Take a sheet of paper and a pen. Draw a straight line about an inch from the right edge of the paper, from the top of the sheet to the bottom. Now draw another straight line about an inch from the left edge of the paper, top to bottom. To the left of the left line at the top write the word WRONG, and to the right of the right line at the top put RIGHT.
Now look at the paper. Everything to the left of the left line is WRONG, everything to the right of the right line is RIGHT.
What about all that space between, where we have no pre-judgment?
Let this drawing represent the way we think. We readily acknowledge very right, or very wrong, but many things fall in the area between. The question is, why?
The problem may be that we know God’s view – Scripture’s view – of a situation, but aren’t quite ready to accept it as our own. Isn’t it strange when we consider what Isaiah said of God’s view:
Isaiah 55:6–9 6Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near.
Note that WE have to seek, WE have to call. And we have to do it “while He is near.” No time for postponing that decision. Isaiah continues with more action and more reasons to use that middle column:
7Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Forsake MY way? Give up MY idea, and MY thoughts? Then…
Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.
This is surely intended for that middle column. It is the action I must take, because, God says,
8“…My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.
It isn’t the natural way. Naturally we are all strongly biased in favor of ourselves, and our idea, and want to keep our options open. Rather than classify something as distinctly right or wrong, we like to leave it between, where we can go this way or that, depending on what is most comfortable at the time.
The prophet Jeremiah had a thought about this, and he presented it to God as a sure fact: “I know…” What did he know?
Jeremiah 10:23–24 23O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
Jeremiah as much as said, Lord, I need your help. I can’t decide on my own what you call right or wrong. None of us can. We all need You to tell us which way to turn.
Then he prayed to God for correction.
24O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; Not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.
Correct me, Lord, he prayed. Help me get on the right track, but please be patient with me, give me another chance. “Not in Your anger” – I need mercy!
Don’t we all?
Too often the problem with the wide middle area is our comfort zone. We could go RIGHT, we could go LEFT, depending on what happened.
The issues seem small, hardly worthy of concern. If it is slightly wrong, it isn’t that bad.
But does GOD view it that way?
Let me illustrate. Let me ask Brother Brown a simple question: Do you always tell the truth?”
“Of course,” is his ready answer.
“You always tell everything exactly as you remember it to be?”
“I…I would say so,” – a little less confident.
“You never, never change, or color, or fix up the facts to make the story a little bigger, better, or – or to help you out of a corner?”
Can you guess what he was thinking? “Everybody does it.”
Everybody except… I want to be the exception, on God’s side, on the side of right. Don’t you?
Maybe a LITTLE feeling of retaliation feels good. “I got the better of him that time.” Or a few harsh words, enough so that the last one is ours. A LITTLE unnecessary criticism. But no, Peter said we must put it ALL away.
1 Peter 2:1 1Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking,
This is from the New Jerusalem Bible translation.
1 Peter 2:1 (NJB) 1Rid yourselves, then, of all spite, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and carping criticism.
ALL of it. ALL spite, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, carping criticism—quite a list!
If we allow ANY, it is too much. Paul said it well:
Romans 14:22 22Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.
The New Jerusalem Bible again is especially clear:
Romans 14:22 (NJB) 22Within yourself, before God, hold on to what you already believe. Blessed is the person whose principles do not condemn his practice.
It is about learning to discern.
Hebrews 5:14 14…solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Discern, choose, carefully.
In the world of machining, there have to be tolerances. The smaller the area of tolerance, the greater the precision. This area of tolerance is what quality control watches closely. The wider the area of tolerance, the poorer the quality. So with our control in our spiritual lives. Our quality of character in the sight of God depends directly on our IN-tolerance of error.
Now before we conclude, turn your sheet of paper over to the back side, and this time draw a thin straight line down the center of the page from top to bottom. To the right to the right of the line at the top put RIGHT, and to the left of the line at the top mark WRONG. Now how large is that space between, where things are neither right nor wrong? It is not an area at all, but only a point on a line, and everything falls on either one side of the line or the other.
This is the ideal. We will always have questions, but this is the area we want to keep small, smaller, smaller. It means giving up where we might excuse ourselves, giving up where we might be hard on someone else but lenient with ourselves.
There will always be issues we are uncertain about. But the more we can move our decisions into the RIGHT or WRONG column, the safer we will be.
We don’t want the great Judge to say, “I have a few things against you.” We want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.”