Jeff Smith

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Solid Food

Drawing Lines

Where do you draw the line?

That is the question that confronts many people as they think themselves wandering somewhere in between righteousness and iniquity. How much is too much? When do we go too far?

So many believe that the answers to those questions will always be a matter of personal conviction and that each person's answer is as valid as the next. Yet in many cases, God has drawn lines for us and inching closer and closer to iniquity is like the moth flitting nearer to the flame. While it is imperative that we resist any urge to draw our own artificial, arbitrary lines and impose them on others, it is equally vital that we learn to respect the lines that God has drawn in his word.

When God Has Drawn A Line

In creation, God enacted certain lines, limits and boundaries for this planet on which we live, and in all the years since, it has not added an ocean or a continent (Proverbs 8:25-31).  In Proverbs 8, personified wisdom respects the authority of the Lord to set limits and draw boundaries, and when those limits are pressed, as they are in storms and floods and droughts, there is great conflict and injury that follows.

If we can see this in physical things, can we not also learn to respect the lines that are drawn by God in questions of spirituality and morality? In Matthew 16, Jesus promised to invest in the apostles the privilege of holding pens that would be moved by the Holy Spirit to draw God's lines (Matthew 16:18-19, cf. Matthew 18:18). They would be spokesmen, announcing Heaven's edicts regarding binding and loosing upon Earth. With their pens, these men would inscribe God's lines for the church and the New Testament is the product of that process (2 Peter 1:19-21).

We could even define sin as "crossing one of the lines that God has drawn on this spiritual plane."  It is not sin, however, to eschew the traditions of men or even the customs of elders (Matthew 15:1-9). While it is custom to put your hand over your heart during the pledge of allegiance, it is not a sin to refuse to participate at all and the custom of tipping one's hat to a lady on the street is almost completely gone now, but it is not a sin.

No, sin is crossing a line that is drawn deeper than customs and traditions that change with every passing generation. Those lines exist only where God has drawn them with an indelible stylus (1 John 3:4). Some would argue that this sounds like legalism, but if you take away the concept of law from the New Testament, you also eliminate all potential for sin and therefore, any need for grace or Christ (Romans 4:14-15). Without law — a divine expectation — there is no codified potential for sin. And so the New Testament is the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), the law of Christ (Galatians 6:1-2) and the Spirit (Romans 8:2). By shining a spotlight on the lines God has drawn, we do not seek to establish a system of salvation by personal merit or individual superiority; rather we seek only to illuminate the footsteps of Christ and comprehend the true love of ardent discipleship (1 John 2:1-6).

Most every household among Christians involves parents who draw lines for their children. We expect such guidance from earthly fathers and recoil when it is absent. For some reason, we see fit to subtract that authority from our heavenly father. This is a rebellious attitude that destroys the spiritual relationship (Hebrews 12:1-11). Moreover, in the process of ignoring God's lines, one turns liberty into license and inches closer and closer to the devil's inviting flame (Galatians 5:13-14).

As Christians, there are lines behind us, supporting us and directing us; they are lines through which we must never backslide (Hebrews 10:35-39). There are lines ahead of us, protecting us from transgressing into a realm of self-indulgence and shortsighted immorality (2 John 7-11). Wisdom dictates that we strive to maintain a sanctified equilibrium in our lives, drifting in neither direction, for both spell doom. What joy comes from being encircled by God, enveloped in the will of the Holy Spirit, wed to Christ!

The lines are drawn in the New Testament, not by a latter day denominational council which obeys the edicts of the marketplace and not by a corps of tribal elders bent on preserving tradition even if it means adding to or taking away from the New Covenant (Revelation 22:18-19). "If any man speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The lines drawn of God will prevent us from sharing in the evil that would destroy us, for we are forbidden to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:8-11) or to share in such evil deeds (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).

In several areas today, many Christians are reevaluating their convictions about where to draw lines between righteousness and sin. While it seems good to examine oneself and test one's beliefs, the current exercise by so many seems like little more than an excuse for loosening where God has bound. The psalmist once said, "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places," (16:6), but when they fall in trying places, man is tempted to erase them and redraw them somewhere else.

In each of the four areas addressed below, and in every other, the motivation documented in Galatians 5:13-14 must prevail. When all else is in view, am I making my choice with the intent of serving my fellow man through love, or serving myself through selfish indulgence?

Where Do You Draw The Line On Gambling?

Although the Bible does not use the word "gambling," it was a common diversion of that era and its motivation and consequence are enough to bring it into view of a prominent Bible doctrine. Jesus taught that it is more blessed to give than receive, but in all its forms, gambling is a self-centered attempt at taking. It is motivated by covetousness and its consequence is the enrichment of one at the expense of another.

So, where do you draw the line? How much is too much in a world that views the lottery and junkets to Las Vegas and Louisiana as harmless diversions?

The line is drawn all the way back at the motivation — covetousness, a sin formerly condemned in the 10 commandments and currently prohibited in the covenant of Christ (Colossians 3:5). Greed is a form of idolatry in which the spirit of our Lord is denied in one whose chief aim at the moment is someone else's money or belongings (Matthew 6:19-21). If your treasure is in someone else's hip pocket, how can gambling for it be a noble event?

Games of chance played for money or things, including the lottery, are acts of covetousness and greed and they cross the line into sinfulness. There is no way of reconciling the self-serving nature of gambling into the spirit recommended by Galatians 5:13-14. You'll have to cross the line that God drew to protect you and your victim from greed.

Where Do You Draw The Line On Bad Language?

Entertainment has taught our culture that some words are dirty, but not too dirty. Now there are only a couple of words left that can't be said anywhere and no setting is safe from foul words. Where does one draw the line on language?

May we suggest drawing the line where God draws it: "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption" (Ephesians 4:29-30).

Is anyone edified by the use of words that make light of sexual organs and bathroom activity, or bring certain races and cultures under a blanket of derision? Paul tells us to "put off... filthy language out of your mouth" (Colossians 3:8) and James argues that blessing and curses cannot naturally emanate from the same mouth (James 3:9-11).

But where do you draw the line? How much gutter lingo can we adopt and still enjoy God's fellowship? The line is back at the spirit in man that makes room for crudeness and lewdness in his heart; crucify it and filthy language will die as well. "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13).

Where Do You Draw The Line On Drinking Alcohol?

We are being told now that, while you probably should not drink, everyone of a legal age may certainly drink some alcohol, so long as he manages to fend off inebriation long enough to keep himself on the barely sober side of "drunk."

But like a chalk line on the side of the highway, that demarcation between drunk and not-quite-drunk-yet is awfully hard to determine for someone who is administering a mind-numbing depressant into his head. Still, we are admonished that since only drunkenness is condemned in the New Testament, God approves of every ounce of alcohol up to, but not including, the sip that sends a person over that line. If sip 19 is the one that causes a drinker to teeter over into drunkenness, then the first 18 sips were all glory to God (Ephesians 5:18-20). Who can believe it?

Is it true that God condemns drunkenness? Of course, it is (Romans 13:11-14), but his solution to drunkenness is not to get as close as you can before stopping just in time. God solves drunkenness with the Spirit and with sobriety, not a "buzz."

In 1 Peter 4:1-5, the will of the gentiles is condemned for Christians. Included in this prohibition are three drink-related words in verse 3:

  • Banqueting (KJV) or drinking parties (NKJV, NASV) is translated from a Greek word  (potos) that means literally "a drinking" (Thayer, Strong's #4224) or "an assembling together for the purpose of drinking" (Barnes). Whether it be cocktail hour, the office Christmas party or a private bash with the bottle, God draws a line on alcohol prior to "a drinking."

  • Revelries derives from a Greek word (kwmos) which means "a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows" (Thayer, 2970). This is the drinking party at the next level; the alcohol flows more freely and the resulting behavior grows more chaotic and uninhibited. It has reached the point that the drinkers are now "half-drunk." They could get worse, but they are very evidently under the influence of a mind-altering drug, exhibiting a thick tongue, giddiness and impairment of equilibrium, vision and judgment.

  • Drunkenness comes to English from a Greek word (oinoflugia) meaning "to bubble up, overflow, drunkenness, wine-bibbing" (Thayer, 3632). It is used in 1 Peter 4:3 to refer to complete drunkenness, total intoxication. There is absolutely no way to cross the line into drunkenness without passing through a drinking and half-drunkenness. The line, however, was drawn prior to complete inebriation; it was drawn back before "a drinking" ever made drunkenness possible.

You see, the New Testament draws the line much sooner than at that nebulous moment when drunkenness is fully defined. Instead, wisdom dictates that we draw it where God has drawn it: "Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it goes down smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things." (Proverbs 31-33).

Where Do You Draw The Line On Attire?

The Bible gives us many guidelines in determining how we should dress, in regards to our personal morality and its effect on others:

  • We must dress with modesty and godliness in mind (1 Timothy 2:8-10).

  • We must understand that public nakedness is shameful (Revelation 3:18-19).

  • We must understand that our immodest dress can cause others to stumble into sin and condemnation (Proverbs 7:10), for which we will be accountable (Matthew 18:6-7).

We can dress so richly and ostentatiously that some will envy our means (Galatians 5:26) and we can dress so immodestly and shamelessly that others will lust sexually (Matthew 5:27-28). It is commonly understood, even by perfectly worldly people, that the portion of the body in between the top of the chest and the bottom of the thighs is likely to incite lust when it is revealed. Dannah Gresh has written, "If a guy sees a girl walking around in tight clothes or a miniskirt or tiny shorts — well, she might as well hang a noose around the neck of his spiritual life. It's not "just" fashion but a constant source of spiritual failure for men" ("Secret Keeper." Chicago IL: Moody Press, 2002, page 44). She correctly reasons that his mind is tempted to complete the picture suggested by the immodest clothing.

Not only does experience reveal this, the Bible predicts it. Between husband and wife, this arrangement is beautiful (Proverbs 5:19), but as a public venture, it is shameful and lacking in spirituality (Proverbs 5:20). But, where do you draw the line?

There are some in this world who think that a thong bikini is immodest, but that a regular one is okay, and others who think that a one-piece bathing suit is modest, but a two-piece is too revealing. Those in each category will scoff at those in the others, even becoming aghast at the immodesty around them. Few ever believe they are dressed immodestly themselves; it is always anyone wearing just a little bit less or showing just a little bit more. The difference in bathing suit coverage, however, is negligible and the opinions are worthless, for they have no reference to God's will. Our hope is to find where God draws the line, not where men draw, erase and redraw them.

While we know that God draws the line at nakedness, what we fail to realize is that he defines nakedness as insufficiently clothed and not just completely nude (from Greek gumnos, Thayer 122, Kittel 1:773-774, Liddell and Scott 170). We probably do as well, for even those who argue against drawing lines would not condone their own spouses parading about in only sunglasses and slippers.

In Exodus 28:42, the portion of the legs above the knees was to be concealed and that sentiment is echoed in Isaiah 47:1-3. Revealing the thighs in public suggested the private parts of a man to others and so they were to be concealed, lest shame and temptation follow.

Even in the Garden of Eden, a loin covering did not keep Adam and Eve from being called naked; they were not considered clothed until God put tunics of skin on them (Genesis 3:7-11, 21).

Before, during and after the Law of Moses was in effect, God recognized the power of sexual suggestion in the human body, mandating chaste modesty and prohibiting nakedness, a term broader than our limited usage today. Sadly, it is only Christians who deny that a partially clothed body has the power to incite lust and only Christians who should care enough to deny their own license to save the soul of another from danger. Some go to extremes and compare such teaching to the burkhas of Islam, but God has drawn the line by condemning nakedness and immodesty and his children have no right to redraw them for him in a place more pleasant.

Where does God draw the line? It is drawn back before someone purposely dressed so as to entice another with his form and certainly before another carelessly dressed how she wanted, without regard to the effect it might have on a weak brother in Christ. John wonders how the love of God is expressed in a person who cares nothing for a fellow believer; dressing immodestly screams unconcern!


It is neither our privilege nor right to draw arbitrary lines for others, in the absence of a sure edict from God. When God has drawn lines, however, we ought to observe them and uphold them and make them pleasant, for they are not burdensome compared to the weight of the cross upon our Lord's back (Romans 7:22, 1 John 5:3).


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