in things having to do with faith and morals? In the Christian life are we justified in opening a file for "Gray Areas"? In other worlds is it correct to say that the Christian life is composed of things that are right, things that are wrong and things that are in a gray area? Or is this question itself one of the gray areas!

I believe that we need to began by agreeing on terminology. In the first place when we say that something is gray we are not talking about a color, although the fact that we use the analogy is significant because gray is the color that results you get when you mix black with white or white with black however you wish.

But we're not talking about colors. We are talking about things having to do with faith and morals. Now when we say that something is right we must be referring to something that God approves. When we say that something is wrong we mean something God doesn't approve.

Another question I think we need to consider is, are there things that don't really matter to God? In other words He doesn't care, its up to you. We have a word for this kind of thinking and that is the word amoral. By amoral we mean that whatever we are talking about has no moral significance. When we say this do we mean then that something that is amoral is automatically right? But then that brings up another good question and that is does God care about some things in our lives and not about others? Is everything that is right for us moral and everything that is bad for us immoral? Another question, when we say that something is in the gray area do we mean that it is right, leaning towards the wrong or do we mean that it is wrong, leaning towards the right?

But lets go back to the terminology. For the purposes of this sermon, I am going to suggest that when we say something is right we mean it is right and when we say that something is wrong, we mean it is wrong and when we say that something is in the gray area we are saying that it might be right and it might be wrong.

Now I can get this sermon over with quickly if we will just agree that when we say that something is in the gray area we mean that we don't know whether it is right or wrong. But the trouble that I have with the expression is that I believe that when we say that something is in a gray area we mean that it is not necessarily wrong, though it is not necessarily right, which brings us back to my first question which is are there things in the area of faith and morals which are not exactly right but not so wrong that we shouldn't be doing them.

In things having to do with faith and morals, the Bible must have the last word. I will begin by saying the Bible doesn't refer to things as being in a gray area. I looked up the word "gray" in the Bible Concordance and found that the word appears six times and each time it was referring to old age.

The truth is the Bible doesn't deal with things having to do with faith and morals in a "whatever floats your boat" manner. From the Biblical perspective there are no gray areas. Choices yes, but from a Scriptural perspective the options boil down to only two.

From the Garden of Eden with its two trees, the Bible sets forth two and only two ways, God's way and all the others. Accordingly people are said to be saved or lost. They belong to God's people or to the world. There was the Mount of Blessing and the Mount of Cursing. There is the narrow way and the wide way, one leading to life, the other to destruction. There are those who are for us and those who are against us, those within and those without. There is life and death, truth and falsehood, good and bad, light and darkness, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan, love and hate, spiritual wisdom and wisdom of the Word. Christ is said to be the way, the truth, and the life, and no one can come to the Father but by him. His is the only name under heaven by which one may be saved.

Friend, Scripture speaks with authority not in shades of gray. It calls for absolute conviction. It demands that we submit to God and resist the devil (James 4:7). It encourages us to turn away for evil and do good (1 Peter 3:11). It urges us to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error ( l John 4:6).

It calls us to reject the broad way that seems right to the human mind (Proverbs. 14:12, 16:25). It tells us that our ways are not God's ways, nor are our thoughts His thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). It orders us to protect the truth and reject lies (Romans 1:25). It declares that no lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21). It guarantees that the righteous shall be blessed and the wicked will perish (Psalm 1:1,6) and it reminds us that friendship with the world is hostility toward God (James 4:4).

No, The Scripture doesn't see things in shades of gray but as right or wrong, and consequently it calls on us to discern between good and evil.

Hebrews 5:14: "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil."

Malachi 3:18: "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."

The reason that we now speak of shades of gray is that increasingly we are turning away from the Scripture as the last word in things having to do with faith and morals. We have now concluded that either no one is right or everyone is right or that it is right if it is right to you.

This phenomena is increasingly bringing chaos not only to our personal lives and the society in which we live but to the church itself. There was a time in which we knew where to go for our authority but those times seem to have past.

In a class there are questions and if we are to find the answers to our questions we must have a teacher. Questions have answers. It would be absurd to think that in the study of math or physics all the questions had the same answers or that whatever answer a person came up with was the right one.

In the first grade we learned that a plus one and a plus one is a plus two. In years past a person living with someone without being married was understood to be living in fornication. Now in the 21st century 60 percent of the people in this country see no harm in it and as many as 75 % of the people who are getting married were living together before hand.

A person who was unfaithful to their spouse was considered to have broken the seventh commandment, now such things are called an affair. It is no wonder that the victim of the lack of moral certitude in the current generation is the home and consequently the children.

It is not uncommon for a person to justify an immoral lifestyle by simply saying, My God wants me to be happy or I guess I married the wrong person. Tell that to the children who were the product of this wrong marriage.

You have undoubtedly heard of what is called situation ethics. Situation ethics is the philosophy which says that whether something is right or wrong depends on the situation. It is said that a mother who becomes a prostitute to support her children is not to be criticized because her cause is noble. A person who steals because they are poor, is said to be justified. A person may tell a lie if the results of telling the truth would be harmful to him or to others.

I believe that what we call the gray areas is basically a refection of the attitude that we don't have the faith to do what God wants us to do in a particular case so we decide we will go ahead and do it or if not to that extreme then there are two choices, and we will chose what seems to us the lesser of the evils.

It seems at times that we are confronted with what seems to be only two choices. I am beginning to think that there are often more than two choices. There is more often than not a third option.

We must not forget that there are several things we must take into account when we make a decision. One is that whatever we sow we will reap. You have heard the expression that if we sow to the wind we will reap a whirlwind. Another is the text that says that God will bring every work into judgment. This text goes along with the one that says, vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.

There are some decisions in life that do not seem to bear immediate fruit. We deceive ourselves if we live by the philosophy that just because we weren't struck by lightening or the ground didn't open up that what we are doing must be the will of God.

The Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, is the story of what happens when the people of God turned their backs on him. Reading the Old Testament can give a person the wrong impression because it may appear that the judgments of God came quickly. Although sometimes they did, most of the time they didn't. We must not forget that in just a few chapters of the book of Judges we can read a history that took generations to complete. Although death and destruction can come suddenly and it surely does, there can be no doubt that it is more often than not years or even generations in the making. We can come to the wrong conclusion that though the sign says stop and the last time I came to this corner I ignored it and nothing happened it will be safe to ignore it again.

Shades of gray. What about the text that says in 1 John 1:5-7, "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin."

I must remind us of what I said in the beginning. Gray is a mixture of black and white. It is how things look when there is a mixture of light and darkness. Then I must repeat that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.

By now you may be thinking, Pastor O'Ffill, I give up. What you are saying is impossible. I had might as well quit right now. There is no hope for me. Please let me clarify some things.

The question we must ask ourselves is what is our goal? Are we content to live our lives, mixing good with evil, right with wrong? Are we content if we seem to have what amounts to a moral twilight? What is wrong with saying that in reality there is no such thing as something that doesn't matter to God? If God is going to bring every work into judgment, as it says. Ecclesiastes 12:14, "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." then we are not wrong in concluding that there are no gray areas or things that make no difference to the Almighty.

This being true, what is wrong with determining in one's heart that it will be our purpose to do the will of God in everything, no matter what the cost? This being true, what is wrong with determining that by the grace of God we will use his Word as the standard for right and wrong, good and evil and not leave it up to society, our own opinion or even God forbid, what other members of the church may say in a weak moment.

I am thankful to be a member of the church. I am thankful that the church is not Babylon and that I don't have to leave the church to do the will of God. Now having said that I must hasten on to say that not everyone who is a member of the church is practicing or even promoting the truth for this time. But this should not cause us to stumble and fall.

You may have heard me tell the instance where a person was mentioning the possibility that the church was rotten to the core. I assured them that the Scripture tells us that Jesus is the head of the church and he is not rotten to the core. I then told them that I am a member of the church and that I am not rotten to the core, then I asked them if they were?

We would do well to remind ourselves from time to time that the church has always had significant numbers who were at heart not converted. Jesus was not necessarily just talking about the unchurched when he said that the road that leads to destruction would have lots of people traveling on it.

In other places he has told us that there would be many false Christs and that many would come in his name. When he said that there would be wolves in sheep's clothing who would he be talking about? It would appear to me that it is important that we remind ourselves that the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest.

Having said all of this, I must confess that what gives us grief and tears at this point in time is that it would appear that the worldly sector of the church is no longer in the closet. They are in many cases out in the open and are openly at war with the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

This is the hardest part of it all. The servant of the Lord advised us many years ago, that the church would appear about to fall, but that before that would happen the sinners in Zion would be sifted out. The important thing is that we must not lose our step for whatever reason, though others may.

It is also important that we realize that God is the Judge, not we ourselves. Though we are called to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, once we have done that we must not use carnal weapons to make our point. Jesus himself said that his kingdom was not of this world and neither is ours.

Paul tells it like it is when he says in 2 Corinthians 10:1-5, "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;"

I have come to the conclusion that the first thing that needs changing is my own heart. After that my mission field is my home. I am sure that you have discovered by now that the most difficult place to be a Christian is at home. After that we have our relationship with each other as members of the body of Christ that is the church. Yet I must be aware that a person persuaded against their will is of the same opinion still. I must be conscious that we are not all at the same place in our lives. We must not try to slam the door of probation on each other.

It is after all Jesus who has been designated by the Father to say "He that is holy let him be holy still". It is Jesus who decides when to throw down the censor and say, "It is finished".

I believe we who are concerned with some of the things that are going on in the church must do two things: 1. We must speak out. But though we are called up to speak the truth we are to do so in love realizing that we only work for the advancement of the kingdom we don't own the place! 2. If we are persuaded that things are on the wrong track in some places, we should become intercessors. Jesus lives ever to make intercession for us and so we must learn to do for others. We must not forget that while we were yet enemies Jesus died for us and so we must pray, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

People who habitually see things in shades of gray can be dangerous even to the morals of the society but people who see things in black and white can be dangerous to the church. Not from the point of view that they don't stand from principle but often their attitudes are not consistent with the truths that they espouse.

I often counsel my fellow pastors that they must not let the fanatics in their congregations make a fanatic out of them. Life is a lot about reacting to each other. These days the liberals are reacting to the conservatives and the conservatives are reacting to the liberals and if we are not careful we will all end up in the ditch! Years ago I heard someone say that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react.

Now I realize that there are things going on in the church which I am convinced, if not redirected, will have the effect of doing away with the church as we know it. Yet having said this, I know that there is often little that I can do about it. I learned when I was a young minister that influence flows down hill. That means that we have more influence with those who are under our influence than we do with those who are over us.

This doesn't mean that we must not let our voices be heard with those who rule over us but we must understand that my chances of changing my behavior are much better than the chances that I will be able to change the behavior of my boss.

The important thing is that in times of uncertainty and instability that we ourselves be certain and stable. The world and even the church is at times unpredictable, but we must be predictable. We must be rooted and grounded in the truth. Our faith must be built on the rock Christ Jesus and that must not only be in things having to do with doctrine but in things having to do with our behaviors, emotions, actions and reactions.

This year Betty and I had the opportunity to be at a camp meeting in Lithuania. The church in Lithuania is new. I say new because in the early nineties there were just over a dozen members in the entire country. Now after a little more than ten years there are approximately a thousand members. The ministers are all young. There are only a couple who are over the age of thirty.

They are basically receiving on the job training. They attend seminary extension classes in Latvia. I was sick when one of the young men told me that in a recent class, one of the professors from another country in Europe told the young ministers that this church would have a revolution by evolution and that in the process it would change the way we worship and the way we as Adventists live.

Brothers and sisters, the church of God is in need of reform, revival and reformation but not revolution. I lived in South America during the time of the Cold War. I know what the word revolution means. I was in one country when they tried to make a revolution happen. Revolutions are about destruction. Revolutions erase the past and begin again.

To say that this church needs a revolution is to break our ties with the faith that has been delivered to us by the saints. It is to redo our message and our mission. I believe it is time from God to rise up because there are forces that would make void his law not only outside the church but from within.

This is no time for us to think in terms in shades of gray. This is time for us to turn to the Word of God as never before and discover that there is no circumstance in life that is not covered by a "thus saith the Lord".

We have reached the time that was foretold in which everything that can be shaken will be shaken. This is the time to make our calling and election sure. We must not forget that while we stand for truth and for principle we must decide in what attitude we will stand. Peter stood for principle in the Garden of Gethsemane. He figured that they would need to defend themselves so he was carrying a sword and used it. He had forgotten that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and when he discovered that he had nothing to defend himself if he couldn't use a sword he ran.

What a difference it would have been if the disciples had done what Jesus had told them to do when they went into the garden that night. He told them to pray that they wouldn't enter into temptation. They slept and when tested ran.

We live in the times in which not only are things seen in shades of gray but the sun is setting over this race of ours and soon darkness will cover the earth and gross darkness the people. But the promise is given in Isaiah 60:2, " For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee."

I am going to close this sermon with the words of the poet James Nicholson: You will notice that I have changed the personal pronoun of the verse to include us all.

The Lord is our light; then why should we fear? By day and by night His presence is near: He is our salvation from sorrow and sin: This blessed persuasion the Spirit brings in, The Lord is our light our joy, and our song, By day and by night he leads us along: The Lord is our light, our joy and our song, By day and by night He leads us along.

The Lord is our light, though clouds may arise, Faith, stronger than sight, looks up to the skies where Jesus forever in glory doth reign: Then how can we ever in darkness remain?

The Lord is our light, the Lord is our strength; We know, in His might, we'll conquer at length; Our weakness in mercy he covers with power, and walking by faith, He upholds us each hour.

The Lord is our light, our all and in all; There is in His sight no darkness at all; He is my Redeemer, our Savior and King; With saints and with angels His praises we Sing. The Lord is our light, our joy and our song; By day and by night He leads us along; The Lord is our light, our joy and our song; By day and by night He leads us along.