“Is there anything wrong with this?” That’s the question Christians usually ask to determine whether something is acceptable. To be sure, it’s not a bad question. But there’s an equally important question that we ought to be asking: “Is there anything sanctifying in this?”
For this is the question that’s implied by Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
That first command is rendered in the NASB as “let us also lay aside every encumbrance.” And the NIV has it as “let us throw off everything that hinders.” Until recently, I had missed the significant ambiguity of that first command in this verse. That is, the all-encompassing reference of “every weight,” “every encumbrance,” or “everything that hinders.”
It is interesting to see that the writer does not say whether the things to be thrown off [in Heb 12:1] are good or bad. They could well have been very good things or activities that they were now being called upon to give up… the principle that is being explained in these verses is this: if at any time or in any circumstance the thing or activity gets in the way of growing like Christ, it is at that time or in that circumstance to be discarded.
… He is calling on us to be rigorous in self-examination, and to understand that growing Christlike is so important that we should not let anything hinder it. It is possible to be hindered by some thing, which, even though it is not sinful within itself, nevertheless gets in the way of holiness. As you read this, you may be reminded of something that is good, but which really robs you of the best. You may be conscious that you have chosen this good thing, rather than the best thing. If this is so, then throw it away. It could be the way you use money. It might be the way you use time. It may be the way you use your talents and abilities.
There is nothing wrong with spending a weekend at the snow. However, if it means leaving your Sunday School class without a teacher on Sunday, then you don’t have to be a genius to know whether the good (going to the snow) has robbed you of the best (teaching your Sunday School class).
… So we see that God, in this part of the Bible, is urging us to throw away everything which hinders us from following Christ to the best of our ability.
In light of What’s the Christian Life About? we may also re-frame Chapman’s point and say that if we choose something good which hinders prayer, proclamation, or people, then we’ve made the wrong choice. Laying aside every weight means discarding those things which may not be wrong in and of themselves, but which nonetheless hinder us from following Christ to the best of our ability.
A friend of mine once made an off-hand remark that deeply impacted me. He observed, “If we’re going to serve Christ, then there’s going to be things that we just won’t be able to do.” Now, he wasn’t referring to those typical behavioral restrictions that Christians are concerned about – whether you smoke, drink, chew, or go with girls that do. He meant that when you follow Christ to the glory of God, it’ll necessarily impact what you do with your money, how you spend your Saturdays and (perhaps especially) your Sundays, and where you invest your energies. If your congregation needs a teacher to edify and evangelize, is that beach trip an acceptable decision for the “race that is set before us”? That hobby may not be inherently unholy, but is that investment of time, talent, and treasure really helping your growth in holiness?
So add another diagnostic question to your decision-making. Definitely don’t stop asking yourself whether there’s anything wrong with what you may do. But don’t forget to also ask whether there’s anything sanctifying about it. Growing in personal holiness is not simply a matter of abstaining from an increasing number of sinful things. It’s growing in our desire and ability to do what’s best, to determine what’s most sanctifying from what’s acceptable, and to throw away every hindrance from following Christ to the glory of God – even if it seems like there’s nothing wrong with it. Sanctification is more than just doing the good, it’s deciding to do the best.