God has given us clear commands in scripture on a number of issues in the Christian life. We know that we are not to commit adultery, steal, get drunk, forsake the church, or oppress the poor. But what are we to do when the Bible does not give an explicit command on a certain issue? Can we watch Sex and the City, listen to Kanye West, or get tattoos?
There are a number of issues which Scripture does not address that are considered somewhat controversial in Christian circles. For example: Should Christians go to the movies, play video games, smoke, drink, watch football games on Sunday afternoon, dance? These and many other issues are a main source of division in the church. How are we to deal with such subjects when God’s word does not deal with them? In one Pauline phrase “do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6) the Apostle gives us a principal of guidance
Where God’s word remains silent, by either direct statement or implication, then we are free to make our own choice in good conscience. This one verse assuredly condemns making a moral universal standard out of something that is nowhere recorded in Scripture. You cannot make a universal law about something that the Bible is silent on. In Romans 14 Paul lays this principal out for us:
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
The passage continues with an astounding and forthright declaration on the freedom of the Christian to make decisions where the Bible is silent, and on the prohibition of judging where there is no definitive Biblical rule:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the Judgment seat of God; for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
The whole chapter is rich with this topic and in a straightforward fashion declares judging where the Bible is silent is an un-Biblical form of judging. Instead it promotes the freedom that Christians have in Christ, and one phrase in particular stands out as key: Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. In this one sentence we have a mandate for free thinking and conscience guided decision-making. After all, a biblically informed conscience can be an excellent guide in the Christian life, though it is not the only one or the ultimate one. Dave Swavely calls this the “Principal of Conscience” and it is an important principal to grasp to help aid us in the fight against legalism.
The Principal of Conscience
Dave Swavely writes, “The apostle Paul ends his discussion in Romans 14 by explaining more about Christian liberty and its relation to that mysterious faculty of the human soul that we call conscience.” God has instilled in man a conscience with the intent that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, man would be led in the way he should go. Of course with the fall into sin all of man has been contaminated, and even our conscience can sometimes lead us astray. But when informed by God’s moral law and requirements the conscience can be a great tool. In verses 22 and 23 Paul gives encouragement for us to enjoy the freedoms that we have in Christ. So he writes:
The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
On issues where the Bible has given no clear direct or implied moral command we are free to make our own decision. But, as Paul tells us here, that decision must be Biblically informed and you must be convinced in your conscience that you are in no way sinning against God. Speaking of those who would eat food sacrificed to idols when it is against their conscience to do so Paul says that they are “condemned,” meaning guilty. To eat without faith, Paul says, is sin. It is not the eating that is the sin, it is the person’s heart that is causing him to sin. Dave Swavely uses an interesting example to explain this point.
A helpful illustration would be a woman who was taught while growing up, by her parents and her church, that wearing pants is wrong. Men wear pants, the argument goes, so women should not wear pants. This is a legalistic view that is read into Scripture…, but does not proceed from a sound interpretation of Scripture and is not consistent with common sense…So she has been convinced that it is wrong for her to wear pants. Now suppose she is getting ready to go out for the evening with some female friends, who are all wearing jeans and begin to encourage her to do the same. They even poke fun at her hesitancy, and practically browbeat her into breaking her tradition. If she decides to put the jeans on while she still thinks it might be wrong, she will be sinning, because at that moment something is more important to her than pleasing God. It will not be her faith in Him that motivates her to put those jeans on, but her fear of what her friends think, and perhaps her own comfort. 
Here is a clear case of how the “Principal of Conscience” should be applied. It is not a sin to wear jeans; nowhere in Scripture do we find even the slightest implication of such a rule. Yet if one believes it is a sin to wear jeans, yet you do it anyways, than you say with your heart, “I would rather wear jeans than honor God.” As is often the case with sin, the action is not necessarily the sin; it is the motivation and inclination of the heart. In the case of Swavely’s fictional woman, her heart is more inclined towards pleasing her friends than pleasing God.
Where Scripture does not give us boundaries we are free to make our own choice, but that choice must never be to do what we think might even possibly be a sin. It’s not a sin to enjoy pop culture, but enjoy it to the glory of God… and of course CAPC is all about helping you do that.
 Swavely, Who Are You To Judge?. Philipsburg: P&R, 2005. 126.
 Ibid. 127.