Imagine a pathway of stepping stones are laid out in front of you and behind you. There are only two directions you can move. Our lives are filled with these kinds of decisions. Some decisions come to us easily. Either they are explicitly laid out in the Bible, or they are obviously immoral. But how do we make decisions on what is right and wrong where the answer is not so obvious, where the Bible is silent?
Economic principles explain the effects of these types of decisions. In this article, I will make the argument that our spiritual life is no different than the observations in economics. In fact, that these principles can apply directly to our spiritual lives, and help us gain clarity on seemingly vague moral decisions.
Opportunity Cost… a Spiritual Principle?
The Economic Concept of a Trade-off Makes Total Sense Spiritually
Our spiritual choices, in effect our “stepping stones” in life are choices between God and Satan. Further, I will argue that they must be broken down in this way. Respectively, righteousness (life) and sin (death.) (Matt 12:30, 6:24; 1 Cor 10:21)
An economist calls this a trade off. “Chicken or beef?” “Shoes or sandals?” “Car or truck?” “Water or soda?” They are all trade offs, or in other words you must give up one thing in order to get the other. Accordingly, what you give up would be called “opportunity cost” (also an economic term.) A highly simplistic view of this is when choose chicken, your opportunity cost is beef, for example. Or if you choose water, your opportunity cost is soda. Obviously these are silly examples, but the principle can apply to anything.
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.Colossians 3:17
Examining the concept laid out in Colossians 3, the following must be true. Every single thing we do comes down to a choice between who we will serve. It comes down to what we choose as our opportunity cost.
Which Direction Are You Moving? Right or Wrong?
Every Choice Moves You Closer to God, or Closer to Satan
With any trade off you face in life, ask yourself one question: “Will this decision bring glory to my God, my Father?” Remember the simplicity of the stepping stones concept. You have a choice between God and Satan and every choice you make leans on these two paths!
Let me take it one step (ha) further. With every choice, you are stepping toward one choice, and more importantly, away from the other. For example, imagine you are deciding whether to buy a car or a truck. On your limited budget, you cannot choose both. You must choose one or the other. If you choose the car over the truck, you cannot take a step toward both at the same time, so you must take a step away from one toward the other.
Applying this concept of stepping to our “spiritual trade off” reveals each choice you make either steps toward God, or a step away from God. Simultaneously, the opposite also occurs, stepping away from or toward Satan. With every decision you make, you are taking a step. The stepping stones are all laid out, in both directions. Now is the choice, which direction will you step?
The Heart of Our Decisions
Are You Aware of Why You Make the Decisions You Do?
In the following verse and surrounding context, Jesus addresses commandments from the old law, and takes them a step further (ha again). Speaking of the murderer, not only those but even those who are angry with his brother without a cause are in danger of the judgement! Further, not only is adultery a sin, but the act of looking with eyes of lust! Still, what is his point? Why would Jesus enact these more strict laws?
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.Matthew 5:21
The answer is simple. Jesus knows where sin begins, the heart. He knows when a person takes a single step away from God, that (even if it may not be sin itself) it is still a step towards sin!
Friends, Jesus is telling us that taking a step towards sin is JUST AS DEADLY as committing the sin itself!
Applying the Right and Wrong Concept
How Does “Spiritual Trade Off” Identify What is Right and Wrong?
Sometimes it may not be clear to us how, or why our choice could move us away from God. I believe, however, that the truth is there if we deeply consider and practice mental awareness.
Every morning when we wake up, we make a choice. We choose what clothing we are going to wear, and how we are going to present ourselves. The question could be posed, “why does it even matter what I wear?” The line of reasoning follows this logic: as long as I’m not lusting after someone (which is never a guarantee) then I’m justified. Aside from the fact that we are commanded to dress modestly (1 Tim 2:9) you must remember what Jesus taught. Sin begins in the heart, and a step away from Him is a step towards Satan. On top of this, how you choose to dress will also have an effect on others. You could very well cause someone else to stumble, and this is also condemned by God. (Rom 14:13)
A Christian Walks Into a Bar… Right or Wrong?
Imagine you and your friends and you are hanging out and everyone wants to go to the local sports bar to watch the football game. Is it right or is it wrong? One might think: No problem right? As long as I don’t take a drink, I am not in danger of sinning. You arrive, and one of your friend hands you a beer. No problem right? As long as I don’t get drunk, everything is fine! Soon you find yourself intoxicated. No problem right? As long as I don’t drive while intoxicated, God will understand. The progression, or steps of choices continues.
The choice to go with your friends to the sports bar is just that. A Choice. This is how the trade off of what is right and wrong works. One might say “well, the Bible doesn’t say that drinking is a sin, so as long as I don’t get drunk, I am not sinning!” This is a dangerous attitude to have. Even if you believe that the Bible doesn’t condemn drinking, it does however condemn being drunk. Every drink is a step towards being drunk, and every step towards being drunk (sin) is a step away from God.
Another might say, “what about just going to the bar with my friends, I mean after all… I don’t have to take a drink.” The same trade off logic applies. You are taking a step towards sin, and a step away from God. Remember Colossians 3:17, “in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord.”
What Our Examples Tells Others
Can We Sometimes Ignore the Way Our Choices Affect Others?
As followers of Christ, the kind of example that we set before others is one of the most important things that we must wrap our heads around! We can lead others to Christ by our example that we give. What does “Christian” mean? We are followers of Christ and we strive to live our lives in the same manner that He lived His. This means that we should never find ourselves in a place or doing something that the ultimate example for us would not participate in, or give approval of.
…who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.Romans 1:32
When faced with deciding what is right and wrong, the trade off of life, remember who you are and where you’re going. Most importantly, step on the stepping stones of faith that lead you in one direction – to God.
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