Highlands Blog

5 Ways to Judge if Good Activities Have Become Sinful

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Posted in Highlands Blog under Character, Personal Growth, Repentance & Forgiveness

Man shrugging who can't decide.

Any amount of sin is too much. Any slander, drunkenness, covetousness, or lust is over the line for God’s people. But on a whole host of issues that aren’t sinful in themselves, it isn’t spelled out in Scripture how much is enough and how much turns an innocent pleasure into an occasion for repentance. The Bible doesn’t tell you how much money you should spend on yourself before giving the rest away, but it does warn against greed. The Bible doesn’t tell you how much time it’s acceptable to spend on Netflix, Facebook, or Twitter, but it does condemn sloth and idleness. The Bible doesn’t quantify what makes a home hospitable, but some homes aren’t.

It’s a common mistake to assume that if God didn’t specifically say, then He doesn’t care. But the silence of Scripture on these topics isn’t apathy on God’s part, it’s actually a call to grow in wisdom by exercising discernment. God wants Spirit-led Christians to answer these questions for themselves in light of the general principles of His Word and in the company of other wise believers. So how can you decide how much is enough? What tests would you use to come up with an answer?

5 Things to Help You Make Judgments

Here are five paths towards coming up with a working definition of “enough:”

First, let your conscience be your guide. Don’t ignore your internal sense of right and wrong; God gave you a conscience for exactly this purpose. Your conscience isn’t infallible, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. You may not always have a Bible verse or a trusted friend ready at hand, but your conscience goes with you everywhere. When that little voice says “That’s enough,” believe it.

Second, use virtue to calibrate your sense of sufficiency over the long haul. Does “more” of whatever it is result in a net gain or loss for your character? Does getting more stuff make you more generous or more dissatisfied? Does more Call of Duty make you bold and courageous or does it lead you down a path of sloth and laziness? This is a good test to take with the kind of long-time friend who could tell you that before you got a smartphone, you were good company, but not so much anymore.

Third, are you making the choice to say “enough,” or is that choice being made for you? It’s a very different thing to refuse a third chocolate chip cookie because you think better of it than it is to refuse a thirty-third cookie out of physiological necessity. It’s the difference between saying “That’s all the money I want to spend” and “That’s all the money (or credit) I have.” Finding “enough” through self-control is far better than smacking your head on one of the hard edges of reality.

Fourth, what happens when you go cold turkey for a while? There’s no inherent value in denying yourself some innocuous diversion for a time, but it can be an eye-opening diagnostic tool. If you become irritable, grumpy, bored, or lost without “it” then “it” has become a master instead of a servant. “Enough” ought to be the measure of how much you can enjoy, not how much you desperately need. Otherwise, a harmless attraction has become a soul-strangling addiction.

Fifth, to establish a baseline for “enough,” pick someone you admire and do what they do. Maybe you’ve talked sports with a man whose kids really love him. He’s found that watching a few key games each season is enough in that area, so that he can put more time into something that matters more. There’s a good chance that his “enough” will serve you well too.

No single one of these metrics can fully answer the question in every case and no doubt there are many more tests that would be useful, but if you ask questions like these, then at the very least, your attempt to find “enough” will be a careful, thoughtful, effort rather than a reactionary guess or a vague sense of guilt. Even if you don’t end up with a mathematically precise answer, you’ll be walking the way of wisdom in the direction of contentment and in cases like these, that’s enough.

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